We address ancient Orthodox monks, including priests and deacons in the Orthodox Church, as “Father.” In some countries, monks may address one another as “Brother” while conversing. Novices are most commonly addressed as “Brother.” But in some places, such as Mount Athos, novices are addressed as “Father.” Ancient monks are often referred to as Gheronda, or “Elder,” among Greeks as a mark of respect for their devotion. Elder is a title reserved in the Slavic tradition for those who have evolved spiritually and serve as guides for others.
What life lessons can we learn from the ancient orthodox monks?
In the twenty-first century, a life fully dedicated to God has much to teach us. The wisdom of St Basil and the Desert Fathers has inspired countless saints over the centuries and is still relevant today.
Here are 7 life lessons we can learn from the ancient orthodox monks and incorporate into our daily lives:
1. Pray without ceasing
Should we pray without ceasing? Writes St Basil. Is it possible to abide by such a guideline? We can find the power of prayer in our soul’s purpose and virtue deeds that extend to every part and moment of our lives. It is believed that whatever you do, whether you drink or eat, you can do it for the blessings. Pray as you take your seat at the table. As you raise the loaf, thank the Giver. Thank the Giver for your tunic as you put it on. As you tie your cloak around yourself, Feel yet more love for God.
In both summer and winter, who has provided us with coverings useful for preserving our lives and covering what is unseemly. Is the day finished? Give thanks to Him, who has provided us with the sun for our everyday work and a fire to light up the night.
According to one study, being thankful can be beneficial in anxiety and depression.
Essentially, live in a thankful spirit, remembering God in everything that you do. Through doing so, we can carry St Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing.
2. Refresh the soul with a weekly “desert”
Basil writes in a letter to St. Gregory Nazianzus. Quiet is the first stage towards spiritual cleansing. Solitude is the most beneficial since it calms our passions and enables principles to cut them out of our souls.
God gave us a weekly sabbath for a reason. We need to relax, refresh our souls, and practice silence. We were never intended to perform seven days a week. When Sunday arrives, make it a day of relaxation and solitude (according to our state in life).
3. Ancient orthodox monks serve the poor at all times
Although the Egyptian desert monks did not usually get many visitors, St Basil advised his monks to serve the poor as much as possible. The monks did this first and foremost by donating all of their belongings to the poor. But their Christian faith had to be shown by their concern for the poor.
4. When attempting to uncover a specific sin, you must fast
Fasting from food may be difficult. But the Desert Fathers saw it as a primary way of cleansing sin from one’s soul. This stems from the fact that, since sin is derived from our bodily passions, if we limit ourselves in our bodily passion for food, we would be able to resist other sinful desires.
St Basil advised fasting in moderation and considering one’s health and duties before engaging in anything severe. Fasting is a worthwhile spiritual practice. But no one should perform it in a competitive spirit, with the aim of seeing how long an individual can go without food (as was the case in many of the early monasteries)
5. Live modestly
Athonite monks live communally and simply avoid all worldly possessions. Although no one forced us to take such a strict example, it is wise to downsize, live comfortably within our means, and enjoy the simple things.
6. Practice a new hobby or learn a new skill
It doesn’t have to be bookbinding or ancient Orthodox monks iconography. But understanding a skill or starting a new hobby in retirement is a great way to spend time and enrich oneself.
7. Accept death as a fact of life
Yes, it’s a little morbid. But the monks of Athos spend a lot of time spiritually preparing for their departure from this world, and as such, they set a strong example for those of us who are still in it. Retirement is a good opportunity to reflect on and cultivate a full appreciation for life, in all of its chaos and harmony, calm and unrest, as we gradually move from a state of being to one without.
Are there many varieties of monasticism?
Since there are no religious orders in Orthodox monasticism, as there are in the West and Roman Catholic Churches, there are no formal Monastic Rules. All of the Holy Fathers are encouraged to be read and emulated by each monk and nuns. There are three types of monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church: eremitic, cenobitic, and skete.
The eremitic, also known as the hermit-like, derived from the Greek word eremos, which means “dessert.” This name derived from the first Dessert Fathers, who withdrew from civilization to live in isolation in Egypt’s deserts during the third century AD.
The skete is a very small community, often consisting of two or three people, led by an Elder. They pray privately for the majority of the week. Then they gather for communal prayer on Sundays and Feast Days, combining elements of both eremitic and coenobitic monasticism.
The cenobitic or community-based monastic life, in which monks or nuns live in separate rooms or cells but work, eat, and worship in a well-organized compound known as the monastery.
The Bottom Line
To begin, you must first have faith in God and accept His love for you. You can begin to live the Orthodox way of life outlined in this book with a little faith. Christ Himself bestows this way of life on us through His Church. It’s a proven way of life that WILL get you closer to God. When you come closer to God, the ability to deal with any difficulty improves. You improve your ability to live by the virtues.
These seven points are just a description of how to achieve union with God. However, if you follow them, you will be led to all of the information you need.