1999, Articles, Raiati

The word of the Pastor / Sunday, January 17th, 1999 N°3

Thoughts from Today’s Feast

     The importance of the holy St. Antonios resides in the fact that he was the founder of the monasticism. It is not that there weren’t any hermits for studentship in Egypt, but they say that the monasticism has also appeared in this same historical era, which means in the third century and in between western Aleppo and Antioch, the cities known as learners’ cities of northern Syria. St. Athanasios the Great, the famous patriarch of Alexandria, who had participated in the unification of this movement with the church, had written the biography of St. Antonios. As I’ve said, the monasticism was an evangelical movement that insisted on living the gospel totally and this was after that St. Antonios had noticed a bit of corruption penetrating to the believers’ crowds.

     He wanted a Christian life in the desert, a life with no adulteration and no haggling, a life based on abstinence, self-control and fighting desires; but a life based on love and tenderness. St. Bakhomios and St. Basilios had succeeded him building up the mutual life, a life determined by groups living together and leaded by a guide who they should obey. This first independent enthusiasm had grown into vows and had been spread all over the world: in the east and in the west.

     Yes, the monasticism had not invented the virtues. These have already existed in the gospel. However, the monks showed us how to struggle against lowness. They have studied and known the ruses of the evil spirit and how we can be rescued from lowness. They have put rules to liberate ourselves from pressing caprices and a technique to reach virtues and to preserve them. The believers have learnt from them the seriousness of the spiritual war and the seriousness of living with Jesus. From here, the monastic example became the example for all the orthodox people. It is not that we have to put an end to marriages, but we have to be all related to the spirit of poverty, abstinence and obedience, either we were living in this world, or isolated in monasteries.

      In addition to this base, the monks had accomplished a very sublime work, as they had organized the worships determining their basics and organization. They had organized the mutual prayers that we practice (the hours, Matins, Vespers, and the liturgical books) as they had structured them. Only the divine mass had already existed before the monasticism. However, the most important of our people who determined its last organization were John Chrysostom and Basilios who were monks.

     Furthermore, the monks had put a great heritage into the ascetical literature (Zorothios Al Ghazawi, John Climacus, Isaac of Nineveh) and if we only mention the great of them, it is for to be guided by their heritage in order to self-redress from our faults and our trials. Its essence is useful for all people.

     Some of them had also participated in writing the pure theology and we mention here John of Damascus and Safronios (both of them were from Damascus) and Maximus the Confessor. Thus, we can say that there is no knowledge domain in the church in which monks did not participate.

     Nevertheless, the spiritual life is an expansion in people life. And this is particularly obvious in Russia and in the west, where each cultural activity used to appear in the monasteries and then to reach the outside. We mention here the industries and agriculture of Russia that arose in the monasteries. You devote yourself to God and you wait for the second arrival of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t separate you from the laics, but it brings you closer to them, for supporting them in love and in their economic life.

     It is not the appropriate occasion now to enumerate the great activities that the monks in our lands had done. Our specificity in the See of Antioch is that we have a monasticism that preaches and goes out to the world. The monasticism of Antioch existed until the eighteenth century; it was then disappearing between men until the moment when God gave it back to us in the beginnings of the fifties (but it has always existed between women in the Patriarchal diocese in Sednaya and Maaloula). It came back today to the Patriarchal monastery of St. George’s in Humeyra and to the Lady Monastery in Blemana (the diocese of Lattakia) and in Mount Lebanon. We have in this diocese today fifty monks and nuns and they are distributed among all our monasteries (The Lady of Hamatoura, The Lady of Nourieh, The Lady of Kaftoun, St. Michael in Bekaata, The Monastery of St. Georgios in the village of Deir El Harf, The Monastery of St. John and The Monastery of St. Selwan in Douma) and all those monasteries are established the old way.

     All those monasteries are still visited by believers in order to pray and to be guided. They also have some ascetical and theological publications that participate in our raising. All this has started with this great man Antonios.

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