Monasticism is grounded on celibacy, voluntary poverty, chastity and obedience. These monastic vows are distinguished in the monastic life from their superficial appearance to the true practice of these virtues in their depth. It is not enough to abide by these vows only in the monks exterior life but it should also extend to the depth of their spiritual life to be rooted in their nature.
1- True Celibacy: Celibacy is not only to be unmarried as there are many situations where people could not get married for economical, health or social reasons. The genuine celibacy however is to devote the whole life to God! As for monks it is love for the Lord Jesus Christ – to the extent of spiritual marriage. Genuine celibacy is a real marriage where the spirit is united with the Lord Jesus in a unity that makes other marital bonds seem very insignificant! The Lord Jesus is the soul’s groom; He is the all in all, the source of all satisfaction and the real joy! Thus the monk is in continuous unity with the Lord every single moment just as blood runs through arteries and air through lungs.
It is befitting then at the least to offer up unceasing prayer – as a response to this strong marital bond. Saint Anthony taught his disciples to continuously pray the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me the sinner, my Lord Jesus Christ help me, I praise you my Lord Jesus Christ) centuries before a Russian Hermit came along with the same teaching in recent centuries.
The Russian Hermit was moving between ascetic fathers asking for their advice on how to practice unceasing prayer “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). They advised him to continue praying psalms and any written or verbal prayers as much as possible during the day. He, however, was not convinced with their advice as he did not want to spend any time away from the companionship of the Lord. He met a father who advised him on how to practice the Jesus prayer with every breath possible, calling on the name of the Lord as he breathes in and as he breathes out: “My Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me I am a sinner”. He started to learn how to pray this Anthonian prayer, which is attributed to Saint Anthony and can also be traced back to the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18:13. While praying this he would work on making beaded chaplets and would recite the prayer with every bead he would make. With one bead he would say the first half “My Lord Jesus Christ” and with the next bead he would recite the next half “Have mercy on me I am a sinner”. As he continued in this, he started to forget about the count and progressed to pray deeply with all his emotions and thus the Lord became the all in all for him, occupying all his heart. Likewise this state is reached in genuine celibacy and extends from the body to the soul, from thoughts to spirit to a deep relationship! We see then that the Lord becomes the all in all!
2- Voluntary Poverty: Here we do not mean that there are no possessions of money or materialistic things as this is the trivial form of poverty but rather being weaned off all materialistic things. The monk then is to give up the love of all materialistic things not only by striving and training but also with radical weaning off everything that exists in the world obeying the Lord’s commandment “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).The real monk is weaned off all things including:
People: He loves everyone without being emotionally attached to anyone.
Worldly Possessions: Thus he can use all things without being used or bound to it.
Spiritual Ambitions: To avoid self satisfaction.
Choosing Preferred Spiritual Training: So as to not satisfy his own inflated ego.
Certain Ascetic Practices: By which he may gain credit for himself.
Most prominently for any monk is to have a profound bond with the Lord. The soul’s groom is in its midst, talking to Him by day and by night, and in every breath in and every breath out!
3- Sincere Obedience: It is the devotion of the inner self and will to God. God becomes the fundamental motive and the honest leader of our human will “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). Seeing then that it is glorious for our will to be submissive to God, how much more then when our will is entirely devoted to God to such an extent that it is united with His will. Furthermore, to an extent that our will be destroyed which eventually will be achieved, by God’s grace and sincere striving – in the heavenly Jerusalem. So whoever can empty himself from his ego and devote all his will to God, The Lord then will become the captain of his ship and so he will reach peacefully the goal of righteousness.
Jeremiah writes “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). The Lord Jesus Christ is the leader of the way, the fellowship of the way; He even is the way itself! The Lord did not give us instructions regarding the way saying ‘that this is the way and these are its guidelines and description, search for it, walk throughout it and follow it to reach God and to heaven’. However, He told us “I am The way”.
Undeniably there are many paths to salvation; marriage, celibacy or monasticism, the life of contemplation or serving but ultimately there is only one way for salvation: The Lord Jesus Christ Himself of whom we refer to as ‘the way’ as He is the only WAY. Those who unite with the LORD by continuous prayer will find himself continually on the way as much as he is honest with himself