A glorious Pascha to all of our Orthodox readers! Christos voskrese!
Voistinnu voskrese! Christos anesti! Aleithos anesti! Christus
surrexit! Vere surrexit! JL
April 27, August 27, December 27
Chapter 69: That the Monks Presume Not to Defend One Another
Care must be taken that no monk presume on any ground
to defend another monk in the monastery,
or as it were to take him under his protection,
even though they be united by some tie of blood-relationship.
Let not the monks dare to do this in any way whatsoever,
because it may give rise to most serious scandals.
But if anyone breaks this rule,
let him be severely punished.
We are all supposed to bear one another's burdens. That should be
more than enough help for anyone, if we actually keep that principle.
A big problem with becoming the protector of another, self-appointed
or otherwise, is that it destroys one's peace needlessly. When I was
a novice, there was one other novice I really did not want to lose.
He was not the brightest bulb on the tree and I went out of my way to
protect him from himself. In time, he came to resent this and I was
so busy worrying about covering or preventing his foibles all the
time that I spent little time focusing on my own novitiate. Of
course, he left. He was supposed to leave. I, however, could not see
that at the time.
This isn't just about monasteries, it's about any human group. Taking
someone under our wing can result in all sorts of false assumptions.
It can fool us into thinking we can really control events more than
we can. It can lead us, a la Mother Hen, to seek to control the one
under wing in very unnecessary and unhealthy ways. Its most common
error is also one of its most dangerous ones: it leads us to think in
terms of "us-and-them." There is no "them" in a healthy monastery,
only an "us".
As usual, what the Holy Rule insists we avoid is an extreme. This
chapter is NOT saying we should not look out for one another, just
that no one should presume that the job is hers alone. Good families
protect all their members, but it is a corporate activity, something
in which all participate. Destroy that balance and the others will
notice quickly. It upsets the inner peace, both of the individual and
Part of any monastic's struggle, in cloister or in the world, is the
painful facing up to ourselves, that confrontation with our own
flaws. This difficult self-knowledge is essential to the monastic
way. Trying to protect someone from this process is counter to the
very reason they came. It not only harms them, it harms us, by
keeping us so busy with another's affairs that we can avoid looking
within at our own failings.
Merton once told his junior monk students that there is an
existential place of loneliness in every monk that no one can touch,
and that this is the way it's supposed to be, that no one should try
to reach it. That's where the struggle goes on, that's where there is
only God and the self. That's the arena in which the action happens.
Every person, every employee, every spouse and child has a similar
place: it is the place of potential learning and growth. Our deep
respect for one another must stand away from that space. Becoming
self-appointed guardians of another violates that space.
Love and prayers,
St. Mary's Monastery