Prayers, please, for Bishop Basil, hospitalized with chest pains and
for Fr. Brendan-Benedict. Prayers, too, for Mary, in the last round
of a tough disability claim approval. God's will is best. Thanks so
much. NRN JL
March 31, July 31, November 30
Chapter 49: On the Observance of Lent
Although the life of a monk
ought to have about it at all times
the character of a Lenten observance,
yet since few have the virtue for that,
we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent
the brethren keep their lives most pure
and at the same time wash away during these holy days
all the negligences of other times.
And this will be worthily done
if we restrain ourselves from all vices
and give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.
During these days, therefore,
let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service,
as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God
"with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6)
something above the measure required of him.
From his body, that is
he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting;
and with the joy of spiritual desire
he may look forward to holy Easter.
Let each one, however, suggest to his Abbot
what it is that he wants to offer,
and let it be done with his blessing and approval.
For anything done without the permission of the spiritual father
will be imputed to presumption and vainglory
and will merit no reward.
Therefore let everything be done with the Abbot's approval.
Monasteries attract kooks like magnets. Don't know why, but they
always have. Maybe some of the twistedly religious assume that we
will be the only ones who will appreciate or understand them. That's
not often true, though a certain amount of polite civility usually
obtains. Whatever the reason, they show up, not every day, but
predictably more often than hurricanes in Florida.
I write this being very aware that we have little or no tradition in
the West of the Holy Fools who are so reverenced in Russia.
Charitably, one would have to hope that some of these people are
actually called to be Holy Fools in a world that has no place for
them at all.
Still I often have to wonder at the forms of religion
assumed by some of them, the outlandish and affected behaviors that
are flat out guaranteed to heap rejection on a person: weird, florid
turns of speech and decidedly unusual secular attire, which usually
mimics the habit in some form, prostrations and floor-kissing in view
Perhaps one thing that troubles me so much about all of this is
that it SINGULARIZES one, puts one in high visibility. That sets off
all kinds of humility alarms and humility is pretty basic to
spiritual growth. I think some of this stuff, prostrations and the
like are GREAT ideas, but only alone and unseen or performed publicly
in an environment where they are usual behavior.
Christian life itself, if really lived, and monastic life even more
so, will heap plenty of rejection on anyone in the natural course of
things. One needn't call it forth, it will come. That's why it is
hard to see why people go out of their way to make themselves MORE
weird, more rejectable. Christianity alone is, let us face it, weird
enough by today's standards to be more than adequate as a source of
One never knows, but I wonder a lot whether such people have a
spiritual director and whether or not they tell the director about
these things. Some of them are so external that one would HAVE to
know, the moment they walked into the room or spoke. Then I wonder if
the spiritual director is letting all this continue, or whether the
person involved just will not obey. A stubborn attachment in such
cases is not uncommon.
Put another way, we can easily do kooky religious things for reasons
that have nothing at all to do with religion. There can be all kinds
of self-motivations to seek out rejection and scorn, some of them
neurotic or even psychotic. One neatly escapes treatment by blaming
God for the behavior and embracing it without reserve as a call. One
cannot judge another's calling, but one can be concerned. Such people
often give great cause for concern. One must pray for them and try to
What's important about this chapter is that we have not even our own
bodies, much less our wills as our own. We have an Abbot who is a
sure and safe protection against this stuff. Go to your Abbot with an
off the wall idea and he will quite likely tell you that you cannot
do it. This has a double protection. One is not one's own master, as
I fear a lot of kooky types may be, and one can less easily indulge
in pride. Very often it is precisely the secretiveness of our
penances which enable us to be smug about them. When someone else not
only knows, but must give us permission before we can continue, that
takes a LOT of the edge off pride!
This has gotten quite long, I fear, but one more important aside.
Holiness and craziness are not mutually exclusive. One can be crazy
as a loon and still be very holy. Mental illness is like any other
illness in this respect. No one would dream of saying one could not
be holy because one had leukemia or cancer. On the other hand,
neither are holiness and HEALTH mutually exclusive, so it doesn't
hurt to get the kinky things that are NOT of God looked at and
treated. But sometimes that doesn't happen...
Love and prayers,