There are some people who are inclined by nature to seek quietness far from the noise of the world, who are not suited to workaday struggles or family life, who prefer to pray and contemplate the works of God. These people become monastics.
There are also people broken by life, shipwrecked in the course of their worldly voyages. Life is not sweet to them, they have lost their taste and desire for it, they feel lonely, they are heartbroken, their courage has died out. They go to a monastery, where they find peace of mind, strength and vigor, and renewed enthusiasm for great deeds, for the meaning of a life lived in fullness. Is it proper or loving to prevent them from pursuing such a life?
There are also people who are completely devoted to God and the Church, to divine services. They wish to completely and completely devote themselves to doing God’s will, living only for the sake of religion, serving only the Church. The Mother of God, John the Baptist, John the Theologian, the Apostle Paul – could they be forced into marriage and family? The Savior Himself, the most perfect Man, shared all of our human experiences from birth and infancy, to hunger, suffering and death. He did not, however, have a family, for His family was the human race. And this was not a violation of the laws of nature.
(Hieromartyr John (Vostorgov). Handbook for monastics and laity. Chapter “Monasticism”)
Fr. Ambrose was once asked: “What is monasticism?” “Bliss,” he replied.
The only bliss possible during our earthly lives is found in monasticism, and there is nothing higher. This is because monasticism provides the key to inner life. Bliss is within us, and we only need to open up to it. Complete bliss will come to us in heaven, in the future life, though it is present at a lower level on earth. In the future life, it only continues…
(Monk Barsanuphius of Optina)
In monasticism there is something hidden, something that is not in the world, even in a “good” Christian life. This is a never-ending conversation with God, while Heaven becomes close, while it draws near. Even if modern monasticism does not achieve the deeds of the ancient ascetics, it always retains the most important thing – an unceasing connection with God. How one must cherish this connection, cherish monasticism, the idea of it … How great the mercy of God! Truly, there is no greater happiness in life than this conversation with the Creator, which gives such life to the soul. There is no greater happiness in life than to have a living soul. Not flesh, but soul! A soul that purifies itself, grieves, endures temptations, prays, fights battles, is a soul that lives. By living, it becomes complete. In this way, the goal of life is to improve your soul, to work on it, so that in the end it can draw close to God, with whom nothing unclean or sinful can remain.
And if sometimes it seems that strength has failed us, that everything is too difficult, even unattainable, one must remember that the struggle with oneself is always the most difficult. After all, who else besides you (after God) can truly know yourself, what you were and are, how you have lived your life to this very hour. You know yourself better than anyone else, are entirely familiar with your “old self,” and you must radically change yourself with God’s all-powerful help. But as you grow stronger you must always remember why you are are doing all this: withstanding temptations, practicing obedience, prayer, and vigils … For ETERNAL life with God! Doesn’t this goal justify your efforts? Or is eternal life not worthy of this? But you yourself have chosen this path, which should lead to the greatest reward… So go forth! Do not turn back! Because man does not know with what good the Lord will reward those who love Him!
In the early days of Christianity, a wonderful army of Christ appeared in the land of Egypt, leading lives that resembled only the heavenly host. This army included not only men, but also women, lovers of wisdom no less than the men. As great ascetics, nuns enter into spiritual warfare with the devil and the powers of darkness; their natural weakness is in no way an obstacle. While they may not possess the same level of physical strength, they are nevertheless gifted with vibrant feeling and receptivity.
On fire with love for the Lord, their will and determination remain firm through all privation and difficulty for the sake of the Sweetest Jesus. Their lively feeling and fiery love gives them strength and courage to walk the path of asceticism, as harsh and strict as the ascetic champions: “In Christ, Jesus is neither male nor female, but everything is one essence” (Gal. 3: 28 ).
(Saint John Chrysostom)
Monasticism is the spiritual estate of ascetics: solitude, chastity, obedience, non-covetousness, both interior and exterior prayer.
In the early days of the Christian Church, almost all believers led the pure and holy life demanded by the Gospel. But there were many believers looking for something more. Some voluntarily renounced property and distributed it to the poor. Others, following the example of the Mother of God, St. John the Baptist, and the holy apostles, took upon themselves the vow of virginity, spending time in unceasing prayer, fasting, abstinence and labor, although they did not withdraw from the world. Such people were called ascetics.
After the third century, with the rapid spread of Christianity, the severity of life for Christians began to weaken. Ascetics began to withdraw, to live in the mountains and deserts. There, far from the world and its temptations, they led a strict ascetic life. Such ascetics who retired from the world were called eremites, or hermits. This was the beginning of monasticism, a new way of life, lived far from the temptations of the world.
Egypt is honored as the birthplace of monasticism, and the monk Anthony the Great, who was the founder of the eremitic monasticism, is founder and father. The monk Pachomius the Great is considered the founder of cenobitic monasticism.
From Egypt, monasticism soon spread to Asia, Palestine, and Syria, and then spread to Europe.
In Russia, monasticism began almost simultaneously with the adoption of Christianity. Its founders were the monks Anthony and Theodosius, who lived in the Kiev Caves Monastery.
Monastic life, or monasticism, is the lot of only a select few who have a vocation, i.e. an irresistible inner desire for a life fully devoted to serving God. As the Lord Himself said, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19,12).
Saint Athanasius says: “In essence, there are two ranks or states in life: one is ordinary and characteristic of human life, namely, marriage; the other is angelic and apostolic, which cannot be higher, i.e. virginity, or the monastic state.”
Monasteries were greatly important as centers of learning and education. The presence of monasteries in a country points to the strength and power of the religious and moral spirit of its people. The Russian people have always loved monasteries. When a new monastery appeared, people began to settle near it, forming a village, which often grew into a large city.