Friday, September 01, 2006

Monasteries, Monasteries, Rama Lama Ding Dong!

Now I know most people will curcify me for what I'm about to say, but I truly believe that we Orthodox, as a whole, are definately going down the wrong path when it comes to monasteries.

I was recently in Greece, which I can tell you is not the best place to find spirituality these days. I liken it to the Byzantine Empire at the height of its decadence. Because it's a an Orthodox nation, everyone takes for granted that they are Orthodox and hardly anyone takes the faith seriously. However, the monasteries are flourishing in a way never before seen. Everywhere one goes it can be observed that people are flocking to the monasteries for spiritual enlightenment, solace, direction, and advice. Now this is all good and dandy if the monasteries were not using this opportunity to make a fortune off the faith of the populace.

Now I know these words seem harsh and many will tell me, "The monasteries need to make money to survive." Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with monasteries making money to feed themselves and others, but I do have a problem with the thousands (and sometimes millions) that they are making from entrance fees, prescribed candle prices, bookstores, etc, etc, etc. One monastery would not even allow us to take pictures because they had sold the rights to a publisher for their next upcoming book that will feature a more "professional" look at the monastery, sold at a premium price, at all bookstores across the country and abroad. I mean, com'on, I can't even take a picture of the places I worship at? That's a little extreme.

When I go to Mt. Athos and the monks pick me and my bishop up in 2005 Land Rovers with leather interiors, that's a little excessive. Where is the the asceticism that people are flocking to the monasteries for? And yet people insist that this is the true path for an Orthodox Christian and that the city parishes are somehow "not holy enough" for them.

Then I returned to Canada, where I believed that we had not progressed soo much in this spiritual downfall. We have two Greek Monasteries here and to my knowledge, they were still fairly moderate in their quest for money. Boy was I wrong. On the vespers of the feast of the monastery her in my town, I was shocked at what I saw. Not only did they build a beautiful gate, pave the road, build a new parking lot, and build a brand new outdoor stage fore big events, I also had to pass through the daunting gauntlet of "Stations" that were all designed to extract money from me. And each time I passed by one of these "stations," either trying to sell me candles, trinkets, stickers, or multiple collection trays, the council members would give me a rude smirk when I didn't drop some money in the tray. "I'm sorry sir, I didn't budget for having to pay for the holy unction at the back of the chapel!" And last time I checked, monks didn't need expensive gates and state-of-the-art stages. What's wrong with the old stage, the dirt road, and parking on the grass? Isn't that all part of "escaping from the world?"

Truly, it seems to me that the quiet, ascetic life that people have always been drawn to at monasteries has been lost for a more commercial, and hate to say more luxurious, way of living. People will always flock to the monasteries and will always give money, however it's what the monks do with that situation that makes the difference. Do they use their excess $ to feed the poor, create programs for the needy and downtrodden, donate to hospitals, etc etc etc? I've never seen our monastery do such a thing. While at the same time, they jack up their prices soo much that it's actually cheaper for me to order clerical vestments from Greece than to buy them from our local nuns.

Going back to my earlier point of people abandoning their local parishes for the "Holier" environment of the monastery. Even if this were so, I still see a huge problem with it. Not only should people understand that their local parish is their number 1 priority, but they should also understand the difference between living a monastic life and living a life "in the world." Yet furthermore, the problem is twofold because now, not only are people flocking to the monasteries with this misconception, but they are not finding such peace and solace anymore, they are finding yet another form of commercialism. This reality will force them to view the monastery in a way it's never been seen before; a clique for "super Orthodox" to congregate in so that they can believe that they are holier than the rest of us. Furthermore, due to the loss of the spirtual innocence of such holy places, this clique is sure to be founded more on popular culture than on authetic spirituality and humility. Perhaps the monasteries found that the latter just doesn't sell as well as the first. Who knows. Frankly, I weep for our future generations.


Peter said...

Well said, well said Rev Dn.

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