THE SEARCH FOR SALVATION APPEARS TO THE MONK IN THE FOLLOWING MANNER:
"All of us, just like St. Paul, have our "road to Damascus." At a certain moment, the Lord chooses to appear to a man. This personal meeting with Christ presents the question: "If the Lord is alive here and now, how does it affect me?" There are various responses but for some, the problem is reduced to this: if the Lord is really living and is so close to me, there is nothing for me to do but leave everything and go sit at His feet."
-- "In Search of True Wisdom: Visits to Eastern Spiritual Fathers
The Spirit of Eastern Christian Monasticism
By former Abbot Joseph of Mt. Tabor Monastery (Adapted from his article published in "The Ukiah Daily Journal of March 22, 1991)
"When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die," wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer in, "The Cost of Discipleship." The death to which we are called, according to both St. Paul and monastic tradition, is the death of "the old man," within, who lives according to the flesh. We are to be stripped of vices and clothed with virtues (Col 3:5-17), as testimony to the new life obtained for us at the price of Jesus' blood.
Monasticism in the Christian East reaches back into the early centuries of Christianity, taking root in the Holy Land and the deserts of Egypt. There, many people--men as well as women--heard the call to come and die, which is really the call to come and live, expressed in a radical life style which takes with utmost seriousness the demands of the Gospel. Monastic life, especially in the Eastern Churches, has always been a vital spiritual wellspring and has influenced much of the spirituality and theological vision of Eastern Christianity. Although diminished in numbers today, Eastern monasticism lives on (at, for example, Mt. Tabor Monastery in Redwood Valley, CA) and is showing clear signs of a strong revival.
The basic monastic ethos can perhaps be expressed in Philippians 2:12-13 "…work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for God is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure." This passage underscores the Eastern concept of the "synergy," (literally "working with") of God and man in the unfolding of life in Christ. Grace is primary because it is God at work in us. God loved us first, Christ died while we were sinners, salvation is a gift. Yet the "working out" of salvation implies human response to the divine initiative in Christ, and this response requires the self-sacrifice that is of the very nature of love.
At the heart of Eastern monasticism is prayer; the monk is nothing if not a man of prayer. God-seeking monks have always searched for the best way to live out St. Paul's injunction: "pray without ceasing"
(1 Thessalonians 5:17). The traditional and most characteristic prayer of Eastern monks is the Jesus Prayer, which was based upon the biblical theology of and reverence for the name of God. It's formula, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner," is drawn chiefly from the prayer of the Publican (Luke 18:13) and that of Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47), remembering that, "everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved," (Rom 10:13). The more one prays this prayer with the lips, the more it becomes rooted in the mind and heart, until life becomes a ceaseless communion with the Lord, and the precious name of Jesus becomes one with breath and heartbeat.
There are many dimensions of monastic prayer, the highest form of which is praise and worship, expressed chiefly in several hours of daily services in Church. Thus God is worshipped for His own sake simply because He is worthy of adoration. It is also a characteristically monastic ministry to stand before God like Moses on the mountain (Exodus 7:8-13) interceding for those fighting in the valley below. Prayer is a means of repentance and "spiritual warfare," as well
(Eph 6: 10-20), not only against the demons without but also against the passions within.
Monastic ascetic practices such as fasting and vigils are meant to detach us from our self-will while curbing us of the inevitable human inclination to sin. They tend to expose, for our self-knowledge, what is still left "of the flesh" within us. This is therapeutic for a hidden wound cannot be healed. Bodily asceticism is the foundation of the more spiritual asceticism of learning to live in humility, peace, forgiveness and charity with those around us. We were created in the image of God, which was not destroyed but only obscured and disfigured by sin. Through the grace of God and our humble efforts to live the Gospel, the image is gradually restored. The flesh with its passions and desires is crucified, faith works through love, and we begin to bear the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:6, 22, 24). Thus the goal of the whole monastic endeavor (as well as of all Christian life) is "theosis," or becoming partakers of the divine nature," (2 Peter 1-4).
In this age, the value of lifetime commitment, the sense of the transcendent, and the desire to take up the cross and follow Jesus are met with indifference, ridicule or even hostility. Monastic life stands as a witness against the prevailing spirit of the "world" and for the message of the Gospel. This witness begins in the depth of the human heart. Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his or her own heart?"
A monk is a man "who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart" for Christ's sake, for the salvation of others and for his own deeper communion with God. He knows that this will cost him much but also has the faith that the price is not too high, for the goal is everlasting life.
After having corresponded with the novice master, a time of observership is arranged for the candidate to make a formal visit to the monastery. During his stay, he participates in the full schedule and activities of the monastery, allowing him to observe the practical aspects of daily life.
If the candidate, together with the monastic community, should discern that he is indeed called to monastic life, he applies for entrance and provides the necessary documentation. He is then received as a postulant or aspirant for a period of time lasting at least 6 months. He is then tonsured, vestured and renamed as a novice monk. In the Eastern tradition, novitiate varies according to the spiritual maturity of the novice but ordinarily lasts approximately three years.
Through the rite of Monastic Consecration he becomes fully committed to monastic life for the rest of his days. In some cases a monk may deepen his commitment even further through the reception of a Great Habit, entailing a life of more intense silence, solitude, prayer and fasting (i.e., eremitical life).
Observers are men seriously interested in discerning their vocation to the monastic life as it is incarnated at Holy Transfiguration Monastery. They come to the monastery for a determined amount of time in order to experience and share in our daily life and schedule.
Regulations and Information Regarding Observers:
a. Each observer makes arrangements for his visit to the monastery through the novice master, who is responsible for him during his stay.
b. In general, it is expected that some time of correspondence has transpired between the observer and the novice master (preferably by letter). This will enable the individual to receive basic information about the monastery and for us to acquire the same of the individual in order to assist better with the process of discernment. It is best to identify any obstacles that would prevent an individual from pursuing a monastic vocation before he comes for observership.
c. The period of observership will be determined before the individual comes to the monastery. In general, observership will last no longer than 2-4 weeks but that time might be shortened. After this period, the observer will return home in order to reflect on his experience and seek God's will regarding his vocation, as well as to provide the monastic community with the opportunity to discern whether or not the individual may be invited to return as a candidate.
d. Observers are received as guests of the monastery and enjoy all the privileges, as well as the responsibilities of visitors (see Typikon
Art. 322, "Visits," as well as posted rules in the guest house). However, in order to allow for better contact with the monastic community and to experience something of the general life of the monastery, the observer is expected to participate in work, meals and recreation with the monks.
He will also be allowed inside the cloister for specific reasons and at designated times. Access to the library must be determined by the Librarian. Observers are not allowed inside the cloister after Compline. Phone usage is at the discretion of the novice master.
e. The observer is free to terminate his stay at any time or may be asked to leave the monastery at the request of the novice master.
f. The observer is responsible for all his own expenses while in the monastery as well as to have the necessary means to return home.
Foreign observers are those from outside of the USA and its territories, and all the above applies to them, with some necessary adjustments:
He must acquire necessary visa documents
If he does not have the means to return home after his observership, he must make arrangements to stay somewhere outside the monastery until it is deemed suitable for him to return (either to the monastery or to his homeland).
Priestly, Religious and Seminarian Observers
Any observer who is a priest, religious or seminarian must have written permission from his Bishop or superior, and must provide the monastery with the address/contact information of this Bishop so that he may be contacted as a reference.
For information concerning vocations or retreats, or for liturgy requests, write to the Monks of Mt. Tabor, Box 217, Redwood Valley, CA 94570-0217, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.