The Greatest Generation

A recent conversation within the comments gives the occasion for this post. The heart of the question – which is more difficult – marriage or monasticism? My own thoughts are that everything is extremely difficult. In our modern world, even the most fundamental structures of society have been eroded. In American culture we have re-imagined the family – with the result that today a majority of children grow up in a non-traditional family structure. Even for those children for such a structure exists – they are in relationship with children for whom it does not. Many people do well regardless of their structure – but in the aggregate – we are enduring a difficult struggle.

Monasticism has always been a voluntary spiritual struggle. However, many monastics today enter that arena lacking a stable family background. The wounds they bring to their struggle can create weaknesses that lead to spiritual disaster. The same can be said of those who enter the married life.

Our hope is in Christ, whose grace “completes that which is lacking.” With prayer and patience we discover that even in our troubled times great things are possible. Having said all of the above I think about the words of the fathers:

The holy fathers were making predictions about the last generation. They said, “What have we ourselves done?”

One of them, the great Abba Ischyrion replied, “We ourselves have fulfilled the commandments of God.”

The others replied, “And those who come after us, what will they do?”

He said, “They will struggle to achieve half our works.”

They said, “And to those who come after them, what will happen?”

He said, “The men of that generation will not accomplish any works at all and temptation will come upon them; and those who will be approved in that day will be greater than either us or our fathers.”


  1. says

    The heart of the question – which is more difficult – marriage or monasticism? The Answer? “Yes!”

    …sadly, “With all our technological expertise and intellectual arrogance, we have become the cleverest fools in world history.” — J. I. Packer

    Sadly, we seem to approach Orthodoxy the same way. (?) …Unless we “shed” the Faith of acceptance mentality, we may “never” enter into the narrow gate that leads to life. Dogma must become experience.

    “In the Orthodox faith — if you want, you will find many references to this in St Symeon the New Theologian — dogma ought to be lived. Dogma ought to be experience. Dogma should be learnt empirically. Initially we accept dogma intellectually, like a lesson, and once we have accepted it, the lesson ought to be converted into experience. Dogma must become experience.”—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos (Empirical Dogmatics, Volume 1)

    Papa Stephen, I probably “missed” the essence of the intent of your post. Please forgive me a sinner.

  2. Mrs. Mutton says

    One other aspect of monasticism and marriage: They both require the setting aside of one’s own will in obedience to a situation not entirely of one’s own choosing. We may choose to get married or to enter monasticism, but each carries responsibilities we can’t possibly grasp until we’re in the life. God puts us where we can grow best. For myself, I would have chosen monasticism; marriage was God’s choice for me, and 43 years later, I can see very clearly that monasticism would have been *way* too easy for me. And I am content in my marriage, and happy in a way I don’t think would have been possible in the monastic life.

  3. dinoship says

    Oops! I hadn’t read this very pertinent new post on “our conversation” as I was just posting my previous comments on the earlier Post on the Cross. :-)