Slowing Down for the Necessary Thing

I make a weekly visit to a nursing home about an hour away. I have a dear parishioner who has been in that place, or similar places, for about eight years. Our conversations center around the past week, her life and mine, with occasional forays into deeper matters. One of the difficulties of life in a nursing home is the sameness: one day differs little from another, making time seem to stand still and become interminable. It’s like Ground Hog Day, only you keep waking up in a nursing home.

I have been around nursing homes for about forty years. It’s a normal part of a priest’s life. Usually, those who are there are in a somewhat steady state of decline. It is rare to see someone still thriving after eight years. Most often, ministry in that setting is focused on end-of-life issues. It is also a place of deep ascesis.

What is left when all of the goals and daily chores of life are stripped away? For many, that kind of loss is an entry into depression and worse. Getting out of bed in the morning is often made possible by the simple fact that we have a reason to do so. Depression can leave a person trapped beneath the covers, unable to connect with the demands of the day, overwhelmed and alienated. But when nature itself, whether through age or accident, has taken away most of the matters that give us pleasure, or even the sense of accomplishment, pushing depression back and making a daily effort to live can require an ascesis of the deepest sort.

When I visit the nursing home, I make my way through a gauntlet of wheelchairs. Very often, there are individuals staring into space, or, watching re-runs of old tv. Some are victims of dementia and call out in repetitions that are as empty as they are interminable. It is not a place conducive to meditation or reflection. I have long been aware that many people dread making visits, like those who cannot bear hospitals. I sometimes expect that it is the vision of our own mortality that creates the stumbling block.

My own circumstances have been forcing me to slow down of late. I am preparing to “retire” in January, meaning that I will become the unpaid assistant in the parish with a new Rector. He is already in place as we are transitioning, a fact that has made my day-to-day activities to be less engaged (he must increase while I must decrease). I will continue writing, traveling, and speaking, even in my retirement, never fear. But the slowing down has been a serious change of gears in my spiritual life. That I have written more lately on the small, the stable, the lesser, and such, is a reflection of my day-to-day thoughts. There are fewer distractions which requires greater concentration.

Fr. Roman Braga, who learned to pray, he said, while spending two years in solitary confinement in Ceausescu’s torture prison, urged people to slow down. “God wants to speak to us,” he said. Over the years, my experience has been that the primary reason for failing to take an hour or two to “listen” or pray have to do with my own willful avoidance rather than the demands of daily routine. Somehow, the appointment with God is all too easily bumped for something “more pressing” (or some such excuse). As things wind down, my excuses keep diminishing. I sit. I listen. I hear, “Slow down. It’s ok.”

It has always struck me as interesting that the life of a hermit is generally restricted to older, more experienced monks: young ones are not allowed to venture into that territory. St. John of the Ladder said, “Solitude ruins the inexperienced” (Book 27 in The Ladder). St. Ignatius Brianchininov, in his The Arena, gives an entire chapter over to warnings about solitude. It is, nevertheless, the case that nature conspires to press us into solitude as often as not. It is little wonder that we fall into depression and worse. An involuntary ascesis can become torture.

For myself, I am working to make voluntary what will eventually happen anyway. Learning to bear my own company and seeking to bear the company of God are proper to this time. I am noticing some changes. For example, I can barely stand to have the radio or music playing in the car when I’m driving – they’re distractions. I’d rather pray. Nevertheless, the noise of my ADD-addled brain provides ample distraction by itself most of the time. What to do with that noise is a matter of constant learning.

Attention-deficit. Those words, strangely, describe much of our lives, even when our brains are fine. The world lives in a permanent state of distraction, summoning our passions with an incessant call for its own attention. Our lives will be lived in “just a minute,” while such a minute never seems to arrive. Despite the best efforts of all, history fails to conform to our demands, creating ever more distraction that says we must try harder.

In the Orthodox tradition, there is what is termed “the one thing necessary.” It harkens back to Christ’s word to distracted Martha’s complaints regarding her sister. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening, ignoring the housework. Christ says to Martha, “Only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen that good part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42). It is in prayer that we sit at the feet of Christ. It is communion with Him that constitutes the one necessary thing. This is true life, the fount of all blessings. It takes a little time.

44 comments:

  1. Your article put me in mind of Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, who encouraged his readers to spend ten minutes alone and to find out how hard that was, and how deep they probably were not. It’s quite sobering if you try it.

  2. I am so happy to have subscribed to your blog. Deep, direct wisdom here.
    This topic in particular resonated with me. I was forced to retire at 65 when the newspaper where I had worked for 20 years as a reporter and editor “downsized” its staff by half. I had thought I would have another couple years to think about transition.
    But there I was. Yes, depression, over the feeling of loss of purpose. I can tell you know what I mean, that realization that for most of your adult life purpose was so easily shuffled off to the job.
    However, my retirement came within a year of having found Orthodoxy, and three months after my baptism. Suddenly, the distractions of the job were no more. Time to love family more, and more to the point, explore my new, deeper faith, the Fathers of our Faith, Communion . . . and communion.

  3. Dearest Father,
    What wonderful words for my Friday night in an empty house. Perfectly timed reminder. Thank you!

  4. Fr,

    In reading this, and your other article, Old Friends, I am prompted to ask about monasticism as a possible vocation after a certain age. Saints Cyril and Maria, parents of Saint Sergius are examples.

    Are there any places you are aware of for widows, widowers, or for those that have retired and lost purpose to go?

    I had a Ukrainian friend who said that back in his country, you needed a lot of money to be accepted by a monastery after a certain age. Yet it seems to me that there would be no better place to be later in life then to spend your life working in dedication to God.

    Just a thought.

  5. “…I’m working to make voluntary what will eventually happen anyway.”
    Oh, what a line for those facing retirement, or for the retired, for that matter. While raising a family, with work and all its responsibilities, I tried to keep a fairly regular prayer rule. But it wasn’t very long. I did a lot of praying while driving.
    Even with the time I have as a retiree, distractions can easily, if not on guard, rob me of valuable time with Christ. I must always keep in mind to simplify, slow down, do the one thing needful. Thank you Father for this timely reminder. I pray that your retirement be a time of spiritual enrichment for you as you pass on to others that which you know from a lifetime of ministry and that which you’ll learn while being in Christ’s presence.
    Fr. Tom Hopko was such a blessing in his
    “retirement.” May yours follow suit as you pick up his mantle.

  6. Thank you Fr.
    Your words have long been a blessing to me. Do you have advice for a 40-year old male (English teacher) in the thick of it? I frequently advise my students to slow down, to be attentive to others, etc. Yet I am often a hypocrite. I think about death all the time, but I still have to get my boys to soccer practice, and I still have to grade almost 500 essays a year. I know God has given us aging and weakness to draw us into rest, reflection, and prayer, but until I’m forced by age or disease to stop, the obligations will not go away. American culture has doomed almost every profession to a harried futility. Yet I would discharge my duties faithfully. Aside from liturgy, alms, fasting, and prayer—what am I to do to be slower and more attentive? Or must I wait for my children to become adults and my body to fail?

  7. What better thing to do when we age and have this extra time on our hands than to commune more with God.
    Your words come from the heart and have touched mine. Thank you for such a poignant reflection.
    Getting up there in years does bring a lot of reflection. It can be a blessing for our spiritual life. And you find the frivolous, just that…frivolous!

    All the best to you Fr Stephen, in these blessed elder years.

  8. Matthew W.
    The monastery of St. John Maximovich in Manton, CA. is in great need of able body brothers. They have a web site. I and my dearest friend are each in our seventies and go there occasionally to spend time working and praying. Check it out.
    Subdeacon John K.

  9. Loneliness affects so many people. We are social beings and anything that disrupts that, can sometimes push us over the edge, either with a burst of anger or worse.
    Seeing Christ in others and folkowing the Good voice of conscience is a good practice. A simple “Good morning” or “How are you” can change someone’s life forever.
    My mother, like millions of others around the world has been diagnosed with alzheimers recently, and yet she has never missed the opportunity to love. My Father, although struggling to look after her and is overwhelmed with the situation never complains. His patience has taught us the entirety of the Christian Gospel, as has my Mother’s love also.
    But it is good to expand beyond our immediate family, and sometimes experience the cross of others, if we can bear it. These actions in Christ are also prayer, a mystical interaction with the living Christ that we cannot always grasp or understand, but can be simply understood in the context of the parable of the sheep and the goats.
    I agree that we should not neglect the interior life from an early age, even if for only 5 minutes a day we implore Christ for His mercies and His light to shine in our hearts. Then as we get older, indeed we notice that certain distractions disappear, and we become more contemplative of the deeper mysteries of Christ Who reveals the Father and sends the Holy Spirit to an even greater extent. We mourn about our great unworthiness, whilst at the same time happy for the love and grace He bestows upon us and others, even though we still sometimes misbehave.

  10. Thank you Father Stephen. Deep thoughts for meditation and entering within the heart. Even though I am a monastic, in my old age, I really needed and need your inspired words.

    “….Vanity of vanities, all is vanity says the Preacher.”
    “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, ALL IS VANITY AND A GRASPING FOR THE WIND. (Ecclesiastes 1: 1 and 13-14 NKJV)

  11. Immediately after retirement I went on a week long silent retreat. It left me feeling very inadequate, realising how poor my prayer life is and how I rush to fill my day with stuff. I confess that 6 years later it’s no easier. As you say, we need a reason to get out of bed in the morning and we need personal discipline, all the more so when it’s no longer imposed by our work.

  12. It is my sense that we are never really alone. Not in the sense of being unconnected with others. It is an ontological impossibility. There is a difference between being alone and solitude.
    Even Fr. Braga in prison was not alone. Prayer is the ultimate act of connection. It allows God, always present, entry into our awareness and through Him our interconnectedness with others becomes more real. Either that or the demons clamout. .
    It is accepting and being at peace with the fact we are not alone and not autonomous individuals that becomes a challenge–especially for we who are imbued with the spirit of progress and “making a difference”. It would be easy to accept the false promises of the demons I think — anything but being alone.
    My job, which I am about to leave after 40 years, is one imbued with deadlines. They seem quite real and “time management” etc is critical. It used to drive me crazy if I let it (cue Dolly Parton). The last few years I stopped trying to push time. Then my activities began to fall into place and things got done as they needed to.
    I think it is quite difficult for younger people to understand and accept how insignificant their efforts are, yet vastly important in the connections we forge.
    Their is a point within where all comes together and we know God and each other if we learn stillness.
    Glory to Him who IS.

  13. Michael,
    When I was a young priest (Anglican), I served a parish that grew from about 85 to 450 over 7 years. I worked endlessly, undoubtedly neglecting time with children, etc. I suffered from the delusion that it was my work (and my own gifts) that made the parish grow. I would have outwardly given God credit, but I know how my heart felt. My next parish was one of about 800 people, and very, very institutional. We maintained healthy levels, but there was no “explosion” as before. Yet, I think I still had some of that delusion. As years have gone on, and I slowed down (now in my Orthodox years), I was not able to keep pace. And yet, my parish grows. It has suffered a split, early on, and internal turmoil at one point, all of which was painful, but, still, it just grew. At some point, it occurred to me that all these things happened because of God and not because of my work.

    I think it’s possible for a priest to do such bad things that a parish suffers and declines. However, mostly, they do what they do because of God. It is providential. This doesn’t mean you do nothing – but you do what you do to be faithful to God. The other cause-and-effect notions will always lead to delusion and trouble – and exhaustion and worse (it did for me).

    Christ taught, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’ Luke 17:10

    The key to the spiritual life is to learn that this is enough. And with this, to be content.

  14. Matthew W,
    I second subdeacon John’s advice to visit the monastery of St. John in Manton, CA. It’s the one of the most wonderful places on earth, and indeed in need of good men to join them.

  15. Father, but you were at the heart of each parish as priest. Not that your activity changed anything or made a difference but you did. It’s a bit like the stylite saints.

  16. Even though my actions in my work are transient at best and the extensive knowledge I have, ephemeral and I am not really central to the life of the business, the whole character of the business because it is small and local will change when I am no longer there. I have been described as a “glue guy” even though no one can quite figure out what I do. Fortunately there is evidence of growth and maturity so I know it will be on the right track.

    In the long run I did not make a difference nor change anything

  17. Agata,

    Thank-you for affirming Subdeacon John’s recommendation. I’m encouraged, and will reach out.

    My question I guess wasn’t about particulars so much as about the culture. Is there any encouragement for the practicing Orthodox to consider monastery life after a certain age?

    I understand that care for the elderly is higher than for the youth, and that that could put a stress on monastery resources if the bulk of the brothers were older. But I also understand that the work of prayer is something that those who may not be able to do a lot of other things in life could still do.

    I’m trying to see how aged, and the late-in-life members of the traditional Orthodox community are cared for and can contribute to Orthodox community life, both in the traditional Orthodox culture, and particularly how they could do so within the early 21st century American context.

    The modern project has done very poorly by pretty much every metric imaginable, and the Orthodox way of life, I think, offers great potential.

  18. “I’m trying to see how aged, and the late-in-life members of the traditional Orthodox community are cared for and can contribute to Orthodox community life, both in the traditional Orthodox culture, and particularly how they could do so within the early 21st century American context.”
    Matthew,
    I think this very thing is found within each Orthodox Church. It is the Church that is a community of believers, who are given the means to participate in Her life, and who very much contribute. It encompasses our entire life, that is, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc. 24/7, in the 1st century all the way to the last, whenever that may be!
    So, each Church is pertinent to the 21st century, simply by existing in the 21st century,

  19. Matthew W.
    My wife and I have attended a women’s monastery for the last 16 years. I’m not sure how what we’ve experienced there might mesh with what one would experience at a men’s monastery in an American context.
    Most of the nuns are middle aged or younger. However, the nun who was oldest reposed last year after fighting cancer for 3 or 4 years. She was lovingly cared for by the other nuns. Their care for her in the last 6 months or more was basically hospice care. She could do nothing for herself. I’m sure her spirit prayed those last months but her mind was unable to. She mostly slept, eating very little. Now, there are around 25 nuns. So her care was able to be spread out among several. I’m not sure how a protracted illness would be handled by a small monastery or skete. Of course her medical bills were taken care of by Medicare and supplemental insurance (or doctors working pro bono).
    The best thing might be to visit several men’s monasteries and talk with the monastics about your situation and desires. Each person/situation is unique. I do know that the percentage of parishioners who regularly visit our monasteries is quite low, unfortunately. A real spiritual jewel is being neglected. I hope this might be of some help, Matthew.

  20. I try to avoid commenting on this blog. I always seem to be out of step with everyone else. Yet, here I go again…

    My son was diagnosed with Aspergers back when that was still a distinctive part of the “spectrum” which everything seems now to abide on (or in?). During his teenage years I always struggled with how much of his attitude was being a teenager and how much was Aspergers. There wasn’t a clear answer, ever.

    I see this in much the same way. I WANT to slow down. I’m only in my 50’s and still working but I feel so drawn to a quieter life. One of deeper reflection and shedding the weights of this world, emotional and material, and spending the time once used acquiring or maintaining things on spiritual pursuits.

    I wonder if I’m just being lazy or if I’m really desiring what I say. I dislike things so much. Truthfully, I hate stuff. Anything beyond the bare necessities feels like an anchor dragging my soul down. I see every possession as a number of hours of work it requires to get and take care of it. Almost everything is too high priced in my economy. I’d rather not work. Yet, we work for others. It’s a very interesting dilemma in my mind.

    There will probably never be a clear answer, ever.

  21. Dean,

    Thank-You so much for your story. That’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.

    I understand monasticism isn’t for everyone, and I wondered how much of what my Ukrainian friend told me was misunderstood. I’m not talking about an Orthodox run retirement institution, though that might be interesting to see, and might be what my friend thought I was talking about. I’m talking about making the conscious decision to take up an active, participatory new life in a monastic community at an old age.

    Your story indicates that it is at least possible.

    Thank-You again.

  22. Matthew W.
    About ten years ago, I visited a women’s monastery near Santa Barbara, and one of the nuns there was elderly with dementia. She needed lots of care and reassurance, but when it came time to pray – it was like all of the confusion of the day passed, and she was awake, chanting the prayers so beautifully. I don’t know when she came to live there, or how long she stayed, but she inspired me.

  23. I have read about studies of memory that have shown that music uses a different part of the brain and is less susceptible to dementia, especially religious music.

  24. Michael Bauman

    I have had more than one occasion to experience what you say about music using different parts of the brain and reaching the demented. One elderly woman in our parish was dying… my kids and I used to visit her frequently in her later years when she was home bound. In the days before she died she slipped into a coma – unable to speak. I stopped in the day before she died with my daughters (who were 11 and younger) and we sang songs from the Liturgy and other orthodox hymns. Then we gathered our things to leave, and on the way out I said, “goodbye Martha, I’ll see you again soon” and she answered and said “goodbye honey” to us. Her family couldn’t believe it – neither could I. But it is a testament to deep heart of man – expressing worship as song – and I think to the watchfulness of the soul.

    Same thing happened with my aunt , who was not an orthodox Christian – but loved Orthodox music and she had been in charge of the music department of a very large metropolitan library. I went to visit her in the days before she died. She was also in a coma – had not spoken for days. My IPOD was full of Orthodox Church music. I put headphones on her and played it. All of a sudden she said – very slowly, “I hear it… I can hear it. Oh… I hear the music” and she began crying.

    I have other occasions like this too. It is no accident that our Liturgy is entirely a song of praise – except for the Sermon and the announcements at the end – which are not sung.

  25. Robert @ November 2, 2019 at 6:47 pm
    Dear Robert,
    A word of encouragement.
    You begin by saying you seem to be out of step with everyone else here on this blog. If your thoughts begin with comparing yourself to the majority who regularly comment, it is easy to come to that conclusion. But I think it would be more helpful if that comparison were diverted to a different standard.
    In any group setting there are certain things that are agreed upon, which makes for a cohesive group. We, as human beings, also have a need to belong (in a family, church, at work, our neighborhood, etc). Our identification of the self is not strictly singular (our identification is complete in regard to the “other”), so we long to find a “group” which serves to complete our self-identification. This is natural. But there is a hidden danger in that we can easily fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others, especially those who have established themselves in long standing. They are those who generally have years of experience, who are most outspoken, and are given credence through unanimous agreement by the rest of the group. It is here where self-comparison enters, and begins with belittling self thoughts such as “I am not good enough…I don’t fit in…I am not like them…” These tend to override and give a false impression (it actually first begins by forming an image in the mind). In order to guard the groups’ cohesiveness, even the slightest disagreement will be perceived by some as a threat, regardless of the groups’ inclusiveness. In the best of situations, in kindness you will be corrected/directed…or less desirably, unacknowledged, or “talked past”. These are ways we find ourselves maintaining ‘the group’ which serves to complete our self-identification. These are some of the social dynamics in which we find ourselves.
    Now, rather than to stop at a comparison of ourselves to others, where the standard is other human beings, we are actually called to a higher standard. That being who we are in Christ. Then Robert, I think you would find we all are out of step in one way or another. And at the same time, in step with each other, simply because we are all on this same journey…to know ourselves in Christ. It kind of levels out the playing field. We will not know ourselves fully until we see Him…and for most of us that will be in the age to come.
    Having said this, your thoughts about “stuff” is not in any way out of step, any more than we are out of step in our own struggles, together with to your son’s struggle with autism. As such, we are all on a continuum.
    If anything, I see your “hate for stuff” another way of recognizing the sharp contrast of earthly goods with the heavenly, and recognizing the wealth of the latter. It is similar to when Christ says you are not one of His unless you “hate” father, mother, etc. His beauty and majesty will eclipse everything in creation. Everything.
    We are all “on the spectrum” of life, in all that we have been dealt. And as Christians, we walk the path in Christ according to where we find ourselves “now”…situations ever changing in one way, but remaining the same in our Rock, the strength and stability of Christ. Look to Him as the standard, and mark those who accept you as you are…as He does.

  26. Robert,

    I am also in my 50s, still working, once referred to as a married monastic due to my love of the quiet life and bare necessities. My approach has been to offer myself to God as His servant, thereby laying all my hopes and dreams at His feet. While it’s true that I sometimes pick them back up again, the overall effect is that I no longer have to carry the burden of figuring out what I will do. I am as a child before Him, talking about my requests, dislikes, happy moments, frustrations and so on. I don’t strategize throughout this conversation but speak simply to a Father who is quite able in all ways.

    There is a lot of listening on His end, but as I in turn learn to listen He does give direction. But it is usually not in the form of a grand plan; rather simple words that I can understand and act on, words like “wait” and “obey” and “silence” and “do this one thing”. He seems to know when I must have an answer right away and when life will teach me along the way.

    When I talk to Him about slowing down, it turns into a conversation. “What part do you want to slow down?” and “What would your ideal life/day look like?” As the discussion progresses I see that I am the one standing in the way of what I want in some areas. In others He has allowed the busyness as an opportunity for me to learn something valuable.

    In the end all points ultimately are about leading me closer to God and not about the speed of my life at all. And as I draw closer to Him, the speed, the pace, the activities begin to conform to His shape for my life. Where once I thought these outer activities owned me, I gradually come to see that all of them fall into their proper place as He becomes first in my life – even if that proper place is “out”.

    Perhaps this rambling is helpful for you.

  27. Paula AZ, thank you for your words. My conscious intent wasn’t to draw attention to myself in any way. I suppose I was in a weak mood at that moment and it came out and I posted it before my filter engaged. The spectrum of life…I like that! Drewster2000, you made me think of a theme Fr. Stephen is on a lot, that of the Christian life not being about progress. I’m not getting better, etc. I appreciate the comments of you both.

    I think a large part of the Christian life is to live with the tension between the here and eternity. I suppose this is the arena where we are working out our salvation. Lord have mercy on us all.

  28. Thanks Robert…I appreciate your response. Admittedly I cued into your words about being out of step, but thought it coming from the heart, not necessarily a desire to draw attention to yourself. I can relate to those words, and yes, in my weakness, as well.

    I think it is ok to be real…honest, transparent…in our struggles, as long as boundaries are held in respect. Some are uncomfortable with such disclosure, and that’s ok too.

    I very much agree that we do strive to live with the tensions here and now, all the while looking forward to the age to come. I suppose that’s what is meant by working out our salvation with fear and trembling. Indeed, Lord have mercy on us all!

  29. Oh, this is such a powerful reflection. I have been thinking that the processes of aging are God’s way of inviting us to go deeper into that place of surrendering all things but Him which comes to its fullest moment at our passing from this world. I am watching this process happen with my dear husband, who is dying from a brain disease. I look forward to your continued reflections as you move into a more retired way of life.
    Many of my friends are terrified of becoming old, probably in part to the inevitable loss of (the illusion of) control that accompanies it.
    If you are mulling over a possible book topic…this might be it!

  30. Subdeacon John, Fr. Stephen, and others:

    Does anyone know of a monastery for women that would accept a 65 year old? I too am wondering about serving the Lord this way . I seem to have lost my way since retiring and am trying to figure out my purpose, etc.

  31. Anna,
    There are many monasteries. I am sure they accept women of varied ages.
    But in order to even consider (and especially to *be* considered), you need to visit in person and spend some extended time with them, to experience this kind of life and to meet the members. And most importantly to find out if it is a place and way of life for you.
    Even in monasteries on Mount Athos, where the monks often live all their lives, they say that it is not the place which saves, but the way of life. You can arrange and order your retired life where you are, near your parish and church, and live in a very similar way.

  32. Agata: Thank you for the reply and at the risk of sounding uninformed, I’m not sure what you mean by living my life in a very similar way. I have been Orthodox for only 6 years and I always thought that people went to monasteries to live that way.

    If you have information that could point me in the right direction I would be most appreciative.

    Thank you.

  33. Speaking for myself, I fear I wouldn’t have the discipline outside of a like-minded community to do what was required to live as some have suggested, in the local parish or church. The “place” itself may be unimportant, but the community in that place, as it is conducive to “the way of life”, may be vital.

    Thank-you Anna.

  34. Anna,
    Maybe we misunderstood each other. By “the way of life” I meant not just living in a monastery as a monastic but living as an Orthodox Christian close to God and immersed in the daily rule of prayer, worship and work. This is what you could practice in your current place: maintaining a disciplined prayer rule, participating in all church services your parish offers and maybe adding to it some significant volunteering/ministry work in your parish (I am sure there are great needs in any parish or your immediate community).
    Matthew says that he fears he would not have the discipline to do it outside the monastery. But that discipline is crucial to develop beforehand, the communal monastic life only looks ‘conducive’ to an outside observer, once in it, many other difficulties emerge. This is why I would suggest visiting monasteries and staying with them as an extended guest and helper.

    I have read in many articles that it is very difficult for an older person to submit to the obedience that monastic life requires. I must admit I wholeheartedly agree. It is one thing to visit as a guest for a week or even a month, it’s another to commit oneself for the rest of one’s life.

    Anna, I am happy to correspond with you offline (Fr. Stephen has my email) and share more thoughts and experiences . I have been visiting monasteries for many years now, many of them, and in other countries. I would encourage you to visit as many as you can on your own, stay with them, work and pray – to see which may be a place for you.

    I will add here a link to the beautiful atlas of American monasteries:
    http://assemblyofbishops.org/assets/files/news/scoba/AtlasOfMonasteriesSecondEditionBookmarkedOptimumSize.pdf

  35. Anna,
    If earnestly contemplating that path, it wouldn’t go amiss to try some preparation.
    Classic books on the coenobetic life (like the ‘Discourses and Sayings’ of Abba Dorotheos of Gaza, for example) are a great start. You’d customarily be asked to become immersed in their world sooner or later once setting foot upon that blessed path anyway…
    As Agata rightly mentioned, in many cases, the night-time rule can be emulated while still in the world, the renunciation of attachments and the obedience to all superiors, (often younger than you) not quite as much…
    I think that Venerable Paul the Simple was approximately your age when he became Saint Anthony’s beloved disciple.

  36. Agata: Thank you so much for your answer and resource to the monasteries. I appreciate you for taking the time to answer and offer your email.

    It would be great to correspond via email but do I ask Father here for your email?

    Dino: Your words are also very helpful and I thank you for them. These recommendations are the very things I was looking for to give me some direction.

  37. Anna,
    The truth is that ‘in the world’, if we could closely emulate (due to some quite special personal circumstances) the daily schedule of a monastic, we might approach their experience of being with God –as with a friend– every night, however, that same person doing this ‘in the world’, when doing the same within the monastic conditions of that ‘life-of-repentance’, would invariably have far more undistracted intensity and frequency of the same experience – it’s only logical isn’t it?
    It’s as if the two paths can be made to have relatively small differences in the amount of ‘fuel’ you pour in, but it’s harder to minimise the big differences in the amount of ‘leaks’ that the engine has…
    We, laypeople, rightly live with the faith and hope of those experiences, which they monastics occasionally live with.
    Despite all this though, towards the end of our lives, all paths start to become overtaken by the other things that old age brings. In a sense they start somewhat converging…
    Of course we then reap what we have sown, (which can vary immensely) but we also, all, become tested by these ‘other things’, almost to our limits.
    However, the watchful kindling and re-kindling of the “emotion” (to use this word loosely) of repentance, (meaning that strange and glorious Spiritual emotion of “joyous-sadness” which is of another order to all emotions), continues to be the fuel..

  38. Dear Father,
    I appreciate your ability as a word-smith to give a voice to my experience. Several years ago my health began to decline and I was forced to retire as the rector of an Orthodox Christian Community which I helped to establish over 44 years ago. We were a part of a movement that I would call “Eastern Rite Evangelicals”: the Evangelical Orthodox Church. I was a priest in the E.O.C. for 25 years. Finally, in 2002, I had the wonderful experience of helping 120 adult catechumen and a gaggle of children to be received into the O.C.A., with Archbishop JOB, of blessed memory, as our Sponsor. He Ordained me to the Priesthood, August 16th of that same year. What a baptism by fire!
    Fr Stephen, as I’m sure you know, I’ve found a Priest doesn’t retire. And we certainly are put in a place to change gears. I find myself invited by the Holy Spirit to offer Glory to God and Thanksgiving in all things concerning the circumstances of my life, to slow down, practice Solitude, Silence, and Stillness, and to simply Dwell in His Love. I believe it was St Basil, the Great, who said: (I may be mistaken) “When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He will know best how to bestow you on others, unless, for your greater good, He keeps you all to Himself.” I now find I have the space of mind and heart to enter into more deeply into the “full silence” of God’s Presence. As St Theophane the Recluse said: “Prayer is the remembrance of God.” I am now able to devote myself completely to The One I had given my heart to so long ago without the distractions of the administration of a parish or the responsibility of middle management – being a Dean. I now have time to devote myself to my wife, two daughters and their husbands, and my five Grandchildren. I have discovered that loving them is loving God. There is no false dichotomy of loving God first, then your family and so on…
    Through slowing down, Stillness, Silence, and Dwelling in God’s outrageous Love, I’m learning to behold the Love and Goodness of the Blessed Holy Trinity in every place of His Dominion. As someone said: “God comes to us disguised as our everyday life.” I am learning through Remembrance and Silent Stillness to re-cognize and Discern Him “everywhere Present and Filling all things.” I find He is arranging for me, in His Divine Providence, what I call: “Divine Appointments,” as the Precious Children of God seek me out for whatever wisdom I can offer them for living into a Life in Union with The Holy Trinity. (Wisdom being “the booby prize for all the unwise things I’ve done”). I’m finding, to know True Wisdom requires Love, slowing down, Full Silence, Stillness, Trust, Discernment, Nepsis, and waiting on the Lord. Then He will use you as He so desires. Or, He will keep you all to Himself. Either way, it’s a win/win situation. Thank you for sharing with us your “booby prizes.” Your words and Wisdom have changed my life.

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