In the Preface to the English edition of St. Nikolai (Velimirovich) of Zica’s Akathist to Jesus Conqueror of Death, the following comment is made: “The foremost calling of a monastic is to be unique–unique in how one witnesses to the risen Christ.”
Unique? A monastic? And yet, I have heard this saying before. Those of us not in a monastic setting are deluged from infancy by the presumptions of individualism which drive us to seek ways to express our individuality outwardly in matters like dress, hairstyle, music we listen to, car we drive, and all that we can (consciously or unconsciously) choose ourselves. It seems to me that much of what passes for individual expression is merely a faint cry for uniqueness.
The uniqueness of each human person has very little (almost nothing, really) to do with easily (or not so easily) alterable externals. In fact, so long as our focus is on what is external–what we like or don’t like, what appeals to us, what excites us, what we loathe–we will never come to know who we are, our unique self. Our unique human person is that which is in the image of Christ; it is that which uniquely “witnesses to the risen Christ.” And “witness” is merely the English translation of the Greek word “martyr.”
The monks have the secret. And to varying degrees we can all enter into the secret. It is a secret that is no secret at all. Jesus already said it plainly: “Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt 16:25). In losing what seems to be our life, we find our life. Yet losing our life is never fun, even if finding our life is Life itself.
When we walk this pathway of salvation, we all take up a unique martyrdom. Each of us witnesses to Christ by a unique death for His sake. We lose our life, we lose bits of what is familiar and comfortable, of what we like and prefer, in order to find our life, our life in Christ. And this life in Christ is not something monochrome, except perhaps to those who see only easily alterable externals. Externally, we may fast on the same days, say the same prayers, maybe even (in the case of monastics) wear similar clothes and seek to live similarly simple lifestyles; but all of this external similarity is merely for the sake of revealing our unique selves, our unique witness to the risen Christ.