Reflections On The Scandal
Of Ideal Monks and the Spread of the Gospel
A Modest and Timely Proposal
"But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" I Corinthians 9:27
"It is to the humble that Christ belongs, not to those who exalt themselves above his flock. The scepter of God's majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not come with pomp of pride or arrogance, though he could have done so. But he came in humility, just as the Holy Spirit said of him." St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians Ch. 16
By vocation I am a historian, and it was through the study of history and theology–aided of course by the abundant grace of God--that I eventually converted to Orthodoxy from Presbyterianism. One of the paradoxes my Protestant mind could not grasp was how it was that monastics and ascetics were the ones who spread the Gospel and were the ones so valiant for the Faith: visions of cloisters, hermits, and anchorites who at the same time were alight with evangelical zeal for the conversion of the pagans seemed a contradiction.
Yet there they were: Sts Patrick, Boniface, Cyril and Methodius, Columba, Herman, inter alios. Yet not only were monks great missionaries, they were also the backbone of preserving the Christian and Classical past. Thus to the monastics we owe both our Faith and the knowledge of the past. Nonetheless, these activities, along with so many others, were not really the goals or the ends of the monastic life, but were in a real sense, byproducts or the excess of that one goal, namely prayer, the attainment of God. Put another way, without monastic piety, we would have an impoverished and beggarly Christianity, were we to have it at all. The desert fathers, the Irish monks, Sts Cyril and Methodius, St Herman, realized that the life of prayer, the life of silence, the life of devotion were necessities, indeed prerequisites, for the missionary life.
But there was something else that went with this, and that is abandonment of self, and of any such thing as prerogative. When the Irish monks realized that the time of martyrdom had come and gone, and that they had missed it, the undertook what they called green (as opposed to bloody and red) martyrdom, the voluntary exile from home and family for the sake of the Gospel. In this, as in so much of our Faith, they were drawing from fields already ploughed and planted by the holy Apostle St. Paul, and indeed in many ways (quiet, prayer, solitude) even by our Lord before him.
All that was of material gain to St. Paul he counted as rubbish, things to be thrown to the dogs, in order that he might gain Christ. He did not even count his own life dear to himself, but abandoned all of his former life. In Corinth he preached the Gospel at his own expense, working as a tent maker in order not to burden the Corinthians. In his first epistle to them he noted that he disciplined his body (asceticism), lest having preached to others he himself should be disqualified from the race.
And this is the hub of the matter. Without devotion, self-discipline, St. Paul’s ministry would have been worthless. This was the same for others: Sts Cyril and Methodius were the adopted children of a high Byzantine functionary (analogous to our Secretary of State, with the title Logothete of the Drome), but abandoned the life of the court to take up life as monks and teachers. It meant leaving behind worldly pleasures in order to obtain Christ, and in order to bring Christ to others. In short, they could not give what they did not possess.
In thinking about this I have been unable not to make application to some of those most visible monks within our midst, namely our bishops. With but one exception, all our bishops were drawn from the ranks of the non-monastic clergy. This in itself is not an issue. Rather the fact that among monastics there is the necessity of dying to oneself in order to serve others; a need to become a servant to all, and to learn humility, to disdain earthly goods, and to not count your own life as dear. The monastic life, centered on prayer, and on obtaining Christ, is one our monastics undertake willingly through vows and tonsure. It is not that these things cannot be had by parish clergy, and indeed by all Orthodox Christians, but within the monastery the first focus is on laying aside all earthly cares, that the King of all might be obtained, and then in turn He may be given to others.
Consequently, only an abstemious life, one of self-abnegation, can suffice for a monastic. It is into this life our bishops enter, by vows, tonsures, and even the taking of new names, prior to their consecration as bishops. Thus I am quite at a loss to understand why some of them live eschewing even the seeming barest rigors of the monastic life. I know of some who aren’t vegetarians, who even eat fish during Lent.
Not all of this sumptuousness can be imputed to some form personal lapse. Many of the faithful give gifts out of love for bishops (I know of one bishop who had gold table settings given to him), which love for our bishops I applaud. But the largesse has reached profligate and prodigal proportions, which can best be seen in the demands now made on the faithful to subsidize, underwrite, and pay for a lifestyle that has been, and now will be (to the tune of 1.7 million dollars), sucking the life out of our church. Why should a tonsured monk, who has housing, travel, all meals and every earthly care provided for him, be payed a salary of the multiple tens of thousands of dollars? I don’t mean to single out anyone, but why should any bishop live like some medieval, feudal prince, as did many of the Latin bishops of past centuries?
Those who are bishops or will become bishops might do well to have as their spiritual guide the saintly +Metropolitan Leonty who lived in a few humble rooms in New York City's Second Street Cathedral. This holy man who had been husband, father and grandfather would become Primate of our Church. It is said that he went into the streets of the Bowery to feed the hungry. These were the people in his neighborhood. He was not interested in hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. He brought the Gospel to his neighbors, nourishing both their bodies and souls. In him they saw Christ: a kind and humble man. O Holy Father Leonty pray unto God for us to deliver our Church in this time of peril!
Perhaps the next thing I should say is why haven’t these lavish lifestyles been cashed in and the money given to the destitute priests who are on food stamps, yet I fear to hear "Poor priests ye have with you always, and you can do good to them at any time." Unfortunately, we have come to a time when even were we to wish we cannot help our priests. Five churches at least in my diocese have no priests, some have priests who have to maintain second jobs in order to live, and many parishes cannot afford to pay health insurance.
Why do we, a church of some 50-100,000 attenders (people who show up, let us say, more than once a year), need to maintain a multi-million dollar estate in a neighborhood so posh that our national staff cannot afford housing? Why should we maintain our Chateau Lafite-Rothschild national church appetites on our Thunderbird budgets? In short, we cannot (after all, if I am not mistaken, you cannot buy Thunderbird with food stamps). St. Paul tells us to owe no one anything but to love one another. If we spend all our money bankrolling junkets to Moscow, lavish lifestyles, inter alia, how are we going to love the orphans in Beslan? Telling them "Be warm and be filled" is all that’s left to us, and all this is, is the most perverse form of hatred.
And this brings me to what I think, given our situation, is a modest proposal. Sell Syosset, pay off Honesdale, and move the national headquarters to South Canaan. It is far too costly to maintain Syosset, even without scandal and theft and corruption. The cathedral in New York as an alternative is also out of the question due to location and parking; and the site of St. Nicholas Cathedral in Washington, D.C. faces many of the same problems as the two other sites: parking, expenses, et cetera.
And moving to South Canaan will have enormous advantages, and has precedent. In 1990, with the fall of communism, the headquarters of the Moscow Patriarchate were relocated to the grounds of the Danilovsky Monastery in Moscow. It is a large building surrounded by the various churches and monastic buildings. Next to the MP headquarters building was built a modern hotel for the convenience of those doing business at the MP. It was in this hotel that Fr. Daniel Hubiak and his matushka lived for quite a few months when he first moved to Moscow from Jersey City, NJ as the first priest (rector) of the St. Catherine's Representational Church.
Closer to home the national headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the US are located in Bound Brook, NJ near their seminary, national church, cemetery (very much like the St Tikhon's model here proposed), with modern hotels and interstates at ready access.
At St Tikhon's there are all sorts of hotels within just a few miles, and all much cheaper than around any big US City. It's about 15-20 minutes off the interstate. It could again become the place of All- American Councils, such as the one where our autocephaly was proclaimed. Unlike Syosset there is no traffic congestion. There is also a church on hand, along with the aid and comfort of the monastery and the seminary. Granted, the new chancery should be removed from the monastery, but given what the Syosset estate will bring, I am sure we can purchase a good bit of adjoining land that shall keep all at a comfortable distance. We could as well create not only the national headquarters, but as well have a mission center, facilities for the training of our laity, and breath life into our church as opposed to sucking it out.
These are my thoughts, for what they are worth, and I am glad to be taught better.
Cyril Gary Jenkins