Apocatastasis & Transfiguration

The link below has some inspiring and uplifting thoughts by the Russian Orthodox Priest & theologian Sergius Bukgakov. In a time of much uncertainty, turmoil, and religious violence a reminder of where God will lead the world is timely. No matter how unlikely it may seem to us now, our efforts at destroying our world, each other, and ourselves will ultimately be unsuccessful.

Thank God.


Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… in the presence of God and his Saints … (RB 58,18)

In the Rule St. Benedict insists that the novice upon entering the monastic community pledges his loyalty in oral and written form “in the presence of God and his Saints RB 58, 18).” The promise is made by the novice “in the names of the Saints whose relics are there and in the name of the abbot (RB 58, 19).”

To a modern, contemporary, reader the significance of this solemn act may be lost. Moderns are too often as little interested in the dusty old teachings of the holy Fathers as they are in relics. The names of the Saints is a mere addition to those witnessing the event. But so much more lies behind this solemn act that is too often lost to a modern observer.

The novice is in fact entering a living community of monastic life. The Saints, present in their relics, are living parts of that community. But the Saints present in their relics are not the only Saints making up this local community. The community also consists of Saints whose relics may not be present. The relics emphasize that the presence of the Saints is not pretence but tangibly real. Relics can be touched in veneration. Insofar as thee relics can be touched we can touch the Saints whose relics they are. Among the Saints comprising the community are the holy Fathers (RB 73, 2) whose teachings are to lead the novice (and his fellow monastics) to the very heights of perfection (RB 73, 2). These holy Fathers may not be present in their relics but they are very much present in their teachings. These teachings are currently located in the present abbot of the community, so that the abbot is a living voice of the holy Fathers (RB 64, 2) in his “goodness of live and wisdom of teaching.” The abbot is a father (RB 2,3) to his monks placing the abbot in a position similar to the holy Fathers! Fatherhood is a title shared with Christ because fatherhood is ultimately Christ’s and is given to the abbot and the Saints as grace.

Communal fellowship is not merely horizontal. There is more to community than modern hearers of the word might think. Above it was said that the Saints are part of the living community the novice is entering. A Christian community, Fr. Bunge points out, is “entirely unthinkable without the (living) testimony of those who have followed the Lord “from the beginning (John 15, 27).”

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

~ 1 John 1 1-3

No-one “comes to the Father except through the Son (John 14, 6)” and it is this Son who is the only true “mediator between God and humankind (1 Tim. 2, 5). In much the same no-one seeking communion with the Father and the Son can achieve it “except through the handing on by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses (Lk 1,2).” The holy Fathers are to us the ones handing on what they have received from their fathers, the latter have received it from theirs stretching all the way back to Jesus and his Apostles. The holy Fathers are authentic eyewitnesses and servants of the word [or Word] in the sense of Lk 1, 2.

We have not come to this task because of works that we have done (Titus 3, 5 & 2 Tim. 1, 13), but having as our model the sound discourses which we have heard from the fathers, we have been equally a witness to some of their deeds.

~ St. Evagrius of Pontus, On the Vices opposed to the Virtues, 1.

The holy Fathers are “equally witnesses” and, it should be remembered, so is the spiritual father of today: the abbot. For any Christian it is impossible to sidestep or otherwise circumvent the “teachings of the holy Fathers” because in doing so he will inevitably introduce novelties and things alien to the Christian way.

It is fitting for those desirous to walk on the Way – that Way which said about himself that “I am the Way and the Life” – that they would learn from those who have travelled along this way before them. It is also fitting that they should hear from them what is needful and converse with them about the things that are helpful. This is to prevent the introduction of things that are alien to our walk.”

~ St. Evagrius of Pontus, Epistle 17, 1.

The Christian monastic (both monks and nuns and non-monastics) strives to attain the same communion with the Father and His Son together with all the Saints already achieved by the holy Fathers who are “alive to God (Lk. 20, 38).” This is hat true Christian communion is.

Ultimately the communio Sanctorum (communion of Saints) consists of all the Baptized in both the horizontal and vertical senses. The communion of Saints is not actuated at the service of the Altar but it is forged in the waters of Baptism. The service of the Altar follows is made possible as it were by Baptism. The holy Fathers and the Saints who have travelled on the Way before us are present with us in Christ as our living brothers and sisters in faith. It is as our living and present brothers and sisters that we ask their help and intercession. In this our Protestant friends mistakenly believe that death has successfully separated us from Christ. After all our unity is in Christ and if we are separate from one another this can only be because we are separated from Christ! But as Catholics we know that the love of Christ unites us to Him in a bond which is unbreakable (Rom 8, 38).”

This is therefore what it means to adhere to St. Paul’s admonition to “stand firm  and hold fast to the traditions (2 Thess. 2, 15)” that we were taught. Not merely preserving the what is handed on to us but maintaining it in living communion. This is not “traditionalism” in the sense of doggedly sticking to ways and means regardless of life and context. It means living through the traditions given to us today. Traditional is not that which has gathered thick layers of the dust dust of age. Traditional refers to that which is authentically from the beginning. It can very well be that new aspects of tradition must arise in order to follow the teachings of the holy Fathers (RB 73, 2) in the present day context. This does not, however, mean innovation can now commence. The following of the traditions requires not creativity, but rather fidelity. St. Benedict provides an example of evolutionary wiggle room in his Rule:

Above all else we urge that if anyone finds this distribution of Palms unsatisfactory, he should arrange whatever he judges better, provided that the full complement of one hundred and fifty Psalms is by all means carefully maintained every week, and that the series begins anew each Sunday at Vigils.

~ St. Benedict of Nursia, The Holy Rule, 18, 22-23.

For Benedictines – those following the Holy Rule – the precise order of Psalms given by St. Benedict does not have to be followed. Others are possible. In Benedict’s time one of the alternatives was another Roman distribution of Psalms such as presumed in the liturgical writings of Amalarius of Metz and present in the pre-1911 Roman Breviary (only a slight alteration was made in the Psalter at Trent). The ways in which the Psalms can be distributed is limited by important qualifications:

  1. the Psalms mist all be recited at least once a week
  2. the Psalter must begin its cycle at Sunday Matins (Vigils = Matins).

This, of course, refers to common prayer and not to private prayer. The distribution found in classical Books of Common Prayer (BCP) is an excellent starting point for private prayer or a “little office” of personal devotion where the Psalms and Scripture readings are read slowly and lead the practitioner into extemporaneous prayer arising from the Psalms and Scriptures themselves. Here quality is much more important than quantity! As suitable as the BCP can be as a launching platform for private devotion so unsuitable is it as Liturgical Prayer. In essence peforming Morning or Evening Prayer as contained in the BCP as a solemn, publicly sung Office is therefore neither here nor there. This does not imply the BCP offices are bad, it only says something pertaining to their use. For liturgical prayer the given traditional liturgies are more than suitable and exceedingly adequate. We might consider the Anglican Breviary or Monastic Office here. Cranmer’s efforts are not necessarily in vain so long as his ill-conceived attempt at turning private devotion into common prayer is corrected.

In other words tradition is not dead and therefore unchanging (as is evident in both the Anglican Breviary and the Monastic Office). But neither can tradition be entirely undone and re-invented. Authenticity requires fidelity to what is given to what was handed on to us. So that in form, structure, and in time there is a direct and immediate connection to what was from the beginning. In fact … the beginning is present (or ought to be) manifested and made present in the current form and structures. This is as true for liturgy and personal devotion as it is to other aspects of the Benedictine (and therefore Christian) way of life. It is also in this sense that the abbot, the current abbot, of this particular monastic community, embodies the life and teaching of the holy Fathers.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… Listening and doing …

The entire Rule of St. Benedict is enveloped by two words: obsculta (listen) and pervenies (arrive, reach). Benedict, of course, intends that it is his Rule that is listened to, here “listened to” is not a mere hearing but a putting into practice. The Rule, however, does not stand on its own. Benedict places it in the context of the teachings of the holy Fathers (RB 73, 2) of whom two are singled out: St. John Cassian and St. Basil the Great. It seems good to take Benedict’s advise and sit down at the feet of St. John Cassian.

The first book coming from Cassian’s pen is the Institutes which are mentioned by name in the Rule of St. Benedict. Before the Praktkios (the one struggling against the vices to attain the virtues) turns to the loftier summits of the teaching and virtues [of the holy Fathers] (RB 73, 9) as found in The Conferences we need to make our way through The Institutes. This is the foundation upon which the higher summit is built. Without this foundation the summit is not difficult to attain but entirely impossible to attain!

There is an important structure to be taken into account when beginning to listen ( ! ) to John Cassian’s Institutes:

  1. Concerning the dress of monastics
  2. Concerning the Divine Office (in two books)
  3. Concerning the governance of the monastic community
  4. Concerning the 8 kinds of vices & evil spirits

This order is not accidental. First it is pointed out (by symbols) that the clothing of the monastic is different from non-monastics. By monastics I intend to indicate all who struggle to renounce the vices and put on the virtues. Obviously, it is not the clothes themselves that interests Cassian. Rather it is their inner meaning that is relevant to him and by extension also to us. Essentially the we are to take off the vices and put on the virtues. The items of monastic dress are connected to spiritual truths (and virtues) by means of allegory. We move from the outward facts to the inward facts. The basic work of praktike is here indicted: to rid ourselves of the vices and to gain the virtues. It is by means of the virtues that health is restored to the soul and that purity of heart is achieved: apatheia which is freedom from the vices. This freedom enables us to gain knowledge of God. So long as our hearts (minds) are darkened by the vices we cannot see the light of God. It is absolutely necessary to listen in the full sense that Benedict intended this word to be heard!

Secondy there needs to be a consistent and stable rule of prayer. This rule is not made up but is received. Cassian points to the traditional Divine Office as that which is so received. In the Rule of Benedict we are also given a specific ordering of the Divine Office (though it is not identical to Cassian’s). The core of the Divine Office is the weekly recited Psalter and the (specifically) arranged reading of Scripture. This Psalmody and Reading of Scripture is not separate from the teachings of the holy Fathers as intended by Benedict but rather Scripture (Old and New Testaments) are the first (and foremost) core of these teachings. But NOTE that the Old and New Testaments cannot be read, understood, nor applied separate from the rest of these teachings. They constitute one whole. It is to be noted here that the Rule itself has precisely 73 Chapters as does the Bible ( ! ) as St. Benedict knew it. That does not mean that there are not differences of perspective to be found in these teachings. Rather in these teachings in all of its differences the same goal is nonetheless attained: knowledge of God through shedding vices and practicing virtue.

The third element consists of regulating the life in and of the community. No-one is saved alone. Not even hermits. Some sort of community life is always presumed because that is what Christianity ultimately is: communion. As we live our lives in our communities (family, Church, monastic, etc) we inevitably run into the vices. We run into them because others have and display them, but mostly because we have and display them. Having taken on the baptismal garment of Christianity (the basic dress of Christians), having submitted to a rule of prayer, and living in a community of faith we now need tools to deal with the vices we will be running into. This is the final element of The Institutes.

There are, according to Cassian, 8 basic patterns of vice. The descriptions Cassian provides of these patterns of vice help us to recognize them and to counter them. The patterns Cassian informs us about are:

  1. Gluttony
  2. Fornication
  3. Covetousness
  4. Anger
  5. Dejection
  6. Accidie (Despondency)
  7. Vainglory
  8. Pride

Correctly understood and applied these 8 patterns are a powerful tool to live as a Christian and to attain the end-goal of Christian life: knowledge of God. The sixth chapter concerning fornication was not translated in the volume put online by osb.org. This is because Cassian is quite practical in his descriptions and suggestions to remedy the struggles that deal with sexuality. The Victorian attitude was too prudish to be properly instructed and thereby had lost the battle against “the spirit of fornication” before it was even begun.

Once this has become a regular – even habitual – process in our lives are we in a good position to begin The Conferences and On the Incarnation. In the former we find advanced teaching on monastic practice whereas in the latter we find Cassian setting out the catholic doctrine concerning the beginning, middle, and end of Christian faith: Jesus Christ. I am not here trying to say that Cassian himself so ordered his works to be read in this order: Institutes -> Conferences -> Incarnation but to me reading them in that order makes sense. This way of reading implies there is a progression from the rudiments of Christian practice to knowledge of God. For to have knowledge of Jesus Christ is to have knowledge of God. There is, in fact, no other way!

Listening (obsculta) involves not only hearing. To reach (pervenies) the goal doing is necessary. Refracting Benedict’s admonition to listen through John Cassian’s teaching shows great promise in both understanding and practicing the sort of monastic living St. Benedict envisions. It seems to me that here and now we have already gained some knowledge of the very teachings Benedict mentions in the concluding chapter of the Holy Rule

Gregory Wassen +

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… Evagrius and Benedict …

It does not strain the imagination to picture several of Evagrius’ works, worn for wear by frequent use, opened on St. Benedict’s writing desk. But could he in fact have had Evagrius’ works so readily available? The answer to this question is not easy to answer because we have no real evidence to affirm or deny it. We lack a nice clear selfie of St. Benedict where he shows us what he is currently reading, there are no facebook/twitter updates on what he is currently reading, nor do we have a picture on his desk showing what is opened on it and what he is currently working on. How times change!

Translations of some of Evagrius’ works were available early on in the West. Rufinus being responsible for translating Origen as well as Evagrius. The thought of Evagrius is certainly compatible with – if not presumed by –  the Rule itself.  But due consideration must be given to the influence of Jerome whose influence was as widespread and weighty as it was poisonous. By the time Cassian was writing his Conferences the name of Evagrius was already too controversial for openly mentioning it.

It is not unlikely that Jerome was aware of how he was disqualified by his opponents (Rufinus, Palladius, Cassian etc.) from true knowledge of God. The emphasis of the so-called Origenists lay on freedom from anger. To Evagrius, and those following his teaching, anger is what demons predominantly consists off. It is precisely anger that darkens the mind and prevents the mind from communing with God. The mind communes with God exclusively by learning to love. Many things can be said of Jerome, some of them good, but it could not be said that his life and dealings with people stand out by love. It is not too difficult to imagine Jerome being aimed at when an anonymous person consumed by anger is mentioned in the Origenists texts as lacking knowledge of God in the true sense. Jerome, being as intelligent as he was intransigent, most likely understood very well he was being addressed (and therefore called upon to repent and change his ways if he wanted to have true knowledge of God at all). This goes a long way to explain why Jerome still fumes with hatred when he mentions his already dead (in whch Jerome rejoices with similar abusive language) former friend Rufinus (see among others his Epistle 125, 18 where he refers to Rufinus as a “grunter” – a pig – and other such derogatory slurs immediately after he admonishes the addressee of his letter “never to speak ill of anyone”).

By the time St. Benedict composed his Rule he is not likely to have read or advised to read much from the known works of Evagrius – if at all. Benedict insists that reputable, orthodox, and catholic Fathers (RB 9.8) be so used. Jerome’s anti-Origenist campaign in the West has proven to be very successful and it is not strange that Benedict does not in fact mention Origen nor Evagrius (even if it is very much possible he knew them and may have even read them). The closest Benedict gets to Evagrius is when he insists that Basil the Great and John Cassian are – to his mind – representative of the teachings of the holy Fathers.

Basil was in fact Evagrius’ Bishop from his youth and their theology is close enough that Letter 8 of Basil’s corpus is now (after much study) unanimously attributed to Evagrius instead. It would also have been Basil that first introduced Evagrius to orthodox Origenian thought and practice. Now John Cassian is also closely associated with Evagrius. Cassian spent many years in the Egyptian desert and while living and learning there he also met and heard Evagrius. Much of Cassian’s spiritual teaching is saturated with Evagrian doctrine. Evagrius, in his turn, is deeply influenced by Origen. The first encounter with Origen was mediated by the Cappadocians, the second encounter with Origen came through the tradition that looks back to St. Anthony the Great and was mediated by the two great Macarii.

Today the attitude toward Evagrius (and Origen) is changing. It is becoming increasingly clear that the so-called Origenists were probably right. Hatred and anger distort knowledge. Love makes it possible. Ardent students and lovers of the teachings of the holy Fathers (among whom Fr. Henri Crouzel, Mark Edwards, Great Schema Monk Gabriel Bunge, Fr. Luke Dysinger, Fr. Columba Stewart, Augustine Casiday, Ilaria Ramelli etc) have successfully shown that Epiphanius, Jerome, Justinian and such “haters” (as kids today would say) have fundamentally misunderstood and misinterpreted Origen and Evagrius. The erroneous understanding of Origen and Evagrius has sadly become mainstream for many centuries. Even today it can still be found in many lovers of the teachings of the holy Fathers. Change is slow and that is a good thing.

In conclusion: it seems appropriate to me that Evagrius be added to a virtual library of St. Benedict’s. Not merely because of some of his best modern exegetes are themselves Benedictines (Fr. Bunge began his work as a Benedictine, Fr. Luke Dysinger, Colomba Stewart, etc are all Benedictines), but because the tradition the Rule of Benedict is placed in by its author is very much that which is associated with Origen and Evagrius. For as far as I am concerned Evagrius can safely be added to the reputable, orthodox, and catholic Fathersprovided he is understood on his own terms and not those of his later detractors. In fact, via Cassian and Basil, the Rule presumes the Evagrian background. The presence of Evagrius is not “an in your face” kind of thing, but his presence is all encompassing.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… the teachings of the holy Fathers … (RB 73,2)

But for anyone hastening on to the perfection of monastic life, there are the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which will lead him to the very heights of perfection.

~ St. Benedict of Nursia, The Holy Rule, 73, 2.

As he concludes the final chapter of his Rule, St. Benedict seems to undermine the value of his carefully crafted Rule. After mentioning the Institutes and Conferences of St. John Cassian, the Lives (of the Saints), and St. Basil the Great, he goes on to say of his own work that in comparison to the Fathers (especially the ones mentioned above) he is ashamed to the point of blushing for slothfulness, unobservance, and negligence (RB 73, 7). His Rule is a little Rule aimed at beginners (RB 73, 8) and beyond his Rule are the teaching and virtues of the holy Fathers (RB 73, 9). It would seem that Benedict’s assessment of his own Rule is thoroughly and comprehensively given the lie by the history his little Rule has played in shaping the Church and European civilization at large. But perhaps we should not take him at his word here. Is it not possible that Benedict is simply using a mere convention? A mere rhetorical flourish of a feigned humility? Knowing full well he has in fact written a Rule very rich in content?

Fr. Gabriel Bunge suggests that St, Benedict is neither underestimating his Rule, nor is he feigning humility. In fact his concluding remarks serve an entirely different (and more lofty) purpose. Benedict is setting his Rule in a specific context. Aware that his Rule does not, because no rule can, contain everything that could be needed to attain the heights of perfection he points to the source and authoritative tradition he intends his Rule to be a part off. Those praising the Rule for being unique, original, and/or without precedent are decidedly not doing St. Benedict any favors. Creativity, no matter how highly it is valued today, was very far from Benedict’s mind. He did not intend to be creatively original but to be doggedly faithful to the teachings of the holy Fathers . As Fr. Bunge writes: “The perfectio conversationis is to be found there where Benedict himself had found it (Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 21).

The Rule of St. Benedict is therefore not above the teachings of the holy Fathers but subject to their authority. It is precisely in this way that Benedict proves himself to be a “Father” in the same sense that the holy Fathers are to be considered as fathers. In the words of Fr. Gabriel:

Those we consider to be “holy Fathers” were not concerned about originality but rather with authenticity. The holy Fathers are always aware they are themselves, first of all, receivers rather than givers.

~ Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 21.

The ideal of perfection such as the holy Fathers envisioned it is shared by Benedict. His Rule does not intend to teach all there is to be found in the teachings and lives of the holy Fathers. It seems clear that Benedict intends to provide a starting point which will safely guide its adherents to the heights of perfection to be found in the teachings of the holy Fathers. The Rule is, as it were, the point of entry, it is a doorway. The doorway of the Rule opens into the wider (authoritative) monastic tradition of 4th century Egypt. By following the Rule – instead of ones own mind – a safe passage into authentic monastic life is guaranteed. The Rule of Benedict is of necessity contextualized by the teachings of the holy Fathers and cannot be understood nor practiced without it. Again Fr. Bunge:

In other words the Rule of Benedict itself cannot be meaningfully understood nor practiced without the Doctrinae Sanctorum Patrum.

~ Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 21.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… under a rule and an abbot … (RB 1,2)

Both Oblates and religious of the Benedictine Order are under authority (RB 1, 2). Most obviously the Rule of St. Benedict. But for monastics both lay and religious there is also the Abbot or spiritual father (or the Abbess & spiritual mother). The abbot is steeped in the tradition and the teaching of the holy fathers and is of stable character having been formed over many years of practice in the spiritual life. The abbot in his turn forms the monastics under him according to the same principles that he was himself trained in. This way the monastics are receiving that which was from the beginning (1 John 1-3) and have communion with that which was from the beginning through the Holy Rule as applied by the abbot (or in the case of laity the spiritual father/mother).

Having a father or a mother in this sense is crucial. It is not, however, easily available. The dangers of being an abbot (or an abbess) unto oneself is that such a traveller on the spiritual road will almost inevitably get lost along the way. These are the sarabaites the most detestable kind of monastics (RB 1, 6). The real monastic lives in obedience to the common rule of the monastery and he follows the example set by his superiors (RB 7, 55). To a novice the Rule is read three times during his probationary period (RB 58, 9, 12, 13) and he freely chooses obedience to the Rule. It is interesting to note that the Rule of St. Benedict is in fact commonly divided in portions for daily reading. These daily portions guide the listener through rule 3 times once a year. Naturally the abbot is himself also bound by the Rule (RB 3, 11; 64, 20).

The monastic community consists of: Abbot, Prior, Priests and Monks (or Nuns of course). They are all no longer free but are bound by the Rule (RB 58, 15), in particular this Rule (RB 58, 9) written and put in place by St. Benedict himself (RB 73, 1).

It might seem to modern readers that the Holy Rule envisions a closed system, where a tightly ordered society of monks slavishly obey the law. Such a view is terribly anachronistic and presumes too much. The great Benedictine reformer St. Benedict of Aniane required that in addition to Benedict’s rule, other such rules were to be read. Iow the Holy Rule was considered to be incomplete and required a broader context for its proper understanding and application. St. Benedict (of Nursia) himself points beyond his Rule to Sts. John Cassian and Basil the Great and he also indicates that his Rule is a place to start rather than the end (RB 73, 1, 8-9). We do not therefore have a closed system in the Rule, but rather a part of a bigger whole. The Rule provides a beginning and points toward an end for us to strive toward. It also provides helpful and necessary guideposts on the way there.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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… Beginning and End …

The Christian, and therefore the monastic, has a peculiar relationship to time. The coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ has established two poles which radically alter the Christian’s relationship to this age in which we presently live. Though not removed from this age, we might say that this age is removed from us – we are free from the “weak and beggarly elements of this world [or age]” (Gal. 4, 9). How is this so?

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Galatians 4, 4.

Fr. Gabriel notes that this coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ in the fullness of time brings a fundamental change in the character of time. The ever continuing flow of the river of time receives a a definite end: the second coming (parousia) of Jesus Christ. It is toward this second parousia of Jesus Christ (in glory, Matt. 16, 26) that the Christian (and therefore the monastic also) looks forward. The life of a Christian is oriented toward that end (goal) and cannot be oriented toward (and therefore subject to) the “weak and beggarly elements” of this present age. The monastic is not to be conformed to this world (age) St. Paul reminds us (Rom. 12, 2). The things of the present age are always decaying, subject to time, becoming outdated and obsolete. They are ever replaced by the next generation. The things of this world inevitably “sink into the bottomless abyss of forgetfulness (Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16).” Not so for the Christian:

The monk is named a monk because he converses with God by day and by night and is entirely attentive to the things of God and does not possess anything earthly.

Fr. Gabriel Bunge, citing St. Macarius the Great in Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16.

The time between the first and second parousia of Jesus Christ is therefore always to be viewed as subject to the absolute end of time and history. This should not be understood as to denude the present time of its significance, after all, today has eternal significance (Hebr. 3, 13-15) !

But there is more to be said about the Christian and his relation to time. We must also consider the relationship between the Christian and the new beginning because the Christian is in fact a new creature (Col. 4, 5) which is made possible by the first coming of Jesus Christ. The first and second coming of Jesus Christ are, obviously, not mere temporal facts. Jesus Christ having once come and now returning is today present in the Holy Spirit, the Other Comforter. It is this Spirit which empowered the Apostles at Pentecost and effects our salvation in Jesus Christ by the Sacraments of the Church.

The Christian always reaches back to That which was from the beginning (1 John 1, 1) because this beginning is not a mere chronological fact. Rather this beginning is an absolute, existence enabling new beginning.

Fr. Gabriel Bunge, Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter, p. 16.

This new beginning prevents the sliding away into the time of the present age and it establishes and renews the koinonia with those that were eye witnesses from the beginning (1 John, 1, 3). These eye-witnesses are the only authentic witness to this beginning and only they make possible that we gave access to the beginning at all. Just as Christian life so likewise is the monastic life rooted in this reaching back to That which was from the beginning.

St. Anthony the Great did not intend to create a new, never seen before, experiment of Christian life when he decided to retire to the desert. Far from it. His was an attempt to fulfill what was commanded of him in the Gospel and to entirely live up to the standard of the apostolic Christian community. Fr. Bunge notes that even St. Anthony’s rule of life is a deliberate attempt to practice the apostolic commandments to eat from his own labour (2 Thess 3, 10), to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5, 17), and the attentive reading of the Holy Scriptures (1 Tim. 4, 13) as recorded by St. Athanasius the Great in his The Life of St. Anthony (3, 6).

This is not to say that it is easy to find the right balance in living a life between the beginning which the first coming of Christ established and the end which his second coming will inaugurate. The temptation to be conformed to this age is always present to the Christian and to monastics as well. Fr. Gabriel reveals that the purpose of his book Auf den Spuren der Heiligen Väter is to provide the contemporary monastic with some criteria by which he will be able to live a monastic life in this present age without conforming to this age . To enable him to be monastic in the sense that St. Macarius viewed the monastic life. The Rule of Saint Benedict provides, so assures Fr. Gabriel his readers, an excellent starting point because though it is ancient it has not lost any of its relevance as a guide to begin living a true monastic life.

Fr. Gregory Wassen

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