Athos Monasticism: the Coexistence of Life and Death

Every athonite monk, following in the footsteps of the holy fathers and living according to their tradition, combines the two states that appear antithetical on the surface. If you have the Spirit of God, you will see that these two states are death and life. From everyday death comes life, and from the possession of life death is mortified even more. The more death (sin) dies, the more Life (Christ) is strengthened. Such a confirmation of Life  tramples death underfoot, bringing the sensation of the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ in oneself, which means the mortification of sin and the birth of life. So, we can say that monks take on death and receive Life. The apostle Paul writes to the Romans: “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.” (Rom. 6: 9, 10). Venerable Niketas Stethatos writes that the same happens with a saint who imitates Christ and dies to the world while continuing to live the life of Christ: “He who rises above the works of death becomes resurrected with Christ. The death of ignorance no longer has power over him, because it is through his knowledge that he was resurrected with Christ, Who no longer dies. Having mortified his limbs and putting aside vain cares, he no longer lives for the flesh or the world. It is Christ Who lives in him; he is guided by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and not the law of the flesh; he has yielded his limbs to God the Father as an instrument of righteousness.”

Moreover, you will also find in the God-like monks the coexisting states of rest and movement. According to Saint Maximus, they live in “ever-moving rest” or “steady motion.” They abide in Christ, constantly striving for perfect happiness in Him, for Christ is a pearl of great value. This is figuratively explained by St Gregory of Nyssa: “The most incredible thing is how this peace can also be movement. The one who is ascending is not standing still, and the one that is standing still cannot be ascending; and yet here the mere fact of standing makes you rise. This is because the more constant and unyielding one’s resoluteness in the good is, the faster he goes the path of virtue.” In other words, he who abides in goodness while constantly moving; also moves while abiding in Christ. Both the thirst for Christ and the divine nourishment are incessant. One monk once said: “Something strange is happening to me. I am thirsty and at the same time I am being nourished!” For a lover of God, however, this is by no means surprising. This is “the perfect endless perfection of the perfect” (Venerable John Climacus).

Monastic life is a constant imitation of Christ the Word. A zealous monk goes through all the stages of the life of Christ. Christ is incarnate, works miracles, undergoes suffering, resurrects and ascends in him. Having Christ is in him, he manages to unite his inner world with the outer world. He overcomes all boundaries and ascends to a greater height than that from which Adam fell. Saint Maximus speaks of the five divisions that Adam could not overcome, and which man now overcomes with the help of Christ, the New Adam. These are the differences between the uncreated and the created, mental and sensual, heaven and earth, paradise and the universe, male and female. From overcoming the latter, he comes to overcoming the first (the difference between the uncreated and the created). Therefore, a holy man of God brings all of himself and the whole world to God, and by virtue of this he is the greatest benefactor of mankind.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
Source: Hierotheos (Vlachos), Metropolitan. One night in the desert of the Holy Mountain. Conversation with a Hermit about the Jesus Prayer. – Holy Trinity Sergius Lavra, 2003

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