When first glancing at our curriculum for WCD, I was not looking forward to reading from the Philokalia. I predicted that I would be bored and find the material stale, but I have been completely caught off guard by how I have loved getting to know these men. I have been more than pleasantly surprised by all that they have to say.
At first, I thought that the monks were selfish. “How can living in the middle of nowhere advance the Kingdom of God?” I wondered if they were running from something, if they feared social situations, or if they just didn’t like people. But, it turns out that these men took their calling as monks very seriously – it was not a decision that they made flippantly, or one that they did out of selfish ambition (as least from what I can tell). They desired to commune with God and to point others to that end with their writings and caring for other brothers in the ministry. I even hear in some of their writings that they struggled with their calling to the ascetic life at times, feeling lonely.
It turns out that these men were called by God to teach us about stillness, prayer and sacrifice and that they didn’t run to the wilderness just to be alone. I now count these readings as treasure – I cannot believe that I have stumbled across such gems of wisdom! I am thankful for the ways that these men articulate their experiences with God, in ways that I have not yet been able to do. In some ways, their words have become my words – a way for me to describe the sweetness of life with Jesus – and the struggle. Their longings are very similar to my longings and their desires very similar to my desires.
Am I called to a life of solitude? I don’t think so, but there is still so much to learn from these men. Recently, I have found myself saying, “Thank you Mark the Monk” or, “Thank you Evagrios!” Though I did not understand you at first, you are now becoming dear friends. You are a gift to the Church – your prayers strengthen us, your words encourage us, and your sacrifice challenges us. Now that I have called you friends, I am not sure I would want to live without you. Jesus has given you to me as a fellow traveler. You have gone before me and set an excellent example of giving your entire life to the cause of the Kingdom of God. I long to follow you as you follow Christ. Your role in the Kingdom is invaluable and I am thankful to share in this journey with you. Thank you for being faithful to your calling.”