Monday, February 8, 2016

The Christian Calling

I realize it has been quite some time since I've written or posted anything on this blog. To anyone who has been anxiously awaiting, I apologize. Over the last six months or so I have been brainstorming over what direction I want to take this blog. Obviously, the blog itself is dedicated to spirituality according to the Eastern Christian tradition - particularly how it is expressed through the Jesus Prayer. However, I've been struggling to figure out what that means for those of us who have a non-monastic vocation.

I've often heard it said that "Eastern Christian spirituality is monastic." Essentially meaning that the closer a non-monastic's spirituality mirrors monastic spirituality, the better. Monasticism, in this sense, is held up as the ideal vocation to which all Christians ought to strive. Those of us who choose non-monastic vocations are left feeling like we chose a lesser of two vocations; like somehow we're not living the Christian/Gospel life to its fullest. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I came to realize that the reason many people think that Eastern Christian spirituality is inherently monastic (by the way, one could say the same of Western/Roman Catholic spirituality) is because all of the literature on spirituality in the East was written by monastics, and the vast majority of it was written with monastics as their primary audience. We get glimpses, however, of non-monastic spirituality when we look closely at a few different texts: St. John Chrysostom's writings on marriage, St. Theophan the Recluse's letters to a young noblewoman found in the book The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to It, and even The Way of the Pilgrim. Although I haven't yet had the opportunity to read the book, my guess is that Paul Evdokimov's book The Sacrament of Love will give us a penetrating look into non-monastic spirituality in the Eastern Christian tradition.

There are, of course, similarities between monastic and non-monastic vocations and spirituality. Like St. Therese of Lisieux wisely pointed out, the Christian vocation is to love. Love requires self-emptying, self-sacrifice, purification from the passions. Only when we are free from our selfish desires are we truly free to love. Love requires that we follow Christ in his kenosis, that we take up our Cross daily. St. Paul tells us to "live in a manner worthy of the call you have received" (Eph. 4:1). This, of course, can be interpreted in the broad sense of living in a manner worthy of the Christian vocation - the call to decrease so that Christ might increase in us and radiate to others through our lives. But to this broad, general sense can be added a more specific sense of personal vocation. How do we live the general Christian vocation in the unique personal vocation/calling that I have received?

To use more "Eastern" terminology, St. Isaac the Syrian tells us in his 74th homily, "This life has been given to you for repentance, do not squander it in vain living." Essentially he is saying the same thing here that was said above. Repentance is not about beating our breast in guilt and saying "woe is me. I'm such a sinner." Repentance recognizes sin and the passions that dwell within us, of course. But it goes beyond that to challenge us to change our ways. To turn from the old man and be clothed in the new! To cast of the mind of the world and put on the mind of Christ! Essentially repentance is the call to self-emptying, kenosis, so that we may be filled with Christ. It is the call to empty ourselves of our passions, sinfulness and sinful inclinations, and everything that keeps us from living "in a manner worthy of the call" we have received. It is a call to reject that which keeps us from living life to its fullest.

The unique vocation to which each individual is called is the arena in which he will work out this self-emptying in order to be filled with the love of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit. If I am called to monasticism, that is where I will live out the general Christian calling in my life. If I am called to marriage, that is where I will experience the best opportunities to practice self-emptying love and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

These are themes that I would like to continue to explore moving forward. In doing so, I hope I remain faithful to the tradition that has been passed down to Eastern Christians for generations. In particular I hope to remain faithful to my own Maronite-Syriac tradition. May heaven consume us.