12 March 2012 • Seminarians Speak, a reflection by Monk James
What is living at St. Vladimir’s like for a monk?
I am not what one would call a stereotypical monk. From my days as a novice I have been given “obediences,” that is to say I’ve accepted certain tasks given to me by my spiritual father, that have taken me out of the confines of coenobitic monastic life. On many occasions and for varying stretches of time I have not partaken of a daily cycle of services. Often, I have been the only monastic in whichever community I happen to find myself, and I’ve eaten many meals without the company of another monastic. Reflecting on my past, I for all intents and purposes seem to have been completely outside of the monastic lifestyle.
And yet, I have found myself in these (for a monk) precarious positions because of obedience, and so for this reason I don’t particularly feel as though I have ever left the monastery. I have been granted the gift of accomplishing specific work, with the blessing of my spiritual father, in a manner that I pray is unto my salvation. I have no complaints in this regard; the work that I’ve been given and the circumstances that have resulted have never made me doubt my monastic vocation, but have instead worked to grant me the possibility of surrendering more completely to God, if I only accept the opportunity.
This is not to say, however, that all of my experiences have been particularly easy. No, much like anyone else there have been times when I’ve greatly missed the community life to which I still feel greatly called, and I have desired the friendship of individuals who have undertaken the same struggle. So one can imagine just how thankful I am to find myself in the midst of a community whose daily rhythm is dictated by the divine services, who shares meals together, and who have conscientiously responded in obedience to God’s calling by undertaking a common struggle. For a monastic, seminary life seems to be pretty ideal.
My daily schedule here is similar to that of the monastery, though for obvious reasons with not quite the same nuances. Every morning we assemble for Matins, every evening we assemble for Vespers. Saturdays and Sundays are dedicated to the preparation and celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated according to the festal cycle. During feasts and fasts, the divine services are increased. I have one or two daily jobs for which I am responsible, and just like in the monastery, I know to be on the lookout for the Dean of Students, who always seems to have one or two more tasks that require volunteers. Just like in the monastery too, mistakes are made, someone misses a responsibility, and plans change. And just like in the monastery, the community works together to cover for the mistake, to pick up the responsibility, and to adapt. Life goes on, and the community grows closer together, bearing up one another’s burdens for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel message.
Classes and homework seem to take up every other spare moment, but this is joyous work—surely there could be worse things then studying the fathers, the history of the church and its many elements, and scripture. My classmates are studious and respectful, and thankfully it is not difficult to find the quiet that is so conducive to study. (Although finding enough of it may be another matter altogether!) Much like at the monastery, there is always something new and challenging before me. I am continuously encouraged by my studies to evaluate my life and move past the “old Adam,” in hopes of more fully acting in accordance with the will of God. What more could one ask for?
Given the overall theme of this my reflection, one should again not be surprised that I have been granted even more blessings than what I’ve already mentioned. That is, I’ve also been granted a community of monastics here on campus that I can without hesitation call “my brothers.” There are four of us here on campus now, and we interact with the campus in varying capacities, some teaching classes or lecturing and others as students. We grow in our commitment to each other daily, learning from and inspiring each other to seek Christ more completely. In a way I’m thankful that I’ve been allowed to experience monasticism outside of a monastery before coming to St. Vladimir’s, because I’m not sure that I’d appreciate just how rich the small monastic community here on campus is if that weren’t the case. This is not to say, of course, that St. Vladimir’s has a fully functional monastery within its boundaries—that much is simply not true. However, I do feel that it is safe to say that the monastic presence here on campus is quite alive and functioning, providing context and support for the monastics that have been called to St. Vladimir’s in one way or another. It is a very good thing for us to be together.
In summary, St. Vladimir’s has proven to be a true blessing for this monk. Many of the key elements of the coenobitic life are present here on campus: a daily cycle of services, daily obediences, a strong sense of community, and more profitable and spiritual reading than one could possibly absorb in any given period of time. And even amongst the non-monastic students, the there is still a strong mindfulness of obedience to the will of God. Though I’m not currently in a monastery but in a seminary, I have to admit that I feel now, in an even more complete way than before, that I have still never left the monastery.
So, “what,” one might ask, “is seminary life like for a monastic?” I’d have to say that for this monk, seminary life is really quite good.—Monk James