Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hermit Delusion

Why the Church?  Why your parish?  Why your spouse (Orthodox or not)? Why your priest? Why your kids?  Why your boss? Why that co-worker? Why that grumpy cashier? Why that jerk on the freeway? Why not a shack in the woods in Montana and a prayer book?..... Because,

When we try to escape the struggle for long-suffering by retreating into solitude, those unhealed passions we take there with us are merely hidden, not erased; for unless our passions are first purged, solitude and withdrawal from the world not only foster them but also keep them concealed, no longer allowing us to perceive what passion it is that enslaves us. On the contrary, they impose on us an illusion of virtue and persuade us to believe that we have achieved long-suffering and humility, because there is no one present to provoke and test us.

But as soon as something happens which does arouse and challenge us, our hidden and previously unnoticed passions immediately break out like uncontrolled horses that have long been kept unexercised and idle, dragging their driver although more violently and wildly to destruction. Our passions grow fiercer when left idle for lack of contact with other people.

- St. John Cassian, "On the Eight Vices" in The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 1

H/T: Orr


Øystein said...

Very interesting. I can relate totally, and especially to the first commenter on Orr's site. Is one to take st. Cassian's words that passions need to be purged BEFORE one becomes a monk, to mean that asceticism is best practised in the world, where all sorts of temptations abound? Many questions arise: who can then become a monk? And taken to it's extreme, doesn't it sort of undermine monasticism? And is this opinion of St. cassian not contradicted by the fact that the most humble people on earth are the saintly hermits found in desolate places, who have engaged for decades in solitary ascetic practice?

Oystein from Norway

Steve Robinson said...

Oystein, One misconception about monasticism is that it is "living as a hermit". In the Orthodox tradition of monasticism, monks always live in community. If anything being a monk is MORE difficult because you don't get to be by yourself AND you HAVE to live with people you didn't pick (like a wife). Being a Hermit is only permitted with the blessing of a spiritual father and only for those who have been perfected in a communal setting so they are not allowed to run away from people and their issues, but are leaving people because in a sense people are no longer an issue and they are prepared to live in solitude with God and wrestle more deeply within themselves. There are a couple of interviews with Abbott Jonah about monasticism in the "Our Life in Christ" audio archives (Link in the sidebar of my blog). I encourage you to check them out.

Anonymous said...

anywhere you go, you find you still standing there.

Anonymous said...

Dammit! Bang goes plan B!

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you for these challenging words particularly relevant to me this Great Lent.

Steve Robinson said...

Tom, at least it was your "Plan B", you are not as deluded as some other people... :)

Anonymous said...


Fr John Chagnon