Time, the age-old, unattainable pointer to our ceaseless pursuit of it, rushes on with inexorable speed. The days fly by, stringing along like glass beads which one careless move could turn into dust. Life passes us by in our unending longing to catch up with TIME, a longing that causes an exhaustion that catches up with us, while we are not even aware that this exhaustion is from that running with the goal to conquer time. This race, however, is futile and lost before it has even begun, for this time which we pursue, the time we live in, is a time of haste and forgetfulness, the time of the forerunners of antichrist, which consumes a person entirely, eagerly catching him up in its hellish embrace. Led by one passion or another, we accept every compromise with this time, making every excuse to our nearly-entirely-stifled conscience with heaps of proofs of our frailty and powerlessness.
The question, thus, arises: Do we Orthodox Christians also yearn and hasten after this time, the time of antichrist, his forerunners and followers? Have we also been dissipated into this world, or better said, have we as well given ourselves over willingly to this world, even if we say that we are not of this world? Do we not also bring proofs before our sad conscience of our inability to oppose the spirit of this time? It is sad to admit the affirmative answer to this question, but it is our reality. This is what we are, we contemporary Orthodox Christians. We cannot forget the Lord’s thunderous words through St. John the Theologian in the book of Revelation:
“I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful... for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on to thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” (Rev. 3:1-3)
Do these words not apply to us, and do they not speak of our near future?
What brings us to write such words? It is this very future, which we fear.
The life of modern man, of a Christian, examined through the Mikulj keyhole, as through a spyglass, is stripped of all falsehoods which one would hide behind, without which one must admit to oneself what one is really like, however much this hurts our vanity. It is not easy to admit to oneself the emptiness of one’s life until now, for a man always wishes to accomplish one goal or another, hopes to attain “success” in this life. It is hard to admit to oneself that one has aimed for the wrong things all of one’s life and suffered defeats, all the while thinking that they were victories. It is not easy to face up to every excuse one made for not turning to God. It is not easy to face up to every compromise which we made with the world, to every idea, desire, deed, and word (all of which are truly numerous) which are entirely in opposition to the spirit of Orthodoxy.
The examination of one’s conscience is a very serious and responsible task. For the weak, vainglorious man of today to face himself and admit his falls is equivalent to a miracle of God. What was once considered basic Christian activity is now seen as something impossible for us; it seems nearly mad for anyone to venture into such an “ascesis.” Thus we only talk about the labors of the holy fathers and mothers and admire their loftiness, but we ourselves cannot find the strength to imitate their works nor even at least to adopt their ideals. We would rather give ourselves up to the spirit of these times which mercilessly crush every lofty Christian ideal of an angelic life through the fulfilling of the Gospel’s commandments. Unfortunately, we would rather remain wallowing in the mud of our sins. Any loftier Christian life we lump into the same category as some nice fairytales, which no one today could bring to life. Thus the days pass us by in negligence of our salvation. Though we are called living, in spirit we have long been dead.
Life spent in a monastery offers one the chance to see his sinfulness, which implies the effort to correct oneself. Only in a monastic community can we finally realize what a distorted view we have of reality. Only then can all of our inviolable attitudes in defense of ourselves and our vanity be knocked down. Only then can our untouchable Self be quashed a bit and the little Christian inside begin to cry and grow. Certainly, all of this only happens inasmuch as we have a clear picture of why we joined the monastery and what the goal of dwelling within it is. Insomuch that this is not clear to us, so much will we bear the light yoke of Christ with difficulty, for we have not accepted the logic which is not of this world, and thus we in fact take on the heavy yoke of the world, under which our legs tremble and give way.
It is a great honor and dignity to be a monk. The Lord, however, did not choose us because we are better than others; on the contrary, seeing our weakness and inability to resist the spirit of these times, He has removed us to a peaceful haven where the raging winds of the world which lies in evil do not blow. The war that we wage for the salvation of our souls is not in the least bit easy or harmless. Still, in comparison with the fight which people living in the world have, it is significantly easier. All we have to do is obey the rules of the monastery. If a monk keeps and strictly fulfills the blessings he is given, it is impossible for him to experience serious falls, as long as he confesses honestly (which implies that he is keeping watch over himself and his thoughts). We have chosen a path which is more rarely taken, straight and narrow, strewn with the many thorns of our vanity and crowded about with the dense thickets of our pride. Yet a small ray of Christ’s light reaches us through our spiritual father or mother to whom we confess our thoughts and who keeps tireless watch over us. A monk’s path is made much easier if he completely gives himself over to the spiritual guidance of his abbot (or in our case, abbess), for she wages war for us, with our cooperation. So the work of the salvation of our souls is perfected, through the labor of our spiritual mother who lays down her life for her sheep.
Many ask us why, and to many people it is not clear why we have chosen to live in such an isolated place, where for a radius of 50 km there are no other residents. Nor can one come to this place with an ordinary vehicle. The living conditions are quite difficult, without electricity, water, or telephone. Here the weather conditions are highly unpredictable, the winds reaching incredible speeds, especially in the winter months. To many it is baffling how we can live here in the winter season (which lasts an average of five months), cut off from the world by snowfalls which become insurmountable. What would happen if someone fell sick, if someone fell, broke a leg, hand…? It would be impossible then to reach a doctor or get medicine; in such cases, how can we be prepared to give ourselves up utterly in God’s hands? For nothing else remains…
It is in this very self-abandonment that the goal of our earthly life lies: in the complete abandonment of oneself, without reserve, to the hands of Our Creator. Our entire life is an arena in which we train to reach this goal. For that moment is inevitable when we will have to give up our souls. Will we be ready in that moment to say, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commit my spirit”? In the Mikulj arena everything is arranged with that goal in mind. With this labor, this ascesis, it is this goal which we hope to attain, with God’s help. The New Stjenik Monastery is known for its ascetical inclinations, but this does not mean just an external fulfilling of form, but rather spiritual work which each one of us must embrace in her heart. When we have our goal clearly in mind, then even ascesis is not difficult.
Monastery life is a fortress in which all for whom life in the world has become too difficult find shelter. It is a haven for those who have not the strength to resist the spirit of the times. The monastery offers comfort and protection to all who are wounded by sins and the world which lies in evil. Rare are those spiritual strong men who can endure the harsh whipping of the winds of the world. Once, when we had just settled in this holy place, we sent our spiritual father Bishop Akakije, then still a hieromonk, a message describing the bad weather on Mikulj and the winds that were blowing at terrific speed, for at that time this was for us an entirely new experience. He replied, “As cruel, terrible and unbearable the Mikulj wind is, compared to the reeking, demonic, overflowing-with-sinful-filth and passionate winds of the world, it is just a gentle breeze. You have a peaceful haven from the deadly tempest of the World. The holy Mikulj windy haven is given to you for you never to forget the infernal storms of the world.”
Living quietly and paying no heed to the wind outside, all is peaceful in our dear sanctuary, except when the powerful internal winds of our passions start to blow. We do what we can to control them with fasting, prayer, humility and submission to others, and all the other monastic good works. The effort to acquire prayer and Christian virtues, while on the other hand uprooting the sinful habits of the old man, are our main occupations. For us weak ones the success in at least one good labor, with God’s help, is a great deed. Still, just our heart’s longing to change and sincere repentance for our careless life until now propitiate the Lord to have mercy and help us, making possible that which was for our frailty impossible.
If you take a look from your heart through the Mikulj keyhole, you will see an entirely different life which takes place in the world but is not of the world. The more closely you look, the more you will see that monastic logic is entirely the opposite from the worldly logic to which you are accustomed. You will realize that such a life demands much renunciation, which is difficult and painful, for it demands that we renounce the world to which we were so attached. In the end, when you have entirely come to know the depth of Christianity and monasticism, you will realize that the same thing is being asked of you: to cast out from yourself the World which has occupied your soul and to fight with all of your might with us against the spirit of these times. Only in this way will it be possible for us to survive in community in the power of the Holy Spirit, which gives us the strength to endure to the end in the battle against sin and the World within ourselves.
It is up to you to choose from which side of the keyhole you would like to regard the world… or you can just close your eyes and continue living as you have until now.
Your sisters from the windy haven