Insightful and practical guidance from Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany (ROCOR).
Why do people now go to monasteries not from an impoverished life but from a life of comfort, how can one find the right monastery, which of the holy fathers should be read, what is the proper relationship of a monastic to parents, should the internet be used, and why should young hieromonks should not be assigned to parishes? Archbishop Mark (Arndt) of Berlin, Germany and Great Britain, the head of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev, answers these questions.
—Are more or fewer people seeking the monastic life than before?
—It is difficult to say. I think that the contingent of our faithful is different than it was twenty or thirty years ago. We now have as a whole a greater number of believers, and corresponding to this growth is an increase in the number of monastics. I suppose that when people come from a live of poverty, they are not so inclined to monastic life than if they lived well. A person can more easily deny himself of what he has than of what he does not have.
—What do people expect from monasticism when they come to it today? What disappoints them?
—The most difficult thing—and not only in our time but always—is obedience and the denial of one’s own will. It is met with more resistance, more sharply today when a person lives in complete satisfaction, when the material world gives him all he wants. When there is no poverty, then one must reject all the external glitter, and as I said, this is not so hard. But what is hard is denying your own will. That is the problem.
—Can you learn monasticism from books?
—Books can help, they can give direction, but there is nothing like experience in order to really learn about it, just as any facet of life.
—What would you recommend new monastics to read today?
—First of all the Ancient Fathers: St Macarius of Egypt, St Anthony the Great. There are, of course, more contemporary guides, for example St Ignatius (Brianchaninov), who can help one find the right path. But this cannot replace personal guidance.
—How does one choose a monastery to go to?
—That depends on the country—in some there are many monasteries, in others not even one. In Germany we did not have a convent for many years. We would send our candidates to neighboring France, or to the Holy Land.
Then we were able to open our own convent, because a few women came together who could not leave Germany. These were the external conditions which led to the establishment of a convent.
The choice here is not as easy as, for example, in Russia, Serbia, or Greece.
That is why there is no set rule. Much depends on the spiritual father of the monastery. Let us say a person comes as a pilgrim to some monastery, and he likes it there. He has the opportunity to adjust to this monastery, but he can also visit other monasteries, examine their daily rule, their life, and select the one that suits him best.
I always advise people to visit several monasteries. One monastery may have a set of rules which isn’t for everyone, and thank God, there are many different ustavy [monastic charters. —trans.]. A person should choose the one that suits him best.