We remember today our holy father among the saints Anthony of the Kiev Caves, the founder of monastic life in Russia (983-1073). St. Anthony was drawn to the monastic way of life from his youth. When he reached a mature age, he began his monastic struggles on the Holy Mountain Athos. Having grown to great spiritual heights, and having excelled in all the disciplines and ways of the monasticism, St. Anthony’s elder sent him back to Russia to bring the strictness and excellent way of the monastic life to his native land. Although monasteries already existed in Russia, it was Anthony who taught by example and wise counsel the proper way to follow the road of monastic life to holiness and salvation. He founded the great and famous Kiev Caves Monastery, which produced an innumerable amount of great saints. One can go there today and see the incorrupt relics of the many holy fathers buried in the monastery crypt. Many of the lay people flocked to St. Anthony for spiritual counsel and healing. The Lord granted him the gifts of clairvoyance and wonderworking.
Monasteries and monastics are very important for the lay people. There is a saying that “the monks inspire the lay people, and the angels inspire the monks.” It is not without reason that monasticism is called “the angelic way of life,” for the monk or nun who lives strictly according to the monastic rule is literally like “an angel in the flesh.” History has played out numerous times the scene where a holy man settles in a remote wilderness to struggle in prayer and fasting. Soon, a group of men settle around him and a monastery is formed. Then, lay people build homes and settle around the monastery. The monastery becomes the fulcrum of their spiritual inspiration and keeps them on the straight and narrow path which leads to Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. Woe to the parish church or the lay people who do not have a close connection with a women’s or men’s monastery. Without the inspiration, example and guidance of the monks, it is very hard to preserve one’s purity and Christian way of life in a world that has rejected Christ and has become increasingly secularized.
People who say that monasticism is a selfish way of life and that the monks do not help the world are greatly mistaken. The true monk feels a deep love and care for the world and the people living in it, and says countless prayers and sheds countless tears for the sufferings and sins of mankind. Does that sound like a selfish way of life to you? Some say that the devil would have swallowed up and destroyed the world long ago were it not for the prayers of the Holy Fathers on Mount Athos, the Kiev Caves, Mount Sinai, and the holy mothers and fathers of all the monasteries throughout the world.
We are blessed to have several monasteries near us: St. Tikhon’s in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, the oldest monastery in North America, where saints have walked, Holy Myrrhbearers Women’s Monastery in Otego, NY, Holy Trinity Monastery and St. Elizabeth Convent in Jordanville, NY, and the Community of New Skete in Cambridge, NY. These are spiritual hospitals and oases in the desert. We all suffer from numerous spiritual griefs and sorrows. We are all struggling with numerous sins. We are all in need of comfort and guidance. Why would we not visit these holy places and avail ourselves of the living water and spiritual nourishment that these holy mothers and fathers would gladly share with us? There was once a time when every year on Memorial Day weekend busloads of the faithful would visit St. Tikhon’s Monastery for a pilgrimage on their annual festal celebration. Sadly, times have changed, and we no longer see busloads, but only a few individuals who seek to visit the monastery at this time of the year. We do not do ourselves any favor by neglecting to visit the monasteries and making such pilgrimages a regular part of our lives ~ a time to confess our sins, a time to seek wise spiritual counsel, a time to participate in the otherworldly monastic services, and a time to receive the Holy Mysteries and other sacraments of the church in the surroundings of a very special holy place with very special holy people. These monastics have given up everything ~ money, possessions, properties, positions, and even family ~ all for the sake of Christ. The angels inspire the monks, and the monks inspire the lay people. May the monastics inspire all of us to always uprightly walk the road of our Savior! Amen!