Baptism, Monastic Life and Lay Spirituality

December 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

By Fr. Gregory Jensen

“The idea of a lay spirituality or lay discipleship is a new concept for many Orthodox Christians. And many of those who have thought about it, however, reject the very idea of a “lay spirituality.” They argue that there is no such thing as “lay spirituality.” There is simply the one Orthodox Christian spiritual life that each person fulfills as he or she is able. While this is certainly true as far as it goes, it is an inadequate response to the concrete needs of many Orthodox Christian men and women. And as for “lay discipleship,” that is often dismissed out of hand as well because it sounds too “Protestant” or is a “Western” Christian idea.

But think about these words from Metropolitan MAXIMOS of Pittsburgh (GOA). His Eminence writes that “When, toward the middle of the second century of the Christian era, Christian life reached a low ebb, some Christians, both men and women, reacted to this by raising their own personal standards of austere Christian life.” This austere life, of course, is monasticism. Throughout the history of the Church, monasticism, which was and still is a fundamentally lay movement, a lay form of spirituality and Christian discipleship if you will, upheld for the Church the highest standards of the Christian life. In addition, monasticism has been not only a source of renewal for the Church, but also the impetus behind Orthodox missions and evangelism throughout the world and especially in North America.

It is the faith of the Church that in Baptism each of us comes to participate in an intimate relationship with Holy Trinity. As a part of that relationship, we are each of us equipped to fulfill a priestly, prophetic and royal ministry for the “life of the world.”

In other words, what we have talked about is possible because of our baptism. The Apostle Paul challenges the Church at Galatia to act on their baptism when he writes to them “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3.26-29). The Church is a great mystery of unity in diversity; we each of us have our own gifts and ministries within and for the Church. But while our gifts and ministries are different, in Baptism we have all been entrusted to share in the priesthood, prophetic ministry and Lordship of Jesus Christ. In this last conversation we will look together at what the mystery of Baptism means for each of us as we strive to follow faithfully Jesus Christ.

Reflecting on the words we heard this morning from St Peter, that Christians are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9), St Clement of Alexandria writes that “We are called a priesthood because of the offering which is made in prayers and in the teaching by which souls are offered to God are won.”

Commenting on the same passage, Origen says that we are [the whole Church] “are a priestly race . . . [and] are able to approach the sanctuary of God. . . . If you want to exercise the priesthood of your soul, do not let the fire depart from your soul.

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§ 2 Responses to Baptism, Monastic Life and Lay Spirituality

  • […] But if monasticism was not necessarily an un-Christian attempt to earn God’s favor, than what was it?  Was it simply an all-out retreat from the world, as it is often characterized?  This seems unlikely, seeing as how the writings and practices of the monks both indicate that they were still concerned to be “in the world” while not being “of” it.  Gregory of Nanzianzus in his works endeavored to show that “the monastic profession is characterized by steadfastness in a way of life rather than by physical withdrawal”[1]  The idea seems to have been that by embracing the monastic life, persons could be most fully equipped to fulfill a priestly, prophetic and royal ministry for the “life of the world.”  (Some persons have even argued that it was not the “mainstream” institutional church but rather the monastics that created the Church’s impetus for missions and evangelism).  “If you want to exercise the priesthood of your soul, do not let the fire depart from your soul”, Origin had said, and for some, this meant something akin to the monastic life was needed. (see here) […]

  • […] “…if monasticism was not necessarily an un-Christian attempt to earn God’s favor, than what was it?  Was it simply an all-out retreat from the world, as it is often characterized?  This seems unlikely, seeing as how the writings and practices of the monks both indicate that they were still concerned to be “in the world” while not being “of” it.  Gregory of Nanzianzus in his works endeavored to show that “the monastic profession is characterized by steadfastness in a way of life rather than by physical withdrawal”[1]  The idea seems to have been that by embracing the monastic life, persons could be most fully equipped to fulfill a priestly, prophetic and royal ministry for the “life of the world.”  (Some persons have even argued that it was not the “mainstream” institutional church but rather the monastics that created the Church’s impetus for missions and evangelism).  “If you want to exercise the priesthood of your soul, do not let the fire depart from your soul”, Origin had said, and for some, this meant something akin to the monastic life was needed. (see here)” […]

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