The Monk's Mission
by Elder Paisios the Athonite (+1994)
Before I refer to my limited experience with beginner
monks, it would be good to offer some counsel for their edification while they are,
for one reason or the other, still found in the world. Perhaps this meagre assistance
will strengthen them for their monastic journey.
It is most important for a beginner, while still
in the world, to find a spiritual Father who will be a friend of Monasticism, because
most of the spiritual Fathers in our times are monachomachoi ("monk-fighters");
and war against Monasticism in many different ways. In waging their war they even
make use of Fathers of the Church who were involved in important social work, such
as Saint Basil the Great and his Vasileiada. 
I don't wish to refer to the life of Saint Basil
the Great before he began the Vasileiada, but simply express my thought:
What would Saint Basil the Great do if he lived in our era? I am of the opinion
that he would again retreat to a cave with his komboskini  watching
the flame of love (of the social work of other holy fathers) being spread everywhere;
not only to the faithful but even to the unfaithful, who all together constitute
Social Providence, which also looks after members of the Spiritual Charity Associations
(although only by granting a certificate of pauperism). In other words, social welfare
is shouting every day: "Holy Fathers of our times, leave charity to us, the lay
people, who are not in a position to do something else, and look to concern yourselves
with something more spiritual".
Unfortunately, however, some clergymen not only
do not follow this exhortation, since they do not understand it, but they also prevent
those who do understand it and want to dedicate themselves entirely to Christ, feeling
intensely the inclination to depart from the world. That is to say, as if it weren't
enough that a beginner monk has to hear this from laymen; he has to hear plenty
from the clergymen as well, who even make the unreasonable demand that monks leave
the desert and come to the world to take up the social work and philanthropy. It
is good to also mention some of the crowns which they weave for monks: "slackers,
self-seekers, cowards", etc., considering themselves heroes because they struggle
in the sinful society and monks cowards because they depart to save only their own
I wonder why they are unable to understand the
great mission of the monk! The monk departs far from the world not because he hates
it, but because he loves it. In this way he will, through his prayer, help the world
more in those matters that are, being humanly impossible, only possible by God's
intervention. This is how God saves the world. The monk never says: "I will save
the world". Instead, he prays for the salvation of the whole world, along with his
own. When the Good God hears his prayer and helps the world, he does not say: "I
saved the world", but "God saved the world".
In a few words, monks are the "radio operators"
of Mother Church, and therefore, if they depart far from the world, they do it out
of love, departing from the distractions of this world in order to be in better
contact with God and help people more effectively.
Of course, when their unit is in danger, some
mindless soldiers also share the irrational demand of certain clergymen (i.e. that
monks should return to the world). They say that the radio operator should leave
the radio aside and grab his rifle, as if by adding one more gun to the two hundred
others he will salvage the situation. While the radio operator clamours to make
contact, yelling "calling headquarters, come in, come in" etc., the others think
that he calls pointlessly into the wind. However, astute radio operators pay no
attention, even if they are reviled. They struggle until they make contact and then
ask for immediate help from Headquarters and the air forces arrive, as well as the
armed forces, the navy etc. Thus, in this way, and not with their meagre rifles,
the unit is saved. The same applies to monks who advance with divine power, with
their prayer, and not with their negligible individual powers. It is especially
the case in our age, when evil is so widespread, that we are in need of God's intervention.
It is another matter if a monk, on account of
some need, is found in the world for a short or even long period of time; then he
assists also with his personal spiritual strength, which God has granted him. This
activity, however, he considers as a secondary work, prayer always being his main
work. He does this, of course, when in his cell as well, where he employs his handiwork
as a secondary task, and if he sees anyone suffering next to him, he helps with
whatever he has. Furthermore, when a person with problems visits him, he lays everything
aside and tries to assist him humanly as well, in whatever he can.
All of this is to say that, the aim of the monk
is not to be engaged in much handiwork and collect money to help the poor, as this
translates into spiritual decline. Rather, through his prayer the monk could help,
not by pounds, but by tons the needs of others (when, for instance, there exists
a drought, by his prayer he could replenish the world's storehouses). Therefore,
God "raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill"
. Let us not forget what the Prophet Elijah  did.
Monks, therefore, don't leave the desert in order
'to go to the world to help a poor person, nor to visit someone ill in the hospital
to give him an orange or some consolation (that which is usually done by lay people,
and is the sort of thing that God will ask from them). Monks pray for all the sick
to receive a twofold health (physical and spiritual), and the Good God has mercy
on His creatures and helps them recover, so that they, in their turn, working as
good Christians, will also help others.
Furthermore, neither do monks visit those in prison,
for they themselves are voluntarily imprisoned due to their great philotimo
 towards Christ, their Benefactor and Saviour; Christ gives His love
in abundance to His children who have philotimo, the monks. Thus, while they
are within the castle (the monastery), the presence and love of Christ transforms
it into Paradise. This heavenly joy that the monks feel, they pray and ask that
Christ give it to all our incarcerated brothers in the world's prisons. In this
way, the Good God is moved by the love of His good children and spreads consolation
to the souls of prisoners, many times even setting them free.
Besides these prisoners, monks help other more
serious cases of those who are not imprisoned for just ten or twenty years, but
eternally, and are in need of much greater help. These are our brothers awaiting
trial, who have fallen asleep, whom the monks visit in their own way, offering many
spiritual refreshments. The Good God helps the reposed, and, at the same time, acquaints
the monks, after their pained prayers for their departed brothers, with an inexpressible
rejoicing, as if saying: "Don't worry, my children, I have helped the departed as
Someone might ask: "Should we beseech God for
His help?". Certainly we should beseech Him. Particularly, God is greatly moved
when we sympathize with our brother and ask Him to help, because then He intervenes
without transgressing our free will. Here, one observes the great spiritual nobility
of God in that He does not even give the devil the right to protest. That is why
He wants us to beseech Him so He can interveneand He wants to intervene immediately
to help His creatures. Of course, if God wants to, even now He can wind the devil
into a ball and throw him into hell. However, for our own good He does not do it,
because the devil, by beating us with his ill will, removes the dust from our soul.
In all that I have said and will mention further
down, I want to stress the great mission of the monk, which is of greater importance
than human philanthropy. For, even before someone becomes a monk, he has done his
charitable work by giving everything away, as well as his own self to Christ (his
rich Father), as Christ said to the young man . So now, being His child (as
a poor monk), he has a share in God's fortune and asks anything he wants from his
Merciful Father. Then, his Father gives His mercy in abundance when it does not
spiritually injure His unfortunate children.
A beginner monk hears a great deal from certain
clergymen, as well as from many laymen, in their effort to dissuade him from the
grandeur of Monasticism. Apart from that which is shameful to say (things, of course,
that are not said by serious people), they also say that the monk is a dead entity,
who doesn't have children, etc.
I don't want to examine those who say these things
and ask them if they themselves have children, for this is the purpose of marriage
and, thus, their life has meaning. The monk's aim, however, is different: virginity,
"another life" . But I would also like to ask those who have children: "Have
they helped their children to secure Paradise, or do they only assist them materially?".
Monks, who are concerned with the salvation of men's souls, become more affectionate
fathers than fathers according to the flesh, have more children than that of the
largest family, considering as their own children and brethren all of God's creatures,
and with pain they pray that we might all reach our destination, close to God.
Since it is not easy for certain people to understand
the spiritual regeneration that monks bring about in the people, I will mention
how they also contribute to physical childbearing. Remaining chaste themselves and
pure even from thoughts, they undo the sterility of many mothers on account of their
boldness before God, both while still found in this life and also after they have
fallen asleep. Therefore, when they are saints, monks "give birth" even after they
have fallen asleep. Naturally, monks do not help in the pulpit with the preaching
of the Gospel in order to enlighten the young and old, for their life is the Gospel.
Thus, the Gospel is preached by example, which is the most positive way, something
today's world especially thirsts after. As everyone is, more or less, educated in
our day, they can speak of great truths about which they have read, which, however,
have no relation whatsoever with the lives of most preachers. Hence, these preachers
are constantly carrying about on their back the "woe"  Christ directed toward
In short, monks are not merely lanterns that illumine
city streets that people not stumble, but they are remote lighthouses on the rocks
directing the ships of this world with their flashes, and upon the open seas the
ships are orientated in order to reach their destination.
For this reason, not even parents should prevent
their children from becoming monks (the radio operators of the Church), when, according
to their inclination, God calls them. This mission is very significant and superior
to what they themselves offer to God through their own mission. Lay people go regularly
to church and make a promise to light a small or large candle. A monk, however,
keeps vigil in church every day and has dedicated his entire self to Christ and,
burning out of love for Him, he praises Him and thanks Him for himself and for the
Yet, I cannot understand why some clergymen and
lay people fight Monasticism. Just as the army considers the signal corps an artery
of the whole army, so too does our Church regard Monasticism. I would like to know:
these blessed people who fight Monasticism, to which Church do they belong?
6. Vasileiada was the name given by Saint
Basil (Vasileios) the Great's successors to his social and philanthropic
7. Komboskini (pl. komboskinia): The black woollen rope with 33, 50,
100 or 300 knots used by the Orthodox to count the number of times the Jesus
Prayer is repeated.
8. 1 Sam. 2:8.
9. Cf. 1 Kg. 18:41-46.
10. Philotimo, according to Elder Paisios, is the reverent distillation of
goodness, the love shown by humble people, from which every trace of self has been
filtered out. Their hearts are full of gratitude towards God and to their fellow
men, and out of spiritual sensitivity, they try to repay the slightest good which
others do them.
11. Cf. Mt. 19:21,Mk. lO:21,Lk. 18:22.
12. From the Paschal Canon.
13. Cf. Mt. 23:13, Lk. 11:42-44.
From Epistles, by Elder Paisios of Mount Athos (Souroti, Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery "Evangelist
John the Theologian", 2002), pp. 31-38.
+ + +
There are people who say that monks ought to be
of some use in the world, and not eat bread they have not toiled for; but we have
to understand the nature of a monk's service and the way in which he has to help
A monk is someone who prays for the whole world,
who weeps for the whole world; and in this lies his main work.
But who is it constrains him to weep for the whole
world? The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, incites him. He gives the monk the love
of the Holy Spirit, and by virtue of this love the monk's heart forever sorrows
over the people because not all men are saved. The Lord Himself so grieved over
people that He gave Himself to death on the Cross. And the Mother of God bore in
her heart a like sorrow for men. And she, like her beloved Son, desired with her
whole heart the salvation of all.
The same Holy Spirit the Lord gave to the Apostles,
to our holy Fathers and to the pastors of the Church. This is how we serve the world.
And this is why neither pastors of the Church nor monks should busy themselves with
secular matters but should seek to be like the Mother of God, who in the Temple,
in the 'Holy of Holies', day and night pondered the law of the Lord and continued
in prayer for the people.
It is not for the monk to serve the world with
the work of his hands. That is the layman's business. The man who lives in the world
prays little, whereas the monk prays constantly.
Thanks to monks, prayer continues unceasing on
earth, and the whole world profits, for through prayer the world continues to exist;
but when prayer fails, the world will perish.
Saint Silouan the Athonite
From the chapter "Concerning Monks" in Saint
Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) (Essex: Stravropegic
Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991), pp. 407.408. Posted 3/23/2008.