Last fall I visited Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York (a ROCOR monastery) for the second time in two years. On the first visit, I did not have a conversation with any monk and only attended the Divine Liturgy. This time around, I spent several hours in dialogue with a monk named Father Theodore and three seminarians. Below are twelve things I learned from the visit.
1. The search for truth is a process
Even when you receive a strong dose of God’s grace, you will not come to know everything at once. Understanding the truth is a process that takes place for the duration of your life, and it must be approached with patience and humility. While you have the most necessary truth upon declaring Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the rest takes time. God gives you what you need to know when you need to know it, so don’t look for shortcuts by attempting to digest things that you are not spiritually prepared for.
2. Level of faith is inversely correlated with fear
When I walked into the monastery’s church for Liturgy, I was expecting most parishioners to be wearing a face mask since we were in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. I was filled with joy when I counted not one of the forty or so parishioners wearing one. I was stunned that no one in the church, not even the elderly, supplanted their faith in God to the pervasive secular fear that was groomed into them by Bill Gates and his cronies. I immediately felt the presence of a living faith that I had read about in Orthodox books, where parishioners rely only on the strength and armor of Jesus Christ instead of modern medical solutions.
I have noticed that the more fear a person has, the weaker their faith. The bigger the city a Christian is in, and the more connected he is to secular propaganda, the more likely he will wear a face mask out of fear. While there are those who wear masks in consideration of others, we cannot deny that many Christians are scared of getting an infection, and are putting more faith in a piece of useless cloth than in God.
3. Having Christian parents makes a huge difference
In the hundreds of interactions I’ve had with Christians both online and off, it’s clear to me that the more you were catechized as a child in a faithful church, the less you will fall as an adult. If you weren’t catechized at all then practically anything goes, and you may end up like me where the bottom had no floor.
I’ve also observed that adults raised in Christian households are more mature, come to that maturity at a younger age (before 30), and are more likely to dutifully serve Christ as an adult, just like two of the seminarians I met in Jordanville who had at least one devout parent.
I imagine that raising your children in a secular household during the 1950s may not have spelled a guaranteed bad outcome, but if you attempt that today, while evil is much higher, I fail to see how your child won’t stumble badly before even their eighteenth birthday. If I have children, I would never force God upon them, but they will know through my actions, behavior, and leadership that Jesus Christ is their King.
4. Don’t get bogged down with interpretations of the end of times
It’s hard not to develop a minor obsession with the last days and how the story of humanity will end. I asked for details from Father Theodore. He gave it but then warned me not to get too caught up in the specifics. It’s not knowledge of potential traps that will preserve our faith but faith itself, and if you have that faith, you will not be deceived. Our understanding of the end times, which probably won’t happen during our lifetimes, should not be the cornerstone of our faith.
5. Many priests-in-training are based and red-pilled
Some people complain that Christian clergy are “soft” or blind to modern realities, but I couldn’t say that about the seminarians I met at the monastery, which also has a seminary on its grounds. I didn’t have to dumb down my speech and they seemed up-to-date on all the latest innovations in degeneracy that I spend too much of my time reading about online. It turns out that many of them were raised on red pill content that shared a lot of general truths about men and women. Unlike myself, they were able to separate the sinful baggage from those truths.
6. Secular life is exceedingly more worldly than monastic life
Monks and seminarians spend most of their time in prayer, worship, labor, or study. They are constantly surrounded by God or reminders of God, unlike secular life where the goal seems to be about forgetting God to pursue fun, pleasure, and pride. Even a devout Christian living in the city has many secular cares that aim to pull him away from God—bills to pay, job tasks to perform, appointments to meet, shopping to do, and on and on.
The layman will never be able to accomplish the full ascetic ideal. This must be accepted since we are not monks and should not pretend to be. I am even hesitant to use the phrase “monk in the world” to one day describe myself if I were to remain single, as useful as that phrase may be.
7. I’m not obviously deceived
After sharing my current spiritual state with Father Theodore, he did not think I had fallen into deception. Of course it’s possible that I am deceived in some ways, but perhaps not severely. I have taken a guarded and measured pace to learning about the faith so that I don’t get puffed up from merely reading a lot of books, and I do my best to ignore compliments given to me. It helps that I’ve met so many men and women whose faith is stronger than mine. Their witness keeps me humble.
8. I don’t currently have the calling to be a monk
As I mentioned in my book American Pilgrim, whenever I leave a monastery, I feel spiritually filled with no desire to stay longer.
Father Theodore told me that Kallistos Ware once remarked that a man must be 100% sure he wants to become a monk, because if he’s only 99% sure, Satan will use the 1% to breed doubt in his heart, jeopardizing his monastic vocation. I wonder if men should also use this approach in deciding whether to marry a specific woman.
9. The fate of other people’s souls
From the Biblical parable about the wide and narrow gate, Jesus Christ suggests that more people will go to hell than heaven. I asked Father Theodore about the borderline cases of those who aren’t necessarily evil but perhaps did not have proper faith. “What happens to them?” I asked.
“It’s none of your business,” he replied, echoing what God told St. Anthony in the desert.
Antony was confused as he mediated upon the depths of God’s judgements, and he asked God, ‘Lord, how is it that some die young and others grow old and sick? Why are there some poor and some rich? Why are there those who are bad and rich and oppress the good poor?’ He heard a voice saying to him, ‘Antony, worry about yourself; these other matters are up to God, and it will not do you any good to know them.’
I understand that our salvation is in our hands, and not an arbitrary decision by a Creator who wants us condemned. Wherever we end up after this life, we chose it.
10. Barbarian souls can’t handle God’s presence
The souls of those who deny God from a lifetime of sin become so corrupted and evil, like the demons whose thoughts they have acted upon, that they would not even be able to handle the mercy of God. The mere presence of God would cause them such pain and torment that they would prefer hell, and many people while alive make such a choice. Your soul cannot handle what it was not prepared for, and even if you use mercy on an unrepentant sinner, the sinner would refuse it, because his heart knows not what mercy is and cannot accept your gift, even if it’s for all eternity.
11. We don’t have enlightened spiritual fathers because we wouldn’t listen to them
We don’t even follow the basics. Most Christians do not fast or pray daily. They come up with all manner of excuses not to attend church on Sunday. They don’t seek guidance with their priests before making major life decisions, and even if they did, they frame their situation in a way that the priest will agree with what they already decided to do. So why would God send them a clairvoyant and wise elder to help guide their lives? The elder would give them correct advice and advance warnings and they’d ignore him to serve their own will. God doesn’t waste the holy on the non-holy. The holier we become as a society, and the more we repent, the more likely that we will also receive powerful spiritual fathers.
12. Satan knows when to distract you
Father Theodore made the astute observation that Satan leaves you alone when you’re committing sin. “When you used to watch pornography,” he asked me, “were you ever distracted?”
Never. While watching porn, my mind would be totally fixated on the screen with the utmost concentration. Any problems or anxieties in life I had were temporarily gone so that I could commit the sin.
“And how about with prayer? Do you get distracted?”
I can count on my two hands the number of prayer sessions where I was in complete peace. Prayer is a continual struggle, because Satan does not want me to perform it. There is a noise outside my window—time to look! There is dust on my icons—time to clean it! There is a meal in an hour—what will I eat?!
When you want to do something unnatural that destroys your faith, such as masturbation, Satan leaves you alone, but when you want to do the natural act of speaking to your Creator, in a similar way that a child speaks to his father, Satan makes it very difficult. That should be a clue to the Christian to persevere in that which is hard, because if it’s not hard, and you seem especially focused without expending any of your willpower, it may be something that Satan wants you to do.
In my relatively short time as a Christian, I’ve been blessed to speak with so many monks and priests. From their wisdom, and also from the simple sharing of their faith, I have been able to grow spiritually in a way that would be much harder from books alone. I highly recommend serious Christians to consider a day trip to a monastery. Who knows, maybe at the end of your trip, you will wish that you could stay longer.