What Do the Holy Scriptures Say about Monasticism?
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, Orthodoxy attempts to portray itself as the Church of Christ and attempts to defend its teaching by citing biblical texts. As is the case with many other doctrines and practices that were introduced well after the Bible was written, Eastern Orthodox theologians appeal to the words of Christ and the Apostles to defend the foundation for monasticism. As a reminder, let the reader reflect on a citation from the text of the journal Holy Prince Lazar. This reminds us how Orthodoxy explains the emergence of the monastic movement:
“The Apostles themselves fulfilled monastic vows in their own lives, although they only articulated these vows much later on. This was likewise the case with St. John, the forerunner of the Lord, and the Virgin Mary, who was and is the highest example of obedience and chastity that the world has ever known. Also, even during the time of the holy apostles, there were women, though they lived at home with their parents, devoted themselves to God and thus formed the beginnings of monastic life. (See I Corinthians 7: 36-38)… The monastic life is called the heavenly life here on earth. The meaning and source of life stems from the Holy Eucharist, which is the symbol of the future Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, monasticism as a philosophy of life is as old as Christianity (as we saw earlier in the examples of the blessed Apostles).”
An earlier chapter described how the most blessed Virgin Mary in the Bible is totally different from the persona that Orthodoxy portrays and venerates. In a similar vein, the Bible says things completely different about the apostles versus what Eastern Orthodoxy teaches, particularly in its claims that they fulfilled monastic vows (such as celibacy, absolute obedience (submission), hegemony or submission to the abbots, and poverty). Earlier research suggested that many of the apostles were unmarried, but some did have a wife. One Scripture, Matthew 8:14-15, tells us that the apostle Peter had a mother-in-law, which meant that he was married. The apostle Paul confirms this fact in 1 Corinthians 9:5:
“Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?”
So, the other apostles, including Jesus’s half-brothers by His mother, were married. Moreover, their wives accompanied the apostles on their missionary journeys, as Paul explains.
Orthodox teachers distort verses such as Matthew 10:37 and 16:24 out of context in order to justify the origin of asceticism and hermetic living. (The best evidence in this regard is that neither Jesus nor His disciples applied them to a monastic context in the first century.) In fact, these verses discuss the cost of discipleship to Christ in a world where
we live. It is certain that the man who wants to be a true follower of the Lord cannot and must not accept the numerous opinions of unbelieving sinners, even as he is to love them. Unbelievers hold to a worldview completely different from that which God commands in His Word. Many believers will have to answer their unbelieving parents and relatives by reading the Bible and submitting themselves to God’s will. It becomes obvious how the believer is to withstand opposition [even from his or her own family] because his or her love for God must be stronger. In fact, what stands out as the hidden truth for every family who does not believe God is that even a Christian believer in a household can be a blessing to all of his or her family members (no matter how they behave toward the believer because of their spiritual blindness). Precisely because God wants to save the entire family with the gift of eternal life, thus the believer who lives as part of this household will be under constant pressure to renounce his or her faith. Yet, the believer must persevere in faith by praying to God for the family and living a positive Christian testimony. In no way did the Lord Jesus intend these statements to command isolation, or (God forbid) that believers abandon their families to become disciples of monasteries (which are mere monks and nuns). Instead, Jesus wants believers to contend for the salvation of the souls of those who have not yet believed, and to disciple new believers, even closest relatives.
On the other hand, the process of “denying oneself and taking up one’s cross daily” is a daily struggle with the believer’s old sinful nature opposing the knowledge of God and His presence (Romans 7:5-6, Galatians 5:16-17; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Also, the term “taking up the cross” means to take upon oneself the scorn of suffering (which genuinely follows the example of Jesus Christ) hurled by unbelievers and false believers under the influence of the Evil One. These words of Christ do not refer at all to isolation from society by removing oneself to the desert and monasteries. Rather, this verse refers to submission even with the difficulty of living with other people in the world who surround and oppose Christ. The apostle John records Jesus’s words to emphasize the fact that his
disciples are chosen from the sinful secular environment yet must continue to live in the midst of these people in order to possess Christ and eternal salvation:
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
There is at least one text that can be misinterpreted by those advocating asceticism and indulgence in celebacy for God and the Kingdom of Heaven. This text is found in Luke 18:28-30.
“Then Peter said, ‘See, we have left all and followed You.’ So He said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.’ ”
Without a doubt, the first disciples of Jesus Christ had to leave their homes, women and children, families, and employment behind in order to follow Him. There was no other way if they really wanted to spend time with their Teacher. However, after the Lord ascended into heaven, this level of sacrifice became unnecessary. After the descent of the Holy Spirit on the first Christians, believers could continue to live in their current contexts while at the same time remaining very serious Christians. This was made possible because Christ, as He had promised, now dwelled in their hearts.
Even the apostles recognized this reality as we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 9:5, a passage written more than twenty years after Jesus uttered the words in Luke 18. The apostles returned to their families and allowed their wives to join them in their missionary travels. (These were the same apostles who had temporarily left their wives at home during Jesus’s earthly ministry.) This fact becomes takes on even greater emphasis when we consider that Paul authored 1 Corinthians 9:5. He and his coworker Barnabas had never considered themselves as monks (even though they were unmarried and would have satisfied the monastic vows of modern Eastern Orthodoxy. Yet, we see that Paul asserts that the apostles have the freedom to marry as well as to have their wives accompany them on mission trips.
In contrast, as we shall see in more detail later, Orthodox monks are prohibited to be married to even to consider the possibility. Monks are commanded to abstain from such thoughts and vigorously fight against them, because they took vows of celibacy in order to enter the monastic order.
Furthermore, the Bible makes no mention whatsoever of “virgins devoted to God” living celibate lives in their parents’ homes as examples of the “origins” of monastic life. In fact, Paul uses the entire seventh chapter in his first epistle to the Corinthians in order to emphasize the truth that humans were created as sexual beings, having a strong natural sex drive bestowed on them by God. Paul, as a single man, thought it would be a lot easier for single people to serve God full-time than those who are married because marriage entails many activities that would prevent them from praying more, traveling, and preaching the gospel. Such activities like household chores, caring for the family, and raising children would demand effort and take time (1 Corinthians 7:29-35). In his belief that the temporal world system would soon pass away and the kingdom of God would appear (verse 31), the apostle Paul recommended to those who were able to remain single should do so. Yet, Paul also stressed that if believers chose to marry, they did not violate God’s will (verses 36-38). However, as we shall see in the following chapters, the Orthodox misinterpret the text from 1 Corinthians 7. Indeed, the Orthodox are totally opposed to Paul’s teachings that God inspired and commanded in this chapter.