There have a been a variety of studies done, both in North America and in Europe, involving the state of the church and the culture. One of the questions often asked of those who leave orthodox Christianity, especially of young people, is something along the lines of “What single factor caused you to abandon the faith?” Another frequently asked is “If you could change one thing about the church (or western culture) what would it be?” At the top of virtually every survey or poll are the following issues/problems:
1. Hypocrisy (usually coupled with a misunderstanding of “judging”)
2. Lack of Commitment…”Sunday Christians”
3. No Authenticity
4. Gimmicks and “the latest and greatest” programs (yes, young people can see through these)
5. Lack of community
While it is true that in our “post-Christian” or “post-modern” world, words like “authentic” and “community” can become highly clichéd and overused, they do contain important truths that have been lost in our individualist, “personal,” and privatized version of Christianity. This is yet one more reason why the early monastics are highly relevant today, and need to be read by Christians everywhere. Some of the same problems existed in the early church, especially in the cities when many in the “upper strata” of society adopted Christianity for political or social reasons, causing the faith to become a matter of convenience. The early monks wanted to live a more “authentic Christian life,” and viewed themselves as living martyrs. In other words, instead of merely complaining and whining about the state of things, they actually went and did something about it.
Because of this, much of the wisdom involved is highly practical, and almost could be taken as Christian counseling. Many of the desert fathers for example, spent years trying to defeat the myriad of ways that a Christian can be challenged, to varying degrees of success. For example, what Christian hasn’t been frustrated by the way evil and wicked thoughts enter our minds, even when we don’t want them? Consider the following exchange from the Philokalia involving St. Moses the Strong (or the Black):
Germanos then asked, ‘How does it happen that even against our will many ideas and wicked thoughts trouble us, entering by stealth and undetected to steal our attention? Not only are we unable to prevent them from entering, but it is extremely difficult even to recognize them. Is it possible for the mind to be completely free of them and not be troubled by them at all?”
Abba Moses replied: “It is impossible for the mind not to be troubled by these thoughts. But if we exert ourselves it is within our power either to accept them and give them our attention, or to expel them. Their coming is not within our power to control, but their expulsion is. The amending of our mind is also within the power of our choice and effort. When we meditate wisely and continually on the law of God, study Psalms and canticles (spiritual songs), engage in fasting and vigils, and always bear in mind what is to come – the kingdom of heaven, the Gehenna of fire and all God’s works – our wicked thoughts diminish and find no place.”
This sort of thinking has echoes throughout Scripture, and is simply practical advice. This is “authentic” Christian living in the most intimate of senses, that of the struggle that goes in the mind. St. Moses goes on to state that one of the greatest gifts is that of “discrimination” (what many today call discernment), because of how deceptive certain thoughts and passions can be. Contrary to the attitude of “Sunday Christians,” this thinking is also why one must discriminate in regards to what music one listens to, what movies one watches, the company one keeps and the like.
The Christian worldview is a completely immersive worldview, filled with “keeping our minds on things above” (Col. 3:2), which includes the positive things St. Moses recommends. Contrary to some reactionary evangelicals, this has nothing to do with “earning salvation,” but everything to do with “working out your faith with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). May we all take St. Moses’ advice, and the culture will most likely change as a result!
**For another rationale why we need the fathers in today’s culture, see this post at The Pocket Scroll about our view of God**