The World Needs Monasticism. By Father Benedict. Blanco, TX: New Sarov Press, 1993. 36 pp. Paper, $4.95.
Father Benedict was one of the founders of The Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, TX, which belonged to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia but has since closed down. In the booklet, The World Needs Monasticism, Father Benedict argues that monasticism is a prophetic witness to the world, a “purifying fire” for the Church, and a living witness of the “idea of the deification of man” (p. 6). The presence of monastics calls all Christians “to holiness, to repentance,” and if we are not called to become monks ourselves, we are at least called to take on
the monastic practices of repentance for our sinfulness, discipleship to holy Spiritual Fathers, regular attendance at Divine Services and fervent prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer. We must open ourselves totally to the search for God through fasting, the transforming power of prayer, and the soaking up of the Holy Fathers—through monastic discipline that will lead us to an enlightened understanding of the Fathers of the Church (pp. 6-7).
Of the utmost importance is complete obedience to a Spiritual Father. “To attempt to advance in monastic life without complete obedience to the Spiritual Father is to run the risk of falling prey to vainglory, delusion, and the loss of one’s soul” (p. 14). That obedience can even extend to not taking a glass of water without the blessing of one’s Spiritual Father (p. 12).
According to Benedict, our eternal salvation depends on such obedience, including life-long repentance, discipleship, commitment to celebrating the feasts and festivals of the Orthodox Church’s liturgical calendar, prayer rules, and any number of acts of obedience to a Spiritual Father. As the author assures us, “The system works!” (p. 14).
This booklet takes on a chilling light when you find out that Father Benedict (real name was Samuel A. Greene, Jr.) was convicted of indecency with a child and confessed to his parole officer that he had sexually abused boys over a 30 year period. He committed suicide in 2007. In light of Father Benedict’s crimes, the following sentence is absolutely skin crawling: “We should also encourage parents to make sure, as far as possible, that their children are exposed to monastic witness, even if this means pilgrimages over great distances to go to monastic centers where they can experience the reality of monastic life” (p. 35). Sadly, for the children who met Father Benedict, that meant exposure to sexual abuse.
Father Benedict claimed that asceticism works. He was dead wrong. The entire booklet can be read as cautionary tale against legalistic views of salvation.
Following God’s law has never saved anyone or made them better people (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16). Preaching rules, regulations, and laws does not bring life, but death (2 Cor 3:6-9). It sounds good, though. It sounds and looks very spiritual to follow complex rules of obedience. But as Paul warned the Colossians, although lifestyles such as monasticism have “a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence” (Col 2:23 HCSB, emphasis added). Asceticism does not work as advertized.
Contrary to what Father Benedict said, we will never be saved by following rules like “Only drink water with someone’s blessing.” Nonsense. There is only one way to have eternal life: believe in Jesus for it (John 3:16). As the Lord told the woman at the well:
“Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).
We shouldn’t place our hope of salvation in following laws or doing good works. Our only hope is that God justifies ungodly people who believe in Jesus (Rom 4:5). The world doesn’t need monasticism. It needs faith.
This booklet is not recommended.
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society