On Easter Sunday, I watched a CBS special about the monasteries at Mt. Athos. (Transcript is here.) I was riveted by the lives these men lead, the quiet lives of unceasing prayer and discipline and simplicity.
Women aren’t allowed at those monasteries. Not even to visit and certainly never to live. Why?
The irony is that while the Mother of God is revered there, no other woman is permitted to even set foot on Mount Athos, a ban that’s been in effect for a thousand years.
The reason for the ban, according to Orthodox doctrine, is that Christ gave the peninsula to his mother and all other women are excluded so as to fully honor the Virgin Mary. It’s also said that in the days before the ban, when women did come there, the monks became distracted and couldn’t devote themselves entirely to prayer. They say it became a lot easier after the last lady left . . .
. . . Mount Athos may be the last all-male bastion in the world.
And Father Arsenios says it has to stay that way. “Here we’re concerned solely with purity and our elevation to eternity. If women are permitted they would bring their families and children – this place would become a tourist attraction and (no) longer a place (of) silence.”
Bold font added by me . . . to point out that women and children are distracting and noisy.
Boy, you’re telling me.
I am in a constant state of distraction and chaos. I blame the children.
Is it more pleasing to God to live in a state of unceasing prayer in the seclusion of a monastery? Are the monks closer to Jesus? Or is the bigger challenge to live in the midst of cacophony without losing your faith entirely and faltering as you attempt to string together a few words of prayer before you fall asleep again only to wake up too early to start all over again?
I imagine climbing a ladder to prune a tree while repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.”) as a life of ease compared to the daily onslaught of motherhood.
Then again, the grass is always greener on the other side of the planet.
Still. Even the monks admit that living with kids in their midst would prohibit them from concentrating on prayer. The bedlam that children bring would disrupt their ability to draw closer to God.
Interesting to ponder . . . if I had time to ponder.