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The Gift of Freedom June 21, 2009

Posted by Justin Farr in Uncategorized.
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I’m sitting here in the Holy Trinity Room of St. John’s Monastery near in Manton, CA. It’s only Day 3 (not including the brief evening I stayed on Thursday before bed) and already it seems much longer. The monastery is nothing like I had expected. Everybody is friendly. The monks are people. It’s great.

Flying was pretty nice. After liftoff, though, it’s like riding a cheap, cramped public bus that’s flying in the air. Clouds get old after awhile. Fr. Silouan picked me up from the airport and on the 2 1/2 hour drive to the monastery we picked up two really cool hobos with two large, neat dogs. We ate at a VERY authentic Mexican restaurant; the taco was filled with questionable meat and about 20 flies (no exaggeration) buzzing tirelessly around your head.

We arrived at the monastery just in time for the evening Vespers service. I didn’t stay for the informal supper, having already been spoiled by the “wonderful” authenticity of the Mexican food. I headed to my room in the bunks, which is a small building without heating and air conditioning that is near the guest house.

To date, I have discovered 12 spiders in the bunks (most in my room… and I am not including the dead ones in that number).

The two roosters wake me up at dawn, around 5AM, even when I don’t have to get up until 6:30 or 7. I secretly hope they keel over.

Last night was freezing in my room because of a freak thunderstorm that began immediately after the 3 1/2 hour long Great Vigil started. The services are frequent and long. I got pretty antsy during the last hour of Great Vigil, but otherwise, it is really nice. I am out on the monastery grounds and hear the beautiful call of the talanton. The talanton is a big wooden board that one of the monks holds and strikes in a pattern. It is loud and meant to alert everyone of starting services. The call begins at 10 minutes til, again at 5 minutes til, and then at one minute til service begins. For Divine Liturgy, bells are rung loudly and beautifully. The two dogs, Deka and Zusha, join in with their howls!

I hated it here. Even on the ride from the airport, looking out the car windows at the flat landscape, I repeated in my head, over and over, like a mantra: “I want to go home. I don’t want to do this.” I woke up the next morning, on Day 1, and was miserable. I woke up early. I woke up cold. I woke up earlier than I was supposed to because of the roosters. Then I had to head to church without a shower because the guests were using both of them. I managed to get a shower after church, but all I could think of was how I wanted my mommy. My dog. My bed. My room. My poptarts. I hated the formal meals and my lack of choice. I wanted to go home. Now.

To make it worse, Thursday night there was a meeting of the monks and summer novices. I spent an hour listening to people talk about things like “Should we keep our shoes on in the new church or wear socks?” and “How do we minimize the noise of sniffles and yawns?”

It wasn’t until last night, after a supper I hated and before Saturday’s Great Vigil, when I talked to the abbot, Father Meletios, that I had a new take on things.

For 2 1/2 years now, I knew what I was going to do. I was not going to college. I was going to a monastery. I was going to become a monk. That was that. I knew what God was calling me to do. I knew what God’s plan for my life was. But then I get here and I hate it. What gives?!

So, I sat down with Father Meletios and we had a good hour long talk. Monasticism is a choice. Going to college is a choice. Career decisions are a choice. Life is a series of choices. God doesn’t know what we are going to do until we do it. It hasn’t happened yet. We haven’t chose it yet. There is nothing but the now, the present moment. If God knew the future, then how do we have choice? Everything is already determined, then.

And life… life is a series of choices as we try to make good choices. Not “right or wrong” choices. Forget that whole concept of right and wrong. Not once in the Gospel does Christ command us, “Go out and be right!” He tells us to go into the world and be good, do good things, and preach the Gospel.

I need to try to make good choices with my life. Monasticism is a choice. Being a vet is a choice. Being an environmentalist is a choice. Those are all good choices if i do them to serve God. Monastics are no more holy than laity. We are all called to be saints, and monks and nuns don’t have a great chance of achieving that. Monasticism isn’t the epitome of Christian living. It isn’t the best way to live out the Gospel. It’s *a* way to live out the Gospel.

With this, I feel much better here. I don’t mind getting up early. I don’t mind the cold nights. I tell the spiders in my room good night before I crawl under the covers. I don’t hate the formal meals that are eaten in silence. I don’t mind having no choice in what I eat other than the choice between water or tea. I feel peaceful here, and it is nice. I don’t mind weeding in the hot sun, and I don’t mind having kitchen cleaning duty this week (which takes literally an hour or more after each meal). Why?

Because I have a choice.

Now, I am the most indecisive person in the world. It is a struggle for me to decide what to order when I go out to eat! Now I am here at the monastery for over a month. I pray and I worship God. I work. I get to know the brothers and fathers that reside here. I think about the choice I have to make; what do I do with my life?

I ask God, “Should I be a monk?” He says, “Sure.”

I ask God, “Should I be a vet?” He says, “Sure.”

I ask God, “Should I be an environmentalist?” He asks me in return, “Why not?”

I have so many options. So many choices. And I’m an indecisive person…

I’ve rambled a lot and skipped around everywhere, and I doubt that any of this makes sense. But I have choices to make. This means I have true freedom.

God help me.


Following the Distant Speck of Light While Surrounded by Darkness June 17, 2009

Posted by Justin Farr in Uncategorized.

“Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and calles us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us by Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel […] nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” – 2 Timothy 1:6-12

Trust in God is necessary.

For the last little bit in my life, I have gone through immense changes. I have turned 18 and I have graduated high school. I am facing the reality of life. Everything I was told when I was young no longer applies. Life isn’t a fairy tale. I cannot even, in fact, do whatever it is I put my mind to. No matter how hard I try, no matter how hard I dream, I just can’t have certain things I want, no matter how good and pure they are. These hard-learned lessons have pushed me to the edge lately, but I have come out with a greater reliance on God and with a stronger faith.

I have known what it is like to want to die. I know what it is like to want to crawl under the nearest rock and sleep forever. To want to bleed. To want to feel the welts rise on your skin. To imagine yourself falling, falling. Splattering against the cold, hard ground that couldn’t care less about you. I know what it’s like to not be able to move. To lay in bed and pray you will die. To feel so depressed that you feel like you can just melt away, slither through the cracks in your dwelling, and seep into the earth. Vanished.

I have known what it is like to have true joy. Where the world is so beautiful you can just fall down and be absorbed into it. Where your arms are too small to hold everyone and love them, but your heart fits around all the people in the world just right.

Life is such an interesting thing. It is full of sorrow. Beauty. Life. Death. Love. Relationships that come and go. Life itself comes and goes. Without God, our existence is nothing. As King Solomon proclaims in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” These are just some of my jumbled musings from the past few months. I’ve realized how empty everything is without God. I’ve learned how life is full of… everything. There’s so much to swallow, digest, crave, be satisfied with. There are so many people with such complex lives, and we are all interconnected. Life is so deep that words cannot describe its abyss which is both light and darkness simultaneously.

I am beginning an entire new chapter of my life. After I graduated, I was depressed for weeks. It took God’s love and grace, and prayers and encouragement and life stories of those who love me, for me to realize that it wasn’t the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.

As I mentioned, trusting in God is a critical and essential part of all of our lives. If we don’t trust in God and His love, we are lost in the darkness with no hope of light to guide us. We all have plans and hopes for our future. But why? We should live in the here, the now, and not be preoccupied with the future. We need to leave that up to God. Plans will get us nowhere. Life can change in the mere blink of an eye. Our own lives, in the grand scheme of things, is but a breeze that ruffles the leaves of trees for a brief moment, and then the leaves return to their previous state, having not even paid heed to thAt wind.

With God, we are nothing. I am trusting, or at least trying to trust, God with my life. I don’t know what He wants me to do. I don’t know how I can best serve Him. I don’t know a thing about what my future contains. I do know, however, that I am going to a monastery to draw nearer to God and find a direction in my life; to find out what path God wants me to take.

I am going to the monastery St. John of San Francisco in Manton, California. I leave tonight to the Nashville, TN airport and am flying to Sacramento, CA. This is my first time on a plane. This is the farthest from home I have ever been. This is the longest period of time that I have spent away from home. Even for these 5 weeks at the monastery, I will die to myself, die to the world, and live for God. Monasteries are both a spiritual oasis and the most intense battleground that ever existed between us and all in the Church and the demons. I am sure I will experience both.

Please pray for me, that God gives me direction, and that His will be done. I am praying for everyone as well.

This is the most exciting, busy, confusing time in my life. It is hard not being able to look ahead at the road and know where it turns and twists. But God is the best vehicle ever. I am safe when I am in Him.

Trust in God and glorify Him forever and ever! Amen.