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The Gift of Freedom June 21, 2009

Posted by Justin Farr in Uncategorized.

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.



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