Urban Monk?

It has almost been two years since I have begun my pilgrimage with the monks and Fathers of the Faith. In this time, it has been my observation that most of them have found the power of Christ through the use of “spiritual tools” such as fasting, prayer, vigils, etc…which are part of the ascetic life. If I think about the ways in which the monks of The Philokalia choose to live out this ascetic life, I am challenged to quit whatever I am doing and go find the nearest cave and take up residence for the next sixty years. Ok, maybe not that extreme, but It often makes me wonder how someone who lives in a modern time, in a city, and has a personality that is drawn to people, might make room for some of these ascetic practices.

This brings me to this month’s reading of St. Diadochos of Photiki and his work On Spiritual Knowledge. To begin, I found it comforting that Diadochos was a priest and with these responsibilities, he lived a life that was perhaps a bit different than the other monks of the desert variety that are in the Philokalia. [a]Diadochos practiced the faith with a fierceness that is unlike any other writer that I have read in The Philokalia so far. It was through his writing this month that I am inspired to see that a radical pursuit of Jesus is more than possible in contexts other than the caves of the desert and that it also possible for us who are called to minister to people as pastor. Like me, I am sure Diadochos found it hard to balance the pursuit of spiritual fruits such as: stillness, watchfulness, patience, gentleness, and self-control in the midst of all the responsibilities of being a priest. But, in this writing, Diadochos shares powerful insight into this journey.

In my reading, I am specifically struck by his robust understanding of baptism and how it is the basis for his pursuit of Christ. He specifically speaks of us receiving the divine grace through baptism in two ways. The first way is at once, as our soul is renewed and cleansed in the actual waters from all the stains of sin and thus restoring the image of God in us. Secondly, he says, “being infinitely superior to the first” (p288), that through our co-operation, baptism actually makes us also into the “likeness” of God. This is powerful. He goes on further to say, “when our intellect begins to actually perceive the Holy Spirit with our full consciousness, we should realize that the grace is painting the divine likeness over the Divine image in us” (p288). Diadochos is pointing to the power that we receive in our baptism and as a result, our natural response is to pursue Christ through the virtuous life in whatever our context. It is through our baptism that we have received the power of Christ and therefore carry it around in us wherever we are. As a result, baptism points to the process of our lives going from simply having the image of God restored in us, to being made in his likeness.

In conclusion, my response is to thank God for his grace and the wonderful example of Diadochos, who, inspires me to pursue a life of holiness that leads to being more and more shaped into the likeness of God. I am also reminded through my baptism the beauty and power that I carry around in me as a child of God wherever I go.


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