The Novo-Tikhvin Women's Monastery
 
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Hand-painted icons by the sisters of the Monastery

I entered the monastery in order to be happy


If you have ever been in the Saint Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Green Grove, you must certainly have noticed the young faces of the novices. The young girls, dressed all in black, read prayers at the services, sing on the cliros and keep order during the services. Who are they, and why did they leave the world to live in a monastery? We decided to speak on this topic with the spiritual father of the Novo-Tikhvin Women's Monastery, Hegumen Abraham, who knows well the life story of every novice.



Father Abraham, for many contemporary parents, the departure of their children to a monastery is a great misfortune, a family tragedy. They see that their child does not subscribe to the generally accepted norms of the human condition...

Monasticism has existed in Russia from time immemorial and was once considered as normal as family life. The difference between them is purely external. Monastic life is solitary life. In it, a person renounces the world and unnecessary associations with it, including those with his parents. Searching deep within himself, in solitude he tries to cleanse himself from passions and sins and as much as possible, without outside interferences, strives to fulfill the commandments of the Gospel.

In centuries past, when the vast majority of subjects of the Russian Empire were Orthodox, there were many cases where parents blessed their children to enter monastic life, and considered it their good fortune and a great blessing from God if one of their children became a monk. They hoped that through this person their entire family would be saved, that through him the entire family would be justified. However at the same time, others of those same believing parents who theoretically should have understood all this still protested and were indignant at their children's decision to enter a monastery. The famous ascetic who was recently numbered among the choir of the Saints, Paisius Velichkovsky, who lived in the XVIIth century, entered a monastery against the wishes of his mother. And his mother was so shaken by this, in spite of the fact that he came from a priestly family, that in reaction she took upon herself a strict fast, eating nothing and drinking nothing, and she wished to die. An angel appeared to her and said: “Do not dare to do this foolish thing. Your son has chosen a blessed path; pray for him. Let your behavior and your repentance be an example to other mothers.”

But what about modern parents who do not even believe in God, let alone angels? It seems to them that they have wasted years of their life, raising their only child, the hope and support of their old age, who is now departing for a monastery

Perhaps they are losing the thing they value most. But why did they not think of that when they killed many, many of their children in the womb? Did they not think then that they were losing that which they valued most? If they had had as many children, as the Orthodox say, “as God will grant,” at least a few children, then one of them might depart for a monastery, and one would be left to stay home with the parents. From a human standpoint one can understand the parents and how they are suffering and tormented. But why can they not understand the children? Why do parents think that their children are somehow programmed or hypnotized? Can they really not understand such a simple thing as this: that their children are sincerely convinced that they should live in this manner? Or have they forgotten entirely that sincerity exists at all on earth? Why do you think that a person who neglects his high ideals for the sake of his parents will not neglect yet another high ideal — love for his parents? Can you not see what is happening around you?

Many things that are difficult to understand are happening. Especially for the person who sees no difference between a Hare Krishna at prayer, a meditating Moonie and an Orthodox believer. For such people, all believers are equally abnormal, either fanatics or frauds.

From such a superficial point of view there is certainly some commonality between the Orthodox and members of cults. Both the cult members and the truly Orthodox sincerely confess their convictions. All religious confessions contain some grain of truth. But that is merely a tiny fragment of truth which is distorted and darkened, and is unable to bring any benefit to the person who swallows streams of falsehood along with that tiny fragment of truth.

In Orthodox ascetical literature we read of the concept of “prelest,” or spiritual deception. A person who is thus spiritually deceived enters into contact with dark powers while believing himself to be communing with God. This path is opened through all manner of religious cults, and it is easy to follow, since it does not require you to struggle with your passions. Compare the spiritual experience of Orthodoxy with the spiritual experience of other confessions and you will see that the experience of Orthodox differs fundamentally from the others. That which, say, yogi Vivekananda describes as a highly spiritual state is one that Orthodox ascetics describe as demonic deception (prelest), a state one must beware of and repel from oneself. And if you were more attentive, observant people and spent time with Orthodox monks, nuns and novices on the one hand and with Hare Krishnas and members of mystical sects on the other hand, you would see a difference in their behavior: the simplicity of the monks, if they are true monks, and the state of exaltation and spiritual intoxication of the sectarians.

It is hard to believe that at the end of the 20th century, people are entering monasteries. Why do young people seek to go there? Is it out of disappointment in their life, or failure in love?

By themselves, disappointment, failure in love and the day-to-day difficulties in life that have become particularly numerous these days are not reasons for entering a monastery. More than that, people who enter the monastery for these reasons, as a rule, do not last long. The real reason for entering a monastery — and this will sound a bit strange and difficult to understand for nonbelievers — is love of God. How else can we explain why we entered a monastery? For me, for example, the following explanation is sufficient: I entered a monastery in order to be happy.

Surely your words will not console cotemporary mothers and fathers…

Unfortunately, the majority of contemporary parents are unbelievers. What could I say to comfort them? Generally speaking, parents are only rarely content with their children's fates; either their job seems to the parents to be unsuitable, or their apartment, or their choice of spouse. And what if your child fell into a sect? And what if you lost him? In our monastery you can hardly find any novices whose parents are believers. And, as it often turns out, it was not the parents who raised the children in the faith, but the children who brought their parents to the faith. This happens rather frequently of late.

Of course it is difficult for parents to reconcile themselves with the notion that for their children, home is now a monastery. But becoming upset and indignant will only increase the rift between you and your children. And then not the monastery gates, but spiritual estrangement will be the barrier to further contact between you.

Interview by N. Petrovskaya
Orthodox Gazette No. 1 (36), 1996



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