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Hermits and Solitaries [Ecumenical]
Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage ^ | 2006-2008

Posted on 05/24/2008 10:35:57 PM PDT by annalex

Immaculate Heart of Mary's Hermitage

Hermits and Solitaries

Can one be a hermit without being monastic?

In the Christian world the technical designation hermit tends to signify monastically vowed solitary life. The New Code of RC Canon Law for Monastic and Religious reflects this position, and gives local Bishops the possibility of vowing diocesan hermits with no connections to any established religious or monastic order, Per Se.  Per Accidens, anyone who would be a vowed diocesan hermit will at least have to have some minimal recourse to the monastic and eremitic traditions of the Church.
  The founders of a number of "active" vowed religious orders and congregations specifically commanded their religious priests and brothers to be Dominicans/Jesuits/Redemptorists/etc. when out and about in apostolic ministry, and to be "Carthusians" when in their religious house or monastery. This is an appeal to members of such orders or congregations to practice a certain kind of solitariness and contemplativeness as the necessary spiritual feeding of themselves and their apostate on the one hand, and as a means of Divine Intimacy and sanctity, on the other hand.
  Some of these orders, like the Dominicans, had the tradition of a semi-monastic living arrangement and community life, including common Divine Office. So their solitude was fit into and supported by that framework. Others, like the Jesuits, were totally non-monastic, discarding the quasi-monastic framework, and they are really formed to be very solitary "free style" non-monastic hermits in their "at home" life. There's the old ecclesiastical joke: "What do you call a Jesuit House? A hotel for solitaries to check in and out of!" While there is more to a Jesuit House than that in reality, the joke gave some credence to the solitary component of Jesuit Spirituality.
  Of course, in our day and age, there are all kinds of official and unofficial Christian hermits. Some have the specifically monastic orientation and find it useful, others don't. What is common to all are: real solitude, prayer of all sorts, reception of the sacraments, asceticism/spiritual discipline, regular reception of spiritual guidance, and solitary work for material self-support.
  Within the Western Church Tradition, especially, in England, there were non-monastic solitaries who lived in hermitages built into the sides of diocesan parish churches and chapels. These places were called Anchorages, and the solitaries were called Anchorites. They were locked into their cell complex, which had living quarters and a small garden, totally enclosed. Normally, there was a small window built into the wall of the church, to hear the Holy Mass from and to receive the sacraments through.
  Some solitaries received visitors there at the window, some didn't. Some solitaries, known for their holiness and wisdom, functioned like "on call" lay spiritual counselors, and were quite busy and not terribly solitary, like the Russian Starzty.
  The Russian Church eventually came to understand that the Starzty were hermits who had been given a special call out of the hermitage and to a new spiritual vocational charism that transcended their eremitism! Russian Starzty like the famous Staretz, St. Seraphim of Sarov, spiritually guided personally, thousands of visitors each year. In the Western Church this never quite got to that point, but it did have quite a bit of similar activity from these local non-monastic lay hermits installed in local parish Anchorages.
  Please don't forget that eremitism and monasticism began as purely lay movements on an extremely simple and small scale.  It took a while for "institutionalization" to happen.  It happened partially from chaos and the need to get it under control for the good of the souls of would be hermits and monks. It also happened to create a system of discernment, training, and regularity for hermits and monastics to thrive in, while trying to minimize some of the terrible psychological and spiritual dangers of solitary life.
  In the story of St. Anthony the Great, "the Father of Monasticism", he started as a simple unlettered solitary ascetic living in the tombs on the edge of his hometown.  Due to the press of visitors, he went out to the middle of the desert to an abandoned old dried out Oasis, to hide and to be alone as a solitary ascetic.  In the beginning he really didn't have a clue of how to be a hermit monk.  As he learned through experience what God taught him in solitude, monasticism was born.  He went from being just a solitary ascetic to being a true hermit monk.  He was the first to accept monasticism.  He had pushed the spiritual envelope!
  It took quite a while for him to "be discovered" there in the desert.  St. Anthony had already had his transformative experiences of solitary life and spiritual combat, which made him into a great saint.  His discovery, part of God's plan for him and us, eventually happened, and he got called back from being a hermit to being an Abbot of would-be-monks.  I guess this was the necessary beginning of "institutionalization" in eremitism and monasticism.
  When asked the question that we are asking, Fr Louis Thomas Merton, OCSO, from time to time was wont to ask monks, nuns, and hermits this question in response:
 If there were an anti-religious pogrom that disbanded and outlawed outward monastic religious observance and communities: "What would you have to do to continue living "on the sly" "deinstitutionalized in every way" your vowed life as a monk, nun, or hermit?"
  He would tell them that once they figured that out, and they went and did it, they would be right back at the place before the invention of monasticism and eremitism. He would note that it's not a bad place to be, with the exception that all that has been learned about living in solitude from the beginning of monasticism and eremitism is still available to guide and educate the "lone wolf" monk, nun, or hermit. So, it's not quite like having to start entirely from scratch.
  His view was that this kind of experience was liberation from religious life "conventions" that can obscure the discovery and living of the true monasticism of the heart.  Towards the end of his life he thought that was the only monasticism that counts.  For the most part, that's what he thought he was doing in his hermitage at Gethsemene Abbey.
  The answer to the question rests within your own heart. If you create a solitary life for yourself with all the main components of the hermit's life but without all the traditional trappings of life in a monastery or communal hermit order, you are a hermit. If you leave out some of the main components, you'll be a solitary. A good spiritual director or mentor call help you discern what God is calling you to and help you to understand how to respond to that call.
  What is most important for you is to be what God calls you to be, whether a hermit, a solitary, or to any other vocation. All of them are called to union with God, all of them include contemplative prayer, and all of them have the same ultimate goal of Christian sanctity in Divine Communion here and hereafter. All of them require us to pray with all our hearts and souls for ourselves: "Thy Will Be Done!"

TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; Ecumenism
KEYWORDS: apologetics; catholic; ecumenism; monasticism
Ecumenical thread. Please refrain from posts critical of any confession, yet feel free to highlight relevant aspects of your preferred confession.
1 posted on 05/24/2008 10:35:58 PM PDT by annalex
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To: Antoninus; ArrogantBustard; celticfreedom; CTK YKC; dan1123; DogwoodSouth; FourtySeven; HarleyD; ...
Per Religion Moderator:
Ecumenic threads in this trial run are closed to all “anti” arguments. Posters who try to tear down other’s beliefs – or use subterfuge to accomplish the same goal – are the disrupters on ecumenic threads and will be booted from the thread and/or suspended.

As promised, this is the Catholic Theology for non-Catholics series.

If you want to be on the Catholic Theology for non-Catholics list but are not on it already, or if you are on it but do not want to be, let me know either publicly or privately.

This is an "ecumenical" thread. I invite all opinions and encourage clear posts on the topic, but I ask to refrain from overtly critical posts. That is because the article is discussing specific aspects of monasticism in its relation to the larger religious community. Someone critical of monasticism as a whole is free to start a separate thread and critique the idea of monasticism as a whole.

Previously posted (all of them are open):

On Salvation Outside the Catholic Church
The Great Heresies [Open]

2 posted on 05/24/2008 10:42:23 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: annalex; informavoracious; larose; RJR_fan; Prospero; Conservative Vermont Vet; ...

Freep-mail me to get on or off my pro-life and Catholic List:

Add me / Remove me

Please ping me to note-worthy Pro-Life or Catholic threads, or other threads of interest.

3 posted on 05/24/2008 10:43:17 PM PDT by narses (...the spirit of Trent is abroad once more.)
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To: narses
Thnaks, and let me quickly plug this wonderful book:

Journey Back to Eden: My Life and Times Among the Desert Fathers, by Mark Gruber. If you have a serious interest in the life of the Early Church, read this.

4 posted on 05/24/2008 10:56:26 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: annalex; Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; nickcarraway; Romulus; ...

Saint Maron

Mar Maro (in Syriac) b: 350 - d: 410 AD - Feast day: February 9th

Saint Maron chose a solitary abode not far from the city of Cyrrhus in Syria. It is believed that the place was called "Kefar-Nabo" on the mountain of Ol-Yambos, making it the cradle of the Maronite movement. And there in a spirit of mortification, he lived mainly in the open air. He had indeed a little hut covered with goatskins to shelter him in case of need, but he very seldom made use of it. Finding the ruins of the heathen temple, he dedicated it to the true God, and made it his house of prayer. St. John Chrysostom, who had a great regard for him, wrote to him from Cucusus, the place of his banishment, and, recommending himself to his prayers, begged to hear from him as often as possible.

Saint Maron

Maron was a disciple of St. Zebinus. He drew great crowds by his spiritual wisdom. He trained many hermits and monks and founded, three monasteries. It is believed the Maronites take their name from Bait-Maroun monastery where a church was erected over his tomb. His feast day is February 9th.

All that is known about Maron, the spiritual father and protector of the Maronites comes from Theodoret, the bishop of Cyrrhus. In approximately 444, Theodoret undertook the project of writing a religious history about his religion. Theodoret never knew Maron personally, but only through the disciples of this holy man. He described Maron as "the one who has planted for God the garden which flourishes now in the region of Cyrrhus." Little is known of the birth or youth of Maron because Theodoret was unconcerned about that aspect of his life. He felt that Maron was a man born not for this world, but for heaven. In his description of the beginning of Maron's life, Theodoret asserts that Maron had "already increased the number of saints in heaven."

According to history, Maron was never satisfied with the ordinary practices of asceticism, but was "always seeking for new ways to accumulate all the treasures of wisdom." Maron was the spiritual leader not only of the hermits who lived near him, but also of all the Christian faithful in the area. He used to counsel them, heal their bodily and spiritual ills. All of these apostolic endeavors manifested wisdom and holiness of the hermit Maron.

Some hold the opinion that Maron and John Chrysostom studied together at Antioch before 398 and that the famous letter sent by John Chrysostom was indeed sent to this hermit Maron and not to some other anchorite with the same name. If the monk referred to in this letter is from the region of Cyrrhus, it is indeed our spiritual father, Maron. The date of Maron's death is placed somewhere between 407 and 423. Because of his great popularity among the people, riots broke out at the time of his death because everyone wanted to save his remains in their village. It was in this milieu of hermits and ascetics that we learn of St. Maron. Maron decided to leave the world and to seek solitude on top of a mountain, probably somewhere south of Cyrrhus and northwest of Aleppo. He had been a disciple of the hermit Zebinas who was known for his assiduousness in prayer, spending all day and night at it. Our principal historical source on the life of Maron is Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus (393-466), who wrote the Religious History of Syriac Asceticism. Theodoret tells us that the mountain Maron chose had been sacred to pagans. He converted a pagan temple that he found there into a church, which he dedicated to the "true God".

Maron lived an austere life. While he erected a small tent for shelter, he rarely used it and spent most of his time in the open air as a form of mortification. We are told that Maron was not satisfied with the ordinary exercises of piety but added to them. He would often spend the whole night standing in prayer. He practiced numerous other penances and fasted for weeks on end.

Maron became known for the gift of miracles and attracted many people, even from great distances. He accomplished many cures and exorcisms. Theodoret goes on to say: "He cured not only infirmities of the body, but applied suitable treatment to soul as well, healing this man's greed and that man's anger, to this man supplying teaching in self-control and to that providing lessons in justice, correcting this man's intemperance and shaking up another man's sloth."

Maron attracted a number of disciples for whom he became a spiritual father. Theodoret summarizes the work of Maron in poetic fashion: "By cultivating that spiritual field, he raised in it many wonderful plants in the realm of virtues, cultivating and offering to God this marvelous garden that now flourishes in the region of Cyrrhus."

We are told that after the death of Maron, the people of the various neighboring villages fought over his body. It was the belief that having a holy person buried close by would bring blessings and cures on the inhabitants. Theodoret informs us that the inhabitants of the nearest and largest village came in great numbers, took possession of the body, and built over it a magnificent church. While we do not know the exact location, it was probably between Aleppo and Cyrrhus. Theodoret tells us that the relics of Maron are venerated with great public solemnity in his day and are the occasion of many miracles.

The other historical source we have about St. Maron is a letter addressed to him by St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom had been exiled from the Patriarchate of Constantinople to Cucusus in Armenia. From there he wrote to "Maron, priest and solitary", telling him that he is "joined to him in the bonds of charity and affection" and is comforted by the news he hears about Maron's holy life. He is concerned about his health and asks for his prayers. We believe that the letter was written around 406.

Based on the writings of Theodoret and Chrysostom, we usually date St. Maron's life from 350-410 (although some have placed his death as late as 423).

The Maronite Church formerly celebrated the feast of this great saint on January 5th. (This is the day in which the church of Kfarhai was consecrated in his honor.) However, in the seventeenth century, the feast was transferred to February 9th. Lebanon has proclaimed Maron as its patron saint and Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence to everyone who visited a Maronite Church on February 9th.

The gospel tells us that a tree is known by its fruits and we know from Theodoret that the garden of Maron flourished after his death. One is able to number approximately twenty saints among Maron's disciples, three whom were women. Theodoret describes these disciples of Maron with these words: "These anchorites were virtuous and heroic, totally dedicated to a life of contemplative prayer. They were strangers to any other consideration in the world. They were obedient to Church authority and tried to imitate their predecessor in their exercises of austerity. At times, their acts of penance and mortification were excessive, but they were always obedient to ecclesiastical authority."

After the Council of Chalcedon, Bishop Theodoret worked to construct the famous Monastery of Saint Maron. In addition to being a stronghold for the defense of the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, this monastery was for a long time the center of the cultural and theological heritage of Antioch.


5 posted on 05/25/2008 5:11:43 AM PDT by NYer (John 6:51-58)
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To: annalex; All
The answer to the question rests within your own heart. If you create a solitary life for yourself with all the main components of the hermit's life but without all the traditional trappings of life in a monastery or communal hermit order, you are a hermit. If you leave out some of the main components, you'll be a solitary. A good spiritual director or mentor call help you discern what God is calling you to and help you to understand how to respond to that call.

What is most important for you is to be what God calls you to be, whether a hermit, a solitary, or to any other vocation. All of them are called to union with God, all of them include contemplative prayer, and all of them have the same ultimate goal of Christian sanctity in Divine Communion here and hereafter. All of them require us to pray with all our hearts and souls for ourselves: "Thy Will Be Done!"

I suppose I could say I now live a solitary life dedicated to the Lord. I'm not working now and moved from my old stomping grounds near Philadelphia several years ago. My wife wanted to be with her mother and family in mom's last years so we picked up and moved to Kansas. Quite a change in culture from back east and I have learned to love it. All of the agriculture here often reminds me of the Lord's parables about sowing, harvest and fruit. We even have a small winery with a vineyard near here we pass on the way to Church. Friends, neighbors and family are all wonderful Christians.It wasn't the place I imagined I would be or would ever plan on being -- we were led here by God (with mom's help).

As I have said elsewhere, I['m a contemplative/mystic and not a Catholic. I long for solitude to read and meditate on the Word. I have found it hard sometimes to maintain my contact with God -- as if I had anything to do with it.

Last winter was particularly difficult. It was situational depression of that feeling of being disconnected. During that time, I faced many temptations during that time -- getting angry, getting away from my prayers and meditation. I decided to seek spiritual help, which I've never done before.

Our Church has an online congregation. I hadn't visited for awhile and when I went bsck to check it out, a new pastor had been assigned. As it turns out, she's a mystic who has authored a book on the subject and is very wise. After just a few minuets of chatting, the thought 'when the student is ready, the teacher will appear' came out of nowhere. We've had several one on one chats since and I consider her my spiritual director.

A lot of my problems centered around not knowing what the Lord wanted me to do. Wilma and I prayed together about it and found the Lord will lead me day by day and I shouldn't be anxious about the long term. Just follow the Lord's teaching in the Word.

When I was concerned about the depression/temptation, Rev Wilma suggested I read St John of the Cross 'Dark Night of the Soul'. I found it so comforting to find that centuries ago, there were others like me who experienced the same situations. He taught me that the Lord leads us through these states to reach a higher inner self. Also, the mystical experience cannot be put into words because it is of the spirit and doesn't translate to human language expect by symbols, art, music or poetry. I've become so frustrated in the past because I couldn't describe what my spirit and heart felt.

One of my favorite John of the Cross poems is: I Came Into the Unknown

A site Rev Wilma recommended that has a great deal of John of the Cross information is: Christian Mysticism


6 posted on 05/25/2008 7:57:18 AM PDT by DaveMSmith (You cannot have faith in the Lord unless you are in charity.)
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To: DaveMSmith

I am very intrigued by your account. I don’t mean to pry, but your post leaves questions open. Do you live in a community or completely alone? Is your liturgical life limited to the online meetings?

Please pray for us at FR, we sorely need it.

7 posted on 05/25/2008 11:26:13 AM PDT by annalex (
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To: annalex
No problem. I'm happy to share.

We live in a small community in SE Kansas near the OK border. Population is about 13,000 in town here. My wife and I have a small house that we share with pets.

Alone is an interesting word for me. I use a wheelchair and don't drive, so I do rely on MaryBeth to get around. I spend a great deal of time at home.

Our Church, which is the same denomination as the online community, is about a 2 hour ride from here. A full tank of gas for the day. My pastor there is wonderful, also. She's part time, but in the fall we'll be getting a full time pastor. They don't have services during the summer... most folks there are farmers.

We're on a fixed income and with gas prices where they are, we don't make it up on Sundays that often.

I've steered clear of the RF for about a year because the toxic nature was very destructive for me spiritually. Any time I shared anything about my faith or beliefs, it would immediately be used against me. The old 'get as much 'dirt' on your opponent, dodge and divert the issue and put 'em on the defensive. Gets real old.

You can see from my home page that I wear my beliefs on my sleeve.... it's always been that way.

I'd iike to help cultivate the ecumenical thread concept. For me personally, I believe strongly that my religion and Catholicism share a great deal with differences limited to ideas and concepts. Catholicism has a long and rich mystic tradition that I can learn from. At the same time, I pray that I can give something back.

8 posted on 05/25/2008 12:01:54 PM PDT by DaveMSmith (You cannot have faith in the Lord unless you are in charity.)
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To: DaveMSmith; Religion Moderator
the toxic nature

Yes. I think the Moderator has done a very good job lately defusing that. We now have two formats in addition to the classic open thread format: "Caucus" threads allow for internal to a confession debate or devotional threads, and they are free from criticisms and attack; "Ecumenical" threads like this one allow for constructive debate between confessions. You may want to give us another try.

9 posted on 05/25/2008 7:17:07 PM PDT by annalex (
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To: annalex
My caucus here would be a caucus of one as I think I'm the only Swedenborgian on FR. We have a number of lists and online venues dedicated to our confession. In fact, the General Church has assigned a pastor for the online church initiative effective in April, so I think it would grow there.

I'm a member of the General Church and its structure and tendencies are conservative... mostly pro-life, men serving as priests, etc. The convention Church, the one currently up and online and I attend in person here, is more liberal... mostly pro-choice, mostly women ministers, etc.

Each branch is filled with contemplatives and mystics. Our Churchs doctrines were written by a mystic. In that way, we are the same and really that's all that matters. We believe in total freedom in spiritual matters.

For me, both branches have their emphasis. The General Church, teaching. The Convention Church, spiritual guidance and inner exploration. Not many have crossed over and those that do seldom appreciate the benefits of both.

I believe, as most do, that mystics and contemplatives receive direction from the Lord in the context of the symbols of their own confession. The Lord bends and does not break. I believe He is bending us to a more ecumenical outlook to our Christian brethren. This outlook must come from the heart, however, not because of 'rules'. As we can see here, open threads attract the majority of participation. Spiritual freedom.

Swedenborg wrote this of the 5th commandment: In the spiritual sense murders mean all manners of killing and destroying human souls. These are of many and varied kinds, for instance, turning them away from God, religion and the worship of God, making these things the subject of scandal, and persuading people of things which cause them to be hated and rejected.

I see the Lord trying to lead us to be more charitable to the neighbor. Again, Swedenborg writes:“The essence of love is loving others more then oneself, wishing to be one with them, and devoting oneself to their happiness”

10 posted on 05/27/2008 11:06:17 AM PDT by DaveMSmith (You cannot have faith in the Lord unless you are in charity.)
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To: DaveMSmith

You can have a Swedenborgian ecumenical thread, which would exclude crude criticism and general childish behavior; you can even have a caucus thread and invite questions and constructive comments, even if you are currently the only Swedenborgian.

11 posted on 05/27/2008 1:24:46 PM PDT by annalex (
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