The Christian in Solitude

The Last Anchorite, a documentary by Remigiusz Sowa,  focuses on Father Lazarus, a Coptic monk living at St. Anthony of the Desert Monastery in Egypt.  An Australian, former university professor, atheist, and Marxist, F. Lazarus left his comfortable life in his homeland to seek God in the Desert.

I have come across more than a few commentaries on the need for community in the church, and what that entails, for good or bad.  Rarer still is the commentary on being alone with God, and riches possible in a solitary life.  Not all are called to live as monks, but for those who are, we as the body of Christ should be more than willing to hear of their experiences and insight.  We use the term “monk” or “nun,” to describe these men and women, but above all they are Christian, and followers, to the fullest extent, of the Way.

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A Week Off/ Building a Monastery

A week off to do what?  I’m not really sure.  Every teacher pleads silently for that extra minute of simple downtime: no papers to grade, no lessons to write.  A reprieve from the constant buzzing insistencies of the educational life.  But what to do when that time finally comes, and when it comes in abundance?  For one week I have the opportunity to enjoy some time off, and while a dozen or so things to do are coming to mind, it’s hard for me to figure where and when.  I’m a creature of routine- my scattered mind demands it.  For the past three months I’ve been in the routine of “school,” and now it’s time, for a little while anyway, and for the sake of sanity, to remove myself from that routine, and I find it hard to extricate myself.

I believe I made a good start to the week by attending a retreat on Thomas Merton over the weekend at the Canterbury Retreat Center in Oviedo, FL.  It was a mad dash from school to home to retreat, but once there, and after a few sessions of meditative prayer, in addition to reveling in the beautiful landscape I felt myself settle a bit.  A few scattered bits of poetry came out of my weekend, a good sign of letting go.

I have a documentary to recommend: The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun. Set in Denmark, the movie documents an old Danish man, “Mr. Vig,” and his desire to transform his dilapidated castle and estate into a monastery.  Receiving word from the Russian Patriarche that the Orthodox Church would be interested in sending some nuns to establish an Orthodox monastery in the area, Mr Vig sets about trying to repair the place, without success.  The building is as frail and jumbled as Mr. Vig, from its rusted boiler that fills the basement with smoke (little actually coming out of the chimney), to rotting floorboards, and a leaking roof.  Enter Sister Ambrosija, an efficient, no nonsense nun who sets about organizing the proper repairs, leaving Mr. Vig feeling a bit left out of his own creation.  The two spar and scold each other, but a tender understanding relationship develops out of all of this (even after a sneaky contract revision that has Mr. Vig smiling for the first time in the movie, and leaving Sister Ambrosija furious).

Unlike a typical “Odd Couple” movie, The Monastery attends to one of the core needs of humanity- to create something enduring.  Mr. Vig tries to meet this need, and although at one point in the movie I thought he was a heartless jerk, he is ultimately a tragic figure the audience grows to love, and eventually, mourn.