Fr. John Meyendorff on Early Monasticism

St. Simeon Stylites

St. Simeon Stylites

Monasticism renewed the prophetic ministry of ancient Israel in the Church. It bore witness against a bourgeois and worldly Church that easily welcomed the Greco-Roman masses and accepted the bounties of the ‘most pious emperors.’ Throughout the history of the Orthodox East, the Church was saved from absorption into the Empire by the hermits of the desert, the stylites standing year after year on their pillars, the great monastic communities that, like the monastery of Stoudion in Constantinople, preached the monastic ideal at the very heart of the city, commanding the reverence of the emperors and the Christian people. The existence of their testimony was that of the New Testament, not of the Old, insofar as the later identified the chosen people with the nation and the state. Against the theocratic claims of the Christian Empire the monks affirmed the Kingdom of God is a Kingdom of the world to come; it is not sociological or political phenomenon in human history; it is the very presence of God. And the monks were the authoritative spokesmen for the Eastern Church. The Church adopted their liturgy, their spiritual way, their type of holiness.

* This excerpt is from “St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality” by Fr. John Meyendorff


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