Monasticism and its Place in Salvation

Question:
Where in the bible does it teach that being a monk or nun has ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to do with one's salvation? I have been attracted to the Orthodox Church but do have some problems with some of the theology.
Sincerely, Don in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Answer:
(Continued from a previous question about Church and State)
You object to the idea that being a monk or a nun (a monastic) can affect our salvation. But where do you get the idea that this is an issue? I'm not aware of people going around claiming that monasticism is necessary for one's salvation, nor that the Bible teaches such a doctrine, unless Catholics go around doing that or unless Protestants assume this to be the case. Yes, monasticism is a devotion which God calls some people to follow, and no, monasticism is not necessary for salvation. Nevertheless, on an individual basis, some people need to be monastics in order to receive salvation, otherwise they would fall from God's grace or convert to another religion. Some people need to get married or stay single in society in order to be saved, otherwise if they were to become a monastic they may secretly turn against God through arrogance, legalism, self-righteousness, etc. Every Christian enters into a station in life which God sends him and which best nurtures and protects his salvation. Furthermore, what monastics pray for certainly leads to the salvation of some people and what monastics teach others directly certainly leads to the salvation of others, especially in their books. Moreover, the monastic experience not only is superior to some of the spirituality that any priest can provide, it is also something that is more closely aligned spiritually, theologically, and experientially to the Apostolic Faith. Indeed, it is far more Apostolic in the sense that when Christianity became legalized in the 4th century, the spirituality of the preceding centuries was transported to monasticism, since all the churches at that time were overflowing with so many people whose faith and spirituality were of sub-standard quality, all of which hindered the more serious minded worshippers.

And what do you mean by salvation? The Bible says that if you believe in Christ, you will be saved (Romans 10:9), just like that! But the Bible also says that you must work out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) and that you must endure to be saved (Luke 21:19), indicating a long process of time. It even talks about a salvation to come at the End of time (1 Peter 1:5). I'm not sure if you're making this objection according to the assumption that salvation occurs at the moment one is converted to Christ, or if you're aware that salvation is a life-long journey. But the Bible does speak about monasticism in some ways, and it provides verses speaking about salvation being a life-long process. So being a monastic does have something to do with salvation, since being a monastic is for a lifetime. For instance, Jeremiah was a monk, since he never married. John the Baptist was a monk, for he gave up everything to be with God and he pointed the way to Christ. Jesus was a monk, since He never married and devoted His time to prayer and teaching. But these aren't traditional perceptions of monasticism. Nevertheless, Jesus says in Matthew 19:10-12 that it is better not to marry, though only a few can accept this teaching, those who have made themselves eunuchs for Christ. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-35 concurs by saying that it is better not to marry, indicating how a life without a spouse is more spiritually effectual. But Matthew 19:29 is a good verse, for Jesus says that the Christians who have given up married life for the Kingdom of Heaven will receive eternal life and more, just as Paul mentions that some Christians will receive more in Heaven than others (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), based on what they built their house out of, if of gold, silver, hay, or whatever. Revelation 14:4 singles out virgins for special recognition, indicating monastics.

Though being married or being a monastic does not have any bearing on the general concept of salvation, yet because salvation is a life-long process, monasticism does have some degree of influence on salvation for certain individuals, as well as on the salvation of others who come in contact with them or who seek them out. I used to think that monastics were just a bunch of people living apart from everyone and having no effect on our lives. Yet I have learned by reading the ancient monastic texts, such as the Philokalia, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, and the Lives of the Desert Fathers, as well as more modern examples of monasticism, that monks & nuns were not useless bodies in the middle of nowhere. Some monastics have a degree of interaction with society, while other monastics have lived the hermit's life of never seeing anyone, yet they did this so as to attain spiritual perfection, which the Bible teaches us to attain (1 Corinthians 14:1, Hebrews 6:1, Mark 12:30), and which is easier to attain through monasticism. Once these total hermits obtained their goal of the Holy Spirit by God's grace, then God immediately sent people to them or He sent the hermits out to teach the Gospel of spiritual perfection, which, as Hebrews 6:1-3 says, is higher than the ordinary Gospel which the average Christian is accustomed to. The Bible teaches that there are different levels of the Faith- the infantile, the immature, the mature, and the perfect. These levels are specifically mentioned in Romans 1:16-17, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to anyone who has faith....For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." 1 Corinthians 3:1 and 1 John 4:17-18 also point them out. So judging by the fact that the Bible teaches that salvation is a life-long process and that we are to seek spiritual perfection by any means, though monasticism provides the surest and most common means for this, yet not the only means, then being a monk and a nun is necessary for one's salvation and it is Biblical. I could go on about how Holy Tradition, which is the original Apostolic system of interpreting Scripture and expressing it, and how monasticism has always been known to conform to Scripture and Tradition, but that would make my answer here way too long.

Lastly, I think some of the criticism of monasticism comes from assuming that monks and nuns don't help the Faith, when in fact they were designed to. It is just that Protestants have developed a bigotry against it and so they find no relevance in it. If you were to read the ancient and modern monastic writings and their experience of the wisdom of Apostolic spiritual perfection in Christ, you would first be amazed and then you would be full of profound respect for every single monk and nun, and then you would never again want to hear anyone question it in any way. This is because monasticism is our truest source for understanding what spiritual perfection in the Gospel or Scripture is, how it can help us work out our salvation, and where it can be found. It can't be found in Protestantism, since Protestantism has rejected the Gospel's teachings of spiritual perfection, except in some vague, idealistic, na´ve sense. Thus, this is a major element of the Faith where Protestants have invented a new gospel.

You may have already read some or many of the Early Church writings and monastic texts, but if you haven't, then I suggest that you take some time to read them. The ones I mentioned above are profound! Plus, and you may have already done this as well, but if you haven't, I suggest that you read Protestant and Orthodox perspectives on these questions that you have about Church-State and monasticism, or at least speak to various priests and ministers about them. Catholics also have their own perspectives on them too, however, their concept of Early Church spirituality revolves around Augustine and the popes, almost as though there is nothing else but them for that era, and they are currently becoming more Protestant by diverging into various parallel theological groups as well.

I'm thrilled to hear from you. Write back if you have more to say.
-Gaius