Machairos Monastery Reflections

Up, up, up to Machairos Monastery, wrapped in the trees of the Troodos Hills. My cell had one upright chair, a glass of water, no internet; gates were locked at 6.0 pm, the ikons and vegetarian meals were marvellous. There is up to eight hours chanting each day. I was granted long private conversations with English-speaking monks Joseph and Nephyteos. We explored monastic life, asceticism for people in everyday jobs, spiritual formation under an elder, the church fathers – and they wanted to know about Anglicanism and Celtic saints. I tried to commend the value of the incarnation principle – putting ourselves into the shoes of people of different cultures within Christianity as a step towards true ecumenical unity, but I realised that this will not be embraced in Orthodox churches unless non-Orthodox churches nurture lives of holy obedience that speak louder than their words.

We shared our love of Father Sophrony, and of Tolly St. Knights Monastery, Essex, where the Cypriot Father Zacharias is an elder. Two early advisors of our Community of Aidan and Hilda, Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward and Franciscan Brother Ramon, were deeply changed in that monastery by the Jesus Prayer, and wrote a little book about its power.

Young soldiers walked in. They were permitted to venerate the monastery ikons as part of their duty. So did children on a school trip. ‘In Cyprus young people are drawn to the monasteries. Eighty per cent of people at our eight hour Christmas vigil are young people’ I was told, ‘but in Britain you are closing churches down’.

I realised that my original passion for a revival of a 'peoples' monastic life in my own country has too long been submerged under cold water. Their monastery certainly calls for obedience, but each is discipled by their elder (the abbot), who allows their individuality to flower. How can that be? Because obedience is mutual. Through obedience in penance they learn to eschew what impedes their growth in God, but the abbot, through obedience to God in each disciple, encourages each to develop their gifts.

A stream of thoughts of what to explore upon my return came to me. But it became clear that the real reason God brought me here is this: to do penance.

Posted at 03:00am on 4th March 2016
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