Marriage or Monasticism?
By: Fr Anthony St Shenouda
The question marriage or monasticism separates monastic virtues from Christian life. It makes out monasticism and marriage as two opposing direction, were if you are a monk you have to fast, lead an ascetic life and obedience, but for a married person he does not have to do any of these things!? They forget that these virtues just listed are not only for monks but for monks and married alike. St John Chrysostom says that the only difference between a married person and a monk is that a married person is married, meaning that most monastic virtues are common between monks and those who are married. A married person has to fast, pray, obey their partner, live an ascetic and content life, and have a lifelong commitment to their partner. St John Chrysostom elaborates sayings:
“When Christ gave prescriptions and laws, he did not make any distinction… when he said ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers’ he did not specify either monk or secular, nor do the scriptures know anything like this, but they want everyone to live the life of monks, even if they should happen to have wives.”
So the question should not be whether I choose to apply these virtues or not, but rather in what environment do I want to apply these virtues, in a monastery or with a family. Bishop Rophail gives the example of two pot plants; one grows indoors the other outdoors. Both plants grow and flourish the same way, but the difference is the environment in which they grow. If we place an indoor plant outdoor or vice versa the plant will die.
Yet another setback for many youth from the monastic life is the fear of not being able to control themselves in terms of chastity. Again this question implies that a married person does not have to practice such a virtue but it is only for monks. St John Chrysostom answers this question in his treaties Against the Opponents of the Monastic Life III.
“The person who has a wife will practice self control more easily, because he enjoys greater consolation. But when it comes to self control, we see more married people failing than monks. For the number of monks, who leave the monasteries to marry, is not as great as the number of married persons who rise from the marriage bed to fornicate.”
Later on, in the treaty St John elaborates on how monks fight against chastity, while a married person is confronted with love of money, desire for luxury and power. He then concludes:
“Do you see that your fear is only an excuse? If it were necessary to fear, one should fear not for those who are escaping the waves or for those who have hastening to the harbor (i.e. monks), but for those who are being tossed in the storm.”
So, to make a decision about whether you should be a monk or get married is equally important to the question ‘which partner should I choose?’ you do not expect an angel to come and tell you the name of your future wife, but you spend time with this person and see how much you have in common and how much you need to work on. Likewise those who desire to join a monastery need to spend time in a monastery to see if this is the right environment for them to grow.