Solitude and Community

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The blessing of the Holy Spirit imparts grace to the purified heart, whether in solitude or in community, fulfilling all the prescribed sacraments of the Church through purification and illumination, completing their uncreated empowerments with love’s uncreated glorification.  Solitaries are not excluded from the grace of glorification, nor are members of thriving monastic communities always partakers in the grace of illumination, because communal life includes many distractions.  Both hallowing forms of life have the same end and ultimately belong together in their common witness.  The pulls and pressures of communal life have the power to usurp the revelatory energy of the Holy Spirit, which monastic authorities cannot control.  Mature abbots never seek to quench the Spirit, but such maturity is a truly costly love, transcending institutional conformity.  Wholesome sacred tradition liberates, as long as it does not degenerate into retrograde traditionalism.  Healthy Orthodox monasticism has always encouraged solitaries within the expansive maturity of its profoundest scope, but less mature monasticism may see the hermit as a threat or a betrayal.  This leads to institutional pressure to close ranks against the solitary, as happened in parts of the western church, until recently.  Thomas Merton’s calling to eremitical solitude opened a door that has begun to correct this tendency in the west, bringing it more into line with the Orthodox East. 

Solitude, however, is not an end in itself but a Paracletal opening that gives the Holy Spirit scope to inspire and regenerate Orthodox monasticism from within.  Solitude is not required to justify itself before monks, still less before curious laity, but is justified before God by its adherence to the Paraclete.  The Spirit’s unceasing prayer in the heart purifies, illumines and glorifies solitary saints, giving graced elders insight into the unique ways that the Spirit imparts revelation of the Name.  Solitude serves stillness and stillness awakens ineffable silence of the heart, transcending every clash of contrary opinions.  In the end, death gathers all without exception into blessed, holy silence, grounding solitude in hallowing stillness.  Issues of control or betrayal fall away, dissolving into gracious love and flaming truth, burning presence and hallowing awareness.  On this side of death, institutional conformity continues to lay claim to its right to maintain control, but on the other side of death, the kindly Paraclete draws near to guide deceased souls into deifying truth.  Since the solitary experiences death in every moment, every moment is a revelation of Paracletal Presence and every moment is revelation of the reign of timeless glory.  Healthy Orthodox monasteries delight in their solitaries because they are the fruition of monastic life in the timeless life of glory.

The Spirit imparts freedom, as incompleteness bears witness to completeness, whilst never laying claim to timeless glory in the name of temporal incompleteness.  The grace  of eschatological completeness blesses incompleteness in the moment of mysterious conjunction, but steps back from usurping completeness in totalitarian ways.  The solitary is vulnerable in ways that wealthy monasteries cannot comprehend, just as the monk is constricted unless he releases all addictive attachment to what the monastery provides.  In the end, both solitude and community need each other, if their witness is to be completely valid.  Both transmute into each other when the communion of saints gathers them into the glory they share with angels.  Wobbly moments, when they appear to undermine each other, disappear to the extent that glory welcomes wisdom and wisdom embraces glory in the Paraclete.  Peace between them is already present when glory’s presence is wisdom’s joy.  Solitude opens to the communion of saints when wisdom delights in the presence of glory.  Communion of saints completes what monastic community intends, proving the Paraclete’s wisdom transcends the binary exclusions of institutional life.  In the end, all solitary and communal ways lead to the living truth that unveils the Name of grace.  Ultimately, nothing separates wisdom from glory in the illumined heart when hallowing communion embraces both solitude and community beyond all division, in the self-emptying completeness that hallows incompleteness with the creative glory of uncreated wisdom.