On Saturday, we went to the Orthodox Monastery of the Transfiguration in Ellwood City, PA for their annual Youth Retreat. As the three kids learned about saints who had been monks and nuns, I wandered the grounds of the monastery.
When I first contemplated simplifying my life, it was this monastery that reassured me it didn’t just have to be a mental exercise. It can happen…and you don’t have to be a monastic to live a simple life.
On this day, though, I didn’t think extensively about simplicity in the way I’ve been approaching it. Instead, my mind turned to obedience. Abbess Mother Christophora broke the children up into groups, which she named after the monastic vows. She aptly named the youngest group “Obedience”. As I watched the children (my Hilary is the second in line) trail behind Sister Vicki, I contemplated who and what I follow. On the surface, I would say instantly that it is God I follow. But am I obedient to God Himself or rather to my own carefully-crafted perception of Him?
We pitched our tent at a nearby campground and spent the night, returning to the monastery for Sunday’s Liturgy. Fr. Thomas Hopko lives in Ellwood City and serves for the sisters when he is in town. On a side note, it’s always a bit disconcerting in the beginning to watch Fr. Hopko serve. I’ve listened so much to his podcasts and tapes of his lectures, that it just seems so strange to watch that voice actually come out of a human being! Fr. Tom’s sermon yesterday was one of those that leaves me literally crying in my seat with conviction and contrition.
He spoke of the difference between zeal for God and zeal for religion. How easy it is for the religious to cross over into a judgmental view of their fellow man, especially their fellow Christians. How dangerous it is to not follow God’s righteousness, but instead a righteousness we create that is not of God…just ourselves.
How often do I follow my own righteousness! My own design! How woefully I fail at true obedience. At laying aside my own desires and solely following God’s will. Even when I do follow Him, I do so in my own way and on my own timetable. How far I have to go to arrive at authentic simplicity…simply obeying God.
The teen group was also aptly named as “Chastity”. Remember that kiddos!!! Don’t Lonna and Jared look just so excited to listen to Mother Christophora? Hee. Hee. Actually, they did enjoy themselves and were spiritually renewed.
Our family is entering a time of transition. Big changes are on the horizon. Who will we obey? Who will we follow? I am compelled to be increasingly aware of the example I set for my children and husband right now. Lead by example. Not just words. Children, especially, can see right through a false attempt to lead. They never buy into, “Do as I say. Not as I do.” First and foremost, it’s time to set the example of obedience to the One, True God and His righteousness. They might not be able to formulate a response to the theology of following our own, safe, artificial God, but they have the gift of being able to see right through an imitation. They know the false God when they see it. They know Truth, even when they don’t know they do.
On the altar at the monastery’s outdoor chapel, the words are written that St. Peter spoke at the Transfiguration. Never do I walk away from my time at the monastery without also loudly chiming in that, yes…it is good for us to be here!
Obedience. I have much praying and reflecting to do on this issue. Too often I get stuck on the fact that I do not obey God’s teachings. That is undeniable. However, seldom do I truly contemplate who this God is that I’m striving to obey. Is it God? Is it my version of God? I fear that far more often than I’ve been admitting, it’s my own false version of God. Obedience. The next step in simplicity.