St Ioannikios the Great: Inner monasticism

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Dear beloved, Saint Ioannikios was a brave soldier when he was young, and was an iconoclast at first.

While still a soldier, he converted to Orthodoxy when he talked to a holy elder. He eventually became a champion for the veneration of icons. He left all worldly things behind, and lived as an ascetic for over 50 years, and gifted by God with wonderworking. He healed illnesses, drove out demons, and tamed wild beasts. He could cross over water, became invisible at will, and prophesied. He was a giant of a man, and yet overwhelmingly meek and humble. He lived for 94 years and reposed peacefully in 846 AD. We remember Saint Ioannikios the Great with this prayer, “My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my shelter is the Holy Spirit, O Holy Trinity, Glory to You.” Saint Ioannikios, pray for us all.

Saint John Climacus, who wrote the illuminating work “Ladder of Divine Ascent”, said, “Angels are a light for monks and the monastic life is a light for all men.” My beloved, let us remember the monastic and ascetic fathers, who are away from the world, and yet, light to us all. Let us pray for them for their faith and strength through the mercy of God, so that we will in turn, benefit from their sorrowful and powerful intercessory prayers for us all. Saint Ioannikios, and the monastic saints and fathers, pray for us.

In Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians 4 and 5, the holy Apostle warned us that the day of our Lord and His judgment would come suddenly, without warning. Therefore, he cautioned that we should be sober, faithful, with love, with our eyes on God, working on our salvation. Likewise, in LXX Psalm 14, let us walk blamelessly and work righteousness.

Let us remember our God as one who is constantly knocking on our doors. God does not force us, he merely invites, and always gently. If we do not listen or see carefully, we might miss His Divine invitations. As we read from the book of Revelation 3:20-21, Christ knocks on our doors, and if we open to Him, He will come in to our houses and dine with us. And to those of us who welcomes the tough love of our God and conquers our sins, our Lord and Christ will allow us to sit with Him on His throne in Heaven. Powerful words indeed.

We are in the world, and yet called to be not in it. This means that we are to pray often, or unceasingly if we can, while we are still in the world. We may labor and work, and share a family life. But at the same time, we are also called to the monastic life when we retreat to our closets and pray (Matthew 6:6), observe Orthodox fasting, or when we seek out our inner desert to find God, just as Coptic saint, Saint Antony did. Not everyone of us is called to be monks and nuns, but all of us are called to prayer. And when we pray in silent contemplation and alone, we are walking the same journey as the monastics or hermit monks, just as Saint Tikhon called all of us “untonsured monks”. And Alexander Bukharev, 19th century Russian Orthodox theologian who was a monastic who later returned to laity, believed that the black monastic habit would not save a person. But the white baptismal habit carrying the spirit of humility, obedience and purity, carries the true mark of an inner monk. Therefore, we are all able to be monastics at heart, wrestling with the world, deep in the world, and yet, striving to be deep in prayer, walking towards God.

In the Old Testament, we read about Prophet Elijah, in 3 Kingdoms 19:4-9, that Elijah went into the wilderness and prayed. In the wilderness, our God sent His angel to console Elijah, so that he would have the strength to travel on. The Prophet Elijah is often seen as the perfect precursor to monasticism, where we see the likes of Saint Antony the Great seeking Theosis with God in the wilderness.

Why do we need to have the heart of the monastic? When we read in Luke 11 and 12, our Lord and Christ told us to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. All too often, we who are of the secular and materialistic world, are trapped by the social intertwining of the world, and sometimes, we lose sight of our pilgrimage towards God, and lose sight of ourselves who are formed in the image of God. We may dabble in petty politics, chit chat, and other meaningless activities which inch us bit by bit away from our God, into sin and the devil’s playground.

Let us therefore frequently enter into our inner monastic heart, by joining the sign of the Cross, with the prayer of the heart, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” God will lend His mercy on us, and give us the unceasing prayer when we seek Him, as we read in Revelation 3.

Let us pray the thanksgiving prayer:

It is truly meet to call thee blest, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious than the Seraphim, without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word: True Theotokos, we magnify thee.

O virgin Theotokos, rejoice; O Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast borne the Savior of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Fr Raphael+

3 Kingdoms 19:4-9 (1 Kings)
Psalm 14 LXX
St Luke 11:47-54; 12:1
1 Thessalonians 4:18-5:10