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Monastery Retreats

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The Lord of Glory sent a cherub, he led him into this mountain and when he had set his seal on Abba Macarius by placing his hands on his breast as though taking its measure, Abba Macarius said to him, “What is this?” The cherub said to him, “I have weighed your heart. Abba Macarius said to him, “What do you mean?” The cherub said to him, “They will name this mountain after your heart; Christ has given it to you as an inheritance.

The desert of Sheheet was the biggest and one of the oldest monastic settlement in the history of Christianity. Its meaning “the weighing of the heart” is not only a name given by the angel to St Macarius as in the story above, but it is also a very accurate name that describes the monastic life. The early monks saw their monastic vocation as continuous testing of the self and judging oneself. It was said of St Arsenius that he used to always say to himself “remember Arseni the reason you became a monk.” This constant vigilance is not as one might imagine a depressing life of only looking at the negatives in your life, on the contrary it was a sign of growth in the spiritual life. As one gets closer to the light of Christ the smallest of stains in our lives are made more and more visible and therefore our garment gets cleaner and cleaner.

This is not a virtue specific to monks; in the corporate world, any successful company runs constant test on itself (and sometimes hiring specialised consultants) to scrutinise themselves in every aspect of the company’s functions. Unless a company goes through this process of self-scrutiny many of its faults can go unnoticed and eventually lead to bankruptcy.

The same principle applies to our spiritual life unless we have regular retreats to a quiet place where you can scrutinise your spiritual progress you can run the risk of spiritual bankruptcy. Monastery visits are usually ideal for such an exercise where you can spend time alone in one of the quiet monastery corners and spend it in reading, singing, praying, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to you your weaknesses. Some of the youth think of this as a chance to get out of work given to them by the monastery, but that is not what I am talking about! Even if you happen to go to the monastery with a group of friend you should not miss the chance of spending time alone away from anyone else.

The luxury of having a monastery near by may not be available to everyone but there is many quiet places where one can go and have this quality time with himself, giving account of his values and which one of them have been affected by the environment around him whether at work or with friends or what we allow ourselves to see on social media. What are my conversations mostly about? Does God have enough space there? How is my time divided throughout the day? Does it have sufficient time for prayer and spending time with the Bible?

Who are my friends that I spend most of the time with? Do they reflect the person I want to be? Do they encourage or hinder me from growing spiritually?

We pray that God may give us the courage to be able to face ourselves and to truly weigh our hearts, I don’t know about you but I would rather do it myself rather have an angel do it for me.