A message from the monks at Manton.
A monastery is a place of healing.
For the Fathers and Brothers, the healing is a life-long task. The monk lives in a space created by four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. The success of his entire life lies in his faithfulness to these vows on a daily basis, and the transgression of any of these vows spells danger, not just for himself, but for the rest of the Brotherhood.
For visitors, healing is short-term: perhaps a week, a couple of days, or just a matter of hours, when they choose to enter this sacred space, which often translates into a renewed long-term commitment to their own healing.
The monks are given the unique opportunity to seek first the Kingdom of God, and in seeking to share it. Each monk brings whatever his life has given him--sometimes positive things, such as skills, education, experience; sometimes negative things--such as bad memories, mistakes from the past, and in some cases, tragic or difficult backgrounds.
There is nothing from which we cannot repent or be healed. Nothing. We are taught in the Divine Liturgy that God chooses to offer us repentance rather than death. We do not know why, but He does. This truth is a great mystery and it emerges from the depths of God's love.
Unlike the priesthood, for which the requirements are quite stringent, everyone has the opportunity to become a monk or nun, and spend the rest of his or her life fulfilling the often-repeated prayer: "that we may spend the rest of our lives in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord".
How a monastery does this depends on a number of factors. The Brotherhood is unique in time and space, at any given moment. Monks come and go, abbots come and go, but the Brotherhood of the Monastery remains--sometimes for many centuries, fulfilling the intent of its founders and all those who support it. Just as the Church as a whole expects and depends upon the integrity and wise, holy leadership of its hierarchs for its stability within the Living Tradition, so the order and life of a monastery depends on its abbot or abbess for the integration of diverse gifts and talents and the wise direction of those who are entrusted to his or her guardianship and sponsorship before God.
Our monastery, in following the Orthodox monastic tradition, lives within the life and discipline of the Church. We try to make our commitment to the life and discipline of the Church evident in everything we do, since it is only in that life, the love of Christ and His commandments, that we can represent the fullness of the Kingdom, and love one another as Christ loves us. That life focuses on communion with God, acquiring the gifts of the Holy Spirit, repentance, vigilance over one's thoughts and speech, prayer, love, humility, meekness, compassion, wisdom, self-sacrifice, openness, faith, obedience and trust. There is and should be no "war of truths", no incursion of the world's values, perspectives and attitudes in the life of the monastic community, for Truth is a Person--Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, in whom all things find their unity, purpose and order, and in whom there is no change: the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
In times of uncertainty, monasteries provide a sense of stability to the rest of the Church, putting the brakes on developments when other forces, both inside and outside the Church, are urging radical change. To those who believe strongly that the Church must change swiftly in one direction or another, the monastery's commitment to stability can seem too conservative; to others who insist that the Church change quickly in the opposite direction, the monastery may appear too liberal. The important thing to remember in this regard is that it is not the role of the monastery, but of the hierarchs, to "rightly divide the Word of God's truth". In contrast, the monastery's role is to preserve the deposit of faith, not to endorse either unwarranted radical social change on the one hand or overly repressive new rules against it on the other hand. In keeping with our monastery's commitment to providing a sense of stability in the face of controversy, then, let me put plainly a few things about us which will not change:
We do not accept, promote, encourage or condone anyone to adopt any of the various practices, viewpoints, or ideologies that fall under the term "alternative lifestyles". These include active homosexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, involvement with pornography or gambling, or any of the other sins which create such tragedy in the lives of those who come to us. Those who identify themselves as suffering from these things, however, are welcome to come here to find healing. The Church, and especially the monastery, are places of spiritual healing. We pray that God will heal; we do not judge. We do not turn away sinners who come to us in a spirit of repentance and out of a desire for healing. Instead, we minister to all with great discernment and compassion, with sensitivity, gentleness and respect, but without condoning the sins involved. We encourage and help each person to realize his/her full potential in growing into the full stature of Christ and in becoming new in Christ, to work out his/her own salvation.
We do not teach that matters of personal morality are of no importance. As Christ said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). We recognize sin for what it is, but we know that our part is to pray to God for healing, not to condemn. Repentance and healing go together, and part of the healing process is to provide a place of safety, both from harm and from judgment. We are committed to providing that safety for our guests and for members of the brotherhood.
In short, the only "alternative lifestyle" we promote at our monastery is the life in Christ. We have no other agenda, no other motivation. Those who prefer judgment to healing may find fault with us. That has happened recently with certain former members of our brotherhood who left in a spirit of self-righteousness. If you have been troubled by rumors and insinuations from some of those former members, we ask you to consider whether the things you have heard might reflect this type of judgment from one or more of the brothers whose passionate words and actions may be spurred on by bad memories, mistakes from the past, and in some cases, tragic or difficult events in their life before coming to the monastery.
Any criticism must be done in a spirit of love and concern, in a constructive manner, with open and full communication that seeks real understanding, with wise discernment and impartiality, without resentment and aggressive blame. Can the Church hope to exist and flourish within an increasingly complex secular and materialistic world with anything less than a sacred vision and direction?
There is a saying "from the world" that "hurt people hurt people". Do the healed think themselves justified to judge other sinners, our monastery, and the hierarchy of the Church?
May we be healed and dwell together in perfect unity; not that unity that separates us from others, but the unity of Christ in his love towards us all, as unworthy as we may be.
Again, please forgive us and our brothers, and pray that the Lord will have mercy upon us all.
There is more, so much more, which could be said. But that is sufficient for now.
In the love of Christ,
The Brotherhood of St. John's Monastery