The Church’s story is filled with hermit saints: St Mary of Egypt, my personal favorite among them, but St Mary Magdalen, St Jerome, St Anthony, St Simon, St Seraphim praying in the woods, St Julian and her cat… so many many more. They went away to pray, to encounter God, to find their souls in God’s embrace, and to make salvation present.
They led to thousands, then millions, of monastics, both men and women, doing this journey together. And hundreds of folks went to the hermits who were not isolated in their loneliness, but rather were centers of communion and joy. Even St Mary, who seems to have met only one human after the beginning of her journey, was for him a source of radiant joy. While they all share a desire for silence and solitude, while they all share a sense of sorrow for their sins and the sins of the world, what they do not have is any sense of anger and fear. The closer they grow to God, in fact, the more they love and care for their fellows and strangers who come to them. Even if they need to encounter humans in their daily life, one hears rather a sense of “God has brought you to me, so let us see why…” rather than anger at this intrusion.
One of the hermit saints of Egypt even says we should put down our prayers if a stranger has come to the door of our cell: for the unseen God to whom we were praying has come, visible in his own image, to our door himself.
The vast Thebais of the Internet seems increasingly covered by isolated hermitages filled with Angry Hermits who are not bringing salvation to anyone. This most reminds me of a faithful attendee of a 12 Step program who suddenly discovers that absolutely everyone in the world has the same addiction and begins to judge everyone. I’m thinking mostly of Christian folks who deal with issues of sexuality and addiction, so the parallel holds.
Look, my brothers and my sisters, our special struggle is exactly with our sense of broken relationships. I totally understand that we might be afraid of falling back into those same broken patterns. Yet, dear friends in Christ, the solution to broken lives is patterning healthy lives, not hiding away. God is not calling us to be afraid of our families, friends, strangers, communities, and the world in general. In fact, God is calling us to model his love to all those (and more). God is calling us from brokenness to wholeness which is never alone, and always with others. We are called from what we thought was communion – but was only deception – exactly to real communion. We are called from Chaos to Choresis with a pure heart, from disorder to dancing.
Some of us may be vocationally called to be hermits. That’s a thing, that’s a real thing. It will be done in love – like the other saints. There’s a reason all the spiritual masters teach their children to live in community for a long time before they get a blessing to be a hermit.
But none of us are called to be angry hermits who hide behind our web blogs and twitter accounts spewing hate and spiritual violence.
And, dear bothers and sisters, please, please, please, use your God-given sense of Spiritual Discernment (and conversations with your Spiritual Director, God Parents, Confessor, Spiritual Father, etc) to stay away from folks who are telling you do become one.
A recovering alcoholic would do well to stay out of bars: but her recovery would be a sad story indeed, if for fear of relapse, her permanent practice was to never walk anywhere where a bar might be seen, never speak to anyone who might have once been to a bar, never helped anyone who might someday go to a bar. Her story could only be worse if she did speak to all those folks and counselled them to become as she is: an antiapostolic ingression of isolationists.
The Gospel sends us out. The very meaning of “apostle” is “one who is sent” and that is to be all of us. Go, volunteer, serve. Meet people. Go places. Do things. Enjoy the right and good life to which God calls his people. Serving folks lunch (even in your own home) is better than hiding in your room from the neighbors for fear they might trip you up. Let’s make a choice together that there be No more Angry Hermits. Let us not be them. Let us not recruit other to that life. Let us heed the call: to live the Gospel is to spread it (even electronically), but to hide from the world we’re supposed to be saving is to lose the world and our own souls.
Father A. H… this really is for you. ❤