The pursuit of the monastic lifestyle was something that was key to Christianity, and is something that is still relevant to our day and culture. These monks originally started out as hermits who sought the solitude of a cave or the desert in order to have a closer relationship with God but to also remove themselves from the corruptions of the church. Often these first monks were more interested in living a simple life than education or any worldly possession.
By the time of Pachomius around A.D. 320 there were so many hermits living in the desert and caves that Pachomius said we can do this together in one community of hermits (about 100 at the time) with rules to guide our life [as monks], and he started a monastery. As we know from the time of St. Francis, more and more monasteries were being formed and they would eventually have to seek out the Pope for approval of their “Rule”. For the Pachomius monastery, he determined that they would have three rules for living. First, poverty, designed to break the chains that bound people to their possessions, second chastity, to cure you of the sin of lust there would be no contact with the opposite sex, and three obedience, to overcome the self will of the mind. In other words, simplicity of living was the call for a monk.
Present Day Principles for us Non-Monks
Most subsequent monasteries would have their own Rule, which each resident was to follow, and many were adjustments to the original three Pachomius had made back in A.D. 320. If we look at these three principles for non-monastic life in modern 21st century life, we can see that they still apply, much like scripture written two thousand years ago still applies to our lives today.
Vow of Poverty
First, poverty (as a means of obtaining a status of being poor) is something in the 21st century that is almost impossible for one to truly attain, if living in American. Even the poorest citizens of our country have more possessions and benefits from modern times than any other country or time in history. The world (and America) of course has not be able to “rid” society of poor, and Jesus even said that we would always have the poor among us (Matt 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8), so even though it goes against everything that is capitalism, there are many things we can gain from applying this principle in our lives today.
We have made being poor like a disease, where the cure is to buy more stuff, collect more possessions, and generally consume more and more. Of course one can be materially rich and spiritually poor and they don’t have a correlation with each other. We cannot obtain spiritual riches by physical possessions and we cannot generally obtain material possessions if we are poor by means of becoming spiritually rich (though there are what seem to be obvious exceptions to this, I would suggest that materials means obtained via a spiritual source does not increase the spiritual richness of your life).
Choosing a life that is guarded to the consumerism and materialism of our culture is important. Every possession is an expression of our witness to others and we can’t (and probably shouldn’t) always explain in great detail why we have or don’t have this or that, we either do or don’t, and that is the instantaneous judgment of society. To understand this is principle is to make our witness as effective as possible to those we influence the most, consciously or unconsciously.
Vow of Chastity
Second was that of chastity. If you watch the news much it doesn’t take long to see that there are those who are still fighting [to remove] the chastity of today’s Priest (thought they weren’t always celibate). This principle is more than saying Catholic clergy should not marry, it deals with one of the most accepted and destructive forces in our 21st century lives today, lust.
The word lust appears over 30 times in modern translations and James puts it this way: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:15) For Pachomius to deal with this most dangerous of sins he attempted to remove all temptations from his monastery, but one of the biggest issues with lust is that it is an internal sin, committed in the heart of those who Believe against God Himself.
Today these temptations are a way of life. This is how we sell products to consumers, it consumes the Internet, it is all over the news, and evidence of its destruction is everywhere. Is this relevant today and how does this principle help us since we are not all going to just choose not to be married (nor does the Bible tell us not to marry)? It is probably the most relevant of moral issues today. Ignoring lust is a victory for Sin. Understanding our own weaknesses is important. We can look at lust as something that will not sneak up on us, something that we can defeat and overcome; not of our own accord but only with God’s help can we master lust.
Vow of Obedience
Obedience is something else that is talked about throughout scripture, and one of the three Pachomius felt was most important in living a pure life devoted to Jesus. This principle was primarily to fend off ourselves from ourselves, to overcome the self-will of the mind.
Where is obedience in our culture today, does it even still exist? Pachomius wanted his monks to be obedient to the monastery, knowing that, although they (we) might not understand everything but in being committed to obedience they would in turn be obedient to the One who saves (Romans 6:16).
Obedience is another tough principle today when we are dominated and controlled by no one but ourselves. We are (basically) free to live how we want, choose the career we want, live, eat, sleep, and travel any way we want. This may not be the case in North Korea but here in America we can basically be obedient to our self-interests without regards to the betterment of society as a whole. Scripture tells us this is no way to think or live and although we may think we don’t affect anyone but ourselves, inevitably our actions of obedience or disobedience often affect an unknown chain reaction of people, for positive or negative.