For my devotional reading, I’ve been working through the collection of centuries-old Orthodox teachings called the Philokalia. I was struck this morning by some words from St. Neilos the Ascetic. He writes about the dissonance, in his day, between the holy garments worn by monastics (called the “habit”) and the life they live. I think it has something to say to those of us who wear clergy vestments as well (even if you’re Baptist and that means a suit!). Here goes:
Today, a person wears the monastic habit without washing away the stains on his soul, or erasing the marks which past sins have stamped upon his mind; indeed, he may still take lustful pleasure in the fantasies these sins suggest. He has not yet trained his character so as to fit his vocation, nor does he grasp the purpose of the divine philosophy. Already he has developed a Pharisaic superciliousness, being filled with conceit by his robes. He goes about carrying various tools [the Bible, perhaps?] the use of which he does not understand. By virtue of his outward dress he lays claim to a knowledge which in reality he has not tasted even with the tip of his tongue. He is a reef, not a harbor; a whited sepulcher, not a temple; a wolf, not a sheep; the ruin of those decoyed by his appearance. (“Ascetic Discourse,” The Philokalia: Volume 1 [New York: Faber & Faber 1979], 204).
Whew. Hard words. Such language represents a stringent spirituality that is absent from nearly all Protestant contexts these days. They are humbling and powerful, to me, as one who wears another kind of robe.
Peace to you today, and grace to all those who wear the robes. May our character reflect our vocation.
P.S. For more Orthodox inspiration, check out Ancient Faith radio. It’s like K-Love, except it is spiritually profound and has theological integrity.