The Byzantine Era 11-19-2015

Theology and monasticism were pillars of the Byzantine era (330-1453). In the Byzantine even local craftsman debated theological truths. Theology was of general interest, not just the domain of priests.

The Byzantine era was marked by thriving monastic communities everywhere. During the Byzantine the Egyptian city of Alexandria had three hundred monastic communities in its general vicinity. Some of these were house monasteries housing only three or four brothers. Others covered vast tracts of land, with a commercial component requiring the labors of hundreds of brothers. Monastic women were common, such as Melania (d. 439), abbess at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, who guided young Evagrius (d. 399) into monastic life. Evagrius later became one of the most influential Greek mystic writers.[1]

My hope is that in the twenty-first Century a practical monasticism will again penetrate the West from every angle, Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, clergy, and lay. By practical monasticism, I mean the heart and soul of it, which is a daily personal practice of silent prayer coupled with regular retreats. People often think mystical experience is the abode of specialists and ascetics. This isn’t the case.

In the Byzantine there were many monks and nuns who practiced silent prayer. After they became established in their practices, people sought them out for spiritual advice and to experience their magnetic and sometimes healing presence. I pray for more contemporary Christian mystics who will lead normal lives, yet provide the spiritual leaven for their Christian communities.

[1] The Byzantine period, as we know it, began to crumble after the Council of Chalcedon. The Council of Chalcedon began the unraveling of Christianity’s integrated monastic presence and influence in the East.