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But nice as all that is it must be stressed that this is not an easy process. It isn't just a matter of a lovely aesthetic experience. or a magical consequence of engaging in the rituals of Baptism or of Communion. It requires work. Here is what the great twentieth century Serb theologian Justin Popovic has to say about it:

'It is very, very difficult indeed for infinite and eternal life to make its way into the human soul - so narrow - and into the even narrower human body. Held behind bars, the inhabitants of this earth suspiciously stand their ground against anything coming from without. Cast into this prison of time and space they are unable - from atavism or perhaps from inertia - to bear being penetrated by something outlasting time, outlying space, something which surpasses these, and is eternal. Such an invasion is considered to be aggression towards them and they respond with war. A man, given the fact that he is being corrupted by the "moth" of time, does not like the intrusion of eternity into his life and is not easily able to adapt himself to it. He often considers this intrusion to be sheer unforgivable insolence. At certain times he might become a hardened rebel against eternity because in the face of it he perceives his own minuteness; at others he even experiences fierce hatred towards it because he views it through such a human prism, one that is all-too earthbound, all-too worldly. Plunged bodily into matter, bound by the force of gravity to time and space, and having his spirit quite divorced from eternity, the world-weary man takes no pleasure in those arduous expeditions towards the eternal, towards what lies beyond. The chasm existing between time and eternity is quite unbridgeable for him because he lacks the strength and ability needed to get across it. Thoroughly besieged by death, he covers with scorn all those who say to him, "Man is immortal; he is eternal." Immortal in just what respect? In his mortal body? In what respect eternal? With respect to his feeble spirit?

'In order for a person to be immortal he must, at the very core of his sense of self, feel himself immortal. For him to be eternal, in his centre of consciousness of self he must know himself eternal. Without doing this, for him both immortality and eternity alike will be conditions imposed from the outside. And if at one time Man did have this sense of immortality and awareness of eternity, he had it so long ago that it has since wasted away under the weight of death. And waste away it really has; we learn this from the whole mysterious makeup of human beings. Our whole problem lies in how we might rekindle that extinguished feeling, how we might revive the wasted-away awareness. Human beings are not in a position to do this; nor, indeed, are the "transcendental gods" of philosophy. It is something to be done by God, who incarnated His immortal Self inside man's sense of himself and incarnated His eternal Self within man's self-awareness. Christ did precisely this when he was made man and became God-human. Only in Christ, in Him alone, did man feel himself immortal and know himself eternal ...' (4)

(4) Father Justin Popovic: Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, Belmont, Mass, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1997 (1st ed 1994), pp.21-2.

Father Justin Popovic, with friends.

Most Orthodox Christians will have had some small experience of what Father Justin is referring to. Once in a while. From time to time. Some little whiff of Eternity, of the Presence of God. The aim of the monastic or the ascetic life is to acquire it as a permanent condition. 'Askesis' is the Greek word for exercise. It isn't just self punishment, it is a positive work with its own discipline. A discipline given by Christ Himself, notably in the Sermon on the Mount, but beginning with the words He addressed to the rich young man: 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven, and come follow Me.' (Matt 19:21)

Who does that? Who on earth renounces all their possessions to follow Jesus? Well, many people, men and women. That is the basis of the monastic life. The monastery creates the conditions under which it can be done.