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Praying from the Mountaintop

Simonopetra

Photo: Simonopetra Monastery, also Monastery of Simonos Petra, is an Eastern Orthodox monastery in the monastic state of Mount Athos in Greece. (Flikie)

By Jon Gromek

Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to one of the holiest sites in my tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy, and indeed all of Christianity: Mount Athos in Greece. While there, I stayed with the monks at Simonopetra, a breathtaking monastery set atop the cliff of a mountain overlooking the ocean. Mount Athos is set apart from the world as we know it. For the past millennium, monks have lived here in simplicity, perpetual prayer, and worship.  It was amazing to observe the monks pray without ceasing and, even in silence or during their work, see their lips move in prayer. Some confided in me that after a while they even pray in their dreams and sleep.

Prayer and worship play an ever-important role in day-to-day life at Mount Athos. Indeed, their whole lives—their actions, words and deeds—serve as prayers.  Their prayers, and mine I was told, are meant to assume the burdens of those “in the world” and to provide a spiritual compass and guidance to all of us who are called to build a world as it ought to be, rather than the way it is now.  Patriarch Bartholemew I, the spiritual leader of the World’s Orthodox Christians has noted that “[m]onastacism seeks to change the world with silence and humility rather than power and imposition.  It changes the world from within, internally, and not from the outside, externally. Monastacism proposes a revolutionary worldview, especially in a world where so many people are stuck in established ways that have proved destructive.” While the monks maintain a tradition of silence, that silence, and their prayers and actions, speak volumes.

As Christians we are of course called to raise our voices, to speak out against injustice and speak for the most vulnerable. However, our silent actions and prayers to God and on behalf of all can be just as powerful. If you have been following the actions of Congress lately, you will no doubt see that there is a lot to pray for: protection from cuts to vital programs that feed hungry and poor people (including  SNAP,  international food aid, and WIC) as well as the creation of immigration policy that can end hunger and bring millions out of the shadows.

Together, let us pray in perpetuity for a world as God intended and for the hearts and minds of those who are responsible for shaping that world.

Jon Gromek is a regional organizer in the Central Hub and recently spent time at Mount Athos on a spiritual retreat.

 

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