The Little Way

I would like to begin by distinguishing myself from two sources who overshadow me, Paul Kingsnorth and Graham Pardun. While I do not remember a detailed social prescription from either, Graham calls for the creation of an archipelago of oases, and Paul, without a concrete political activist's plan that I remember reading yet, would see all screens at the bottom of a cave. Both seem to want to change the world, while I am mainly trying to work with God to change myself.

G.K. Chesterton said, "The reformer is always right about what is wrong. But he is usually wrong about what is right," and in response to one newsletter's essay contest, to write about what was wrong with the world, answered, "Sir, I am." It was the shortest letter to the editor in the newspaper's history.

Three Orthodox sayings

"Save yourself, and ten thousands around you will be saved."

"Make peace with yourself, and Heaven and earth will make peace with you."

"Paradise is wherever the saints are."

I wanted originally to title this essay "Ynes Avalach," from Steven Lawhead's Merlin, which I read initially on a friend's recommendation, in response to a request I made for other books besides Madeleine l'Engle's A Wind in the Door that treat gifted children adeptly. I read the book with an unspoken wish that I could be a member of Merlin's college and found that he was in fact a member of mine. But that is peripheral to why bring up Lawhead's novel.

In an unsettled world, Ynes Avalach or the Isle of Avalon, which in the end of Mallory a mortally wounded Arthur is brought to be healed of his wounds, stands as an island of peace and stability in a sea of instability and change. And my repentance, my monastery is that to me. I have never been asked my personal pronouns when I have been here, although some people have voiced appreciation for the first line of my email signature: "‚ÄčUnworthy Br. Christos Hayward (really, thou / thee / thy / thine), novice at St. Demetrios Orthodox Monastery."

This monastery is not the first time I have found my surroundings to be Paradise, but His Beatitude Metropolitan JONAH is the abbot, and people who come and go find it to be a place where thoughts become quiet. We are near to Washington, D.C., and rainbow-colored living is easy enough to be found. And miracles have taken place here; I have seen holy myrrh oil stream from the Hawaiian Iveron Icon, with a few drops on my abbot's wonderworking copy of the Kazan icon. I have my struggles, but they are lifegiving. Furthermore, the miracles have never been as interesting as the encounters with humble people.

In a book I would recommend more strongly than either Merlin or A Wind in the Door, Fr. Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father is set in a Soviet gulag prison camp. The kind that Hitler looked at for inspiration for his concentration camps. Nonetheless, where Fr. Arseny is, there is simply paradise. This monastery has other people who are holy (as I am not), and in particular a good abbot. If it is a live option to you, I encourage you to visiting our monastery in Virginia (website at virginiamonks.org; visitor's page here), at least for a day trip. Our abbot loves to meet people and visit with them in his office.

When I was trying to find a monastery, I told one person I know, "I really believe that the greatest gift that I can give you is to repent of my sins for the rest of my life." His immediate reply was to point out an Orthodox commonplace: "If everybody did that, Heaven would come to earth!"

Now I am at a place where I am supported in my repentance, including corrections; this is not a place free from temptations, but another Orthodox commonplace is that without temptations it is impossible for the faithful to be saved. The priests are excellent, and the brotherhood has been patient when I am thoughtless or careless.

Save yourself and ten thousand people around you will be saved: if I enter repentance and repent well for the best of my life, I will change the world more than any amount of political activism I am capable of.

Make peace with yourself, and Heaven and earth will make peace with you: There was one story in the front matter to Elder Thaddeus, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, which has a vision where the figure was accused of being unable to get along with anyone else, and someone else says, "No! That is not true! He only cannot get along with himself," and this monastery and our abbot have real help to offer if you find your surroundings intolerable (something I have been well enough to do in any standard of luxury I've been in, and from which I have found a significant freedom). And I have taken from that book what I call "the Little Law of Attraction." It doesn't mean that if you think about money, money, money, a windfall will fall across your lap. It does, however, mean that if you think thoughts of peace, you will have more and bigger thoughts of peace, and if you think thoughts of anger, you will have more and bigger thoughts of anger with conflicts as well. This Little Law of Attraction has profound significance.

I have also found here that standard Orthodox pastoral advice of "When you are tempted, cross yourself and say 'Lord, have mercy,'" apply to painful memories and thoughts of anger as well as various other kinds of temptations.

Paradise is wherever the saints are. The Metropolitan's holiness and grace permeates this monastery and people can sense it. I do not know if he will ever be canonized, and some people may be disappointed that he does not even claim to be near clairvoyance, but he is a perfect abbot for me. I recognize in him a spiritual father with whom I hope to work out my salvation, and he seems to recognize the same possibility with me, and this is the basis for repenting together. This is not the first time I have found my surroundings to be Paradise, but this is Paradise even on days like today where I have been thoughtless and have been correspondingly corrected.

Obediences and my signature contribution to the conversation

Monks and novices are advised to stay busy, and novices in particular are introduced to the privilege of manual labor. I have my abbot's support in my writing and he wants me to grow both in manual labor and in my writing. And so I have written the books on my bookshelf, with a signature contribution about how we can live a properly human life in such a technological world. My substack is driven by that contribution as well, and I'm trying to provide treasures old and new, as articulated in a cartoon drawn by one of my brother novices at the monastery, to flesh out an idea I had:

In the days before mobile Internet

I have catch-up to do with regards to artificial intelligence; I wrote AI as an Arena for Magical Thinking Among Skeptics as a second master's thesis in 2004, and the terrain has changed even as people continue to find my thesis to have salience. But I'm playing catch-up, and may be playing catch-up with AI in the rest of my life.

Conclusion

Marriage and monasticism are treasures that belong to all Orthodox, and part of the good estate of monasteries is to receive pilgrims as guests. My monastery is not just there for its members; it's there for people to visit, and I invite you to consider a visit.

But more broadly, I believe that trying to repent of your sins first and foremost is not just better than trying to make the world a better place: it is the best and possibly the only way to make the world a better place.

Back to your regularly scheduled reading.