I am neither Roman Catholic nor Orthodox but am learning what I can about both communions. I’m reading Thomas Merton’s A Seven Storey Mountain, which leads to the question below.
In the Roman tradition it seems that those living the monastic life are understood to be generating spiritual well-being for the Church as a whole; I suppose this ties in with their understanding of the spirtual economy involving indulgences?
I know that Orthodoxy does not recognize indulgences. What sense is there in Orthodoxy, if any, of the spiritual value to the Church of monastics, aside from and in addition to the obvious ones related to their prayers for the Church?
The major contribution of monasticism to the Church at large, as you have observed, is the prayer that they offer “on behalf of all and for all.” Orthodox monastic life is contemplative—we do not have monastic “orders” devoted to teaching, social work, etc., such as one would find in Roman Catholicism.
Over and above this, monastic communities provide a strong witness to the world of a lifestyle rooted not only in prayer, but in service, hospitality, and concern for the salvation of others. Monasteries provide a place of refuge for the faithful—a place where they too can “lay aside all earthly cares,” as we sing in the Cherubic Hymn during the Divine Liturgy, and seek spiritual guidance and refreshment. Visits and pilgrimages to monasteries are most rewarding, and the contact between the monastics and the faithful are invaluable. It is often said that the test of a church’s strength may be found in the presence and strength of its monastic communities.
Monastics, who Orthodox Christians see as living the “angelic life,” provide a tremendous witness to the faithful by their detachment from the cares of this world while providing a living example of what Saint Paul means when he writes that we are “in the world but not of it.”