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Hermitage and the one thing needful in a mission-shaped Church

by
02 June 2010

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From the Bishop of Warwick

Sir, — I was glad to see your report “Hermitage appeals to prevent eviction” (News, 21 May). Having recently spent an afternoon with Karen at the hermitage, I would strongly urge your readers to support this appeal.

Bishop Michael Hooper is surely right to say that “It is of infinite value to have a solitary living in the community with this vocation which supports us all and never allows us to forget God.” We ignore the value of our Christian hermits at our peril. As we know, St Anthony was called out to the desert to be alone with God in prayer, “never going out and seldom seen by others”. Some 20 years later, he leaves his cell, Athanasius writes, “as one initiated into the sacred mysteries and filled with the Spirit of God”, and thousands are drawn to God through him: “the desert had become a city.”

Benedict was called out to a cave to pray alone. When, some three years later, he was discovered, many, inspired by his luminous witness, were drawn to that same life of prayer, so much so that he established 12 small monasteries around him on the hillside.

The life of deep prayer, of surrender to God, which is forged for the hermit in silence, stillness, and solitude, becomes the furnace of transformation. Transformed lives are transforming lives. As St Basil puts it, “When you have become God’s in the measure he wants, he himself will know how to bestow you on others.”

In other words, mission will flow from lives transformed by God without our having to invent any mission strategy. People are attracted to God by those whose lives are transparently surrendered to God. This why St Seraphim of Sarov can say: “Acquire peace in yourself, and thousands around you will be saved.” Jesus, the Good Shepherd, St John reminds us, is not so much the morally good shepherd (agathos) but the Beautiful (kalos) Shepherd.

I sometimes fear that in our quite proper desire to be mission-minded and relevant in and to the various communities of our culture, we can forget or neglect “the one thing necessary”. If we forget what the hermits are reminding us of, we can find ourselves constantly trying to justify ourselves to ourselves, to others, and even to God, by what we are doing. Hermits remind us of the simple and profound truth, as St Thérèse of Lisieux put it, that “Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude” (Journey of a Soul). Mission, after all, is God’s work, not ours. Letting him change us — and go on changing us — gives space for his mission to flourish. We need our desert mothers and fathers today.

JOHN STROYAN
Warwick House
139 Kenilworth Road
Coventry CV4 7AP

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