Teacher’s pet, or, only child syndrome

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have thought that I could handle the monastic life with its twice daily, intensive services, quiet meals read over with scriptures, saint stories or teachings, the remote, beautiful setting, guided cell rules, etc. I have been to enough monasteries to get the impression that the hardest thing for me would be the group dynamic. This goes along with the monastic struggle of the thought life. In a marriage, one is placed in a singular position of preference. In a monastery, unless you’re the abbess, which I don’t want to be, it’s back to being a competing sibling for the parent’s favor. Most people naturally(?) want exclusive rights to that position. Going through a divorce made me realize that I wouldn’t die without that rightful place, but I think part of me did. Not entirely, because it can kick back in in a new situation. Some people want that exclusivity so much that they will actively try to get rid of the other siblings/students. This is what happened to Boris and Gleb by their brother, Svyatopolk. They are saints because they let him win. Hopefully there is a healthier way to compete without either wishing the others away or completely martyring onesself. Surely all the siblings can find happiness together.

But what is it in us that wants exclusivity. Converting to Orthodox veneration and prayer to the Saints can feel a little like being shoved to the back of a crowded room. One has to find out that they don’t disappear even if this is the case. This is helped by having to come forward to venerate the icons and take Holy Communion. For those brief few seconds, it’s only you up there, and the King of All enters in to abide. He’s with you when you go back. Orthodox also have to learn to remember each other. For the second a person’s name is mentioned, they are more blessed than if there were no fervent intercessors crowding the room.

And one must not neglect one’s private prayer. Oddly, with all the Orthodox prayer supports in the services, individual prayer can feel lonely. Perhaps this is influenced by feeling prayer is what one does during times of trouble. Then it has a negative connotation. One remembers lonely, sad times of praying in desperation and abandonment. Thank goodness for home icons that remind us we’re not alone.