Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Learning “legality, in short, submission to the common good”, without which “society cannot function” and which also serves to “heal the superb ego that needs to be the centre of the world” thus helping us “resist spiritual individualism”; learning not to depend on property, instead “having social sobriety bent on solidarity”, because only a “sober” life can allow us to “overcome the grave problem of global poverty”; learning to look at work as a “particularly important spiritual virtue”, because people who are “fervent in work are also fervent in their spiritual obligations”. These are the lessons which Benedict XVI urged 20 thousand pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square for the general audience to learn today, as he outlined the figure of Saint Theodore a Byzantine Monk from the VIII century, and great reformer of monastic life.
His story takes us to the height of the “turbulent” Byzantine medieval period. Born in 759 to a noble and pious family, Theodore entered the monastery at the age of twenty-two. A year later, thanks to reconciliation with the Empress Irene he was called to Constantinople. But his life went was far from a quiet one. He vigorously opposed the iconoclastic movement, he was put on trial and imprisoned and in the end returned to Constantinople where he died on November 11th 826. That day is commemorated on the Byzantine calendar. He is a saint both for the Catholic Church and the Orthodox.
Benedict XVI underlined that Theodore also initiated a thorough reform of the disciplinary, administrative and spiritual aspects of Byzantine monastic life. He “characteristically insisted on the necessity of order and the monks submission to it”. During the years of persecution, they often found themselves isolated and this resulted in many leading a personal life; “once community life was restored, the monastery had to be transformed into a truly organised community”, “Body of Christ”, Theodore would say.
The “Characteristics of monks are poverty, chastity, and obedience”. Theodore “speaks in a concrete almost picturesque way of poverty” which is “from its outset a renunciation of all personal property, to learn how to live free from material things, in sobriety”. “Essential to monasticism” this “radical form is a must for monks, but the spirit of this teaching also indicates the path for all of us: we must not depend on property, we must learn to do without, we must learn simplicity, austerity, sobriety, on in this way can we create a society of solidarity that is capable of overcoming the grave problem of global poverty”.
Recalling the monks words regarding temptations that threatened chastity, “the battle to find dominion over oneself”, the Pope highlighted that for Theodore, the main renunciation is in fact obedience, which he called the “martyrdom of submission”. “Monks are an example to us all of how much we too are in need of this”. “After original sin there is the temptation to make one’s own will the founding principal” and today “many different currents are urging us towards a dangerous individualism and spiritual haughtiness”. But in this way “society cannot function if everyone only thinks of themselves”. We need to “learn legality, in short submission to the common good, the rules of life, only they can heal society” and at the same time “heal our egos of this haughtiness that places the person at the centre of the world”.
Of equal importance to obedience is “humility, the opposite of selfishness and haughtiness”, and love of work, which for Theodore was a “particularly important virtue” which he defined as “the criteria to test personal devotion”. “People who are fervent in work are also fervent in their spiritual obligations”. Work produced by hand is, “the monks sacrifice”, “his liturgy”, through which “monastic life becomes angelic”, “a journey towards Christ”. “A consequence merits mention: the wealth accumulated by community work were not destined for the monks but for the poor”. “We all must learn from this”.