“When in another’s monastery, do not keep your own ordo.” This is an old Russian proverb, meaning something like ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Don’t bring your rules into someone else’s place. They have their own rules; you abide by them.
This does assume that the monastery visited has good rules. Yours are just different, maybe equally good, but it is not proper etiquette to impose them on your hosts. Some of us have had that experience with house guests. They always stay up until 3 a.m.; we go to bed by 10 p.m., and having someone in the next room, listening to music, walking around, cooking a meal even, is disruptive and troubling.
We are now back fulltime in Anglican territory. It’s the old monastery, and we have to conform to its rules. Mostly, that’s not a problem. They are good rules. But there are a few points where I feel I don’t want to change back.
Take the way we keep track of time. I’m not sure why Christians insist on using the old names for the days of the week and the months. I don’t like invoking the Roman and Norse gods every day. I think the Church Universal needs to say First Day, Second Day, and so on, as the Quakers tried to teach them. Months are First Month, Second Month, and on; isn’t this more accurate anyway?
Plain dress makes some people nervous, especially Anglicans, who expect to blend into the world. But that strategy doesn’t seem to be working, does it? We got run over by that world, and we are forgetting rather quickly what it means to be Christians, to be different, to stand up and be counted for Christ. (And He will return to count His sheep – are some of us hiding in wolves’ clothing? Will He say to those who are disguised in worldly dress, “I know you not”?) When we were seminarians, we were told to wear our collars once we were ordained, to not be ashamed of that badge of office. Yet sometimes the world looks upon it as a sign of hypocrisy and privilege, because so many clerics used it as such. The collar doesn’t work for me anymore. It never did. I told my ordaining bishop I didn’t want to wear it, as it is men’s attire. He insisted that I wear it on certain occasions, and those certain occasions equalled just about all my waking hours, except when I was in the barn.
Nicholas rather accidentally removed most of his beard. (His vision and coordination are still poor.) He’s shaved it off, ready for it to grow back. He looks fine without it, and he says that it feels good to have a clean chin. Now, it is his decision to make, and he won’t be less Plain without the beard, as many Mennonite men eschew them. But the “Brethren” beard symbolizes the pacifist stance, the refusal to bear arms, and the turning away from the vanity of the world. Is he ready to give up that statement?
I am no less a Christian if my head is bare, or I am wearing jeans, but my own ordo says that I want to be counted for Christ, I want the world to know that a Christian has come amongst them, that I am no longer literally buying vanity and false beauty.
My Plain ways, my keeping the Plain calendar, my prayer cap and my aprons may embarrass some and convict others, but it is my podvig, sometimes hard to bear, but a joy in Christ.