Recently, the retired OCA bishop Lazar Puhalo (also known as ROCOR deacon Lev Puhalo before his deposition) was asked "Is monasticism a form of moralism?" by a group that advocates a married episcopate. He responded as follows:
"I suspect that it is. I have written many times that monasticism is in no way superior to marriage and conveys no moral advantages. Many monastics have a clearly Gnostic, Manichaean view of monasticism itself, and this is a problem. Marriage is like the a higher form than monasticism, if for no other reason than because marriage requires an unselfish love, and children elicit the greatest unselfish love for us. Unselfish love is a very high form of true morality of the heart. One should never think that monasticism is higher than marriage. Sometimes monasticism is simply a copout for people who cannot deal with life properly. Other times, it is based in an idea – a sick idea – that sexual relations even in marriage are somehow a venial sin."
Below is my response to this screed from Lazar/Lev Puhalo.
LP - "I have written many times that monasticism is in no way superior to marriage and conveys no moral advantages."
Wonderful. We can all agree on something that nobody disputes. Monasticism is not a superior or inferior path to salvation. It is a different path. But he has rebutted an strawman argument in a truly magnificent fashion.
LP - "Many monastics have a clearly Gnostic, Manichaean view of monasticism itself, and this is a problem."
I'd suggest the problem here is a huge lack of clarity in what he means. Since those two things are heresies, it would certainly be a bad thing to have those views. But Gnosticism generally refers to a belief in secret knowledge and Manichaeanism usually refers to a belief in a dualist world where spirit is good and material is bad. Now, to give some actual meaning to his hot button words, he'd need to explain how this purported view manifests itself and maybe give an example of a monastic who posits such a view in a manner that is actually Gnostic and Manichaean, and not Orthodox. It's difficult to rebut a double heresy that is proferred with no evidence or explication. For example, if I wanted to contend that the deposed deacon Lev is a heretic, I might point to specific statements he makes like " "a book that was written by men that was sometimes inspired by God and Sometimes not." (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWHi0tuMrio - 13:00 minute mark) or his various statements on homosexuality or transgenderism. But if I simply attacked him as a Bible-rejecting supporter of homosexuality and transgenderism, my attack should be discounted since it lacks any specificity or actual content that can be confirmed or denied.
LP - "Marriage is like the a higher form than monasticism, if for no other reason than because marriage requires an unselfish love, and children elicit the greatest unselfish love for us."
Now this is a bizzare understanding and one that truly reflects a lack of familiarity with Orthodox teaching and praxis. As Met. Hierotheos writes in "Orthodox Spirituality", "It is apparent that the circumstances of married life are different from those of the monastery, and thus a certain adjustment is needed. Yet, what the monastery is for the monk, the family is for the married person. Family is the place for ascetic practice in married life. It is therein that a person is called to carry out the will of God." Pointing out that monastics and married alike are called to carry out the commandments of God, he continues "Within the framework of Orthodox spirituality, therefore, Christians are not divided into categories of married and single, monastics and lay people; however they are separated into those who have the Holy Spirit within and those who do not. It is possible for all people to uphold Christ’s commandments and experience Orthodox spirituality under the guidance of a spiritual father. There are neither privileged nor non-privileged people within Orthodox tradition." Now THIS is an accurate statement of the differing paths. Neither is privileged. Both are privileged. Neither are exalted one over the other, for both are exalted before God. The suggestion that a monastic is not required to have unselfish love is a statement of a man who has never truly lived in community.
LP - "Unselfish love is a very high form of true morality of the heart."
First, if you find any church fathers who wrote of "morality of the heart" let me know, because then I might have a better understanding of what that term is supposed to mean and whether LP uses it in an orthodox manner. We have no morality outside of Christ. There is no higher morality or lesser morality. Our Christian morals are those revealed to us. We are told that "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That's pretty unselfish love - but it is a greater love, not a great morality. Again, this just strikes me as pretty words that he leaves unfilled and divorced from any theological content.
LP - "One should never think that monasticism is higher than marriage."
Again a strawman.
LP - "Sometimes monasticism is simply a copout for people who cannot deal with life properly. Other times, it is based in an idea – a sick idea – that sexual relations even in marriage are somehow a venial sin."
Here I'm not going to engage in the same disingenuous game that former Deacon Lev does. He ascribes two improper reasons for entering monasticism as support for his previous statement, and in general to paint monasticism in a bad light. I'd ask you, how many bad reasons could we come up with that people enter into a marriage relationship? When we got done listing all of those, would we have proven marriage to be a less honorable and righteous calling than monasticism? Obviously not, and neither does Mr. Puhalo's poor effort accomplish the same outcome as to monasticism.