|The Life of the True Monk
Some weeks ago I change the image at the top of my Facebook page to the image that is at the top of this post. It is the Icon known as the Life of the True Monk. Some of you may have a bad reaction to this Icon but I believe if you understand what the Icon is saying then it will make sense. There is no better place to turn for a description of an Icon then an Iconographer’s Pattern Book. This is the description:
Draw a monk crucified on a cross, clothed in a tunic and a monk’s habit barefoot and with his feet nailed to the footrest of the cross, his eyes are closed and his mouth shut. Just above his head is this inscription: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, keep the door of my lips.”On his hands he holds a lighted candles, and next to the candles is this inscription: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.”On his chest he has a tablet like a hassock, which says: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”On his stomach is another scroll, like the title, with these words: “Do not be led astray, O monk, by a full belly.”Lower down on his body is another scroll which says: “Mortify your members which are upon the earth.”Lower down again, below his knees, is another scroll which says: “Prepare your feet in the way of the Gospel of peace.”Above, in the top arm of the cross, make a title nailed on with this inscription. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of my Lord.” On the three arms of the cross make seals, and in the right one wright this: “He that endures to the end shall be saved.” In the left-hand one: “He who does not renounce everything is not able to be a disciple of Christ.” On the seal above the footrest of the cross: “Straight and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.”To the right side of the Cross paint a dark cavern with a big dragon in it coiled up, and write: “The all-devouring Hell.” Over the mouth of the dragon is a naked young man with his eyes bound by cloth, he holds a bow and shoots the monk. On his bow is a scroll which says: “Maker of lust.” Write this inscription above him: “The love of harlotry.” Above the cave put many snakes and write: “The cares.” Near to Hades put a devil dragging at the cross with a rope and saying: “The flesh is weak and cannot resist.” At the right-hand-end of the footrest put a spear with a cross and a flag and write on it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”To the left of the cross make a tower with a door, out of which comes a man sitting on a white horse, wearing a fur hat and robes woven with gold and trimmed with fur. In his right hand he holds a cup full of wine and in his left a lance on the end of which is a sponge; a scroll is wrapped around the lance which says: :Take delight in the pleasures of the world.” He shows them to the monk. Write this inscription above him: “The vainglorious world.” Below him put a grave out of which Death is coming holding a large scythe on his shoulder and an hour-glass in his hand, and looking at the monk. Above him is the inscription: “Death and the grave.”Below the hands of the monk on either side put two angels holding scrolls; write on the scroll of that on the right: “The Lord has sent me to help you.” And on that on the left: “Do good and fear not.”Above the cross represent heaven with Christ in it, holding the Gospels on his breast open at the words: “Whosoever will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” In his right hand he holds a king’s crown, and in his left a crown of flowers. Below him to either side are two angels, looking at the monk and showing him to Christ, and holding between them a long scroll with these words: “Fight that you may receive the crown of righteousness, and the Lord will give you a crown of precious stones.”Then write this title: “The life of the true monk.
I bought a smaller version of this Icon the other day that has the crucified monk in the center with little devils around him shooting arrows at him. On the arrows are the names of the passions that are hurled at the monk by the devil each and every day. This Icon is designed with the monk in mind and not the lay person. As with any ascetic practice, they are first and foremost for the monk who dedicates his life to prayer. Lay people should only undertake these practices with the advice of a seasoned spiritual father. The life a lay person is different and not at all similar to that of a monastic nor should it be.
This Icon, unlike Icons of Christ and the saints, is not made for veneration but for contemplation. It should hang in the entrance to the monastery to remind the monk each day of what his task is. He should continually meditate on this image and ask God for help in resisting the temptations of life.