Being an “Ancient Christian” in a postmodern world

              Religious sociology differentiates between Western asceticism (fitting into the world) and Eastern asceticism (turning against the world, withdrawing from the world, contemplational), and in the case of the majority of European monastic orders a combination of both is present. In contrast with Western asceticism the Christians have rejected several fundamental values of today’s world, such as private property and marriage, at the same time - in contrast with Eastern asceticism - they have not completely withdrawn from the world, since most of them have civilian occupations, besides that their main activity is missionary work. Their asceticism differs from the Eastern significantly from other aspects as well: contemplation is absent from it, and activism is overdriven even in their religious life. They are reminiscent of Jehovah's witnesses from several aspects (for example they do not have feasts and have very few ceremonies), but in comparison the witnesses live a more civil life (such as family). There are similarities between them and introvert (turning within and withdrawing from the world) sects, but on the one hand the radicalism of preserving traditions is not characteristic of their lifestyle, on the other hand in comparison with the Hutters and the Amish who have many children, the Christians are like celibate monks. A great many features of traditional European monasticism are characteristic of them, but in their case the Abbot leading the brothers is missing, the two genders live together, carnal activity fits into their asceticism (in the form of the so-called “wrestling”). They also differ from the community forms of postmodern Christian monasticism, where members with various life callings cohabitate: celibate monks and families[1].

              From certain aspects - and perhaps the most - the Christians remind me of the Jesus-movement (that still operated as a Jewish revival movement) and (as a continuation of this) the wandering-charismatics of the ancient Christian movement. These are similar in their existence outside of society, in the forsaking of their homes and families, in their wandering missionary work as well as the fact that the majority of them work for a living. But in ancient Christianity beside the wandering-charismatic lifestyle and radical value system, a less radical and rigorous congregation form appeared, strengthened, became of equal rank, then turned dominant, meaning the ancient Christian form of asceticism which fit into the world (Theissen 2006). In contrast with this the Christians “interpreted our lifestyle as the only possible for Christians” (L. from Estonia). They also differed in the fact that they theoretically opposed every tradition and rigid custom, at the same time it was well visible ten years ago - which was later confirmed by those who left or were expelled - that despite this their own tradition developed and was crystalized: “Theoretically we opposed every tradition, despite this we formed our own practices. There were generally accepted customs for spending our time, which were followed everywhere, and which became a measure for evaluating others” (Aranka).

            Although the occasional visitor could discover various spontaneous elements in their lifestyle - for example sleeping during the day after the discussion of religious topics through the night -, some customs, programs remained, which even the majority of those who left or were expelled considered good by itself, but felt that its regular practice and its mandatory nature was burdensome and unnecessary. (For example, the daily walk in pairs with mandatory conversation, the “topics”, wrestling, and meeting daily at all.) According to most of them these customs were at the expense of “personal time spent with God”, “personal quiet time”[2], daily self-examination and contemplation. The meaning of “there should have been more time allowed” in almost every case: “there should have been more freedom allowed”. “We were taught that everything is indisputable. We did not think that our lifestyle was only one option among many. We expected others to adapt to our customs and schedule. We never asked if our lifestyle was too radical. The Lithuanian, Estonian and Romanian brothers could not understand why the same lifestyle would be expected from a group living in an Eastern-European city as from those living more to the West from them”, Aranka explains in her analysis.

              In this community the Protestant activism characteristic of Western mysticism was not coupled with Protestant individual religiousness. “We emphasized that everyone had to be active, however if someone did not have interest in his heart then this naturally led to acting just for the sake of appearance. Thus, many chose the strategy that they did not miss the discussion, but when they were there they slept[3], or thought about something else. Voting in the selection of Biblical topics became a characteristic method, instead of spiritual deliberation and decision. Consequently, a certain tendency toward spiritual laziness could be observed, in the direction of the safety provided by the system. The strictness and high expectations did not guarantee that someone was not just drifting with the flow. We discussed devotion often, but this was not sufficient assurance. Even this lifestyle that required a whole person could be lived halfheartedly”, Aranka diagnosed the religiousness of her former “activist” congregation.

              They were accused of starving and forcing others to starve, but the practice observed by me refuted this ten years ago. According to those who left or were expelled, from this aspect rule inventing and hair splitting[4], or the grandiosely inconsistent bypassing of the rules was characteristic.[5]

The ex-brothers see the advantages and disadvantages of forcing[6] cohabitation, but today they mainly see the dark side of the establishment of property community, even more so because almost all of them were its victims. The property community - beyond the fact that some felt the older brothers “not always respected its voluntary nature” - made many members too comfortable, less independent or irresponsible, and it reduced the motivation for the unemployed to look for a job. On the other hand, those who left or were expelled, in several cases were very unfortunate: “They convinced one of us to sell his apartment, which he did not really want to do. He only received money for it two years after he was expelled, even though he was an orphan. Those who were expelled were swiftly sent away or removed from the apartment. We expected members to bring everything into the community, but it was never clarified what they would get back at the possible cessation of the relationship” (Aranka).


[1]             Like the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes in Hungary.

[2]             “Because of the large amount of activity, we hardly had enough time to foster our personal relationship with God. Even though this (personal quiet time) is necessary so we do not distance ourselves from him. God wants to teach us, foster us personally, so later we can serve each other’s building” (Aranka).

[3]             “For many years we did not let each other sleep restfully, because we expected, for example, on weekends to wake up at two in the morning and stay awake having a discussion until dawn. You could refuse to wake up but a brother like that was considered “not diligent”. Many objected to the nighttime topics and several people abandoned the community as a result. When we finally managed to change this unnatural and extreme schedule, the community did not reach the point that an apology was due to those whose requests had been previously unfairly rejected” (Aranka).

[4]             For example, the prohibition of ice cream.

[5]             There was a time when some wanted to buy fruit juice, we condemned them. However, today there is a heap of fruit juice boxes in Kisbükk and the problem is wastefulness and its irresponsible consumption” (Aranka).

[6]             “Living together has its advantages, but we overly expected cohabitation from everyone. At the same time when we were speaking to outsiders we always emphasized that this was not a requirement. Several of us were ashamed that we were living together with so many people and such a mixed bunch, and whenever we could we gave evasive responses, so we would not cause indignation (Aranka).