"Shutting down the monasteries [Father Maximos] explained in regard to developments in the West after the Reformation, "was like snatching the heart out of Christianity." He meant that it was in monasteries that the religious experience was systematically cultivated, providing a living witness to the reality of God. By closing down monasteries, the West came to rely exclusively on the intellect in its quest for God. But the way to know God, Father Maximos would say repeatedly, is neither through philosophy nor through experimental science but through systematic methods of spiritual practice that could open us up to the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we have a taste of the Divine, a firsthand, experiential knowledge of the Creator. Otherwise, he continued, "we remain stuck on the level of mere beliefs and ideologies."*
This reminds me of an older post I made in which I recalled a Reverend Father explain that God dwells in our hearts, while Satan dwells in our mind. This couldn't be more true, for how many times does our Lord ask for our hearts? The heart, and yielding to it, and giving it in love is the true essence of Christianity.
Monasticism is precisely this, a complete devotion to God. There is no demand for study (although most, if not all, are very well read in Scripture and other text), but a call for one's own heart. I liken this to the Internet. A person can research a website with photos of the gorgeous scenery nature has to offer, or the most stunning of artwork, but until you witness it, and stand in awe at it's beauty, you haven't come remotely close to experiencing the real thing. Until you completely experience the surrender to God and know what it's like to be at peace with God, you have not fully experienced what Christianity has to offer. Another example is (and we all know what I'm talking about) the armchair quarterbacks who claim to know everything about the game of football, and claim to be the next Joe Montana, but couldn't hurl a football more than ten yards. Talk is cheap, but experiencing the game and all the emotions engaged in playing the game is beyond comparison.
I also understand that the West has seen a recent resurgence of monasticism. This is completely against its own tradition and is not as prominent or influential as Orthodox monasticism. Some from the Western Churches have accused the Orthodox Church of being antiquated and behind the times. By relying strictly on intellect for the quest for God, I stand here accusing the West of completely losing the essence of Christianity. And to be honest, I don't like change for the sake of change, I'd rather keep what works.
* The Mountain of Silence: A Search for Orthodox Spirituality by Kyriacos C. Markides