Readers may know that Kazantzakis, author of, among many other books ‘Zorba the Greek’, was excommunicated by or do I mean from the Greek Orthodox Church. Rather like being put on the Roman Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum, this sort of thing often has a pleasing effect on sales of one’s books. Another Greek writer who was excommunicated was Andreas Laskaratos of Kephallonia, who is not well-known outside Greece, though in his case it’s easier to see why he wasn’t flavour of the month with the church. Here, in my translation, is a brief extract from his book ‘Behold the Man’:
Monasticism is masonry; the monk a mason.
In the garden of his monastery he cultivates his monkishness and becomes a sworn member of the monastic order.
He dresses as his fellows do, feeds as they do, lives as they do. And he believes just what and just as much as the other monks believe. These are the limits, beyond which one is not accepted in the monastic club.
Just like masonry, monasticism has its mysteries. The monk’s mystery is to take care of himself all his life, to live at ease all his life, and — if it’s true what they say — to be worthy, finally, of a heavenly paradise.
It’s true that life in our monasteries is a filthy one, brutal, abominable: but then, our monk is nearly always himself of a backward social class. Thus, however filthy and ill-fed he is in the monastery, the novice finds there more than enough bum-fodder, and a blessed unconcern and freedom from care.
Our monk is happy with his animal feed: as he himself tells us, he always has a choice of food; never the same two days in a row. If he ate garlic yesterday, he eats onions today, leeks tomorrow, garlic sauce the next day, and beans on Sunday.
Those among them who are lettered, and know how to dot their ‘i’s and cross their ‘t’s, read the Lives of the Saints and are disenchanted. For such, the acme of human endeavour is to have one day a chapter of their own, with their own miracles, entitled ‘Saint So-and-so’.
Sometimes it happens that one of these unfortunates is so overcome by the idea of saintliness that he violates his real nature, loses himself, and becomes the plaything of his obsession. He is determined to become a saint.
Then it is that the cunning enemy of mankind, that overweening anti-God, entering the monastery like a farmer his chicken-run, gets into the monk’s cell and breathes into his brain…and then, in his religious fervour, this plaything of temptation is weighed down, sickens, becomes serious, and gives himself an air of vile, grandiose ideas!…
One day future generations will pray to him, offering incense to his relics, celebrating his name!…
Already his sick fantasy sees the pious little ladies of the future running to his shrine, one with a great candle, another with oil for the lamp, another with frankincense, another with some other thing …
May it not be that this vicious cycle of cunning, stupidity and brutishness survive into the approaching twentieth century! Then, people will dignify themselves otherwise, and the pious little ladies, somewhat brighter than they are today, will find better uses for their time, their money, and their humanity.