Punks to Monks:
Eastern Orthodoxy’s Curious Allure for Young Rebels
by Danny Duncan Collum
When John Marler arrived at the St. Herman monastery in Platina, California, he was only 19, but he was already in a state of advanced world-weariness. A disenchanted ex-guitarist for hard-core bands Sleep and Paxton Quiggly, he was hoping that the monk’s life would grant him a modicum of relief from the nihilism and despair of the alternative rock scene. Four years later, Father John, as he’s sometimes called, has become an inspiration to a surprisingly growing number of young people eager to embrace the mystical theology of — are you ready? — Eastern Orthodoxy.
As Frederica Mathewes-Green reports in Regeneration Quarterly (Winter 1997), Marler and two other punks-turned-monks at St Herman’s — Mother Neonilla and Father Damascene — are reaching out to disaffected teens in ways hitherto unexplored by Orthodox Christianity: a zine, alternative music, a Web site, and a chain of coffeehouses. The zine, Death to the World, has reached more than 50,000 readers, mostly punks who “feel out of place in this world,”says Father Damascene. “We try to open up to them the beauty of God’s creation,” he adds, “and invite them to put to death ‘the passions,’ which is what we mean by ‘the world.’. . . Selfish passions can then be redirected into love for God.” What’s most remarkable about these monks is that they’re tapping the heart of contemporary youth culture even though they have little or no contact with its commercial manifestations. Two of the St. Herman Brotherhood’s three California monasteries have no electricity, phones, or running water. And Father John lives in a monastery on an island off Alaska and communicates only by mail.
On another level, however, the leap from punk to monk should not be that startling. Punk rock has always been a semi-monastic movement, with its distinctive reject-the-world garb and ritualistic mortifications of the flesh. The one thing punk has always insisted upon, from the very beginning, is passion. It didn’t matter much whether it was the passionate nihilism of the Sex Pistols or the passionate idealism of the Clash as long as it was fervent and deeply felt. It’s no accident that the hard-core wing of the punk movement gave birth early on to the “straight-edge”ethos, in which followers swear to abstain from drugs, drink, and meat.
There’s something about going all the way, without compromise or equivocation, that appeals to young people in a time when commitments of all kinds, from employment to marriage, seem temporary and conditional. Of course, going all the way can mean all the way out — to drugs, or crime, or a one-way trip to the Hale-Bopp mothership. Or, as in the case of the punk monks, it can mean going all the way into the life of the spirit.
Marler’s book, Youth of the Apocalypse and the Last True Rebellion, is reviewed on Amazon; I’ve quoted the review in full:
In the darkening world of contemporary unbelief, where the impending storm clouds of destruction have indeed almost drowned out the light, this distress is most intensely felt by the still-tender souls of the youth.
YOUTH OF THE APOCALYPSE AND THE LAST TRUE REBELLION is a ray of light cutting through the dark clouds of hypocritical, worldly pseudo-religion. It presents the realities of Orthodox Truth without any apologies. This book is a virtual manifesto for the despairing children of the eleventh hour, addressing the issues and problems that are literally tearing apart the fabric of innocence. It deals with suicide, insanity, drugs, violence, art, the occult, the apocalypse, and finally with our salvation, suffering and resurrection out of the depths of the contemporary nihilistic wasteland.
“Humanity had thought itself sufficient, and even now we think we can escape our destiny by our own efforts. Escape!–that is our only thought. To escape from the insanity, the hell of modern life is all we wish. But we cannot escape!!! We must go through this hell, and accept it, knowing it is the love of God that causes our suffering. What terrible anguish!–to suffer so, not knowing why, indeed thinking there is no reason. The reason is God’s love–do we see it blazing in the darkness?–we are blind.” –Fr. Seraphim Rose
YOUTH OF THE APOCALYPSE was torn from the hearts of two young monks in Alaska, who themselves have been raised out of the darkness of contemporary nihilism in its most extreme form. It has already brought suicidal young souls, despairing Orthodox young people, and other Christian youth into the ranks of God.
And here is an excerpt from the book, that Amazon reprinted:
From the mother’s womb the newborn child cries; and these teardrops continue even unto this generation of youth. Every tear of every child is a painful gesture of a universal confession of the fall of mankind from perfection–to corruption, suffering and death. This cry does not grow fainter as we grow older. On the contrary, in these times worthy of much lamentation the cry grows louder and is the only consolation of the youth of today.
This generation of youth, which could very well be the last generation, is shackled in despair to this cry because they see all too well that this broken world is coming to an end. And no one has told them the truth that in the Apocalypse God will wipe every tear from their eyes. But they have been taught by violence that this eternal truth is “relative.”
Alone, imprisoned in this world, we are brainwashed into believing that “there is no absolute truth,” and that there is “no answer to the question: Why?” After spending our childhood in such a cold prison, it’s no wonder that in our youth we seek death. When there is no answer to the answer to the question “Why?” the only freedom seems to be oblivion. The youth of today have come to the conclusion that the only hand left to wipe the tears from their eyes is the hand of suicide. When there is no truth in a world of falsehood; when there is no beauty in an ugly world; when there is no love in a world of violence and hate; when there is no God in a faithless world; it’s no wonder that in every room, on every street, in every city, the weeping of the young can be heard. This is why youthful rebellion is born and justified.
This breaking down of our world is due to one philosophy, one mission that has been victorious over man’s freedom of thought since time began–Nihilism. It is the belief that “there is no absolute truth.” It is like a heartless and gutless machine that presses on, giving birth to destruction, sorrow, pain and death. It chooses the young for its victims, for it is easy to scar the innocence of youth. It is this machine that controls that spirit of these times and tells us that there is no answer to the question “Why?”–and therefore no reason to live at all. It is this machine of apostasy that has given birth to the youth of today. We are her children; we are the children of Nihilism; we are the youth of the apocalypse.
Now we are left with a generation that is dying off due to suicide–the Last Genocide. This Genocide can only be stopped by Truth. In order to embrace this Truth we must die to this world and be resurrected. This is the unshackling. This is the Last True Rebellion.