From an interview with Bishop Pankratios (Zherdev) of Troitsk, hegumen of Valaam monastery.
Does life in a skete promote the gift of prayer?
You know, brethren often seek for life in a skete or even solitary. In some cases, this corresponds to the Providence of God about these people, and then it is really good and saving for them to be there. But sometimes this desire is due to the fact that in the sketes, especially those with few people, there is more freedom, more opportunities to live according to your own will. In the monastery, of course, life is not easy: you have to get up at a certain time, to come to the church, you must perform obedience, to endure grief, resentment, injustice ... But all that is necessary. Why is that? Some of the Fathers cited the example of pebbles on the beach. When they rub against each other, the angles are erased and the pebbles become round. You may have noticed that even the bottle fragments have the sharp edges erased. The same occurs in our case, if a monk complacently undergoes grief and resentment that are inevitable in a cenobitic monastery, he develops humility and ability for a deep heartfelt prayer. Otherwise, you can fall into delusion, because pride is still very strong. As it is said: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble". When there is no grace, a man easily succumbs to the tricks of the enemy. Such things have happened here, we saw the state of delusion when a brother began intensified prayer on his own, neglecting obedience.
In the spiritual life of a monk, both extremes are dangerous. One extreme is loosening up, and it prevails today. This is also delusion. A man is deceived, he thinks that he lives a monastic life, but in fact, in the severe, but true words of St. Seraphim of Sarov – he is a black firebrand. Although he wears black clothes, in fact, he is no different from a layman, except that he lives in the monastery without a family. He goes with the flow, but the flow is always directed down.
Self-will, pride and unreasonable zeal are at the other extreme. And it is also dangerous. These people think they are doing well, some of them even start to write some essays, to teach, to call for a revival of the eldership, referring to themselves ... Various unusual phenomena are happening to them: some say that the fire is burning in their heart, so that even the stench comes, intangible to others. This, of course, would be funny if it were not so sad. Because sometimes this state leads to madness or suicide. The amount of people subject to such false spirituality is less, but they are also present in the monasteries.
The monastic way is the royal way, the middle way that the Holy Fathers identified long time ago and that we all have to go. The way of obedience, cutting out own will, the way of patience, humility, meekness. If a man lives a pure life, the Lord will give grace and you do not need to invent an "arty-crafty" way of prayer. If a person lives according to the commandments, according to monastic rules, lives pure and fair life, executing all that he has to fulfill, the Lord very quickly gives him the grace that is needed at this stage of his spiritual development. And the confessor should understand all this and care for his spiritual children. The amount of good confessors is very small now. And the reason for the confusions and errors in monastic life lies in the fact that we lack the spiritual leaders, the people around whom the monastic community could be built.
How it was in the old days: an ascetic emerged, the disciples came to him, there was a community, then - a monastery. So it was and always will be. But nowadays we lack the saints. And no matter how often we write rules and regulations, if there are no saints, at least "unholy saints", we can not do anything.