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Semi-monastic modes


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#1 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 03:42 PM

I am wondering if there is anything in the Orthodox tradition/experience concerning modes of communal life that are not fully monastic. For example what if a few of the single men or women in a parish decided to share a common home, perhaps bound together with some modest rule but still had their jobs, went to college, etc. And if for at least some of these men and women, this arrangement was "home", the way and the place they would likely live for the rest of their lives.

Or perhaps they all lived and worked at a common "business" or occupation together in order to support themselves but otherwise lived only a partial kind of monastic existance.

I ask because so far as I can tell the Orthodox faith only seems to recognize two modes of existance...married or monastic. But at least in this day and age there are a number who are not able due to age, disposition, or perhaps certain family obligations who are not really suited to full on monastic life, yet they are not married and have no particular prospects for it (may also be divorced/widowed/widowered).

I guess in concept it is a little "frat housey" but I'm thinking of something more serious and more permanent. If I'm not mistaken the Catholic church has/had something along this line called beguines, though I'm not quite sure what was expected of such groups.

Does Orthodoxy have anything like this, any semi-monastic ways of living with the blessing of the Church.

#2 Peter Farrington

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 04:59 PM

This is interesting in that the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, which obviously has an ages long experience of the desert monastic life in its various forms, has just established a monastic presence in New York which will exist as a community of consecrated and active monastics.

The Coptic Orthodox Church in New York, has purchased a huge complex, from the Catholic Church, a beautiful turn of the century Church, made by Italian artesians, a rectory building, and another building. They are going to be using this as a missionary base. They already have a soup kitchen and other community services that they have started.

Here are some words from the Coptic Orthodox in Rochester website:

Just as His Holiness the Pope bore the names of two great monastic leaders, Antonius and Shenouda, so also he gave to America two monasteries: the first after the name of St. Antony in the desert of California, and the second here in Rochester after the name of St. Shenouda. This second monastery is not an imitation nor an unnecessary repetition of the first monastery because they are two distinct orders. Each one of them has a different monastic rule indicated in the difference in the appellation of each monastery. The first monastery at California follows the hermetic life of St. Antony the most famous father of anchorism whereas the second monastery here in Rochester follows the rule of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite which is developed from the Pachomian coenobitic life. The order of St. Shenouda combines the life of seclusion for prayer and meditation, together with the service for the community in a coenobitic life. Therefore, whenever the monk in the order of Abba Shenouda goes out to serve the community in the neighborhood, he will not be in breach of his monastic rule. Just as St. Shenouda built his monastery in Suhaj near the villages which he serves and was accustomed to open the gates of his monastery for the people on Saturdays and Sundays, so that they may hear his sermons and participate in the Eucharistic prayers, so also his monastery here in Rochester is not in a desert, but in the countryside in the suburbs of the cities and towns which will be served by the monks of the monastery.

By the grace of God, we will proceed with building the Pope Shenouda III Retreat Center within the next year. This will be a spiritual retreat center for anyone, but especially for those who would like to enter into this monastic order. The building of these souls will be the first step to the physical building of this monastery of St. Shenouda the Archimandrite.



This seems to be an exciting development, not least because the Coptic Orthodox monastic tradition remains rooted in the desert and this is not an alternative for it, but a means of service and witness in the world in which God has placed us now.

Peter

#3 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 06:20 PM

Dear Robert,

I have read your post several times and I must confess I am having trouble getting to the root of it, that is, exactly what are you attempting to say or see put into action? What is a semi-monastic way of living?

I am not trying to imply that I find the notion outlandish, but could you provide a better feel of what you mean.

Age, illness, being divorced, or widowed are not obstacles to a monastic life, nor are monasteries always in far away secluded places, as Peter so well points out.

In fact one of the outstanding features of Orthodox monasticism is that we do not have 'enclosed' monasteries similiar to the Roman Catholic model. We do not have 'contemplative orders' nor 'active orders'.

On the contrary it is an ancient tradition in our monasteries to be frequented by pilgrims. This is a blessing both for the pilgrims and the monastics.

Please elaborate!

#4 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 09:18 PM

The latter mode in St. Shenouda monastery seems be similar in concept to the service monastacism that one sees in the Roman communion with its many 'orders'.

But even that is more overtly monastic than what I'm asking about.

We are taught that it is not good for man to live alone. Hence the Church blesses marriage and monasticism. Both are martyric callings if lived out properly in their own way.

But there remain those who are not married and have no prospect of being married...maybe no desire even for marriage, yet they are not really suited to monastic life either. Perhaps there are either external impediments (obligations) or just having a temperment that is not well suited to the rigors and routines of monastic life.

I know Orthodox from time to time form brotherhoods (perhaps sisterhoods) organized to some particular end...like building a new temple, or doing benevolence work. Can brotherhoods/sisterhoods or something similar be adapted to serve a non...or not fully monastic idieorhymic community or household.

Lets say you had four or five women in one's parish or various professional backgrounds, some perhaps widowed or divorced, others having no marriage prospects decide to live together in a common household, establishing just enough structure to assure an Orthodox homelife and help them function together as a household, but otherwise they continue to work their jobs, or if retired or a homemaker work around the house/persue some avocation, have their own schedules...except for key household obligations, etc. So they live together and have a little common prayer life, and perhaps have some common projects (maybe visiting the elderly parish members, temple grounds beautification, etc.) but otherwise they live as seems best to them.

Or perhaps a similar group of men if they had no outside jobs could live on a piece of land and run a subscription garden...or sell produce to local restaurants, taking care of themselves that way. But they live a more or less common life with some minimal structure though not anywhere near full monastic mode. Or in a college town a core group might open their doors to devout Orthodox college students so they could have a strong centered Orthodox home life while the young men are earning their degrees away from their own homes. It really doesn't matter too much how each household/group supports itself or if they have a "mission" beyond just supporting one another to grow in the faith.

The key thing is the establishment of a common Orthodox household or small community that enables those who would benefit from living with someone else but for whom marriage or the monastery are not realistic prospects...something sort of middleway between the monastery and mundane day to day existance in the world.

Maybe such an idea is unworkable or delusional in some way that I just can't see...but I can see some value in having men's houses and women's houses where Orthodox Christians may live to some degree in common and for others in the faith when the normative spiritual/relational structures of marriage or monastacism aren't realistic considerations.

I just wonder is such a thing exists in the Orthodox universe (or should exist).

#5 Peter Farrington

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 09:29 PM

Hi Seraphim

The Coptic Orthodox also have the concept of consecrated servants - deacons and deaconesses. Whose ministry is not primarily liturgical, though of course deacons may have a liturgical role in their local church.

Rather, as you describe, they live in the community, either on their own or in small groups of 'semi-monastics', though really in a sense living as normal Coptic Orthodox laity who already live as 'semi-monastics', but they are consecrated to service and to celibacy, yet not as monks and nuns, rather as deacons and deaconesses?

Is this what you were thinking of?

When I was in Cairo, for instance, I visited a group of deaconesses whose service was running a house for teenage girls who had been sent to the city for an education. Other deacons and deaconesses I met ran an orphange, yet others ran a home for children with mental handicaps. These are people who have committed themselves to this life of service and have been ordained as deacons and deaconesses because their service is not a career but part of the life of the church. These folk are known as consecrated servants in the Coptic Orthodox Church - servants being a general translation of deacon. So they are consecrated deacons, consecrated to service, and they do live a semi-monastic life with much prayer as well as their service.

Peter

#6 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 10:01 PM

Addendum.

Speaking for myself and my situation. I am not married, an don't really want to be. I'm 50 now and have not been "in love" since I was 16. So realistically I will never be married, barring some miraculous change of mindset or circumstance. And being 50 and single as long as I have been while I'm certain I could benefit from visitiing monasteries, it would be very difficult to see how I could live as a monk. The schedule for one is more than I think I could handle, as is the rigour of monastic fasting...and I have to admit there are days when I really like a piece of barbecue...that simply could not be as a monk. Plus I have my job and obligations to elderly family members and our family land that I need to be available for. Also I think I have some creative skills that though late are just blooming...and I can't see how I could develop them as a monk...and the older I get the more convinced I become they should be developed...I've put them off too long trying to find "permission" to use them as an Orthodox Christian.

I just don't see how I could handle being a full time monk at my age and given my particular life circumstance. And there are a number of others men and women in this day and age who are in similar circumstances.

The trouble is that it is too easy to live selfishly while living singly. It is also lonely at times and the fact is I want to belong to others and have others "belong" to me at a home level.

So if marriage and monastacism are not realistic options for me and those like me...though I once thought monastacism might be, I wonder what my options are...why type of life could be blessed by the Church.

At fifty I'm beginning to feel my age and my mortality. By disposition I'm a bit of a recluse and a tad of a curmudgeon, but there are times I need the company of others who are as close to me as family. One of the biggest joys I have is being involved in the lives of my godchildren, especially the younger ones and their friends who have become interested in the faith through them. It is a fleeting thing though, but its the closest I will ever come to having children of my own. I love being able to do things for them, to matter somehow for someone else. A couple of them have actually talked among themselves about doing something similar to what I've said above...a common life that is almost but not quite monastic (their parents were Jesus people in times past who lived in communes a while and so thier kids come by it naturally).

It sounds like a potentially wonderful existance to me given the right people in the mix. But then again it may just be a utopian have your cake and eat it too fantasy. I don't know...but there are days I would like to find out.

So, I reason that if I feel this way I can't be the only one. Maybe there are some other options besides marriage or monastacism for those of us not cut out for either but who could benefit from a more common life than we know now.


Additional Addendum:

Yes Peter, thats much closer, consecrated celibate laity, though I don't know if everyone would need to be a deacon or deaconness (it would make home typica services easier). BTW...how can a deacon be considered laity?

#7 Peter Farrington

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 10:09 PM

Yes Peter, thats much closer, consecrated celibate laity, though I don't know if everyone would need to be a deacon or deaconness (it would make home typica services easier). BTW...how can a deacon be considered laity?


Hiya

I guess I meant not a priest or a monk. I would also believe that not all consecrated servants would be full deacons - the term deacon is also used in a wider sense of 'servant'. Certainly I am aware of three grades of deaconesses depending on age and vows taken.

Peter

#8 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 10:24 PM

Long before I ever considered Orthodoxy I visited Cairo and the Cathedral of St. Mark. We were allowed to visit what remained of his relics in the catacombs below the cathedral. On my way I recall seeing bolted to one wall near the door a huge stone slab. On it were carved the names of all the bishops of Alexandria going back to St. Mark. It struck me that I was standing in a place where Christians had been living and worshiping since apostolic times...indeed the mortal remains of one of the writers of the Gospels was just a few feet away. The historical weight of that was profound. I wondered what it must be like to know one stood as part of the succession of one of the original Christian communities. At time I was a charismatic evangelical. I know the young monk/priest who showed me around and tried to answer my questions in halting English was very gracious. I've had a tender spot in my heart for the Copts ever since.

The description you gave of the nuns taking care of the girls going to school in the city sounds similiar to the "idea" I mentioned earlier of a group of "dedicated servants" taking care of Orthodox college kids away from home.

I wonder if the brotherhoods and sisterhoods of Orthodox tradition are of the same root as these consecrated servants in the Coptic tradition?

#9 Fr Seraphim (Black)

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Posted 22 December 2006 - 11:08 PM

Dear Robert,

Thank you for your post #6, you clearly have a generous and loving heart. Your feelings about this type of community sound wonderful to me. May our Lord bless such an endeavour.

Be certain to have the blessing of your parish priest/spiritual father and your Bishop.

All good things have an element of risk, but what is life anyway, without taking such a blessed risk?!

#10 Trudy

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Posted 23 December 2006 - 07:29 PM

The description you gave of the nuns taking care of the girls going to school in the city sounds similiar to the "idea" I mentioned earlier of a group of "dedicated servants" taking care of Orthodox college kids away from home.


Dear Seraphim,

While daydreaming a couple weeks ago, I thought how wonderful it would be to open a home for orphaned Orthodox children and homeschool them. Something along the lines of the orphanage at St. Tikhon's did when it was first founded.

If I found myself alone, what you describe is something I would be interested in pursuing. I think there are more people who are interested in this than you might first think.

In Christ,
Athanasia

#11 Mike C.

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Posted 22 January 2008 - 11:55 PM

I am wondering if there is anything in the Orthodox tradition/experience concerning modes of communal life that are not fully monastic. For example what if a few of the single men or women in a parish decided to share a common home, perhaps bound together with some modest rule but still had their jobs, went to college, etc. And if for at least some of these men and women, this arrangement was "home", the way and the place they would likely live for the rest of their lives.

Or perhaps they all lived and worked at a common "business" or occupation together in order to support themselves but otherwise lived only a partial kind of monastic existance.

I ask because so far as I can tell the Orthodox faith only seems to recognize two modes of existance...married or monastic. But at least in this day and age there are a number who are not able due to age, disposition, or perhaps certain family obligations who are not really suited to full on monastic life, yet they are not married and have no particular prospects for it (may also be divorced/widowed/widowered).

I guess in concept it is a little "frat housey" but I'm thinking of something more serious and more permanent. If I'm not mistaken the Catholic church has/had something along this line called beguines, though I'm not quite sure what was expected of such groups.

Does Orthodoxy have anything like this, any semi-monastic ways of living with the blessing of the Church.



I've just joined this forum, browsing the threads, and your post here really struck me as very interesting.
I realise this is now an old thread, but still. I hope you are managing to work something out in your life which approaches what you envisage here.

The 'monastic life' has a great appeal, but of course we can't all step into it for the reasons you have expressed. I've been in something similar, living with others in an Orthodox household where the spiritual life was the common ground between us, and we could observe the fasts and liturgical life as a mini community. It was something which ocurred simply because we were all friends and had been brought together through different circumstances. It worked for a few years until our lives took us on different paths.

It's certainly something which works, as long as the personalities fit together well. I was fortunate that we were all friends first. The living together happened organically, because of each of our situations and needs. It wasn't planned around our faith, but that was the overriding key which enabled it to happen and work, I feel.

I'm no longer in that arrangement, but I can empathise with your wish for such a thing.

In Christ,

Mike

#12 Effie Ganatsios

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 11:04 AM

I believe Mike that in the early years of the church, women who wanted to devote their lives to God lived together much as you and your friends did. These were not official monasteries (convents) as they later became.

In the last twenty years or so, a lot of Roman Catholic nuns are now doing this, because of disagreements with their Pope in Rome. They are still committed to God, and are very active in their community, but they are no longer subject to Roman Catholic priests and Rome.

#13 Anthony

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 11:44 AM

Thank you for reviving this thread, which I missed first time round.

Isn't something like this the basis for organizations like Apostoliki Diakonia in Greece?

#14 Father David Moser

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 02:40 PM

I ask because so far as I can tell the Orthodox faith only seems to recognize two modes of existance...married or monastic.
...
Does Orthodoxy have anything like this, any semi-monastic ways of living with the blessing of the Church.


I think that many in the Orthodox Church have a "prejudice" that a person must be either married or monastic, however, I know that this "prejudice" is a matter of contention even among Orthodox clergy. At a youth conference recently there was a talk given by one of the priests on Orthodox marriage and this question came up. The presenter offered his opinion that one should be either married or monastic and when he saw that I disagreed with this, he had me come up and present the "alternative" POV. We come into this world neither married nor monastic and there is no sin in remaining in that state. It is a much more difficult state to maintain in the world than either marriage or monasticism. In marriage you have the "society" of your spouse and children to support your Christian life and to help you work out your salvation; in monasticism you have the "society" of the monastic brotherhood for the same purpose. But as a single person in the world, you do not have either of these "pre-provided" societies and so it is necessary to somehow create your own. The kind of community of which you speak might be one way.

I know a lot of people who as single adults "crashed and burned" due to the lack of support. I know a few single adults who have been able not only to survive but to thrive. One is a priest (far senior to myself) who is neither married nor monastic but who is involved in the life of the Church and who has successfully (so far) lived out his salvation in the world. Another is a woman (about my age) who also never married, but continues to live out an Orthodox life in non-monastic celibacy. Both of these people are examples for me of what a non-monastic celibate Orthodox life might be. BTW, neither one of them is living in a "semi-monastic" community in the world.

As a long time interest of mine, I did a study of intentional Christian communities back as an undergrad in a Social Psychology class. These communities, if they are to be successful have to be almost as rigorously structured as a monastery and require the same level of commitment. Otherwise they tend to fall apart after a few years, having been of no real lasting help to anyone and being in some cases detrimental to others.

Fr David Moser

#15 Nina

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 05:58 PM

Isn't something like this the basis for organizations like Apostoliki Diakonia in Greece?


Yes, I think. A person as such is αφιερωμένος which means dedicated (as in dedicated to God). They do a lot of apostolic work as the title indicates.

#16 Robert Hegwood

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Posted 23 January 2008 - 06:37 PM

These communities, if they are to be successful have to be almost as rigorously structured as a monastery and require the same level of commitment. Otherwise they tend to fall apart after a few years, having been of no real lasting help to anyone and being in some cases detrimental to others.


This is true. I've witnessed the same thing years ago in charismatic communes. Unless there is a pretty firm structure and order to the life there it easily fractures under the weight of changing circumstance and personality. Of course there remained the danger of over control that doomed yet other groups into becoming deadening and cultish, also quite destructive in its own way.

It is a narrow plank to transit to be sure.

The households dedicated to helping students I think could work in a slightly less rigorous envioronment...at the student level if there were a more rigorous core group that provided the community foundation. At the other end of the spectrum a community who lived together and shared a common labor (say truck farming, graphic design studio, or roofing) in support of that household would have a better chance at enduring if it was structured on a more monastic model. But this is all hypothetical...it would take the blessing of God and great grace to make any arrangement work over any protracted length of time (if not any length of time).




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