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New monasticism in the Orthodox Church?


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#1 Benjamin Amis

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 08:58 PM

Coming into Orthodoxy, monasticism is something quite new to me, and so I found it intriguing and have read article after article concerning monastic life, how to address monastics, visiting a monastery, etc. I am by no means an expert on monasticism, quite the contrary, my knowledge is quite limited. However, I have read enough to speak with friends (who are not Orthodox) concerning monasticism.

On this topic, we began discussing new monasticism. That is, the non-Orthodox practice of leading a cenobitic way of life: very prayerful and contemplative, around a supporting community of fellow Christians. However, new monastics often have their monasteries on the fringe of society, instead of far away from it. This is to have interaction with the impoverished, as hospitality to the stranger is key in new monasticism. Private and corporate prayer is also very important. However, new monastics often have jobs (although not always) and there is no prohibition on married new monastics, including even children of married couples. Those who are unmarried are expected to led a celibate life, or at least a chaste life until marriage.

Discussing this with my friends, I was asked the question: What would the Orthodox Church think of this system? I had to admit I that didn't know. And so, we thought of how this might be something that could be blessed by the Church. Essentially, this is what we came up with:

The above traits of new monasticism would be utilized (there is even a basic rule for new monasticism, known as the 12 Marks of New Monasticism) and monastics would have humble private quarters: a cell for the celibate, providing separate male and female lavatories; and one or two rooms for married couples and their children with their own small lavatory (very much like a small hotel suite). All living quarters aside from this would be communal: kitchen, dining, living area (if applicable), even an Orthodox chapel. The monastics may work a secular job to provide for the monastery (especially if in an urban area) or duties would be given to all for upkeep if in seclusion (farming, cleaning, cooking, etc., just as in a traditional monastery).

However, also, traditional monastic life would be involved. Frequent confession, rigorous service schedule, Orthodox prayer rules, etc. Vows of poverty would be expected as well, since all things would be held in common by the monastery. There would even be an new monastic abbot/abbess over the monastery. New monastic clergy (both celibate and married) would be accepted into the community as well. A habit may even be utilized.

I know this is probably a lot of smoke, but I'm curious to hear what those of you here at Monachos have to say about such a thing.

#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 09:48 PM

Actually, this is not so "new". There has always been a strong tradition of asceticism in Orthodoxy for monastics and non-monastics, it is just that in the US in particular, it has only recently (last 20 years) begun to be re-emphasized.

Emmaus House which is associated with New Skete Monastery is a group of non-monastics that have established such a community. There are a couple of others out there as well, They follow a common prayer rule and make a commitment for communal support, but a common prayer rule and increased participation in Church life could be sought in any parish, as long as it has the priest's blessing and is not seen as a "substitute" for the parish or the establishment of a clique. At the very least, if something more formal is sought, it should not be done without a bishop's blessing and the assignment of a spiritually mature priest or "chaplain" as designated by the bishop. Anything else could well lead down a path towards elitism or possibly prelest. I believe there is a Greek "Zoe" group that is something similar. if I am not mistaken.

#3 Cyprian (Humphrey)

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 10:17 PM

What you've described (aside from the inclusion of married persons and families) is pretty much just an Orthodox monastery. I submit, it's an assumption that all Orthodox monasteries are far away from society, or off in the wilderness. The Studion Monastery was in the middle of Constantinople. The Monastery of the Kiev Caves is in the midst of Kiev. The list goes on...

But, IMHO, the inclusion of married persons, especially with children, is disastrous to any cenobitic community. I know that something like that exists at Cambridge NY's New Skete (as opposed to Mt Athos' New Skete!), but IIRC they are all in separate houses and/or flats. Privacy is a big issue for families. They may not think so at the beginning, but it certainly becomes an issue when they don't have it! Cenobitism doesn't give one much room for privacy. If it's ever worked (like a "hippie"-commune might), it certainly didn't have the stringent requirements for asceticism, and the demands on one's time that an Orthodox monastery would.

Essentially, my opinion is that, for a married couple/family, it would be unnecessary. A family unit is a monastery of it's own, in a way. The husband and wife are in mutual submission to each other. The children are (supposed to be!) in submission to their parents. The parents are in submission to their children, as much as they are responsible for their upbringing, protection, and supplying their needs. A husband and wife may not be celibate, but they are certainly expected to be faithful to each other. When a couple marry, they no longer have private property - "mine" and "yours" become "ours". Even getting married is often referred to as "settling down", implying the requirement for married person to be stable.

So, essentially you have married people embracing: 1. poverty, 2. fidelity (which would be their version of celibacy), 3. obedience, and 4. stability of life. Those are the same vows of monastic life. Therefore, I see no need for married people to "enhance" their situation by trying to live more monastically, when they're already doing so. If a couple feel like they're "missing" a spiritual aspect to their lives, there is nothing stopping them from serving Reader services in their home.

But, as for working a secular job while being a monastic, well, some of us are already doing that... :)

I'm not sure there's a need for anything new in our monasticism. It may be more effective to discover that many people's assumptions about monasticism are often wrong. If you get a chance, visit an Orthodox monastery. Visit many Orthodox monasteries.

That's just my two kopecks.

#4 John W.

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Posted 11 February 2010 - 10:39 PM

Gimmee that Old Time Religion, it's good enough for me. What is needed in the Orthodox Church has always been found in monasteries like (old) Scetis and not in places like New Skete (Cambridge, NY) or Protestant-style "Nu Monasticism"

As early as the 8th Century, the Venerable Bede addressed the "New Monastics" of his time showing once again that there is nothing new under the sun (See: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin 1990), pp. 344-346):

"[T]here are many places as we know, given the name of monasteries by a very foolish way of speaking, yet have none of the reality of a monastic way of life...It is indeed shameful to say how many places called 'monasteries' these men who are entirely ignorant of monastic life have taken under control...Having thus usurped for themselves small or large estates, free from both human and divine service they serve in reality only their own desires as laymen in charge of monks. Moreover they do not assemble real monks there, but rather wanderers who have been expelled from genuine monasteries for the sin of disobedience, or whoever they may have enticed out of them, or any of their own followers whom they can persuade to receive tonsure and promise monastic obedience to themselves. They thus fill the 'monasteries' they have built with groups of these deformed people and - a very ugly and unprecedented spectacle - the very same men are now occupied with wives and procreating children and now rise from their beds and accomplish assiduously whatever needs to be done inside the monastic precincts. Moreover, they obtain with similar audacity places for their wives, as they say, to build 'monasteries': as these are laywomen they authorize themselves to be rulers of the handmaids of Christ. To all these people the popular proverb applies: 'Wasps can indeed make honeycomb but they fill it with poison, not honey'...Thus by a perverse state of affairs many are found who call themselves 'abbots'...although as laymen they could have learnt something about monastic life by hearsay if not be experience, yet they are complete strangers to the character and profession which should teach it. Indeed these people suddenly as you know, receive tonsure at their own pleasure and by their judgement instantly become not monks but abbots. Because they clearly have neither the knowledge nor the zeal for monastic virtues, what more can be appropriate to them than the curse of the gospel where it is said: 'If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit?'"

Edited by John W., 11 February 2010 - 11:02 PM.


#5 Anna Stickles

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 03:57 AM

Essentially, my opinion is that, for a married couple/family, it would be unnecessary. A family unit is a monastery of it's own, in a way. The husband and wife are in mutual submission to each other. The children are (supposed to be!) in submission to their parents. The parents are in submission to their children, as much as they are responsible for their upbringing, protection, and supplying their needs. A husband and wife may not be celibate, but they are certainly expected to be faithful to each other. When a couple marry, they no longer have private property - "mine" and "yours" become "ours". Even getting married is often referred to as "settling down", implying the requirement for married person to be stable.

So, essentially you have married people embracing: 1. poverty, 2. fidelity (which would be their version of celibacy), 3. obedience, and 4. stability of life. Those are the same vows of monastic life. Therefore, I see no need for married people to "enhance" their situation by trying to live more monastically, when they're already doing so.


I appreciate what you have said here about this very much and agree, and yet I still think that for families that want to live a more monastic life there are a lot of issues to be dealt with. "Secular creep" through TV and computer is an issue. Also, not everyone can homeschool, and so there is the issue of the children being taught distorted values in school, and also learning immoral behavior from the other children. There may not be issues of yours and mine (although in reality there often are) but the family as a unit can get very in-grown in the area of using "our money for our good". There are a thousand and one distractions and temptations for the normal Christian family trying to live a serious Christian life in this world. Also, most families living in the world don't live on a farm and what do you give teens to do that is productive rather then letting them waste their lives entertaining themselves? If anyone has any suggestions on this I would love to hear it.

Monasteries can far more effectively shut out these types of influences. Don't monastics go to monasteries precisely so they can concentrate more exclusively on their salvation, and isn't the separation from these worldly influences part of what helps this striving along?

I believe a small community of committed believers living in a more monastic way has a lot of advantages over one family still living in the world trying to do this on their own. Maybe a small orthodox school for the children in the community. Shared talents and the encouragement of a shared commitment, all the members of the community working together to support the community provides a much more stable environment for raising kids, etc.

#6 Anna Stickles

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 04:29 AM

I was thinking that if we want to make a comparison, a typical parish situation could be compared to an idiorythmic community of monks, with each family basically doing their own thing and only coming together for common worship. What is missing is the sense of a common effort and rule that guides a more close knit community.

While Fr Cyprian notes the problems with privacy in cenobitic situation with families, Herman's comments about a more skete like situation with each family having their own house but following a common rule avoids this problem. One could imagine expanding this into a commonly owned property and having a place for common meals.

#7 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 02:50 PM

My own sense is that this would not work.

Basically my reason for saying this is that within Orthodoxy monasticism and the married life are different ways of life. Yes both are called to similar virtues- for example chastity. But the way in which each is called to this is quite different.

The greatest difference however between the two is in the kind of obedience each is called to. In a monastery the monastic is called to a communal kind of obedience that for a family or group of families would very likely become destructive. In other words among family members and among different families a degree of variation must be allowed that could never be permitted within a monastery.

This is why I think that within Orthodoxy that various attempts at communal living have not had success. Lay societies have flourished in various places; but these are loose groupings created to invigorate the spirituality of the larger Church, not to lead a communal life.

In a word then the ideal of such communal living could never be the same as the monastic way of life. And conversely if the standards of the monastic life were imposed on a lay community it would end up being destructive to the people involved and end more than likely in conflict rather than harmony.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#8 Cyprian (Humphrey)

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 03:42 PM

But, to bring the thread back to the OP, I'm of the opinion that the only thing new about this "new monasticism" is that it's new to Protestantism (particularly Evangelicals).

It seems more prevalent within groups that have divorced themselves from historic monasticism. Sure, there are some Roman Catholic participation in this, but given the chaotic disposition of the Roman church, it's not impossible to find elements of modern Catholicism that are for all intents and purposes Protestant.

The appeal of this to Orthodox Christians is minimal. Basically, why would we need to "re-invent" monasticism, when we have the original monasticism as part of our Tradition?

And, FWIW, I believe you have a point Anne. Perhaps a small group of likeminded families could band together, but it'd be hard to define whether this would be skete like, or simply an invigoration of what a parish should be in the first place. Essentially, that's the "grey area" border between the two, IMHO.

Edited by Cyprian (Humphrey), 12 February 2010 - 03:43 PM.
missing words! I know, I know! I type like I'm wearing mitts!


#9 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 02:43 PM

Fr Raphael,

In other words among family members and among different families a degree of variation must be allowed that could never be permitted within a monastery. ...In a word then the ideal of such communal living could never be the same as the monastic way of life.


I can see your point here, in some of the stories of the contemporary ascetics on Athos it talks about the fact that one of the conditions of monks being accepted into a given brotherhood is whether or not they can follow the typicon. If not they have to find a more lenient brotherhood or find their place in the world. I suppose there is a reason for this type of obedience and inflexibility of rule, although not being a monk, I don't really understand it.

Fr Cyprian,

I think it's not just an Evangelical phenomenon. There is that within all of us that longs for a closer relationship with God, and the question then becomes, how do you pursue this when you are married and with children. Maybe in traditionally Orthodox countries people who have some kind of conversion experience when they are young and decide that they want to dedicate their lives to God end up going to monasteries to work our their salvation. But in this country most serious Christians who have experienced this have gotten married, since as you say there is a divorce from historic monasticism. Most of these people end up in ministry in some way, but there comes a point where one starts to long for a more contemplative lifestyle, something more geared toward prayer and a deeper relationship with God. I have seen this so often I think this is just part of our natural Christian growth.

Often these evangelicals then start to check into the RC or OC and their monastic traditions. But then the question always comes up, how do I balance my desire for a deeper relationship with God, with my responsibilities to my family? Is a lifestyle of prayer out of the question when you are married? The traditional way of prayer seems to be withdraw from the world and entrance into a monastic like situation, but what does this mean when you are married? AND to be quite blunt at this point Orthodoxy is giving no answers to this. Historically you have lots of books on prayer written by monastics for monastics, living in a monastic situation. Lay people are simply expected to go take care of their families and live pious lives and not expect to really have any kind of deeper relationship with God. I know this is not what is meant, but all too often this is how things come across.

So what is different here effects Orthodox as well as Protestants. It has to do with married converts trying to figure out how to live an Orthodox Christian life - which intrinsically has prayer at it's center, as opposed to a more evangelical life - which intrinsically has preaching and active service at it's center and historically the answer is, well if you want a serious relationship with God, run away from your family and go be a monastic. I mean haven't several people become saints because they have left their wife and kids and decided to become monastics? Historically Orthodoxy has not dealt with the issue of married couples who are interested in the contemplative life.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:22 PM

Anna Stickles wrote:

in some of the stories of the contemporary ascetics on Athos it talks about the fact that one of the conditions of monks being accepted into a given brotherhood is whether or not they can follow the typicon. If not they have to find a more lenient brotherhood or find their place in the world. I suppose there is a reason for this type of obedience and inflexibility of rule, although not being a monk, I don't really understand it.



I was also particularly thinking of the reality within a parish. Families within a parish are at very many different levels, spiritually & morally- and this also goes for each particular member of each family. As priests & spiritual fathers we don't seek to erase these differences and have everybody march to an identical tune. This would be plain wrong and would end up being a violation of the person.

This I think then is one of the reasons why there is little precedent for communal living within Orthodoxy. In order to accomplish such a community you would have to find everyone of one basic level; which either is impossible in the long-run (people change over time); or else is questionable in terms of its purpose in regards to the larger Church. I mean, so apparently the people in such a community are living in poverty let's say. Because it is communal then everyone lives at one standard of poverty or of material possession. This then is taken as a 'sign to the Church' as the witness of this community. But what of other countless acts of self renunciation occurring on the everyday level among the faithful at large whether they be poor or wealthy. Is this no longer a 'sign to the Church'? This again is why I personally think that such efforts have not gone too far in Orthodoxy.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#11 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:28 PM

Just a further note here on the question, "What is a parish supposed to be in the first place."

The vast majority of the parishes I've visited are something either along the lines of a main-line protestant congregation with a rather low level of spiritual life, or they are very evangelical in flavor - with an emphasis on evangelism and active service. Neither of these seems to me to quite capture the fullness of Orthodoxy and maybe this is part of what's lacking. So that leaves us with the question,

What's a parish supposed to be in the first place?

#12 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:35 PM

Before I forget. A very powerful part of our western psyche is the continual nostalgia for paradise on earth. I do believe that we have to be very careful about this tendency for among other things it inevitably leads to programs to try to recover this paradise. Inevitably this always leads to those with 'inside spiritual knowledge' but who also inevitably burn out when faced with reality.

The reality being that paradise is found only through humility before whomever we meet and in whichever place God has called us to. This is diametrically different from the nostalgia for paradise which may claim that it also favours humility- but in reality it first favours the program and everything else and everybody else comes second.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#13 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:37 PM

This I think then is one of the reasons why there is little precedent for communal living within Orthodoxy. In order to accomplish such a community you would have to find everyone of one basic level;


I guess what you are saying here is that sameness doesn't make a community. But neither does everyone doing their own thing, and living their own life, which I think often reflects the typical parish situation. So what makes a community?

#14 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:43 PM

So what makes a community?


This an excellent question!

The answer has to be Christ or "so Who makes a community?" Only He can make of scattered and divided man a unity of self and with the rest of creation. And this unifying work is only accomplished from within the Church, through our being grafted on to Christ's life creating grace.

This is a very different approach though from the community which seeks for paradise through self effort. Here we only end up with human programs and efforts no matter the nobility of the effort.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#15 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:44 PM

The reality being that paradise is found only through humility before whomever we meet and in whichever place God has called us to This is diametrically different from the nostalgia for paradise which may claim that it also favours humility-but in reality it first favours the program and everything else and everybody else comes second.


Anyone that has been in the PC for any amount of time has come across the experience of the futility of programs to really help our spiritual growth and I guess part of what is missing there is genuine relationship.

#16 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 03:47 PM

This an excellent question!

The answer has to be Christ or "so Who makes a community?" Only He can make of scattered and divided man a unity of self and with the rest of creation. And this unifying work is only accomplished from within the Church, through our being grafted on to Christ's life creating grace.

This is a very different approach though from the community which seeks for paradise through self effort. Here we only end up with human programs and efforts no matter the nobility of the effort.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Thank you Father, for taking the time with this. It's so easy to miss the central point. I suppose it's been a productive morning.

#17 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 04:14 PM

Once upon a time when people weren't quite so mobile, they lived in fairly close communities. We don't do that so much anymore. Our tiny parish is scattered out over four different counties and our priest lives in another state. I think a "village" type setting, with people actually living close to each other so that they actually get to socialize outside church and help each other and have to deal with each other on a regular basis might be a "better" situation, the little village with the village church sort of thing. Or the city neighborhood with the neighborhood church.

Our priest puts a great emphasis on the fellowship after church, it is the only time most of us get to interact in a like-minded Christian setting. I sometimes fantasize about buying a large area of land with some other Orthodox, building a community around a church, but that is no trivial undertaking and well beyond this particular Pooh.

Herman

#18 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 06:00 PM

Well, Herman, maybe we can all chip in and have a real in person Monachos community. ;) You are not the only one to have such fantasies.

But I suppose this is just nostalgia for paradise on earth. Sigh...

Living close to each other though, doesn't solve all the problems. Everyone still ends up having their own separate life with barely any time to see each other. And as Father notes there is a tendency to become more a corporation in the business of creating programs then a village of people caring for and committed to each other. I suppose in a way modern life forces us into something more monastic in that often the only way we have to find our fellowship is in prayer for each other. We truly are much more alone then in past cultures.

#19 Anna Stickles

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 06:26 PM

This I think then is one of the reasons why there is little precedent for communal living within Orthodoxy. In order to accomplish such a community you would have to find everyone of one basic level; which either is impossible in the long-run (people change over time); or else is questionable in terms of its purpose in regards to the larger Church. I mean, so apparently the people in such a community are living in poverty let's say. Because it is communal then everyone lives at one standard of poverty or of material possession. This then is taken as a 'sign to the Church' as the witness of this community. But what of other countless acts of self renunciation occurring on the everyday level among the faithful at large whether they be poor or wealthy. Is this no longer a 'sign to the Church'? This again is why I personally think that such efforts have not gone too far in Orthodoxy.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


As I was thinking back over this thread I think this is precisely the point that confuses me. Isn't monasticism supposed to be some kind of ideal of Christian living and an example for all to follow? And yet so often the things I see emphasized and admired seem to me questionable as to the larger purpose of the Church. This kind of poverty being one of them or extreme fasting and vigils, silence and compunction, etc. This is what I was mentioning above with the problem of books being written by monastics for monastics. It seems that this type of thing is what monastics admire in their own community. The countless acts of self-renunciation occurring on an everyday level often are ignored in favor of becoming enamored over these as something good in themselves.

#20 Mary

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Posted 13 February 2010 - 07:05 PM

As I was thinking back over this thread I think this is precisely the point that confuses me. Isn't monasticism supposed to be some kind of ideal of Christian living and an example for all to follow? And yet so often the things I see emphasized and admired seem to me questionable as to the larger purpose of the Church. This kind of poverty being one of them or extreme fasting and vigils, silence and compunction, etc. This is what I was mentioning above with the problem of books being written by monastics for monastics. It seems that this type of thing is what monastics admire in their own community. The countless acts of self-renunciation occurring on an everyday level often are ignored in favor of becoming enamored over these as something good in themselves.


Monasticism isn't the ideal. Giving up one's life is. That's what we see in the lives of the saints, regardless of who they were, they are remembered, not for living like monastics, but for putting Christ first in their lives and living for Him and dying for Him.

There are two sides (at least) - to any virtue, such as poverty. One can be poor but can still be filled with greed for money, making them no different from a rich person who is miserly. Same way, a rich person can be totally unattached to his wealth, if he gives freely, and without keeping track of how much he is giving away. So, in families, we practice 'poverty' through generosity. We practice silence, by not speaking unnecessarily and not engaging in idle talk, and by not gossiping.

For me, personally, I'll have to practice silence, by not reading threads on Monachos and continuing to post, after having said goodbye for Great Lent.

Here's a link to a bunch of talks that Fr Meletios gave in TX recently.

http://saintjohnwond...etios_2010.html

The first session is about monasticism in the contemporary church. The links to the second and third sessions are switched.

in Christ,
Mary




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