The Angelic Path-An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism (Part II)

Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great (January 17)

Venerable and God-bearing Father Anthony the Great (January 17)

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

The Angelic Path--An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism (Part II)

Where do Orthodox Monks and Nuns Come From?

Orthodox monks and nuns come from all walks and manner of life. In former times the greater number were of peasant stock, but at the same time many a great name lay hidden under the humble black cassock (ράσο) and the new Christian name received at tonsure. Certainly there were to be found many unlettered and uncultured monks, because the cloister was and is open to all, regardless of social rank or education. But if one reads the daily offices and grasps their scriptural and theological wealth, and if one hears the readings from the Holy Fathers--all of which are the monk's daily fare, one begins to think twice about the intellectual superiority of their critics. It must not be forgotten that it was the monks who translated these services and writings into their native tongues, a continuing labor in which nuns also take part. There are also spiritual writings that are unique to each nation, the beauty of which is unsurpassed in secular compositions--but which are little known outside the cloister. In monasteries were painted world famous icons and from them came exquisite embroideries and priceless illuminated manuscripts. All were written, painted and worked anonymously for the greater glory of God, reflecting that humility which is the keynote of all Christian monasticism.

The Monastic Daily Life

The devotional pattern of the monastic day is based upon the words of the Psalmist: "Seven times a day do I praise Thee because of Thy righteous judgments."

Consequently, there are seven praises (Lauds) in each 24-hour cycle. These are arranged as follows: (1) Midnight Office; (2) Matins together with (3) First Hour; (4) Third and Sixth Hours; (5) Ninth Hour; (6) Vespers and (7) Compline. They are called praises or lauds because they mirror the Savior's redemptive work for mankind, as well as various events in His Divine life and in the life of the Holy Apostles and the Church.

(1) The Midnight Office is said at or after midnight and is a reminder of the Resurrection which took place "early in the morning," and also of the Second Coming, the hour of which no man knows (St. Mark 13:33, 35). It likewise recalls the parable of the Bridegroom Who came at midnight and the five foolish virgins whose lamps had gone out: "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (St. Matthew 25:13).

(2) This is followed by Matins (Orthros) which ends at dawn, reflecting the dawn of salvation,

(3) The First Hour is then read, praising the beginning of the new day in which we join our hymns to those of the Angels, together bringing them before God.

(4) The Third and Sixth Hours are read before the Divine Liturgy. In the Third Hour the death of Our Lord was plotted; also at this hour the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles. The Sixth Hour commemorates the Passion and Crucifixion of our Lord. If there is no Divine Liturgy, the Typica is read which gives a sketch of the Liturgy.

(5 and 6) In the evenings the Ninth Hour is read. Its prayers recall the hour in which the Lord laid down His life for the Redemption of the world. Without pause there begins the service of Vespers which tells of the creation, of God's love for the world, of man's fall into sin, his expulsion from Paradise and of the Redeemer's coming upon earth.

(7) Before retiring, Compline is sung, bringing thanks for the coming of night with its rest and the remembrance of death for which we must always be prepared. This is followed by evening prayers.

Within the framework of this daily cycle flows the monk's life so that it may be filled with holiness, with grace from above, and hope of eternal blessedness, whatever his task--be it manual or intellectual work or the practice of hesychasm towards which all monastic life is directed.

The Stages of Monastic Life

The person, man or woman, who enters monastic life, tries to leave his or her old self behind, with all the old joys and sorrows, virtues and sins, and starts a new life, seeking to find a new relationship to all things and people in Christ, to Whom he vows his life. The taking of the monastic vow and garb are but a repetition and amplification of the baptismal vows.

At first there were no stages along the monastic path; there were no postulants or novices but simply monks. Today, however, monastics generally progress from one stage to another: the receiving the cassock (ράσο) and going on to full profession--which may take years or which he may never reach. There is no prescribed time period for each stage, but at least three years must elapse before full profession. There is also no obligation to advance from one stage to the next; should a novice (δόκιμος) not feel ready or not wish to progress for reasons of humility, he/she is free to remain in the monastery as he is. Monks who are ordained priests are called Hieromonks (Priest-monk); this does not affect their monastic status.

The Orthodox attitude towards monasticism is best summed up in the collect of the Prodigal Son with which the ceremony of profession opens:

"Make haste to open Thy fatherly arms Unto me who have wasted my life like the prodigal. Despise not a heart now grown poor O Savior Who hast before Thine eyes The boundless riches of Thy mercies. For unto Thee, O Lord, in compunction do I cry: O Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee..." (Here the monk is a penitent)

And the verse which is sung during the clothing:

"My soul shall rejoice in the Lord: for He hath put on me the garment of salvation; And with the tunic of gladness hath He clothed me. He hath put upon me a crown as upon a bride groom, And as a bride hath he adorned me..." (Here the monk is the betrothed of God.)

On the Tonsure into Monasticism Which Is "Into the Holy Angelic Image"

"It is truly a great deed: the tonsuring into the holy Angelic image. It is a great and mysterious power that is embodied in this sacred act, an act which is directed towards the Angelic image, so that a man might become an angel according to the inner disposition of his life; for Angels are bodiless, and the earthly image cannot be likened to them. The tonsure of a monk is as if it were a second baptism, in which he is born again and renewed. As a sign of this new birth, he is divested forever of his worldly garments, as of all his old man, and half-uncovered, barefoot, barely even for the sake of decency covered with one shirt, he accepts before the Holy Gospel--as from the hand of God Himself--new clothing, "vesting a new man" (Ephesians 4:24) unto Christ Jesus.

Truly a heavenly and touching sight! As of old the Handmaiden of God before the Holy of Holies, so now before the holy gates of the altar of the Lord, you, maiden, will appear, and solemnly, in the hearing of all who are present in the church, will declare that "voluntarily you renounce the world with its temptations," you "turn away" your "eyes that you may not see" its "vanity" (cf. Psalm 118:37), "counting all things as dung that you may gain Christ" only (Philip. 3:8)...

And behold, you answered His call, you came to Him and brought your gifts and sacrifices: the gift, a chaste, pure maidenhood: the sacrifice, a loving heart, free from earthly passions, from fleshly love. He seeks only this, longs only for this: "Son, give Me thine heart" (Prov. 23:26). And if He will regard your sacrifice as sincere, not double-faced, He will accept it and will unite Himself with your soul, but only under the condition that your heart is not double, but entirely belongs to Him alone, irrevocably, sincerely, sacredly."

You also, my sister, hold and don't let go of your beloved incorruptible Bridegroom, until you have brought Him into the house of your soul and until you feel Him dwelling in yourself unremittingly, permanently, indefeasibly, converse with Him, unceasingly in thought, in interior prayer." (Source: Letters to a Beginner by Abbess Thaisia: A Spiritual Mother of Holy Russia)

On Obedience

The life of the monk and nun is one of obedience.

"What is obedience? In the common meaning of the word, obedience is submission to someone else's will. The commandment of obedience is the very first in time, the most ancient, for while still in Paradise, in their original state of innocence, our first father and mother were already given a commandment of obedience--not to taste of the fruit of a certain tree--the transgression of which commandment led to their death.

In respect to monastic life, the word "obedience" has an extremely vast and strict meaning. It encompasses not only the common meaning of fulfilling commandments, but also the highest monastic virtue, which consists in unconditional self-renunciation or self-denial, the fullest submission of one's own will to the will of a guide. The will, or what is the same thing, freedom, is the precious property of every man, given him by God Himself. It is exactly this beloved freedom which those who embrace the way of monastic life irrevocably place on the altar of sacrifice, voluntarily offering it as a sacrifice to the Lord." (Letters to a Beginner by Abbess Thaisia).

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Please note: I am bringing the above article on Orthodox Monasticism to your attention because we now have a well established Monastic Community in the USA. It is imperative that all Orthodox Christians know as much as possible about Monasticism and its place within the Holy Orthodox Christian Tradition and Church.

For decades we had no monastic presence in America and in our Archdiocese and its absence was truly felt by those of us that knew of its existence. A convert to Orthodox Christianity described the Church as "a bird with two wings: one wing is the Divine Liturgy, and the other is Monasticism". In order for the bird to fly, it needs both wings.

We have seen already the positive affect that Orthodox Monasticism has had among both the clergy and laity of our Church. It has made our Church, our Archdiocese, our Metropolis, spiritually stronger. Our faithful have come to appreciate our Orthodox Faith, Tradition, Liturgical and Sacramental life, more now than ever before.

Our monks and nuns are always respectful and obedient, not only, to their Geronda/Gerontissa, but also to the Hierarchy (Patriarch, Archbishop, Metropolitans, Bishops). They sincerely and respectfully cooperate and work together with us priests. They are engaged in local charities and have shown compassion and love to all people, but especially, to the Orthodox Christian pilgrims that visit them at their monastery. Our monks and nuns pray unceasingly for our protection, forgiveness, enlightenment, and salvation.

Thanks be to God for bringing Orthodox Monasticism to us.

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George