I am in the second week of an adult education program here at the church on prayer. We are using the book,  Beginning to Pray by Archbishop Anthony Bloom. This is a great little book and I highly recommend it if you are looking for something on prayer. It is written for the beginner and not to heavy on the theology.
During the class the topic of humility came up in reference to prayer. I have always thought of humility as being the pile that everyone heaps stuff on and you just take it. You’re the guy who sits there and never says anything and walks around with their head down never looking anyone in the eye. Well I guess that is one aspect of humility but not one that I find helpful.
Just because I like facts, the word humility appears seven times in Scripture. Mostly in the Hebrew Scriptures but is does make an appearance or two in the Christian Scriptures as well. Humility is not a virtue that is taught these days, at least using the definition that I used above.
In the first chapter of beginning to pray, Archbishop Anthony gives us another view of humility and one that I find a bit more palatable. Humility comes from the Latin word Humus ~ fertile ground. He goes on to say that this is the condition of the earth. “The earth is humble, always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, it’s there silent and accepting everything.” He says that this is how we should be before God. If we are abandoned, surrendered, ready to receive anything then we are ready to stand before God and accept whatever His will is. After all that is what we are going for here, God’s will not ours.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, before the crucifixion, Jesus was just this before God. Yes He knew what was coming and He knew the price He was about to pay. But in His most human moment He was naked and empty before God and finally He was ready for God’s will. He knew what He had to do, but he needed to be empty and ready.
That’s what it means to be humble before God. That is the position that we all must seek and strive for to be naked and empty, fertile soil ready to receive what ever God wants to plant in us. If we are guarded and only a little ready to do His will maybe saying things like, “okay whatever you want but with these conditions.” No, that won’t work. We must be ready and will for anything that God will throw at us.
In the end this will only happen if we have faith and fear of God. We need to shed all of our selves before Him and be genuine as we stand in the presence. We need to acknowledge that God is God and Master of All including us. Once we are that open with God then we will truly be humble and we will truly be able to obtain that perfect love. Love of God and love of neighbor.

Monastic Practice

Our Core Monastic Commitment is embodied in six monastic practices:

Prayer – The heart of our monastic life is regular and frequent conversation with God. This takes two main forms: a) public, liturgical prayer in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours, and b) private resting in God in Christian contemplation.

Lectio Divina and Study – In conformity with ancient monastic practice, we practice the prayerful and meditative reading of Sacred Scripture. In addition, we also nourish our hearts and minds by ongoing study in sacred and secular areas of learning.

Silence – The attentive listening to God in our hearts and in the daily events of our life requires an internal attitude of silence and an external environment of stillness. In the monastery there are periods of the day in which we observe that silence which facilitates reflection and prayer.

Chaste and Sincere Love of Each Other – As a cenobitic monastic community, that is, as monks who live in community, we aspire to grow in mutual love as brothers. This love is embodied in mutual support, attentiveness, respect, and care for each other as fellow travelers in the spiritual path.

Service – Our life of prayer naturally flows into a desire to serve all those who may visit our monastery for any reason, and we serve them as Christ’s presence in our midst. In particular, our community has chosen the special mission of monastic hospitality and the ministry of spiritual direction. In addition, we have outreach programs to the materially poor.

Simplicity of Life – In a world of over consumption and multiplication of false needs, we try to live, communally and personally, lives that are marked by material simplicity as a sign of dependence on God’s love and care.

Evangelical Counsels ~ Obedience

St. Columba Monastery Fr. Peter Monks“Will you preserve, even unto death, obedience to the Igumen, and to all the Brethren in Christ?”

With these words, asked by the bishop during the tonsure service, the new monk pledges that he or she will obey the Igumen and live with all the other brothers and be obedient to the community.  In other words you no longer live just for you and you alone but for all the members of the monastic community.

Obedience is not an easy thing for us Americans.  We do not like anyone to tell us what to do after all we are free.  Monastic life, like Christianity itself, is a giving up of our will and handing it over to another.  We still make decisions for ourselves and in the end if we cannot “preserve unto death” we are free to leave the monastery.  The hope is that we will persevere in monastic life.

Obedience is not easy.  As a priest I am obedient to my bishop and to my parish community.  I do have the freedom to organize my ministry in the way that I think it should be accomplished but I will ask the bishop for certain things.  Sometimes it is just advice on an issue and sometimes, it is seeking permission.

The monastic life is the same.  When we enter community, no matter what that community may be, we need to be obedient to each other.  Decisions are made by the superior of that community, who we believe serves as the father of the community, but he does so with humility and also makes decisions based on what is best for the community as a whole and not just for one person.

When I entered monastic life years ago, one of the hardest parts was obedience to the bell.  Five times a day the bell would ring to signal prayer.  You drop whatever it is that you are doing and head to the chapel for prayer.  This was not always easy.  Sometimes I was meeting with someone, or just breaking through writing, and the bell would ring.  But we are obedient to the life we have chosen and it is not supposed to be easy.

We do not sacrifice our own freedom in fact I would argue that by being obedient to the Igumen we actually have more freedom.  This is the spiritual gift that we all need to work towards.

As Christians we are supposed to be obedient to Jesus Christ and His Gospel.  We are supposed to be obedient to the Priest and the Bishop in spiritual matters.  We are supposed to be obedient to the teaching of the church.  So in a way we all must practice this discipline, and it is a discipline. 

26 May ~ Augustine of Canterbury

St. Columba of Iona Monastery Fr. Peter Preble

He is the founder of the Church in southern England, which at that time was almost entirely pagan, though Christianity thrived in the Celtic lands of Ireland, Wales and parts of Scotland. Augustine, a monk at the monastery of St Andrew in Rome, was chosen by Pope Gregory I to lead a mission to England…

He and a party of about forty monks landed in England in 597; they were received warmly by King Aethelbert, who was baptised by Augustine and thus became the first Christian king of the Anglo-Saxon people. In 601 Pope Gregory made Augustine Archbishop of Britain, and he established his cathedral at Canterbury, where he also established a monastery. Saint Augustine worked unsuccessfully to unite his churches with those of the Irish monks and hierarchs, who followed different liturgical practices, kept a different date of Pascha, and disapproved of the less severe Roman monastic practices introduced by the Archbishop. He reposed in peace.

Evangelical Counsels ~ Chastity

St. Columba of Iona Monastery Fr. PeterThis is the second in a series of articles on the Evangelical Counsels or vows that a monastic takes upon entering the monastery.  I last wrote on poverty and a reader left me a question about why we call these the Evangelical Counsels.  The simple answer is because we get these ideas from the Gospels themselves hence the term evangelical.  I think we sometimes confuse this term with the Evangelical Church and we need to recall the original meaning of the terms as one that made reference to the Gospels.  I hope that answered the question.

Chastity is another one of these things that often gets confused.  Christians of all walks of life are called to the position of chastity.  If you are single you are called to a chaste life meaning no sex outside of marriage.  If you are married you are called to the chaste state in your married life, in other words the sexual relationship belongs in the marriage bed and only the marriage bed.

This applies to the monastic as well.  Called to live in the state of chastity.  We also have live in the state of celibacy.  And there lies the difference.  Again all Christians are called to live in the state of chastity but the monk is called to celibacy as well.  Celibacy is not having a family.  Actually the more accurate statement would be to not have a biological family as the monastery becomes the monk’s family.

Chastity, like the other counsels, helps us to reach that state of perfection that we are desire to obtain.  Whatever our state in life this should be our goal to better follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  The monk leaves behind family and the hope of a family to be better able to serve the Lord “fulltime” if you will.  The monk will be free from a divided loyalty to the family and to the Church.  The monastic will be able to devote the hours necessary for prayer and work, not that family life is not work, but free from the obligations of the family.  Free to dedicate their life to God.

Evangelical Counsels ~ Poverty

St. Columba of Iona Fr. Peter Preble MonasticismWhen a man or a woman answers the call to live the monastic life that is the first step is a life long process of living out that call.  Part of the journey is the taking of vows.  The monk makes four vows those of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability.  Theses are commonly known as the Evangelical Councils.  In this series of articles I will look at each of the vows and the meaning behind each of them.

The vows that a monks takes either eastern or western are not as old as monasticism itself.  In the early years, a person would find an elder and then dress in monastic garb.  This garb would have been different depending not only on the elder but also the geographic location.  Vows came along about the 6th century and have been used since then both in the Eastern Church and the Western Church.

These vows are public and in them they confirm the profession of the vows I have outlined above.  In the Western Church, Benedictines are the only ones who make the fourth vows of stability but in the Eastern Church all Monastics take this vow.

Just a word on Religious Orders.  Orders grew from the elder monk relationship into much larger world wide organizations of Monastics. One thinks of Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.  In the Eastern Church Orders do not exist per se rather monasteries exist under an Igumen and follow a rule or Typicon that is common to that particular monastery.  Most typicons would be basically the same with some regional variation.

Poverty is one of the lest understood vows that a monastic takes.  Poverty in a monastic sense is that of individual poverty.  Everything is owned in common by the community and no one has more than one needs.  The monastic community will own the land and buildings and such as well as all of the other possessions of the monastery.  This will differ from monastery to monastery.  Cistercians of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappist do not even own the clothes on their backs, all is owned in common.

“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”  Acts 2:44

This is a very difficult concept in out 21st Century materialist world that we would literally sell all we have and give to one another but that is exactly what the monastic vows.

“Will you remain unto death in non-acquisitiveness and in the voluntary poverty for Christ’s sake which belong to the common life; not acquiring or keeping anything for yourself except in accordance with common necessity, and then, only in obedience and for your own discretion?”  (Monastic Tonsure Service)

The monastic has to figure out for themselves the difference between a need and a want.  The Monastics will also practice recycling to find other uses for items that are no longer in use.  Sometimes a broken item and be put to use as something else thus saving the need to acquire another item.

The community should not acquire things that are not necessary as well.  Sometimes one goes to a monastery and the monks are living like kings.  This is not a good idea.  Live a simple life is the watch word in the monastery.

The main thing to remember about monastic life is that for the most part it is lived out in community and not solitary.  The community is one that decides what is good for the community not the individual.  However, account is taken that some may be weak and will require more than others.

 Next time Chastity

The Monk

The monk is one who is separated from all, yet is united to all.
Evagrius Ponticos ~ 4th Century Monk

I believe that it is the witness of the monk to the eternal, to preach the tenderness of God, and to live it.
Mother Maria, Her Life in Letters

The word monk comes from the Greek monachos, “alone.” The term is applied to one who makes the choice to lead a life that is solitary, unified, integrated, pacified, and undivided in the quest for the Absolute. For the sake of God, the monk leaves the world, its allures, pleasures, and all those ties which have been part of his life until now. This is painful and hard; after all, monks and nuns have much the same feelings and sensibilities as their fellow human beings.

The difference is that they have heard a call in their hearts, an inviting call that tells them, “Come, I am the way, the truth, and the life. Follow me.” The person who decides to become a monk of nun and enter the solitude of a monastery or hermitage does it because he or she heard this call, a call stronger than any other, a call to communion and fullness of life with God, a call that fulfills the deepest desires of the human heart.

He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what monk is.
Abba John the Dwarf, The sayings of the Desert Fathers.

Adapted from: A Monastic Year: reflections from a Monastery, Br. Victor-Antoine D’Avilia-Latourrette

Orthodox Monasticism: The Degrees of Monks

St. Columba of Iona Fr. Peter PrebleNovice lit. “one under obedience”—Those wishing to join a monastery begin their lives as novices. After coming to the monastery and living as a guest for not less than three days, the abbot or abbess may bless the candidate to become a novice. There is no formal ceremony for the clothing of a novice, he or she simply receives permission to wear the clothing of a novice. In the Eastern monastic tradition, novices may or may not dress in the black inner cassock (Greek: Anterion, Eisorasson; Slavonic: Podriasnik) and wear the soft monastic hat (Greek: Skoufos, Slavonic: Skufia), depending on the tradition of the local community, and in accordance to the abbot’s directives. The inner-cassock and the skoufos are the first part of the Orthodox monastic habit. In some communities, the novice also wears the leather belt. He is also given a prayer rope and instructed in the use of the Jesus Prayer.

If a novice chooses to leave during the period of the novitiate, no penalty is incurred. He may also be asked to leave at any time if his behaviour does not conform to the monastic life, or if the superior discerns that he is not called to monasticism. When the abbot or abbess deems the novice ready, he is asked if he wishes to join the monastery. Some, out of humility, will choose to remain novices all their lives. Every stage of the monastic life must be entered into voluntarily.

Rassophore lit. “Robe-bearer”—If the novice continues on to become a monk, he is clothed in the first degree of monasticism at a service at which he receives the tonsure. Although there are no formal vows made at this point, the candidate is normally required to affirm his commitment to persevere in the monastic life. The abbot will then perform the tonsure, cutting a small amount of hair from four spots on the head, forming a cross. He is then given the outer cassock (Greek: ??????, Rasson, Exorasson, or Mandorrason; Slavonic: ?????, Riassa), an outer robe with wide sleeves, from which the name of Rassophore is derived. He is also given a kamilavkion, a cylindrical brimless hat, which is covered with a veil called an epanokamelavkion. (These are separate items in the Greek tradition, but in the Russian tradition the two are stitched together and the combination is called a klobuk.) If he has not previously received it, a leather belt is fastened around his waist. His habit is usually black, signifying that he is now dead to the world, and he receives a new name.

Although the Rassophore does not make formal vows, he is still morally obligated to continue in the monastic estate for the rest of his life. Some will remain Rassophores permanently without going on to the higher degrees.

Stavrophore lit. “Cross-bearer”—The next level for Eastern monastics takes place some years after the first tonsure when the abbot feels the monk has reached an appropriate level of discipline, dedication, and humility. This degree is also known as the Little Schema, and is thought of as a “betrothal” to the Great Schema. At this stage, the monk makes formal vows of stability of place, chastity, obedience and poverty. Then he is tonsured and clothed in the habit, which in addition to that worn by the Rassophore, includes the paramandyas (Greek: ???????????; Slavonic: ????????, paraman), a piece of square cloth worn on the back, embroidered with the instruments of the Passion, and connected by ties to a wooden cross worn over the heart. The paramandyas represents the yoke of Christ. Because of this addition he is now called Stavrophore, or Cross-bearer. He is also given a wooden hand cross (or “profession cross”), which he should keep in his icon corner, and a beeswax candle, symbolic of monastic vigilance the sacrificing of himself for God. He will be buried holding the cross, and the candle will be burned at his funeral. In the Slavic practice, the Stavrophore also wears the monastic mantle, which symbolizes 40 days of the Lord’s fasting on the Mountain of Temptation. The rasson worn by the Stavrophore is more ample than that worn by the Rassophore.

After the ceremony, the newly-tonsured Stavrophore will remain in vigil in the church for five days, refraining from all work, except spiritual reading. Currently, this vigil is often reduced to three days. The abbot increases the Stavrophore monk’s prayer rule, allows a more strict personal ascetic practice, and gives the monk more responsibility.

Great Schema Monks whose abbot feels they have reached a high level of spiritual excellence reach the final stage, called the Great Schema. The tonsure of a Schemamonk or Schemanun follows the same format as the Stavrophore, and he makes the same vows and is tonsured in the same manner. But in addition to all the garments worn by the Stavrophore, he is given the analavos (Slavonic: analav) which is the article of monastic vesture emblematic of the Great Schema. For this reason, the analavos itself is sometimes itself called the “Great Schema”. It drapes over the shoulders and hangs down in front and in back, with the front portion somewhat longer, and is embroidered with the instruments of the Passion and the Trisagion. The Greek form does not have a hood, the Slavic form has a hood and lappets on the shoulders, so that the garment forms a large cross covering the monk’s shoulders, chest, and back. Another piece added is the Polystavrion or “Many Crosses”, which consists of a cord with a number of small crosses plaited into it. The polystavrion forms a yoke around the monk and serves to hold the analavos in place, and reminds the monastic that he is bound to Christ and that his arms are no longer fit for worldly activities, but that he must labor only for the Kingdom of Heaven. Among the Greeks, the mantle is added at this stage. The paramandyas of the Megaloschemos is larger than that of the Stavrophore, and if he wears the klobuk, it is of a distinctive thimble shape, called a koukoulion, the veil of which is usually embroidered with crosses.

The Schemamonk also shall remain some days in vigil in the church. On the eighth day after Tonsure, there is a special service for the “Removal of the Koukoulion.”

In some monastic traditions the Great Schema is never given or is only given to monks and nuns on their death bed, while in others, e.g., the cenobitic monasteries on Mount Athos, it is common to tonsure a monastic into the Great Schema only 3 years after commencing the monastic life.

Orthodox Monasticism: The Symbols

St. Columba Fr. Peter Preble Fr. John A. PeckDuring the Tonsure service when the Monk makes the profession of his vows, several symbols are presented to him by the Abbot. These symbols remind him of the life that he is now beginning.

The service begins with the candidate wearing a white robe symbolic of that which he wore for his baptism. Tonsure into the monastic life is another baptism or sorts as the new monk dies to his old life and is born again into a new life. It is the tradition that the monk receives a new name at this point.

Next the monk is clothed in the Paraman and Cross. On the Paraman are representations of the Cross of Christ with the lance, reed and sponge, and the inscription, I bear on my body the wounds of the Lord. This is fastened about the shoulders and waist by means of strings sewn to the corners, and serves as a reminder that the new monk has taken upon himself the yoke of Christ and must control his passions and desires. These are presented with the following words from the Abbot:

Our Brother receives the Paraman, the Betrothal of the Angelic Schema, as a perpetual reminder of taking upon himself of Christ’s easy yoke and of bearing His light burden, and for the curbing and restraining of all his fleshly desires. And he also takes the Sign of the Lord’s Cross upon his breast, for a perpetual reminder of suffering and humiliation, spitting, revilement, woulds, buffeting, Crucifixion and death of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, which He voluntarily endured for our sakes; and to signify that, as far as possible, he will endeavor to imitate this.

The Riasa is presented next with the following words:

Our Brother is clothed in the garment of spiritual joy and gladness, for the putting away and trampling of all sorrows and troubles proceeding from the flesh and from the world; and for his perpetual joy and gladness in Christ.

The leather belt is presented next. The belt is leather and made from the skin of a dead animal signifying the deadness to the world. The buckle of the belt has the symbols of the Crucifixion on it to remind the new monk of his daily Crucifixion. The follow words are spoken by the Abbot:

Our brother is gird about his loins with the power of truth, for mortification of body and renewal of spirit, and for courage and caution.

The new monk is next given the Mantiya, a long sleeveless robe, also called the robe of incorruption and purity, the absence of sleeves signifying the restraining of worldly pursuits. The Mantiya is presented with the following words:

Our brother is clothed in the robe of salvation and in the armor of righteousness, that he may withdraw himself from all unrighteousness, and with carefulness put away the vain imaginations of his mind and the subtleties of his will; that he may have the remembrance of his own death always in his mind and consider himself to be crucified to the world and to be dead to every evil deed, but always alive for the showing forth, without laziness, of every Christian virtue.

Next the new monk receives the Kamilavka with veil or the helmet of salvation. The veil signifies that the monk must veil his face from temptation and guard his eyes and ears against all vanity. The wings of the veil date from the time of St. Methodius (846) who was wounded in the face during the reign of Emperor Theophilus. In order to conceal his wounds, the saint wore wings with his veil and fastened them about his lower face.

Our brother takes the helmet of salvation in the hope that he may not be put to shame and that he will be able to stand against the snares of the devil; and he covers his head with the veil of humility and perpetual obedience, as a sign of spiritual love of wisdom; and that he may turn away his eyes, that they not behold vanities.

Sandals for his feet are now presented:

Our brother is shod with sandals in readiness for the proclamation of the Good News of peace; that he may be swift and diligent in every obedience and every good deed.

The Prayer Rope or Chotki is given. The rope has many knots to count the prayers of the new monk.

Take brother the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, for continual prayer to Jesus; for you must always have the Name of the Lord Jesus in mind, in heart, and on your lips, every saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The hand cross is next given. The hand cross is the shield of faith, with which to put out the flaming darts of the Evil One. The monk will keep the hand cross in his icon corner to remind his of this saying.

Take, brother, the shield of faith, the Cross of Christ with which you will be able to put out the flaming darts of the Evil One; and remember always how the Lord said, “He who would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”

Finally a lighted candle is give signifying that he must strive, by purity of life, by good deeds, and good demeanor to be a Light to the World. The candle will be placed in the Icon Corner and the monk will be buried with this candle.

Take, brother, this candle, and know that from henceforth you must, through a pure and virtuous life, and through a good character, be a light unto the world. For the Lord said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who art in heaven.

Then the final blessing is pronounced:

Our brother has received the Betrothal of the Angelic Schema and has been clothed in the whole armor of God, that he may be able to vanquish all the power and warfare of principalities and powers, and rulers of the darkness of this age, of evil spirits under the heavens, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us all say for him, Lord, have mercy.

It is the tradition that the new monk remain in the monastic church for some days praying for himself and for the entire monastic brotherhood. The new monk is to remain clothed in the whole of the habit for those days.