“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.