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Eastern Monasticism

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The first home of Christian monasticism is the Egyptian desert. Hither during persecution men fled the world and the danger of apostasy, to serve God in solitude. St. Anthony (270-356) is counted the father of all monks. His fame attracted many others, so that under Diocletian and Constantine there were large colonies of monks in Egypt, the first laurai. St. Athanasius' (d. 373) friendly relations to the Egyptian monks and the refuge he found among them during his second (356-362) and third (362-363) exiles are well known incidents in his life. The monks lived each in his own hut, providing for their simple needs with their own hands, united by a bond of willing submission to the direction of some older and more experienced hermit, coming together on Saturday and Sunday for common prayer, otherwise spending their time in private contemplation and works of penance. Celibacy was from the beginning an essential note of monasticism. A wife and family were part of the "world" they had left.

Poverty and obedience were to some extent relative, though the ideal of both was developing. The monk of the desert was not necessarily a priest; he formed a different class from the clergy who stayed in the world and assisted the bishops. For a long time this difference between monks and clergy remained; the monk fled all intercourse with other people to save his soul away from temptation. Later some monks were ordained priests in order to administer sacraments to their brethren. But even now in the East the priest-monk (leromonachos) is a special person distinct from the usual monk (monachos), who is a layman.

St. Anthony's scarcely less famous disciple Pachomius (d. 345) is believed to have begun the organization of the hermits in groups, "folds" (manorai) with stricter subjection to a leader (archimandrites); but the organization was vague. Monasticism was still a manner of life rather than affiliation to an organized body; anyone who left wife and family and the "world" to seek peace away from men was a monk. Two codified "Rules" are attributed to Pachomius; of these the longer is translated into Latin by St. Jerome, a second and shorter one is in Palladius, "Hist. Lausiaca" XXXVIII. Sozomenos gives a compendium of the "Rule of Pachomius" (H.E., III, xiv). Neither of these rules is authentic, but they may well contain maxims and principles that go back to his time, mixed with later ones. They are already considerably advanced towards a regulated monastic life. They order uniformity in dress, obedience to a superior, prayers and meals at fixed times in common; they regulate both ascetic practices and handwork.

About the same time as St. Anthony in Egypt, Hilarion flourished at Gaza in Palestine (see St. Jerome, "Life of St. Hilarion" in P.L., XXXIII, 29-54). He stands at the head of West Syrian monasticism. In the middle of the fourth century, Aphraates speaks of monks in East Syria. At the same time we hear of them in Armenia, Pontus, and Cappadocia. Epiphanius, for instance, who in 367 became Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, had been for thirty years a monk in Palestine. At the time of St. Basil (330-379), therefore, there were already monks all over the East. As soon as he was baptized (357) he determined to be a monk himself; he spent two years travelling "to Alexandria, through Egypt, in Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia" (Ep.223), studying the life of the monks. Then in 358 he formed the community at Annesos in Pontus that was to be in some sort a new point of departure for Eastern monasticism. He describes the life at Anesos in a letter to St. Gregory Nazianzen (Ep. 2). Its principles are codified in various ascetic works by him, of which the chief are the two "Rules, the longer (Horoi kata platos, P.G., XXXI, 905-1052) and the shorter (Horoi kat epitomen, ib., 1051-1306). (See RULE OF SAINT BASIL.)

To the Great Schism

Gradually nearly all the Eastern monasteries accepted the Rules of St. Basil. Their inner organization evolved a hierarchy of officials among whom the various offices were distributed; the prayers, meals, work, punishments were portioned out according to the ascetic works of St. Basil, and so the whole monastery arrived at a working order.

That order obtains still. In its inner life Eastern monasticism has been extraordinarily stationary. There is practically no development to describe. Its history from the fourth century down to our own time is only a chronicle of the founding and endowment of new monasteries, of the part taken by monks in the great religious controversies and in one or two controversies of their own, of the emperors, empresses, patriarchs, and other great persons who, freely or under compulsion, ended their career in the world by retiring to a monastery. Two ideas that constantly recur in Eastern theology are that the monastic state is that of Christian perfection and also a state of penance, Eusebius (d. c. 340) in his "Demonstratio evangelica" distinguishes the two kinds of life as a Christian, the less perfect life in the world and the perfect life of monks.

The idea recurs continually. Monks lead the "angelic life", their dress is the "angelic habit"; like the angels they neither marry nor give in marriage, and like them the chief object of their existence is to sing the praises of God (in the Divine Office). Not incompatible with this is the other idea, found in St. Basil and many others, that their state is one of penance (metanoia). Symeon of Thessalonica (d. 1429) counts the monks simply as "penitents" (metanoountes). The most perfect life on earth, namely, is that of a man who obeys the command to "do penance, for the Kingdom of Heaven is nigh".

The organization and life of a Byzantine monastery before the schism is known to us by the decrees affecting it made by various councils, laws in the "Corpus iuris" (in the "Codex" and the "Novellae"), the lives of eminent monks, of which the "Synaxarion" has preserved not a few, and especially by the ascetic writings of monks, letters, sermons, and so on, in which they give advice to their colleagues. Of such monastic writers St. John Damascene (d. 754), George Hamartolos (ninth century), and especially St. Theodore of Studion (d. 826) are perhaps the most valuable for this purpose. At the head of each independent monastery (laura is the common name in Greek) was the superior. At first (e.g., by Justinian: "Nov.", V, vii; CXXIII, v and xxxiv) he is called indifferently abbas, archimandrites, hegoumenos. Later the common name is hegoumenos only. The archimandrite has become a person of superior rank and takes precedence of a hegumenos. Some think that archimandrite meant the superior of a patriarchal monastery, that is, one immediately subject to the patriarch and independent of the jurisdiction of the ordinary. The title then would correspond to that of the Western "Abbas nullius".

There was an intermediate period (from about the sixth to the ninth centuries) during which the title archimandrite was given as a purely personal honour to certain hegumenoi without involving any exemption from the monastery. A further precedence belonged to a "great archimandrite". The election and rights of the hegumenos are described by St. Basil in his two Rules, by Justinian (Novel., CXXIII, xxxiv), and Theodore of Studion (Testamentum, in P.G., XCIX, 1817-1818). He was elected by the monks by majority of votes; in cases of dispute the patriarch or ordinary decided; sometimes lots were cast. He was to be chosen for his merit, not according to the time he had already spent in the monastery, and should be sufficiently learned to know the canons. The patriarch or bishop must confirm the election and institute the hegumenos. But the emperor received him in audience and gave him a pastoral staff (the hrabdos). The ceremony of induction is given in the "Euchologion". He then remained abbot for life, except in the event of his being deposed, after trial, for some canonical offence. The hegumenos had absolute authority over all his monks, could receive novices and inflict punishments; but he was bound always by the rule of St. Basil and the canons, and he had to consult a committee of the more experienced monks in all cases of difficulty. This committee was the synaxis that in many ways limited the autocracy of the superior (St. Basil's Rule, P.G., XXXI, 1037). The hegumenos in the Byzantine time, after Justinian, was generally, but not quite always, a priest. He received the confessions of his monks [there are instances of those who were not priests usurping this office (Marin, op. cit., 96)] and could ordain them to minor Orders, including the subdiaconate. Under the abbot there was a hierarchy of other officials, more or less numerous according to the size of the laura. The deutereuontook his place in case of his absence or sickness, the oikonomos had charge of all the property, the kellarios looked after the food, the hepistemonarchos saw to the regular performance of services in the church, the kanonarches guided the singers during the Divine office. These officials, who usually formed the synaxis, acted as a restraint on the authority of the hegumenos. Numerous lesser offices, as those of infirmarian, guest-master, porter, cook, and so on, were divided among the community. The monks were divided into three orders, novices, those who bear the lesser habit and those who have the great habit. Children (the Council of Trullo of 692 admits profession as valid after the age of ten years), married men (if their wives are willing), even slaves who are badly treated by their masters or are in danger of losing their faith, could be receive as novices. Justinian ordered novices to wear lay clothes (Novel., V, ii), but soon the custom was introduced that after a probation of about six months (while they were postulants) they should have their hair cut (tonsure) and receive a tunic (chiton) and the tall cap called kalimauchion. The service for this first clothing is in the "Euchologion".

After three years' noviceship the monk received the lesser habit or mandyas (to mikron schema, mandyas). He is again tonsured in the form of a cross, receives a new tunic, belt, cap, sandals, and the monastic cloak (mandyas). The mandyas is the "angelic habit" that makes him a true monk; it is at this service that he makes his vows. An older form of the "sacrament of monastic perfection" (mystegion monachikes teleioseos), that is, of the profession and reception of a monk, is given by Dionysius Areopagita (c. 500), "de Eccles. Hierarch.", VI, ii (P.G., III,533). The monk is "ordained" by a priest (lereous; he always calls bishops lerarchai), presumably the abbot. Standing he recites the "monastic invocation" (ten monastiken epiklesin), evidently a prayer for the grace he needs. The priest then asks him if he renounces everything, explains to him the duties of his state, signs him with the cross, tonsures him and clothes him in the habit, finally celebrates the holy Liturgy, and gives him Communion. From the time of his profession the monk remains inseparately attached to the monastery. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience he makes a vow of perseverance in the religious exercises of the particular laura he has chosen. Normally he can no more change to another than go back to the world. He should moreover never go out at all. In theory all monks are "emclosed" (St. Basil, P.G., XXXI, 635-636); but this rule has never been taken very literally. Monks travelled about, with the consent of their superiors and with the excuse that they were engaged in business of the laura or of the Church in general.

But there still remained a further step. After having proved their perseverance for some years monks were accustomed to ask, as a reward for their advancement in the ascetic life, for the "great habit" (to mega kaiallelikon schema). This was simply a larger and more dignified cloak, suitable for the veterans of the monastery. Gradually its reception became a regular ceremony and the wearers of the great habit began to form a superior class, the aristocracy of the laura. St. Theodore of Studion objected strongly to this distinction: "As there is only one baptism", he says, "so there is only one habit" (P.G., XCIX, 1819). It is true that there is no real place for such a higher rank in the monastic system. At the reception of the first habit the monk makes his solemn vows for life and becomes a full monk in every sense. However, in spite of the opposition, the custom grew. The imposition of the great habit repeats very much the ceremony of the lesser one and forms a kind of renewal of vows; it is from the older monks who have gone through this rite and are honourably distinguished by their long cloaks that the dignitaries of the laura are chosen. Another gradual development was the formation of a class of priest-monks. At first no monks received any ordination; then one or two were made priests to administer sacraments to the others, then later it became common to ordain a monk priest. But it has never become the rule that all choir-monks should be ordained, as it became in the West. On entering monasteries people changed their name. The monk was to abstain from flesh-meat always; his food was fruit and vegetables and on feast-days fish, eggs, milk, and cheese. Wine was allowed. The chief meal, the only full meal in the day, was served at the sixth hour (midday); on the frequent fast-days, including every Wednesday and Friday and the four fasting times, it was put off till the ninth hour. Later in the evening, after the apodeipnon (compline), the remains of the meal were again spread in the refectory and any who wished, chiefly the younger members, might partake of a light supper.

The monk's main occupation was the daily chanting of the long Byzantine office in church. This took up a great part of the day and the night. There were moreover the holonyktika offices, which on the eves of great feasts lasted all night. The rest of the time was spent in manual work, digging, carpentry, weaving, and so on, portioned out to each by the abbot, of which the profit belonged to the monastery (St. Basil, P.G., XXXI, 1016, 1017, 1132, etc.). Men who already know an innocent and profitable craft may continue to exercise it as monks. Some practised medicine for the good of the community. Nor were the study of theology and the arts of calligraphy and painting neglected. Monasteries had libraries, and monks wrote theological works and hymns. In St. Theodore's time the Studion monastery was famous for its library and the beautiful handwriting of its monks (Theodore, "Orat.", XI,16; in P.G., XCIX). There was a scale of punishments ranging from special fasts and prayers or the apeulogia — that is, privation of the abbot's blessing — to the aphoriosmos or solitary confinement and excommunication from all common prayers and the sacraments. The punishment for fornication was excommunication for fifteen years (cf. the "Epitimia" ascribed to St. Basil in M.P., XXXI, 1305-1314). A monk who had proved his constancy for many years in the community could receive permission from the hegumenos to practise the severer life of a hermit. He then went to occupy a solitary cell near the laura (St. Basil's Rule, P.G., XXXI, 1133). But he was still counted a member of the monastery and could return to it if he found solitude too hard. At the court of the Patriarch of Constantinople was an official, the Exarch of the monks, whose duty it was to supervise the monasteries. Most other bishops had a similar assistant among their clergy.

Celibacy became an ideal for the clergy in the East gradually, as it did in the West. In the fourth century we still find St. Gregory Nazianzen's father, who was Bishop of Nanzianzos, living with his wife, without scandal. But very soon after that the present Eastern rule obtained. It is less strict than in the West. No one can marry after he has been ordained priest (Paphnutius at the first Council of Nicaea maintains this; the first Canon of the Synod of Neocæsarea in 314 or 325, and Can. Apost., xxvi. The Synod of Elvira about 300 had decreed absolute celibacy for all clerks in the West, Can. xxxiii, ib., pp. 238-239); priests already married may keep their wives (the same law applied to deacons and subdeacons: Can. vi of the Synod in Trullo, 692), but bishops must be celibate. As nearly all secular priests were married this meant that, as a general rule, bishops were chosen from the monasteries, and so these became, as they still are, the road through advancement may be attained. Besides the communities in monasteries there were many extraordinary developments of monasticism. There were always hermits who practised various extreme forms of asceticism, such as binding tight ropes round their bodies, very severe fasting, and so on. A singular form of asceticism was that of the Stylites (stylitai), who lived on columns. St. Symeon Stylites began this practice in 420.

From the time of Constantine the building and endowment of monasteries became a form of good work adopted by very many rich people. Constantine and Helen set the example and almost every emperor afterwards (except Julian) followed it. So monasteries grew up all over the empire. Constantinople especially was covered with them. One of the chief of these was Studion (Stoudion) in the south-western angle of the city, founded by a Roman, Studius, in 462 or 463. It was occupied by so-called "sleepless" (akoimetoi) monks who, divided into companies, kept an unceasing round of prayer and psalm-singing day and night in their church. But they were not a separate order; there was no distinction between various religious orders. St. Theodore, the great defender of images in the second Iconoclast persecution, became Hergumenos of Studion in 799 (till his death in 826). His letters, sermons and constitutions for the Studite monks gave renewed ideals and influenced all Byzantine monasticism. During this period a great number of decrees of Synods, ordinances of patriarchs, emperors and abbots, further defined and expanded the rule of St. Basil. Many Eastern synods draw up among their canons laws for monks, often merely enforcing the old rule (e.g. the Synod of Gangres in the middle of the fourth century, Can., xix, etc.). St. John Chrysostom, the Patriarch John the Faster (d. 595), the Patriarch Nicephoros (d. 829), and so on, down to Photius, added to these rules, which, collected and commented in the various constitutions and typika of the monasteries, remain the guide of a Byzantine monk. Most of all, St. Theodore's "Constitutions of Studion" (P.G., XCIX, 1703-1720) and his list of punishment for monks (ib., 1734-1758) represent a classical and much copied example of such a collection of rules and principles from approved sources. St. Basil's mother and sister had formed a community of women at Annesos near the settlement of the men. From that time convents of nuns spread throughout the Byzantine Church, organized according to the same rule and following the same life as that of the monks with whatever modifications were necessary for their sex. The convents were subject to the jurisdiction of the bishop or patriarch. Their spiritual needs were provided for by a priest, generally a priest-monk, who was their "ghostly father" (pheumatikos pater). The abbess was called hegoumenissa.

Lastly, during this period the monks play a very important part in theological controversies. The Patriarch of Alexandria, for instance, in his disputes with Constantinople and Antioch could always count on the fanatical loyalty of the great crowd of monks who swarmed up from the desert in his defence. Often we hear of monks fighting, leading tumults, boldly attacking the soldiers. In all the Monophysite troubles the monks of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and the capital were able to throw the great weight of their united influence on the one side or the other. During the Acacian schism (482-519), while the whole Byzantine Church broke communion with Rome, only the "sleepless" monks of Studion remained Catholic. On the whole, the monks were on the Catholic side. During the Iconoclast persecution they were so determined against the overthrow of the holy pictures that the Iconoclast emperors made the abolition of monasticism part of their programme and persecuted people for being monks just as much as for worshipping images (see ICONOCLASM). Especially the great Studion monastery at Constantinople had a tradition of unswerving orthodoxy and loyalty to Rome. They alone kept communion with the Holy See in the Acacian schism, they were the leaders of the Image-worshippers in Iconoclast times, and their great abbot St. Theodore (d. 826) was one of the last defenders of union and the pope's rights before the great schism.

From the Schism to modern times

The schism made little difference to the inner life of the Byzantine monasteries. Like the lower clergy and the people they quietly followed their bishops, who followed the patriarchs, who followed the Oecumenical patriarch into schism. After that their life went on as before, except that, having lost the advantage of intercourse with the West, they gradually drifted into the same stagnation as the rest of the Orthodox Church. They lost their tradition of scholarship, they had never done any work in parishes, and so they gradually arrived at the ideal that the "angelic life" meant besides their immensely long prayers, contemplation and fasting, doing nothing at all. In the eighteenth century, when an attempt was made to found monastic schools, they fiercely resented such a desecration of their ideal. During the early Middle Ages the Orthodox remained immeasurably behind the Catholic monks, who were converting western Europe and making their monasteries the homes of scholarship. The chief event of this period is the foundation of the Athos monasteries, destined to become the centre of Orthodox monasticism. When St. Athanasius of Athos founded the great Laura there, there were already cells of hermits on the holy mountain. Nevertheless he is rightly looked upon as the founder of the communities that made Athos so great a centre of Orthodoxy.

In the tenth and eleventh centuries the famous monasteries called the Meteora in Thessaly were built on their inaccessible peaks to escape the ravages of the Slavs. The Turkish conquests made little difference to the monks. Moslems respect religious. Their prophet had spoken well of monks (Koran, Sura V, 85) and had given a charter of protection to the monks of Sinai; but they shared fully the degradation of the Orthodox Church under Moslem rule. The Turkish conquest sealed their isolation from the rest of Christendom; the monasteries became the refuge of peasants too lazy to work, and the monk earned the scorn with which he is regarded by educated people in the East. Eugenios Bulgaris (d. 1800), one of the chief restorers of classical scholarship among the Greeks, made a futile attempt to found a school at Athos. The monks drove him out with contumely as an atheist and a blasphemer, and pulled his school down. Its ruins still stand as a warning that study forms no part of the "angelic life".

Monasticism in the present Orthodox Church

The sixteen independent Churches that make up the Orthodox communion are full of monasteries. There are fewer convents. One great monastery, that of Mount Sinai, follows what professes to be the old rule of St. Anthony. All the others have St. Basil's rule with the additions, expansions, and modifications made by later emperors, patriarchs, and synods. There is no distinction of religious orders as in the West, though many lauras have customs of their own. All monks are "Basilians" if one must give them a special name. A monk is monachos, a priest-monk leromonachos. A monastery is or mone or laura. The novice (archarios) wears a tunic calledhrasos with a belt and the kalimauchion of all the clergy, he is often called hrasophoros. After two years (the period is sometimes shortened) he makes his (solemn) vows and receives the small habit (mandyas). Technically he is now a mikroschemos, though the word is not often used. After an undefined time of perseverance he receives the great habit (koukoulion) and becomes megaloschemos. The popular Greek name for monk is "good old man" (kalogeros). The election, the rights and duties of the hegumenos and other dignitaries remain as they were before the schism. The title "archimandrite" appears to be given now to abbots of the more important monasteries and also sometimes as a personal title of distinction to others. It involves only precedence of rank.

Most monasteries depend on the local metropolitan. In the Orthodox states (Russia, Greece, etc.) the Holy Synod has a good deal to say in their management, confirms the election of the abbot, controls, and not unfrequently confiscates their property. But certain great monasteries are exempt from local jurisdiction and immediately subject to the patriarch or Holy Synod. These are called stauropegia. One Orthodox monastery (Mount Sinai) of which the abbot is also "Archbishop of Sinai", is an autocephalous Church, obeying only Christ and the Seven Councils. The Genikoi kanonismoi of the Ecumenical patriarchate contain a chapter about monasteries (pp. 67 sq.). They are divided into three classes, those with more than twenty, more than ten or more than five monks. Only those of the first class (more than twenty monks) are bound to sing all the Divine office and celebrate the holy Liturgy every day. Monasteries with less than five monks are to be suppressed or incorporated in larger ones. Monastic property accumulated in the East as in the West. Many quarrels between the Church and State have arisen from usurped control or even wholesale confiscation of this property by the various Orthodox governments. The first Greek Parliament in 1833 (at Nauplion) suppressed all monasteries in the new kingdom that had less than six monks. In 1864 Cusa confiscated all monastic property in Rumania, of which much belonged to the monasteries of Mount Sinai, Jerusalem, and Athos. In 1875 Russia confiscated three-fifths of the property in Bessarabia belonging to the monastery of the Holy Sepulchre. Of the rest it paid itself one-fifth for its trouble and applied two-fifths to what is described euphemistically as pious purposes in Russia. Many monasteries have farms called meochia in distant lands. Generally a few monks are sent to administer the metochion of which all the revenue belongs to the mother-house. The most famous monasteries in the southern part of the Orthodox Church are Mount Sinai, the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, the Meteora in Thessaly, Sveti Naum on the Lake of Ochrida and most of all, Athos. The national quarrels in the Orthodox Church have full development at Athos. Till lately the Greeks succeeded in crushing all foreign elements. They drove the Georgians from Iviron, the Bulgars from Philotheos, Xenophon, and St. Paul's. Now they are rapidly losing ground and influence; the Slavs are building large Sketai, and Russia here as everywhere is the great danger to the Greek element. The Russians have only one Laura (Panteleimon or Russiko) but with its huge Sketai it contains more monks than all the Greek lauras together. All the Athos monasteries are stauropegia; only the Patriarch of Constantinople has any jurisdiction. For ordinations the Hegumenoi invite the neighbouring Metropolitan of Heraclea. The monasteries have also the dignity of "Imperial" lauras, as having been under the protection of former emperors.

Monasticism in Russia

There have been monks in Russia since Christianity was first preached there in the tenth century. Their great period was the fourteenth century; their decline began in the sixteenth. Peter the Great (1661-1725) at one time meant to suppress the monasteries altogether. In 1723 he forbade new novices to be received. Under Catherine II (1761-1796) a more prosperous era began; since Alexander (1801-1825) monasteries flourish again all over the empire. The latest census (1896) counts 495 monasteries and 249 convents of nuns. These are divided into 4 lauras (in Russia the name means a certain precedence and special privileges); 7 stauropegia (subject directly to the Holy Synod and exempt from the ordinary's jurisdiction), 64 monasteries attached to bishops' palaces. The rest are divided into three classes. There are 73 of the first class (which have at least 33 monks or, if convents, 52 nuns), 100 of the second (17 monks or nuns) and 191 of the third (12 monks or 17 nuns). There are further 350 monasteries not classified. Catherine II introduced the practice of drawing up official lists of the monasteries. She found 1072 monasteries in her empire of which she abolished 496 and classified the rest. In Russia, as at Athos, monasteries are either coenobic (obshejitel'nyie) or idiorhythmic (neobshejitel'nyie); but these latter are not in favour with the Holy Synod which restores the coenobic rule wherever possible. Some monasteries are supported by government (shtatnyie), others have to support themselves. The three classes mentioned above concern the amounts received by the supported monasteries. The stauropegia are: Solovetsky, at Archangel, Simonoff, Donskoyi, Novospassky at Moscow, Voskresensky or New Jerusalem, Spaso-Yakovlesky. The census of 1896 counts 40,940 monks and 7464 nuns in the empire. The most famous Russian monasteries are Kieff (Kievsky Laura) founded in 1062 by a St. Anthony, the largest of all; the Troitzsky Laura near Moscow, founded by St. Sergius in 1335 and now the home of the first "Ecclesiastical Academy" (Seminary) in the empire; the Metropolitan of Moscow is its hegumenos. The Pochaievsky Laura, founded in the thirteenth century and famous for its miraculous eikon of the Blessed Virgin; Solovetsky, founded in 1429; Surieff (in the government of Novgorod) founded in 1030; Tikhvinsy (in Novgorod); Volokolamsky (in the Moscow government) founded by St. Joseph of Volokolamsk in 1479, which has an important library and has often been used as a state prison, and Kyrilla-Bilesersky (in Novgorod) founded by St. Cyril in 1397.

Monasticism in the lesser Eastern Churches

Little may be said of these Churches. All had fully developed monasticism according to St. Basil's idea before they went into schism, and all have monks and nuns under much the same conditions as the Orthodox, though, naturally, in each case there has been some special development of their own. The Nestorians once had many monasteries. One eighteenth-century scholar counted 31. Since the fourteenth century the discipline has become so relaxed that monks can easily get dispensed from their vows and marry. They now have neither monasteries nor convents; but there are monks and nuns who live in their own houses or wander about. The Copts have many monasteries arranged almost exactly like those of the Orthodox. The Abyssinian monasteries are very flourishing (ib. 299-302). There are in Abyssinia also people called debterats, regular canons who say the office in common and obey a superior called nebrait, but may marry. The Nebrait of Aksum is one of the most powerful members of the Abyssinian Church and the leader of the national party against the foreign (Coptic) metropolitan. The Syrian Jacobites once had a great number of monasteries. Down to the sixth century there were still Stylites among them. They now have only nine monasteries in the present reduced state of their Church, most of them also residences of bishops. The Jacobite monk fasts very strictly. To eat meat is a crime punished as equal to adultery. The Armenian Church, as being considerably the largest and most flourishing of there lesser Eastern Churches, has the largest number of monks and the most flourishing state. Armenian monks follow St. Basil's rule, but are much stricter in the matter of fasting. The novitiate lasts eight years. It is a curious contrast to this strictness that the abbot is often not a monk at all, but a married secular priest who hands on his office to his son by hereditary right. Most Armenian bishops live in monasteries. Etchmiadzin, the residence of the Katholikos, is theoretically the centre of the Armenian Churh. The Armenians have the huge monastery of St. James, the centre of their quarter of Jerusalem, where their Patriarch of Jerusalem lives, and the convent of Deir asseituni on Mount Sion with a hundred nuns. Armenian monks do not as a rule become bishops; the bishops are taken from the unmarried Vartabeds, that is, the higher class of secular priests (doctors). In all the other Eastern Churches bishops are monks. All use their monasteries as places of punishment for refractory clergy.

Eastern Catholic monks

The only difference union with Rome makes to Eastern monks is that there is in the Eastern Catholic Churches a certain tendency to emulate the Latin religious orders. As this generally means a disposition to do something more than recite the Divine office, it may be counted an unmixed advantage. Eastern Catholic monks — like all the Eastern clergy — are admittedly better educated than the Orthodox; some of them at least attend Western schools or seminaries of Latin religious in the East. It is a Latinizing tendency that makes them often use special names for their order and even evolve into something like separate religious orders. Thus most Byzantine Catholic monks call themselves "Basilians", as the Latins use "Benedictine" or "Franciscan". Among the Melchites the two great congregations of Salvatorians and Shuwerites (see MELCHITES) are practically different orders. The Armenian Catholics have the famous Mechitarist Congregation, really a special religious order founded by Mechitar (1676-1749). The Mechitarists have the monastery of San Lazaro at Venice, and a branch separated from the others in 1774 have a house at Vienna. By their schools, missions, and literary activity they have always done great things in educating and converting their countrymen. The Catholic Chaldees have three monasteries, Rabban Hormuzd, Alkosh, and Mar Yurgis in Mesopotamia. The Maronite Church from the beginning has been specially a monastic Church. It was first formed by the schism of the monks of St. John Maro, in the Lebanon, from the Patriarch of Antioch. Since their union with Rome they have formed separate orders. Till 1757 there were two such orders, those of St. Isaias and of St. Antony. The St. Antony monks then split again into two congregations, the Aleppians (monks of Aleppo) and Baladites (baladiye, country monks). Clement XIV sanctioned this separation in 1770. All follow the rule of St. Antony. For the rest the Eastern Catholic monks of each Church have the same rule and customs as the corresponding schismatics. Certain details have been revised and abuses eliminated by the Roman authorities. There are Eastern Catholic monasteries wherever there are Eastern Catholics. Eastern Catholic bishops are by no means always monks as there are many of unmarried secular priests. One may note especially the Byzantine Catholic monks in southern Italy and in the great monastery of Grottaferrata outside Rome.

About this page

APA citation. Fortescue, A. (1911). Eastern Monasticism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Fortescue, Adrian. "Eastern Monasticism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Marie Jutras.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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