September 5, 2023

Homilies on the Commonwealth of the Church - The Monk (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

The Commonwealth of the Church

The Monk

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

Monastics are a special order developed over time. There have always been the anchorites, as we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews of the Apostle Paul, who lived in the mountains, the caves and the holes of the earth (see Heb. 11). After the period of persecution, there was a tendency among Christians to leave the cities and live in the mountains, and so these became the monks who lived in Sketes and Monasteries.

As we see in the ancient Church, between the Clergy and the laity an order was formed which is known as the monastic order. Saint Dionysios the Areopagite calls them "therapeutes", because they pray to God, and they are the first order in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy among the laity. In other words, the Church Hierarchy includes the Bishops, the Presbyters, the Deacons and immediately after is the order of the laity, of which the monks are the first.

Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki writes that the monks are a special order, which is "right after the priests."

The founder of the coenobitic institution is considered to be Saint Pachomios, who gathered the hermits and anchorites in coenobiums and thus the coenobitic institution began to function. The organizer of the coenobitic institution is Basil the Great with the texts he wrote that are titled "Long Rule", "Short Rule", "Prelimary Sketch of the Ascetic Life" and "Ascetic Discourses". He himself was a hermit monk for a while, on the Iris River, he met many monks and with the knowledge he acquired he organized, in an exemplary way, the monastic life.

The sacred Canons of the Local and Ecumenical Synods defined the preconditions of the monastic state. Thus, in order to become a monk, a person must be tested for three years, and this time can be shortened or increased, there must bea  free choice without coercion, and the newcomer must be of a suitable age to receive the monastic schema. In the special service where a monk receives the Great Schema, monastic vows are made, mainly of obedience, virginity and landlessness, and of course the monk undertakes certain obligations, among which is that he cannot undertake worldly cares and concerns among other things.

The Bishop-Metropolitan is the center of his Diocese-Metropolis, that is why the Monasteries operate under his supervision, as is done with the Parishes. Of course, the Sacred Monasteries are managed by a Council of Abbots, but always under the blessing and approval of the Bishop-Metropolitan. Thus, they have autonomous administration, just like the Parish Councils, but they are neither independent nor autonomous from their Metropolitan.

The sacred Canons of the Church clearly define the relations between the Metropolitans and the Sacred Monasteries. Important Canons are from the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, which convened in Chalcedon in 451 AD.

In the fourth Canon of this Synod it is written first of all that those who sincerely follow the monastic life, must be considered worthy of the honor that is due to them. Because, however, some, using the status of the monk, create problems for the Christians, it was decided that no one should establish a Monastery or House of Prayer "despite the opinion of the bishop of the city," and that those who are monks in the city and the country should submit to the Bishop and to love silence and prayer, remaining in the places where they were tonsured as monks.

The same in the eighth Canon of the same Ecumenical Synod, which orders that the Clergy of the Monasteries remain under the authority of the Bishop of each city, according to the tradition of the Fathers, "and they are not out of self-will to rebel against their own bishop."

According to the sacred Canons of our Church, the monastic life is a life of repentance, the life of the monks is "quiet and solitary," the monk must refrain from the concerns of life, engage in the study of salvation, remain only in fasting and prayer.

The monk, according to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, belongs to the angelic order, he is an angel in the flesh. Saint John of Sinai, author of the book "The Ladder", writes that "the light of the monks are the Angels and the light of all people is the life of the monks. For this reason, let the monks strive to set a good example for everything and everyone 'that the ministration may be not blamed' (2 Cor. 6:3) either with their works or with their words. 'If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness?'"

This means that the monks have the angels as their model, so that people also have the monks as their model. However, when the monks are in darkness, then how will they enlighten the people? Thus, the life of monks is admirable, but they have an obligation to appear worthy of their position in the Church.

Saint Maximus the Confessor, that great Father of the seventh century, writes that someone who withdraws from the world makes a monk of the "outer man", but does not immediately make a monk of the "inner man", which is the nous, because, as he writes, it is easy to be a monk outwardly, as long as he is willing, but it takes a lot of struggle "for the inner man to become a monk." And Saint Hesychios the Presbyter writes that a truly sober person is "a monk at heart."

The Church and all of us honor monks, when they are real monks according to "the inner man" and when they receive the light from the angels, that is why Saint John of Sinai gives an amazing definition of what a monk is. He writes: "Monks are a bodiless order and state" which is accomplished in a material and filthy body.

However, the order of monks is a shepherded order and not a shepherding order, but it indirectly influences Christians with their lives and their prayers. Sometimes with the Bishop's permission and blessing they can speak publicly and benefit Christians.

The monks, when they remain within their limits, when they respect the canonical institutions of the Church, when they obey the Bishop and the Sacred Synod, are the endocrine glands of the Church that help in the health of the members of the Church Body. That is why Christians seek in the Monasteries the authentic life of the Church, the evangelical life, which is a life of repentance and dedication to Christ.

With these conditions, an Orthodox Monastery is a blessing for the Church and a humble monk is a source of spiritual health for Clergy and lay people.

I have repeatedly written that the Church is a Spiritual Hospital that cures people's spiritual illnesses. In this perspective, the Orthodox Monasteries that are governed on the basis of the Sacred Canons are wards of intensive treatment, where special examinations are carried out and the monks acquire inner secret prayer.

And because the monks, when they live in this way, acquire knowledge of spiritual healing, that is why they have an important position in the Church, with the necessary condition, however, that the synodal institution of the Church will not be overlooked.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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