The Orthodox Monastic Life
Christian monasticism inaugurated by hermit St. Anthony of Egypt in 305, when he organized ascetic hermits in primitive monastic communities, was continued by Anthony's disciple, Pachomius, who introduced communal monastic life. Between 358-364, St. Basil drew up the rule that still governs Christian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church. Both monks and nuns are required to take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and to devote their lives to prayer and work. The goal of this way of life is the achievement of personal salvation or union with God through a continual spiritual battle with temptation. Monasticism spread quickly throughout the Byzantine Empire in the 4th-7th centuries, flourished in the 16th century in all Europe, and recorded a revival of interest in the 19th century.
Most monastics are imitators of Christ. Like Christ, they fast. Like Christ, they live the life of poverty, both in what they wear and what they possess. They do, therefore, spend time thinking about food and clothing, but this in the strange sense of thinking how best not to think of these.
The brotherhood have experienced this call in living in poverty, obedience and inner purity. They are careful not to eat that which invites gluttony or attachment to food, but to partake of the "daily bread" that provides for sustenance. They are worried about clothing that might move them away from the hem of the Savior's garment, which we all touch, entreating Christ to clothe them in His righteousness. And all of this monastics do for the very purpose of salvation. It is precisely the search for salvation which prompts them to be concerned about such things.
"If any of you want to be my follower, you must put aside your own pleasures and shoulder your cross, and follow me closely." (Mark 8:34)
"You cannot serve two masters: God and money." (Matthew 6:24)
"If you want to be right at the top, you must serve like a slave." (Matthew 20:27)
"Always keep on praying." A monk's life is a blend of prayer and work: (1.Thessalonians 5:17)
"He who does not work shall not eat." (2.Thessalonians 3:10)
"Faith is dead if it is not the kind that results in good deeds." (James 2:26)
As Christ was obedient, so, too, the monastic is obedient. While some converts enter into the Orthodox monastic life wishing to reform the services and to discard this or that "typikon", most Orthodox monastics follow the typikon of their monastic superiors, linking themselves to an on-going succession of spiritual power that affects, indeed, the roots of salvation itself. Orthodox monastic life involves a system which contemporary psychologists call a "feed-back loop." By attention to externals, we affect internals; and by the restored internal state, external attributes are affected. Endlessly linked to one another, internals and externals interact with one another to the point that they are no longer separate. The humble spirit manifests itself in the humble face; the sweet countenance in the sweetness of spirit; and the contrite heart within a contrite act. Grace brings what is inside out and what is outside in. Grace molds, blends, and transforms. ..........................(((Last parts from "Orthodox Tradition", Vol. 6, No. 4, 1989)
See: The Orthodox Monastic Life
See: The Orthodox Monastic Tradition
See: Outline of Orthodox Monasticism
See: A Brief Study for the Layman
See: An Outline of Orthodox Monasticism
Although not considered as one of the sacraments of the Church since it is not essential to the Christian life as such and is not a necessary element for the very existence of God's People, monasticism has played an important role in Christian history and is highly valued by the Orthodox Church. In the Orthodox Tradition the monastic calling is considered to be a personal gift of God to the individual soul for his salvation and service to the Body of Christ. The monastic vocation is the calling to personal repentance in a life dedicated solely to God. The ultimate Christian virtue of love is sought by the monk or nun primarily through prayer and fasting, and through the exercise of the Christian virtues of poverty, chastity, humility and obedience
The Orthodox monastic tradition has four classical ranks that apply equally to men and to women:
Novice is the rank of obedience. You simply lives in the monastery under the direction of a spiritual father or mother.
Rasa-bearer is more formally accepted into the community, and is given the right to wear the monastic robe, called the Rasa. The candidate is not yet fully committed to the monastic life.
Small schema is a professed monastic. They now receives a new name and wears the monastic schema (a cloth with the sign of the cross), the veil and the mantle (mantia). At this stage the person pledges to remain in the monastic community in perpetual obedience to the spiritual leader and to the head of the monastery, called the abbot or abbess (igoumenos or igoumenia). The service of profession, in addition to the hymns and prayers, includes a long series of formal questioning about the authenticity of the calling, the tonsuring (i.e., the cutting of the hair), and the vesting in the full monastic clothing.
Great schema is reserved for very few, since it is the expression of the most strict observance of the monastic ideals, demanding normally a state of life in total seclusion in perpetual prayer and contemplation. With this final profession a new name is again received, and a new monastic insignia -- the great schema -- is worn.
In the Orthodox tradition there is no prescribed length of time that a person must remain in one or another of the monastic ranks. This is so because of the radically personal character of the vocation. Thus, some persons may progress rapidly to profession, while others may take years, and still others may never be formally professed while still remaining within the monastic community. The decision in these matters is made individually in each case by the spiritual director and the head of the community.