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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Orthodox Monasticism is Not a Cult

This is by Fr. THEOLOGOS from the Athos in America website.

"An interview and website-- written by Orthodox
lay friends of monasticism-- in response to unfair criticisms of traditional
monasticism and Elder Ephraim's monasteries


One of
the most important developments in modern Orthodox Christianity has been the
renewal of Athonite monasticism.

This occurred first on Mount Athos
itself in the mid-20th century, largely through the work of Elder Joseph the
Hesychast and his spiritual children, and then more recently in North America,
through the monastic foundations of Elder Ephraim, one of Elder Joseph's
spiritual children.

The renewal of Athonite monasticism, based on the
institution of the elder and the practice of hesychastic prayer, is the direct
continuation of a centuries-old tradition, as Father Theologos discusses in the
interview below.

This renewed tradition, now growing in America, has
been a source of blessings to many in the modern West seeking a more fulfilling
life and a more meaningful Christianity.

However, this tradition is also
in many ways at odds with modern secular life in America, and is unfamiliar even
to some who are culturally of Orthodox background but living modern lives in
this country. As such, it has also engendered some controversy, and was unfairly
connected with recent past arguments among Greek Americans over church
government in the U.S.

On the Internet this controversy has focused on
the experience of one young man who has become a monk at one of Elder Ephraim's
monasteries in the United States.

This interview is an effort to let him
tell his own story, by those who are not monastics or clergy, but who know him
and respect his work as a monk, which is a blessing to many. This website is not
an official or unofficial production of any monastic establishment.

those who read it take it in this spirit and let the voice of this pious
Orthodox man be heard, as it is presented below.

The story of the
controversy is an old one, largely engendered by parents at odds with monastic
tradition, and indeed Christian tradition itself in its call to each person to
spiritually grow beyond (but still respect) ties of the flesh.

cases of disgruntled parents of monks and nuns are reported in old accounts of
monasticism, such in the Life of St. John Kalayvites of the Egyptian desert. But
the continuing prominence given to this particular case on the Web seems to
merit a response here, because it may unnecessarily turn away seekers for truth
from Orthodox monasticism.

First, however, some further but brief
historical background is in order.

Since 1989, Elder Ephraim has founded
16 men and women’s monasteries in North America, which are Greek Orthodox and
ultimately under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch. These have been
funded and supported with gratitude by Americans blessed by the renewal of such
traditional monasticism on Mount Athos. Before this, there was very little
Athonite monastic activity in the Western Hemisphere, despite the growth and
prosperity of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States and Canada during
the past century.

Monasticism has been a central part of Orthodox
Christianity, by which is meant traditional Christianity, since at least the
fourth century A.D. and the time of St. Anthony and the desert fathers. And
central to that monastic tradition is the institution of the elder, or the
starets, as the figure is known in Russia.

The Russian Orthodox novelist
Fyodor Dostoevsky gave the world its best-known image of the elder system in the
figure of Elder Zosima in the book The Brothers Karamazov, which many consider
to be the greatest or among the greatest novels ever written. Even modern
non-Christians such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud have cited it as a
monumentally influential book, largely due to its depiction of spirituality and
psychology from an Eastern Christian perspective.

In that book, written
in the 19th century, Dostoevsky notes that the elder system had been in
existence for more than a thousand years. He also notes the controversy it has
engendered. Yet in the figure of Elder Zosima he created one of the most
memorable characters in world literature based in part on the life of the
real-life Elder Ambrose of Optina Monastery in Russia. St. Ambrose of Optina in
many ways exemplified the institution of the elder, who is chosen by a monk or
layperson as a spiritual guide, and to whom obedience is due in the context of a
spiritual life, within the traditions of the church and the gospels.

Elder Ephraim is firmly within such tradition. For many years he was
abbot of the historic Philotheou Monastery on Mount Athos, the traditional
center of Orthodox monasticism and eldership. Traveling to America for health
reasons and then to see his spiritual children here, he in 1991 briefly became
associated with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, which had had a more active
record of establishing monasteries in America than the Greek Orthodox church, in
a tradition traced back to Russian Alaska. Traditional Orthodox monasticism, it
should be noted, is pan-Orthodox, and not exclusive to any one jurisdiction,
although Athonite-style monasticism in the 19th and 20th centuries was
especially associated with both Greek and Russian jurisdictions.

However, having been called to bring the practice of this tradition to
America on a larger scale, and having been requested to return to the
jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Elder Ephraim and his monastic work
have for the decade since been fully supported by the Greek Archdiocese and the
Patriarchate of Constantinople."

To read the rest, please visit Athos in America



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