Plug for Monasticism

Healthy, deep, profound Monasticism (male and female) is in many ways the heartbeat of the Orthodox Church in traditional Orthodox countries. Monks have been key in the rejection of heretical Councils and doctrines. Orthodoxy traditionally prefers to draw its Bishops from the ranks of the monks. Many Orthodox have sought the spiritual counsel of monastics in addition to their own parish priests. And monastic Mt. Athos, Greece, “the Holy Mountain,” is in many ways a center of the Orthodox Church.

In general, Orthodoxy hasn’t adopted “active Religious” like the Latin Church has since its fall from Orthodoxy, although in Orthodoxy there are varieties of ministries centered around many monasteries, and the recently-glorified St. Maria Skobtsova – Mother Maria of Paris – was a very atypical, very “active” monastic. Orthodoxy doesn’t have a formal “cloister” like even those “contemplative” Catholic monasteries that remain; it wouldn’t be inaccurate to call Orthodox monastics as a whole “semi-cloistered” – some get out more than others. Some monasteries are dedicated to the complete liturgical cycle, every day; some to education; some to other forms of social service.

One doesn’t enter the monastery because one wants to “get ahead in the Church;” we shouldn’t want much with one such, actually! But as Dostoyevsky reminded us through the mouth of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, one enters the monastery because one is convinced that one must do so in order to save one’s soul and conquer one’s sins and passions. It’s not because one feels s/he is better than others, but worse, actually. Ideally these men and women have struggled fulltime with their sins for years before they’re tapped for wider service to the Church.

Orthodox monasticism is not without its problems. Occasional sex scandals, pedophilia scandals, alleged cultism, alleged heresy, financial iffiness, fraud, self-righteousness, the bad kind of extremism…. All of which might prove you don’t become a monk or nun to “escape the world;” you bring the world with you. Or as one Father put it, what monastics do all day is “fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up.” And sometimes, frankly, some monastics’ behavior doesn’t warrant such ‘putting the best possible face on it’…but rather, prosecution.

Not much of a plug, is it! But I urge you to consider it nonetheless.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk Monastery in Pennsylvania is one with which I have some in-person familiarity, and have never heard anything bad about it as an institution, nor mostly about its monks, priests, and Bishops as such, and it is in many ways the heart of The Orthodox Church in America (OCA), and is the first Orthodox monastery in the Americas. (Its founding a century ago by St. Tikhon of Moscow and St. Arseny of Winnipeg is the subject of an ongoing series of articles in Your Diocese Alive in Christ, the very-widely-read periodical of The OCA’s Diocese of Eastern Penna., which surrounds this stavropegial institution, i.e., it doesn’t technically belong to the local diocese, but to the Primate of the jurisdiction.) They’re very liturgically-oriented, and have a great choir (especially on Sundays). It continues to be the residence not only of Bishop TIKHON of Eastern Penna., but also Metropolitan HERMAN, Primate of The OCA and Tikhon’s predecessor of many years – not infrequently one of these will be serving the Liturgy there on any given day – as well as 9 or 10 monks, including some priest-monks.

Among women’s monasteries, I’ve heard good things about Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery in upstate New York, Monastery of the Transfiguration in western Penna. (the one founded by the former Princess Ileana of Romania, a candidate for glorification as a saint; I’m sure they used to have a website), and Dormition of the Mother of God Monastery in Michigan, all OCA.

There are quite a few – though not enough – Orthodox monasteries in the U.S. and Canada, most very small. An acquaintance maintains this website covering many Orthodox monasteries throughout North America, “canonical” and other.

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