On Monks who Leave the Brotherhood (St. Basil the Great)

NOTE: The following is taken from The Long Rules, #36. It should be noted that in St. Basil’s time, there were only two degrees in the monastic life: the novitiate and the Great Schema. The Rassaphore grade was a later innovation which some Fathers rejected. It is now an accepted degree in the monastic tradition. According to the canons and Orthodox Patristics, a Rassaphore is still essentially a novice. It should be noted that out of the 40+ monastics who first started out at St. Anthony’s Monastery in the mid-late 90’s, almost half have returned to the world. All of these monastics were given the impression that rassaphore is for life, the cutting of the hair was an oath they made, and if they left they would forfeit their soul’s salvation. However, the Rassaphore is like a betrothal and the Schema is like a marriage. A betrothal can be broken with a penance, of course. This is something that was kept hidden from many of the monastics in the early years as they were led on to believe they had no choice but to stay. Some were counseled, “No one is forcing you to stay, you can leave whenever you want. If you leave, however, it’ll be next to impossible to be saved.” There are also numerous cautionary tales about monastics who left Geronda Ephraim and faired miserably in life; beating their head and wailing wishing they had stayed in the monastery. These kinds of stories are often retold in group settings. It should be noted that some of the monastics who have left Geronda Ephraim here in North America are now happily married and are doing quite well for themselves. There are also some that are on psych meds or have resorted to substance abuse to try and cope with the PTSD of their traumatic experiences.

St basil

Q. 36. Of those who leave the brotherhood.

R. Certainly, those who have made an irrevocable and reciprocal promise to live together cannot leave at will, inasmuch as their not persevering in what they have pledged comes from one of two causes: either from the wrongs suffered in living the common life or from an unsteadiness of resolution in him who is changing his course. But he who is withdrawing from his brethren because of injury sustained should not keep his motive to himself, but should make an open charge respecting the wrong done him, in the manner taught by the Lord, who said: ‘If thy brother shall offend, go and rebuke him between thee and him alone,’1 and so on. Then, if the amendment he desires is effected, he has gained his brethren and has not dishonored their union. But, if he sees that they persist in the evil arid are not willing to make amends, he will report this to those empowered to judge in such cases, and then, after several have given testimony [if he cannot get redress], he may withdraw. In acting thus, he will not be separating himself from brethren but from strangers, for the Lord compares one who persists in evil to a heathen and publican : ‘let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.’2 If, however, by reason of the fickleness of his nature, he leaves the society of his brethren, let him cure his own weakness, or, if he will not do this, let the brotherhoods refuse to accept him. And if, by the Lord’s command, one or another is attracted to some other establishment, such do not sever their relations, but they fulfill the ministry. Reason does not admit any other grounds for the brethren leaving their community; in the first place, because such withdrawal brings dishonor upon the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the basis of their union; second, because it inevitably creates uneasiness in the conscience of each one as regards his neighbor, and mutual suspicions are aroused both of which eventualities are clearly opposed to the Lord’s precept: ‘If thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar and go first to be reconciled to thy brother; and then, coming, thou shalt offer thy gift.’3

NOTES

1. Matt. 18.15.

2. Matt. 18.17.

3. Matt. 5.23,24.

After 20+ years as a monk, the 2nd after Abbot Paisios is now a happily married layperson.
After 20+ years as a monk, the 2nd after Abbot Paisios is now a happily married layperson.
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