A debate on an Orthodox Christian forum in 2002 about why the Greek Archdiocese does not keep track of their newly tonsured monks and nuns in the same way it keeps track of its priests:
A. Styl writes:
The Orthodox Observer often lists a “Clergy Update” that lists ordination of deacons and priests, retirement of priests, and new assignments of priests–all good information.
Where is the list of newly tonsured monks and nuns in the monasteries and convents under the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese? Families of these newly tonsured monastics often learn of the tonsuring and the location of their loved one after the fact. If the Archdiocese keeps track of its priests, why are the monks and nuns kept out of the loop? Why the secrecy or even the shadow of secrecy in listing these monks and nuns?
The absence of this list runs parallel with the absence of information about the monk Ephraim-led monasteries on the GO web site or Orthodox Observer. If establishing 16 monasteries within the last 10 years is a tribute to the Church, why is it not highlighted and presented to the people as a model? Because it is not a model of monasticism and because the GO church doesn’t know what to do with this rogue monk. Cults depend on secrecy and isolation in order to survive.
The following is an article that appeared in the Orthodox Observer, November 20, 1998, p. 2:
KENDALIA, Texas. Archbishop Spyridon and leaders and representatives of 12 recently founded monastic communities that continue the witness of the 1,100-yearold tradition of Mt. Athos, met Nov. 3-5 at Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery in Kendalia, Texas to promote the Athonite monastic movement in the United States.
Among his activities at the conference, the Archbishop officiated at the Thyranoixia (the Opening of the Doors) of the monastic church in Kendalia, which was built on the site of an abandoned mosque. He also enthroned the newly-elected Abbot, Fr. Dositheos.
In services on Nov. 4-5, the Archbishop ordained two deacons and two priests. In a private meeting with the heads of the monastic communities, he presented the framework of a proposed charter that will serve to establish Orthodox Monastic practice in America in continuity with the ancient tradition of Mt. Athos.
Along with monastics from both male and female institutions, over 800 visitors and guests attended the three-day festivities surrounding the official opening of the main church edifice.
That Orthodox Christianity can sustain a burgeoning monastic tradition, even as it struggles through a variety of evolutionary pains, is a testament to the flexibility of an ancient and rigorous practice. The diversity and multicultural cacophony of American religious and cultural life has become a most promising vineyard for the most traditional forms of Christian witness. It is about the accommodations that the spiritual life can make to the complexities of American culture, that make it possible for it to reside comfortably in the heart of American Protestant culture.
Holy Archangels Monastery is a living reminder of the complexity and flexibility of American culture. The complex had been a Sufi Muslim retreat center. It closed in 1983.
Remaining behind is a Muslim cemetery which the monks have pledged to tend in reverence to the those buried there. Muslims of Turkish, Arabic, Iraqi and Iranian origin repose in peace and safety on the monastery grounds. Their relatives return from time to time to pay their respect to their relations and a debt of gratitude to the monks who care for them.
Following in the footsteps of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who visited the Monastery of St. Anthony in Florence, Ariz., Archbishop Spyridon admonished the monastics concerning their role in the Church and in the larger American Society.
“Imagine, my brothers and sisters, just what is happening here. You are a model of life lived in the Lord. Monastic life is a search for God. Monastic life is being present to God. Monastic life is the anticipation of God- it is the eschatological life of the age to come lived out in the current age. Monks at peace with one another are a source of peace for the entire world. The peace and serenity of your communal life will impress upon the world the truth of Christ’s love. The things you accomplish here are not the result of misguided choices by fanatics, nor are they the syncretistic eclecticism of arbitrary values, but they are grounded in the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.”
The Archbishop also presented to the assembled abbots and abbesses of the monasteries around the United States, the charter proposed by the Holy Eparchial Synod. This charter would serve as a constitutional framework for the monasteries that exist now, and for any future monasteries future.
The Archbishop also affirmed that the tradition and Typikon of Mt. Athos, which has inspired monasticism throughout the Orthodox world for centuries, must remain the standard for American monasticism. This is all the more appropriate when one considers that Mt. Athos, like the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, is under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Q: Dear Fr. George: I am writing this letter out of concern for the rather negative effect that the monastic movement in America is having on some of the parishes, including my own.
In a recent interview with The Christian Activist, Archbishop Spyridon seemed to acknowledge that this problem exists in our Archdiocese today and pointed out that a parish is one thing and a monastery is another. The danger is that we might have a confusion of the roles of a monastery and of a parish..
My question is, what does the church do to prevent that confusion from taking place? Who is the spiritual leader in the community, the canonically ordained and assigned priests or a monk who invades the parishes, introduces monastic rules and ideas, recruits young people who are only technically adults to monasticism and leaves the parish in disarray? The church should be concerned when outside forces undermine the effectiveness of a parish priest by questioning his orthodoxy, and at the same time, realize that this is an issue that concerns the entire Archdiocese.
I hope you will not hesitate to address this very vital issue in your column. Because of the great sensitivity, please do not publish my name.
A troubled member of a deeply troubled community.
A: You have raised a very sensitive issue that is both challenging and needs to be addressed by our Synod of Bishops. In fact, the subject of monasticism in America was on the agenda of our Bishops’ meeting last March in New York.
Of course, you are not the first to write and point out the improprieties that are committed by certain monastic forces in our country. However, we must bear in mind that the monastic movement is very young in America, and like any new development it will experience growing pains. Inevitably, as in any other new movement, mistakes will be made, and misunderstandings will occur.
I am well aware that some of our communities are concerned that monastic practices will take over their parish life, become a divisive issue, and drive many of our people away. In their zeal to establish monasticism in America, monastic leaders, and especially some of their overzealous followers (both clergy and laity) have threatened the peace and stability in some of our parishes. This should not be.
Without question, monasticism has played a constructive role in the history of Orthodoxy. It has preserved the rich deposit of our faith handed down to us by the apostles. Monasticism has helped preserve, shape, and define Orthodoxy in its struggle against wanton innovations, heretical beliefs, and State interference.
For instance, Monasticism took the leadership and played an indispensable role against the error of Iconoclasm. The monks were in the vanguard of these battles, and they suffered the most for the sake of the Faith.
Moreover, we owe much of our beautiful liturgical life to monastic influence. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine Orthodoxy without monastic influence in iconography, hymnology, theology, and prayer life.
No Orthodox Christian could deny the immense contribution that monasticism has made to the True Faith.
The monks of Mount Athos, the holy sites in Palestine, and Mount Sinai (just to name a few) have stood as vigilant and worthy guardians of the Orthodox Faith and the countless relics, manuscripts and priceless religious artifacts for well over a thousand years. We are truly indebted to them.
So why not a monastic movement in America? Shouldn’t any right-thinking Orthodox believer welcome the opportunity to transplant monasticism in America? This writer is an advocate of such a movement. But it must be done properly and carefully, with an appreciation for the unique situation here in America. The canons and Tradition must guide us so that we avoid the confusion and tragic situation that has beset your parish and others like it.
The Archbishop is quite right. The role of the monastery is not to be confused with the role of the parish.
The Synod of Bishops should carefully study any request to start a new monastery. If and when permission has been granted, it should be made unequivocally clear to those responsible that the monastery is to function under the authority of the local bishop. Monks are not to interfere with the ministry of the parishes and the authority of the priests. Only with the permission of the bishop, should monks visit local parishes and perform any kind of ministry, including the Sacrament of Holy Confession. This rule should be followed very strictly and, when it is violated, appropriate measures should be taken by the local bishop and, if necessary, by the Synod of Bishops.
Recruiting is a very sensitive issue, and the Church leadership should carefully investigate interference in our parishes in order to avoid unnecessary strife and avoidable divisions in our communities.
Monastic life is a special calling. It is a very difficult life that calls for great sacrifice and self-denial, and hence, is not for everyone. I recall that a few years ago a young man left America to become a monk in Greece. Far from home, he found it very difficult to adjust to the rigors of monastic life and eventually succumbed to a severe case of melancholy. The Church must be very careful, if the monasteries are sanctioned by the Archdiocese, the Archdiocese becomes ultimately responsible to both the laws of the individual states and the country.
And finally, I would like to emphasize that parish priests with ties to monastic communities, either here or abroad, must remember that while serving as pastors of communities, they are to minister and behave as priests who serve laymen who live in a dynamic and challenging secular community and not members of a small and limited monastic order. The manner of grooming and clerical attire must therefore be appropriate. The life of a monk, as admirable as it is, must be lived in the monastery, not in the secular community.
MAY 5, 1997 ORTHODOX OBSERVER PAGE 9 Tell Me Father