NOTE: These practices are also continued today in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. In Arizona, after Fr. Anthonios backed a truck into an orange tree, Geronda Ephraim told him he’d never eat another orange again. Thus, every Trapeza, when the Fathers were eating fresh picked and juicy oranges from the orchards, Fr. Anthonios would have a different fruit placed in front of him. In other monasteries, a monastic may be punished with being served a rusk and a fruit, even on dairy days, or no food whatsoever. During a bus pilgrimage to St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY, Fr. Kassianos was forced to stand in the middle of the trapeza doing prayer rope while everyone else ate. Breaking, scratching, or ruining things, and in some monasteries even just dropping objects, is also punishable with prostrations—usually 50-100, though in cases of expensive tools, machinery and vehicles it can be up to 1000+ prostrations and this could be for many days. Each monastery has its own methodology of punishment and the punishments are tailored to the individual monastic according to their vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
A medieval visitor to a Byzantine trapeza might observe some monks or nuns being singled out for punishment. One monk might be doing the equivalent of one hundred pushups, another standing next to the abbot holding fragments of a broken ceramic vessel, and another might be eating only olives and nuts, while his tablemates were feasting on lentil soup and boiled greens seasoned with olive oil.
The refectory, as a communal gathering place for monks and nuns, was deemed an appropriate location for public penance, particularly for misbehavior and infractions of the rule related to preparation of food and refectory discipline. A particularly useful source of information in this regard is the penitential’ of Theodore of Stoudios. He prescribes, for example, a series of 20 to 300 penitential prostrations (metanoiai) for various lapses of the cooks, such as failure to add oil and salt to food at the proper time while cooking, allowing broth to boil over, spilling wine or oil or vinegar, permitting food to spoil, or leaving a pot uncovered for a long time.1 Breaking a clay pot was viewed as a serious act of carelessness and might be punished by making the monk perform up to 300 metanoiai (the number probably depending upon the size of the pot) or stand at the front of the refectory holding the pieces of the pot in his hands, until he received the forgiveness of his brethren.2 A slight variant of this punishment is found in the eleventh-century vita of St Neilos of Rossano. After a young monk broke a pot by overfilling it with legumes and boiling them too vigorously, he had to tie the potsherds together with a string and wear them around his neck like a necklace while standing in the refectory.
Misbehaviour while eating might also be punished by a prescribed number of metanoiai, or by deprivation of certain foods or an entire meal. Examples of infractions of refectory discipline were conversing or laughing during a meal (one hundred metanoiai), missing a meal altogether (standing penance in the refectory, or eating of dry foods or fasting until the following day), idle or loose talk (deprivation of wine for one day and forty metanoiai), and getting up from the table before dismissal (no wine for three days and one hundred metanoiai).3
- See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos A36-9, 41-5; PG 99.1737-40. These particular penitential regulations do not specify that the prostrations are to be performed in the refectory, but others (nos A2, 8, B29, 55) do, and this practice is confirmed by the evidence of the rule of Stoudios and vita B of Athanasios (see next footnote).
- Poenae monasteriales, nos A40 and 46; PG 99.1737 and 1740; Stoudios, chap. 35, BMFD 1.113AB, adds the detail that the careless monk had to stand next to the abbot with his cowl covering his head, while vita B of Athanasios of Athos says he had to stand next to the reader (Noret, Vitae duae, chap. 29, p. 118).
- See Theodore of Stoudios, Poenae monasteriales, nos B29, A12, B37, B36; PG 99.1735 and 1753.