Monasticism in the Christian East
Monasticism as practiced in the Christian churches had its origins in the Christian East, when St. Anthony first sought the solitude of the desert in order to be closer to God away from the distractions of the urban life of Egypt and in order to aspire to theosis, e.g., to become God-like. After St. Anthony there followed many others seeking God in remote places, so many in fact that some forms of common order and behavior evolved in what became the heavenly metropolises of the desert. St. Mary of Egypt, St. Mary, the sister of St. Pachomius, and St. Macrina, sister of St. Basil, are but some of the witnesses that prove that this movement was not the sole domain of men seeking after God.
During the early centuries of Christianity, the names of St. Pachomius, St. Athanasius, St. Basil the Great, and St. John Cassian became associated with the development of ancient sets of guidelines or rules for various forms or styles of monastic life, ranging from the hermetic (individual) to the idiorythmic (loose association of hermits gathering for common prayer and occasionally meals) to the cenobitic (a community sharing common life).
The rule of St. Basil was clearly a principal source of that of St. Benedict, the father of Western monasticism. The original sets of guidelines were from time to time revised by particular communities to fit their particular circumstances.
Perhaps the most famous of these later revisions within the Byzantine tradition is that attributed to St. Theodore Studites (St. Theodore of the Stoudion monastery in Constantinople), which has had a significant impact on monasticism in the lands of the former Byzantine Empire (Greece, Turkey, the Middle East) as well as in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Ukraine and Russia.
Rules of one monastery often were and continue to be the basis of the rule of new monastic foundations, and thus a considerable amount of commonality of practice, if not uniformity, can be found among the practices of most Byzantine monasteries. To this day Byzantine Christian monks and nuns generally follow the rule of their own monastery and do not belong to an "order" as do most Western religious. Nor do most Byzantine monastics focus their spirituality upon the teachings or "institutes" of one or two founders, but rather on the Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church.
On the pages that follow are excerpts from writings concerning the monastic life and its importance in the Byzantine Churches from
1) a sermon given by Fr. Peter Knowles, O.P., which subsequently appeared as an article entitled "Monasticism and the Byzantine Church" published in the June 14, 1998 issue of "Eastern Catholic Life", the newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic;
2) the visitor's brochure from Holy Resurrection Monastery, Newberry Springs, CA (at the dedication of which Fr. Knowles delivered his sermon);
3) the visitor's brochure from the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Washington, D.C..
For additional information about monasticism and the monastic life in the Christian East, please consult the following works (available from the Icon and Book Service at Monastery of Holy Cross--see below, after listing of books) and the references contained therein:
I. Brianchaninoff, The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticsm
C. Cavarnos, Anchored in God: Life, Art and Thought on the Holy Mountain
S. Chetverikoff, Elder Ambrose of Optina
D. Chitty, The Desert a City
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings
Hieromonk A. Golitzin, Living Witnesses of the Holy Mountain: Contemporary Voices from Mount Athos
G. Gould, The Desert Fathers on Monastic Community
Mother Kassiana, Come Follow Me: Orthodox Monasticism in Moldavia
Archimandrite S. Keleher, Metropolitan Andrew Sheptitsky (Chapters VIII & IX)
Archimandrite B. Luykx, Eastern Monasticism and the Future of the Church
B. Maguire, Friendship and Community: the Monastic Experience 350 to 1250
The Northern Thebaid
Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O, 0 Holy Mountain!
C. Sederholm, Elder Anthony of Optina
S. Senyk, Women's Monasteries in Ukraine and Belarus to the Period of the Suppressions, OCP No. 222
S.P. Todorovich, The Chilandarians: Serbian Monks on the Green Mountain
G. Trumler, Athos, the Holy Mountain
T. Ware, The Orthodox Church
These--and much more--can be ordered from:
The Icon and Book Service
1217 Quincy Street, NE
Washington DC 20017
write, call and ask for their catalogue, and order from their excellent materials.....
The following websites contain relevant information about some Byzantine monastic foundations:
Byzantine Catholic Monasteries
The following is a partial list of Byzantine Catholic monastic institutions:
Russian Catholic Church:
The Monastero Russo Uspenskij, (page on this site)--soon to be expanded, hopefully.
Monastere Saint Elie
5, rue du Floquet
Fax : 33-03-80-92-48-79
Italo-Greek Byzantine Catholic:
The monastery founded by St Nilus in 1004, with a continuous presence of the Byzantine monastic tradition near Rome:
Abbazia di Grottaferrata
Corso del Popolo, 128
Grottaferrata (Roma) Italy
Tel./Fax: (39-6) 941-5122
Museo dell'Abbazia di Grottaferrata
via della Badia Greca
Tel.: (39-6) 945-9309
A multi-lingual page with good
text and photos of the Abbey at Grottaferrata: http://www.abbaziagreca.it
Our friends from the Our Lady of Grace (Italo-Greek) Society have kindly sent us a photo of the new igumen of Grottaferrata, which we are pleased to share with you.
to left, icon of Theotokos at Grottaferrata
to right, icon of St Neilos at Grottoferrata
VATICAN CITY, FEB 1, 2000 (VIS) – The Holy Father appointed Fr. Emiliano Fabbricatore, O.S.B.I., "egumeno" (superior) of St. Mary’s of Grottaferrata, Italy, as exarch of the same territorial abbey.
Greek Byzantine Catholic:
Odos Ekalis 10
Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Church:
Monastery of St. Joseph
vul. Vinnichenka, 22
290008 L'viv, Ukraine
Tel.: (322) 72-69-55
Fax: (322) 74-23-09
292019 L'vivska Oblast
Three other communities of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States are:
Holy Transfiguration Monastery
The Monks of Mt. Tabor
1701 Tomki Road
P.O. Box 2
Redwood Valley, CA, 95470-0217
Tel.: (707) 485-8959
Holy Transfiguration Skete:
Monastery of the Holy Cross (page on this site)
Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church:
Holy Resurrection Monastery (page on this site) and the Monastery's own New Website.
Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church
Holy Trinity Monastery: www.nauticom.net/users.callm/index.html
Mount St. Macrina: www.byzcath.org/ssb/ssbasil.htm
An interesting link to Byzantine Carmelite nuns in PA: http://nyssa.cecs.uofs.edu/carmelite.html
Mount Athos: www.Medialab.ntua.gr/athos.html and www.duth.gr/Athos
Orthodox Monasteries of North America
The two works of St. John Cassian, the Conferences and the Institutes were extremely influential on both Eastern and Western monasticism.
The Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents Page on the Dumbarton Oaks site will allow you to read the rule of the Stoudios monastery referred to often on this page, as well as numerous other foundation documents and other studies on Byzantine monasticism.
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