The Educated Monk

Or, Can a Monk Teach?

by Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky
Trans. Seth Davidenko

This translation was made possible with the generous support of an anonymous student of the Metropolitan Anthony’s legacy as hieromonk, patrologist and ROCOR’s first primate. The original work was first published in the Церковный вестник (1889), № 29 & 30. It was later republished in Митрополит Антоний. Учение о пастыре, пастырстве и об исповеди.(Жизнеописание блаженнейшего Антония, митрополита Киевского и Галицкого. Томъ XIII). Нью-Йорк 1966. С. 229-239.

This publication and its conclusion are dedicated to the blessed memory of Archbishop Alypy of Chicago & Mid-America (+2019).

Let us begin our talk on this subject in accordance with the promise given to our readers half a year ago in answer to a question in the area of Church-parish practice, “Can a monk teach?”1 Upon the foundation of examples from Patristic history, we asserted that he can, but [only] out of obedience; and we promised to dedicate a special article to clarifying how the struggle of monastic life is harmonized with pastoral work.

What, in its essence, is monasticism? As a rule of life, monasticism consists of making the sole goal of one’s life the creation of one’s inner man, i.e. the annihilation of sinful inclinations or the putting off of the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;2, and the incarnation within oneself of a new man, i.e., of spiritual perfection, commanded by the teaching of grace. A more detailed definition of the goal of receiving monasticism appears both in the rite of tonsure and in the patristic writings on monastic life. These consist mostly of instructions: first, on the properties of the sinful nature of our fallen essence and the means of rooting them out (the teaching of the eight vices); and second, a revelation of the ways to reach perfection in godliness and an explanation of the properties of the same (virtues).

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Monasticism makes its sole aim internal self-training, as a pathway to which the typica offer reclusiveness and the rejection of worldly people and affairs. [/perfectpullquote]  But the monastic life, according to the writings of the Fathers and in accordance with its fifteen-century history, did not appear as merely a rule, nor as a revelation of a purely subjective psychological method of a person’s gradual Christian growth, but as a well-known specialized means of applying this process to life, as a well known individual and social mode of life. The expounding and regulation of this method is the task of monastic typica, which are preserved both through tradition and in written form.

The question about combining monasticism with pastoral work naturally arises because pastorship is a social activity, which requires from the pastor both spiritual participation in the life of laypeople and constant external relations with people. Meanwhile, monasticism makes its sole aim internal self-training, as a pathway to which the typica offer reclusiveness and the rejection of worldly people and affairs. As a result, even the psychological process of attaining perfection was narrowed almost exclusively to repentance, and the monastic struggle itself was narrowed to an understanding of the struggle of repentance. Let us note in addition that [this development occurred] in parallel with a similar shift in understanding of the essence of Christian religion in general, as is found already in St Ephraim the Syrian, and which becomes authoritative, if not exclusive, from [St John] Damascene until our time.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Perfection is possible through two ways.[/perfectpullquote]

When one begins to speak about combining pastoral work with monastic principles, dissenters interject: monasticism, as an institution, is not a principle, because monasticism per se is in no way different from the Christianity in general. Therefore, there can only be a question of the compatibility of the typica with pastoral work, to which the expected answer is, of course, a direct negative. But it seems to us that monasticism is different in essence from general Christian duties, not as something higher than them, which is impossible (Mt. 5:483 applies to all Christians), but as a public, societal designation of them.

Perfection is possible through two ways. I can enter the mode of life into which I was created and, in the words of the Apostle, “abiding in the same calling wherein I was called”4 set for myself the goal of perfecting the fulfillment my routine duties (familial, social, etc.) along with the creation of the inner man so as to be perfected in this calling. This is how Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, having received baptism, remains a family man and a ruler. That which was formerly a tool for him to do evil becomes now a path to virtuous action. He wishes to fulfill all the Gospel commandments, but he sees as his immediate responsibility to reform in himself the virtues necessary for a ruler: wisdom and mercy. He is called to be a prince and a family man and he wishes to be a Christian prince and family man.

Another path to salvation is also possible. A person wishing to be saved or to embody in himself Christian perfection, does not search for a way to fit this goal into his way of life, but rather seeks a way of life in which this goal is most easily reached. In this case, however, one may ask: “Must we also call that person a monk who, if he had found himself in a fitting situation, would have chosen married life?” The Holy Scriptures and the history of the church tell us that for the aims of spiritual perfection, as the only goals in life, a person will not choose the marital state, even though in such a state the path to moral perfection is still attainable for him;5 but that the number of ways to better attain the perfection of the Gospel are bounded by the three monastic vows.

Whether our monasticism embraces all the most direct means of salvation or whether there other ways which have not historically been part of it is a different question. Without a doubt, however, the institution of monasticism presents its self-knowledge as a principle in itself and not only as its application to a particular mode of life. This is apparent from the vows at tonsure themselves, which are purely moral obedience — poverty, and chastity — and from the whole rite, where there is no talk of the necessity of some well-known, fully-developed daily regimen. This is also confirmed by the history of monasticism: at first there were only anchorites, then cenobia appeared with typica, then skete life appeared, along with stylites, fools for Christ, and even missionary efforts (from Kiev, for example).

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Church believes in the “one essence” of the Father and the Son not because two councils decided this; rather, these councils are recognized because they were in concord with the inner life of the Church.[/perfectpullquote]   Typica, i.e. the regulation of monastic life and routine, apply only to cenobia and sketes; all other forms [of monasticism] existed without them. Furthermore, the contemporary vow to remain in monasticism in the same monastery where one was tonsured, even until death, appears later. In earlier times, desert-dwelling was also undertaken temporarily. “But,” some will say, “those forms of monasticism have their tradition from the great God-pleasers; but does the pastoral activity of monks have such a tradition?” Does it not have such in the figures of the ancient ecumenical hierarchs, who did not think it a betrayal of their existential struggle to leave the desert for patriarchal thrones? It has this also in the persons of newer saints, who, taking on monasticism upon the completion of their theological studies, departed unwaveringly on the path of pastorship in their monastic rank, and preparing for both one and the other, confessed through this their faith in their full compatibility. Such were St Dimitri of Rostov, St Innocent of Irkutsk, and St Tikhon of Zadonsk. True, we do not have any strictly formulated and ecclesially authorized regulations of such a life, but then monasticism in the monastery did not receive such regulation before its historical appearance but much later. And, by the way, it did not become any better or more respected from receiving it than before.

Ecclesial life carries in itself its own holiness and its own justification: regulation does not enshrine [Church life] as law, but rather by it [the regulations] are interrogated and authorized. The Church believes in the “one essence” of the Father and the Son not because two councils decided this; rather, these councils are recognized because they were in concord with the inner life of the Church. And so, it is fully proper to place the question of the compatibility of pastorship with monasticism, as with a principle and as with an internal ordering of life, and to answer this question in a positive way from the perspective of Church history.

Religious life, however, is not so much interested in situational proofs as it is in their a priori elucidation. For this reason, along with historical evidence, we would like to have real-life examples of how a Christian can combine in his heart both asceticism and care for the souls of his neighbors. Before giving a straight answer, let us pause on those phenomena of current Church life, which bring forth the question itself, together with the desire for an answer in the negative. These phenomena come from a wrong outlook on monasticism and are expressed in the following genre of puzzling intimations.

They point out that combining these two callings will work about as well in a young monk as serving two masters: either you will serve the one and have no care for the other, or you will serve the latter and have no care for the first. On top of this, youth and a love of honor that is constantly fed with elevations can quickly cause one to forget about one’s own salvation and that of others, and to excuse one’s sins against monasticism with one’s pastoral duties, and one’s sins against pastoral duty by reference to one’s monastic vows. Neglect of the prayer rule, of church attendance, of fasting, of the poverty of monastic life; disregard toward monastic service in the simplicity of interaction with the lowly and guileless sincerity toward the elite, etc. — all this they are wont to justify by pointing out the need to maintain the aura of an authoritative teacher.

[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Pastoral ministry is a difficult task. Reclusive asceticism requires the personal rejection of outer and bodily things.[/perfectpullquote]

The young monk, pastor, and teacher is ready to explain away participation in worldly dinners and meetings, visitations and so forth, as the need for communication with colleagues for the greater good of the school. But the enemy is powerful and if one does not fight with him, putting on the whole armor of God6, then he quickly takes control of the monk and threatens to make him a crowd-pleaser and a pleaser of the flesh, lowering his soul to the earth and estranging it from any soaring on high. This is why monks of the desert are more hostile toward their educated brethren than they are to pastors in the world.7 What good is the pastoral work of young, educated monastics if because of it asceticism is neglected?

Of course, there are true pastor-pedagogues, as were St Tikhon of Zadonsk and St Macarius of the Altai especially. There are fewer, however, than there are educated ascetics, because an educated monk can become an ascetic, whether he is a pedagogue by vocation or a stranger to this calling. But a monk who is devoid of a pastoral vocation will never be a pedagogue.

Pastoral ministry is a difficult task. Reclusive asceticism requires the personal rejection of outer and bodily things. Of course, this will not be true Christian asceticism, though nowadays people are satisfied with this, if only fleshly passions are battled; but now in monasteries they are less concerned with the uprooting of heartlessness, spiritual barrenness, and pride than they were before. And anyway this is psychologically difficult, when for so many all of religion has taken on a character solely of repentance. The most intensive self-rejection is required for pastoral asceticism. Here, a lack of humility, patience, and self-mortification will be made apparent by fatal consequences with every step. Because of this, a monk-teacher often turns away from guiding the souls of his flock and falls into the most sincere delusion that because he is doing this only out of obedience to the Church authorities, he is merely obligated to apply the existing rules, punish violations with the penance instituted in the seminary rulebook, and to oversee the chancellery and the pocketbook.

Bearing the priestly office and robes, such a teacher risks completely blending in with those frightful bureaucrats and, naturally, the parents of the students wonder at why a monk was given an obedience which has so little to do with his spiritual growth, which is the only goal of obedience. Furthermore, the frequent transfer of a monk-teacher from one school to another prevents him from gaining even such a low level of attachment to it as naturally do the lay senior lay mentors. Torn away from the formational environment of the monastery and cut off from the possibility of forming a love of the soul for any other Church institution, an educated monk is naturally subjected to the temptation of loving with all the powers of his soul … only his own self. And then with redoubled strength he will raise the question of the compatibility of pastoral work with monasticism. We will give a firm and straight answer in the next chapter.

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