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).

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.

  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.

Perfection is possible through two ways.



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).

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.

   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 élite, etc. — all this they are wont to jus­ti­fy by point­ing out the need to main­tain the aura of an author­i­ta­tive teacher.

Pastoral ministry is a difficult task. Reclusive asceticism requires the personal rejection of outer and bodily things.



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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