Wednesday, 12 October 2005

What is a Monk?

The word ‘monk’ comes from the Greek μοναχός which means ‘alone’. A monk is someone who lives alone. Are all people who live alone monks? No. Do all monks live alone? No. Then what does the word ‘monk’ mean?

In the Orthodox service of consecration of a monk, the person about to become a monk is asked: ‘Why have you come here falling down before the Holy Altar?’ You see, a monk is someone who consecrates himself to God. The answer that the would-be monk gives is this: ‘I desire the life of asceticism.’ The person consecrating himself to God desires the life of asceticism. The life of asceticism is the road to God. St John of the Ladder (also known as St John of Sinai) writes that a monk is he who denies nature in order to attain to that which is above nature. The officiant asks: ‘Do you wish to be enrolled in the choir of those who live alone?’ The person answers: ‘Yes.’ The monk is he who lives alone because he gives up marriage. St Paul teaches us that he who is married must please his wife whereas he who remains unmarried can devote himself to pleasing God. Next, the officiant asks: ‘Do you renounce the world and the things in the world?’ The would-be monk answers: ‘Yes.’ Evagrius teaches us that the renunciation of the world is the first movement towards God, the foundation of all progress in asceticism. The service continues with the more particular vows of the monk; we will discuss them at another time.

In the Orthodox Church, the service of tonsure, of consecration of a person to God as a monk, is exactly the same for men and for women. There is no difference.

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