The first thing to do to prevent psychological problems in the monastery is to build the monastery in a sunny, dry location. All the cells (individual rooms) of the monks should have a good southern exposure and be free from dampness.
The next thing to do is to make sure that the monastery is well-built and well-heated or well-cooled, as the case may be.
In more northerly locales, the lack of sunshine in autumn and winter naturally brings on depression even in healthy persons. We wonder how the monasteries in the far north of
Next, the diet of the monks should be healthy. Only after charismatic discernment of the will of God by the
Next, the program of the monastery should be adapted both to the climate and to the psychological needs of the monks. The monks should not be ‘stressed out’ by an excessively burdensome program (say, for the sake of argument, church services 12 hours a day).
Finally, all monks need to work. This is a matter of psychological balance. However, the work should be suited to their physical and mental strength and age.
Monks with known psychological problems or with family histories of psychiatric illnesses that are known or suspected to have a genetic basis should be allowed to embark on personal asceticism only with the greatest circumspection on the part of the Superior.
‘Particular friendships’—special, emotionally exclusive, relationships between two or more monks—should be eliminated. These exclusive relationships will destroy the brotherhood. In serious cases, the offending monks are to be expelled. The problem starts long before any physical sin: the emotional exclusivity tears the brotherhood apart.
Christian monasticism does not foresee homosexual relations among monks or among nuns. Hence, the
There is no antinomian tradition—that is, no tradition of conscious freedom from morality and law, the person having advanced spiritually beyond morality and law—in Christian monasticism, and any such expression should be dealt with ruthlessly, even by summary expulsion from the monastery.
These points concerning relations among monks, among nuns and between monks and nuns, and concerning antinomian behaviour, are points at which Christian monasticism takes a very different stance from Tibetan Buddhist monasticism, although we do not know the details of Tibetan Buddhist monastic rules. There is no tradition of tantric yoga in Christianity, so that the physical expression of tantric yoga between monks and nuns, found even among accomplished Tibetan Buddhist masters, is completely alien to Christian monasticism.
The monastery should be careful to maintain courteous Christian relations with its neighbours. This is especially true if the neighbours are not Orthodox Christian. This is so that the monks are unburdened by conflicts with the external world. The monks came for God. They did not come to fight the monastery’s neighbours.
The monastery should be properly inserted into the Orthodox Church. In Orthodox ecclesiology, the monastery is necessarily under the jurisdiction of an Orthodox bishop. Relations with that bishop should be sincere relations of children with their father. When the monastic superior has reached the spiritual stature of St Savas the Sanctified—in the eyes of others, not in his own eyes—, then he can in dogmatic matters carry the banner of Orthodoxy. In cases where the Orthodox monastery is not properly inserted into the Orthodox Church, it can be assumed that the psychological condition of the monks or nuns is not good, and that they will attract unstable or disturbed vocations.
These things are the presuppositions of an emotionally healthy Orthodox monastery. It is in such a monastery that a monk can maintain his sanity and progress in prayer.