Let us look at the origins of monasticism as a Christian phenomenon. In the Old Testament, we encounter Elijah the Prophet as a type of the monk: he has long, unkempt hair; he is celibate and so on. We find in Scripture at the same time as Elijah, brotherhoods called ‘Sons of the Prophets’. Scripture is silent on the practices of the ‘Sons of the Prophets’, but it is often thought that these brotherhoods were monastic in nature. Elisha the Prophet, chosen by Elijah by divine command as his successor, was also celibate.
Extra-biblically, we know that at about the time of Christ there existed a monastic brotherhood called the Essenes, one that is referred to by Josephus the historian, who says that he spent part of his childhood among them. However, the New Testament is completely silent on the Essenes. Naturally, we do not know why. However, the silence of Scripture on the Essenes suggests to us that they were not accepted by the Christian Church as either Jewish or Christian, or as having some connection to Jesus Christ or
Finally, there is
In the Acts of the Apostles, the early Christian community is described as living a common life, where everyone gave what they had to the common treasury and received according to their need, eating at a common table. This is usually taken in Orthodoxy to be a divinely inspired model of the coenobitical life. Among the Apostles, most were celibate, especially
In the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself is unmarried. Moreover, when discussing marriage, our Lord points out that there are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of the Heavens. This is interpreted by the Church to mean not those who have physically castrated themselves (this was always forbidden) but those who have adopted celibacy for the sake of the
In the epistles of Paul there are references to ‘widows’ who were enrolled in the Church as such and supported by the Church. These widows are taken to be the precursors of female monastics. At one place
In the Acts of the Apostles, Dorcas, who is raised from the dead by Peter, seems to be an example of a widow enrolled by the Church. When Peter comes to the place where Dorcas’ remains are laid out, he is shown the handicrafts which she has made for the Church.
Finally, outside Scripture, the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria (†45 ad?) , wrote a short work describing the therapeutae and their practices. The therapeutae lived outside