Saturday, 13 June 2009

An Email Orthodox Monk Sent

Subject: Great Schema
Dear Sirs:
Please refer to:
If you go to that thread you will see that near the end there is a discussion of the Great Schema which references three postings on our blog, Orthodox Monk. The post which makes the references was made by Fr Anthony at 12:47 PM 12 June 2009. These are the three posts from our blog which are referenced:
We would like to comment. Would you please post the following comment on the thread in question.
The comment begins here>
We see that our blog has been referenced in a discussion of the differences between the Great Schema and other levels of tonsure in the Orthodox Church.
We are pleased that our resources are being used and we would like to add some further remarks to the discussion.
There is a difference in both historical tradition and standard in the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches as regards the Great Schema.
The present practice in the Greek tradition, especially on Mt Athos, is after the novitiate to tonsure to a lesser degree and then after say 10 years to tonsure to the Great Schema. There is considerable variation in practice. Unmarried priests in the world who are tonsured monks are ordinarily tonsured to the Small Schema only. If you come across a Metropolitan in the Greek Church who is a monk of the Great Schema, you will almost certainly find that he was actually a monk in a monastery who became a priest and then was assigned pastoral duties in the world, these pastoral duties culminating in his being raised to episcopal rank.
According to the argument of St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, from whom current Athonite practice derives, the Small Schema and the Great Schema confer the same obligations, so why should the monk be deprived all his life of the grace of the Great Schema? (In fact, there is one vow in the Great Schema which is not in the Small Schema: 'Do you renounce the world and those in the world?') St Nikodemos' argument has prevailed on Mt Athos and there the understanding of the Great Schema is that it is the normal state of the Orthodox monk--the lesser degrees are for special purposes or reasons, so to speak.
It was not always that way in the Athonite tradition and this understanding dates from St Nikodemos.
We ourselves do not know the historical details, but as we understand it in the Russian tradition the norm for the monk is the Small Schema. In the Russian tradition, the Great Schema is for very accomplished monks who wish to proceed deeper into asceticism. It is not the case that these monks would necessarily become hermits. St Silouan the Athonite was a monk of the Great Schema but lived in the coenobium all his monastic life. Conversely, St Seraphim of Sarov did not consider himself worthy of being made a monk of the Great Schema and died a monk of the Small Schema. But he lived for many years as a hermit. We have heard at least one story which indicates that in the Slavic traditions on Mt Athos the Confessor will only give the blessing for the monk to be made a monk of the Great Schema if he is persuaded that the monk's previous life has been faultless--i.e. lived to a very high standard. We understand that in the Russian tradition, the Great Schema is conferred near the end of life and we have heard someone joke that in the Russian tradition to be tonsured a monk of the Great Schema you have to be at the level of an Optina starets.
This appears to be the orientation that St Nikodemos was combating. He took the position that the monk of the Great Schema is the fully equipped soldier who is battling with the enemy. The Russian tradition makes the monk of the Small Schema the fully equipped soldier who is battling the enemy and reserves the Great Schema to the hero.
It is characteristic that in present Greek practice, the Great Schema is conferred by a priest (ideally one who is himself a monk of the Great Schema; this would be the Abbot or one of the monastery priests in the presence of the Abbot) whereas in Russian practice, the Great Schema is conferred by a bishop. We have never heard of cases where a Greek Schema-Monk goes to a Russian jurisdiction, so we have no idea what the Russians would do with tonsure by a priest. We imagine that they would let it be and not retonsure.
We have been told by a native member of the Russian Church that the rules of that Church do not allow a (Great) Schema-Monk to be raised to bishop (the vow of renunciation of the world is perhaps what they are looking at). Hence, cases to the contrary would be the exception rather than the rule. But we are not familiar with all of the details of such things.
Thanks very much.
Orthodox Monk