We received an email from someone in America. Let us call him Simon Jaguar. We would like to present the full email exchange for our readers to think about before we comment on the content of Mr Jaguar’s emails. We solicit comments from our readers on this email exchange whether by email—preferred—or by the comment form. We will then in due course discuss the content of the email exchange. We have edited Mr Jaguar’s emails for spelling, grammar and style.
The first email from Simon Jaguar:
The way the Orthodox Church has been administering tonsure the last few centuries bothers me.
For one thing, tonsure is seen as a second baptism. But if you allow rasophores to leave—that is, to become unbaptized—isn't that sacrilege? There's the argument that technically they haven't made any vows, but that implies that stavrophore tonsure is only a legal contract with God. By the same logic, you could encourage married couples to divorce because they don't take vows. Yet like the rasophore, the spouse has taken implicit and silent vows. (I recognize that the Church allows divorce, but that is only in the case of some kinds of unfaithfulness. God is never unfaithful to us, so a monk should not divorce his God.)
Another problem is that there are multiple tonsure ceremonies. If the rasophore was second baptism, then why have stavrophore tonsure?
If stavrophore tonsure is second baptism, then was the rasophore tonsure meaningless? Often one takes a new name at each ceremony. Sometimes one will take a new name upon becoming a novice, and sometimes one will not take a name upon becoming a rasophore. Doesn't this make the act of taking a new name into a formality or obligatory convention?
Then there's how people view the schema. It seems as if it's a medal or an award. Are not all clergy dead to the world? Are not all rasophore committed to virginity? Doesn't the word ‘monachos’ mean ‘solitary’?
In the early days, the schema was given upon first tonsure -- there were no multiple tonsure ceremonies. We even see this more recently in St Bogolep the child schemamonk.
In On Holy Virginity, St Augustine defines two categories: the married man or woman, and the committed virgin. He does not talk about those considering committed virginity. For him, it was almost an instant decision before baptism. And in his Rule, he does not mention the novitiate. All this was less than 100 years after St Anthony the Great and over 100 years before St Benedict of Nursia.
Orthodoxy is not a system; it is a teaching. The system of Orthodoxy is a reflection of that teaching, but many people seem to think the system at this current time is the only correct and perfect way to do it. This is a soft manifestation of Roman development of doctrine. Rather, perhaps sometimes the system of Orthodoxy becomes skewed (although not too much), and it is our job to preserve its integrity.
My point is not that the schema or novitiate are wrong. Rather, my point is that it seems that the Orthodox Church has turned monastic tonsure from an ontological change into a legal contract in the same way that the West has done to marriage and pretty much everything else. Am I alone in this opinion? I'm fairly new in Orthodoxy, but I can't imagine that I'm the only one who's noticed this. Could you point me to some further resources?
Simon Jaguar, future monk
Ordinarily we would ask your permission to quote the email on our blog and to discuss it there. However, we feel that the best answer is to ask you to reconsider your vocation. Your attitude suggests that you are far from a monastic in spirit and that you will have serious difficulties. We suggest that you discuss this email and our reply with your Abbot (assuming that you are already a novice) or else with your confessor.
Best wishes. Please do not reply.
Simon Jaguar’s reply:
I am not a novice. I am in a parish.
I am asking this because I am confused by the way Orthodoxy does tonsure. I asked you because you seem to know a lot about monasticism and would be able to give a sound reply. If I am wrong (which I am willing to accept), then tell me why.
Nevertheless, it seems that a common attitude [in the Orthodox Church] is that if something is common in the East, then it is correct. But perhaps something is common and has been wrong for a few centuries. I defended my position with history and the fathers. This is not something I made up in the shower.
Another common attitude I find is that if you question something, you don't understand obedience. You cannot know whether I am ‘far from a monastic spirit’ and that I have an ‘attitude’ just because I see an inconsistency in sacramental theology. Nor did you state why I am far from monastic [in] spirit. You state a conclusion with no premises, which is intellectually dishonest.
I am not interested in revolution but in repurification. To assume my spiritual condition is errant based on what I have written, and then to ask me not to reply, shows that you are self-righteous, arrogant, and judgmental.
Either tell me why my view on tonsure is wrong or admit that you don't know why you believe what you believe.
We would reply only on the blog. We remove identifying information, including your name. However we will print both of your emails in full (except if there is something that we think might identify you, which we will change). We also edit our readers' emails for grammar, spelling and style. Do you accept?
You might have a clearer understanding of our positions if you read some of the the blog's articles concerning monasticism, including our translation of the vows and our commentary on the vows, and also including some of our articles on the monastic state (click on
- ascetical monastic theology
- monastic tonsure
- monastic vocations
in the right margin under topics).
Mr Jaguar’s reply:
I accept. Thank you.
We are almost of the opinion that the exchange needs no comment since it speaks for itself.