Friday, 16 September 2016

More on the Married Man Becoming a Monk

We received a comment on our post Can a Divorced Man Become an Orthodox Monk? from N.  F. Perry. Ordinarily we anonymize the identity of inquirers but Mr Perry has used his own personal identity in the comment posing his question and we cannot anonymize it. Moreover Mr Perry is something of a public figure. Mr Perry’s comment is this:
Seems good and clear advice. My own question is: if my marriage (recognized under civil law of UK) in church has not been registered with any diocese, can I become a monk without obtaining a civil divorce but with the consent of my wife? Would appreciate very much your observation on this situation from the point of view of Orthodox canon law.
This is a somewhat perplexing question. Mr Perry is originally from the UK. That suggests to us that his marriage was originally in the Anglican Church. However, he seems to be saying, his marriage, although recognized under the civil laws of the UK—so that under UK law Mr Perry and his wife are married—has not been registered with any (Anglican?) diocese despite the fact of having taken place in a church (presumably Anglican). Under these circumstances, Mr Perry wishes to know, can he become a monk without getting a divorce, merely with the consent of his wife?
First of all we, Orthodox Monk, are not Orthodox canon lawyers or in any way experts in Orthodox canon law. Moreover we are not a secular lawyer anywhere. We can only speculate.
Next, we assume that Mr Perry wishes to become a monk in the Orthodox Church. His biography says that he lived for a time in a monastery in Crete; such a monastery would ordinarily be Orthodox, Crete being an island that is part of Greece, where Orthodoxy is the state religion. Mr Perry has also published a novel about Mt Athos but we have no idea how much time Mr Perry spent on Mt Athos and the state of his relations with the monks of Mt Athos.
Mr Perry lives, or has been living, on a property in Chile. We have no idea if the Orthodox Church is represented in Chile. Chile is a country where the dominant religion would be Roman Catholicism, although we imagine that there is a certain amount of religious pluralism and even outright atheism. Moreover we have absolutely no idea of Chilean law. So the issue arises of the disposal of the property in Chile—and any other property in any other country—in the context of Mr Perry’s entry into a monastery.
We assume that Mr Perry is still a citizen of the UK. We have no idea of Mr Perry’s status in Chile. Has he become a citizen? Is he a legal resident of Chile? How does the Chilean state view his status under Chilean law and especially the status of the property he is living on in Chile? How will Chilean law view a legal separation between Mr Perry and his wife executed in the UK (see below)? We don’t know.
Let’s make some basic observations. You can’t become a monk in the Orthodox Church unless you are Orthodox. Somewhere along the line Mr Perry has converted to the Orthodox Church or will convert to the Orthodox Church. If Mr Perry has not converted and does not intend to convert to the Orthodox Church we can say nothing since only a member of the Orthodox Church can become an Orthodox monk. If as a non-member of the Orthodox Church he wished to take up his abode in an Orthodox monastery that would depend on the discretion of the Abbot and the local bishop; however the situation would be unusual because a non-member of the Orthodox Church could not receive the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, including monastic tonsure.
Next, the question arises of the status of Mr Perry’s marriage in the Anglican Church. Is it recognized as a marriage by the Anglican Church? Mr Perry says that he was married in church but the marriage was not registered with any diocese. Mr Perry would have to ask an Anglican canon lawyer or bishop whether he is married in the eyes of the Anglican Church. We have no idea. This is outside the realm of our expertise.
Next, let’s suppose that Mr Perry has converted or is going to convert to the Orthodox Church. The place where he converts would have an approach to his Anglican marriage, whether the Orthodox Church recognized that marriage or not. On this question Mr Perry would have to ask the people who were receiving him formally into the Orthodox Church, or if he has been Orthodox for some time, the monastery where he wished to become a monk. This is a matter that has to be analyzed concretely in the context of specific places and specific people where Mr Perry is going to become a member of the Orthodox Church and/or an Orthodox monk.
In the Orthodox Church you have to become a monk somewhere. There must be a specific monastery that you become a monk in. That means that there are specific people—the Abbot, the Council of Elders, the local Orthodox Bishop—who must be persuaded that they want to make you a monk in their monastery. Now it is possible that Mr Perry could become a monk in a monastery in Crete and be sent back to his property in Chile to live while still depending ecclesiastically on the monastery where he became a monk, but that is something the monastic authorities enumerated above would have to agree to.
While we understand that Orthodox canon law views monastic tonsure as dissolving the marriage and while we think that in Greece in the Church of Greece or even in a monastery on Mt Athos a signed consent of the wife to the husband becoming a monk would be sufficient for the ecclesiastical authorities if the parties to the marriage were both Greek and Orthodox, we think that the ecclesiastical authorities would still want some formal disposition of the property involved in the marriage. However, the situation is far more complicated in the case of Mr Perry as we have discussed above.
With the above caveats, therefore, we think that the approach would or should be this. Mr Perry has to go with his wife to a lawyer in the UK to arrange a legally binding agreement with his wife that they will be permanently separated until death. This agreement will stipulate that Mr Perry intends to become a monk in an Orthodox monastery and that Mr Perry’s wife agrees with that decision. We are taking the view that a mere written consent of the wife to Mr Perry becoming an Orthodox monk would be too weak given all the complications enumerated above. The concrete Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities with whom Mr Perry was working might disagree and accept a simple written consent of the wife. We would stand corrected. The UK legal agreement would stipulate the terms of the permanent separation with regard to any legal issue that might exist especially concerning the disposition of any property belonging to one or the other party to the marriage and any property held in common.
The UK lawyer would have to establish that the agreement would be recognized to the extent necessary under Chilean law. If for some reason the Chilean state did not recognize the UK separation agreement, then something would have to be worked out under Chilean law for the disposition of property in Chile—and we suppose for the separation itself. Conceivably the property in Chile would have to be sold and Mr Perry might have to leave Chile because of legal issues, we don’t know.
At the same time that Mr Perry and his wife are working on a legal separation in the UK, Mr Perry would be discussing with the concrete Orthodox authorities in the place where he intends to become a member of the Orthodox Church and/or an Orthodox monk how those Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities will view his UK separation agreement with his wife. We would think that if the Orthodox ecclesiastical authorities were confident that the UK separation agreement was valid in law both in the UK and in their own legal jurisdiction then they would be satisfied that Mr Perry could become a monk in the Orthodox Church, assuming that all other issues had been taken care of.

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Obligations of the Monastic to their Parents

We have received an email from someone who poses the question of the responsibility of the monastic towards their parents in the light of Mark, 7, 9 – 13. This person—let us call her Euthymia, after St Euthymius the Great—poses her question in the context of our post Is a Rasophore a Monk or a Novice? We received Euthymia’s permission to quote her email and discuss it. Here it is:
Dear Orthodox Monk,
I ask for your blessings and prayers. Thank you for maintaining such an interesting blog.
My question has to do with the penultimate paragraph of the post:
Rasophore monk Seraphim raises the issue of possible legitimate reasons to return to the world—aged parents and so on. These things are pretexts since on the one hand they would have been discussed with the Abbot before the tonsure and directions given; and, on the other hand, the monk has no obligations to those in the world such as Rasophore Monk Seraphim describes. For example, when a married man becomes a monk, under canon law the marriage is automatically dissolved. So the monk is free of such worldly obligations; indeed they must be seen as temptations of the Devil to return him to the world.”
The Lord's teaching in Mark 7,9 – 13, in the situation of a monk or nun whose parents are in need, seems to imply that the monk or nun in question is required to do whatever is necessary to care for the parents. This principle might be stretched to cover other situations. How can one offer one's life as a sacrifice to the Lord via a sinful means—by neglecting love and responsibility to one’s family? I am curious to know how the Orthodox interpret such passages. Say, for the sake of argument, that the parents of the monk or nun fell into unforeseen need after their child was already tonsured. Is it true that “the monk has no obligations to those in the world” in such a case?
For the sake of disclosure, I am not dealing with such a situation; I’m just curious. This passage has always been fascinating and challenging to me.
In Christ,
Let us start with the passage in question:
And he said to them: Well you displace the commandment of God so as to keep your tradition. For Moses said, “Honour your father and your mother;” and “He who speaks ill to father or mother, let him die by execution.” But you say, “If a man say to father or mother, that of mine which would benefit you is ‘Corban’ (which is to say ‘gift’),” then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or mother, invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have transmitted; and many other such things do you do. (Mark 7, 9 – 13).
Let us clarify the basic meaning of the passage. The Pharisees maintained certain oral traditions in addition to the Mosaic Law. In the case at hand, the Pharisees have complained to the Lord that his disciples have eaten with unwashed hands, something according to the Pharisee’s tradition the disciples should not have done. The Lord replies by commenting on a particular tradition of the Pharisees. That tradition is that if someone says that some property or possession of his is dedicated to God (this is the meaning of ‘Corban’) then that person’s parents no longer have the right to be benefited by that property or possession in accordance with the commandment of Moses.
Euthymia’s question is how this passage bears on our remark to Seraphim that the Orthodox monastic leaves his parents behind. Let us turn to some basics on the monastic vocation.
First of all, a monastic vocation is a call from God. It is not human. It is not something I decide to do because I don’t want to get married, because I want to dissolve a marriage, because I want to evade my responsibilities in the world. The most basic passage concerning the monastic vocation is Matthew 19, 10 – 19:
But I say to you that he who dismisses his wife, except on the grounds of adultery, and marries another, commits adultery. And if she who has been dismissed marries, she commits adultery. His disciples said to him, If such is the cause of a man with his wife, it is not profitable to marry. But he said to them, Not all can contain this word but only those to whom it is given; and there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb and there are eunuchs who were castrated by men and there are eunuchs who have castrated themselves for the Kingdom of the Heavens. He who is able to contain this word, let him contain it.
We discuss the monastic vocation in greater detail in Questions about Orthodox Monasticism and The Monastic Vocation and we would recommend that Euthymia read those two posts before continuing.
Now there are other passages in the Gospel that discuss the relation of Jesus’ disciple to the disciple’s parents. In Luke, 18, 20 – 21, Jesus says that his mother and brothers are those that hear the word of God and do it. In Matthew 10, 37 – 38, Jesus says that he who loves father or mother more than him is not worthy of him and he who does not take up his cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of Jesus.
Part of the monastic calling is the renunciation of the world, including the family. In other words, in its classic form, monasticism is a radical renunciation in order to respond to Jesus’ call to love Jesus and him only, the monastic taking up their cross and following Jesus to the exclusion of all else. It is in this context that the Church has understood Matthew 19, 16 – 22 where Jesus counsels the rich young man, if he wishes to be perfect (and not just to be saved), to sell all that he has and give to the poor, and to come follow Jesus.
What can be inferred is that if someone has a divine calling to the monastic state, then that calling supersedes love of parents. This can be seen in the historical record. In the Pachomian monasteries, St Theodore the Sanctified refuses to see his mother who has come with a letter from the bishop. There are many other such cases.
In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St John of Sinai discusses the temptation to the postulant arising from their love for (or attachment to) their family. John is clear that a fundamental part of the monastic vocation is renunciation of family. (In this, we would suggest that Euthymia read Steps 1 and 2 of the Ladder in the Lazarus Moore translation, published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery.)
While Sinaite monasticism is not strictly the same as Egyptian monasticism, on this point the two traditions agree. This is important since to a very great extent Egyptian monasticism became the dominant form of monasticism in the Orthodox Church.
However, we would also suggest that Euthymia read all of the ascetical works of St Basil the Great, which constitute a somewhat different tradition in the Orthodox Church. We would think that the relations between the monastic and the monastic’s parents would have a somewhat different treatment in Basil’s ascetical works, especially the Short Rules.
Next, depending on the tradition within which Euthymia is situated ecclesiastically, there will have been different historical evolutions of these basic ascetical traditions. By which we mean that if Euthymia were to enter say a Russian monastery whether in Russia or outside Russia she would encounter a somewhat different attitude to renunciation of one’s family than in say a strict Greek monastery. In this regard it behooves Euthymia to study the historical evolution of monasticism in the jurisdiction in which she is situated. Two good ways to do this are the monastic typika (plural of typikon; the monastic typikon is not the liturgical rule but the organizational rule of the monastery) in her tradition and the lives of the saints in her tradition. Euthymia should consider, for the Byzantine tradition, looking at the complete collection of translated monastic typika in the Byzantine tradition published free online by Dumbarton Oaks. She should also seek out the best translations of the best texts of the lives of the saints—preferably those written by an immediate disciple. Dumbarton Oaks publishes online a free set of 10 lives of woman saints in the Byzantine Tradition and also free the very important life of St Lazaros of Mt Galesion. Also relevant would be the Sayings of the Desert Fathers but the offerings in English are minimal, the best work having been done by French Catholic scholars and published in Latin or Greek with French translation in Sources Chr├ętiennes.
We would also suggest that Euthymia spend some time in a good woman’s monastery in the home country of her jurisdiction in order to discuss these matters with the nuns and perhaps the Abbess, so that Euthymia can understand how her jurisdiction at its best understands these issues. In this regard we might remark that monasticism in the Orthodox diaspora is not always in its ideal condition.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Clarifying Remarks on a Post

Abcd Efgh” has posted a comment on “Love as a Spiritual Lens Through Which to View the Gospelwhich reads:
Why is a person who leaves the family, having been brought up badly, wrong? I don't get it, isn't it better for the person to leave? (signed Abcd Efgh)
Here is the passage that “Abcd Efgh” is commenting on:
Let us take another example. A young person has been brought up badly. They have left school and family and are living on their own. This is not an ideal Christian life. They have made an effort to resume their education but spiritually they are among lost ones. Perhaps, however, less lost than many still in school. They have spiritual interests. However, the first obstacle to their conversion is the notion of sin.
Will they find someone with love in their heart to guide them to Christ? For let us look at such a young person’s encounter with the notion of personal sin. A young person sins—in this day and age, who knows how? But they have spiritual interests. In some way God is calling to them, to their heart. God is calling them to Life. But the first thing they hear is, “Repent!” In the hands of the unloving preacher this is the road to an authoritarian judgmental Christianity; in the hands of the loving Elder or confessor, this is the beginning of a conversion to an Orthodoxy that is not formalist but a mystagogy of Life and Truth.
What “Abcd Efgh” thinks we mean is not what we mean. In saying that the person in question has left school and family and is living on their own and that this is not an ideal Christian life, we are not saying the person was wrong to leave. We are being descriptive. We do not know why the person left.
What we meant is that for a young person to leave school and family and live on their own is not ideal. It’s not the best situation for someone to be in. An analogy might make this clear. Someone has gangrene—let’s say they were caught in a blizzard and got frostbite. So the doctor cuts their leg off and gives them a motorized wheelchair. This is not an ideal personal situation. People should have two legs and walk around like everyone else.
Similarly in the ideal situation a young person needs their family, needs school. Circumstances may have been such that the person really had no choice but to leave—we are not judging—but the new situation is not ideal from a Christian or even from a psychological perspective. Indeed if you look at traditional cultures, not only is it the norm that the child stays with the parents until fairly old, but that child is even inserted within the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on). Now sometimes this leads to intolerable situations—in Indian Hindu culture the bride goes to live with her husband who remains in the family home, where bride’s mother-in-law is often harsh with the bride—but it has to be recognized that although adolescence is a time of breaking away and establishing one’s own identity, it is also a time when the child needs emotional support, and in the case at hand, schooling to be able to take up a role in society. Moreover, as a practical matter for an adolescent to be living on their own is certainly opening them to sin.
Now as we pointed out, the person has spiritual interests and might even be in better shape than many still in school.
The person is where they are. God knows why they left and how intolerable the situation was. We don’t. But everyone on the face of the earth sometime has to turn to God. God meets us where we are.