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Monastic Obedience
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Korennaya Hermitage MonksMonastic Obedience

Men and women lived their lives consecrated to God under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; monastic's look up to and emulate the Angels in obedience and humility. The monastery is directed by a superior (abbot or abbess) and all members of the monastic community live in obedience to their elder. A monk who has no desires for earthly possessions is ready to succeed in his practice of pure prayer, prayer which is based on the successful fulfillment of obedience, chastity, and poverty.

In Orthodox monasticism obedience is the first and foremost rule. However, it must be voluntary. If a monk or a nun lives in voluntary obedience, he or she experiences more and greater freedom than a person in society who must live by the rules of society, whether he wishes it or not. The monk must never believe that his obedience was forced upon him; for it was he who made the decision to live the monastic life. He must desire it; he must believe that he is doing it voluntarily. Otherwise, he has no business becoming a monk. A monk must have in his mind the same willing obedience that Jesus displayed to His mother the Ever-Virgin Mary and to Joseph, as Saint Luke records for us in his gospel (Luke 2:51). In this respect a monk denies himself; he denies the whims and the desires of his ego and he becomes a slave of Christ. For he knows that only in this way will he find his true self, his real identity and his true freedom. Each monk has his obedience or work assignment to do, besides attending the prescribed services and offices

Orthodox Obedience

The coenobium is the ideal Christian community, where no distinction is drawn between mine and yours, but everything is designed to cultivate a common attitude and a spirit of fraternity. In the coenobium the obedience of every monk to his abbot and his brotherhood, loving kindness, solidarity and hospitality are of the greatest importance. Monks are the "guardians". They choose to constrain their bodily needs in order to attain the spiritual freedom offered by

The monk's journey to perfection is gradual and is connected with successive renunciations, which can be summarized in three. The first renunciation involves completely abandoning the world. This is not limited to things, but includes people and parents. The second is renunciation of the individual will, and the third is freedom from pride, which is identified with liberation from the sway of the world

The monastic life is described as "the angelic state", in other words a state of life that while on earth follows the example of the life in heaven. Virginity and celibacy come within this framework, anticipating the condition of souls in the life to come, where "they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven". All the other obligations, even the other two monastic vows of obedience and poverty, essentially concern all the faithful. Needless to say, all this takes on a special form in the monastic life, but that has no bearing on the essence of the matter. The monastic vows are essentially not different from those taken at baptism, with the exception of the vow of celibacy. Furthermore, hair is also cut during baptism.

Orthodox Monastic Obedience

The monastic rule has as its strength to safeguard the monk in his daily life, helping him, through obedience, to keep unceasing vigil upon his inward integrity so that the union of heart and spirit may become for him a reality and lead him, as far as this is possible upon earth, to union with God. It is the primary rule of the order of Offices and also covers the obedience of intellectual and manual work. Work is itself a prayerful activity with the ascetic end in view of overcoming our rebel nature and to keep us from idleness which is so harmful to the spiritual life. Hagiography, icon painting, Byzantine music, woodcarving, incense preparation, making Church vestments, translating or writing books on the spiritual life and printing them, all arts that originated in Byzantium are still performed and flourish in the Monasteries

Finally, fervent and unceasing prayer, obedience to the elders of the Church, brotherly love and humility, as well as all the essential virtues of the monastic life were cultivated by the members of the Church from its earliest days. Obedience is very important in the spiritual life. Obedience, however, is always within certain boundaries. It can never involve doing what is illegal or immoral. True spiritual obedience has one end: to lead us to obedience to God. It is always within the Church, always toward a more profound level of communion, both Ecclesiasty and personally.

Christ's commandments demand strictness of life that we often expect only from monks. The requirements of decent and sober behavior, the condemnation of wealth and adoption of frugality 9, the avoidance of idle talk and the call to show selfless love are not given only for monks, but for all the faithful. Therefore, the rejection of worldly thinking is the duty not only of monks, but of all Christians. The faithful must not have a worldly mind.

It is not at all normal for lay people in the Church to be asked to be in blind obedience to an elder, or even to their parish priest, even if he is one of the two or three parish priests in America today who could truthfully be called a spiritual father. Indeed, even monastic's should not be in blind obedience. This would be contrary to the fundamental concepts of the meaning of faith, and certainly to the Orthodox doctrine of what the laity is.....One should be extremely cautious of anyone who wants to gain such absolute control over your mind and thought that they cannot allow you to freely associate and to freely and intelligently weigh and choose between seemingly conflicting ideas and "schools" of thought. In a monastery a special kind of obedience is necessary to maintain good order, avoid chaos and promote mutual cooperation and respect, and to avoid spiritual delusion. However, the same order of life does not apply to people living in the world, raising families and competing in the work place. Blind obedience to an individual is not at all a part of this concept, and the family -- including the parish family -- works together...

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