Suisse : réflexion sur le monachisme dans l'Orthodoxie par l'Archimandrite Gabriel (Bunge)
Schema-Archimandrite Gabriel (Bunge) is the abbot of the Monastery of the Exaltation of the Crosslocated near Lugano, Switzerland. He is a well-known patrologist, theologian and an author of a number of books, which have been translated into numerous European languages.
In our continued conversation, Fr. Gabriel answers the following important questions regarding the history of Christianity and its contemporary status: What are the reasons for the schism between the Orthodox East and Catholic West, and can it be overcome? Would the creation of monastic orders be appropriate for the Orthodox Church? What kind of education must the monks have? How should Christians maintain the proper spiritual frame of mind?
—In Catholicism, there are a great number of monastic orders and each of them has a certain mission, while in Orthodoxy, we have only various monastic vows or monasteries with various statutes. For example, we have scholarly monastics, administrative monastics, etc. Do you think it would be appropriate for the Orthodox Church to create monastic orders that would be involved in various types of activities, so that the graduates of religious establishments could select specific areas to serve the Church based on their abilities or inclinations?
—Monasticism does not exist for any specific purposes related to this world. To quote an anonymous author of The History of Egyptian Monks (fourth century), “From the very beginning, the purpose of monasticism was following Christ in the desert, singing hymns and psalms and waiting for our Lord to come.” This seeming “uselessness” makes monasticism free from any services within the Church structure. The Orthodox Church preserved this original trait of monasticism as well as its many other aspects.
Although it had the same roots, Western monasticism evolved in a totally different manner. Canonically, there are only a few monastic orders in Catholicism: Benedictines with their various branches (Cistercians, Trappists, Camaldolese, etc.) and, for example, Carthusians. A great number of various religious “orders” was formed in the middle ages. In modern times, the division into “the institutes of consecrated life” continued. All these various forms of “consecrated life” met various needs of the Church.
Such diversity obviously offers certain advantages. However, its main disadvantage is that the true monastic life is sidelined. I’m just repeating the words of Benedictine abbots I know who say that regretfully the church hierarchy struggles with the idea that monasteries exist. It should be noted that the Catholic church is managed by secular clergy (who have taken the vow of chastity), and this clergy makes it very different from all other “Eastern” (Byzantine or Pre-Chalcedonian churches.
Another disadvantage is the institutionalization of the entities that were originally created to perform specific tasks, such as fighting heresy, preaching among people, carrying out missionary work, educating young people and taking care of the sick and children. This is the trend that facilitates continued existence of such institutions even when they are no longer needed, since some of these tasks are now performed by the government.
I believe that the Orthodox Church is well-informed, and that is why it is not going the way of the Latin Church, firmly maintaining the integrity of monastic life! Orthodox monasticism is in fact as multi-faceted as the Western religious life, and there is no tendency to institutionalize its various aspects, which are often determined by the history of the monastery and the legacy of the saint who founded it. Even though there is a great number of monasteries, the monks can always move from one monastery to another.
I’ll give you an example. A monk may start his monastic life in a monastic community (cenobium) and then move to a skete (like I did). Afterwards, he may become a very high ranking official in the Church (a bishop or even a patriarch) and by the end of his life become a hermit. He can do all of this without leaving one order and joining another, which requires starting from the very beginning every time and becoming a novice like it happens in the Catholic Church.
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