Forms of monastic life

(Courtesy of

With time, three forms of monastic life evolved: coenobitic (κοινοβιον), idiorhythmic and solitary (αναχωρειν).

The coenobitic rule is characterised by discipline, and the monks come together for worship and meals. In the coenobitic monasteries, the monks rise an hour after midnight, civil time, [Byzantine time] to pray, alone in their cells at first and then all together in the main church, the katholikon, where they remain until daybreak. They then eat together in the refectory. The meal is followed by prayers, and the monks withdraw to occupy themselves with the tasks assigned to them by the monastery. No-one is exempt from work, not even the hegumen (abbot). After midday, the monks sleep or rest. In the late afternoon, they gather in the church again for the evening liturgy (esperinos), and they then go to the refectory, if it is not a fast day. The last liturgy of the day follows (apodeipnon). The monastery gates are closed, and the monks retire to their cells, where they read, pray, and sleep.

The idiorhythmic way of life came about as a result of the Ottoman conquest and the attendant imposition of harsh taxes on the monks, as also the establishment of the sketae. In the sketae and the idiorrhythmic monasteries, the monks organise their own time, dividing it between prayer and work in accordance with their personal needs. They come together for the Divine Liturgy only on Sundays and feast days; on ordinary days, each fulfils his religious obligations in the chapel in his own kalyva, or hut.

The solitary life is the most difficult of all. The monks who have chosen to be hermits live in complete solitude in caves or rudimentary dwellings on precipitous slopes or cliff sides. They eat as much as they need to stay alive, work to keep their minds alert, and devote all their time to prayer. Occasionally, they go to the nearby monasteries to receive communion.


asceticism. Practice of the denial of physical or psychological desires in order to attain a spiritual ideal or goal. Most religions have some features of asceticism. The desire for ritual purity in order to come in contact with the divine, the need for atonement, and the wish to earn merit or gain access to supernatural powers all are reasons for ascetic practice. Christian hermits and monks, wandering Hindu ascetics, and Buddhist monks all reject worldly goods and practice various forms of self-denial, including celibacy, abstinence, and fasting. Members of the Digambara sect of Jainism practice an extreme form of asceticism that includes the rejection of wearing clothes. Though monasticism is rejected in the Qur'an, ascetic movements such as zuhd have arisen in Islam. Zoroastrianism forbids fasting and mortification.
From Wendy Doniger, ed., Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999). Text © Merriam-Webster, Inc.

coenobite (Greek, koinobios, 'living in a community', from koinos, 'common' and bios, 'life' or 'way of life'). A religious in vows who lives in a community (as opposed to a hermit). The word is by extension also used in a technical sense of anchorites who occupy separate dwellings and observe a rule of silence, but live otherwise as a community of monks in a common enclosure. This latter way of life originated in the desert and is now followed in the West chiefly in the Carthusian Order.
From F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1997). Text © Oxford University Press.

hermit, also called Eremite, one who retires from society, primarily for religious reasons, and lives in solitude. In Christianity the word (from Greek eremites, “living in the desert”) is used interchangeably with anchorite, although the two were originally distinguished on the basis of location: an anchorite selected a cell attached to a church or near a populous centre, while a hermit retired to the wilderness. The first Christian hermits appeared by the end of the 3rd century in Egypt, where one reaction to the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Decius was flight into the desert to preserve the faith and to lead a life of prayer and penance. Paul of Thebes, who fled to the desert about 250, has been considered the first hermit. The excessive austerity and other extremes of the early hermits' lives were tempered by the establishment of cenobite (common life) communities. The foundation was thus laid in the 4th century for the institution of monasticism (i.e., monks living a common life according to an established rule). The eremitic life eventually died out in Western Christianity, but it has continued in Eastern Christianity.
From Wendy Doniger, ed., Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999). Text © Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Hesychasm (Greek hesychos, quiet). The story of the system of mysticism defended by the monks of Athos in the fourteenth century forms one of the most curious chapters in the history of the Byzantine Church. In itself an obscure speculation, with the wildest form of mystic extravagance as a result, it became the watchword of a political party, and incidentally involved again the everlasting controversy with Rome. It is the only great mystic movement in the Orthodox Church. Ehrhard describes it rightly as "a reaction of national Greek theology against the invasion of Western scholasticism" (Krumbacher, Byzant. Litt., p. 43). The clearest way of describing the movement will be to explain first the point at issue and then its history.

Hesychasts (hesychastes -- quietist) were people, nearly all monks, who defended the theory that it is possible by an elaborate system of asceticism, detachment from earthly cares, submission to an approved master, prayer, especially perfect repose of body and will, to see a mystic light; which is none other than the uncreated light of God. The contemplation of this light is the highest end of man on earth; in this way is a man most intimately united with God. The light seen by Hesychasts is the same as appeared at Christ's Transfiguration. This was no mere created phenomenon, but the eternal light of God Himself. It is not the Divine essence; no man can see God face to face in this world (John i, 18), but it is the Divine action or operation. For in God action (energeia, actus, operatio) is really distinct from essence (ousia). There was a regular process for seeing the uncreated light; the body was to be held immovable for a long time, the chin pressed against the breast, the breath held, the eyes turned in, and so on. Then in due time the monk began to see the wonderful light. The likeness of this process of auto-suggestion to that of fakirs, Sunnyasis, and such people all over the East is obvious.....
Read more in Catholic Encyclopedia/hesychasm


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Some materials by courtesy of Zbigniew
Kosc, Agion-oros., Alexia
Monachos. net,,
newadvent. org/cathen,, Techni Editions

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