ASK FATHER TED (November 2012)


Does the Orthodox Church have religious Orders like the Catholic Church? Why/why not?


The Catholic Church has allowed the development of various religious Orders to fulfill various personal callings of priests and monks but also to serve in various ministries of the Church. For example, the Jesuits concentrate on spreading Catholic theology and philosophy, while the Trappists concentrate on silence and prayer. The Benedictines emphasize manual work and self-subsisting monasteries, while the Carmelites are more meditative. Such Orders have their own organization and administration under canon law but under the supervision of the local bishop or directly the Pope.

The Orthodox Church has not developed such large-scale religious Orders with their own administrations may be due to diverse reasons. One reason is that the Orthodox Church consists of a family of Orthodox Churches, the Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Russian, Syrian, etc., each with its own administration, which would make universal Orders functioning within the many Orthodox Churches more difficult to arrange and to maintain. Another reason is that Orthodox theology, spirituality, and monasticism are strongly “otherworldly” concentrating on the invisible of the glorified saints, the kingdom of God, and the salvation of souls. Such ministries as teaching, philanthropy, and mission are left to the Church and its lay and clergy members who live in the world.

And yet, within Orthodox monasticism, three forms of monastic life have indeed developed and are considered traditional without constituting “Orders” as in the Roman Catholic case. One is the hermetic life in which individual monks live and pray largely alone (but can receive visitors by their own choice). Another is community monasticism (koinovion) and worship in a well-ordered monastery led by an abbot which is the general practice. And still another mediates between the two forms (the hermetic and the corporate) in which monks live and pray alone but on Sundays and Feastdays they gather together for worship and meals. It should be added that all Orthodox monks, along with prayer and worship, are usually assigned manual work to maintain themselves and the monasteries as much as possible, together with offerings from the faithful.

In modern times some interesting new things have occurred, for example, Orthodox monks have become missionaries and Orthodox celibate priests (a type of monks) who have become either missionaries or professors of theology–which may be seen as breaking new ground.

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