On Dogma and the Monk

Elder Aemilianos of Simonos Petra

Every monk is always a theologian and a man of dogma. The monastic estate is the recapitulation of the whole content of Orthodox doctrine. It is a distillate of the experience of the Orthodox faith and it’s guardian. This is true, just as it is also true that the monks have often, of necessity, fought in defense of doctrine.

However, the natural place of the monk is asceticism and not the defense of doctrine in the public church. The security of doctrine, its living out and its preservation, comprise a necessary equilibrium in Orthodoxy. But the monasteries do not have it as their purpose to champion the doctrine. The holy Canons strictly forbid the monks from getting mixed up in doctrinal issues and in “church affairs.” Permission is required for this purpose from the bishop.

To be sure, there have been periods when the monks have involved themselves — and they did well to do so — with defense of doctrine, and they continue to do it. The Holy Mountain, for example, protects the Church even today, but this is an exception. It presents itself as an imperative necessity by reason of the difficult period that the Church is presently experiencing.

The same Church assembled in councils is the assurance of the doctrine. The monks preserve its conscience unimpaired, and the council, bishop, etc., is obliged to take this into account. There are fathers, like Saint Barsanuphius and a great many others, who strictly forbad any mingling of monks in questions of the faith, and this in order that they dedicate themselves to their ascetic struggles. Such men, however, possess the doctrine in their very lives. They live it out in every one of their veins and their blood itself depends on it.

Let us pray that the necessity not arise that monks should have to intervene, but that the Church be ever Orthodox and rightly divide the word of truth. (The Living Witness of the Holy Mountain by Hieromonk Alexander Golitzin pp. 180-181. “Martyrdom: Foundation of Orthodox Monasticism”)

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