Monastic History

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Monastic History Class

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#set-monastic-history, Syrian monasticism


Okay, we left off at the written rules in the Surya monastic experience, and basically we have three, three rules. The first rule is attributed to Ephraim, so the rule of Saint Ephraim it may be called. It is not by Ephraim, it's not the rule of Ephraim, but with differences in that. People who wrote it had some connection with Ephraim, at least they looked to him towards a mentor, as a mentor, probably, and this is common in, well, up until the present day. Until this century, people were doing that. This is the most general of the rules. If you're looking for particularities, if you're looking for laws and a very thorough


monastic rule, this is not the one to look to. It's just a very general, almost something you can look over altogether. However, it does, if you're liturgically motivated, you can look at the rule of Ephraim and find specifics and particularities regarding how we should sing the songs or what your stance should be at liturgy as a monk, and little things like that regarding the liturgical life, liturgical deportment, etc. And there's a little section on communal life, particularly regarding obedience that is worth looking at, and that is the basic spirit of obedience towards superiors, from the Syriac


point of view, and also how monks should behave to one another. That would be interesting to look at. If you want something a little more particularized, a little more, what do I want, what am I looking for? Detail, a little more detail with the rule of Rabula. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly. Rabula, this is a much more precise and specific, detailed monastic rule. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see as a monastic rule, if you're familiar with the Western monastic rules. And the rule of Philoxenus is interesting from the point of view that it almost seems


like a reform rule, so this is a little bit later on, and it's already dealing with how people have sloughed off, and monks are in need of reformation, and so it goes into that, into the particularities of reformation, fighting against relaxation of the monastic life, and how to keep up the standards of the monastic life, that type of thing. So this is like the, this is the trappist, this is the Syriac trappist movement in the Syriac Cistercian experience, for instance, and you can look at it that way. How does monasticism fit into popular religion in Syria, then? Well, we've already discussed how members of the monastic movement in Syria were, inserted


themselves into the life of the people there, culturally, also religiously, how their contact, even the anchorites, was hands-on contact often, at least in certain ways, regarding hospitality and whatnot, regarding the people of the area and pilgrims coming through, also that they were doing hands-on work, church work, and later on you have most of the bishops coming from the monastic ranks. Well, the people, even from the beginning stages of Syriac monasticism, so the fringe stuff we talked about first, the statics and dendrites and whatnot, the local people looked upon, they probably thought they were crazy, but they also really revered these people, really revered the full life


commitment that they gave to their monastic experience, and so they looked at them as the martyrs of Syria. So the ideal of martyrdom literally came back into Syria through monasticism. So that white martyrdom, it worked in Syria. They considered them the martyrs, and of course many of them did die standing with their hands outstretched and whatnot. So a little fiercer, generally a little fiercer form of monastic witness than we've seen elsewhere. But the monastics in the Syrian experience kept alive a strong idealism regarding being a martyr by living a monastic witness, literally unto death.


And so people began, as I mentioned before, especially with Simeon, stylized, people began coming to them regularly for spiritual guidance and also for healing. And during times of trouble, and there are plenty of times of trouble coming ahead, it would be the monks to whom the people and the secular powers looked to for mediation or for guidance. And needless to say, as in every place I know of in monastic history, the monastics of Syria had a strong influence on liturgy and cult. It just seems to be part of the beast.


We carry liturgy with us, a love for liturgy, and we affect the church around us by our liturgy. By the way, I'm going to give you four more maps next time when we meet. Two of them on Africa, monasticism in Africa, which at that time is not at all all that prevalent, but we'll have Augustine there. And then also some maps regarding the barbaric invasions. So if you want to bone up on your barbarisms or your memory banks regarding these invasions, please do a lot of discussion of the Goths, the Visigoths, the Lombards, Huns, the whole thing, the Ostrogoths, there's all kinds of them. The Goths are the main, they're really what's important to us,


especially in all the Gothic groups, especially to what happens to monasticism in present-day France and Germany. They had a profound influence and shaped monasticism, changed it a bit and helped to open it up in those areas. There was a strong role in the church that monasticism was to play in Syria, one probably that wouldn't have been anticipated except that that's how it worked out in history. And you have an awful lot of monastics becoming deacons and priests in order to serve the people in Syria and to work in the local church, especially during shortages,


times of shortage or plague or calamities, that type of thing, when enough priests got knocked off or whatever. And of course, later on, as I mentioned, increasingly so, more and more of the bishops are going to be ex-monks, are going to come from the ranks of the monks. The Syrian church did not have to, the non-monastics, did not have to worry about the Syriac monks taking over the episcopacy or taking over the whole church. Generally speaking, in this area, more than in some other areas where indeed the monastics did take over the local church, etc., in Syria, they didn't. They had no ambition in this regard, and that includes the bishops.


They did their job. They considered it martyrdom. And if they were appointed or elected or consecrated, they did their job, but they didn't have a lot of ambition. Deacons and priests, the same, from the monastic ranks. They went out and did their job, served the people, but they weren't all that interested in political intrigue, ecclesiastic politics, power, etc. And so, basically, what the Syrian church had was ideal from their standpoint, the local church's standpoint, is they had a whole available resource, sort of a pool of workers. And of course, nowadays, a lot of bigger Benedictine monasteries are the same and have been this century, where all the priests go out on weekends and do pastoral duty in parishes, help out, you know, go to parishes where there's seven or eight masses, or they're going to take four of them. That's common.


Well, here they were doing it also, and the local church was very thankful for that help, especially since there were no strings attached. This helped to integrate monasticism into the whole Syrian picture during these centuries. But also, as the bishops became more numerous, who were monks, and the monastic priests and deacons were out doing work more and more, they moved into other areas. And so, there's sort of like a missionary activity going on in Georgia, for instance, that is Eastern Europe, Georgia, and Arabia, Armenia. The Armenian church is flourishing for centuries and centuries.


A lot of these Syriac monk clerics went into these areas, and taught and served the people there, and spread Christianity. So, just in general then, what are some of the various features we've seen in Syrian monasticism in summary? Well, one of the more surprising, although we shouldn't be too surprised to see this, since we've already looked at the anchorites in Egypt, but to most people who don't know monastic history, it would seem ironic that one of the prime, important fundamentals of monastic spirituality in life would be hospitality. But again, here in Syria, you have even those anchorites, these crestial anchorites,


building up guesthouses, or building up hospices and inns, in order to take care of the pilgrims, in order to house the poor, in some cases, in order to take care of the sick. Although we don't have a lot of evidence for that in Syria, like we did in Cappadocia with Basil. I mean, that was very strong with Basil and his type of monasticism. Evidently, they believe we had it in Syria, but they don't have a lot of first-hand evidence regarding the actual taking care of the sick. Taking care of the poor, the needy, pilgrims, yes, that was especially the larger monasteries, large synobia that developed in Syria. This was their big thing, hospitality. They sort of had an inn attached to the monastery. They had a very strong, that is, the monastics had a very strong


impact and influence on the lay people in Syria. This was the source. Now, we're going to take this out of the religious realm, and we're going to look at the lay powers that be in Syria. This was the constant thorn in their side, these darn monastics, because the monastics in Syria were constantly coming to the aid of the poor, and the homeless, and the needy, and attacking the lay rulers for not meeting these needs. So they're constantly digging away at the lay rulers to better the conditions of the poor in Syria. Another activity that they in Syria were involved in, which is going to become more and more prominent in subsequent generations or subsequent centuries, and not just in Syria,


less so in Syria, and more so even in the West, and that is the ransom of slaves. You have a number of monks who devote themselves, or their lives, to ransoming slaves, or to, in some cases, giving their, you know, there's a lot of slavery now. We're in a time where if you're a slave, that's it. I mean, if you're, if you've got slave drivers out there, slave masters who have, you know, just taken over a group of people from an area, and off they go to the markets and whatnot, there's no way to get around it. I mean, you're talking property now. Later on with the whole Islamic thing, it's going to become much more, and that's where the West gets involved with this whole ransoming of slaves. I was born on September 24th in the old church that was Our Lady of Ransom. Anyone remember that? Our Lady of Ransom?


It was a feast honoring this type of thing. Catholics, and then an order evolved, and this was their feast, and they used to, you know, give their lives for, just to let a slave go, or work with the slaves, visit them in prison, that type of thing. What's the name of the order? Hmm? What'd you say? The Ransomites? No. This one, the Atone something, I forget. But anyway, I mean, this goes right down into the 15th, 16th, 17th centuries in some cases, where people are still, you know, and slavery isn't gone by any means today. There's the whole white slavery market that's still very active,


very sinister, and beneath the surface, underground. But that's still going on. It's rather frightening, in fact. Anyway, these Syriac monks were involved in this sort of thing, more so in the visiting of the prisons, the slaves, caring for their physical needs, rather than ransoming them. But some of them did that sort of work also. And as I mentioned already, intellectually and culturally, this is the influence. The monks are the ones who are studying. The monks are the ones who are writing, who are teaching, who are getting groups together for studies and for intellectual pursuits. Very big on manuscripts and books. Very high reverence. I have a quote here from a Syriac monastery, Syrian monastery, regarding the library,


which the assistant library may want to use this quote to make a sign for our library. Everyone who takes a codex to read or to collate and does not return it or damages the copy, anathema will strike him, the leprosy of Gehazi on his soul and the body and the fate of Judas the traitor. In other words, bring back your books. There was a tremendous literary output by Ephraim, especially Ephraim and his whole little cadre of followers and disciples that he had around him. Immense output, and a lot of this output was just translating Greek works into Syriac. And in some cases, we no longer have the Greek manuscripts. We've never seen them, but we have the Syriac copies.


Made by these guys for posterity, as it turns out. Also, there's a number of, a large number of the lives of some of these holy monks in Syria, written in Syria in the original. And also collections of personal musings and monastic yearnings and longings that have made it down through the centuries. And they have manuscripts of this also. As far as teaching goes, there was some teaching. It's nothing like what we saw with Basilian monasticism, where that's part of the game plan. Not so in Syria. They did it to fill a need, and then, and only then, when the monastery was big enough to handle this sort of thing.


So it's mainly the bigger synobia in Syria that actually started the school, or built a school. Or if they couldn't build a school, they actually held the school in the monastery. But that was less, needless to say, less desirable. The main education work in this regard was for the actual monastic formation program, for catechumens, for the local church, so people to get catechized. And also just, you know, book learning, the three R's, for the people in the local area, if there was no other way to have education, they would provide it. So the Syriac monks were doing it all. So what started out as


rather bizarre behavior, monastically speaking, and remember now, while we're talking about schools and everything, there still are some of these statics, and they're revered holy people on the pillars and whatnot. You also have these large monasteries doing a lot of social work, a lot of contemplative living with a ministry of hospitality attached, a lot of them going on to active ministry in the 5th century, 4th century, 6th century, a lot of them becoming bishops. Missionary, you know, out thrusts to Armenia, Georgia, Arabia, all of this is coming from that initial, seemingly rather strange, monastic charism in Syria.


So, anything at all about our discussion, which were like three classes I think, or three and a half, on Syrian monasticism? Had Syria become mostly Christian at this point, or what were the other religious influences? No, there's a lot of people who are just local pagans, also. There's also some various cults now from the East, philosophical cults and religious cults that are just like in the other areas, but a lot of them are Christian in Syria. It must have been a wild church scene when you figure all these folks with your stalagmites, with your monasteries, with all this stuff happening. The religion must have been very


much alive. Oh, it was. And also outside of Christianity as you described. And of course, you get the whole monophysite heresy going, that whole thing which shook the Syriac church for centuries. When did Islam come? Was it the 7th? 637. The 7th century. So, it's just a little bit later. Well, some of what we talked about was right at the beginning. We've been talking mainly 4th to 6th to 7th centuries here with the Syrians. Okay, anything regarding On the Work of Monks by Augustine? Any reactions or comments? Out of your reader. What's the last reading in there, in the first volume? Is that Life of Benedict?


Oh, it's Columba. It goes all the way up to that? Yeah. That's two-thirds of the way through. Okay. Did you have the opportunity to read it? I didn't read it out, but I thought you said we could read it. Actually, I said we would, but decided later that we weren't going to, but I thought I'd bring it up. We can still talk about On the Work of Monks next Wednesday. So, Cassian's the last one, huh? No, Cassian and Columba. Oh, Cassian's the last one. Oh, that's how it works, okay. So, there's only two more readings in this first volume. Does anyone have any reaction to the Augustine?


My reaction, and I'm still working through it, I haven't completed it, is that of all the readings so far, I found this very tedious, for whatever reason. I found Basil kind of tedious, too. And it seemed like there was so much richer justification in it. And then, obviously, we work in Los Angeles Monastery. We work, work, work. It's only the last where he gives in a few other things. What is it about being charitable, helping others? Try to fit that in. But everything is some kind of work, manual labor. It's like he didn't want to do any of it, though. Not to be doing manual labor for himself. He was a real workaholic, though. But a lot of his work was intellectual. Yeah, it wasn't justifying it that much. He didn't let this out for a while.


He didn't let it out for a while. Well, and he always had his priests with him in communion. We'll discuss that next Wednesday. Maybe a better tact would be for me to give my presentation on Wednesday, and then when you hear it in context, then we can reflect on what you're reading now. And maybe it'll make more sense that way. Okay, we went a half an hour.