current location: Tshwane, Gauteng
I recently wrote something in orthodoxy about urban monasticism and noted that there was an urban monks tribe for bringing together people who are interested in this phenomenon. In that post I was specifically interested in Orthodox Christian manifestations of the phenomenon, but I thought it might be useful to bring together some other other manifestations.
I found only one other person on LiveJournal who listed urban monasticism as an interest, markredmond, but it is also known under other names.
There is a Protestant group that speaks of the "new monasticism", for example, and the Catholic Worker Movement founded by Dorothy Day has over 185 communities worldwide.
There is also an indirect Orthodox connection in a book written by Michael Harper, A new way of living, about communities that developed in an Episcopal (Anglican) parish in Texas, USA, though it appears that these communities no longer exist. Michael Harper is now an Orthodox priest in Britain, though he was not Orthodox at the time he wrote the book. There is also a mention of this in the Titus on line blog.
It seems that charismatic intentional communities in Western churches flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, but then died out, though there are signs of a revival of interest -- or is this just old hippie nostalgia?
My own view is that whether one calls this urban monasticism or new monasticism or anything else, at least in the Orthodox world it needs a solid foundation in traditional Orthodox monasticism.
I was myself part of such an experiment in Christian communal living in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We called ourselves the Community of St Simon the Zealot in Windhoek, Namibia, but we found it extraordinarily difficult. What was missing, I now believe, was access to an Orthodox monastery with Orthodox spiritual fathers or mothers who could guide us.
A few years later I came across the Children of God. They lived in communes which they called "colonies", and spread all over the world. They arose from the Jesus freaks of the 1960s, and were led by Dave Berg, who called himself Moses David, or just Mo. When I first encountered them, it seemed an almost idyllic community. They seemed to have achieved what we had failed to achieve in Namibia. But there too, things began to go wrong. Moses David became increasingly authoritarian and erratic, and came up with the idea of using kinky sex to proselytise (one can hardly call it evangelism). Members of the "colonies" of the Children of God were urged to become "hookers for Jesus" and engage in what they called "flirty fishing".
Would someone like Moses David have gone off the rails (and derailed the entire "Children of God" movement) if he had had an Orthodox spiritual father from a traditional monastery?
Eventually people in the charismatic renewal movement realised that something was missing. Some of them gave a name to it; they called it "covering", or "discipleship". But who was to cover the coverers, or disciple the disciplers? The maverick authoritarian leaders didn't take too kindly to come under authority themselves, and I suspect that that played a role in the "charismatic burn-out" of the 1980s.
But the answer has been there all along in traditional Orthodox monasticism. And some, indeed, found the answer. Fr Jack Sparks, editor of Right on, one of the Christian underground magazines of the 1970s, published by the Christian World Liberation Front, came to Orthodoxy. Not that Orthodox monasticism is idyllic either -- Fr Ephrem, a monk of Simopetra monastery on the Holy Mountain, said that more people go to hell from monasteries than from anywhere else. But at least Orthodox monasticism is aware of the dangers, and has had over a thousand years of experience, and teaches about the dangers of losing one's nipsis (watchfulness).
So I think a new monasticism or an urban monasticism might be a good idea, but it cannot develop apart from traditional monasticism.