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Methodius Hayes [userpic]

Urban monasticism

I recently wrote something in orthodoxy about 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 or or anything else, at least in the Orthodox world it needs a solid foundation in traditional .

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.


Posted by: Another Penny (marketsquare)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 11:15 am (UTC)

The Protestant movements I'm aware of are mostly growing out of the parachurch, especially InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. (That's the US arm of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, whose South African arm is the Students' Christian Organization.)

There is a freedom to experiment in parachurch activities that people often find lacking in the church itself. But there is also, I think, more danger of simply running off your own way, willy-nilly. That's one reason I'm glad to be doing the Micah project in Boston next year. It's much better tied in to the local church and its resources, instead of being just a house like my place was this year.

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
Church and parachurch

Have you read Ralph Winter's articles on "Two redemptive structures"?

He's Presbyterian, I think, but regards monasteries and the monastic movement generally as part of the "parachurch", but says it was also more integrated into the local church than parachurch groups are in modern Protestantism.

If you haven't read it I'll try to give a summary.

Posted by: Another Penny (marketsquare)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Church and parachurch

No, I haven't read those. Do you have a citation? I can look them up.

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 04:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Church and parachurch

His essayes were published in a book called Perspectives on the world Christian movement. Theological libraries will probably have a copy.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
dennilton gates

Thanks very much for the interesting comments and links.

Orthodox monasticism differs from Western monasticism in not having distinct "orders". Each monastery is more or less independent under its abbot/abbess, and though some may produce "daughter" houses, which retain a link with the home monastery for a while, this is not, as far as I am aware, anything like an "order".

On the other hand, there is far less variation in rule and dress etc than there is between different orders in the West. Monastic garb is pretty similar, though there are sometimes national variations. Russian women monastics have taller headdresses than Greek ones, for example. But these are minor.

I've observed that in the West there are monks, in the strict sense, and other orders that are regarded as "religious" but not "monastic" -- friars, canons regular, congregations and so on. There are the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, for example, and I wonder how much they resemble the oblates that you have been talking about.

Here in South Africa most missionary work of the Roman Catholic Church was done by different religious orders, which were each given responsibility for a diocese. So the OMI ran the Archdiocese of durban, the Benedictines the Diocese of Eshowe, the Franciscans the Diocese ofm Ermelo, and so on -- and so each diocese took on a particular character based on the order that established it, as it were. These were also national - OMI were Irish, the Benedictines German, the Franciscans English and so on.

Anglicans also had orders -- the Community of the Resurrection and Society of the Sacred Mission (male), the Community of the Holy Name (female) -- the last took off rapidly in Zululand.

The Community of the Resurrection had a kind of "third order" -- the Fraternity of the Resurrection -- people who lived by a rule of life, and had one of the CR fathers as a spiritual father. The FR served as the model for a Zulu group, Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu (the Legion of Witnesses for Christ), which had a rule similar to that of the FR, but included witnessing. Members had to promise to bring at least one person to Christ in a year. It took off, and pioneered the charismatic renewal movement in south Africa in the 1940s, and served as the basis for the growth of the Community of the Holy Name.

Most of the Orthodox monasteries on Mount Athos are now coenobitic rather than idiorhythmic -- I think maybe they all are now. Some have smaller dependent houses called sketes, and such things could be seen as potentially one variety of urban monasticism.

As far as I know there are no "oblates" or "third orders", but many people living within range of a monastery do have some of the monks as their spiritual fathers/mothers.

All this is subject to correction from those whose knowledge of such things is better than mine!

Posted by: Peter (martiancyclist)
Posted at: June 30th, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC)

I actually considered joining the Bruderhof for a good twelve hours, back when I was more protestant. (There's one about five days' bike from here.) Then I discovered that they, too, have had problems with authoritarianism -- namely, it seems there have been a few cases where the management has decided to make drastic changes, and unilaterally kicked people out, and also apparently if you leave, you won't be allowed to contact your family that's still in, and various problems like that. It looks like with them, too, obedience goes one way only. Of course, this is all based on the perspective of the disgruntled. Tis a pity -- they'd otherwise be a good example of family monasticism.

Methodius -- you talk about interesting things. I think I'll add you, if that's ok.

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: July 1st, 2006 01:04 am (UTC)
Family monasticism
dennilton gates

There was a similar community in South Africa, called the KwaSizabantu Mission. It was fairly widely admired, until it degenerated with an excess of authoritarianism.

Posted by: douloijohanna (douloijohanna)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 07:29 pm (UTC)

I would *love* to participate in some sort of Orthodox, urban monastic, communal living environment. I've never really heard of one, though. Do you think it could only work centered around a monastery with the abbot/abbess as spiritual father/mother? Or could it also be centered around a parish with the priest serving as spiritual father?

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: June 29th, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC)

It's not for me to say whether it would work or not. I'm no expert.

But I think it would have a better chance of success with a monastic as spiritual father, and a monastery nearby where people from the community could go for retreats etc.

I've just thought of another example of a kind of urbanmonasticism, described in a book called "Beloved sufferer" -- it was about a num who lived as a kind of secret urban hermit. Will have to think about it a bit more.

Posted by: Dunmoose the Ageless (dunmoose)
Posted at: July 2nd, 2006 11:21 am (UTC)

Good morning. I found your post via the "urban monks tribe". I call myself a "hermit with a roommate and a full time job". I'm not really an "urban monastic". Settle for suburban?

NextScribe, which was founded by a former hermit associated with Christ in the Desert, has started something it calls Prayerbuddy. By the looks of it, it is an attempt to used internet based technologies to link together urban monastics into small prayer communities. It might be something for you and your readers to look into.

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: July 2nd, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
suburban monasticism

Thanks very much for the comments.

Perhaps a hermit with a roommate and a full-time job fits in with markredmond's oblates. Aren't many of them like that?

I've been trying to contact an Anglican friend of mine who belongs to a thing called the Order of the Good Shepherd to find out how similar that is.

Posted by: Methodius Hayes (methodius)
Posted at: July 4th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC)

First, an aside, or a footnote -- since we started talking about this the number of LJ users listing among their interests has doubled.

I think, however, that most of those who speak of "urban monasticism" have something different in mind that simply trying to live desert monasticism in an urban environment. It can include that, but is usually more.

I knew some Dominicans who tried to do that in Johannesburg, though I'm not sure what eventually became of them.

But yes, it is important that there should be agreement and understanding about what is being done. And that is difficult if it has never been done before, and people are still feeling their way. It is then all to easy to be overwhelmed by the expectations of others, and drift into something that if far removed from the original vision, because the original vision never gets a chance to take concrete form.

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