The Oriental Church differs in many respects from the Latin or Western, but in no particular more than in its paucity of monastic orders. In the early ages of the Church, these flourished especially in the East; indeed, that part of the world, as may be seen in the article MONASTICISM SEE MONASTICISM , was the home of Christian monks. But the downfall of the Roman empire despoiled the Church more or less, and the monastic institution became a part of the Western Church, while in the East it gradually degenerated and declined.
1. Oriental Monks. — The conflict with the Saracens contributed to the weakening of the monastic orders; and though there are remains of ancient monastic institutions in all the provinces of European Turkey and Greece, especially in Bulgaria, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, the Morea, the islands of the Egean, and the sea-borders of Asia Minor, those used as such in our day are comparatively few.
Among the monasteries still existing, the most remarkable are those of Mount Athos, Metcora, Mount Sinai, and of the Princes Islands. The first of these is under the control of both the Oriental and the RussoGreek Church. The latter established a monastery on this mount, occupied by about twenty monks, during the reign of the empress Catharine. See below; compare also the article ATHOS SEE ATHOS. Two of the existing monasteries, on the west side, were founded by a king of Servia in the 12th century, and are occupied by Bulgarian monks, using the Slavonic tongue. in religious worship. Most of the monasteries, however, were founded and richly endowed by the Greek emperors. There are about one hundred and twenty hermitages; and the number of chapels, oratories, and shrines, in a space not exceeding ten leagues in diameter, is estimated at nine hundred and thirty. The monasteries of Princes Islands were formerly the most flourishing in Turkey, but they are now nearly abandoned by monastics, and have become places of pleasure and recreation in the summer months. "The empty cloisters of one or two," says a recent visitor "are trodden by a few pale and wretchedly poor monks, some deposed patriarchs and disgraced priors, or other subordinates of theirs, flitting through the sombre porches and. gliding along the deserted churches like the ghosts of the former inmates." The nearly ruined monasteries of Metcora (seven in all), in Thessaly, are situated in the wildest part of Mount Pindus, many of them perched on the peaks of the mountain and on summits of precipitous rocks, the only access to which is by nets attached to ropes and pulleys, by means of which visitors are drawn up, or by ladders fixed to the rock. There are about sixty monks remaining in the ruins of those now dilapidated monasteries. The famous Greek monastery of Mount Sinai is exceedingly austere. It contains about one hundred monks, under a superior styled archbishop and head of Mount Sinai. He is chosen by election, but receives investiture from the patriarch of Jerusalem. SEE SINAI.
The rule of the Oriental monks has continued to be that of Pachomius or of Basil. They are divided into two classes — cenobites, or ordinary communities, and anchorets (idiorithmes), who live separately, unless on certain festivals (in recent times) when they eat in common. Each monastery is governed by a prior (hegumenos), whose office is for life, or in his absence (or the non-existence of one) by a provider or steward (epitropos), elected annually by the community. The brethren are divided into ordinary monks (monachi) and consecrated monks (hieromonachi); the latter are the learned portion of the community — but these are few indeed. In 1545, when Belon visited Mount Athos (less than a century after the conquest), he found six thousand caloyers, or monks, in the different monasteries, and of that number, he states, "it would be difficult to find more than two or three in each monastery who can read or write." Recent travellers find no change. Madden says: "This was the state of things in all the monasteries I have visited in the Greek islands, in European Turkey, in Syria, and in Egypt. But among the few —the very small minority of monks who could read and write in the monasteries I visited — there was generally one monk, sometimes two of the brotherhood, who were addicted to study, were acquainted with the ancient Greek, had a knowledge of ecclesiastical history and of the writings of the Greek fathers, and some acquaintance with the principal works or rarest MSS. of their several libraries" (Turkish Empire, 2:83). The time of Oriental monastics is divided between religious duties and manual labor, providing food and other necessaries, tending cattle, and domestic affairs.
Down to the period of the Greek revolution and its termination in the Hellenic kingdom, but especially till 1821, the monasteries were unmolested by the Turks, and consequently the literary treasures remained uninjured, except by the ignorant members of their communities. But the successes of the Greeks in the Morea in 1821 led to irreparable mischief to the monastic libraries of several parts of Greece, and particularly of the, monasteries of Mount Athos, at the hands of the infuriated Turks, and vast numbers of rare books and still more valuable and irreplaceable MSS. were destroyed. It is to be hoped that ere long the treasures still remaining will be in the hands of European scholars, and their contents become the possession of the world of letters.
II. Russian Monks. — Russian monasticism is so unlike that of the other Christian countries in which the institution has gained a footing, that we devote a special section to its orders. In the consideration of this subject we must dismiss from our minds all the Western ideas of beneficence, learning, preaching, etc., such as we attribute to the Benedictines or Franciscans; of statecraft, subtlety, and policy, such as we ascribe to the Jesuits. In the dark forests of Muscovy is carried out the same rigid system, at least in outward form, that was born and nurtured in the burning desert of the Thebaid. There is no variety of monastic orders in Russia. The one name of the Black Clergy is applied to all alike; the one rule of St. Basil (q.v.) governs them all. For convenience' sake they might be divided into two classes-the Hermits and the Monks.
1. The Hermits. — Even at the present day the influence of a hermit in Russia is beyond what it is in any other part of the world, and in earlier times their sanctity had acquired the strongest hold over all who came within their reach. Anthony and Theodosius, in the caves of Kief, were known far and wide for their piety and asceticism, and their dried skeletons still attract pilgrims from the utmost bounds of Kamtchatka. The pillar- hermits never reached the West, but were to be found in the heart of Russia. Fletcher, in his Russian Commonwealth (page 117), describes them thus: "There are certain eremites who use to go stark naked, save a clout about their middle, with their hair hanging long and wildly about their shoulders, and many of them with an iron collar or chain about their necks or middles, even in the very extremity of winter. These they take as prophets and men of great holiness, giving them a liberty to speak what they list without any controlment, though it be of the very highest himself. So that if he reprove any openly, in what sort soever, they answer nothing but that it is 'Po Grecum' (for their sins). The people liketh very well of them, because they are as pasquils [pasquins] to note their great men's faults, that no man else dare speak of... Of this kind there are not many, because it is a very hard and cold profession to go naked in Russia, especially in winter." Of the numerous hermits; we mention Basil of Moscow, "that would take upon him to reprove the old emperor, the terrible Ivan, for all his cruelty and oppression done towards the people. His body they have translated into a sumptuous church near the emperor's house in Moscow, and have canonized him for a saint." That sumptuous church remains a monument of the mad hermit. It is the cathedral immediately outside the Kremlin walls, well termed "the dream of a
diseased imagination." Hundreds of artists were kidnapped from Liibeck to erect it, and of all the buildings in Moscow it makes the deepest impression.
2. Monks and Monasteries. — The Russian monasteries sprang mostly out of the neighborhood of hermitages, like their Egyptian prototypes. Russian monachism was a modification of the Eastern system. In Russia as in the East, the monks lived a solitary life, but in their own cells, which they themselves had built within the immediate surroundings of the monastery. With their own hands they worked for the means of subsistence, devoting the rest of their time to solitary spiritual exercises, and assembling only twice a day for common prayers. This solitary way of living was the original system of Russian monachism, while living together in convents was introduced in the 14th century only. It never was universally adopted, and both modes of living are practiced to this day. The Russian monasteries are controlled either by an archimandrite (q.v.) (i.e., abbot), a hegumen (i.e., prior), or a stroitel (i.e., superior). Convents with stroitels, or superiors, are usually under the care of a larger monastery. At 'first the monks elected their own superiors, but afterwards the bishop or regent nominated them. All monasteries were originally under the control of the bishop in whose diocese they were. This strict superintendence, however, soon became onerous; and already in early times, but especially in the 16th and 17th centuries, we find the more influential convents exempted from episcopal jurisdiction, and under the immediate care of the patriarch of Constantinople or of the Russian metropolitan.' Those monasteries which are exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and which are nowadays under the superintendence of the Synod of St. Petersburg, are called lauropigia or laura; while those under episcopal jurisdiction are named cenobia, monasteria, or erorieka.
Monachism in Russia has three degrees. The first degree comprises the novitiate. The novice does not take any vow upon himself, but has to live according to the monastic regulations; his dress is a black rharso, or coat with a black cape. After a preparation of three years the novice enters the second degree, and becomes a monk. He takes the solemn vows before the archimandrite, changes his name, and receives the tonsure. Men are not allowed to take these vows until they are thirty years old, while women are not admitted until they have reached their fiftieth year. The third degree comprises the perfect ones. They are dressed in a long black coat, with a wide hood which conceals the face entirely. The peculiarities of this class consist in very strict spiritual exercises, restraining of all bodily appetites for the purpose of mortifying the sensual nature, and allowing the spirit to be absorbed in the. contemplation of divine things only.
They are not allowed to leave the convent, and must renounce all and every connection with the world. They are very highly esteemed, exempt from episcopal jurisdiction, and stand under the immediate care of the Synod of St. Petersburg. Monks of this third degree are very rare. Different from Western monachism, priests and deacons are found among the Russian monks. Very many enter the monasteries, not for inclination's or piety's sake, but simply to gain clerical influence. and position. For the monks, although their learning is small, are looked up to as of superior education, and the monastery is therefore the only road in Russia to important clerical positions.
The income of the monasteries, which often was enormous, was at first under the care of the archimandrite. His administration, however, was subject to the inspection of the bishop. Ivan IV Vasilivitch was the first . regent who seized the property of the monasteries at Novgorod in 1500. Peter the Great obliged the monasteries to take care of the invalids and poor.. The empress Catharine I deprived the archimandrites of their ancient rights, and put the administration of monastic goods into the hands of a special committee (1725). This committee was subsequently abolished (1742), and the empress Elizabeth transferred the administration of monastic incomes to the holy synod. In 1762 Peter III tried to secularize all convents and monasteries; but the plan was not executed until 1764, when Catharine II secularized all monasteries with their pecuniary income and vassals, and thereby secured to the crown more than 900,000 peasants and enormous riches. The Russian monasteries at present are most of them very poor, and the monks live in apostolical poverty and simplicity. But though this be the rule, there are some remarkable exceptions. The St. Petersburg Gazette, late in 1871, furnished some interesting statistics as to the revenues of the most important monasteries in Russia, from which it is clearly apparent that some of the monasteries of Russia are well provided for in a temporal sense. The Gazette says that the receipts of the priors of the monasteries of the first class (lauras) vary from 40,000 to 60,000 rubles (£5000 to £7500), and of the other priors from 1000 to 10,000 rubles. The income of the monastery of Troilzki-Sergiev, near Moscow, which formerly contained about 100,000 persons, now amounts to 500,000 rubles (£62,500). That of the Kief monastery is even greater, as it derives a considerable profit from the sale of wax-lights. The Alexander-Nevski monastery at St. Petersburg has a special source of revenue, besides its ordinary one, in the shape of a share of all the corn imported into the capital. How large this revenue is may be inferred from the fact that a short time ago the city wished to compound for it by a yearly payment of a million rubles, and that the monastery declined the offer. Next to the monasteries of the first class, the largest revenue possessed by a monastery in Russia is that of the Iversk chapel in Moscow (a branch of the Perevinsk monastery), whose yearly receipts are calculated on an average at 100,000 rubles. In the ecclesiastical district of Novgorod the wealthiest monastery is that. of Yuriev, whose bare capital alone is said to amount to 740,821 rubles.
The monasteries have really been a great help and advantage to the Russian nation, as all its bishops, artists, and scholars were educated in them. No schools or educational institutions were to be found outside of them until very recently. Their mission in Russian history was peculiar. Not only were they the nurseries of Christianity, transplanting with great struggles and dangers the benevolent doctrines of Christ among the heathen of the steppes and mountains, but, like the convent of Sinai and the convents of Greece, they are the refuges of national life, or "the monuments of victories won for an oppressed population against invaders and conquerors."
3. Russian nunneries existed in a very early period of that Church. The nuns are either virgins or widows. They adopt the rules of St. Basil. They mostly live together in a convent under the control of a hegumena, or prioress, elected by them. Their habit is a long black woollen dress, made after the Oriental fashion a long black tunic or mantle, and a black veil. Formerly monks and nuns sometimes lived together in the same monastery; but as this gave rise to great immorality and disorder, it was strictly prohibited by the council in 1503.
4. Monastery of Troitza. — There is no more celebrated monastery in Russia than this monastery of Troitza (i.e., the Holy Trinity). It was founded A.D. 1338, when during the Tartar dominion the clergy showed themselves the deliverers of their country. About sixty miles from Moscow, in the midst of a wild forest rises the immense pile of the ancient convent. Like the Kremlin, it combines the various institutions of monastery, university, palace, cathedral, and churches, planted within a circuit of walls. Hither from all parts of the empire stream innumerable pilgrims. No emperor comes to Moscow without paying his devotions there. The office of archimandrite, or abbot, of it is so high that for many years it has never been given to any one but a metropolitan of Moscow; and the actual chief, the hegumen, is one of the highest dignitaries of Russia.
The founder of it was St. Sergius (A.D. 1315-1392), whose career is encircled with a halo of legend. When the heart of the grand-duke Demetrius failed in his advance against the Tartars, it was the remonstrance, the blessing, and the prayers of Sergius that supported him to the field of battle on the Don (1380). No historical picture or sculpture in Russia is more frequent than that which represents the youthful warrior receiving the benediction of the aged hermit.
See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 9:675 sq.; Aschbach, Kirchen-Lexikon, 4:251; Stanley, Eastern Church, page 440 sq.; King, Greek Church in Russia, page 24 sq. ; Mouravieff, History of the Russian Church, trans. by Blackmore (Oxford, 1842); Fletcher, Russian Commonwealth; Curzon, Ancient Monasteries of the East; Eckhart, Modern Russia (Lond. 1870, 8vo), page 210 sq.; Dixon, Free Russia (N.Y. 1870, 12mo), page 29 et al.; Montalembert, Monks of the West, 1:38-133.