How Should One Be Tested Before Becoming A Monk, According to the Quinisext Synod?
Based on a homily by PriestConstantine Strategopoulos)
Canon 41 rendered in English:
Those in cities or villages who desire to depart for cloisters and tend to themselves must first enter a Monastery and be duly taught anchoretic conduct, and for three years submit to the Prior of the Monastery in fear of God, and to fulfill obedience as befits in everything; and thus, by confessing a predilection for such a life, as one that they have embraced with all their heart, they should be tested by the local president (bishop). It is wishable, though, that they spend another year waiting patiently outside the cloister, so that their purpose may become even more evident. This kind of information they shall provide, as proof that they are not in a pursuit of glory, but as ones who are striving after this quietude for the sake of that which is actually good. After the completion of such a long time, if they have persisted in this predilection, they can be cloistered, and they shall never exit from there whenever they wish to, by departing from that isolation, except if it be for a mutual advantage and benefit, or some other necessity forcing them to the death, then let them be drawn towards this, and this, with the blessing of the local Bishop. […]
From a simple reading of the Canon, it is obvious that the Fathers of this Synod did not want monkhood to consist of people who did not have a “cured volition”. They wanted people who would maturely choose monastic living, complete with all its difficulties and sacrifices. The procedure that should be followed is:
1.) The candidate must first test life in a monastery for three consecutive years. Unfortunately, certain Hegumens (abbots) do not allow that much time; instead, they reduce it as much as possible. But by doing that, the novice who has not attained a “cured volition” is not protected from the possibility of changing his mind in the future, when he will have given his vows of dedication to God.
2.) After the completion of three years, the abbot must send the novice BACK TO THE WORLD for another year! This particular detail scandalizes many people, but it is is yet another sample of the wisdom of the Fathers, who did not want to create “robotized” monks like they do in various sects; they wanted to be reassured of the novice’s free choice. After three whole years of monastic living, the novice is forced to return to the kiln of secular living, in order to be tested thoroughly. This move will ensure that:
a) the novice had not been “brainwashed” by someone of the environment, or by anyone else. His difficulty in remaining in the secular world will provide him with the opportunity to clear himself of all third party influences. Whoever they may be.
b) the novice has not been influenced by his own, premature enthusiasm. No matter how enthusiastic he may be, returning to the worldly lifestyle after three years is a gruelling test. There is no room for self-delusions. All self-delusions dissolve, when reality rears its head relentlessly. This final test shows if the novice truly has a “cured volition” and that novices who want to become monks do so, because “they are not in a pursuit of glory, but as ones who are striving after this quietude for the sake of that which is actually good.”
3.) Finally, if after the above tests the novice continues to have the same steadfast decision, he must remain in the place which has been decided as his place of ascesis, without ever departing from it except for very serious reasons. What should impress us about this Canon, is that none of these actions takes place without the concurrent approval of the Bishop.
In closing, we would like to stress once again the wisdom behind this Canon. Given that the matter of monasticism is not viewed as a “customer relationship” (that is, to hold on to our candidate lest he leaves or changes his mind), but as a truly spiritual matter and beyond every form of psychological compulsions and ideas that render monasticism an ideology and not a free choice.
It would be good, if those Hegumens and spiritual Fathers who are not aware of this Canon were to consult it, because, just like all the Canons of the Ecumenical Synods, this one is likewise based on the experience and the enlightenment of the Fathers. If a Spiritual Father does not take it into consideration, then the novice himself should at least show concern. It is not so much the number of years that should preoccupy us, as much as the “spirit” of the Canon.
Of course it would also be worth thinking that: If, during that time (when the harshness of society was far greater and people were accustomed to more frugal conditions because of the difficulties in their lives), it was necessary to impose four years of testing, then how much longer would we need as an average, in our day and age?
We believe that an ignorance of this Canon nowadays leadsus to scandals and tragedies, which could otherwise have been avoided.