Eastern Orthodox Vestment. Life of Greek monks. Anchorites. Cenobites.

Greek Priest, Eastern, Orthodox, Vestment, Kamilavkion, Rhason, prayer book, rosary
Orthodox Greek Priest 1900

Greek Priest in Eastern Orthodox Vestment, 1900.

Greek monk or priest with prayer book and rosary. Wearing the Kamilavkion (headdress) and Rhason. The shape of the the Kamilavkion hat is derived from the Byzantine imperial crown.



THE esteem in which the monastic state is held by the Greek Church is so great that it is called therein the perfect state, similar to that of the angels, in which its members imitate the actions of Jesus Christ. The way to the highest ecclesiastical dignities is only opened to those who profess it.

The Greeks give to their monks the title of Caloyers, which signifies Good Ancients. All these monks regard St. Basil as their father and founder, and would consider it a crime to follow any rule but his. They acknowledge three monastic degrees: the novices or archari, the ordinary professed, or michrochemi, and the perfect, or megalochemi, to each of which a special habit belongs. They are also divided into Cenobites, Anchorites and Recluses.

The latter dwell in grottoes or caverns on the tops of mountains, which they never quit. They live on the alms sent them by the neighboring convents, and eat only once a day vegetables boiled in water, without salt or oil, and dried fruits with bread baked under the ashes, with the exception of solemn feasts, when they take two repasts. From time to time they are visited by the priests who administer the sacraments to them.

The Anchorites retire from the conversation of the world and dwell in the neighborhood of monasteries in hermitages, to which a plot of ground is attached, which they cultivate. They leave their hermitages only on Sundays and festivals to perform their devotions in a neighboring monastery. The rest of the week is devoted to prayer and contemplation, while they practice great abstinence, and live on the work of their hands.

The Cenobites dwell in monasteries in which their time is regulated by rule. They sing their Office at midnight, and end the day with Compline, which is sung after sunset. On the vigils of feasts they remain in choir until dawn, employing the whole night in reciting the Psalter, Matins, and Lauds, and in reading homilies. In case anyone is overcome by sleep, a religious is appointed to a waken him, and the one thus caught napping performs three genuflections at the door of the sanctuary, and, returning to his place, makes an inclination right and left to his brethren.

Their Office is long, so that it takes six hours during the day to read it. This is the reason, says Hélyot, why several among them easily dispense themselves from it. The books in which it is contained consist of six volumes, generally in folio. The first one is the Tiridion, which is recited in Lent; the second, the Eucologion, contains the orations; the third, Paraclitiki, has on its pages the hymns, canticles, and antiphons which are recited in honor of the Blessed Virgin, and which are in great number. The fourth volume is called Pentecostarion; it contains the Office to be recited from Easter to Pentecost. The fifth, Mineon, is the book of the Office of each month, and the sixth, or the Horologion, contains the canonical hours of every day.

The length of this Office and the price of the books is the cause that few of the bishops, priests, and caloyers ever recite it. It is only on Mount Athos, or other well regulated monasteries, that it is generally kept up, the rest of the clergy, with the patriarch at their head, simply dispensing themselves from the obligation.

In the large monasteries the monks rise at midnight to recite a special office called Mesonycticon, which lasts two hours, but, on great feasts, its place is taken by the Olynicticon, that occupies the whole night.

After the Mesonycticon, the monk retires to his cell until five o’clock, when he returns to the church for Matins, Lauds, and Prime. The last coincides with sunrise, after which the religious go to their cells or to their work until nine, when they recite Tierce, Sext, and None. This is followed by dinner, during which they listen to the reading. After meals, the cook kneels at the door of the refectory, and says, from time to time, “Eulogite pateres ” (bless me, fathers) – and each one answers: “O Theos syncoresi” (God bless you). All then retire to their cells or go to work until four, when they assemble in the church to recite vespers, after which follows a little exercise and supper at six, at the expiration of which they go to the church for an office which they call apodipho, equivalent to the Compline of the Latins. About 8 o’clock they retire to rest until midnight.

Every morning after Matins, the monks prostrate themselves before their superior at the door of the church to accuse themselves of their faults. They never eat meat, and fast on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On fast-days they take their meal at two o’clock in the afternoon. They observe in common with the rest of the people four Lents. The first and greatest of these is that of the Resurrection of Our Lord, which lasts eight weeks and which is a period of great abstinence. During; the first of these eight weeks, they are allowed to eat fish, eggs, milk, and butter, but, for the remainder of the season, these articles of diet, with the exception of some kinds of marine animals, are forbidden. They observe this Lent with such scrupulous exactitude, that, if in speaking, it becomes necessary to mention the names of milk, butter, or cheese, they always add the parenthesis: “Timitis agias saracostis” (with all respect for the holy Lent).

The second Lent is that of the Holy Apostles, which commences eight days after Pentecost and lasts three weeks or more, during which the Greeks abstain from milk and meat diets. The Lent of the Assumption of Our Lady is the third, and it lasts fourteen days. No fish is allowed during this period, with the exception of Sunday and the feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The fourth Lent of the Greeks corresponds to our Advent; it begins forty days before Christmas and it is observed like that of the apostles. Besides these four Lents, which are common to all the people, the monks observe three others, namely, twenty-six days before the feast of St. Dimitrius, fifteen before that of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and eight days before that of St. Michael. All the Greeks also fast on Fridays and Wednesdays.

The manner of receiving candidates into the monastic state is thus described by Hélyot: Whosoever applies for admission is required to remain for some time as postulant. Having been admitted, he is led to the church, when the superior asks him whether he comes to Christ through his own free will, if he is not driven to it by necessity, if he renounces the world and all its belongings, intends to persevere in the monastery and the exercises of the monastic life, to be submitted to his superior, and to preserve chastity until death. He then admonishes him to reflect seriously on the engagements he is about to contract, and reminds him that the angels stand ready to receive his vow, of which an account will be demanded of him at the day of Judgment.

The postulant having satisfactorily answered these questions, the superior says: “Brother N. takes the commencement of tile holy and monastic habit; let us say for him: may the Lord show mercy to him.” The monks repeat thrice: “May the Lord show mercy to him.” He then cuts the candidate’s hair in the form of a cross, saying: “Brother N. has his hair cut in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; let us say for him: may the Lord show mercy to him.” On giving him the tunic he says: “Brother N. is glad with the tunic of justice as a pledge of the holy and angelical habit,” etc. Giving him the biretta, he says: “Our brother N. receives the helmet on his head, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” etc.

After three years, the novice receives the habit of the professed which is also called the little habit, and it is given with lengthy ceremonies. After his profession, the monk is obliged to remain five days in the church, occupied solely in prayer and meditation. The professed monk wears a species of veil over his cap.

The great or angelical habit is also received with special ceremonies. These ceremonies, if at present observed in the few well-regulated monasteries, are neglected in most of the others. The fact is that most of the schismatical Greek monks are said to be very ignorant, so that few of them understand the original Greek in which their liturgical books are written. Their monasteries are visited by exarchs delegated by the patriarch, who seem to be more than all bent on extorting the taxes payable by the monastery to that dignitary. Besides these tributes, the monasteries are also taxed by the Turks, if they exist within the domains of the sultan.

The superiors are elected by the religious and confirmed by the bishop. In the large monasteries they are highly respected, but in the smaller ones their authority is considerably limited. The principal monasteries of the Greek monks are those of Mount Sinai, founded by the emperor Justinian; of St. Sabas, in Palestine; and those of Mount Athos in Greece. The latter are held in the greatest esteem.

Source: History of religious orders. A compendious and popular sketch of the rise and progress of the principal monastic, canonical, military, mendicant, and clerical orders and congregations of the Eastern and Western churches, together with a brief history of the Catholic church in relation to religious orders by Charles Warren Currier. New York, Murphy & McCarthy, 1894.


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