Monasticism is a Life of Repentance
When John the Baptist started his preaching, he cried out;" Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand "(Matthew 3:2). He said of his baptisim;"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance," (Matthew3:11), the people that he baptised; "were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins" (Matthew 3:6). Repentance was also the preaching of our Lord Jesus;" Now after John was out in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of kingdom of God, and saying,' the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel." (Matthew 1:14-15). "But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance, " (Matthew 9:13). Jesus told us how joyful the Kingdom of heaven would be for the repentance of one sinner; "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:7). In His Divine Sermon on the Mountain, He pointed to repentance and described it as a narrow gate. He advised everyone to go through it;" Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 'Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."(Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus knows all that without repentance there is no salvation. Even if we pray, fast, do charitable deeds or services, so He says;" I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish "(Luke 13:3). Also after his resurrection, he said to His Apostles; "and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). St Paul also, talking to Agrippa preached; "Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance." (Acts 26:19-20); also; "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent "(Acts 17:30). In all his Epistles he kept encouraging people to repent;" Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?"(Romans 2:4);" Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God " (Hebrews 6:1). St Paul also advises; " Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord." (Acts 3:19).
Basics and Means of Successful Repentance
Avoiding stumbling blocks and sinful places
"Flee from youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of your pure heart." (2 Timothy 2:22).
In the wilderness, a monk lives away from the places of sin and stumbling and as time passes by, he forgets all the worldly talk and scenes of which the righteous Lot suffered; "And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of ungodly; and turning the city of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterword would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed with the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)"( 2 Peter 2:2-8).
Thus the monk lives life of holy struggling and having zeal for repentance to please God, in order to attain the life of purity and sweet communion with God;" Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God "(Matthew 5:8).
Avoiding Luxurious living
St Paul says; "but she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives" (1 Timothy 5:6).God warns those who indulge in worldly desires and luxurious living, ignoring their eternal life; "Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasure, who dwell securely, who say in your heart, I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, nor shall I know the loss of children; but these two things shall come to you in a moment , in one day; the loss of children and the widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness because of the multitude of your sorceries, for the great abundance of your enchantments. "(Isaiah 47:8-11). In the wilderness, a monk lives an ascetic life in voluntary poverty, he only takes what is essential for his living. This life aids a monk to repent because he is striving to come closer to God as the only one who can fill and satisfy everyone.
A lay person is troubled by and confesses negative aspects of his life, while a monk targets any deficiency in the positive side of his life and the virtues. He considers it a sin if he were reluctant in praying one of the hourly prayers in the Agpia, or in doing some of his metanias.
The Wilderness is the Best place for Repentance:
Definitely the wilderness is the most appropriate place for continuous repentance. Let's take some examples:
St Paul the Great Apostle
After the Lord talked to him near Damascus, he believed and was baptized by Ananias and said; "But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus."(Galatians 1:15-17)). By Arabians he meant the Great Arabian Desert between Syria and Iraq, where he spent some time offering true repentance for he once was great Jewish fanatic persecuting the Christians; "and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul" (Acts 7:58);" Then all who heard were amazed, and said," Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests."(Acts 9:21);"For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." (Galatians 1:13).
He spent some time in the desert because he knew it was a place where he can sit with himself, give a sincere account of his deeds, ask for God's mercy and forgiveness and he spiritually charged, ready for the great service he was to begin in preaching the name of the Lord Jesus Christ among the Gentiles.
St Moses the Black:
The Divine providence prepared him to go to the Scetis desert when he yearned to know the true God. There he became a disciple to St Isidore the priest, where he offered true repentance living a ascetic life with struggles, until he became one of the pillars of the desert and a spiritual father and guide to thousands.
St Mary the Egyptian:
After living a sinful life for 17 years, dragging many youth into sin and tempting them, she went to Jerusalem to carry on her sinful acts, yet, when she could not enter the church because of an unseen power preventing her, she wept bitterly before St Mary's icon and promised God to live a Godly life if He allowed her to enter the church and have the blessing of the Holy cross. She then entered the church, offered repentance, confessed her sins to the priest and had Holy Communion. When she was 29, she headed towards the Jordan wilderness, where she spent 47 years in fasting and prayers and become one of the saintly hermits.
Many other saints found the wilderness the most appropriate place to clean their souls and purify their life after it was stained with sin.
What are the reasons that make the Desert the Best Place for repentance?
1- In the monastery, the atmosphere is appropriate for novice monk to live the life of humility and repentance. He wears a simple robe, living in a humble cell with very little furniture, sometimes doing odd jobs, obeys others and is a student; "But I, like a deaf man, do not hear; and I am like a mute who does not open his mouth. Thus I am like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth is no response."(Psalm 38:13, 14).
2- He is under the guidance of an experienced elder monk, where he sits with him for spiritual advice and guidance, telling him everything in honesty, as a sick person with his doctor, accepting whatever he suggested for his benefit.
3- He passes through different tests by the abbot, the elder monks and his confession father, concerning his obedience, humility and tolerance. The atmosphere of being tested is helpful for the repentance of the novice.
4-In the monastery he is not teaching anyone, he is the disciple learning from everyone.
Contemplation on the Rites of Ordaining a Monk
The rites of ordaining a monk generally concentrates on:
1-Death to the world
2-The life of repentance
3-Bearing fruits adequate for repentance
4-Carrying the Cross and following the Lord
The first thing in this rite is giving the monk a new name, a name of one of the saints, in order to forget all about his previous life; "that you put off, concerning your former conduct , the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts and be renewed in the spirit of your mind". (Ephesians 4:22-24). Also, to take this saint as his intercessor. The new name is given on the eve of ordination, then he spends all night meditating in this new life he is about to start. Next day, after raising the morning incense, he lies on the floor as a dead person before the relics of saints, then they cover all his body, after which the rite of ordination starts. The prayer tunes and the reading are very similar to those of a funeral service, to help fix in mind of the novice that he died from the world and its lustful desires; "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men to destruction and perdition".( 1 Timothy 6:9). The reason for doing this before the relics of the saints is so that their spirit may come upon the monk, as Elisha told his teacher Elijah when he was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire;" And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?' and Elisha said,' Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.' So he said, 'You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.' Then it happened as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. " ( 2 Kings 2:9-11).
Definitely he will think about death at that moment and this is a great blessing for the monk, encouraging him to think of repentance and to weep bitterly for his sins, having a new vow with God and a new start.
Some of the readings:
1- Prophecies, encouraging abandoning the world, seeking the eternal life, clinging to the Lord and depending on him.
2- The Trisagion, with its sad tune, glorifying the Ever Living Lord, asking mercy from the saviour.
3- The Psalm, encouraging repentance and abandoning iniquities ; "In you, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in your righteousness. Bow down your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of "refuge", a fortress of defence to save me."
4- The Gospel, calling for self denial for the sake of God, carrying the cross and following Him to Golgotha;" He said to them;' whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Mark 8:34).
5- The Exposition, the Abbot asks the Lord for the monk saying;" O Lord accept his fasting, prayer, repentance, forgive his sins.
6- In another prayer the Abbot asks the Lord for the sake of the brother saying;" Straighten his ways O Lord, grant him full obedience in order to give up all the natural desires… He who accepted his hair to be cut, help him to cut off all the evil deeds and accept the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit."
7- The brother stands up before the Abbot bowing his head, then the Abbot cuts his hair in 5 places in the shape of a cross, while praying the usual crossing prayer. Cutting the hair is a sign of cutting off the bad thoughts and the devilish tricks.
8- The Abbot then prays on his clothes (the black robe, the qalansewa and the leather girdle) and signs them 3 times as usual.
9- He clothes him with the robe while saying ;" Put on the garments of righteousness and the shield of light and bear fruits worthy of repentance through Jesus Christ our Lord to whom is due glory, forever; Amen."
10- He clothes him with qalansewa while saying; "Put on the qalansewa of humility and the helmet of salvation".
11- He clothes him with leather girdle while saying; "Gird yourself with all the bindings of God and the power of repentance, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
12- Then , he reads the commandments for monks, urging him to start his holy struggle and pure monastic life;" Keep the covenant which you vowed now, worship God in awe and reverence, pray the psalms and watch during the night, pray the psalmody(i.e. be regular in the daily midnight praise) and all the church's prayers. Do this eagerly, with moderate fasting, ascetism and purity of the body, in order to be a friend to the pure angels. Be obedient and submissive, listen to him who guides you towards the path of God and His Commandments to the extent of death, so that you might gain the crown of the children of God, and inherit the heavenly kingdom, and have a share and inheritance with all the saints who pleased God ever since the beginning".
13- The new monk attends the Holy Liturgy and partakes of the Holy Sacraments.
It is a wonderful rite, even meditating in its procedures gives awe and makes one zealous for the life of virtue and repentance. The monk now starts a new life;" Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new. "(2 Corinthians 5:17).