"The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world - the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches - comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever."

I John 2:15-17

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, Christ’s invocation to his disciples to take up the cross and follow him became the mission statement for many Christians who chose to abandon their worldly ambitions and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the ideal monk. Monastics of this period fashioned themselves into "athletes for Christ" and abandoned all secular diversions to live like Jesus - poor, chaste, and obedient. Although the monastic community initially set itself in opposition to the orientation and accommodations of the Church and the depravities of this world, their ascetic philosophy occasionally came to dominate institutional Christianity and, through the missionary work and scholarship of medieval monks, the hearts and minds of the world.
"The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world - the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches - comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever."

I John 2:15-17

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, Christ’s invocation to his disciples to take up the cross and follow him became the mission statement for many Christians who chose to abandon their worldly ambitions and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, the ideal monk. Monastics of this period fashioned themselves into "athletes for Christ" and abandoned all secular diversions to live like Jesus - poor, chaste, and obedient. Although the monastic community initially set itself in opposition to the orientation and accommodations of the Church and the depravities of this world, their ascetic philosophy occasionally came to dominate institutional Christianity and, through the missionary work and scholarship of medieval monks, the hearts and minds of the world.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Saint Anthony of Padua

Renowned for his charismatic presence, St. Anthony passionately attacked avarice and usury, ministered to the poor, and became known as a worker of miracles.

Malcove Collection, University of Toronto

Gesso, paint, gilt on wood
© Malcove Collection, University of Toronto


John the Baptist

John the Baptist, the Fore-runner of Christ, was an ascetic preacher on the banks of the Jordan river. He is often depicted with a scroll with the words, "Behold the Lamb of God" written on it.

Malcove Collection, University of Toronto
16th Century
Gesso, paint and gold leaf on wood
PMA:J99.0138.
© Malcove Collection, University of Toronto.


"… If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Matthew 19:21

Although the roots of Christian asceticism may be traced back to the first century, the flowering of Christian monasticism - the organized form of asceticism - did not take place until the fourth and fifth centuries in Egypt and Syria. The acknowledged founder of Christian monasticism was St. Anthony the Great (251?-356), although it is likely that women’s religious communities pre-date those of men. Inspired by Jesus’ imperative to abandon all worldly possessions and follow him, Anthony sold all his property and journeyed to the desert, where he lived among and learned from other ascetics before retiring from the human community altogether. In 305, Anthony emerged from his self-imposed seclusion to serve as the spiritual leader for a group of disciples. Similar movements emerged across Egypt and in Syria. Although these early Christian monastics differed in beliefs and practices, they were united by their conviction that this wo Read More
"… If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Matthew 19:21

Although the roots of Christian asceticism may be traced back to the first century, the flowering of Christian monasticism - the organized form of asceticism - did not take place until the fourth and fifth centuries in Egypt and Syria. The acknowledged founder of Christian monasticism was St. Anthony the Great (251?-356), although it is likely that women’s religious communities pre-date those of men. Inspired by Jesus’ imperative to abandon all worldly possessions and follow him, Anthony sold all his property and journeyed to the desert, where he lived among and learned from other ascetics before retiring from the human community altogether. In 305, Anthony emerged from his self-imposed seclusion to serve as the spiritual leader for a group of disciples. Similar movements emerged across Egypt and in Syria. Although these early Christian monastics differed in beliefs and practices, they were united by their conviction that this world and all that it represented, its rhythms, values, and desires, must be renounced in order to walk in the footsteps of Christ.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Saint Anthony of Egypt

Anthony of Egypt, who retired to the desert, is often considered the founder of monasticism.

Archim H. Lionda
1978
Paper and ink
PMA:J99.1931.
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta.


Saint Anthony surrounded by Demons

St. Anthony's austere asceticism undoubtedly aided him in his legendary battles with the Devil, which drained him of all strength and very nearly killed him.

Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)
c. 1497-1498
Tempera on linen
PMA:J99.1812.
© Staatliche Gemäldegalerie, Alte Meister


Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully
observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we
shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that
we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.

St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict

The two pillars of the Christian monastic tradition are undoubtedly St. Basil the Great (c.330-379) and St. Benedict (c.480-c.547). St. Basil was a prodigious scholar and esteemed professor when the "radiant light of the Gospels roused him from his worldly slumber." After studying the monastic paths of perfection, Basil founded a monastery and throughout his life provided a home for the homeless, care for the sick and the poor, and training for the unskilled. St. Benedict was no less rigorous in his quest to follow the life and lessons of Christ. The Rule of St. Benedict, a seminal text on the meaning and nature of Christian monasticis Read More
Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully
observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we
shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that
we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.

St. Benedict, The Rule of St. Benedict

The two pillars of the Christian monastic tradition are undoubtedly St. Basil the Great (c.330-379) and St. Benedict (c.480-c.547). St. Basil was a prodigious scholar and esteemed professor when the "radiant light of the Gospels roused him from his worldly slumber." After studying the monastic paths of perfection, Basil founded a monastery and throughout his life provided a home for the homeless, care for the sick and the poor, and training for the unskilled. St. Benedict was no less rigorous in his quest to follow the life and lessons of Christ. The Rule of St. Benedict, a seminal text on the meaning and nature of Christian monasticism in the West, legislated the life of the monk and defined the basic virtues of a monk - poverty, chastity, and obedience - as the means to participating in the life of Christ. With their spiritual vision and their intellectual acuity, Basil and Benedict endeavored to establish the monastic life as one in which nothing was valued more highly than the struggle to shed the ego, the struggle for sanctity.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Rule of Saint Benedict

This small text was vastly influential in the Middle Ages, informing not only Christian theology and the monastic orders, but the whole philosophical and socio-political consciousness of the medieval mind.

The Provincial Museum of Alberta
c. 1180-1190
Manuscript
PMA: J99.1809
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta


O thornless rose of ineffable beauty, thou didst bud forth on the border
of paradise. For through thine unopened gate, the gate was opened and through thy sacred icon thou dost call the Canadian people to enter in, proclaiming thyself to be their protectress and defence against the enemy. Wherefore we cry unto thee: Rejoice joy of Canada.

Akathist Hymn for the Theotokos Joy of Canada, written by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, All Saints of North America Monastery

Every year, the All Saints of North America Monastery, located in Dewdney, British Columbia, celebrates its feast day, The Theotokos, Joy of Canada. Theotokos, "birth-giver of God," is the title of the Virgin Mary. The celebration speaks to the faithful about the meaning and purpose of the birth of Jesus and calls them to identify with the Theotokos, giving birth to divine love in the world. In many ways, the monastery itself turns upon its head many conventional ideas about reclusive monks, cloistered in their cells, fiercely dedicated to their studies. The Joy of Canada is communal Read More
O thornless rose of ineffable beauty, thou didst bud forth on the border
of paradise. For through thine unopened gate, the gate was opened and through thy sacred icon thou dost call the Canadian people to enter in, proclaiming thyself to be their protectress and defence against the enemy. Wherefore we cry unto thee: Rejoice joy of Canada.

Akathist Hymn for the Theotokos Joy of Canada, written by Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, All Saints of North America Monastery

Every year, the All Saints of North America Monastery, located in Dewdney, British Columbia, celebrates its feast day, The Theotokos, Joy of Canada. Theotokos, "birth-giver of God," is the title of the Virgin Mary. The celebration speaks to the faithful about the meaning and purpose of the birth of Jesus and calls them to identify with the Theotokos, giving birth to divine love in the world. In many ways, the monastery itself turns upon its head many conventional ideas about reclusive monks, cloistered in their cells, fiercely dedicated to their studies. The Joy of Canada is communal, festive, and focused on the human vocation, to enter into cosuffering love with all those human beings we meet in our life. The discipline of the monastic life has freedom as its goal: freedom from the passions of the ego so the God-given compassionate nature of each person may flourish in the world.

© 2000, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Theotokos Joy of Canada

This Orthodox icon focuses the attention of the faithful on the meaning of Christ's incarnation for the restoration of human nature and the fructification of the Canadian spirit.

Slavko Protic
All Saints of North America Monastery
c. 1986
Icon
PMA:J99.1648
© The Provincial Museum of Alberta.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Define monasticism
  • Describe the origins of monasticism in Christianity
  • Compare the monasticism of St. Basil and St. Benedict
  • Using the example of the All Saints of North America Monastery, describe monasticism in modern times

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