Orthodox Monasticism: The Symbols

During the Tonsure service when the Monk makes the profession of his vows, several symbols are presented to him by the Abbot. These symbols remind him of the life that he is now beginning.

The service begins with the candidate wearing a white robe symbolic of that which he wore for his baptism. Tonsure into the monastic life is another baptism or sorts as the new monk dies to his old life and is born again into a new life. It is the tradition that the monk receives a new name at this point.

Next the monk is clothed in the Paraman and Cross. On the Paraman are representations of the Cross of Christ with the lance, reed and sponge, and the inscription, I bear on my body the wounds of the Lord. This is fastened about the shoulders and waist by means of strings sewn to the corners, and serves as a reminder that the new monk has taken upon himself the yoke of Christ and must control his passions and desires. These are presented with the following words from the Abbot:

Our Brother receives the Paraman, the Betrothal of the Angelic Schema, as a perpetual reminder of taking upon himself of Christ’s easy yoke and of bearing His light burden, and for the curbing and restraining of all his fleshly desires. And he also takes the Sign of the Lord’s Cross upon his breast, for a perpetual reminder of suffering and humiliation, spitting, revilement, woulds, buffeting, Crucifixion and death of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, which He voluntarily endured for our sakes; and to signify that, as far as possible, he will endeavor to imitate this.

The Riasa is presented next with the following words:

Our Brother is clothed in the garment of spiritual joy and gladness, for the putting away and trampling of all sorrows and troubles proceeding from the flesh and from the world; and for his perpetual joy and gladness in Christ.

The leather belt is presented next. The belt is leather and made from the skin of a dead animal signifying the deadness to the world. The buckle of the belt has the symbols of the Crucifixion on it to remind the new monk of his daily Crucifixion. The follow words are spoken by the Abbot:

Our brother is gird about his loins with the power of truth, for mortification of body and renewal of spirit, and for courage and caution.

The new monk is next given the Mantiya, a long sleeveless robe, also called the robe of incorruption and purity, the absence of sleeves signifying the restraining of worldly pursuits. The Mantiya is presented with the following words:

Our brother is clothed in the robe of salvation and in the armor of righteousness, that he may withdraw himself from all unrighteousness, and with carefulness put away the vain imaginations of his mind and the subtleties of his will; that he may have the remembrance of his own death always in his mind and consider himself to be crucified to the world and to be dead to every evil deed, but always alive for the showing forth, without laziness, of every Christian virtue.

Next the new monk receives the Kamilavka with veil or the helmet of salvation. The veil signifies that the monk must veil his face from temptation and guard his eyes and ears against all vanity. The wings of the veil date from the time of St. Methodius (846) who was wounded in the face during the reign of Emperor Theophilus. In order to conceal his wounds, the saint wore wings with his veil and fastened them about his lower face.

Our brother takes the helmet of salvation in the hope that he may not be put to shame and that he will be able to stand against the snares of the devil; and he covers his head with the veil of humility and perpetual obedience, as a sign of spiritual love of wisdom; and that he may turn away his eyes, that they not behold vanities.

Sandals for his feet are now presented:

Our brother is shod with sandals in readiness for the proclamation of the Good News of peace; that he may be swift and diligent in every obedience and every good deed.

The Prayer Rope or Chotki is given. The rope has many knots to count the prayers of the new monk.

Take brother the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, for continual prayer to Jesus; for you must always have the Name of the Lord Jesus in mind, in heart, and on your lips, every saying, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The hand cross is next given. The hand cross is the shield of faith, with which to put out the flaming darts of the Evil One. The monk will keep the hand cross in his icon corner to remind his of this saying.

Take, brother, the shield of faith, the Cross of Christ with which you will be able to put out the flaming darts of the Evil One; and remember always how the Lord said, “He who would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”

Finally a lighted candle is give signifying that he must strive, by purity of life, by good deeds, and good demeanor to be a Light to the World. The candle will be placed in the Icon Corner and the monk will be buried with this candle.

Take, brother, this candle, and know that from henceforth you must, through a pure and virtuous life, and through a good character, be a light unto the world. For the Lord said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who art in heaven.

Then the final blessing is pronounced:

Our brother has received the Betrothal of the Angelic Schema and has been clothed in the whole armor of God, that he may be able to vanquish all the power and warfare of principalities and powers, and rulers of the darkness of this age, of evil spirits under the heavens, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Let us all say for him, Lord, have mercy.

It is the tradition that the new monk remain in the monastic church for some days praying for himself and for the entire monastic brotherhood. The new monk is to remain clothed in the whole of the habit for those days.

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