Monasticism. A complex of religious institutions and rituals that regulates contemplative religious life. Monks and nuns, having renounced secular life, live in special residences, monasteries, or hermitages or in complete isolation. They devote themselves to the service of God through prayer and penance; some also devote themselves to assisting others. A monk renounces family life and remains celibate (after taking a vow of chastity) and renounces property (after a vow of poverty; see Asceticism). Daily life, duties, and even dress are regulated by the monastic order or by the rules of the monastery. Tonsuring proceeds through three stages that culminate in the adoption of a monastic name, symbolizing a rejection of the former way of life (this is no longer compulsory in Catholic orders). Lay novices, known as poslushnyky, live in the monasteries and perform various duties and services (posluhy) during liturgies, assist in the upkeep and work of the monastery, and do various tasks. Some monks (in the Catholic church, the majority) remain in contact with the outside world by working actively in parishes, visiting hospitals, teaching in schools, running shelters and orphanages, or involving themselves in scholarship.
Monastic orders do not have ordained clerics, but some monks were ordained to conduct services in the monasteries and their churches. These monks were known as the regular or ‘black’ clergy. Generally, in monasteries the monks’ basic needs are seen to, and they are thereby allowed to work for the good of the institution, although in some Eastern rite monasteries (but not Catholic ones) monks take care of their own daily needs and gather only for common prayers. All monks and nuns farm or work in crafts, schools, or hospitals, and all take an active part in liturgical life and pastoral work. In Ukraine there was always a small number of wandering monks who moved from one monastery to another, seeking either spiritual perfection or better living conditions.
The monastic community elected a hegumen as head of the monastery. Larger monasteries were headed by an archimandrite, who was initially chosen by the monks with the participation of the lay authorities; later, he was appointed by the state or by the higher church authorities. In the East, all monasteries were initially independent of one another and subject to the authority of local bishops; only later were some stauropegion monasteries established.
In Ukraine, monasticism emerged soon after the adoption of Christianity (see Christianization of Ukraine) and was modeled on Byzantine practices. Some sources suggest that a monastery had already been established at the Church of the Tithes in the 10th century, and a Saint Sophia’s Monastery is said to have burned down in 1037. By 1062 there was a large community of monks in the Kyivan Cave Monastery, and by the 12th century there were some 17 other monasteries in the Kyiv region. During the Princely era, all metropolitans and bishops of the Ukrainian church were usually chosen from the monastic orders, and prominent monks had considerable influence in secular affairs. In the 16th and 17th centuries secular authorities began to interfere in monastic life and often appointed hegumens and archimandrites, thereby undermining the authority of the church hierarchy. In some cases monasteries were exploited financially by secular figures. In general, monastic life declined as feuds and conflicts undercut the religiosity and spirituality of many monasteries, although individual communities continued to be important centers of religious and cultural life.
Many outstanding theologians and writers (eg, Meletii Smotrytsky) were monks, and Ukrainian monks also contributed to the cultural development in neighboring countries, particularly in the early 18th century. In Russia, for example, Stefan Yavorsky and Teofan Prokopovych made important contributions to literature and theology. In Ukraine the most important monastic communities were the Kyivan Cave Monastery, the Pochaiv Monastery, the Derman Monastery, the Maniava Hermitage, the Hustynia Trinity Monastery, the Kyiv Epiphany Brotherhood Monastery, and the Mhar Transfiguration Monastery. Members of prominent Ukrainian families, including (in the 16th century) D. Zubrovytsky, O. Sanguszko, and I. Tyshkevych, joined monastic orders. In the 18th century Paisii Velychkovsky initiated a major reform in monastic life in Ukraine and throughout Eastern Europe.
In the 19th century, monasticism was Russified in Russian-ruled Ukraine, and Ukrainian monastic traditions were continued in Galicia and Transcarpathia by Greek Catholic monasteries, such as the Zhovkva Monastery and the Mukachevo Saint Nicholas's Monastery. The monasteries in Lavriv (see Lavriv Saint Onuphrius's Monastery), Drohobych, and Buchach ran schools, and Saint Onuphrius's Church and Monastery in Lviv maintained a large library, a collection of valuable manuscripts, the archive of the Basilian monastic order, and a large gallery of paintings.
Monastic orders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church acquired their own distinctive features, and a wide range of activities were initiated. Only the Basilian monastic order, the Basilian order of nuns, the Studite Fathers, the Studite Sisters, and eastern branches of the Benedictines and Franciscans bear the official title chyn (order). All others that were established in the last hundred or so years are known as congregations and are modeled largely on Western orders. Congregations and orders are headed by protoarchimandrites, archimandrites, priors, or other church officials chosen by monastic councils for varying terms. All congregations and orders are divided into provinces overseen by protohegumens or other hierarchs. No archimandrite of a monastery has served for life since the 19th century.
Novices are accepted into monasteries at age 18 and undergo a two- to three-year initial probationary period. A second probationary period lasts three to six years, after which candidates take the so-called eternal vows. After this process they can be ordained. Until the 19th century, only monks could be chosen as bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic church.
(See also Monasteries and Structures of the churches of Ukraine.)
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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3 (1993).]