[[Image:Panteleimon_Monastery.jpg|right|thumb|350px|Mănăstirea Sfântul Patelimon, [[Muntele Athos]]]]
Monasticism''' ( from Greek: ''μοναχος''—a solitary person) is the ancient Christian practice of withdrawal from the world in order to dedicate oneself fully and intensely to the life of the [[ Gospel]], seeking union with [[ Jesus Christ]].
The focus of monasticism is on [[ theosis]], the process of perfection to which every Christian is called. This ideal is expressed everywhere that the things of God are sought above all other things, as seen for example in the ''[[Philokalia]]'', a book of monastic writings. In other words, a monk or nun is a person who has vowed to follow not only the commandments of the Church, but also the counsels (i.e., vows of poverty, chastity, stability, and obedience). The words of Jesus which are the cornerstone for this ideal are "be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Thus, monks practice [[hesychasm]], the spiritual struggle of [[catharsis|purification]] (καθαρσις), [[theoria|illumination]] (θεωρια) and [[theosis|divinization]] (θεωσις) in [[prayer]], the [[sacrament]]s and obedience.
Additionally, the earliest Church was a model for monasticism. The first Christian communities lived in common, sharing everything, according to [[Acts of the Apostles]].
Origins of Christian monasticism==
The institution of Christian monasticism began in the deserts in 4th century Egypt as a kind of living [[martyr]]dom. Some scholars attribute the rise of monasticism at this time to the changes in Roman society that had been brought about subsequent to the Emperor St. [[Constantine the Great|Constantine]]'s [[conversion]] and the legal tolerance of Christianity in the Roman Empire. This ended the position of Christians as a small, persecuted group, leading to the rise of nominal Christianity within the Church. In response, many who wished to maintain the intensity of the earliest years of Christian life fled to the desert to [[fasting|fast]] and pray, free from the fragmenting influence of the world. The end of persecution also meant that [[martyr]]dom was no longer as common, and so [[asceticism]] as a form of living martyrdom came to be pursued.
Eventually, a pattern came to be established for some rare monks, having been formed in the communal life, to leave the cenobitic context and undertake the eremetic life. To attempt it without this prior formation is often considered to be spiritual suicide, frequently leading one to fall into [[prelest]], spiritual delusion.
The place of monasticism in society== Beginning in Egypt (with such saints as [[Anthony the Great]] and [[Paul of Thebes]]) and spreading to the Middle East and then Europe, monasticism became a central aspect of life during the western Middle Ages and the high period of the Roman ("Byzantine") Empire in the East. The first non-Roman area to adopt the system was Ireland, which developed a unique form closely linked to traditional clan relations, a system that later spread to other parts of Europe, especially France.
The golden age of Christian monasticism lasted from about the eighth to the twelfth centuries. The monasteries became an essential part of society, often acting to unify liturgical practice and clarify doctrinal disputes. The monasteries also attracted many of the best people in society and during this period the monasteries were the central storehouses and producers of knowledge.
[[Image:Whitby_Abbey.jpg|right|thumb|300px|The ruins of [[Whitby Abbey]], Northumbria, England]] In the West, the system broke down in the eleventh and twelfth centuries as religion began to change. Religion became far less a preserve of the religious elite. This was closely linked to the rise of mendicant orders such as the Franciscan friars, who were dedicated to spreading the word in public, not in closed monasteries. Religious behavior changed as common people began to take communion and actively participate in religion. The growing pressure of the nation states and monarchies also threatened the wealth and power of the orders. Finally, after Vatican II in Rome, "religious" orders saw a massive exodus of members, and many monastics left off wearing the traditional garb of their orders. On the whole, monasticism is in severe decline in the [[Roman Catholic Church]]. Nevertheless, monasticism is still reflected strongly in western culture. Modern universities have attempted to ape Christian monasticism in a number of ways. Even in the New World where monasticism has never been a standard part of societal life, universities are built in the Gothic style of twelfth century monasteries. Communal meals, dormitory residences, elaborate rituals and dress all borrow heavily from the monastic tradition.
In the East, monasticism continued to thrive even after the [[ Great Schism]] of the eleventh century, becoming a touchstone and unifying center for Christians in the declining Roman Empire, even after the [[Fall of Constantinople]] .
==Orthodox monasticism today== [[Image:St_Tikhons_Monastery. jpg|left|thumb|350px|[[St. Tikhon's Orthodox Monastery (South Canaan, Pennsylvania)|St. Tikhon's Monastery]] church, South Canaan, Pennsylvania]] Today monasticism remains an important and vital part of the Orthodox Christian faith, and major monastic centers such as [[ Mount Athos]] and [[St. Catherine's Monastery (Sinai)]] are seeing a revival both in terms of the numbers of monks coming to take up the life and in terms of the intensity of the life being led. Pilgrims are also becoming more and more frequent, and rebuilding of many ancient centers of monasticism is moving forward at a high rate.
==Monastic clergy== Christian monasticism is in itself a lay order, originally not having clergy as a standard part of the community (thus, monks relied on local parishes for sacramental life). However, if the monastery were isolated in the desert, as were many of the Egyptian communities, that inconvenience compelled monasteries either to take in priest members, to have their abbot ordained, or to have other members ordained. A priest-monk is called a ''[[ hieromonk]] '', and is now generally considered a standard part of cenobitic monastic life. Monastic deacons are also fairly common, and they are referred to as ''[[ hierodeacon]] s''.
In many cases in Orthodoxy, when a [[ bishop]] ric needs to be filled, suitable candidates are found from nearby monasteries. Since many priests are married (before being ordained to the priesthood), but bishops are required to be celibate, monasteries are a good source of celibate men who are also spiritually mature and generally possessing the other qualities desired in a bishop. Numerous saints from the Church's tradition are examples of this practice.
See also==[[Image:Glendalough.jpg|right|thumb|300px| Monastic church at [[Glendalough]], Ireland]]
*[http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article7103.asp Monasticism in the Orthodox Church] by Metropolitan [[Maximos (Aghiorgoussis) of Pittsburgh]]
*[http://www.kosovo.com/monasticism.html Orthodox Monasticism] (Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren)