Bishops of Monasteries

edited October 2014 in Coptic Orthodox Church
Can someone please tell me:
1) the first time a bishop had a monastery as part of his jurisdiction? (I know Bishop Theophilus was ordained bishop for monastery of El Sourian in 1948, but I'm not sure whether he had a proper diocese, or whether it was just the monastery)
2) the first time a bishop was consecrated solely for a monastery?


  • It's not really a controversial thing once you understand that this was continued from a time when there was a bishop of every city, not every country or state like we are doing now.  In Egypt, it is every city, and so a monastery is also technically a city of monks.
  • edited October 2014
    What about the argument that the bishop and the people around him represent the whole catholic Church, not part of it? And that a monastery cannot be 'catholic', because it is only comprised of males.

    And if a monastery is a city of monks, why is a monastery bishop today technically not 'diocesan' like the other bishops? He is enthroned/seated, yes, but does not have a 'diocese'. Going back to the idea that a "non-diocesan bishop" is an oxymoron.

    Further, historically, episcopal abbots were few and far between, and the practice of ordaining bishops EXCLUSIVELY for a monastery *seems* to be restricted to the 20th/21st century:
  • edited October 2014
    Personally, I think, in the Pachomian style, the Abbot should be a lay monk. Maybe a priest so he can be the father of confession for the monks, but there is no need of him being a bishop. I think Monastic consecrations should not require a bishop as they are consecrations not ordinations.  Each monastery should have one or 2 priests, but even St. Pachomius said no monks should be priests. Bishops should be chosen from monks either to shepherd a diocese or hold an administrative position, but no general bishops or bishops of monasteries. Although the "City of Monks" concept by @minasoliman makes sense and I'm considering it.
  • edited October 2014
    It's not surprising that monks were (and still are) of the minor orders of the Church.  So even abbots were not of the clergy.  Monasteries were not so far from parishes; they were still able to go and partake of the Eucharist from the nearest bishop.  Some monks developed as a matter of doing services that no one else would do (like the famous--or infamous at times--paraboloni).  The practices behind monasticism existed before monasticism even began.  Monasticism began as a reaction to Christianity becoming the "popular thing to be" (being Christian is the "new Roman", like orange is the new black).  They felt Christianity lost that luster it had when it was under persecution, when Christianity and asceticism was synonymous, and they felt that they needed their own contemplative life away from the hypocritical world.  Theological schools practiced this asceticism along with learning before monasticism was established.

    So yes, monasticism is just a minor order, living off in the side.  They evolved to become spiritual fathers to those who sought their wisdom since they lived such a strict life, as well as a life of poverty.  Later, they seemed to have gained some sort of voting privileges in synods, and monastic communities seem to work together in support of theological developments.  Bishops began to work closely with them.  They began to become more theologically educated and spiritually able to debate against heretical teachings (although there have been heretical monastic communities as well).  We've seen St. Shenoute the Archmandrite be a key driver for this movement.  This became very helpful and necessary considering how Chalcedon caused the Alexandrian school of theology to be shut down.  We started to see that the non-monastic Christians had less theologians, and the monastic communities would be the ones where the theological education was preserved.  Therefore, inevitably, instead of archdeacons and deans chosen for the papacy, starting at the turn of the 5th into the 6th century, monks were chosen for the papacy.  And as monks were more isolated from the communities of parishes, where the communities were accumulating a large number of members that could really qualify for their own monastic "cities", this is probably when at times, having bishops for those communities became necessary, so that they can commune the Eucharist where they are.

    And so we also have in our prayers, "Pray for this city of ours" or "Pray for this monastery of ours"...."and of all cities, districts, islands, and monasteries".  This prayer to me seems to reveal what dioceses can be, which are cities, districts, islands, or monasteries.
  • Perhaps we could formalise the distinct Rules of Monasticism and that might solve some of the issues.

    1. The Rule of St. Anthony the Great: Monks live in near solitude, not necessarily in a monastery.
    2. The Rule of St. Pachomius: Communal system we know and love, led by an abbot (monk priest/hegumen - not a bishop)
    3. The Rule of St. Shenouda the Archmandrite: Monks live in a monastery near a city and serve and cater to the spiritual needs of the people. Can be under the jurisdiction of the local diocesan bishop.

    While we're on this topic, why is it that all monks dress the same during the liturgy?

    Shouldn't there be Cantor Monks, Lector Monks, Subdeacon Monks, Deacon Monks and Archdeacon Monks? We're always saying that it is difficult to accommodate all the ranks in a regular church, why don't we use the ranks in the monastic communities, with orarions and everything?

    Furthermore @minasoliman, adding to your point about the migration of the knowledge centres from the urban schools to the desert, I'm a firm believer in having the right person for the job i.e. a bishop doesn't have to be chosen from among the monks or even the priests. Apparently Archdeacon Habib Guirguis was considered for the Papacy at some point. Can someone confirm?
  • @coptic_deacon

    St Habib Girgis was most certainly a papal candidate (although he only received 1 vote or something).
    I read this in one of the articles circulated at the time of the diocesan bishops controversy prior to the latest papal election. I'll let you know if I find the source again.
  • This is all very nice but it would help to actually have references, especially when speaking of history. As far as I can see, the line between fact and opinion is very blurred and some facts are not true. St Shenouda the Archimandrite's community was not under the jurisdiction of the local diocesan bishop. St Shenouda aligned himself with the ideology and Christology of St Cyril. He even accompanied him to the council of Ephesus at 83 years of age. But he was not so pleasant with bishops of local dioceses.

    Another example of questionable historical accuracy: "Bishops began to work closely with them [monastic communities]. They began to become more theologically educated and spiritually able to debate against heretical teachings (although there have been heretical monastic communities as well).". The monastic communities fought against bishops quite often. Pope Theophilus' conflict with the tall brothers and other Origenistic monastic communities comes to mind. Palladius' History of the Egyptian Monks is a redacted historical treaty with Origenistic undertones. St Athanasius combated Arianism directly by his theological education, but also with monastic piety (i.e., non educated) in the publication of the Life of Antony. The Life of Antony shows us that monastic communities were rarely theologically educated (if educated at all). Yet they fought heresy with piety, not theology. (I can furnish full references if anyone wants it)

    When one follows primary sources, we will find that what was done and believed in centuries past is very different than what we do and believe now. 
  • edited October 2014
    I'm not sure what you said contradicts what I said. I had in mind the fifth century as we were starting to seperate from Chalcedon, and when our Popes were chosen from the monks from then on. St. Shenoute educated his monks and nuns, made them literate. Nestorius was even exiled to their neighborhood because the theological caliber of the monastic community was very solid. This was seen as a forerunner for educated monks just as capable as was the system of deans and papal archdeacons. So it was not mere piety. Also was St. Shenoute a bishop?
  • No. St Shenoute the Archimandrite was not a bishop. I don't think he was even a priest. I have to check. In the 5th century, an archimandrite ordained monks. Bishops did not since, as you said, monasticism is not a clergy degree. It is a laity degree. 

    I don't think St Shenoute educated his monks to be literate. He did require them to attend feasts, sermons, liturgies and by doing so they were theologically taught. In the Pachomian rule, Greeks (and I assume Greeks who could only understand Greek) were placed in a "Hellenistic house" with a hellenistic leader and left to self rule under the Rule. St Pachomius' 2nd successor, St Theodore was actually Greek and was in charge of this house (within the community at Pbow, I think). 

    Recent Shenoutean studies have tried to dismiss the early 20th century attacks on St Shenoute's incompetence of theological discourse. St Shenoute (at least nowadays) was not known for his theological caliber. The system of deans for theological pedagogy reached its heights in the 2nd-3rd century and it went down hill from there. It sort of reappeared in the 19th century under Pope Cyril IV and Pope Cyril V but under the efforts of the laity with the establishment of the communal council (maglis al mili), not the clergy. 
  • qawe said:


    St Habib Girgis was most certainly a papal candidate (although he only received 1 vote or something).
    I read this in one of the articles circulated at the time of the diocesan bishops controversy prior to the latest papal election. I'll let you know if I find the source again.


    Here's my source:

    "The election was held and Metropolitan Youannes received 70 votes while Hegumen Youhanna Salama received 9. Hegumen Hananiah El Antony and Archdeacon Habib Girgis received 2 votes each while the Metropolitan of Sohag received 1 vote and another vote was blank. The election was held on December 7, 1928"
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