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Question 407

Good afternoon Pater.  We have friends at the Orthodox monastery at Brookwood who are monks. In the last magazine received from them it was stated that two of them had been tonsured and I am trying to find the implication of this? I read that tonsuring involves the shaving of the head (as in the Christmas card pictures of monks!!) and I have never seen an Orthodox father with anything other than a very, very good head of hair/beard etc. so is that explanation correct please? Also what are the implications as regards the Father's standings in the religious community - is it a promotion, does he have a change of life-style because of it or is it something very personal of which an outsider would be unaware ?  



Answer to Question 407


In many centuries past monks had a shaven head like the St. Benedict monks have today but his is not the tonsure involved in becoming a monk. All Orthodox Christians are tonsured when they become baptized. The priest cuts a few hairs crosswise Ė back, front and side to side. 


Why is this done? Having been baptized, you are now a new man reborn by water and the Spirit. God has granted you salvation and not only this; He has sealed you with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is only right that we offer something back to God for His loving-kindness; therefore the hair that is cut is a symbolic offering similar to the firstfruits one would offer God as a thanksgiving for the good harvest. But here the hair represents not fruit, but an offering of ourselves, the beginning of a new start and a sacrifice of our whole life to Christ our God.  When someone chooses to follow the monastic life this is another new life and during the service the person is given a new name and his head is again tonsured like it was at baptism as a new dedication of oneís life to God. 


I did not understand your second question about the fatherís standing in the community or if it is a promotion. It is not easy for someone who has not entered this kind of life to understand why people enter a closed monastic community.


 For the majority there was a turning point in their life where through Godís grace they were enlightened to realize that this world is temporal and the only true life is the one near to God. In their pursuit to be with God they discover that they cannot do this in a world where people live only for a material life. They do not fit in with society and think on a very different wavelength than everyone else. If the world is the human race then they have become something very different and donít belong to the human race any more. The only solution is to find a place to live among people who think the same as they do. Only there will they find peace and feel that they belong.


A monastery is therefore a haven for people who share the same wavelength and help each other in their struggles to gain spiritual knowledge.  They begin as a novice and usually after three years they receive the monastic tonsure. As a full member of the monastic community they are obliged to live in obedience to the Abbot and the rules of the monastery. It is therefore not a promotion, but a final decision after spending 3 years as a novice to accept to live for the rest of their lives the monastic rule.