Monasticism in the 21st Century

Funny, hearing Protestants talking about monasteries, orders, vows, pilgrimages. But not everyone is happy about it. There is a huge wave of emerging church criticism that is currently washing over the global efforts of young people attempting to live out the life of Jesus in a world both strangely new and strangely familiar. Part of that criticism is targeted at our rethinking of monasticism after its downgrading in protestant circles in the past few hundred years.

Ring Model Gif2 20041103110347 Monastery Claddah Broochgif 20041104225831

Last month I was with a large number of emerging church trainers and practitioners at Fuller Seminary at an Allelon sponsored consultation. The word “monastery” came up a lot, and a number of the people there, especially (Abbess) Rachelle Mee Chapman and Karen Ward, were already describing their ministries in monastic terms. Kevin Rains has also gone that direction, and Tom Sine, of course, who has been trying to kick off his Celtic monastery on an island in the Puget Sound. And you know that I have been kicking around some neo-Celtic models since 1997.

Steve Taylor from New Zealand was also there – I had previously discussed him in my post postmodern monasteries and the excellent paper on his blog. His recent book “Out Of Bounds Church” has a good prescription for new media monasteries.

At the conclusion of the 3 day gathering, Alan Roxburgh summed up much of the conversation by suggesting some kind of order, or at least a common code that would allow a training connection between the various “Abbots” and “Monasteries”. Yes, he really said that.

For those that want to track the progress of a recent emerging movement, 24-7 Prayer is a good case study. They have given a lot of prayer and thought to choosing a monastic model for church rather than the typical ecclesiastic model – although there are both flavors in the mix. I have been privileged to have helped in that thinking year by year as we meet and think through these things, including the question: How does a group of emerging young people go from a 18th Century Vow to a 21st Century Vow without being faddish?

247Zins-Tm 1In 2002 I mentioned Vineyard’s 10 Vows, which later influenced other groups, including 24-7 Prayer and their Boiler Rooms called ‘Millenium 3 Monasteries.’ Andy Freeman, who leads the Boiler Rooms, wrote Monasticism: what why when and Pete Grieg posted The ABCs of Rules of Life. I mentioned in The Skinny on 24-7 Prayer the connection between Count Zinzindorf and the Order of the Mustard Seed, which came to a grueling climax at my night of absolute terror in which I ACTUALLY TOOK THE VOW, along with Pete Grieg, Floyd McClung and others. The official story is at the Order of the Mustard Seed.

Also, read what blogger Alan Creech is up to.


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • + Alan says:

    There are enough of us old Catholics around in these circles to make it very interesting too – especially ones who didn’t leave the Catholic Church in order to get “really saved.”
    I think we may actually – some of us who ever were – be ceasing to think like “Protestants.” I know some characterize it this way, but I truly believe this monastic thing has gone beyond some kind of postmodern fadishness. I think we’re tapping into something very deep and old and established. We may not be following all the traditional “rules” of how it’s “supposed” to happen, but if you look at the various monastic movements over the centuries, you’ll likely find, neither did they. They were all about moving out of the status quo, radicalizing their faith life – they were about renewal.
    It’s not all going to look the same but there will be some key similarities. Some urban, some rural, and yes, some suburban (let’s not throw that baby out with the bathwater). Wherever and however, it’s going to be counter-culture as well as right in the middle of the culture. Many of us look to St. Benedict but perhaps more likely imitate St. Francis. Amazing things are happening. Thanks for doing it yourself and for pointing it out. Pax vobiscum.

  • Mark Berry says:

    This is interesting Andrew, a few of us 4 or so years ago were talking about “(po)modern-monasticism” I spent some time talking with Ray SImpson (Guardian of the community of Aidan and HIlda – Lindisfarne), Andy Freeman, Phil Rodderick (contemplative fire/quiet gardens trust), Elmore Abbey and others, trying to grasp an image of what community, rule and rythmn might look like for, in particular, Young People. I love what the boiler rooms are doing but have some reservations as to how monastic they are in reality – they seem more like “shrines”/places of pilgrimage than communities of rule and rythmn to me. I “worry” that alot of what looks like monasticism is about me i.e. consumer spiritual direction/space/retreat and reflection and not about humility, community (comm. first me second) and rule and rythmn.

  • andrew jones says:

    good word, alan..
    mark – i chatted with pete about termninology and he said that the boiler rooms were actually more similar to “friaries” than “monasteries” since many of the boiler rooms do not have the residential element. However, at least one boiler room has a youth hostel attached so . .. lets see what happens.
    as for us and what we are doing, we have gone the celtic pilgrimage center route rather than the benedictine residential center,
    Benedict frowned on mobility between monasteries but teh celtics were always on the move and acted as a dispersed community
    we are already a dispersed community and are very mobile. the neo-celtic model seems to help identify that, but none of us want to end up mimicking what was done hundreds of years ago – no point in that – the monks were following jesus in their era and their world, and we follow their example in living the jesus life here in our world.

  • geoff says:

    thanks for posting about this, andrew.
    we are finding this book a great help to apply the nu monastic ideas. you can follow the links to the web page and a document outlining the “12 marks”

  • Tim says:

    It’s not strictly the same topic, but along similar lines. I had some contact with The Order of Mission (TOM – recently and even thought about signing up. Anyone had contact with these guys?

  • Thomas Brown says:

    I love this stuff! Let’s be sure to read – for example – Benedict’s “Rule.” Very important to tap into the folks who’ve worked this thing down through the ages. Then, innovate off of that – carefully. The difference between a “commune” and a “monastery” may be a viable “rule of life.” Without that, a community easily disintegrates. Benedict’s Rule can seem prosaically practical, of course, but that’s the point. If you’re going to live in a genuine religious community — just like any family — you’ve got to have guidelines about how you take care of your gardening tools, as well as what hours you pray. Notice the centrality of the Psalms in Benedict. My favorite saying from Benedict – and one which intersects nicely with the Celtic pilgrimage model (thanks for that, Andrew!) is this: “Treat every visitor as if they were Jesus Christ.” Very challenging! Can we “go there” with protestant theological commitments? I think we certainly can. I bring my “solas” right along with me into the desert, and find they resonate very profoundly with the silence inhering in contemplative spiritual practice.

  • andrew jones says:

    Thanks Thomas
    I have had Benedict’s Rule on my book shelf for some time and he is a good counselor for me. And yes – somewhat of a default setting for Rules, Vows, and basics.
    And Tim – I know the folk at TOM in sheffield and have been there many times. Mike Breen was with us in Pasadena last month. They are the first order i know of to add “accountability” to their set of vows.
    Good people – and i think i blogged about them on the day they went live – i mean were officially recognized. My good friends Bob and Mary Hopkins (church planting consultants for Church of England and connected to DAWN) are giving some of their wisdom to the Order of Mission, otherwise known as TOM, and no relation to TOM Fest (The Other Music) the alternative Christian music festival run by Mikee.

  • Phil Smith says:

    Tim, I was part of St. Tom’s worshipping community for about two years while at bible college. During that time the Order of Mission stuff began… they swapped the ancient vows of monastacism (poverty,chastity,obedience) for modern ones; simplicity,purity and accountability. Unfortunately I never got to see the thing really grow coz i moved on but it clearly wasn’t something you did lightly and wasn’t something that was expected of everyone in the church. I think the danger of this new fascination with monastacism is that it could become pop, like wearing a WWJD band, when traditionally I don’t think that was ever the case

  • joe says:

    Donald Meek is professor of scottish and gaelic studies at Edinburgh University, and a native of the Inner Hebridean island of Tiree:
    “I do feel personally from time to time, that part of my heritage is being appropriated. I would say misappropriated. The reason for that is that those who take to do with Celtic Heritage don’t want the languages. They don’t want those things that I feel makes the Celtic people what they are. And so there is an element of appropriation. It is selective appropriation. The market, the consumers, are taking what they want, and leaving behind what they don’t want. I sometimes too, see parallels here between the ways in which…the British at the time of Empire would take the treasures of other nations and store them up, and display them in museums, which had grand imperial names above the doors. I sometimes in my worst moments, see a parallel with what’s happening with the hymns and traditions of the Celtic West, that they are being taken, repackaged, and put on display elsewhere.”
    The source which seems to underlay much modern writing on celtic christianity is not from the seventh and eighth centuries but a full 1200 years later. The Carmina Gadelica is a collection of beautiful Gaelic charms, prayers and incantations collected and translated in the Victorian period in the western isles by one Alexander Carmichael. – ours is not the first generation to project back onto the Celts nostalgic dreams about a simpler, purer past.
    As one of the most prolific writers on celtic christianity, Ian Bradley has nevertheless become more cautious over the last few years in arguing for the distinctiveness of the Celtic tradition. As for claims that it was more inclusive and egalitarian, he now thinks the evidence points the other way.
    “It certainly isn’t feminist, in the sense that there was actually a pretty chauvinist side to a lot of these early Irish monasteries. And certainly a character like columba didn’t have much time for women at all. I mean columba’s iona was, was famously an all-male monastery, When women were not allowed, except on sufferance I think, if they were coming in as, as penitents and sinners. Nor do I think it was particularly egalitarian. I mean actually it was quite hierarchical. We, we mustn’t forget that, that er, Celtic society was about tribal loyalty to the head of your clan, who was often a prince.. Now the monasteries were organised on the same basis. Columba clearly ran his monasteries like an autocratic high king. He didn’t any difficulties or any kind of messing around. So I don’t think it was particularly egalitarian and I certainly don’t think it was particularly feminine-friendly.”
    The other great claim for Celtic Christianity made today is that it was somehow “green Christianity”. Do you think that’s true?
    “It pains me to say so. But, but I have to say that I don’t think it was particularly green. I think again, we’ve been deceived by a whole genre of literature, which really came later. Which is very appealing to those of us of a “green” hue, which is all about beauty , of the hermit’s cell out among the birds, and the trees. Much of this writing actually came later, and was written by [TSK, please note ] urban monks in a sense, who were in large, monastic, centres and, were again, longingly looking back to a kind of primitive, rural idyll, that they were looking for.
    So it’s a load of “townies”, imagining the countryside?
    “It looks a bit like it.”
    [“Hierarchical” and “autocratic?” Now where did this business come from?]
    Professor Martin Carver:
    “On my travels I’ve frequently been struck by links between the Celtic monks and their models: the monks of the Egyptian desert. For there were an extraordinary number of otherwise inexplicable similarities between the Celtic and Coptic churches, shared by no other western churches. In both, the bishops wore crowns rather than mitres and held Tau crosses rather than crooks or croziers. Stranger still, the Celtic wheel cross, the most obvious symbol of Celtic Christianity, has recently been shown to have been a Coptic invention, depicted on a Coptic burial pall of the fifth century, three centuries before the design first appears in Scotland and Ireland.
    [ Did Carver just say “bishops?” Do bishops imply that there was an ecclesial hiearchy based on Apostolic sucession in the Celtic Church just as in the Coptic Church?]
    Ian Bradley is lecturer in theology at St Andrew’s University:
    “We know for example, that Egyptian Monks appear in Ireland very early on. We know that there are motifs from the some of the desert saints on Irish high-standing crosses – indeed there’s one not far from here where St Paul and St Anthony appear on a cross in the middle of Perthshire. So I think there is a lot of evidence, and its because of course, of trading links between the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western seaboard of Britain. There are lots of links, undoubtedly, between Egyptian, Syrian desert monasticism, and the monasticism of Ireland and then of Scotland and Wales.”
    So you could argue that in fact Ireland and Scotland if you like, the Celtic Churches, are closer to the Middle Eastern roots of Christianity than their continental counterparts?
    “Yes. I think you could actually. And I mean I think this would fit in with some of their, their practices. And I mean, er, an interesting example of this might be a contemporary example. The survival of Gaelic psalm chanting. Now musicologists have pointed to the fact that these extraordinarily mournful falling cadences that you get in the, in the pentatonic scale in Gaelic psalm chanting, are tremendously similar to a Byzantine chant – the chant of Coptic monks in Egypt. And probably take us back to the earliest kind of Christian chant, based on synagogue chant, based on the Hebrew chants in the synagogue. And so that’s a kind of…actual living example of how we may well be in the Western extremities of Christianity, close to its, its Middle Eastern heartland.”
    Gilbert Markus – honorary research fellow at Glasgow University has studied their pattern of worship
    Was there much distinction between the…the type and pattern of worship you found in the Irish monasteries, and the ones you found say, in Kent and Canterbury, in Anglo-Saxon England?
    “I can’t see any…general difference between the two families. There was no single irish style – there was no single anglo saxon style…. Broadly speaking they followed the same pattern. And I think the image of God which the monks of Iona had was hardly distinguishable really from that of anywhere else in Europe. And God is the Creator and he’s the redeemer of the world and he’s the judge of the world.”
    “Everything old is new again,” especially in meeting of the evangelical Protestant with the Celtic Church. What is it about the ancient Celtic Church that is so old-school that you’ve got to “Neo” it ? I suspect the following: the ecclesiology (Apostolic Succession) that makes valid the grace-imparted-through-visible-physical- means-Sacraments (particularly the Vitiatum), the relics (particularly bodies and body parts), the intercession of the Saints (particularly the Mother of God) – all the “popish” things that are completely foreign if not repugnant to Protestants. “Neo,” I take it means the negation of these unsavoury elements and the taking up of all that’s left. But then, what’s left? The accoutrements.
    Fr. Thomas Hopko had this to say to some Canadian Emergents earlier this year when asked about evangelical Protestants who would make use of “what’s left”:
    “You can’t imitate or mimic or mock the Church. You’re either in it, or you’re not. And Orthodoxy isn’t a set of texts or a bunch of pictures — it’s a living, organic community that has texts and icons, and it’s that living community where the power is that you need, and if you’re not in that community, you can have the accoutrements, but you don’t have the power…You couldn’t just imitate it, you had to be in it. Because it was a historical community, in history, that you had to enter into — just like the Gentiles had to be grafted to Israel.”
    That’s, “How to avoid faddish monkery” in a nutshell.
    Good luck in your future endeavors.

  • joe says:

    A personal pet peeve based on 3 years of interaction with various Emerging/Emergent types:
    I pray that I will never again hear or read the words, “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants” in a false-humble sense from any more Emergents in reference to their heightened spiritual stature (self-perceived) as a result of some “borrowing” of the words or works of some spiritual giant of the past(usually an Orthodox or Roman Catholic Saint). Rather, they should be learning at the feet of these Saints.
    Edward Young’s words are very appropriate in this situation: “Pygmies are pygmies still, though percht on Alps.”

  • joe says:

    My bad. TWEE-LITE quotes liberally lifted from the BBC 4 program:
    The Long Search

  • joeturner says:

    Even an ant can be tall when he stands on an elephant.
    Again, you imply that truth only resides in the Orthodox church.
    The question is not whether or not Andrew (and the rest of the emergent church) is in communion with Constantinople, but whether he is following the will of God.

  • andrew jones says:

    Joe (not JoeT)
    ian bradley’s book “The Celtic Way” is one of the better books on my shelf –
    and you may not realize that it was me who wrote the first pubished the critique of Young Leaders/Emergent (written 1999, published in GenNext) If writing against Emergent is the new fad, then I must have started it by my first article. Again, you are talking to the wrong people and are lowering the level of our conversation.
    worse, i think you are misbehaving on my blog and i am tempted to edit your comments (about 12 comments in the last 3 days – many of them overly long and all of them stemming from your “pet peeves” – and none of them very helpful)
    your pet peeves are not the subject of this blog. I am tempted to block you as i do with marketing spammers, and this is why:
    – you have found an easy and ready audience on my blog and are abusing your privilege.
    – i have suggested you look into the actual practises we are discussing by following the links but you refuse to see what we are actually doing, prefering instead to dig up articles that are misguided and often unrelated
    – by branding the church into seperate divisions that cannot share with each other without proselysing, you show you have a schizmatic and fragmented view of the church, whereas we see ONE Body of Christ, one family, brothers and sisters down through history all following the same LORD. We share with each other what we are learning of this Jesus journey without demanding a switching brandnames.
    – You seem to suggest conversion from protestant to orthodox and i dont want religious proselyzation or marketing sales on my site – both are spam.
    – Your view of emerging church is skewed but you are unwilling to change it, despite me giving evidence to the truth. Your construct of us is a building made of your pet peeves, and it is an IDOL, a false knowledge set up in the pretense of truth, and everytime you write your comments here, you are worshipping at the altar of your idol – and i do not want my blog to be the chapel that houses your false object of worship.
    – the level of conversation and learning on this blog is very high – i discuss these things on a leadership level and with reflective pracitioners who are doing and thinking and teaching these things. You are bringing it back many years and dropping it down to just theory and criticism. Again . .. wrong site for that.
    You may need to find a different blog to post your thoughts. There are plenty of critical sites that do this
    Start at
    – a good site that is focused on finding criticism regarding the emerging church, and click on some of their links and you will find some sites that will listen to you and allow your comments.
    Joe, if you do want to come back on the comments and do not want to be blocked or have your previous comments edited for length .. .
    then your next comment will be concise, and have something valuable to add to the conversation, it will not be divisive, and will show evidence that you have followed a few links, done some research into what we are ACTUALLY involved with. The links on this particular post is a good place to start.

  • Another Carrot

    While I’m still grappling with the future scenarios of the ol’ blog, I wanted to let you know what I’ve been doing with my precious internet time.

  • Caroline says:

    Over recent years I have grown concerned about some of the “you’re in or you’re out” ideas of my own tradition, evangelicalism. I certainly don’t want it replaced by people who say you’ve either got to take ALL the Gaelic origins or 8th C celtic christianity or none.
    The issue that excites me about monasticism (Celtic or otherwise) is how it speaks into and informs my walk with Jesus. I do not want to give it lordship over that walk, but I’m delighted to let it give me new language tools to work with, new ways-of-seeing to provide wisdom and new values to shake me up a little.
    I don’t worry about not speaking Gaelic, I don’t see the need to take all Orthodox practices in order to benefit from the ‘Jesus Prayer’. Am I a magpie Christian? a pic-&-mix Christian? Does that mean I’m illogical at times? I’m sure it does, but as I’ve got eternity to explore infinity I’m pretty at ease that any silly detours I take are in Christ’s company and in partnership with loving friends who will nudge me; that is enough.

  • joe says:

    “…there are many places as we know, given the name of monasteries by a very foolish way of speaking, yet have none of the reality of a monastic way of life…It is indeed shameful to say how many places called ‘monasteries’ these men who are entirely ignorant of monastic life have taken under control…Having thus usurped for themselves small or large estates, free from both human and divine service they serve in reality only their own desires as laymen in charge of monks. Moreover they do not assemble real monks there, but rather wanderers who have been expelled from genuine monasteries for the sin of disobedience, or whoever they may have enticed out of them, or any of their own followers whom they can persuade to receive tonsure and promise monastic obedience to themselves. They thus fill the ‘monasteries’ they have built with groups of these deformed people and – a very ugly and unprecedented spectacle – the very same men are now occupied with wives and procreating children and now rise from their beds and accomplish assiduously whatever needs to be done inside the monastic precincts. Moreover, they obtain with similar audacity places for their wives, as they say, to build ‘monasteries’: as these are laywomen they authorize themselves to be rulers of the handmaids of Christ. To all these people the popular proverb applies: ‘Wasps can indeed make honeycomb but they fill it with poison, not honey’…Thus by a perverse state of affairs many are found who call themselves ‘abbots’…although as laymen they could have learnt something about monastic life by hearsay if not be experience, yet they are complete strangers to the character and profession which should teach it. Indeed these people suddenly as you know, receive tonsure at their own pleasure and by their judgement instantly become not monks but abbots. Because they clearly have neither the knowledge nor the zeal for monastic virtues, what more can be appropriate to them than the curse of the gospel where it is said: ‘If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit?'”
    The Venerable Bede (8th Century) wrote the above to a Bishop (Egbert) about the need for a stronger Episcopate in the Church of Northumbria in order to combat the rise of faux monasteries of HIS time.
    (See: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin 1990), pp. 344-346)
    But, contra Bede, one could argue that these people were merely practicing an early form of Neo-Northumbrian monasticism, something akin to modern Neo-Celtic monasticism, right?

  • joe says:

    re: “I don’t see the need to take all Orthodox practices in order to benefit from the ‘Jesus Prayer’.”
    One can certainly benefit from praying this wonderfully scriptural prayer but can one FULLY benefit without getting with the PROGRAM?
    Isn’t it possible that “I don’t understand” could be a natural consequence of “I don’t see?”
    For instance, this is a brief explanation of the Jesus Prayer in context with the WHOLE of the Life in Christ for the Orthodox Christian (courtesy of Bishop Kallistos Ware of Diokleia):
    Orthodox often talk about “Prayer of the Heart.” What does the phrase mean? When a man begins to pray, at first he prays with the lips, and has to make a conscious intellectual effort in order to realize the meaning of what he says. But if he perseveres, praying continually with recollection, his intellect and his heart become united; he “finds the place of the heart,” his spirit acquires the power of “dwelling in the heart,” and so his prayer becomes “prayer of the heart.” It becomes something not merely said by the lips, not merely thought by the intellect, but offered spontaneously by the whole being of man — lips, intellect, emotions, will, and body. The prayer fills the entire consciousness, and no longer has to be forced out, but says itself. This Prayer of the Heart cannot be attained simply through our own efforts, but is a gift conferred by the grace of God.
    When Orthodox writers use the term “Prayer of the Heart,” they usually have in mind one particular prayer, the Jesus Prayer. Among Greek spiritual writers, first Diadochus of Photice (mid-fifth century) and later Saint John Climacus of Mount Sinai (579?-649?) recommended, as a specially valuable form of prayer, the constant repetition or remembrance of the name “Jesus.” In course of time the Invocation of the Name became crystallized into a short sentence, known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” (In modern Orthodox practice the Prayer sometimes ends, “…have mercy on me a sinner”). By the thirteenth century (if not before), the recitation of the Jesus Prayer had become linked to certain physical exercises, designed to assist concentration.
    This is often called “the Hesychast method of prayer,” but it should not be thought that for the Hesychasts these exercises constituted the essence of prayer. They were regarded, not as an end in themselves, but as a help to concentration — as an accessory useful to some, but not obligatory upon all. The Hesychasts knew that there can be no mechanical means of acquiring God’s grace, and no techniques leading automatically to the mystical state.
    For the Hesychasts of Byzantium, the culmination of mystical experience was the vision of Divine and Uncreated Light. The works of Saint Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), the greatest of the Byzantine mystics, are full of this “Light mysticism.” When he writes of his own experiences, he speaks again and again of the Divine Light: “fire truly divine,” he calls it, “fire uncreated and invisible, without beginning and immaterial.”
    The Hesychasts believed that this light which they experienced was identical with the Uncreated Light which the three disciples saw surrounding Jesus at His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. But how was this vision of Divine Light to be reconciled with the apophatic doctrine of God the transcendent and unapproachable?
    All these questions concerning the transcendence of God, the role of the body in prayer, and the Divine Light came to a head in the middle of the fourteenth century. The Hesychasts were violently attacked by a learned Greek from Italy, Barlaam the Calabrian, who stated the doctrine of God’s “otherness” and unknowability in an extreme form. It is sometimes suggested that Barlaam was influenced here by the Nominalist philosophy that was current in the west at this date; but more probably he derived his teaching from Greek sources. Starting from a one-sided exegesis of Dionysius, he argued that God can only be known indirectly; Hesychasm (so he maintained) was wrong to speak of an immediate experience of God, for any such experience is impossible.
    Seizing on the bodily exercises which the Hesychasts employed, Barlaam accused them of holding a grossly materialistic conception of prayer. He was also scandalized by their claim to attain a vision of the Divine and Uncreated Light: here again he charged them with falling into a gross materialism. How can a man see God’s essence with his bodily eyes? The light which the Hesychasts beheld, in his view, was not the eternal light of the Divinity, but a temporary and created light.
    The defense of the Hesychasts was taken up by Saint Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica. He upheld a doctrine of man which allowed for the use of bodily exercises in prayer, and he argued, against Barlaam, that the Hesychasts did indeed experience the Divine and Uncreated Light of Thabor. To explain how this was possible, Gregory developed the distinction between the essence and the energies of God. It was Gregory’s achievement to set Hesychasm on a firm dogmatic basis, by integrating it into Orthodox theology as a whole, and by showing how the Hesychast vision of Divine Light in no way undermined the apophatic doctrine of God. His teaching was confirmed by two councils held at Constantinople in 1341 and 1351, which, although local and not Ecumenical, yet possess a doctrinal authority in Orthodox theology scarcely inferior to the Seven General Councils themselves.
    Gregory began by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of man and of the Incarnation. Man is a single, united whole: not only man’s mind but the whole man was created in the image of God (P.G. cl, 1361c). Man’s body is not an enemy, but partner and collaborator with his soul.
    Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has “made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification” (Homily 16 [P.G. cli, 193b]). Here Gregory took up and developed the ideas implicit in earlier writings, such as the Macarian Homilies; the same emphasis on man’s body, as we have seen, lies behind the Orthodox doctrine of icons.
    Gregory went on to apply this doctrine of man to the Hesychast methods of prayer: the Hesychasts, so he argued, in placing such emphasis on the part of the body in prayer, are not guilty of a gross materialism but are simply remaining faithful to the Biblical doctrine of man as a unity. Christ took human flesh and saved the whole man; therefore it is the whole man — body and soul together — that prays to God.
    From this Gregory turned to the main problem: how to combine the two affirmations, that man knows God and that God is by nature unknowable. Gregory answered: we know the energies of God, but not His essence. This distinction between God’s essence (ousia) and His energies goes back to the Cappadocian Fathers. “We know our God from His energies,’ wrote Saint Basil, ‘but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable” (Letter 234, 1). Gregory accepted this distinction. He affirmed, as emphatically as any exponent of negative theology, that God is in essence absolutely unknowable. “God is not a nature,” he wrote, “for He is above all nature; He is not a being, for He is above all beings…. No single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the slightest communion with the supreme nature, or nearness to it” (P.G. cl, 1176c). But however remote from us in His essence, yet in His energies God has revealed Himself to men. These energies are not something that exists apart from God, not a gift which God confers upon men: they are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. God exists complete and entire in each of His divine energies. The world, as Gerard Manley Hopkins said, is charged with the grandeur of God; all creation is a gigantic Burning Bush, permeated but not consumed by the ineffable and wondrous fire of God’s energies. (Compare Maximus, Ambigua, P.G. xci, 1148d).
    It is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate relationship with mankind. In relation to man, the divine energy is in fact nothing else than the grace of God; grace is not just a “gift” of God, not just an object which God bestows on men, but a direct manifestation of the living God Himself, a personal confrontation between creature and Creator. “Grace signifies all the abundance of the divine nature, in so far as it is communicated to men” (V. Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 162). When we say that the saints have been transformed or “deified” by the grace of God, what we mean is that they have a direct experience of God Himself. They know God — that is to say, God in His energies, not in His essence.
    God is Light, and therefore the experience of God’s energies takes the form of Light. The vision which the Hesychasts receive is (so Palamas argued) not a vision of some created light, but of the Light of the Godhead Itself — the same Light of the Godhead which surrounded Christ on Mount Thabor. This Light is not a sensible or material light, but it can be seen with physical eyes (as by the disciples at the Transfiguration), since when a man is deified, his bodily faculties as well as his soul are transformed. The Hesychasts’ vision of Light is therefore a true vision of God in His divine energies; and they are quite correct in identifying it with the Uncreated Light of Thabor.
    Palamas, therefore, preserved God’s transcendence and avoided the pantheism to which an unguarded mysticism easily leads; yet he allowed for God’s immanence, for His continual presence in the world. God remains “the Wholly Other,” and yet through His energies (which are God Himself) He enters into an immediate relationship with the world. God is a living God, the God of history, the God of the Bible, who became Incarnate in Christ.
    Certainly Gregory Palamas was no revolutionary innovator, but firmly rooted in the tradition of the past; yet he was a creative theologian of the first rank, and his work shows that Orthodox theology did not cease to be active after the eighth century and the seventh Ecumenical Council.
    Among the contemporaries of Gregory Palamas was the lay theologian Nicholas Cabasilas, who was sympathetic to the Hesychasts, although not closely involved in the controversy. Cabasilas is the author of a Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, which has become the classic Orthodox work on this subject; he also wrote a treatise on the sacraments entitled The Life in Jesus Christ. The writings of Cabasilas are marked by two things in particular: a vivid sense of the person of Christ “the Saviour,” who, as he puts it, “is closer to us than our own soul” (P.G. cl, 712a); and a constant emphasis upon the sacraments. For him the mystical life is essentially a life in Christ and a life in the sacraments. There is a danger that mysticism may become speculative and individualist — divorced from the historical revelation in Christ and from the corporate life of the Church with its sacraments; but the mysticism of Cabasilas is always Christocentric, sacramental, ecclesial. His work shows how closely mysticism and the sacramental life were linked together in Byzantine theology. Palamas and his circle did not regard mystical prayer as a means of bypassing the normal institutional life of the Church.

  • andrew jones says:

    thanks – but your comments are too long and we dont have room for you to copy and paste large quotes
    i may be editing these for brevity shortly, but i advise you to post them on your own blog (or start one if you dont have one) and I would be happy to put in some links.

  • joe says:

    Dear Andrew Jones,
    Please edit or delete as you please as this is indeed a forum for your thoughts. I have not the “soul of brevity” called wit therefore I am longwinded in type and speech.
    Last comment as I bid thee, Adieu:
    To all the esp. the other Joe, re: “Again, you imply that truth only resides in the Orthodox church.”
    Alexei Khomiakov to the then-Anglican William Palmer on his assertion that the Anglican Church is basically just as orthodox as the Orthodox. (All Caps mine for emphasis)
    “Many Bishops and divines of your communion are and have been quite orthodox. But what of that? Their opinion is only an indiviual opinion, it is not the Faith of the Community…We may and do sympathize with individuals; we cannot and dare not sympathize with a Church…Suppose an impossibility – suppose Anglicans [or any other denomination or sect] to be quite Orthodox; suppose their Creed and Faith quite concordant with ours; the mode and process by which that creed is or has been attained a PROTESTANT ONE; A SIMPLE LOGICAL ACT OF UNDERSTANDING…Were you to find all truth, your would have found nothing; for we alone can give you that without which all would be vain-the ASSURANCE of truth.”
    (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15, The Church is the “pillar and ground” of the truth.)
    Anyway, glad that Emergents are starting to examine this pillar and to make parts of it their own. Please don’t misunderstand my intention in my posts. It is not even possible to broach the subject of Church History, monasteries, sacraments and the like with 99 percent of the evangelical Protestants out there.
    Emerging/Emergents are the ones that have come into our territory (frontier territory for most of them). Our desire is not to snatch away “what’s ours” from those who would partake of our “treasure,” but we’re trying to figure out how to give these explorers MORE of our treasure so that they can FULLY benefit from the riches of the Church.
    In my particular parish, 99% of our converts have been from evangelical Protestants who have started an “Emergent” journey of their own and have EmergED from Protestantism. Emerging/Emergent is a “conversation” and not a “movement” according to its leadership. I’m praying that this conversation will turn into an actual movement akin to labor leading to EMERGENCE out of Protestantism (and the Protestant method) into something Else.

  • andrew jones says:

    nice post, joe
    start a blog and tell us about it – you have a lot to share and your perspective from the Orthodox perspective is valued, even if it does appear that you want to convert protestants to orthodox – (which i heard happened anyway with a Campus Crusade for Christ group)
    sorry if i got impatient with you, and the length of your 20 comments
    if you need help getting a blog going, let me know
    i would advise getting a free one at or if you are up for $7 a month, go to and you may get by without learning any html or weird computer language.
    and share the address with us so we can keep playing with you

  • Whitewave says:

    Is there some place to list all the people and places that want to start something so we can find each other? I’ve done so many searches and it requires such specific language for each one that they can’t all come up on one search. Community, co-housing, monastery, convent, group-house… etc. It’s a pain. We need to communicate with each other.
    I really need to join something very soon. I’d start one up but I can’t do it alone. I’m in Ukiah, CA. I’ve got ideas but they are evolving and I’m open to some other ideas too.

  • andrew jones says:

    whitewave – go ahead and start it up . . and then let us know how to join it or link to it.

  • Whitewave says:

    Why did I know you were gonna go and say somethin’ like that?
    Methinks that’s why we hired you. You rock TSK. I’ll do it when I can focus.

  • joe says:

    There seems to be a movement coalescing around some guy called Count Zinzendorf and “The Order of the Mustard Seed” as if Count Z has the keys to the kingdom of “nu monasticism” and “intentional community.”
    Can it be that The New Monastics have EMERGED as born-again Zinzendorfians?
    This uncritical acceptance of Zinzendorf’s teachings does not bode well for The New Monasticism.
    Has anyone actually checked out what Count Z actually believed?
    For instance, here is an explanation of his teaching on the Holy Spirit from
    Zinzendorf explicated his doctrine of the Holy Spirit, proclaiming that she is a mother in three distinct ways.
    First, it was the Spirit, not Mary, who was the true mother of Jesus, since she “prepared him in the womb, hovered over him, and finally brought him into the light. She [the Spirit] gave him [Jesus] certainly into the arms of his mother, but with invisible hands carried him more than his mother did.”
    Second, the Spirit is the mother of all living things because she has a special role in the on-going creation of the world. “It is known that the Holy Spirit brings everything to life, and when the man was made from a clump of earth … the Holy Spirit was very close through the breathing of the breath of God into the man.” Thus, the Holy Spirit is the mother of all living souls in a general way.
    The Holy Spirit is also the Mother in a third and most important sense. She is the Mother of the church and all those who have been reborn. “The Holy Spirit is the only Mother of those souls who have been once born out of the side hole of Jesus, as the true womb of all blessed souls.”
    Zinzendorf bases this understanding of the Spirit giving birth to converted souls in large part on Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again, not from his mother’s womb, but from God. Nicodemus knew that we are born from a mother, not a father, but he did not know who this mother was.
    Zinzendorf has Jesus reply, “There is another Mother, not the one who physically gave you birth, that one doesn’t matter: you must have another Mother who will give you birth.”
    Ultimately, then, the Holy Spirit is the Mother of the Christian in the sense that she is the active agent in conversion. Human actors are only agents of the Holy Spirit, and in some cases are not even necessary for conversion.
    “I could not speak about it [the Holy Spirit], since I did not know how I should define it. I simply believed that she is the third person of the Godhead, but I could not say how this was properly so. Instead I thought of her abstractly. … The Holy Spirit had known me well, but I did not know her before the year 1738. That is why I carefully avoided entering in the matter until the Mother Office of the Holy Spirit had been so clearly opened up for me.”
    “God [Christ] is even our dear husband, his Father is our dear Father, and the Holy Spirit is our dear Mother, with that we are finished, with that the family-idea, the oldest, the simplest, the most respectable, the most endearing idea among all human ideas, the true biblical idea, is established with us in the application of the holy Trinity, for no one is nearer to one than Father, Mother, and Husband.”
    Will “New Liturgy” follow Zinzendorfian “New Monasticism?”
    Excerpt from the book review of:
    Community of the Cross: Moravian Piety in Colonial Bethlehem. By Craig D. Atwood . Max Kadeb German-American Research Institute Series. (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. Pp. xi, 283. $37.50.)
    Reviewed by Katherine Carté Engel , Texas A&M University
    Christ’s humanity, divinity, and above all his body, blood, and wounds stood at the center of this emotional religion , providing the means through which eighteenth-century Moravians worshiped and came to know the divine. “Swimming in the blood of Christ was not a morbid image for Zinzendorf but an expression of the soul’s desire for eternal life in Christ” , Atwood tells us, and Christ’s blood thus provided the Brüdergemeine with an intimate and joyful connection to its savior. Furthermore, over and above the contemplation of Christ’s suffering that was the responsibility of all Christians, Zinzendorf believed individuals also experienced their savior intimately through metaphorical physical communion: men through the blessing of having the same form that God himself had taken on earth and women through the sexual union that form enabled. “For Zinzendorf ‘s followers,” Atwood explains, “sexual intercourse was a LITURGY in which the woman plays the Gemeine [community] and the man Christ”.

  • andrew jones says:

    Joe – no Neo-Zinzindorfians around here, but if you ever find one, why not share that stuff with them, may give you some space to air your critical concerns about the state the emerging church if you talk to them.

  • isaac says:

    Andrew, have you checked out the folks sharing with one another a sort of new monasticism at I am wondering what sort of place those intentional communities can have in the Emergent conversation.

  • ash barker says:

    This is a really exciting discussion. The community I’m part of (Urban Nieghbours Of Hope) is taking a slightly different tact to this. Basically our reading of history is that new kinds of apostolic communities emerge when there are significant culture shifts that help renew and expand the braoder church. These rise and fall. Hence the first apostolic community, then desert communities, monastic, fransican, missionary, institutional. I beleive the next wave is incarnational communities and this requires orders to ‘flesh out’ the gospel in neighbourhoods. We do this in a slum in Bkk and also in Melb.
    Wish every-one the best

  • mihai says:

    i am a student at one of a Theological Faculty and i need information (links or books) of eventualy geopolitical influences of Hesychasm. Thanks ! Sorry for my english ! My adress is

  • Bob says:

    I have just found this. It is a very interesting and helpful site. I endeavour to live the hesychast way. But it is not easy.

Leave a Reply