The monk, like every other creature of God, is born and dies. However, the
birth of a monk is not identified with his biological birth, but with a new identity
which he acquires after long and intensive initiation and trial. The established
order of Orthodox monasticism, and particularly of that of the Holy Mountain,
make such a course a prerequisite.
The would-be monk initially joins a brotherhood on trial. There, under the
guidance of the Elder-Abbot, he follows a programme of prayer and work, with
instruction interwoven into it. This lasts for a year, or more. As a postulant, the
candidate wears no more of the monastic habit than the cap, after a blessing has
been read over it.
Following a decision of the Abbot’s Council, the time is appointed for the
tonsure of the new monk. The rite is performed by a priest-monk, while the Abbot
attends as the sponsor of the monk who is joining the brotherhood.
The candidate, usually wearing white socks and a white undershirt, after the
entrance of the Gospel during the Divine Liturgy, is led by the Abbot from the
door of the church to a position below the great chandelier. There having
prostrated himself facing towards the four points of the compass, he prostrates
himself before the icons of Christ, of the Theotokos, and the saint to whom the
katholikon is dedicated. He then prostrates himself before the Abbot, receives his
blessing, and stands on his left with his hands crossed.
After the singing of the prescribed dismissal hymns, the priest questions the
future monk, having read the exhortation "Open the ears of your heart, brother,
...". Questions and answers between the priest and the candidate follow, which
confirm the latter’s voluntary adoption of the monastic way of life. To those
questions which require a positive answer, we hear the blessed reply: "Yes, with
God’s assistance, honoured Father". Immediately after the questions and
answers, there is a further catechism by the priest, followed by more dialogue.
When this is completed, the priest recites a prayer seeking the help of God for
the monk who is to be tonsured. This is followed by the naming of the monk. The
priest then gives to the new monk the scissors for his tonsuring, and he three
times returns them through the Abbot to the priest. The priest cuts a lock of the
hair of the kneeling candidate in the Name of the Holy Trinity, while the choir sing
the Kyrie eleison three times.
The typikaris (monk responsible for keeping the order in the services) then
brings the monastic habit from the sanctuary and delivers it to the priest. He, in
turn, having blessed it, hands it to the Abbot, who then clothes the new monk.
Thus, in this order, he puts on him the zostiko (the undergarment), the angelic
schema, the polystavri, the belt, the raso (cassock), shoes, the kalymmafki (hat),
the hood, and the cowl. The Divine Liturgy continues with the words "Those of
you who are baptised into Christ ...". Readings follow, and the priest gives the
new monk a cross, a prayer rope, and a lighted candle. The new monk is the first
to receive Holy Communion, without removing his hood. After the distribution of
the blessed bread (antidoron), the other monks go in order to the new monk, who
stands in his stall, to express the appropriate good wishes. At the meal in the
refectory which follows, the newly-tonsured monk sits next to the Abbot.
The monastic habit is black. The Great Schema, a kind of stole or scapular, is
of black, embroidered in red or with white and coloured threads. On it there is a
representation of the cross of the Lord with the lance and the sponge on either
side, and a death’s-head below. To the left and right it has in abbreviated form
At this schema / demons tremble
The contemplation of God/ a divine miracle
Christ to Christians / grants joy
The light of Christ/ shines upon all
The place of a skull/ has become paradise