What is a Monk?

Being a monastic is more a state of mind--and heart.

Though most people probably assume that a monk's life is entirely different from their own, the reality might surprise them. The Russian author Dostoevsky put it best when he claimed that a true monk is nothing other than what everyone ought to be. He was referring to an attitude of heart,

a way of seeing life


What makes someone truly a monk is his interior attitude, not the practical externals associated with his state of life. Long hair and long beards are "monastic" in one milieu, while shaved heads are the norm in another; some monks don't eat meat while others do, some wear habits while others don't. Trying to determine what is more monastic on the basis of such criteria is futile; the essence of their lives goes much deeper than such banalities.

There is a monastic, contemplative dimension in every human being's life.


The questions that consume us, which all human beings must face to one degree or another if they ever hope to achieve maturity and real happiness--these are what characterize monks and nuns.

There is a monastic, contemplative dimension in every human being's life


. Monks have simply chosen to pursue this formally in a full-time, radical way.

"Monk" translates from the Greek


which comes from


"one, one alone." Although this etymology has been used to justify the solitary life of the hermit as the purest vision of what a monk is, such an interpretation is mistaken. Monks ordinarily live together in close-knit communities, not off alone by themselves. Granted that there have always been hermit-monks, yet from earliest times



was readily applied to those monks living together and sharing everything in common.


also means "unique, one with Christ." It in turn translated the Hebrew word


which means "exile," one displaced from one's true homeland. This, more than anything else, is what characterizes the true monk. To encounter the true God and find our real home in this reality is the monk's perennial task, making him by nature a wanderer (though living in one place), a pilgrim (though already tasting the goal), exploring the vast wilderness of the human heart (though guided by those who went before him).

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the Monks of Skete
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