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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils
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Since it is very conducive to salvation for one to become closely attached to God by retiring from the turmoil of life, we must not welcome without examination those who unseasonably choose the solitary (or monastic) life, but must observe the definition handed down to us by the Fathers even in these matters, so as to make it incumbent upon us to welcome the confession (or promise, as we say in English) of a life in accordance with God then, when it is already certain and has been done with consent and judgment, after the completion of the reason. Therefore let anyone who is about to submit to the monastic yoke and who is not less than ten years old, the test for this resting with the president, if he deems the time to be more advantageous for growth as preparation for entrance into and continuance in the solitary life. For even though St. Basil the Great in his sacred Canons welcomes the girl who voluntarily offers herself to God and embraces virginity when passing through her seventeenth year, and makes it a law for her to be enrolled in the battalion of Virgins, yet, even so, following the example with respect to widows and deaconesses closely we have allowed those choosing the solitary life the said time proportionately. For in the divine Apostle it is written: “Let not a widow be taken into the number under sixty years old if she has been the wife of one husband” (1 Tim. 5:9). The sacred Canons, on the other hand, give instructions to the effect that a deaconess can be ordained only when she is at least forty years old, the Church having by the grace of God become mightier and advancing forward, and the tendency of the faithful to keep the divine commandments having become firmly fixed and secure, after exquisitely perceiving which fact quite recently we have seen fit to decree the blessing of grace upon the one about to undertake the struggle of living in accordance with God, impressing it precisely like a seal quickly and hence seeking to prevent him from lingering too long, and urging him forward into the arena, or rather indeed we might say impelling him to the choice and state of what is good.
(c. XIX of the 1st; c. XV of the 4th; c. XIV of the 6th; cc. VI, LI, CXXXV of Carthage; cc. XVIII, XXIV of Basil.)
Those who wish to become monks or nuns ought not, according to the present Canon, to be accepted without examination, and at an unseasonable or improper time and in defiance of the definition prescribed by the divine Fathers (and especially St. Basil the Great), but only then ought the confession and promise they make to God to be accepted as reliable and representative of their state of mind, when the judgment of their reasoning faculty has reached its maturity, as Basil the Great asserts in his c. XVIII and especially in his Definition 15 in extenso. So, in sum, let the one who is about to become a monk be not less than ten years old; but, nevertheless, let it be in the power of the bishop to try him out and to increase the number of years for him (in proportion, that is to say, to his natural knowledge) if he deems it more to the person’s interest. For although Basil the Great specifies in his aforesaid Canon that a virgin girl over sixteen or seventeen years may be admitted to the battalion of virgins, we nevertheless, following the example of the widows and deaconesses, have reduced the sixteen or seventeen years of St. Basil to ten years, because the Apostle prescribes that a widow may be admitted to the Church if she is not less than sixty years old, while the Fathers of the 4th say that a woman may be ordained a deaconess when she is forty years old, in their c. XV, seeing the Church of God to be advancing with the grace of God, and the constancy shown by Christians in the keeping of the divine commandments. Giving these facts due thought, we have decreed this Canon, engraving in the tender soul of the one about to commence the spiritual struggles of monks, as a seal, the blessing of divine grace, and bracing him by means of this Canon, not to neglect the business of virtue for a long time, but rather to choose the good portion so much the sooner. But c. VI of Carthage says also that virgins ought to be consecrated to God by only the bishop; and c. LI of the same Council says that they ought to be provided for by him also, or, in his absence, by the presbyter.