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Canons of the seven ecumenical councils

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41.

 Those wishing to depart from cities or villages where they are living in cloisters, and to look after themselves alone by themselves, must first enter a Monastery, and become duly accustomed to anchoretic conduct, and to submit for three years straight to the Prior of the Monastery in fear of God, and to fulfill obedience fittingly in all respects; and thus while confessing a predilection for such a life, they may embrace this with all their heart, and the fact must appear and be verified by test of trial by the local president. It is wishable, though, that they may spend another year staying outside by waiting with fortitude in the cloister so that their aim may come to light more clearly. For they shall afford such clear evidence that they are not hunting empty glory, i.e., are not in pursuit of vainglory, but are striving after this quietude for the sake of what is really good itself. When such a long time has been completed, those who persist in the same preference shall be shut up and it shall no longer be possible for them to leave this solitary confinement when they want to, except and unless it be for the common advantage and benefit, or some other necessity forcing them towards death, and they are being drawn towards this alternative, and thus, with the blessing of the local Bishop. But apart from the said pretexts, in case they should attempt to make an exit from their resorts (or dungeons), the first formality is that they must be duly imprisoned in the said cloister against their will, and must be forced to fast again and again, and to submit to other hardships, so as to be made well aware of the fact that “No one who, after putting his hand to the plow, looks back, is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 9:62.)

 

Interpretation.

It is a great and bold stroke for one to depart mundane life right at the very start and be shut up inside of cloisters, and from one extravagation to jump over to another extravagation — from the turbulent sea, I mean, of life into the untoward and difficult sea of quietude. For this reason these Fathers in the present Canon decree that those who wish to do this must go to a monastery, and after showing obedience to the prior in every respect for three years, they must be examined by the bishop and confess that of their own accord and with all their heart they are yearning for such a departure. Afterwards, following this, they are to quietly rest themselves and remain quiet for a year outside of the cloister, in order to furnish still more convincing evidence that it was not out of vainglory, but out of a desire for the good of quietude that they have been longing for this kind of life. And if after all these steps they stand solidly on the same conclusion and eagerness, then they are to be shut up and are no longer to have permission to get out when they wish, except only if this be for the common benefit of the people and on account of a danger of dying. Nevertheless even then they are to come out with the blessing and permission of the local bishop. But if without having any such reasons as these they should try to get out, they are to be forcibly shut up again in their said cloister, and be penanced (or “canonized”) canonically both with fastings and with other kinds of hardships and harsh treatment in order to be taught that, as the Lord said, whoever puts his hand to the plow, or, in other words, whoever commences a career in accordance with God’s way and afterward goes back to a worldly life, cannot succeed in traveling straight to the Kingdom of Heaven.

 

 




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