Monasticism. I am fond of saying that our beloved monastics are the heart of the Church because they have separated themselves from the world to focus on praying for those of us stuck here in the world. That said, there is a lot of confusion about what monastics are, what they do, and how we ought to best understand their role within the Church and in our spiritual lives. To that end, I’m going to focus over the next several weeks on various aspects of monasticism, to include their ranks and the process of becoming a monk or a nun of the Orthodox Church. This is in no way comprehensive or exhaustive, but it should provide a well-rounded picture of the overall idea; NB: if you do want an exhaustive treatment of the subject, we have a few copies of The Angelic Life available in the bookstore (and cheaper than Amazon). This week we’ll be discussing the next step in the monastic life - if and when a rassophore progresses to stavrophore.
That Greek guy you met that one time named Stavros - his name means Cross! The vestment material pattern that is comprised of all crosses is called the polystavros - many crosses. So as you may have guessed, a stavrophore is a cross-bearer. This rank is also called the “little Schema” or “betrothal of the Great Schema,” and is bestowed upon the rassophore monk when the abbot decides they’re sufficiently dedicated, disciplined, and humble to receive it. It’s here that the monk takes vows of chastity, poverty, obedience to their abbot and the Church, as well as stability of place, i.e., remaining at the monastery unless granted a release. To the riassa, the monk now adds the paraman, a square black cloth embroidered in red with the instruments of the Passion, connected to a wooden cross worn over the heart (hence the title of this rank), and representing the Yoke of Christ (Matthew 11:29). The newly-minted stavrophore is also given a wooden hand cross to be placed in the icon corner of his cell and which he’ll be buried holding. He is likewise given a candle to represent the vigil he will keep as well as his sacrificing himself to God - the candle will be burned during his funerary rites. In our Slavic practice, they are usually also given the mantle (a long cape) at this point - something that can be seen in more colorful versions on our hierarchs. The stavrophore monk will now keep a vigil in the church from 3 to 5 days, engaged only in spiritual reading, after which their prayer rule, work responsibilities, and personal ascetical practices will be increased according to their ability by the abbot.