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 final stage of monasticism - the Great Schema.
The Great Schema is the highest rank of monasticism, bestowed upon the stavrophore when their abbot feels they’ve achieved a high level of spiritual excellence. To their existing garments is added the analav - the schema itself as we’re accustomed to seeing it. This is a hooded garment in the form of a cross that goes over the shoulders, hanging down in the front and back as well as along the shoulders, with the instruments of the Passion as well as the Trisagion embroidered on it. Binding the monk to Christ and the analav to the monk is a the polystavrion (“many crosses”) - a cord with small crossed braided into it, to remind him that he is no longer a participant in worldly activities and now labors only for the Kingdom of Heaven.