Some fundamental organizing concepts in a Greek monastic community on Mount Athos.
This social anthropological thesis reports on fieldwork in a coenobitic Orthodox
monastery on Mount Athos. In Part I the thesis is concerned with metanoia - repentance
from sins. Penthos, mourning, is a personal condition of extreme sobriety in which both
laughter and anger are avoided, and repentance must be expressed in word and posture if
ever anger is shown. But tacitly, there can be a competitive element in seeking pardon.
If a monk weeps, this is seen as a gift - charisma - from God, and this is most likely to
be conferred on senior and notably devout monks.
Part II is concerned with the transition from the newcomer status through to three
higher degrees of spiritual maturity. This progress is marked both by transitional rituals,
such as tonsure, and the formal donning of robes which signify higher stages. The
insights of Van Gennep are helpftil in appreciating the general transition from the
secular to a more spiritual condition, and in appreciating particular rituals. But the
condition of spiritual vulnerability is not captured by either a particular rite, or practices
in a particular place. The fuller understanding of passage requires Seremetakis' wider
and more flexible approach, expressed in the concept of "ritualization". She directs our
attention away from the specificity of any particular rite, to the wider context of
fragmented social experiences, and understandings which are precipitates of an unstable
flow of ordinary social events.
Part ifi deals with the problems presented by parastaseis - representations - or, more
simply, memories of secular life. Monks should have utterly renounced their secular
affections to their consanguineal kin. Nor should they be proud of their previous
communities of origin, or educational attainments. In principle, the value of humility -
tapeinosis - should reign. But here is a further context for inequality to occur. For the
minority of monks who have been previously married, no matter how they struggle to
obliterate memories of their attachments to wives or children - are deemed to be in an
inherently inferior condition to those whose purity has never been compromised by
sexual congress, or procreative pride. The thesis concludes with the observation that
Turner's concept of an inherently egalitarian communitas is not supported by the
monastery. Rather, Dumont's proposal that in all religious value commitments, there are
inevitably implicit rank differences, fmds support. Just as the monks in their own eyes
are spiritually superior to the laity, so within the community of monks, the nevermarried
are ranked in their own eyes above the pandremenoi, the "married" monks.
In a substantial Appendix, the monastic naming system is examined within the
framework of suggestions from Levi-Strauss, and against the contrast medium of
previous Greek ethnography.