Traditionally, in the east, one could truly be called a monk only upon entering the Great Schema. Nowadays however in the west, the Schemamonk is a rare and special step taken in the orthodox monastic life that not many professed monks take, and is seldom approved by the Abbot.
It takes a very special monk to take this step. A Schemamonk must in essence not only carry the cross of Christ as the Stavrophore do, but he must openly and without hesitation be willing, as Jesus was, to be nailed to the cross for the salvation of souls. The life of a Schemamonk is a hard road. He will fast an entire day – eating only sparingly after dusk; the Schemamonk makes five hundred prostrations a day, he performs twice the usual number of formal prayers, he restricts his food, his sleep and his drink, and spends most of his day in silent prayer praying for the salvation of the world. The Schemamonk is no ordinary monk, he is a monk who has aspired to a spiritual level that transcends worldly desire.
To some the Schemamonk is like a hermit that, unless out of necessity rarely leaves his monastic cell and then mostly to attend the Divine Liturgy.
Those who enter the Great Schema take their norm from the letter of the Apostle Paul to Timothy: “they should strive to be above reproach, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. They should strive to be serious, not slanderers, not double-tongued, not greedy for gain, faithful in all things, and they must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience”.
The Schemamonk withdraws into a greater form of solitude which suggests a greater withdrawal from unhealthy attachments of the world in order to give greater energy to the life of prayer, and in order to make room in one’s personal life for God to enter in more intimately. For the Schemamonk there is the obligatory acceptance of a new name “in religion”. This is done to publicly signify the Schemamonk’s conversion, change of life and of focus, separation, seclusion and withdrawal from the world.
Those in the Great Angelic Schema strives for transparency, so that the light of Christ may shine without obstruction. It is in monasticism that the sacrificial side of human service of God is best expressed, for the Schema are called to love God with a perfect love and to be the personification of God’s love in the world.
The Schemamonk is called to bear a message to the world, to express “joyful sorrow” that praises God with tears of joy and repentance, to pray constantly, and to rest always in God.
The monk who enters into the Great Schema is called to begin anew each day, each hour each moment, to repent and return to God. The Schema are called to constant contemplation of God, life in God, and a sort of stillness that arises from the interior silence – that is the product of constant prayer. The Schemamonk is called to a renewal of Baptism and renewed repentance, as one of the canticles suggest: “May this divine image bring transformation of life and transfiguration; and may purification and healing from sin be granted to the servant who comes to Thee.”
Schemamonks are called to a greater degree of obedience and service than that with which they are comfortable, they are called, in fact, to discomfort.
It is important for the Schemamonk to refrain from unnecessary involvement with affairs that do not concern them, and to maintain their focus on the call to pray constantly.
Those who take the Great Schema are called to be like the Angels – called to open themselves to God, and to the service of God, that a degree of spiritual perfection may be granted to them.
The Schema are called to serve as spiritual advisors, confidantes, and mentors for any and all that approach them. They are called to teach, preach, and live out the monastic vocation in such a way as to encourage the faint-hearted and to give the strong something for which to strive. Schemamonks are looked to for spiritual advice from people from all walks of life, even Bishops.
Schemamonks work seriously at salvation, not only for themselves but for the world. They take upon themselves the obligation to teach and live out the work of daily repentance: understanding that sin is sickness and that it is only God, the great physician, who can by divine uncreated grace heal, strengthen, and restore us and bring us to the full humanity that is our birthright as sons and daughters of the Most High God. This repentance is truly the work of transformation, of transfiguration, and of conversion. The Schemamonk prays daily with all the church that we may spend the rest of our days in peace and repentance, and for “a good defense before the dread Judgment Seat of Christ.”
It is to be understood that entry into the Great Angelic Schema is a sacramental act, a serious obligation, a covenant with God, and a perpetual alteration in the individual’s relationship with God, the church, and the world. The monk who takes this step enters irrevocably into the desert experience of inner silence. This inner silence, is a constant companion, always calling the monastic to greater and greater humility, love, gratitude, prayer and service.
The Great Angelic Schema should never be entered into lightly. I have the honor of knowing two Schemamonks, one being my Spiritual Father. He has been a monk for over 30 years, an Abbot for over 20 and Schemamonk for approximately 15 years. It took almost half his monastic life before seeking to enter into the Great Angelic Schema. Some monks wait until they are on their deathbed before entering the Angelic Schema, but for those that earnestly desire the Schema, the usual time of entering into the Angelic Schema is approximately five to twenty years after profession as a Stavrophore (professed) monk – any sooner is deterred and not recommended as it can be spiritually hazardous to the soul for those who are unprepared.
Those who are unskilled in the understanding of the Great Schema or who look for ways to avoid the obligations would have us believe that the priesthood supersedes the monastic; but as almost every orthodox know this is a completely erroneous statement. First of all, a Schemamonk should never seek the priesthood but rather wait to see if it is offered. In addition, and most importantly, the life of a Schemamonk and the life of a Bishop are entirely dissimilar because of the near impossibility of combining the double spiritual struggle of one’s own salvation and the obligations of governing the Church, however while it is true that there are Schema-Bishops, the Holy Fathers made a statute that a Bishop should NOT seek the Angelic Schema “unless he can balance the obligations of both”. If a Bishop desires the Great Angelic Schema “He must be able to balance the obligations of both Bishop and Schemamonk, for if he discovers he can not – and since it is impossible to set aside the Angelic Schema because it is a sacramental covenant with God – he would be obligated to retire as Bishop and become Emeritus”. This tenet is indispensable and beyond contestation (see note below).
As an example, my Spiritual Father spends most of his day fulfilling the obligations and duties of the Schema and accomplishing his Episcopal duties only as needed – in addition, he delegates what does not need his personal attention to his Auxiliary.
The esteemed Abbot Tryphon of All-Merciful Orthodox Christian Monastery said it best; “A monk is to be dead to the world, for by his very vocation he is called to be set apart, living a life in imitation of the angels. Whether he be praised or offended, a monk must react as though he were a dead man. He must not be disturbed by insults, nor prideful when people praise him. In his humility, he finds beauty in a hidden life.”
The Schemamonk in essence, is fundamentally a walking icon of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the ceremony it shows that the Schemamonk will mandatorily receive a new Name-in-Christ to show he has totally surrendered his life to God and given up all worldly desires. He also receives the Anavalos.
The Anavalos goes over the habit &
Our Schemamonk in addition to the Anavalos receive a ring with the Crown of Thorns and is worn on left hand.
NOTE: The above information has been compiled, confirmed and certified as valid and binding by appropriate orthodox authority from multiple canonical jurisdictions and as stated above is indispensable and beyond contestation.