A “skete” is a community of at least two or three monks living together near a chapel where they gather for communal prayer and liturgy.
The idea of the skete is based on Our Lord’s words to the Apostles: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20, RSV)
A skete generally consists of an an elder who serves as spiritual father and younger monks who serve as disciples.
In a skete such as that established in Russia by the fifteenth-century monk and spiritual father Nil Sorsky, who based his skete on his experience on Mount Athos, monks dedicate their lives to continual prayer and study of Scripture and the writings of the Fathers, as well as to work.
In the first chapter of his Rule, St. Benedict lists four kinds of monks, but two of these he condemns because they follow their own will.
He calls monks who live two or three together without experience and a rule sarabaites. He considers them detestable and aligned with the world.
Gyrovagues are wanderers who drift from one monastery to another and never settle down. He calls them disgraceful and worse than sarabaites.
The two types of monks he praises are cenobites, monks who live in a monastery, and anchorites or hermits, who have received good spiritual guidance and have the training to fight Satan on their own.
Skete monks are nothing like sarabaites. The elder of the skete is an experienced monk and the monks live by a defined rule. Like Benedict’s monks, they live a life of work and prayer.
In Eastern Christianity, living in a skete is a middle way between living in a community or living alone. St. John Climacus observes in The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Step 1:26) that skete life is the best path for most monks.
If skete life is the best path for most monks, and a marriage resembles a skete in that it brings a man and a woman together to live out their Christian vocation as one flesh in a covenant with God, modeling a marriage on the ideals of a skete could be a path to holiness for Christian couples.
St. Paul considered the family a domestic church. In his homily on Ephesians, St. John Chrysostom instructed husbands and wives to model their households after St. Paul’s teachings because each Christian household is a little church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing Vatican II and Pope St. John Paul II, says that because the family is “a special revelation and realization of ecclesial communion” that “it can and should be called a domestic church.” (CCC 2204-2205)
Considering your marriage, and so your household, as a skete embraces this instruction.
Husband and wife as a type of spiritual father and a spiritual mother in a skete household would adopt St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom’s instructions, as well as those of other Church Fathers, in living out their vocation.
Participating in the Church’s liturgical life, prayer, reading, and study of Scripture, and the work of evangelization required of the domestic church would be embraced by the skete household.
But a skete household, while following the precepts of the Church and being part of a parish community, would also follow a monastic rule, modified in part for married life and for working in the world, to assist the couple in fully living out the Gospel.
This would mean choosing to follow St. Benedict or Nil’s rule, or another traditional monastic rule such as that of St. Basil or St. Augustine.
To choose a rule start by practicing the core of each of these rules, which is reading and praying with Scripture and reading the Church Fathers. This initial practice will assist in finding and adopting a formal rule.
A good place to start this practice is with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians and St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on this epistle. Along with this, read Nil’s rule on the skete and find an experienced spiritual guide who can offer assistance along the way.
A man and woman who adopt a monastic rule at the start of their married life together would create a community of love with Christ at the center that would take them through the years.
Together, they would have a clearer understanding of how to serve God, one another, their children – if blessed with children – the Church, their parish, and their community.
Such a couple would be better equipped to live together, to raise children as Christians, and to transition into the year’s after the children have left home, and to serve as guides to others when they become elders.
They also would be better equipped to accept the many joys and sorrows of life.
Christ is Born!
Dear Father Deacon,
Is there a rule (e.g. St. Basil, St. Benedict) that’s simplified for laymen?
I’d like to look into them.
Yours in the Infant King,
The approach I recommend is in the article:
“A good place to start this practice is with St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians and St. John Chrysostom’s homilies on this epistle. Along with this, read Nil’s rule on the skete and find an experienced spiritual guide who can offer assistance along the way.”
St. Nil Sorsky’s “The Monastic Rule,” found in Nil Sorsky, “The Complete Writings,” edited and translated by George A. Maloney (Paulist Press, The Classics of Western Spirituality) is short and clear. It is a basic rule that is easily modified for life outside the monastery.
You can find sections of a rule in an out of print book by St. Theophan the Recluse online. His book “The Path to Salvation” is essentially a rule, but Part III of the book, and in particular Chapter Three, “A Guiding Rule for a God-pleasing life, serves the purpose.
The writings of St. Peter of Damaskos in “The Philokalia” (Volume Three) is another good possibility.
Two contemporary works to consider are Gabriel Bunge’s “Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer,” and Tito Colliander’s “The Way of Ascetics.” Bunge’s book includes an appendix, “Practical Advice,” which is a good short rule. The introduction to Colliander’s book by Kenneth Leech is a good summary of the Orthodox, and so Orthodox Catholic, way of life.
If you do not have a prayer book, you will need one. The two I recommend for personal use are the “Publicans Prayer Book” from Melkite Sophia Press and the “Prayer Book” from Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Jordanville. The “Publicans Prayer Book” is more comprehensive and includes excellent information on the Christian home and fasting in an appendix.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Deacon Kevin