Elder Damaskinos of the new skete of the Monastery of St. Paul of Mount Athos, spoke to the newspaper “Orthodoxi Alitheia” about the life of a monk on Mount Athos.
When asked why a young monk would now choose a skete over a monastery, the chief of the Holy Hut of Agioi Anargyroi said: “A monastery has its abbot, its assembly and its administration. The same applies to a skete that has its hegumen, who is called “Dikaios” (meaning “the Righteous”), and its assembly and its administration. Monastic cells are not governed with this system as they pertain to a monastery just like sketes. The new monk starts thinking of the different options primarily by visiting Mount Athos. First, he visits a monastery, a skete and some monastic cells, and then he makes his choice based on his personality and will. The monastery as it is a more organized society is appropriate for those who seek something similar. However, others who want to live with smaller brotherhoods will choose to live in a skete. In the sketes, the holy huts consist of one to ten members (a family environment), so they are smaller than a monastery. And the cells are even smaller. The choice is sometimes made depending on the acquaintances of the new monk.”
Asked if the monk is free to change his mind and leave the monastery he chose to settle in a skete or vice versa, Elder Damaskinos said: “It is good for the monk not to change places (from cell to hermitage, etc.). It’s like a tree we plant somewhere. If we pick it out, it will be more difficult to adapt. If we pick it out again, it may wither.”
Asked whether he and his brothers are tired of repeating the same services for so many nights and so many years, Elder Damaskinos answers: “No, not all. There is no fatigue because these services fill our hearts. There are, of course, some that are repeated, but there are also the daily troparia dedicated to the saints and the various season in the church year such as the Great Lent. But when we are aware of what we are reading, then I think that not only do we not get tired but through them we find peace. And prayers are recited in such a way that one forgets one’s fatigue.”
Elder Damaskinos also stated that “practice is a necessary element for every Orthodox Christian, not just for the monks. Without it, we make no progress. I mean both spiritual and physical practice. The physical one is performed by working and helping others, and the spiritual one through the individual prayer and his church attendance. So during the services, the monk practices in vigilance, reading of the various liturgical texts, troparia and prayers, prayer of the heart, chanting and in all that makes up a service. So he practices by sleeping less, praying with great zeal, remaining awake, chanting and praying together with other monks, whether in a cell, or a monastery, or a skete.
In cells, however, it is more difficult to perform all these services (Mesonyktikon, Orthros, Hours, Divine Liturgy, Vespers, Apodeipnon). But this struggle for sleep deprivation, personal rest, and church attendance is a way of practice that helps the monk cultivate his love for God and his brothers and be vigilant if he is to pay attention to what is said with his mind and heart, thus progressing and ascending spiritually.”