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Author Topic: Do Orthodox monks shower?  (Read 10448 times) Average Rating: 0
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Christianus
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« on: April 18, 2010, 07:46:38 PM »

I hear people tell me that holy men don't shower, and that they're (physically, not spiritually) dirty old men, like John the baptist.
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2010, 07:52:43 PM »

Some do, some don't.  Hermits are more likely not to, while those living in a community are more likely to.  Each monastery has different practices.  Those who do not shower might also still use a hose, for instance, with cold water.  The reason is obvious: standing in a warm, hot shower can become idle and relaxing, a pleasure.  But again, different places do different things. There is no hard and fast rule on this, nor have I ever actually seen monks discuss this topic. It usually is in the realm of laypeople who reduce everything in Orthodox to its curiosities. I'd recommend that you ignore such people, while keeping in mind the fact that the practice does exist in some places for valid reasons.
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2010, 08:07:04 PM »

On a related note, while attending liturgy in a church that had been used the previous night as a homeless shelter, I realized with a start that the use of incense in ancient times must have been inspired to some degree by the need to suppress the stink of crowds that didn't bathe all that much.
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2010, 08:14:14 PM »

Quote
nor have I ever actually seen monks discuss this topic

I've never heard monks (plural) discuss it, but I was told by one monk that the monastery we were at only installed showers because it was required according to the law (the monastery we were at at the time was not his own monastery, we were visiting another one, so he wasn't just bragging). I don't know if he was being serious, or just exaggerating, or trying to play with a gullible new convert.
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2010, 08:19:15 PM »

In his Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, St. Nicodemus devotes a section to the evils of bathing, especially for priests and monastics, as it arouses passions related to the sense of touch. Of course, St. Nicodemus took a strict approach to a great many things which isn't necessarily followed everywhere in the Orthodox world.
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2010, 09:16:50 PM »

In his Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, St. Nicodemus devotes a section to the evils of bathing, especially for priests and monastics, as it arouses passions related to the sense of touch. Of course, St. Nicodemus took a strict approach to a great many things which isn't necessarily followed everywhere in the Orthodox world.
St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain?
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2010, 09:42:19 PM »

In his Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, St. Nicodemus devotes a section to the evils of bathing, especially for priests and monastics, as it arouses passions related to the sense of touch. Of course, St. Nicodemus took a strict approach to a great many things which isn't necessarily followed everywhere in the Orthodox world.
St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain?

Yes, sorry to be unclear.
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2010, 10:13:38 PM »

Let's keep in mind that bathing has meant different things in different times.  A quick shower nowadays does not equate to a few centuries ago when bathing might entail finding a place where baths are held, or if having one in one's home, forcing servants to lug buckets of heated-on-a-wood-burning-stove water up stairs, immersing oneself in a pool, or if we are going way back, anointing oneself with oil and using the strigle first!

So anyway, a quick shower can be non-indulgent in a way that maybe a bath was not able to be in older times? I am no expert on bathing customs, but I think we have to consider the historical contexts of all these things.
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2010, 10:21:09 PM »

Some do, some don't.  Hermits are more likely not to, while those living in a community are more likely to.  Each monastery has different practices.  Those who do not shower might also still use a hose, for instance, with cold water.  The reason is obvious: standing in a warm, hot shower can become idle and relaxing, a pleasure.  But again, different places do different things. There is no hard and fast rule on this, nor have I ever actually seen monks discuss this topic. It usually is in the realm of laypeople who reduce everything in Orthodox to its curiosities. I'd recommend that you ignore such people, while keeping in mind the fact that the practice does exist in some places for valid reasons.

I agree with Father that far too much discussion takes place regarding curiosities rather than substance.
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2010, 10:28:11 PM »

Some do, some don't.  Hermits are more likely not to, while those living in a community are more likely to.  Each monastery has different practices.  Those who do not shower might also still use a hose, for instance, with cold water.  The reason is obvious: standing in a warm, hot shower can become idle and relaxing, a pleasure.  But again, different places do different things. There is no hard and fast rule on this, nor have I ever actually seen monks discuss this topic. It usually is in the realm of laypeople who reduce everything in Orthodox to its curiosities. I'd recommend that you ignore such people, while keeping in mind the fact that the practice does exist in some places for valid reasons.

I agree with Father that far too much discussion takes place regarding curiosities rather than substance.
I can also see some passions getting aroused unnecessarily by just thinking about others bathing.
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« Reply #10 on: April 19, 2010, 01:09:28 AM »

Some do, some don't.  Hermits are more likely not to, while those living in a community are more likely to.  Each monastery has different practices.  Those who do not shower might also still use a hose, for instance, with cold water.  The reason is obvious: standing in a warm, hot shower can become idle and relaxing, a pleasure.  But again, different places do different things. There is no hard and fast rule on this, nor have I ever actually seen monks discuss this topic. It usually is in the realm of laypeople who reduce everything in Orthodox to its curiosities. I'd recommend that you ignore such people, while keeping in mind the fact that the practice does exist in some places for valid reasons.

I agree with you father.  It's not like the monks go around questioning each and every one of the bathing practices of those in the world, and then call them "weird" or "not normal" ... they have bigger fish to fry...like their own salvation. 
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« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2010, 02:28:58 AM »

One of my personal spiritual advisers and Servant's Prep Teacher is a man who is devoted to live among the people but in a life of celibacy, and I remember he always talked about how St. Paul is his idle.

In any case, he shared with us a story about a time when he was trying to be persuaded by a friend who was a monk to be a monk with him.  "We have bathrooms, showers, comfortable beds," he said.  The Teacher was obviously turned off by this and replied, "Is that why you became a monk?"

I thought that was insightful.
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« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2010, 12:44:01 PM »

Not to be purposefully argumentative, but I don't see this issue as something we should just write off as laypeople's vain curiosities  or as something that we really shouldn't be worried about. Because in the end such a curiosity actually boils down to a theological question or many questions.

Put another way...instead of asking do monks not bath, perhaps it should be worded WHY do monks not bath?

As one reply mentioned St. Nicodemus devotes a section to the evils of bathing, especially for priests and monastics, as it arouses passions related to the sense of touch.. Fair enough however this reply raises many other questions like, what exactly is so evil with the human sense of touch to begin with? Did God not create our human senses? How can what God created be evil? Is it even "Orthodox" to disdain the body to such a degree that people give up bathing because they fear they might be doing something evil, wicked, or downright sinful? Is it sound Orthodox theology to teach monastics that the human senses are somehow so easily corrupted that they should not even bath?

Just to be clear, I am not really arguing in favor or against this obscure practice among some monastics only asking questions. As I think it is a much more important question that just a passing curiosity we shouldn't be concerned with, especially when/if the reasons for it are deeply theological (which is usually the case in most monasteries today) as opposed to just practical. (like St. Herman living in a hut in the wilds of Alaska) I have a great respect for monasticism and our monks, however they are not immune from theological error, and if their reasons for not bathing are in some way anti-Incarnational or even slightly gnostic (the material world is corrupted and this we should not indulge in it, not even a hot shower) then the issue is of great importance, to all Orthodox Christians, and the Church at large.

Again, I'm not trying to be argumentative here, but like all things in Orthodoxy, I was taught to ask the "why" we do this or that thing, and the "why" of not bathing seems to me to ring, even if it is only a slight ringing, of something that just seems a bit "off" to me. But OTH it doesn't affect me in anyway, and I personally don't care what some monk does or doesn't do, so practically it's a non issue for me. Of course neither is the hairsplitting theology of so many of our Councils, as they are just beyond me...so maybe it's just my ignorance and lack of IQ to grasp this stuff.
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« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2010, 02:31:36 PM »

Not to be purposefully argumentative, but I don't see this issue as something we should just write off as laypeople's vain curiosities  or as something that we really shouldn't be worried about. Because in the end such a curiosity actually boils down to a theological question or many questions.

Put another way...instead of asking do monks not bath, perhaps it should be worded WHY do monks not bath?
Perhaps not, since asking WHY monks do not bathe assumes that they, in fact, do not bathe, which assumes the conclusion before it's even been proven.  Maybe we could make our question more accurate by focusing it on why St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain counseled monks to not bathe, since the fact that he said this is pretty well established already.
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« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2010, 04:21:17 PM »

Perhaps not, since asking WHY monks do not bathe assumes that they, in fact, do not bathe, which assumes the conclusion before it's even been proven.  Maybe we could make our question more accurate by focusing it on why St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain counseled monks to not bathe, since the fact that he said this is pretty well established already.

Most of the monasteries I stayed at on Mt. Athos did not have "showers." There were stalls with a drain, a faucet (like a garden faucet), and a very short hose (long enough to wash your legs/feet).

Taking full showers, like combing hair, trimming beards, or looking in a mirror, is considered vanity -- and, thus, to be avoided. That's been a typical line of thinking in Christianity since at least the second century. Clement of Alexandria waxed poetic on how only girly men trim body hair.
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« Reply #15 on: April 19, 2010, 04:33:34 PM »

I have visited & stayed in many monasteries in Orthodox Eastern Europe where the monks had what we would call "steam baths".  This is a cultural difference between Greeks and Slavs. I am not sure about the history of showers and how modern they are.  In villages in Orthodox Eastern Europe that are baths (steam like a sauna).  Plus, people including monastics in the old days used to just wash up with a bowl of water, what we would call a sponge bath.  people didin't have large bath tubes.
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« Reply #16 on: April 19, 2010, 04:51:07 PM »

St. Nicodemus' point was not that the sense of touch, or any of the senses, were evil, but that man's bodily existence was corrupted to the extent that normally blameless sensations could give rise to evil passions and make man a servant of his body. To the extent that man is subservient to physical pleasures, the flesh is like an enemy.

Here are the passages from St. Nicodemus, just to give meat to the discussion:
Quote
Heracleides has also noted in the Lausaikon about Iouvinos, the famous bishop of Askalon, that on a very hot day near the Pelousion mountain he washed with a little water his hands and feet and laid out a camel skin to rest a little in the shade. This was done in the presence of his most holy mother, who directly began to reproach him. "Oh son," she said, "you are most daring to flatter you body with such care and at such a young age. The more you fuss over it the more it becomes agitated like a serpent against you, seeking to harm you. I am already sixty years old, and I have not yet washed my face and feet in such a way, except for my hands. Even though I suffered certain illnesses and the doctors advised me to take advantage of the therapeutic baths and other cures for the body, I have never entrusted in my body nor have I allowed myself to flatter it in any way, knowing full well the enmity that exists between it and the soul. For this reason, my son, I have even refused to recline in a soft bed to sleep"
Nicodemus continues later:
Quote
You have already heard above from the holy nun and mother of Iouvinos how harmful even simple bathing can be, especially to the young. In the act of bathing the sense of touch is certainly sorely tested and tempted. As we read in the sayings of the Fathers there were many ascetic fathers who hesitated even at the crossing of rivers, not only because they were ashamed to bathe their bodies but also because they did not even want to uncover their legs. These holy men were often in a flash transported across the river by an angel of God. St Diadochos, bishop of Photiki, has written that the avoidance of baths is a manly achievement. "It is a manly and prudent thing to avoid baths. This way our bodies are not effeminated by that pleasurable flow of water over them, nor do we come to a remembrance of that shameful nakedness of Adam, so that we too seek to cover the shame with the leaves of a second excuse. Those who desire to keep their bodies spiritually pure are esepecially required to be united with the beauty of prudence and chastity." Of course, it is understood and acceptable that occasionally one must bathe out of necessity for the sake of health and the requirements of an illness.

I don't think what St. Nicodemus is saying here is carved in stone; I suspect that at the time he was writing, many monks were indeed bathing regularly, so he reacted to what he felt was undue luxury. Similarly, he strongly rails against bishops and priests wearing fancy clothing, and we see today how much his advice has been heeded!

In fact, St. Nicodemus seems less strict on this matter than some of his sources; the nun he quotes, for instance, seems to disapprove of bathing for even medicinal purposes, while St. Nicodemus thinks that is acceptable.
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« Reply #17 on: April 19, 2010, 04:56:52 PM »

I agree, especially in light of that last line quoted by Iconodule.  I know people who bathe more than once a day because they like the way that bathing feels to them; I don't mean in a sensual manner but they enjoy the smell of certain bath salts and products and are obsessed with making their skin the smoothest they possibly can.  It is, I think, this behavior that St. Nicodemus is speaking out against, not the simple bathing of our bodies to remove bacteria and keep our bodies healthy and disease-free.
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« Reply #18 on: April 19, 2010, 04:57:03 PM »

^^^ When one stops bathing, one might begin to itch, which might ignite evil passions just as well. D-d if you do, d-d if you don't.  laugh
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« Reply #19 on: April 19, 2010, 05:05:28 PM »

^^^ When one stops bathing, one might begin to itch, which might ignite evil passions just as well. D-d if you do, d-d if you don't.  laugh

There is bathing...and there is bathing...

When we lived in Istanbul, our family would go to the baths once a week (women at a different time than the men). Roman or Turkish baths were not merely for washing but for enjoyment of the flesh. Under the Turks, the baths cleaned up quite a bit (as far as sexual activity went) but they were still like modern day spas. A quick shower under cool water is nothing like the 2-3 hour experience in a Turkish bath.
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« Reply #20 on: April 19, 2010, 05:23:48 PM »

Its funny, but this discussion brought to mind a visit many years ago with my children who were under ten at the time to the Plimouth Plantation historical site near Plymouth, MA. Set to depict 1630 New England, actors work there in period clothes and speak in period English. I remember my oldest son asking one of the actors where were the bathrooms in the thatch roofed houses. The reply sticks in my mind because it was similar to the  sentiments voiced by the early fathers. He said something like good Christians needed no room for a bath! That was a pleasure for the depraved! The privy pot was to be dumped in the street, out of the windows. My children were stunned because they live in a time where simple daily hygiene is not considered sinful or demonic, but rather a necessary aspect of good health and common sense. After all, we teach them that the body is a temple made in the Lord's image and we ought not to let the Lord's house or image be filthy. I guess that's why we are not all called to the monastic life, or that not all monasteries are alike.
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« Reply #21 on: April 19, 2010, 10:39:54 PM »

No, they don't shower-- they purge themselves with hyssop. (Rim shot.)
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« Reply #22 on: April 20, 2010, 07:51:39 AM »

Quote
The privy pot was to be dumped in the street, out of the windows.

Yeah, right. And, voila! Cholera (or other transmissible disease through effluent) epidemic!

Oh, puh-lease, spare me! There's a world of difference between a daily short (3-4 minutes) cleansing shower, and the several-hours-long Greco-Roman or Turkish/Ottoman style bath, which involved several stages of cleansing, including having massages or other procedures provided by slaves or servants. Learn some history, folks.
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« Reply #23 on: April 20, 2010, 10:19:03 AM »


What business of ours is it whether ANYONE showers?

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« Reply #24 on: April 20, 2010, 10:35:29 AM »

Quote
The privy pot was to be dumped in the street, out of the windows.

Yeah, right. And, voila! Cholera (or other transmissible disease through effluent) epidemic!

Oh, puh-lease, spare me! There's a world of difference between a daily short (3-4 minutes) cleansing shower, and the several-hours-long Greco-Roman or Turkish/Ottoman style bath, which involved several stages of cleansing, including having massages or other procedures provided by slaves or servants. Learn some history, folks.

We seem to be agreeing more and more these days. Wink

If anyone wants a good history of what a bath was in Roman times, here is a whole book on the subject:
http://www.amazon.com/Bathing-Public-Roman-World-Garrett/dp/0472088653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271773997&sr=8-1

I mentioned in an earlier post above the strigle, but no one seemed to bite.  Strigling alone would make me want to stop bathing, if that is what a bath is Wink  Thankfully, we can just be minimalistic and do the 3-4 min. cleansing and be done with it. Healthy, clean, able to do work, no vanity.  If we want to take out all temptation, the monastery's abbot can just install a regulator so there is no hot water in the shower. That would really eliminate all passions! In fact, that could actually become a penance: force someone to stand in a cold shower for 10 minutes to think about how their sins make them dead....!
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« Reply #25 on: April 20, 2010, 10:42:01 AM »

Quote
The privy pot was to be dumped in the street, out of the windows.

Yeah, right. And, voila! Cholera (or other transmissible disease through effluent) epidemic!

Oh, puh-lease, spare me! There's a world of difference between a daily short (3-4 minutes) cleansing shower, and the several-hours-long Greco-Roman or Turkish/Ottoman style bath, which involved several stages of cleansing, including having massages or other procedures provided by slaves or servants. Learn some history, folks.

We seem to be agreeing more and more these days. Wink

If anyone wants a good history of what a bath was in Roman times, here is a whole book on the subject:
http://www.amazon.com/Bathing-Public-Roman-World-Garrett/dp/0472088653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271773997&sr=8-1

I mentioned in an earlier post above the strigle, but no one seemed to bite.  Strigling alone would make me want to stop bathing, if that is what a bath is Wink  Thankfully, we can just be minimalistic and do the 3-4 min. cleansing and be done with it. Healthy, clean, able to do work, no vanity.  If we want to take out all temptation, the monastery's abbot can just install a regulator so there is no hot water in the shower. That would really eliminate all passions! In fact, that could actually become a penance: force someone to stand in a cold shower for 10 minutes to think about how their sins make them dead....!

Father, you are absolutely right on spot. My point was not to support the 'non-bathers' but to point out that an aversion to bathing was common throughout Christian Europe until relatively recent times, both in the East and West. I recall that Ben Franklin was one of the first in the New World to popularize cleanliness and hygiene and that was nearly the last third of the 18th century. The hedonistic baths of the ancient Romans and Greeks surely formed the basis of that aversion as well as class distinctions in those ancient societies.
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« Reply #26 on: April 20, 2010, 11:20:16 AM »


What business of ours is it whether ANYONE showers?



It's our business if the Church, or sectors of the Church are teaching people not to bathe based on bad (heretical?) theology. I'm not saying there IS heretical theology in what we're discussing, but the idea that it's simply none of our business or a curiosity we shouldn't be concerned with doesn't fly with me personally.

We Orthodox look down on the medieval Western practice of self mortification/flagulation and all that. (Even Pope JP II supposedly did that) Why do we not just say "ah that's everyone's personal business? Because from an EO POV there is something in the practice that is not quite right, theologically speaking.

I see the idea that bathing is in fact evil because, then listing a bunch of reasons that sound awfully gnostic, as at least "questionable". Maybe there are good reasons for it and there are perfectly fine explanations, but it IS our business if the monastic movement is teaching anti-material world theology. Put another way, some of these quotes from St. Nicodemus sound a lot like St. Augustinian's view of the material world to me. That doesn't mean I don't think he's not a saint, because I do, I love Augustine, but from an EO at least some of his theology is at least suspect, according to Eastern thought. That doesn't mean I question his sainthood, or his holiness, only that he didn't have everything right, and in some cases he had things very, very wrong. I don't think monasticism is free from the possibility of getting a few things very, very wrong. For all I know this might not be the case. They might have this very very right for them personally, but theological questions are in fact our business. No monk is going to tell other monks to NOT bathe without a theological reason for it. And so I see it as our business, in concept, though certainly not on a personal level.



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« Reply #27 on: April 20, 2010, 11:28:06 AM »


Perhaps not, since asking WHY monks do not bathe assumes that they, in fact, do not bathe, which assumes the conclusion before it's even been proven. 

I think there is enough evidence just from this thread, from people visiting monasteries that at least "some" monks in fact do NOT bathe. I think the conclusion has been proven, unless you want me to get some monks to come on here and post from their personal experience. Smiley One monastery a friend of mine visited had no bathe house even for visitors, only an outhouse. I don't think the monks were hiding the showers for themselves. Smiley I don't necessarily think it is every monk, but it is a practice with "some"...how large a percentage "some" is, I do not know of course. But Considering St. Nicodemus is highly revered, I'd say his advice probably is taken by a large (at least half?) number. That's just a guess, of course.


Quote
Maybe we could make our question more accurate by focusing it on why St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain counseled monks to not bathe, since the fact that he said this is pretty well established already.

I see that as basically semantics from the point I raised, (since the question is identical with the exception of who the question is directed at...St. Nicodemus or present day monks) However since we can all agree on that, that's a fair enough prospect. So then I'll ask, "WHY" did he give this suggestion? Iconodule posted a reply and I'm going to reply to that promptly.
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« Reply #28 on: April 20, 2010, 11:28:40 AM »

I can understand the concerns for vanity, passions ignited by the sense of touch, luxuries of long baths, etc.

My concern (being somewhat of a sanitation nut after having to take sanitation and safety in culinary school and learning about all the wonderful bugs and illnesses you can get from unsanitary conditions), would be sanitation, hygiene, and health issues concerned with not cleaning oneself.  I mean, the lice, all kinds of bacterias (bad ones, not the good ones), etc...

I honestly could never be a monastic if it meant having my food cooked by someone who had not bathed in a long while.  Just the thought of what might fall into the food would make me sick to my stomach.  Call me picky or say what you will, but sanitation is a huge thing for me.  I just can't deal with unsanitary conditions when it comes to food or living.

As for the vanities of trimming one's beard and hair, wouldn't Christ Himself, as a Jew of the times, have trimmed His hair and beard?  If it was okay for Him, why would it not be okay for us?
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« Reply #29 on: April 20, 2010, 11:40:28 AM »

I can understand the concerns for vanity, passions ignited by the sense of touch, luxuries of long baths, etc.

My concern (being somewhat of a sanitation nut after having to take sanitation and safety in culinary school and learning about all the wonderful bugs and illnesses you can get from unsanitary conditions), would be sanitation, hygiene, and health issues concerned with not cleaning oneself.  I mean, the lice, all kinds of bacterias (bad ones, not the good ones), etc...

I honestly could never be a monastic if it meant having my food cooked by someone who had not bathed in a long while.  Just the thought of what might fall into the food would make me sick to my stomach.  Call me picky or say what you will, but sanitation is a huge thing for me.  I just can't deal with unsanitary conditions when it comes to food or living.

As for the vanities of trimming one's beard and hair, wouldn't Christ Himself, as a Jew of the times, have trimmed His hair and beard?  If it was okay for Him, why would it not be okay for us?

My thoughts exactly.Smiley

BTW, Christ implied that He bathed and His followers bathed (John 13:10).
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« Reply #30 on: April 20, 2010, 11:46:25 AM »

I can understand the concerns for vanity, passions ignited by the sense of touch, luxuries of long baths, etc.

My concern (being somewhat of a sanitation nut after having to take sanitation and safety in culinary school and learning about all the wonderful bugs and illnesses you can get from unsanitary conditions), would be sanitation, hygiene, and health issues concerned with not cleaning oneself.  I mean, the lice, all kinds of bacterias (bad ones, not the good ones), etc...

I honestly could never be a monastic if it meant having my food cooked by someone who had not bathed in a long while.  Just the thought of what might fall into the food would make me sick to my stomach.  Call me picky or say what you will, but sanitation is a huge thing for me.  I just can't deal with unsanitary conditions when it comes to food or living.

As for the vanities of trimming one's beard and hair, wouldn't Christ Himself, as a Jew of the times, have trimmed His hair and beard?  If it was okay for Him, why would it not be okay for us?

My thoughts exactly.Smiley

BTW, Christ implied that He bathed and His followers bathed (John 13:10).

Exactly, bathing and personal hygiene are no longer related to decadence and sexual excess in the modern world. Proper personal and home hygiene have been known to prevent the spread of disease for the past two centuries or so. Indeed, could one personally go so far with a systematic non-attention to personal hygiene and sanitation so as to be engaging in a modern form of vanity which would call excessive attention to the self ? Just a thought.
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« Reply #31 on: April 20, 2010, 11:50:22 AM »


st. Nicodemus' quote goes even further I think,

 
Quote
Heracleides has also noted in the Lausaikon about Iouvinos, the famous bishop of Askalon, that on a very hot day near the Pelousion mountain he washed with a little water his hands and feet and laid out a camel skin to rest a little in the shade. This was done in the presence of his most holy mother, who directly began to reproach him. "Oh son," she said, "you are most daring to flatter you body with such care and at such a young age. The more you fuss over it the more it becomes agitated like a serpent against you, seeking to harm you. I am already sixty years old, and I have not yet washed my face and feet in such a way, except for my hands. Even though I suffered certain illnesses and the doctors advised me to take advantage of the therapeutic baths and other cures for the body, I have never entrusted in my body nor have I allowed myself to flatter it in any way, knowing full well the enmity that exists between it and the soul.

Is it really Orthodox teaching that such a hard line of enmity exists between body and soul? That such dualism exists between the soul and the body, that merely washing one's feet gives rise to some "evil inclination" within us?


Quote
For this reason, my son, I have even refused to recline in a soft bed to sleep"
Nicodemus continues later:
Quote
You have already heard above from the holy nun and mother of Iouvinos how harmful even simple bathing can be, especially to the young. In the act of bathing the sense of touch is certainly sorely tested and tempted. As we read in the sayings of the Fathers there were many ascetic fathers who hesitated even at the crossing of rivers, not only because they were ashamed to bathe their bodies but also because they did not even want to uncover their legs. These holy men were often in a flash transported across the river by an angel of God. St Diadochos, bishop of Photiki, has written that the avoidance of baths is a manly achievement. "It is a manly and prudent thing to avoid baths. This way our bodies are not effeminated by that pleasurable flow of water over them, nor do we come to a remembrance of that shameful nakedness of Adam, so that we too seek to cover the shame with the leaves of a second excuse. Those who desire to keep their bodies spiritually pure are esepecially required to be united with the beauty of prudence and chastity." Of course, it is understood and acceptable that occasionally one must bathe out of necessity for the sake of health and the requirements of an illness.

So bathing makes one homosexual? (or at least effeminate?) What kind of logic and theology is this? It's more "manly" to not bathe? Why on earth would celibate monks even worry about being more "manly"?

I'm fully aware of HOW this concept became entrenched within Christian thought, in both East and West. (it basically began, as others have posted as an anti-Roman idea, I'm fully aware of the history)...that doesn't make it "correct" though. Just because I can see and understand how and where the idea came from, doesn't mean I agree with it. I also see and understand, from an historical POV how the Papacy developed in the West, that doesn't make me a Catholic though. Smiley

Quote
I don't think what St. Nicodemus is saying here is carved in stone; I suspect that at the time he was writing, many monks were indeed bathing regularly, so he reacted to what he felt was undue luxury. Similarly, he strongly rails against bishops and priests wearing fancy clothing, and we see today how much his advice has been heeded!

I don't think it's carved in stone either, however....as you pointed out here:

Quote
In fact, St. Nicodemus seems less strict on this matter than some of his sources; the nun he quotes, for instance, seems to disapprove of bathing for even medicinal purposes, while St. Nicodemus thinks that is acceptable.

.....he was not the first, nor the last, to put forth this idea. It's not so much the individual I disagree with, but the concept itself, from a theological POV. I don't hold St. Nicodemus "responsible" for this belief, as you rightly pointed out, others before him said the same things, and in some cases were much more strict. But the idea...where did the idea come from? I realize it came from in many ways, historical circumstances, but in the end it is heralded as a theological idea. And the theology that underlies it is what I question. True, initially monks rebelled against the excesses of the Roman bathes. But that is not what St. Nicodemus, or pretty much any other ascetic father of the Church has taught for a 1000 years. St. Nicodemus is teaching it as a theological concept that bathing is bad because it awakens some ever present enmity between flesh and soul, body and spirit....the sense of touch, while he doesn't say outright that it is evil, (which would be blatantly gnostic) is at least so much a part of the the fallen order, that merely jumping in a cold stream for bath, would give rise to all sorts of temptations. So it is true he's not being gnostic, however it does sound very, anti-flesh to me. Almost as if he's saying it is beyond help, at least in this world. Of course anyone can interpret this any way one wishes, and I'm certainly no saint and have no special connection with God. These are just my impressions and opinions, and they certainly could be wrong.

Thank you for posting the full quote though, it has been very helpful.



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« Reply #32 on: April 20, 2010, 12:04:15 PM »

I honestly could never be a monastic if it meant having my food cooked by someone who had not bathed in a long while.  Just the thought of what might fall into the food would make me sick to my stomach.  Call me picky or say what you will, but sanitation is a huge thing for me.  I just can't deal with unsanitary conditions when it comes to food or living.

There are plenty of monasteries that have and use showers, etc. Having worked in a few kitchens, most of spotless. However, I've been to some pretty nasty ones too, especially in the rural areas of Mt. Athos. Not only was one in particular dirty, but it was the feast day of St. Elias, which meant the main meal was boiled octopi, complete with ink sack and guts, that had sat in the summer sun on the long donkey ride from the nearest dock. I fasted. The monks loved it, including one sitting across from me who had some tentacles stuck in his beard.

As for the vanities of trimming one's beard and hair, wouldn't Christ Himself, as a Jew of the times, have trimmed His hair and beard?

That would have been a little too Roman, even for a rebel like Jesus. "Don't cut the hair on the sides of your head or trim your beard" (Leviticus 19:27).
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« Reply #33 on: April 20, 2010, 02:45:57 PM »

I love monasticism and totally understand the need to contain/limit the passions, but the idea that a warm shower could be enjoyable, and that that is inherently, per se a bad thing seems to be...a bit much. There is nothing inherently evil about the human body. God created us with the ability and capacity to enjoy His creation, the challenge is to do so in a way that is pleasing to God and consistent with His will.

So, sex is okay within a marriage context, but not otherwise.

It is okay to feast on certain days.

We have joy in our daily lives.

We love and want to be loved.

These things aren't inherently good or evil- it is all contextual.

And I realize that a monk has chosen a "narrower" path, as it were, but cleaning yourself and maintaining your body (temple) seems to be as respectful to God as the gardening and tending to the rest of God's creation that many monks engage in.

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« Reply #34 on: April 20, 2010, 10:24:06 PM »

NorthernPines- I think you're throwing the term "gnostic" around much too loosely. If passages like this border on gnosticism, we would have to admit that there's a "gnostic" streak running through the Fathers. I think this would be to misunderstand what the Fathers are saying and what gnosticism was. I think it's important to note that none of the Fathers who said these things denied a bodily resurrection and never considered the creation of matter to have been a mistake.

You ask:
Quote
Is it really Orthodox teaching that such a hard line of enmity exists between body and soul?

Yes, it is. For instance, from The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

"Those who have obtained mourning in the depth of their being hate their own life as something painful and wearisome, and a cause of tears and sufferings; and they turn and flee from their body as from an enemy." (7:28)

"Have remembrance of wrongs and spitefulness against the demons, and be at constant enmity with your body. The flesh is an ungrateful and treacherous friend. The more you care for it, the more it injures you." (9: 9)

"Certain learned men have well defined renunciation, by saying that it is hostility to the body and a fight against the stomach." (15: 19)

"It is not surprising for the immaterial to struggle with the immaterial. But it is truly surprising for one inhabiting matter, and in conflict with this hostile and crafty matter, to put to flight immaterial foes." (15: 72)

Has this anything to do with Gnostic dualism? No; we are talking about the body in its fallen state, which has made the soul subservient to the flesh.Matter and flesh are not held to be inherently evil, neither by St. Nicodemus nor by the ascetic Fathers he draws on.

St. John of the Ladder directly addresses our paradoxical relation to the flesh later:

"How can I hate him whom by nature I habitually love? How can I get free of him with whom I am bound for ever? How can I escape what will share my resurrection? How am I to make immortal what has received a mortal nature?... What is this mystery in me? What is the meaning of this blending of body and soul? How am I constituted a friend and foe to myself?" (15: 87-89)

The struggle against the flesh is not to escape flesh or to abandon flesh, but to overthrow it, subjugate it, and make it serve spiritual purposes. 
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« Reply #35 on: April 21, 2010, 01:48:45 AM »

I am of the mind that going to extremes is generally not ever a good thing in religion (or life in general).  We all can agree the "temple" shouldn't be abused, but neglect is also a form of abuse. IMO we should be doing our best to not draw "attention", period.
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« Reply #36 on: April 21, 2010, 02:29:51 AM »

Although not an Eastern Father, St. Benedict offers some words on monks and bathing:

In the chapter On the Sick in his Rule:

For these sick let there be assigned a special room
and an attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous.
Let the use of baths be afforded the sick
as often as may be expedient;
but to the healthy, and especially to the young,
let them be granted more rarely.
Moreover,
let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very weak,
for the restoration of their strength;
but when they are convalescent,
let all abstain from meat as usual.

(source: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbemjo1.html#36)

The rule of rare bathing, except for those sick or in special need, seems like it would remain the case today for those seeking to live an ascetic life. 
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 02:34:15 AM by StGeorge » Logged
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« Reply #37 on: April 21, 2010, 04:45:20 AM »

Although not an Eastern Father, St. Benedict offers some words on monks and bathing:

In the chapter On the Sick in his Rule:

For these sick let there be assigned a special room
and an attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous.
Let the use of baths be afforded the sick
as often as may be expedient;
but to the healthy, and especially to the young,
let them be granted more rarely.
Moreover,
let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very weak,
for the restoration of their strength;
but when they are convalescent,
let all abstain from meat as usual.

(source: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbemjo1.html#36)

The rule of rare bathing, except for those sick or in special need, seems like it would remain the case today for those seeking to live an ascetic life. 

Why?
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« Reply #38 on: April 21, 2010, 05:30:38 AM »

Quote
It was said of Abba Arsenius that once when he was ill at Scetis, the priest came to take him to church and put him on a bed with a small pillow under his head. Now behold an old man who was coming to see him, saw him lying on a bed with a little pillow under his head, and he was shocked and said, 'Is this really Abba Arsenius, this man lying down like this?' Then the priest took him aside and said to him, 'In the village where you lived, what was your trade?' 'I was a shepherd,' he replied. 'And how did you live?' 'I had a very hard life'.

Then the priest said, 'And how do you live in your cell now?' The other replied, 'I am more comfortable'. Then he said to him, 'Do you see this Abba Arsenius? When he was in the world he was the father of the emperor, surrounded by thousands of slaves with golden girdles, all wearing collars of gold and garments of silk. Beneath him were spread rich coverings. While you were in the world as a shepherd you did not enjoy even the comforts you now have but he no longer enjoys the delicate life he led in the world. So you are comforted while he is afflicted.' At these words the old man was filled with compunction and prostrated himself saying, 'Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. Truly the way this man follows is the way of truth, for it leads to humility, while mine leads to comfort.' So the old man withdrew, edified. - Abba Arsenius, 36

This is one of my favorite stories in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Perhaps it is right for monks to not simply do what the most ascetic or austere monks do, but rather to do what leads to their salvation and doesn't cause spiritual harm. If they came from great luxury in the world, just living a monastic life under obedience to someone might be a real hardship or test of them. Why multiply difficulties unnecessarily? Yes, I know, the monastic life is exactly about facing difficulties. But as St. Anthony the Great said in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: "If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs." (Abba Anthony, 13)
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« Reply #39 on: April 21, 2010, 08:31:37 AM »

Although not an Eastern Father, St. Benedict offers some words on monks and bathing:

In the chapter On the Sick in his Rule:

For these sick let there be assigned a special room
and an attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous.
Let the use of baths be afforded the sick
as often as may be expedient;
but to the healthy, and especially to the young,
let them be granted more rarely.
Moreover,
let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very weak,
for the restoration of their strength;
but when they are convalescent,
let all abstain from meat as usual.

(source: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbemjo1.html#36)

The rule of rare bathing, except for those sick or in special need, seems like it would remain the case today for those seeking to live an ascetic life.  

Why?
Why not?  
 Smiley
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 08:33:22 AM by StGeorge » Logged
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« Reply #40 on: April 21, 2010, 10:32:39 AM »

Thank you for mentioning St.Nicodemos. I only wish I owned my own computer at home, where my copy of the above mentioned book is, because I think only the full quotation on bathing and body odor will satisfy curiosity and hopefully end the speculations of Northern Pines. St.Nicodemos lived at a time when there was nothing compararble to the indoor plumbing of today, as others have mentioned, so what he wrote about bathing must first be understood as it applied to that time before we can extrapolate further about the implications and proscriptions for today. Neo-platonism and Gnosticism have a long list of symptoms and there are many required before we should think to speculate that a great Church Father, living long after the time when these false beliefs/ideas were most popular, would be infected by them. I really don't mean to be rude but please get a copy of The Spiritual Counsels by St.Nicodemos and really read it prayerfully with respect and attention before you break it down or speculate about some heretical theology infecting it. That book is one of the seminal works of my personal faith, "my Orthodoxy", that showed me the great transformation that the Church means for us and provides the means for! In this is the clear refutation of any heretical theology: the human body is to be disciplined and transformed through the Grace of God and being lifted up and controlled by the soul in obedience to God rather than our soul being pulled away from God by addiction or attraction to the sensual pleasures of this world. Never does St.Nicodemos condemn the sensual! Rather it must have it's proper place and be for the Glory of God, for the Love, the relationship of the creatures and creation to the Creator! This great symphony of natural beauty of Love for God that is in the material world is never condemned it is just that it is now fallen and corrupted/sick and instead of naturally seeking the cure is most often attracted to what prolongs and even worsens the sickness. When someone is sick their body doesn't become bad but it is affected and their are germs. This world is affected by sin, humanity is infected and affected by sin and the demons are everywhere. Honestly I don't trust my own body because as a hormone laden male I know how difficult it often is to deny sensual pleasure that my body craves which is sinful. That doesn't mean that I think the material world is innately evil or seething with some innate evil enmity towards the spiritual.
I hope that I will soon have the time to include a full quotation in the near future. You would all probably be interested to know what he says about why elderly saintly men will lack all body odor. The most recent example of this was Elder Paisios who was often noted to have no odor even though he never bathed.  We all know how quickly men start to stink so I do think this is pretty amazing!
« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 10:41:20 AM by Lenexa » Logged
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« Reply #41 on: April 21, 2010, 03:57:41 PM »

Although not an Eastern Father, St. Benedict offers some words on monks and bathing:

In the chapter On the Sick in his Rule:

For these sick let there be assigned a special room
and an attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous.
Let the use of baths be afforded the sick
as often as may be expedient;
but to the healthy, and especially to the young,
let them be granted more rarely.
Moreover,
let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very weak,
for the restoration of their strength;
but when they are convalescent,
let all abstain from meat as usual.

(source: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbemjo1.html#36)

The rule of rare bathing, except for those sick or in special need, seems like it would remain the case today for those seeking to live an ascetic life.  

Why?
Why not?  
 Smiley
Before I answer your question, I need to have a good understanding of why you think the rule of rare bathing would remain the case today for those seeking to live the ascetic life so I can actually have some substantial reasoning with which to agree or disagree.  IOW, I asked you first, and I'm not answering your question 'til you answer mine. Wink
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« Reply #42 on: April 21, 2010, 05:28:23 PM »

Although not an Eastern Father, St. Benedict offers some words on monks and bathing:

In the chapter On the Sick in his Rule:

For these sick let there be assigned a special room
and an attendant who is God-fearing, diligent and solicitous.
Let the use of baths be afforded the sick
as often as may be expedient;
but to the healthy, and especially to the young,
let them be granted more rarely.
Moreover,
let the use of meat be granted to the sick who are very weak,
for the restoration of their strength;
but when they are convalescent,
let all abstain from meat as usual.

(source: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/rbemjo1.html#36)

The rule of rare bathing, except for those sick or in special need, seems like it would remain the case today for those seeking to live an ascetic life. 

Why?
Why not? 
 Smiley
Before I answer your question, I need to have a good understanding of why you think the rule of rare bathing would remain the case today for those seeking to live the ascetic life so I can actually have some substantial reasoning with which to agree or disagree.  IOW, I asked you first, and I'm not answering your question 'til you answer mine. Wink

Bathing makes one feel more comfortable, creates a cosmetically pleasing appearance (and removes natural body odors), and helps prevent disease/parasites.   

Monks ought not seek after the comfort of the body, should not be overly concerned with their appearance to others, and should not be overly solicitous of their physical health.   

Two things to note, however:
1) the "economy" of St. Benedict's rule for those who need to bathe more regularly (at a superior's discretion)
2) "rarely" is not given a specific designation of time, so there is some breadth as to how this can be interpreted, though I believe daily and semi-weekly bathing is not intended.   

« Last Edit: April 21, 2010, 05:32:22 PM by StGeorge » Logged
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« Reply #43 on: April 22, 2010, 03:37:04 AM »

I have a bar of soap here that I purchased from a monastery so if they're not using that, I don't know what they're doing. Tongue

Also, fyi? You aren't supposed to bathe everyday. That's a luxury that makes your skin oily (so you have to keep bathing), wastes water, and makes your body lazy. Lots of truth in the young and healthy people thing.
« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 03:39:22 AM by Isadore » Logged

"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved."
Justin Kissel
Formerly Asteriktos
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« Reply #44 on: April 22, 2010, 04:00:15 AM »

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« Last Edit: April 22, 2010, 04:01:01 AM by Asteriktos » Logged
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