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Monasticism in Southern Africa – a fragile plant

2 July 2011

Orthodox monasticism in Southern Africa is a fragile plant.

For the last few years there have been one or two people trying to live the monastic life, in one or other of the three “monasteries” in Gauteng (can you call it a monastery when there are no monks?)

Father Nazarius and Father Elias established the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Gerardville in 2000. Then Fr Nazarius died in 2008, and there were no monks there for a couple of years. Deacon Nectarius lived at Hennops Pride for a while, and then at St Nectarius, and then went overseas for a kidney stone operation and hasn’t returned. Fr Seraphim, as far as we know, was the first monk to be tonsured in South Africa, by Patriarch Theodoros, in 2006, but then he was ordained and sent to work in a parish as a parish priest.

At the beginning of this year, however, Fr Seraphim returned to the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, and has been joined by Brother Justin, who, though not quite a novice, seems as though he may become one. They have been doing maintenance work on the buildings, which had deteriorated quite a lot, and are trying to make the place more habitable. There are a couple of others living on the property, who are not monastics, but form part of the wider community.

Earlier in the week I took Tim Sparks of Durban to go and spend a few days with them. Though they are not really geared to receive vistitors, certainly not in large numbers, it is possible now for people who are interested in the monastic life to go and spend some time with them, for prayer, work and study.

Br Justin, Tim Sparks, Fr Seraphim

Please pray for them!

17 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 July 2011 3:35 pm

    I don’t understand how a monk can be ordained and sent to work s a parish priest. Can this occur in traditional Catholic monasticism?

    • 2 July 2011 5:09 pm

      Can and does. When we were in Melmoth the Catholic parish priest, like most of those in the RC Diocese of Eshowe, was a Benedictine, and kept talking about how he looked forward to the day when he could retire to his home monastery in Germany. And most of the other RC dioceses in South Africa were staffed by priests of one or other order.

    • 4 July 2011 9:09 pm

      Carl, it depends on the Order / Congregation. Most of the religious who staff parishes in SA are members of modern apostolic congrefations and are not really considered monastic.(Of course the Catholic identification of priesthood with celibacy tends to confuse things here). However, as Steve has pointed out, some Benedictines also do this. The Benedictines of Inkamana (to whom he is referring) are members of a missionary Benedictine congregation (St Ottilien). However, there are also other more traditional Benedictine congregations (e.g. Solesmes) who are unlikely to staff parishes except in exceptional cases. Among Cistercians, some of the monasteries that belong to the Common Observance have parishes, whereas those that belong to the Strict Observance (Trappists) do not. (Interestingly, among both Benedictines and Cistercians, the “missionary” orientated tend to predominate in German speaking countries and the “traditinally monastic” in French speaking countries).

      As for Orthodox monasticism, I remember an Orthodox abbess saying that an important aspect of the Greek monastic revival in recent decades was convincing bishops to let monastics live a monastic life and not trying to use them in a utilitarian fashion. Of course there has often been a certain tension between bishops and monasticism in the history of the Church.

      • Irulan permalink
        6 July 2011 10:44 am

        Fascinating. Thank you, Macrina – I wonder why the missional difference between France and Germany? Does Solesmes have any representation in SA?

      • 6 July 2011 10:45 am

        Fascinating. Thank you, Macrina – I wonder why the missional difference between France and Germany? Does Solesmes have any representation in SA?

        • 6 July 2011 1:30 pm

          No, they don’t. Most of the Catholic Order / Congregations in SA have tended to be very mission orientated and this includes the various congregations of Benedictine sisters. The other Benedictine men’s monastery is in Pietersburg, and, if I remember correctly belongs to the Subiaco congregation. I am no expert on this, but some of the Subiaco monasteries are more traditionally monastic although I think that there’s quite a bit of variety within the congregation and I don’t know what the situation in Pietersburg is like.

          There are also other congregations with a more traditional or mixed approach (i.e. they might have schools or do some outside work, but wouldn’t normally function as normal parish priests. But I’m no expert and am out of touch with such circles in any case!

        • 6 July 2011 1:34 pm

          P.S. I’ve just remembered that last I knew (i.e. a couple of years ago) the monastery in Pietersburg (I forget the name) had become dependent on the monastery of Christ in the Desert in the USA (they had previously been a foundation of a Belgian house). I don’t know what influences that has had, but Christ in the Desert was I think one of the more succesful examples of Benedictines getting back to a more traditional “contemplative” (problematic word) Benedictine house. You can google for more on them, and the link to the Rule of St Benedict on my blog is from their website. Merton also had links to them when they were starting in the sixties…


  2. Jon Marc Teusink permalink
    2 July 2011 8:44 pm

    Don’t the Copts have a monastery in South Africa now?

  3. 4 July 2011 6:08 am

    The Orthodox Church needs to be more aggressive in sending monks to South Africa and to other countries where there are very few — if indeed any — monks. Indeed, an emphasis on evangelism is long overdue in the Orthodox Church.

  4. Andre permalink
    14 April 2016 6:40 pm

    I have considered all options and the monistic life seems to be the only way i want to continue. Please advise as i live in Pretoria Gauteng. Where do i go from here…..


  1. Monasticism in Southern Africa – a fragile plant (via Khanya) « african monastic
  2. Monasticism in South Africa — A Fragile Plant « To the Ends of the Earth
  3. Monasticism in South Africa — A Fragile Plant. Ορθόδοξος μοναχισμός στη Νότια Αφρική. « Orthodox Mission-Ορθόδοξη Ιεραποστολή

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