Twelve Vital Questions, Part I. Archimandrite Tikhon at the Moscow Theological Academy
Twelve Vital Questions, Part I:
Archimandrite Tikhon at the Moscow Theological
Tikhon, abbot of the Sretensky Monastery, met with
students of the Moscow seminaries at the Moscow
Theological Academy in order to speak with them about
contemporary monasticism and parish life and to reply
to their vital questions.
|Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov)
The topic you’ve set, “Restoring the spiritual
tradition of Orthodox monasticism in our Church
today,” is undoubtedly of the greatest importance
for our Church. I’m firmly convinced that neither
the Church in nor any Local Church can exist all its
fullness without monasticism.
Several years ago I had occasion to be in France. Some
very pious and sincere people (including several
archpriests) asserted that France needed to have its own
independent Local Orthodox Church. I dared remark that at
the present time this is absolutely unfeasible if only
because in France, with all due respect to the four or
five small monasteries there, Orthodox monasticism is
almost completely non-existent. When this institution
– which is, without any exaggeration, the salt of
the local Christian community – will flourish, then
one can begin to discuss the creation of a Local Church
I began with this example in order to indicate immediately
my position concerning the importance of monasticism
within the Church. It’s probably unnecessary to
expand on this topic at length before this
We’ll conduct our meeting as follows: here I have
twelve questions. I’m happy to reply to them, as
well as to reply to questions from the audience.
“Uphold the typikon, and in time the typikon will
Question: The significance and meaning of
the typikon [ustav] in monastery life. Organizing
the backbone of the parish community.
Recently an approximate—I emphasize,
approximate—monastery typikon was proposed to
the Commission on Monasticism as part of the
Inter—Council Presence of the Russian Orthodox
Church. How much discussion this has provoked! Anyone who
has followed it can confirm this.
The typikon is exceptionally important. One of the Holy
Fathers said something to this effect: Uphold the typikon,
and in time the typikon will uphold you and your monastic
revival of the Russian Orthodox Church within the
free framework of our country’s civil life has
been going on for twenty years. And only now has the
question of the monastery typikon come up. This is
correct and is no accident. Simply taking an existing
typikon, however wonderful it might be—whether
from Athos or the Trinity—Sergius
Lavra—and proceeding to implement it literally
would be both incorrect and
My generation, to put it in secular terms, was lucky. Or,
to put it in our ecclesial terms, God’s great mercy
befell us: we—priests, monks, and bishops—were
vouchsafed to revive dioceses, monasteries, and churches.
We’re fortunate people. You’ll no longer be
able to experience that which was experienced by those who
were called to serve the Church in the late 1980s and
I know remarkable bishops who revived one or two dioceses,
and some who even revived three. Can you imagine what that
involves? Who else in the history of the Church has
experienced anything like this?
When the bishop in Yakutia, Vladyka Herman, arrived on the
vast territory of his diocese there wasn’t a single
church left. Twenty years later, when he left by obedience
to another diocese, he left dozens of parishes behind him.
And how many abbots and abbesses have come to abandoned
places and revived the monastic life!
I told this story once before when I was asked about my
attitude towards today’s monasteries, and I will
repeat it again: when we were novices at the
Pskov—Caves Monastery, none of us ever recognized
these renewed monasteries and we sometimes even made fun
of them. How could it have been otherwise? We were living
side—by—side with great Elders, and here
Optina and Valaam were being reopened… There were
words for them in currency: “Young Communist
camps” and the like.
I very much regret this stupid, childish irony.
There are probably many young men and women in their
twenties, or around that age, who are sitting here. Back
then it was people your age, who knew next to nothing
about the Church, who came to these ruined monasteries.
Many came to places where the abbots themselves were not
very experienced and the spiritual fathers were not such
as one might have desired.
True, a certain percentage of these young monks returned
to the world… But still, a significant number
remained! And they have withstood this unseen warfare for
twenty or more years. Now take a look at them today: what
amazing, wonderful, wise, humble monks and nuns they are!
All sorts of things went on. There were revolts in
monasteries. There were growing pains. But have a look at
Optina, Valaam, Solovki, and other monasteries—there
are remarkable people, ascetics, praying and struggling in
the majority of them, having been forged by these very,
very difficult yet simultaneously happy years.
This, you know, is a very interesting topic for research:
the period of the last twenty years in our Church. There
are many topics here for reflection and study, including
the revival of monasteries. How was a monastic community
created? How did all this come about? What mistakes were
made? What advances have been achieved that we today could
recommend and discuss both on a church—wide and, so
to speak, a monastery—wide level? This is all
extremely interesting and important.
far as your question regarding the monastery typikon
is concerned, I shall not attempt to generalize about
the experience of others, but will rather discuss in
detail what I myself know: the practice of our
I hadn’t known any other monastery apart from the
Pskov—Caves Monastery. Therefore I transferred its
typikon, as best I could, to our Sretensky Monastery.
With time, after fourteen years, we created a group for
preparing our own typikon—this was before the
church—wide discussion—and submitted its
proposal to the final decision of the brotherhood. We hold
spiritual councils of the brotherhood, in which novices
are also included: we have them undergo a fairly lengthy
training period—and even before this they live in
the monastery for several years while studying in our
Compared to other typikons, ours might have its
peculiarities—but one needs to remember that a
typikon always depends on a monastery’s location and
For example, we serve Midnight Office a bit later than
usual—at quarter after six—in order to make it
somehow possible for our parishioners to make it to the
monastery in time for Liturgy. Besides the monastic
community, we also have a parish—moreover, one of
the largest in Moscow. Our hieromonks have the obedience
of being spiritual fathers. This is perfectly natural for
a monastery located in a city.
Fifteen hundred people, if not more, come to church for
the early and late Liturgies on Sundays. It’s for
these parishioners that we monks are now building a new
church: there hasn’t been enough room in the old one
for some time and often people are forced to stand
Although Sretensky Monastery is located in the center of
town, there are few residential houses around us; people
come to our services from all over Moscow, and from as far
away as the suburbs. We are very happy about this, of
course, but at the same time it’s also an enormous
Our typikon also has such peculiarities as nighttime
services. They began on New Year’s during the first
year of Sretensky’s existence, nearly twenty years
ago. Those were the first brothers, who were altogether
different, and I was no prize myself.
Then, towards the end of December, I faced a question that
became more and more pressing: how to meet the New Year?
must admit that our parishioners, friends, and parents
eagerly invited one or another of us to celebrate New
Year’s with them. We had to turn them down, but
at the same time it was difficult—people do not
always understand, they might get offended. Simply put,
this was a problem. Then I scheduled a Liturgy for
December 31, right at midnight—and also a moleben
for St. Boniface, just in case.
|Photo: Anton Pospelov/Pravoslavie.ru
When we announced that we would be serving a Liturgy on
New Year’s night, we thought that none of our
parishioners would come—or maybe ten or so. But, to
our astonishment, at midnight the church was full. The
next year even more people came.
After a few years of this practice, I was summoned to the
Patriarchate and asked: what are you doing there? I said:
we do such—and—such, pray fervently to St.
Boniface, and celebrate New Year’s. No one is forced
to be there. Everything is supervised.
And, you know, this tradition has taken hold. We were
followed first by one Moscow church, then by another, then
by a third—and now the Liturgy is served on New
Year’s night in a great many churches. This is the
case throughout the country as well as in the Russian
diaspora: in ROCOR (The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
Russia) they’ve begun serving the Liturgy on the
night of December 31 to January 1.
That’s how we began serving at night. At first we
did so rarely: for example, our very first year we
established another tradition of serving the Liturgy on
the night of the murder of the Royal Martyrs.
Now we serve at night at least three times a week,
sometimes four. Those of you who will become abbots in
large cities will understand the importance of this:
priests are very often busy hearing Confessions during the
Liturgy, but one also wants to serve, and at night this
According to our monastery’s typikon, the brethren
receive Holy Communion frequently, for which reason we
sometimes hold two services a night. All of our hieromonks
are happy to serve at night. Our students also love to
come: they sing on the kliros and up to thirty of them
receive Holy Communion. Naturally, nighttime services do
not free them from morning classes.
try not to invite parishioners to our nighttime
services: we ask them to give us the chance to pray
in peace. People today are mighty strugglers: plenty
of them are happy to stand through church three
nights in a row! As on Saturdays and pre-festal days,
we again have to hear Confessions until twelve
o’clock at night—and then there’s
still the entire Liturgy to come. Therefore we
earnestly ask, and even beg, our parishioners not to
attend these services. Most of them respect this,
although some say: “No, we want to struggle
alongside you!” And one cannot just kick them
We do not perform molebens (supplicatory services),
leaving that to our brethren among the married clergy,
since there are plenty of churches nearby. We serve
panikhidas (memorial services) only on Saturdays.
We don’t do “services of need”
apart from travelling to take Holy Communion to the
sick. This is proper for a monastery.
A second peculiarity of our typikon is that our brethren
receive Holy Communion, on average, three or four times a
week. This is the rule of St. Basil the Great. We arrived
at this practice gradually, not all at
We all have quite a few obediences: every priest and
deacon has several of them. But as important as these
obediences are, one cannot allow them imperceptibly to
become the one thing needful, overshadowing what’s
Thus, in addressing the habitual monastery dilemma between
obedience and the spiritual life (although obedience is
also part of the spiritual life, but that is the topic for
another conversation), we arrived at the conclusion, which
we felt with all our souls, that continual Communion of
the Holy Mysteries is essential given our life
circumstances. Later we remembered the rule of St. Basil
the Great and consulted Fr. John (Krestiankin). He blessed
this liturgical life, although not immediately, and in
time it has taken root.
So now, I repeat, our priests, deacons, monks, and many
novices—with the blessing of their spiritual
father—receive Holy Communion three or four times a
week. And some priests, who have a special blessing, do so
is not a mandatory rule for every single person, every
single day. No, of course not. All sorts of things can
happen: someone gets sick; various things come
up… But the most important thing is that
receiving Holy Communion becomes the paramount need of
life, with the Liturgy becoming its main
event—preparing for the Liturgy, the Liturgy
itself, receiving the Holy Mysteries of Christ,
preparation for, and the expectation of, receiving Holy
Communion the next time. This is extremely focusing and
very helpful in battling with our passions, our foolish
habits, and our sins.
|Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov). Photo: V. Korniushin/Pravoslavie.ru
I know that this position has many critics, and I
understand their arguments perfectly well. I accept their
point of view, all the more so because many of these
critics are my friends. But in our monks we see the
extraordinarily beneficial fruits of our
practice—and it’s not only our
practice—of many years.
I’m not saying that we should introduce this in all
monasteries. But I can assert that this liturgical
practice has upheld us in many ways. This is the typikon
we adopted, and that now helps us.
In the Sretensky Monastery we have another important
event: the brotherhood’s service. Once a week on
Thursday, on the day we commemorate the Mystical Supper,
we all receive Holy Communion at the Liturgy. We also
introduced these services gradually, but quickly came to
understand that this was the right decision. A Liturgy at
which the brethren receive Holy Communion together unites
and focuses them in Christ like nothing
The brotherhood has general Confession once weekly, as in
all monasteries. It’s mandatory that priests say
Confession, even if briefly, every time before they serve
or receive Holy Communion, even if these are daily
We have a clause in our typikon regulating use of the
Internet. Regardless of the fact that many of us have
obediences connected with the Internet—either with
the website or with publishing—it is strictly
forbidden in cells as a cruel devourer of time.
Absence from the monastery is a fundamental point. This
can occur only with the blessing of the abbot or his
assistant. During these past almost twenty years there
hasn’t been a single case when I’ve not given
my blessing to someone. But the rule itself is strictly
observed and, if I see that someone is neglecting it, I
express my most profound bewilderment.
We’ve recently witnessed active criticism of the
Inter—Council Presence’s document containing
an approximate monastery typikon. I take such criticism
very calmly, even though I am, if not the project’s
author, then in any case a member of the
Inter—Council Presence’s Commission on
I’d like, first of all, to remind you that
it’s an approximate typikon that’s been
offered for discussion. What does this mean? Following
approval by the Council of Bishops, this approximate
typikon would be passed on to, say, Sretensky Monastery,
where we would discuss it with the brotherhood. We would
adapt it to our monastery and supplement it in such a way
that it would be proper and useful to our circumstances.
Then we would return it to the bishop, because nothing can
be done in the Church without the bishop. We would receive
his blessing. Or perhaps the bishop would change or
That’s probably everything with regards to the
typikon. Let’s move on to the next question.
“The most important thing in parish life is the
selflessness of the priest, the spiritual
Question: Organizing the backbone of the
parish community. How should parish life be arranged?
be honest, I must admit that we did not arrange
parish life in any special way whatsoever. Everything
came together by itself, through life and spiritual
The most important thing in parish life, as I see it, is
that there be sincere believers in Christ and selfless
care by the priest, the spiritual father for his flock.
Then both the backbone and the community will be in place.
There is the spiritual father, who prays with his flock,
receives Holy Communion with them from the one Chalice of
Christ, meets the spiritual needs of his parishioners, and
leads them to Christ. Then there are the parishioners, who
trust their priest as the pastor placed there by
God’s Church. That’s everything; nothing more
Youth ministry, prison ministry, charitable work and so
forth should be an integral part of this central
activity—but, of course, one doesn’t need to
introduce all these various activities into a parish
mechanically, especially if it’s numerically
For example, I’m afraid to visit prisons. Never in
my life will I go there unless I’m compelled.
I’m afraid of those places. But we have someone in
our monastery, Hieromonk Luke, who just sits and waits to
go. By all means! We send him there regularly and he very
happily—and, it must be said, with benefit to the
inmates—spends time there. But were someone to order
me—“Fr. Tikhon, take up prison
ministry!”—I would say: “Can’t I
take up something else instead?” It’s unlikely
that anything that’s forced will work out. But, on
the other hand, if a priest tries to justify his
indifference and idleness by saying that he’s
incapable of doing anything, then this is a grave sin
before God. Be sincere, desire with your whole soul to
serve the Church, and the Lord will send you work to do in
In the monastery now we have many priests, glory be to
God, which makes things easier in this sense. Someone
works with the youth—and it’s clear that he
has a talent for this, and that it’s working out.
Someone else takes care of charity work. We began holding
talks with young people at one point, some seventeen years
ago, not because we had been sent orders from above, but
simply because it had become necessary, the need had
somehow made itself felt.
“For a monastery, I consider it to be correct and
useful—and, dare I say, spiritually
useful—when the monks largely or wholly support
their monastery financially”
Question: The Patristic approach to the
material support of monasteries or parishes. Can there be
any means other than donations?
Yes, there can be. I think that if a priest can earn money
for a church or monastery, and there’s no
wherewithal for church needs, then not only can he
earn money for it, to the extent that he’s able, but
he should. But this is my own purely personal
opinion. There is also a fundamentally opposed position:
that a priest should not, and therefore cannot, become
involved with everyday concerns.
Here another question comes up: just how sad are the
well—known and endless pains that parish rectors and
other priests must go through to ferret out funds for
their churches! Don’t these count as everyday
concerns? Or do they perhaps count as hesychia or noetic
I can reply to your question based on my own personal
experience. When I was appointed superior of the metochion
of the Pskov Caves Monastery, the very first question that
Fr. John asked me was: “Do you have a piggy
bank?” I was dumbfounded. “A piggy
bank!” Batiushka repeated. I marveled: “A
piggy bank in what sense?” “Money for repairs,
renovation, construction, the choir, staff salaries,
cleaners, for support of the brotherhood, for dishes, for
electricity, for water, for heat…” I grew
dejected: “No.” “Well then, you need
one. Take care of it.”
church we received was in relatively good condition; we
only needed to replace the roof, the waterproofing, the
pipes, and the heating system, and to have the wiring
redone, the floor relayed, the iconostas constructed,
the icons painted, and the ancient frescoes restored.
And then there were the church utensils and the
|Festive lights on Christmas, Sretensky Monastery. Photo: Anton Pospelov.
But the monastery itself was simply in ruins. Huge amounts
of money were required for everything. In time three paths
emerged: either beg with cap in hand, or earn the money
ourselves, or pray that everything would just fall from
heaven and people would just come, as in the life of St.
Sergius: “Look, a cart filled with alms!” But
I couldn’t say, “Now I’m just going to
pray, and everything will be bestowed upon us.” We
followed the first, second, and third paths. There were
benefactors, glory be to God. There was also the fact that
we always put our trust in God. But the entire brotherhood
also worked hard by earning money (I beg your pardon) for
the monastery. After all, offerings by parishioners
weren’t enough to cover even the upkeep of our
We immediately started up a publishing house and began
releasing books, which were so essential for the Church
then. I remember it was 1994. First we took out a bank
loan, with interest of course. Then we published three or
four books and repaid the loan. Then we had the necessary
means for providing for the church and monastery, to
renovate the buildings. And off we went. Now we publish
quite a few books, and this has become our primary
As far as monastery life is concerned, during the past
five years we’ve been wholly self—supporting.
Before this, we earned about 85% of our means and received
about 15% through donations. Now we take care of all our
financial matters ourselves, glory be to God.
But as far as the construction of the new church is
concerned, here of course we are getting help from our
friends, for which the brotherhood, the parishioners, and
I are deeply grateful: we wouldn’t be able to manage
such a large construction by ourselves.
For the life of the monastic community, for the annual
repairs of the church and the buildings, for the
utilities, for the upkeep of the brotherhood, for staff
salaries (a seminary with 200 students, a publishing
house, several internet sites, an agricultural
cooperative, an orphanage, and so on—altogether
there are about 500 employees)—by God’s mercy,
so far we are self—supporting. It’s only been
in the past year that my friends have helped us with the
upkeep of the seminary, while for the previous thirteen
years we had gotten by on our own.
in a parish everything is rather different. Under
normal circumstances, a parish priest won’t
have to worry too much about earnings; he needs first
of all to pray, to minister to the people, and
everything necessary will come around. There’s
enough for everything: for the upkeep of the church,
for repairs, and for salaries.
But to raise a large church or monastery from
nothing—that is on another order of magnitude
altogether. When Vladyka Longin, the Metropolitan of
Saratov, was given the ruined metochion of the
Trinity—Sergius Lavra twenty years ago, he also
opened a publishing house as well as a sewing workshop,
making the fabric himself, since he also needed to earn
money. But for him prayer and monastic activity on the one
hand, and care for the wellbeing of the monastery, the
support of the brotherhood, and earning money on the other
hand didn’t in any way conflict with each other.
They added up to a single spiritual obedience in
establishing the monastery.
After all, it’s only from a liberal perspective that
St. Nilus of Sora and St. Joseph of Volokolamsk can be
seen as being opposed to each another. There wasn’t
any kind of irreconcilable conflict between
them—that’s all fiction. St. Joseph has a
wonderful saying that we’d all do well to remember:
“The day is for labor; the night is for
prayer.” Metropolitan Pitirim (Nechaev), who
considered himself a disciple of St. Joseph, loved to
repeat this. St. Joseph had a truly prayerful, ascetic
monastery; the monks themselves were complete
non-possessors. It’s another thing that they had to
feed many thousands of deprived people during the famine,
as well as to care for the education and enlightenment of
young Christians who would go on to become priests and
bishops of the Holy Church.
Solovki Monastery was also fully self-supporting, as was
Therefore, for a monastery I consider it to be correct and
useful—and, dare I say, spiritually
useful—when the monks largely or wholly support
their monastery financially.
“The celebration of the Divine Liturgy is the
Question: Organizing the spiritual life
in a parish or monastery. Key points.
we began monastery life in Sretensky, Fr. John said:
“Serve the Liturgy every day!” Every day. I
was the only one back then. At first this blessing
struck me as being almost overkill. Why every single
day? People won’t show up; serving two or three
times a week should be plenty; moreover, one constantly
has to run around on various household questions and
concerns. But I didn’t dare disobey, and
I’m very glad that I didn’t venture to
oppose Batiushka’s blessing.
|Photo: V. Korniushin/Pravoslavie.ru
It’s very important for a monastery to serve the
Divine Liturgy daily. For a parish, perhaps several times
a week. The Liturgy is the cornerstone of the spiritual
life of both the community and the priest.
sacred shrines. There should be a sacred shrine
around which the monastery is united. I exerted a
great deal of effort in having the relics of the
Hieromartyr Hilarion brought to us. This was also a
whole chapter in the life of our monastery. We need
special spiritual protection. This might be an
especially venerated icons or holy relics, but there
needs to be some kind of sacred shrine that will play
a very important role in the life of a church or
monastic community—our special hope, a saint or
the Mother of God, sent to us by the Lord to
strengthen and uphold us.
I’d like to mention a few more key points. One needs
to be careful about not tonsuring people into monasticism
too quickly. Fr. John warned me about this as well. I
haven’t always heeded his warning, and have later
regretted it. But, in general, our novices undergo a
fairly lengthy trial period. Over the course of twenty
years, three of our tonsured monks have returned to the
world. For us, this is quite a few. Sometimes people say
to me: in such-and-such a monastery practically everyone
left, in another one ninety percent of the original group
left… But I let this go in one ear and out the
other. For us, these three are very many.
St. Ambrose of Optina said: “So as not to be
mistaken, you should not hasten!” This is very, very
What else can be said about key points of the spiritual
Of course, there needs to be a spiritual father. I
absolutely don’t consider myself to be any kind of
spiritual father, but this is what Fr. John blessed: for
me to be both abbot and spiritual father, and I have
continued to carry out this obedience for twenty years.
Confession for the entire brotherhood every week is
absolutely essential. It’s very important to teach
all the priests to have Confession, whenever possible,
before every service. Even if one receives Holy Communion
three or four times a week, one should have Confession
each time. It’s good if this becomes a necessity.
Let liberal theologians laugh at this and harp on about
how Confession needs to be separated from Communion!
Of course, a feasible prayer rule. We have a common,
monastic prayer rule. Of course, there is reading and
being immersed the Gospels. By the way, we’ve just
published a special Gospel with the Savior’s words
in red. From my own modest experience, I know how
important it is to read the Savior’s words
conscientiously. One begins to perceive the Word of God in
a completely different manner than previously, with
freshness and extreme clarity. This doesn’t at all
mean that one always needs to read it this way. But, from
time to time, this helps like nothing else to perceive
with new force those words that we know so well and have
read so many times.
Meeting with the brotherhood, discussing spiritual matters
of vital concern, replying to questions—this is also
a periodic necessity.
There’s still another extremely important and
constructive spiritual activity: attentively reading the
Holy Fathers, and love for such reading. And, of course,
the Jesus Prayer.
Theological education. After the monastery had been open
for about three years and we already had twenty or
twenty-five brethren, I sent them out to study, initially
through the Moscow Theological Seminary’s
correspondence courses. But I very quickly realized that
this was insufficient. They studied poorly and were forced
to go out of the monastery.
Later we started the Sretensky Theological Seminary. At
first this wasn’t easy, but later everything came
together with God’s help. All of our brethren, with
the exception of maybe one or two, have gone through
Common pilgrimage. Every year we go on pilgrimage with the
brotherhood. This has already become a tradition, although
I don’t know how long it will continue. We’ve
gone to Jerusalem, to Kiev, and various holy places around
Russia. After Pascha we leave a few priests on site and go
on a common pilgrimage for four or five days. For priests
it is important that they see life in other monasteries
and churches with their own eyes.