At Ormilia, Divine Liturgy is served daily and many nuns are blessed to receive every day, others several times a week, a few times, or once a week. I asked: “What criteria Geronta Aimilianos (Geronta is Greek for Elder) uses to decide who can receive frequently or daily?” Sister answered: “In general, if you are careful about your speech, if you keep your personal cell rule, you can receive frequently. But if you are careless in speech–gossiping or being over curious, for instance, about what others are doing; Geronta prevents you from receiving.”
The personal cell rule
The Sisters are free from after Compline until Matins the next morning (in Winter from about 4:30 PM until 3 AM, in summer it is shorter). Many go to bed immediately and get up in the night for their personal rule: prostrations, the Jesus prayer, and reading the Old Testament, the Psalter, the New Testament, an ascetic book, and a patristic book. These are all “musts”; all these are done by all the sisters in their rule, but the exact amount of each is determined by Geronta, they can also read other things: the Paraklisis, the life of the saint of the day and so forth. This is their personal rule. Reading is to work up to prayer but we also read because it is important to know.
The personal cell rule can be from up to one hour long to all night long–it depends on the stamina of the sister and her spiritual hunger. Each has a different rule, depending on what she wants to do and can do. She might have a lot of spiritual hunger but not the stamina for a long rule. Geronda says you must do something even if it is only five minutes.
The ideal which Geronda and the Fathers prefer is to get up at, or a little before, midnight to read and pray during the midnight and early morning hours because that is when the devil is most active in the world. Sin usually happens mostly around midnight, so that’s when monastics have to fight. Geronda says that it is a worldly habit to read and do the rule of prayer before going to sleep. However, if they cannot get up he allows them to do their rule before sleeping, and then to get up only an hour before Matins, or 45 minutes before, or at the very least half an hour, when the first bell for the service sounds. But he says you should be awake before the bell goes, so as to be awake when the service starts. If you get up just before the service, you are still asleep when it begins, and by the time you wake up it is over.
Praying throughout the day
Geronda says, “Don’t pray during the day in such a way that it interferes with your work.” Sister demonstrated someone saying the prayer very slowly and languidly and sewing in slow motion. Geronda hates that. Prayer should be quick; he stresses not to go slowly at prayer. All his teaching is dynamic, in singing, in prayer, and in the reading in church, which is done fast on purpose–quick reading, singing and prayer keeps you awake.
I said that in America there is a lot of pressure on women to be like men, to lose the feminine character that God has given them. I asked what Geronta says about women’s monasticism and the different characters os women and men.
Sister answered: “Geronta actually wants women in a certain sense to be manly. Women should be strong like men, and get away from feminine sensitivities—as women are more likely to be sensitive they can be sentimental and weak. Geronta says, ‘Be sensitive to someone else and not to yourself. Be tender for someone else but for yourself you need to be really strong, like a man.’ This is why the singing is strong here; he likes us to be strong, to show power, to be able to fight. To be frail, sensitive, or emotional is very bad especially for nuns. ‘How can one be the bride of Christ and be frail?’–Geronta asks us.”
He wants them to stand on their own feet (that is, not to cling to others in an unhealthy way, trying to rely on others to do for them what they should be doing) and to be bold, but at the same time to be obedient, and submissive to those over them. It takes strength to be humble: a man can stand up to accusations thrown at him but a woman is likely to start crying and feeling sorry for herself etc….to be continued