The roles of the Geronta (Elder) and Gerontissa (Eldress) in a women’s monastery
One Sister related, “Geronta says as man is the head of woman, so too, the Geronta is the head of the Gerontissa; and behind every women’s monastery there should be a men’s monastery. Gerontissa says this even more and that they need a manly backup just as a woman needs a man. However Geronta stresses that we need to confess fully to Gerontissa and then go to him afterwards because women tend to turn to men and open more fully to them. It is harder for a woman to be under another woman , but he says that in a woman’s monastery all should be done under that authority of a woman. Of course the spiritual father is necessary; only he can absolve sins. Both are necessary but the nuns have to learn to be under the authority of a woman because they are in a woman’s monastery.” The Sister concluded, “We go to Gerontissa and she helps us. We confess everything to her and she will say, ‘You really should tell Geronta.’”
The same topic came up in the conversation of an American nun with the abbess, Gerontissa Nikodimi, and she expressed the following: “Has it ever happened that a woman’s monastery is goverened by an abbott? No, a women’s monastery has an abbess, a Gerontissa. The spiritual father
is necessary, but he should have nothing to do with the administration of the monastery. His role is only to give spiritual guidance. The Geronta gives a word to the Gerontissa and she puts it into action in the community as she sees fit. St. Pachomius had a woman’s monastery across the river from the men, and the women were completely independent. He only sent a monk across (an experienced spiritual father), to give spiritual guidance, to serve Liturgy and to help the sisters with heavy work they could not do alone. The Gerontissa has to be free to raise her children as she sees best, but in order to guide and confess the sisters she must herself confess thoroughly to the Geronta.”
The Sister then gave her own reflections on the relation of a Geronta and Gerontissa, according to what she has seen in her spiritual father and mother: “Usually it begins with the Gerontissa completely subjected to the Geronta, but because of that obedience, and because she is in a position of authority, God grants her grace herself. She will herself be filled with the spirit and can speak. Geronta says, “A father is a father and a mother is a mother”—he is really strong on the position of a mother. Gerontissa Nikodimi would say that she has nothing of her own, she is only a tool in the hands of the Geronta. However he would not say that of her, he recognizes her as a spiritual person in her own right. It is edifying to see how they both humble themselves before each other.”
The Sister ended by saying, “A good spiritual mother is the reflection of a good spiritual father. She will become a holy person herself but it is because of him; just the same as if any of us becomes holy, it will be because of both our spiritual father and our spiritual mother, because we submit to both.”
May God give rest to the newly departed Elder Aimilianos!