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Monasticism in Southern Africa - a fragile plant 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 … Read More

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A recent development among Protestant radicals in the West, NM has spiritual roots in such ecumenical communities as Iona (Scotland), Taize (France) and Bose (Italy). Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s prediction about a ‘new monasticism’ and his intentional ‘Bruderhaus’ at Finkenwalde is sufficient evidence, many believe, for perceiving Bonhoeffer as some kind of neo-monastic prophet. Considering our rapidly secularising society, why are we not seeing similar examples of intentional communities in this country? I mentioned two factors yesterday:

  • economic trajectory
  • counter-cultural ideology

Race has to come into it. This was picked up already in the 12 Marks, but here is a more penetrating analysis and an equally sharp comment.

In South Africa, most people haven’t shared in enough prosperity to have become  disillusioned with it. Secondly, with the SA Council of Churches endorsing a ‘critical solidarity’ with the government’s development programme (RDP), there is precious little distance from state power to maintain a prophetic voice, never mind a counter-culture.

This thread is subsidiary to the main topic below. Key questions would include:

  • What is distinct about  Orthodox monasticism? How do Orthodox monastics / religious see themselves?
  • When did it begin in South / Southern Africa? How and where did it start? Where is it situated now?
  • Who are the key people in its history?
  • What literature is available?

“The Monastic Idea in South Africa: 1879 – present” is the working title of a new dissertation I’m doing at UKZN. It came out of a question I’ve been asking since 2000: why are no new monastic communities in South Africa? This term is a little more defined than ‘intentional community,’ and I explored it in relation to Bonhoeffer’s seminary at Finkenwalde in a MTh thesis (see earlier post). My conclusion was that South Africa doesn’t share the counter-cultural ideology and economic trajectories in the West which spawn Protestant NM movements. The present study aims to go deeper in exploring the monastic idea or vision in this country.

A vague outline could look like this:

  1. the monastic idea – what is it, really?
  2. local monastic expressions:
    • Catholic
    • Orthodox
    • Protestant
    • ecumenical / new monastic

A few questions immediately present themselves:

  • Monastic idea: how would you define this? Are the following categories applicable: culture, charism, calling? What others are applicable?
  • Time frame: 1879 marks the arrival of the Trappists in South Africa. Should it be earlier or later? Why?
  • Location: South Africa or Southern? The latter would Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland – but how would this inflate the study?

A separate discussion thread for each monastic expression (above) would be helpful.