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Concerning the Monastic Schema and Monastic Apparel

St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite1


The monastic schema or habit, from above and from the beginning, was only one, the great schema, and
as many as became monks after the customary novitiate were made monks but once, and not two or three
times, and monks of the great schema at that.2 For this reason St. Theodore the Studite, being of the same
mind as the Canons, commands the abbot in his Testament saying: You are not to give someone the socalled small schema (that is, staurophoros) and then the great one, for the schema is one, just as baptism
is one, and just as the Holy Fathers practiced.3 Even if some bring forth the prayer which is found printed
together with the Catecheses of St. Theodore which says that the composer of that prayer received the
small schema and then the great one, and insist that it is a composition of St. Theodore, we reply that they
wrongly deduce this, for it is not a work of St. Theodore, but of a certain Theodosios, as is apparent from
the prayer having been put together from many sources. And the great illuminator of Thessaloniki,
Gregory Palamas, writing a letter to the hieromonk Paul of Asanes also says: This is the great and only
schema, for the Fathers did not know of a small schema, but some newer people thought that the schema
was divided into two. But through investigating the questions and answers in the services of both the
small and great schema, one schema has again been re-established.
The sacred Symeon of Thessaloniki in agreement with them says that: Just as baptism is only one, so is
the monastic schema one, for the small schema is the promise (engagement) and precursor of the great
schema, and it was invented by some later Fathers on account of the weakness (or ignorance) of man.4
And both the Euchologion (Priests Service Book) and Balsamon5 also call the small schema an
engagement and the promise of the great schema. And Job, called the Sinner, also sets forth a third
schema, saying: The monastic schema progresses from lowest to highest: from the small schema (called
rhasoforos) to the holy schema of tonsure, and from this to the angelic or great schema.6 Note here that
he is the only one who calls the small schema rhasophoros, for all the others call the small schema
staurophoros. Also, the Euchologionhas three services of the monastic schema: for the rhasophoros, for
the small schema, and for the great schema.
Having said these things, as many as become rhasophoroi are no longer able to cast off their robes and
get married. God forbid! How can they dare such a thing, having been tonsured, which tonsure declares
that they have removed from their head every worldly thought and consecrated their life to God? How?
When they have by a blessing donned monastic robes and put on the monastic hat, and had their name
changed, and had two prayers read over them by the priest, in which prayers the priest thanks God for
having redeemed them from the secular life and called them to the solitary vocation of monasticism, and
in which prayers God is asked to receive them into His salvific yoke? And if the person who merely
promised to become a monk, without even having donned the monastic robe through a blessing, must not
break his promise, how much more is the person who wears the monastic robes by a blessing not to break
his promise? For this reason Balsamon also says that the one wearing the monastic robe cannot any longer
be a layman, but must be encouraged to fulfill his initial goal and become a perfect monk.7 And if he does
not want to, he is subject to discipline, as the law decree in Title 1 of Book IV (of the Basilics).
As many as are of the small schema, that is, staurophoroi, are also found between a rock and a hard place,
for on the one hand they are required to keep the lifestyle and strictness of those of the great schema
because they made the same exact vows to God as did those of the great schema,8 as Gregory Palamas

said above, and because they also were adorned with the same monastic vestments (minus a few) by God,
and they were also deemed worthy of the same prayers 9except three). Therefore they must not make
excuse with excuses in sins (Ps. 140:4) saying that they are not of the great schema and for this reason
they are not required to live the strict life of monks. This is a deception of the devil. On the other hand,
they are also required to strive for the great and perfect schema, that is, to become great-schema monks,
and not to be negligent in this by putting it off. They should rather be fearful that death may soon come to
them, and then they would be found incomplete, and not perfect, monks before God. For just as
engagement is incomplete when compared to marriage, so the small schema of staurophoroi, being a
promise, is incomplete when compared to the great schema. Therefore it follows that those of the small
schema are incomplete monks. For this reason the sacred Symeon of Thessaloniki also declares that: As
many as are incomplete with regard to the schema must become complete so that they do not die
imperfect, not having undergone the perfecting rite of the schema...and just as the person who is not
baptized is not a Christian, so the one who has not been perfected with regard to the schema (that is, not
having become a great-schema monk) is not a monk.
So then, what kind of ignorance is this, when small-schema monks are required to keep the strict lifestyle
and perform the works of a great-schema monk through the vows they make to God, and then not to
become great-schema monks? Are they merely to endure such labors and be deprived of that grace? Are
they to grow old in their monastic life never having become monks? Are they to fight in this arena and in
this struggle and then be unworthy to receive the crown? Is there any greater harm to be found than this?
Or is there anything more ridiculous than for someone to pass thirty-five years as a small-schema monk,
and then, when about to receive the great-schema for him to be asked: Why have you come, brother?
and then for him to reply: Out of desire for the ascetical life, honorable Father, that is, for him to be
dressed as a layman, to be questioned as a layman, and for him to reply as a layman? If someone were to
ask todays small-schema monks why they are not great-schema monks, some would reply, because the
great schema is fearful and angelic; some would reply that they are waiting for their later years to come in
order to take the great schema, while still others, finding another excuse on account f their negligence,
abdicate and never take the great schema. On account of these foolish reasons, therefore, out of the
thousands of monks to be found in the world, few die as great-schema monks, and these received the great
schema either because they had aged greatly, or because they were severely ill and in danger of dying, or
because they were compelled on account of some other circumstance. The rest die as small-schema
monks, that is, as incomplete monks only engaged to Christ, and not married. Because of this they
resemble those Christians of old who found excuses and postponed their baptism, on account of which
many of them died still as catechumens and unbaptized. This is why Basil the Great, Gregory the
Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, and the rest of the divine Fathers spoke so much about baptism, exhorting
and encouraging them not to postpone their baptism, but to be baptized when young and healthy, in order
to be strengthened by and cultivate the grace which they received.
Those exhortative words are also necessary for someone to say today, in order to encourage todays
monks to receive the second baptism, which is the great and perfect schema. We, however, will not
expend too many words, but will say only these few and general words to them. As many as have
renounced the world and have entered the solitary life, even if under compulsion, must sooner or later and
without fail receive the great and perfect schema, because if they do not, they are not monks, as was
proven above, for the schema is one, as baptism is one, and this oneness determines and constitutes and
completes the great schema, the true schema, as this has also been proven. Therefore it is more exact and

more correct and better for monks to become great-schema monks one time, without first becoming
small-schema monks, even if the authorities do this. Once because, by this one and only time, the schema
of monks is shown in fact to be one and singular, just as the Tradition of the Holy Fathers intends. And
also because when the young and healthy receive the schema, they are to cultivate the grace they received
and multiply and increase the talent of their Lord, namely, the spiritual strength which the divine schema
mystically granted their soul,9 through struggles against the demons, through conquering the passions, and
through the charismata which they will receive from the Holy Spirit. Even if someone brings up that
Athanasios of Athos and Dounale the Confessor and others first received the small schema and then the
great one at different times, we reply that exceptions are not to become a law of the Church, according to
Gregory the Theologian,10 and that which is contrary to the Canons cannot be taken as a standard. For,
those who later become great-schema monks repeat the questions and answers, and the prayers, and the
putting-on of the schema, and they appear to duplicate the singular monastic schema, which is nearly as
absurd as someone repeating the One Holy Baptism.
The garments of the schema are as follows. Those of the small schema, that is, of the staurophoroi, are
four. The tunic, also called the zostikon rason or inner Cossack (esorason), represents the tunic of
gladness and righteousness which the monk puts on, according to Symeon of Thessaloniki11 and the
Euchologion. The leather belt, or girdle, which girds the torso and the loins, where the appetitive aspect of
the person is, represents the mortification of the carnal lusts, and chastity, and self-control, and that the
monk is ready to perform his service, according to the Euchologion, Symeon of Thessaloniki,12 Cyril of
Jerusalem,13 Dorotheos,14 and Sozomen.15 The pallium, which is a Latin word meaning garment or cloak,
as Symeon of Thessaloniki and Abba Isaac16 call it, and Skrevellios, in his lexicon, interprets pallium to
mean cloak or upper-garment. Today, this is the so-called upper or outer cassock (exorason):
1) Because the pallium is a garment, as we said, and the outer cassock or exorason is also a garment,
specifically, a monastic outer garment;
2) Because the outer cassock can also be called a mantle, and therefore the schema of the
staurophoros is also called the schema of the mantle in the Euchologion, and many call the outer
cassock a mandorason; and
3) Because the exorason is worn like a smaller and second mantle by the staurophoroi and the greatschema monks (under their larger mantle), it is more appropriate to call it a paramantle (note: that
undersized square cloth which is today called a paramantle by the unlearned and which is worn
over both shoulders, for which reason I truly wonder what person invented this and placed it
among the monastic garments fixed by the Fathers. This garment, I say, is not only not a
paramantle according to its name, but neither is it a garment at all).
So, the priests, having learned this information, when they tonsure a monk, they are to bless the outer
cassock, the exorason, instead of that undersized square cloth, and give the exorason to the monk to wear
as a pallium, in order that when the exorason is given to the monk it is not ridiculously given without a
blessing. If, however, someone out of habit also wishes to wear that undersized square cloth over their
inner cassock, as a symbol of his carrying the Cross, let him wear it without it being blessed, just as he
wears the monastic hat and the hat cover, which are also not blessed, and this does not seem to me
improper. The pallium or exorason represents the garment of incorruption, and modesty, and the divine
protection and covering, according to the Euchologion and Symeon of Thessaloniki.17 There are also
sandals or shoes worn by the monk which represent that the monk is to be prepared to tread the way of the

Gospel of peace without stumbling, and that, just as the shoes are subject to and below the rest of the
body, so also the body of the monk is to be subject to the soul, according to the Euchologion, Symeon of
Thessaloniki,18 and Cyril of Jerusalem.
Such are the garments of the staurophoros. The great-schema monk, in addition to the garments already
mentioned, has three more: the cowl, or hood, the scapular, and the mantle.19 The cowl represents the
helmet of salvation, according to the Euchologion; the overshadowing of divine grace and putting off of
worldly cares, according to Symeon of Thessaloniki20 and Cyril of Jerusalem; and innocence and
humility, according to Sozomen and Abba Dorotheos.21 The scapular, called a species of scarf by
Sozomen, and which is to be made of leather, according to Symeon of Thessaloniki, is today called a
polystaurion, which represents that the monk takes up the Cross of the Lord and follows Him, according
to the Euchologion, Symeon,22 and Dorotheos,23 because it also has a cross on the front and the back,
representing, according to Cyril of Jerusalem, that the world is crucified to the monk through his
withdrawal from it, and that the monk is crucified to the world though his detachment from it, according
to the saying of St. Paul: The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14). The mantle
(which Sozomen calls a sleeveless tunic and which Dorotheos calls a kolovion), because it envelops all of
the other garments, represents, according to Symeon of Thessaloniki, that the monk is wrapped up in his
mantle as if in a grave.24 According to Sozomen and Abba Dorotheos,25 the mantle, not having sleeves,
represents that the monk is not to raise his hand against anyone or practice anything of the old man. The
length of the mantle, according to Cyril of Jerusalem, represents the wings of the angels, the monastic
schema also being called the angelic schema. The mantle also had a red or purple marking, as Abba
Dorotheos says,26 by which mark monks understood that they were soldiers of the heavenly King. Such
are the true and designated garments of monks, which are also worn by virgins and hermits. The monastic
hat (kamilaukion) and hat covering (epanokamilaukion) do not have separate prayers designated for them,
so some recite the prayer and blessing of the cowl for them, because these have been devised to replace
the cowl by more recent people. Those great-schema monks from among us Grecians should wear the
mantle, if not always, then at least during the synaxis, or Church gatherings, and during the Divine
Liturgy, just as it worn by the great-schema monks from among the pious Russians and Romanians, being
that the mantle is the most characteristic garment of great-schema monks. But we (barring a few) have
changed the order, being satisfied with just the outer cassock or exorason, as we have said, which should
not have been done and is incorrect.
Having said these things, we also add as an afterthought that every Christian has the permission to choose
the monastic life and to wear the monastic schema, no matter what sin they may have committed and no
matter if they live in the world, and no one can prevent them from this choice, as Canon 43 of the Sixth
ecumenical Council orders. We added this on account of some unlearned Spiritual Fathers who prevent
those people who have committed murders and performed magic and other grave sins from becoming
monks. Furthermore, such sinners, and indeed everyone, in order to become monks, must undergo the
three year canonical novitiate and be supervised by a sponsor and a virtuous and godly elder, according to
Canons 2 and 5 of the First-and-Second Council.
NOTES
1) Exomologetarion, pp. 282-

2) Canon 15 of the so-called First-and-Second Council designates that whoever wishes to become a
monk must be a novice for three years, with the exception of one who is ill or in the case of
someone who lived in the world as a solitary and led a virtuous life. In such cases, the novitiate
may only be six months.
3) PG 99, 1820C.
4) Dialogus Contra Haereses, ch. 20, PG 155, 104C-104D.
5) Explanation of Canon 2 of the Council in Hagia Sophia, PG 137, 1090D-1092B.
6) In On the Mysteries, from the Syntagmation of Chrysanthos of Jerusalem.
7) Explanation of Canon 5 of the First-and-Second Council, PG 137, 1032A-1032C.
8) Translators note: The vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. For a detailed discussion of the
questions, answers, and vows taken during the service of the monastic tonsure, both of the small
and great schema, see Archimandrite Sophrony, Principles of Orthodox Asceticism, The
Orthodox Ethos, vol. 1, Oxford, 1964, pp. 259-286 (this is an abridged treatment of Part 1 (pp.
13-106) of Elder Sophronys book, Askesis kai Theoria (Ascesis and Contemplation), Essex,
1996 (in Greek).
9) See Book I of the Evergentinos, Hypothesis 31, p. 184, for there you will find that a great and
clairvoyant elder declared and said that the power of Grace which he saw, during a Baptism,
near at hand to the person being Baptized, he also saw at the time that a monk was receiving the
angelic schema (tr. The Evergentinos: A Complete Text, Etna, 1998, vol. III, book 1, p. 105).
Further, see also in this same Hypothesis, From the Life of St. Alypios, that, according to the
vision of the mother of St. Alypios, the one who does not desire the monastic schema (especially
the great one) is not worthy to be in the company of monks in the heavenly glory, even if they
struggle in the same fashion as monks (ibid., pp. 103-105).
10) That which is rare is not the law of the Church (Oratio 39, 14, PG 36, 352B).
11) De Poenitentia, ch. 273, PG 155, 497B.
12) Ibid., 497D.
13) This explanation and the following concerning the garments of monks were found in a manuscript
collection ascribed to Cyril of Jerusalem.
14) Our schema consists of a kolovion (a sleeveless garment), a leather belt, a scapular, and a cowl.
Each one of these is a symbol, and it will profit us to learn what they symbolize...We also have a
belt, and why do we wear it? The belt which we wear is a symbol first of all that we are ready for
work....Again, as the belt is made from a dead body, so should we be dead to our lusts. The belt is
worn around the loins, in which area it is said the appetitive aspect of the soul lies (Doctrina I,
De Renuntiatione, 12; 12, PG 88, 1632C; 1633B).
15) It is said that the peculiar vestments of these Egyptian monks had reference to some secret
connected with their philosophy, and did not differ from those of others without some adequate
cause. They wore their tunics without sleeves, in order to teach that the hands ought not to be
ready to do presumptuous evil. They wore a covering on their heads called a cowl, to show that
they ought to live with the same innocence and purity as infants who are nourished with milk, and
who wear a covering of the same form. Their girdle, and a species of scarf, which they wear
across the loins, shoulders, and arms, admonish them that they ought to be always ready in the
service and work of God (Historia Ecclesiastica 3, 14, PG 67, 1069C-1072A; tr. NPNF (V2-02)
p. 292).
16) Wrap your head in your cloak (Ascetical Homilies, Homily 50, p. 241).

17) De Poenitentia, ch. 273, PG 155, 497B.


18) Ibid., 497D-500A.
19) The garments of monks are always black in color for two reasons: 1) so that, seeing these black
garments, they may weep and mourn like those who wear black when they mourn the dead. For
which reason John of the Ladder says the following to every monk: Let your very dress urge you
to the work of mourning, because all who lament the dead are dressed in black (Step 7, PG 88,
805B-805C; tr. The Ladder, p. 73). 2) So that they may live solitarily and have their senses and
their intellect gathered into themselves, just as black gathers light into itself, as Pachymeres said
in his paraphrase of St. Dionysios the Areopagite: The monastic order lives solitarily, for this is
what the black vesture represents (PG 3, 548A). Not only black garments are appropriate to
monks, but any dark or dusky colored ones as well, which are neither very dark, nor very light,
but a composite of the two, like light brown for example, as the divine Chrysostom said:
Chastity is not found in darkly colored robes (De Virginitate 7, PG 48, 537). Zosimas the
Historian also says the same thing.
20) De Poenitentia, ch. 273, PG 155, 497B-497C.
21) We also wear a cowl or hood: this is a symbol of humility. For little babies who are innocent,
not full-grown men, wear a cowl. We wear it for this reason: that we may be as little ones in
malice (Doctrina I, De Renuntiatione 13, PG 88, 1633C-1633D).
22) De Poenitentia, ch. 273, PG 155, 497C-497D.
23) We also have a scapular, and the scapular is placed over our shoulders crosswise: this signifies a
cross on our shoulders...What is the cross, but the perfect mortification set up through our faith in
Christ...It means that one is to die to all the things of this world. He has given up parents,
possessions, riches, all that a man can give up to take up the contest; let him also renounce selfwill and the desire for these things. This is what we mean by perfect renunciation (Doctrina I,
De Renuntiatione 13, PG 88, 1633B-1633C).
24) Responsa ad Gabrielm Pentapolitanum, Question 60, PG 155, 916A.
25) Why do we wear a kolovion which does not have sleeves, while others wear sleeves? Sleeves
symbolize hands. Hands are given to do things with. When the thought occurs to do something
suited to the old manfor example, to steal, or to strike someoneor simply to commit
anything sinful with our hands, we ought to pay attention to our schema and learn that we have no
sleeves, that is, we have no hands to do something of the old man (Doctrina I, De
Renuntiatione 12, PG 88, 1632C).
26) Our kolovion also has a purple mark, and what does this mark signify? Anyone fighting for a
king has purple in his mantle. For because a king wears purple, all those who fight for him put
purple on their mantle; this is the royal garment which shows they are the kings men and that
they fight for him. So we put the purple mark on the kolovion, showing that we fight for Christ,
and that we are obliged to endure for Him all the sufferings He endured for us. For when our
Master was suffering for us He wore a purple garment; first as king, for He is King of kings and
Lord of lords, and then because He was mocked by impious soldiers. Therefore, also having
purple for a sign, we promise, as I said, to endure all that He suffered...So also we ought to
contend, neglecting worldly affairs, and to be occupied with God alone (ibid., 1632D-1633A).