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Monasteries and monks

Monasteries are places in which monks live in a religious community governed by strict rules of conduct. Monasteries play an important part in Christianity, Buddhism, and Jainism. In Burma and Thailand most young men become monks for at least a short time and then go back to their normal jobs. But many Christian monasteries are closed communities in which the monks have little contact with the outside world or indeed, in some cases, with each other.

Monasteries and monks - monastery of Fischingen Monasteries and monks - Orthodox monks on requiem

Monasteries and monks

A view of the high altar in the Benedictine monastery of Fischingen, in Switzerland

Orthodox monks on requiem

Most monasteries and monks groups have strict rules. Buddhist monks observe more than two hundred rules. Among them are rules that monks may not take life, steal, eat or drink too much, sleep in luxury, or possess gold and silver. Most Christian orders have three main rules known as the Counsels of Perfection. The monks vow to live in obedience, poverty, and chastity. They spend the day in prayer and work either in the monastery or outside it.

Monasteries and monks - Cross, Israel Monasteries and monks -  Hosias Loukas in Greece

Monasteries and monks

Whether situated in isolation or otherwise, monasteries tend to be more or less self-sufficient communities. The word monastery comes from Greek, and means 'living alone'. The Monastery of the Cross, Israel.

The Monastery of Hosias Loukas in Greece

Most monasteries depend on the gifts of religious people. Some monks actually beg for food and money. Many Buddhist monks go around with begging bowls. The Christian Dominicans and Franciscans are also mendicant (begging) orders. But most monasteries support themselves to some extent by selling farm produce, wine, perfume, or carvings in addition to general souvenirs. Christian monastic life probably originated in Egypt in the 200's, when St Anthony brought together a number of hermits into a community with definite rules.

In 320 the monk St Pachomius founded the first monastery. In the 360's St Basil of Cappadocia laid down rules that were accepted by many communities. Monastic life has changed little in the Eastern Christian Church. Its center is the group of monasteries at Mount Athos in Greece. No female - human or animal - is allowed there. Monasteries in the Western Church developed from the ideas of St Benedict, who in the 500s organized monasteries on a system of work, worship, and sleep. In England King Henry VIII abolished most of the monasteries in the 1500's.

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