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Chapter 12: Tonsure

The young George arrived at the monastery in 1966. His time for tonsure was supposed to be three years later as was explained to him when he entered that this was the custom of the Church. When three years arrived, however, he was not tonsured, but rather the novice John who had come after him, was tonsured a monk and given the name Isaac. Then the next tonsure was to a new novice who had come a year later than the young George, and he was given the name Andrew. As can be expected, this made the young George quite perplexed. His obedience was blameless and his dedication to the monastic life was solid, so there seemed to be no reason why his tonsure into the full monastic habit was being delayed. Finally the young George had the nerve to ask his abbot to explain why he was not being tonsured, whereas everyone else in the monastery that stayed was tonsured in their proper time. Father Panteleimon in his turn had no explanation, but his attitude was that perhaps the young George was going to depart.

Finally, the feast day of the Transfiguration came which was traditionally the time that tonsures are performed, since it was the feast day of the monastery. They are performed on feast days as a special blessing. That feast day came and left. Now it was well over three years, or shall we say approaching three and a half years. The young George came to the abbot and tried to receive a definite answer from him. George told him, “If you think that I am going to depart in the future, just tell me that this is your fear, although I disagree with this assessment, and I do plan to be a monk for the rest of my life; but, if this is your fear, tell me and I will depart to another monastery. It is not right to keep me here under the pretext that you will tonsure me and not do it. Permit me to leave to go to another monastery so I can dedicate myself to God in that place.” The abbot simply said that when the right time comes, you will be tonsured.

Finally, the young George said to Fr. Panteleimon, “The Dormition of the Virgin Mary is approaching. If you do not tonsure me after being here so long, it will be an indication to me that you do not wish me to be a monk here, and I will go to the Russian monastery and spend another three years there to be a monk.” Little did the young man realize that the abbot’s hesitation had to do with the words of the Elder Ieronymos which he spoke to him over three years earlier, the last of which words were never translated. Perhaps the thought of losing another iconographer, and one who remained longer than any, persuaded Fr. Panteleimon to go ahead with the tonsure on the Dormition. This decision was not told to George until one day before the tonsure. Thus George could only give very short notice to his mother, his brother, and his sister-in-law to let them know that he was about to take the monastic vows the next day. Because of this, only his mother was able to attend, as his brother could not get anyone to fill in or free him from his work. When the morning of the Dormition came, the abbot took the novice aside in the office and told him these stern words, “Listen, I am not doing this because I want to do it! I am doing this because you are forcing me to do it, and I do not want you to shed one tear during the service! Do you understand?!” The young George said, “Yes,” but was again thoroughly confused, not knowing why his abbot had this attitude.

When the tonsure approached at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy, the young man was understandably distracted by two fearful thoughts. The first was to understand the service and the profound vows he was making, and the second one was not to weep to obey the commandment of his spiritual father. Again, he was put in a stressful condition, because this is what he was working towards for over three years and the emotional feelings are very profound during a tonsure and the prayers are very moving, and the vows are very fearful; yet, on the other hand, he did not want to burst into any tears, as he had done witnessing the previous tonsures of his brothers. He was standing now before the altar of God, and before His icon, and taking the vows of the great and angelic schema. He was renouncing all things: the world, family, wealth, marriage, and his own will. Throughout the service he was concentrated on the words being spoken which were very emotional, and the opposite feeling to suppress the emotion of weeping. Finally, his future name was uttered, “The servant of God, Gregory, monk, is clothed with the great and angelic habit….” When he heard the name “Gregory” uttered, he was perplexed as to which Gregory he was named for. When they put the monastic cowl over his head, he burst into tears. His mother was also weeping. It was then, at the end of the service, that his mother apologized for her former behavior and was quite pleased that her son had now become a monk in the Orthodox Church. He was given the name of the monastery‘s second patron saint, St. Gregory Palamas.

Saint Gregory Palamas

In the future many would understand that the way this tonsure took place, as strange as it may seem, was truly by the right hand of God. Firstly, Fr. Gregory‘s tonsure was not by the will of his abbot, but by his own will and that of God. Therefore when he is accused of being a disciple of Fr. Panteleimon, this is not true, because in the true sense of the word, a disciple follows his master in all things. However, Fr. Gregory was never to follow as a disciple in any sinful and passionate pursuits. Secondly, not even his name “Gregory” was given by Fr. Panteleimon, but rather by Fr. Arsenius on the Holy Mountain over three years earlier. Usually it is the prerogative of the abbot to name those whom he tonsures. This privilege was taken away from him by Fr. Arsenius. This was very beneficial in the light of future occurrences.

Archbishop Gregory
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Last Updated: July 12, 2011