The following text is from Counsels and Instructions of a Spiritual Father To The Nuns of The Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Monastery, From the Guidance Of The Great Ascetics and Teachers of Monastic Life, compiled by the spiritual father of the Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Convent, Hieromonk Joseph (Moscow 1913). The book was written at the request of the nuns, who asked him for ongoing guidance in the monastic life. As is written in the preface, it is "addressed to the inhabitants of women's monasteries, to all who wish to step upon the path of monastic life, as well as to pious laywomen, who will find here a multitude of soul-saving counsels, and draw from it great profit for their souls." Fr. Joseph slightly changed the texts he cited in order to apply them to nuns, but these instructions are aimed at all spiritual strugglers, regardless of gender.
The prayer rules set forth here proceed in part from the Russian monastic tradition, and specifics vary in different Orthodox cultures, but the basic guidelines are used everywhere.
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Having dressed yourself according to your rank, before leaving your cell, make this prayer with attention:
God cleanse me a sinner. (Bow) I place all my hope in Thee, O Mother of God, keep me under Thy protection. (Bow)
It is truly meet to bless the O Theotokos, ever blessed and most blameless and Mother of our God. More honorable than the cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim. Thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, Thee do we magnify. (Bow)
Glory to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. Lord have mercy (thrice) Bless O Lord.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, by the power of Thy Precious and Life-creating Cross, my holy Guardian Angel (name of your saint) and the holy martyrs, our holy and God-bearing father St. Sergius of Radonezh and St.Seraphim of Sarov, and all the saints, have mercy on me and save me a sinner. Amen.
After this, make three bows from the waist with the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Then go to church in peace, secretly saying the Jesus Prayer. Going to the temple of God to stand before the face of God, you should not look around from side to side and make idle conversation along the way, but you should keep your eyes lowered to the ground, not swinging your arms; and when meeting other sisters, make a bow.
Rule for entering the church
Having arrived at the church, a nun's first duty is to make three bows from the waist to the Royal doors, then unfailingly to the venerated or miracle-working icons, as well as to the holy relics. Before venerating she should make two bows or prostrations (on weekdays), or simple bows (on feast days); after venerating make the third bow. Then stand in your particular place, gather your senses and turn your mind to the throne of God as to God Himself present, with fear and trembling, and pray thus:
God, cleanse me a sinner and have mercy on me. (Bow)
Thou Who hast created me, O Lord, have mercy on me. (Bow)
I have sinned beyond number, O Lord, forgive me. (Bow)
It is truly meet to bless Thee O Theotokos, ever blessed and most blameless and Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim. Thee who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word. The very Theotokos, thee do we magnify. (Bow)
Glory, both now. Lord have mercy (thrice). Bless O Lord.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy Most Pure Mother, by the power of Thy Precious and Life-creating Cross, my holy Guardian Angel [name of your saint] and the holy martyrs, our holy and God-bearing father St. Sergius of Radonezh and St. Seraphim of Sarov, and all the saints, have mercy on me and save me a sinner. Amen. (Bow)
Bow to the sisters on both sides, make three more bows from the waist with the Jesus Prayer and stand in your place until the end of the services, with deep attention to what is being read and sung in the temple of God. The Temple of God is is heaven on earth. Therefore you must stand in the temple of God with fear and reverence, have your eyes lowered to the ground, do not make conversation, do not cough without great need and not blow your nose; do not peek or glance at the people who have come to services.
"In general, in the church of God one should preserve the utmost reverence and order, for the glory of God, as well as for one's own soul's profit and for the profit of those people present, who are to be instructed in reverence by the monastics. But lack of reverence disturbs them, scandalizes them and harms them. One should not leave the church inappropriately; one should not allow oneself even the slightest infraction of the rule of good order and piety. From carelessness towards the small and insignificant we easily and quickly move on to carelessness over what is important, and about everything. In order to preserve attention toward our important obligations, we must constantly watch ourselves and be attentive to all our most insignificant actions."
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism.
During all services, at every Trisagion, at every, O come let us worship, and at every thrice pronounced, Allelulia, three bows from the waist should be made, with the exception of the, O come let us worship and fall down before Christ our King, and the Trisagion at the very beginning of Matins, at which it is accepted to cross yourself only three times. The same is done at the beginning of the six psalms at the thrice pronounced stichos, Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men, and at the mid-point of the six psalms, at the thrice pronounced, Allelulia, alleluia, alleluia, glory to Thee, O God. At the end of the six psalms and at the kathismas three bows from the waist should be made. At, More honorable than the cherubim, at each repitition of these words, one bow from the waist should be made.
At Divine Liturgy, after, O come let us worship and fall down before Christ, one bow should be made. Before and after the reading of the Holy Gospels, at the singing of, Glory to Thee O Lord, glory to Thee, one bow should be made. At the end of entire Cherubic Hymn, that is, after Alleluia, are three bows. At the end of, We praise Thee, is one prostration (the choir is free at this time), because during the singing of this hymn the Holy Gifts brought forth and sanctified. After, It is truly meet, is one bow. Before the Lord's Prayer is a prostration (the choir is free); at the priest's announcement of, For Thine is the Kingdom… there is one bow. At the announcement of, Holy things are for the Holy, there are three bows. When the Holy Mysteries are brought out with the announcement, With fear of God and faith and love draw nigh, there is one prostration (the choir is free), and when the holy discos is brought out once more with the announcement, Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages, make a prostration."
St. Ignatius Brianchaninov. Offering to Contemporary Monasticism
About the cell rule
The cell rule consists of a set number of prostrations, a set number of prayers and psalms, and the exercise of the Jesus Prayer. It is designated to each according to her powers of soul and body. Just as these powers are infinitely varied in people, so is an ascetic's rule suggested in the most varied forms. The general typicon for the rule of prayer consists in never exceeding the ascetic's strength, never injuring her health, which would induce her to abandon any rule whatsoever. Abandoning a prayer rule is usually the result of a prayer rule accepted or assigned that is beyond one's strenth. To the contrary, a moderate and reasonable rule becomes the nun's inheritance for her whole life, blossoming towards the end of her life, multiplying naturally, as it were, taking on a character according to its exterior and interior dignity, and corresponding to its progress. A larger number of prostrations and prayers are required of one who is strong and healthy in body, while from some one of weaker constitution less is required. Human bodies vary so greatly in strength that some may tire after thirty prostrations more than others would after three hundred.
St. Ignatius Brianchianinov, Offering to Contemporary Monasticism
In the Psalter it is written:
"The rule for monastics and for any one who has the desire but lives in the world; printed for daily use, for any who are able to read. Compline and specific canons, four kathismas with troparia and prayers with songs of the prophets. Three hundred prostrations; six hundred Jesus Prayers; the seventh hundred to the Theotokos with the prayer:
"Sovereign Lady, Most Holy Theotokos, save me a sinner. And thus read the whole Psalter throughout the week and perform the rule. Other beginning nuns and those who are infirm should read three kathismas and make one hundred prostrations with three hundred Jesus Prayers, and one hundred prayers to the Theotokos."
This rule is not always so easy to fulfill, and therefore in its place the following rule was composed by pious men, and handed down from one generation to the next in our Russian monasteries: Aside from the church services—Liturgy, Mattins and Vespers with Compline, which all sisters in the monastery should attend without fail, many of them should read daily in their cells: one chapter of the Gospels in succession, beginning with the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew through the last chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, and two chapters from the Epistles, also in succession, beginning with the Acts of the Holy Apostles and ending with the last chapter of the Apocalypse [Revelations] of St. John the Theologian. The last seven chapters of the Apocalypse should be read one per day, then the last chapter will be read on the same day as the last chapter of Gospel of St. John. When finishing in this manner the entire New Testament, one should begin again with the first chapters in the same order. One kathisma from the Psalter is read per day, beginning with the first and ending with the last. Besides this, the so-called "five hundred" cell rule is read in the following order:
After the usual three bows made at the beginning of all prayer in the church as well as in the cell, begin with the prayer: God be merciful to me a sinner! O God, cleanse my sins and have mercy on me! O Thou Who hast created me, O Lord, have mercy on me! I have sinned without measure, O Lord, forgive me! In the cell, a fourth bow is added, with the prayer: My Sovereign Lady, Most Holy Theotokos, save me a sinner! After which is read:
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ Our God, have mercy on us!
Glory to Thee our God, glory to Thee! O Heavenly King… Holy God... (thrice); O Most Holy Trinity... Our Father... Lord have mercy (twelve times); Glory, both now; O Come let us worship... (thrice); Psalm 50; Have mercy on me O God... and I believe in One God....
After this, 100 prayers: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!
With the first ten prayers prostrations are made; with the next twenty prayers—bows from the waist; at the last, that is the hundredth prayer—again a bow from the waist. After this is the prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos found at the end of morning prayers and beginning with the words:
O Most Holy Lady Theotokos, through thy holy and al-powerful prayers, banish from me, thy lowly and wretched servant, despondency, forgetfulness, folly, carelessness, and all filthy, evil and blasphemous thoughts from my wretched heart and my darkened mind. And quench the flame of my passions, for I am poor and wretched; and deliver me from many and cruel memories and deeds, and free me from all their evil effects. For blessed art thou by all generations, and glorified is thy most honorable name, unto the ages of ages. Amen.
After ending this prayer—a prostration. Then again one hundred Jesus Prayers in the same order, with ten prostrations and twenty bows from the waist, and again the same prayer to the Most Holy Theotokos.
After finishing these last prayers—a prostration and the fourth hundred prayers to the Most Holy Theotokos: Most Holy Lady Theotokos, save me a sinner!
The first ten of these prayers is also made with a prostration, and the next twenty are also with bows, while the remaining sixty-nine are without bows, as with the first three hundred prayers. The last or hundredth prayer is made with a prostration, and afterwards the following prayer is made also with a prostration:
O my Most Holy Lady Theotokos, through Thy holy and all-powerful prayers...Then fifty prayers:
Holy Angel of God, my guardian, pray to God for me, a sinner.
With the first five prayers prostrations are made, with the next ten bows, and the remaining thirty-five are without prostrations, only on the final one is a prostration, and again the prayer is said: O my Most Holy Lady Theotokos, through Thy holy and all-powerful prayers....
Then fifty prayers: All the saints, pray to God for me a sinner!
With the first five prayers prostrations are made, with the next ten bows, and the remaining thirty-five are without prostrations, only on the final one is a prostration, and again the prayer is said:
O my Most Holy Lady Theotokos, through Thy holy and all-powerful prayers... (with a prostration).
It is truly meet... (and a prostration).
After this: Glory to Thee, O Christ God Our Hope, glory to Thee! Glory, both now. Lord have mercy (thrice), and: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
In conclusion, four prostrations are made with the short prayers shown at the beginning. On weekdays all the prostrations shown here are made. During the days of Pentecost, on Polyeleos, forefeast or afterfeast days, when the great Doxology is sung and prostrations in church are not made, they are replaced during the cell rule with bows from the waist.
During days when there are vigils throughout the year, during the last two days of Holy Week, during all of Bright Week and beginning with the twenty-fourth day of December through the seventh of January (According to the old style; that is, beginning with Christmas Eve through the apodosis of Theophany) this cell rule is not done at all; it is also dropped on Sundays throughout the year, even if a vigil was not celebrated, but only Vespers and Matins.
Any change in the composition of this cell rule, any shortening or lengthening for any person is up to the will of her eldress or spiritual father. But also in its full composition, this rule is conformable to human weakness: it takes about an hour to complete it without the reading, and does not require great physical exertion. Even so, regardless of its apparent smallness, when performed zealously, it brings down upon a person help and protection of God's grace.
The main basis for not allowing prostrations on Sundays and feast days are the canons of the Ecumenical Counsels, namely: canon 20 of of the First Ecumenical Counsel, canon 90 of the Fourth Ecumenical Counsel and canon 15 of the Holy Hierarch Peter of Alexandria.
Archbishop Juvenaly, Monastic Life
About prostrations and bows There are bows to the earth (prostrations) and bows from the waist; they are done usually at the evening rule, before going to sleep. It is best of all to make prostrations before reading evening prayers, that is, to begin the rule with prostrations. From prostrations the body wearies a little and warms itself, and the heart comes to a state of contrition; in this state the ascetic more zealously, warmly and attentively prays. She is tangibly aware of a completely different flavor in her prayers when they are read after prostrations. Prostrations should be made altogether unhastily, breathing life into this physicial labor with the heart's weeping and the mind's prayerful crying out. Wishing to begin your bending of the knee in prayer, give to your body the most reverential position—one which a servant and creature of God should have in the presence of her Lord and God. Then gather your thoughts from its distant wanderings, and with the utmost unhaste, loud enough for yourself alone to hear, enclosing your mind in the words, pronounce this prayer from a heart that is broken and humbled: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.
Having pronounced the prayer, make a prostration to the ground with reverence and fear of God, without agitation, and with a feeling like the sinful woman who repents and begs forgiveness at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Do not imagine any images or depictions of the Lord, but have an assuredness in His presence; have an assuredness that He is looking at you, at your mind and heart, and that His retribution or recompense is in His hands. The first (imagining) is an impermissible dream which leads to destructive self-delusion; but an assuredness in the presence of the omnipresent God is the assuredness in his all-holy truth. The Holy Fathers say, "Never accept anything you might see sensually or mentally, outside or inside yourself, be it an appearance of Christ, or an Angel, or some saint, or a dreamy imagining of light in your mind. Withstand it, not believing in it and not consenting to it. Ceaselessly keep your mind free from imaginings, from impressions by anything that might come into the imagination, sightlessly attending only to the words of the prayer" (The Philokalia, Callistos and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos on silence and prayer. Chapter 33 [Russian]).
After making a prostration, again bring the body to a state of reverence and calm, and again pronounce unhurriedly the above-mentioned prayer. After saying it, again make a prostration in the above-mentioned way. Do not worry about the quantity of prostrations: direct all attention towards the quality of prayer, made with the bending of knee. Without even speaking of the effect upon the spirit, the effect upon the body itself of a few prostrations made in the manner described above is much stronger than a large number made in a rush, without attention and only for the sake of activity. Experience is not slow to show this. Having labored in the bending of the knee, move into bows from the waist. A bow from the waist is determined by the touching of the finger tips to the ground or floor upon its fulfillment.
Attending to herself in unremitting obligation while making prostrations to having abundant labor of soul, consisting in attentiveness, unhastiness, reverence and the intention of bringing forth repentance to God, the ascetic can observe during the course of some time what amount of prostrations her body can endure. Subtracting a few prostrations from this number in view of her infirmities and out of condescension toward herself, she can compose a daily rule for herself containing the remaining prostrations, and after asking a blessing from her spiritual father or superior, or from one of the other nuns whom she trusts and with whom she seeks counsel, she can conduct this rule daily.
For the edification of the souls of our beloved sisters, we shall not keep silent about the following: Prostrations made for quantity's sake alone, not enlivened by the proper activity of mind and heart, are more harmful than useful. The ascetic who makes them begins to rejoice. There, she says to herself in a way similar to the pharisee dipicted in the Gospels, today also God has granted me to make (for example) three hundred prostrations! Glory be to God! Is that such a easy thing? During these times, to make three hundred prostrations! Who can bear such a rule? and so on. We must remind you that prostrations heat the blood, and heated blood makes one extremely capable of arousing mental activity. Having come to such an inclination, the poor ascetic, solely due to this cause, has no understanding of true activity of the soul, is given over to soul injuring mental activity, given over to vainglorious thoughts and dreams, relying upon her ascetic labors by which she thinks to make progress. The ascetic delights in these thoughts and dreams, cannot get enough of them, makes them her own, planting in herself the destructive passion of self-opinion. Self-opinion soon begins to reveal itself in the secret judging of her neighbors and in the open inclination to teach them. Clearly this inclination a sign of pride and self-delusion. If the nun did not consider herself to be higher than her neighbor, she would never have dared to teach her. Such is the fruit of all physical ascetic labors if they are not imbued with the intention of repentance and have not the goal of repentance alone—if the labor itself is given any worth. True monastic progress consists in the nun seeing herself as the most sinful of all people. "A brother said to St. Sisoes the Great: I see that my thoughts abide always with God. The saint replied: it is not so great that your thoughts abide always with God; it is great when a monk sees himself as beneath every creature." (Alphabetical Patericon.) Such were the thoughts of true servants of God, true monks, developed within them from correct activity of the soul. With the correct activity of the soul, even physical ascetic labors have great significance, being the expression of repentance and humility through the action of the body. Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins (Ps. 24:18), did the holy David cry out to God, combining in his pious ascetic labor physical labor with deep repentance and deep humility of wisdom.
An Offering to Contemporary Monastisicm
Please hold my hand and assist me with passing my current Nursing Class. I didn't do well on my last exam and need a B on my final to pass the course. I know in my heart I may not be the smartest student in the class, but when I am finished school and I am a nurse, that will be my time to shine. I see the world differently than others. I know this is a gift you have given me for a reason. I feel humble to have made it this far in my nursing education. Please give me the strength and knowledge to finish this path you have chosen for me. Amen