PROVOST, senior monk in charge of the material needs of his fellow monks in a monastery. In earlier times it was the HEGUMENOS, or head of the monastery, who assumed responsibility for the spiritual and material well-being of his flock.
Later, however, it became necessary for every monastic community to have a provost who would relieve the abbot of such mundane obligations. Thus, the provost became the second in command in a monastery. Besides the day-to-day running of the monastery, he would collect his brethren's weekly output of handicrafts, make a record of it, and then hand it over to caravan merchants, from whom he would purchase the necessities required by each monk. On Sunday, after Holy Communion, they would all partake of a cooked meal, usually vegetables, prepared under his supervision. On this occasion, he would also distribute any gifts or donations received by the monastery, seeing to it that anchorites, who lived in secluded cells, and other monks who could not attend because of illness got their share of the meal and of fresh fruit given to the monastery.
John CASSIAN (d. 433), who made a close study of monastic organization in the Egyptian desert, related this incident: "When someone had brought to John, the steward in the desert of Scete . . . who had the management of the church in the days of the blessed Presbyter Paphnutius, . . . some figs from Mareotis, he at once sent them by the hands of two lads to an old man who was laid up in ill health in the further part of the desert, and who lived about eighteen miles from the church." Unfortunately, the story has an unhappy ending, for the two lads met their deaths in a sudden sandstorm.
Provosts of various monasteries still carry out these duties.
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