"If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have...and come, follow Me" (Mat 19:21).
From the beginning these words of Christ have been a clear call to all Christian monks, which they have felt compelled to obey, to the letter.
Christian monasticism originated in the East in the Egyptian desert. Men, and women too, fearing that the lure of the comfort and security of the world would divert them from their search for unity with God, left everything behind and made their way into the desert, at first individually, then in loosely formed groups. By the mid-fourth century three forms of monastic life emerged - the eremitic life, the cenobitic life and the semi-eremitic life - all of which are still found in the Coptic Orthodox Church today.
The eremetic life is that of a hermit who lives alone in a secluded cell, entirely devoting his life to prayer and asceticism. The cenobitic life is that of community where monks live together under a common rule in a regularly constituted monastery. The semi-eremtic life is based upon a loosely knit group of small settlements, each practicing asceticism independently, though under the direction of an abbot. Their focal point is, as it is for all forms of monastic life, the Holy Eucharist, for which they regularly assemble.
In many ways, a monastery is primarily a centre for prayer. The monks pray not only for themselves,but also for everybody, both living and dead. Just as a soldier is a specialist in war, a monk is a specialist in prayer. Therefore, as V. Lossky writes, "the spiritual work of a monk living in a community or a hermit withdrawn from the world, retains all its worth for the entire universe even though it remains hidden from the sight of all."
The monastery's gates are always open, ready with comfort and sustenance - both spiritual and physical - for anyone who may knock at its door, saint or sinner. For the monks see in every man the image of Jesus who said, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Mat 25:40).