With some qualifications, I highly recommend Celtic Spirituality (yes, some of the editorials are tinged with feminism and gnosticism). The book, if read cautiously, is a gold-mine of Western Orthodox material. There is a very interesting section on monastic rules. Many Protestants are bothered by monastic rules–and I was certainly the case for a while. Given the presuppositions of sola scriptura, the reality of some Roman Catholic abuses 500 years ago, and the fact that many of the rules seem so…arbitrary, monasticism is usually a hard sale to Protestants.
And some of the rules probably are “arbitrary,” but I am seeing something else at play. While I can’t speak for Orthodox monasticism elsewhere in the world, and I certainly doubt this collection of texts is exhaustive, the surprising thing is that the rules are quite lax. More importantly, the rules are given with an eye for “healing” and restoration. I remember in my Southern Baptist days–and I am sure this is quite true of human nature and psychology in general–whenever I would sin I would feel guilty/let down/betraying myself…etc (and this is probably true of anybody). I would confess this to my brothers in the youth group (who were likely struggling with many of the same things) and they would say, quite rightly, “Jesus loves you and forgives you.”
I suspect the monks knew that, too. I also suspect they devised these rules to prevent a lot of the lapses. Just telling someone, “You’re forgiven. Just don’t do it again” is true but it doesn’t help restore them (particularly in the more heinous situations). Abstract repentance is often damaging. Think about it. Someone is truly hurting, broken, and quite likely an intellectual and emotional rest. Telling that person “don’t worry about. Be good and it’ll be okay” will likely throw him or her off the deep end. On the other hand, when both parties (the confessor and the lapsed) acknowledge there is a problem that needs to be concretely addressed, providing a framework for restoration is the epitome of common sense. So what if scripture alone doesn’t tell one what to do? This is where sola scriptura mentality is damaging. Scripture gives very little advice on concrete repentance (just think of the wide array of human potentialities for sin). Scripture is a healthy guide but it is not the ultimate database from which all answers may be derived.
True, many of the rules seem…odd. In fact, many of the sins seem odd (how does one willingly have a nocturnal emission? On another front, how do people lose the Host?).