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From the Dialogues (Bk II Ch I) of Pope St. Gregory the Great:

But Benedict, desiring rather the miseries of the world than the praises of men: rather to be wearied with labor for God’s sake, than to be exalted with transitory commendation: fled privately from his nurse, and went into a desert place called Subiaco, distant almost forty miles from Rome: in which there was a fountain springing forth cool and clear water; the abundance whereof does first in a broad place make a lake, and afterward running forward, comes to be a river. As he was travelling to this place, a certain monk called Romanus met him, and demanded whither he went, and understanding his purpose, he both kept it close, furnished him what he might, vested him with the habit of holy conversation, and as he could, ministered and served him.

The man of God, Benedict, coming to this foresaid place, lived there in a narrow cave, where he continued three years unknown to all men, except to Romanus. He lived not far off, under the rule of Abbot Theodacus, and very virtuously stole certain hours, and likewise sometime a loaf given for his own provision, which he carried to Benedict.

And because from Romanus’ cell to that cave there was not any way, by reason of a high rock which hung over it, Romanus, from the top thereof, on a long rope, let down the loaf, on which also with a band he tied a little bell, that by the ringing of it the man of God might know when he came with his bread, and so be ready to take it. But the old enemy of mankind, envious of the charity of the one and the refection of the other, seeing a loaf on a certain day let down, threw a stone and broke the bell. Yet, for all that, Romanus did not cease to serve Benedict by all the possible means he could.

At length when almighty God was determined to ease Romanus of his pains, and to have Benedict’s life for an example known to the world, that such a candle, set on a candlestick, might shine and give light to the Church of God, our Lord vouchsafed to appear to a certain Priest dwelling a good way off, who had made ready his dinner for Easter day.

He spoke thus to him: “Thou have provided good cheer for thyself, and my servant in such a place is afflicted with hunger.” Hearing this, the priest rose up, and on Easter day itself, with such meat as he had prepared, went to the place, where he sought for the man of God among the steep hills, the low valleys and hollow pits, and at length found him in his cave. After they had prayed together, and sitting down had given God thanks, and had much spiritual talk, then the Priest said to him: “Rise up, brother, and let us dine, because today is the feast of Easter.”

The man of God answered, and said: “I know that it is Easter with me and a great feast, having found so much favor at God’s hands as this day to enjoy your company” (for by reason of his long absence from men, he knew not that it was the great solemnity of Easter). But the reverent Priest again assured him, saying: “Verily, today is the feast of our Lord’s Resurrection, and therefore it is not right that you should keep abstinence. Besides I am sent to that end, that we might eat together of such provision as God’s goodness hath sent us.” Whereupon they said grace, and fell to their meat, and after they had dined, and bestowed some time in talking, the Priest returned to his church.

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Troparion Tone 1

By thine ascetical struggles, O Godbearing Benedict,/ thou didst prove true to thy name./ For thou wast the son of benediction, and didst become a model and rule/ to all who emulate thy life and cry:/ Glory to Him Who has strengthened thee; glory to Him Who has crowned thee;/ glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.

Kontakion Tone 8

Like a sun of the Dayspring from on high/ thou didst enlighten the monks of the West and instruct them by word and deed./ By the sweat of thine ascetical achievements/ purge from the filth of passions us who honour thee and cry:/ Rejoice, O Father Benedict.

Prayer to St. Benedict of Nursia

O holy Father, St. Benedict, blessed by God both in grace and in name, who, while standing in prayer, with hands raised to heaven, didst most happily yield thy angelic spirit into the hands of thy Creator, and hast promised zealously to defend against all the snares of the enemy in the last struggle of death, those who shall daily remind thee of thy glorious departure and heavenly joys; protect me, I beseech thee, O glorious Father, this day and every day, by thy holy blessings, that I may never be separated from our dear Lord, from the society of thyself, and of all the blessed. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Note: In the West, St. Benedict's death is celebrated 21 March, and his feast day is celebrated 11 July]

St. Gregory the Great’s Life of St. Benedict

An account of the uncovering of St. Benedict’s relics

The Rule of St. Benedict (in English)

Regula Sancti Benedicti

About the Rule of St. Benedict

About the medal of St. Benedict

About St. Scholastica, St. Benedict’s twin sister

A brief account of St. Benedict, his life and influence (Roman Catholic Order of St. Benedict website)

From the OCA Website:

Saint Benedict, founder of Western monasticism, was born in the Italian city of Nursia in the year 480. When he was fourteen years of age, the saint’s parents sent him to Rome to study. Unsettled by the immorality around him, he decided to devote himself to a different sort of life.

At first St. Benedict settled near the church of the holy Apostle Peter in the village of Effedum, but news of his ascetic life compelled him to go farther into the mountains. There he encountered the hermit Romanus, who tonsured him into monasticism and directed him to live in a remote cave at Subiaco. From time to time, the hermit would bring him food.

For three years the saint waged a harsh struggle with temptations and conquered them. People soon began to gather to him, thirsting to live under his guidance. The number of disciples grew so much, that the saint divided them into twelve communities. Each community was comprised of twelve monks and was a separate skete. The saint gave each skete an igumen from among his experienced disciples, and only the novice monks remained with St. Benedict for instruction.

The strict monastic Rule St. Benedict established for the monks was not accepted by everyone, and more than once he was criticized and abused by dissenters.

Finally he settled in Campagna and on Mount Cassino he founded the Monte Cassino monastery, which for a long time was a center of theological education for the Western Church. The monastery possessed a remarkable library. St. Benedict wrote his Rule, based on the experience of life of the Eastern desert-dwellers and the precepts of St. John Cassian the Roman (February 29).

The Rule of St. Benedict dominated Western monasticism for centuries (by the year 1595 it had appeared in more than 100 editions). The Rule prescribed the renunciation of personal possessions, as well as unconditional obedience, and constant work. It was considered the duty of older monks to teach the younger and to copy ancient manuscripts. This helped to preserve many memorable writings from the first centuries of Christianity.

Every new monk was required to live as a novice for a year, to learn the monastic Rule and to become acclimated to monastic life. Every deed required a blessing. The head of this cenobitic monastery is the igumen. He discerns, teaches, and explains. The igumen solicits the advice of the older, experienced brethren, but he makes the final decisions. Keeping the monastic Rule was strictly binding for everyone and was regarded as an important step on the way to perfection.

St. Benedict was granted by the Lord the gift of foresight and wonderworking. He healed many by his prayers. The monk foretold the day of his death in 547. The main source for his Life is the second Dialogue of St. Gregory.

St. Benedict’s sister, St. Scholastica (February 10), also became famous for her strict ascetic life and was numbered among the saints.

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As mentioned in my previous post, I purchased a St Benedict medal when in Rome in the summer of ’98. The following is some information about the medal:

stbenedictmedalf.jpg

One side of the medal bears an image of St. Benedict, holding a cross in the right hand and the Holy Rule in the left. On the one side of the image is a cup, on the other a raven, and above the cup and the raven are inscribed the words: “Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti” (Cross of the Holy Father Benedict). Round the margin of the medal stands the legend “Ejus in obitu nro praesentia muniamus” (May we at our death be fortified by his presence).

stbenedictmedalb.jpg

The reverse of the medal bears a cross with the initial letters of the words: “Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux” (The Holy Cross be my light), written downward on the perpendicular bar; the initial letters of the words, “Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux” (Let not the dragon be my guide), on the horizontal bar; and the initial letters of “Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti” in the angles of the cross. Round the margin stand the initial letters of the distich: “Vade Retro Satana, Nunquam Suade Mihi Vana — Sunt Mala Quae Libas, Ipse Venena Bibas” (Begone, Satan, do not suggest to me thy vanities — evil are the things thou profferest, drink thou thy own poison). At the top of the cross usually stands the word Pax (peace) or the monogram I H S (Jesus).

More from the article:

The medal just described is the so-called jubilee medal, which was struck first in 1880, to commemorate the fourteenth centenary of St. Benedict’s birth. The Archabbey of Monte Cassino has the exclusive right to strike this medal. The ordinary medal of St. Benedict usually differs from the preceding in the omission of the words “Ejus in obitu etc.”, and in a few minor details. (For the indulgences connected with it see Beringer, “Die Ablässe”, Paderborn, 1906, p. 404-6.) The habitual wearer of the jubilee medal can gain all the indulgences connected with the ordinary medal and, in addition: (1) all the indulgences that could be gained by visiting the basilica, crypt, and tower of St. Benedict at Monte Cassino (Pius IX, 31 December, 1877); (2) a plenary indulgence on the feast of All Souls (from about two o’clock in the afternoon of 1 November to sunset of 2 November), as often as (toties quoties), after confession and Holy Communion, he visits any church or public oratory, praying there according to the intention of the pope, provided that he is hindered from visiting a church or public oratory of the Benedictines by sickness, monastic enclosure or a distance of at least 1000 steps. (Decr. 27 February, 1907, in Acta S. Sedis, LX, 246.) Any priest may receive the faculties to bless these medals.

It is doubtful when the Medal of St. Benedict originated. During a trial for witchcraft at Natternberg near the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria in the year 1647, the accused women testified that they had no power over Metten, which was under the protection of the cross. Upon investigation, a number of painted crosses, surrounded by the letters which are now found on Benedictine medals, were found on the walls of the abbey, but their meaning had been forgotten. Finally, in an old manuscript, written in 1415, was found a picture representing St. Benedict holding in one hand a staff which ends in a cross, and a scroll in the other. On the staff and scroll were written in full the words of which the mysterious letters were the initials. Medals bearing the image of St. Benedict, a cross, and these letters began now to be struck in Germany, and soon spread over Europe. They were first approved by Benedict XIV in his briefs of 23 December, 1741, and 12 March, 1742.

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I first became aware of St. Benedict during my time at a Protestant Bible college, specifically during spring semester of 1990. I was in a period of my life where I began to search for the historic Church, and a period of spiritual struggle when I became extremely dissatsified with the way of life my heritage churches, and evangelical Christianity in general, had given me for spiritual growth. I had been for a long time just spinning my wheels with the schema of morning devotions (read a couple of chapters in the Bible and pray), praise choruses, and church attendance. I wanted something more. My searches combined in a return to the historic Church and monasticism.

If you read anything about monasticism in the West, you pretty quickly come across St. Benedict of Nursia. And I did. I happened across a book by Esther de Waal, entitled Living with Contradiction, which contained the whole of the Prologue to the saint’s Rule, and a bit more than a hundred pages of meditations and reflections on the themes of the Prologue. I was instantly hooked. I didn’t know much about St. Benedict himself, nor even about what role the saints played in the Church, but I knew enough to realize St. Benedict was a teacher and father in God from whom I could learn much.

It was only a handful of months later that one of those serendipitous, coincidental moments happened that later leave you wondering if a divine appointment, unbeknownst to oneself, had occurred. I had gone with some classmates and a professor to our sister school for a conference, and happened one of the afternoons to be in the campus bookstore. As I browsed the shelves without any real purpose, other than to look for titles that might interest me, my eyes happened to notice a little red pocketsized book entitled RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English. It was $1.99. Without a second’s hesitation, I picked it up and made my way to the checkout to buy it.

Over the years since then, I have read several books on St. Benedict and his Rule, and my relationship with him has grown. For many years his role in my life was simply that of teacher. I tried to emulate the balance in my life that his Rule exhibits; proportionate time for work, study and prayer. Eventually I began to pray the hours of the Church, and his Rule guided me in praying the Psalter and reading the Scriptures. As an Episcopalian, I grew to appreciate his life in ways I had not as a Restoration Movement Christian, but he was still a teacher more than anything else. When I was in Rome several years ago, I purchased one of the saint’s medals, and wore it from time to time. I became associated with a Benedictine monastery in the Episcopal Church, and went there a handful of times on retreat.

But it wasn’t until I began moving toward the Orthodox Church that I realized the role of the saints in the life of the Church and the individual believer. I grew to understand that without me realizing it, St. Benedict had become one of my patron saints. (The other is Blessed Hieromonk Seraphim of Platina, who is as yet not formally canonized.) In the fifteen years since I first met St. Benedict, I cannot knowingly attribute any dramatic and miraculous answers to prayer. St. Benedict does not work quite that way in my life. Rather, after coming to Orthodoxy I simply began to ask his intercessions daily and to daily venerate his icons: to pray that I might crucify the passions, be attentive in my prayers, and become more like Christ. One thing I can attribute to his answered prayers for me is for my strengthening in the Church’s disciplines and to being mindful of the passions when they are as yet but thoughts.

I now regularly read from his Rule, and at lunch often read selections from his Life by St. Gregory the Dialogist (whose feast we celebrated this past Monday). I still go to the Rule for guidance, not only when I seek to reassert balance to my life, but for teaching on simply struggling in the Christian faith toward theosis. My own experience is that St. Benedict is a faithful and sure guide.

God is glorified in his saints, and the glory of God shines brightly in the life and witness of St. Benedict. Holy Father of Monks, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven.

[Note: I have posted the prologue to St. Benedict's Rule on my Wisdom blog here. ]

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While I have previously here remarked on the fact that both my patrons saints left academia to pursue monastic vocations, it took the jest of a friend and co-worker to cause me to wonder if my leaving academia more than two years ago was, in fact, perhaps inevitable. Since, after all, both my patron saints left academia, isn’t there some sort of spiritual gravitational pull impacting me in that regard?

(more…)

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From St. Benedict’s Rule:

The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the sarabaites. These, not having been tested, as gold in the furnace, by any rule or by the lessons of experience, are as soft as lead. In their works they still keep faith with the world, so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God. They live in twos or threes, or even singly, without a shepherd, in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord’s. Their law is the desire for self-gratification: whatever enters their mind or appeals to them, that they call holy; what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.

–Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks

Sarabaites live in small groups without a leader and without a rule to guide them. Remember, St Benedict distinguishes the sarabaites from the coenobites (the monks who live according to a rule in community under an abbot); the gyrovagues (who, like the sarabaites are slaves to their own wills and appetites, but differ in that they are always on the move, always guests, never anchored); and the anchorites or hermits (who after long testing in the monastery live their lives in solitude and prayer).

St Benedict reserves his harshest approbation for these sarabaites. They are essentially religious consumers, monastics in name only who seek experiences which conform to their preferences. Although they are not like the gyrovagues in their unstable restless wanderings, the sarabaites are as unstable in their spiritual lives not being grounded in a community under a common discipline and godly leadership. They lack any check on their sinful inclinations and habits, their blindnesses and prejudices. Their asketical zeal is unchecked by the wise moderation of the Rule. Their asketical laxity is reinforced by the absence of any external motivation. Theirs is a life wholly contained within themselves. They are the measure of all things. But because they have the outward form of a monastic appearance, they deceive the undiscerning. The gyrovagues are here and gone. Perhaps they will attract one or another to run after them, but they do not linger long in any one place to form attachments. The sarabaites however, appear to be what they claim to be. And therein lies the danger. One of the tools for good works in the Rule is not to be called holy before one is truly holy.

The life in the coenobium, the monastic community, is not an exciting one. It is a regular round of work, prayer and study. Every day the office is prayed, every week the same psalms are sung round again. There is discipline to be endured when one steps outside the way of life ordered by the Rule. Mutual submission and poverty and chastity are not exciting things. Duty is far less comforting than following one’s own inclinations.

But, as the Benedictine way of life demonstrates, it is precisely this sort of ordered constraints on ourselves that we need. Few of us lack the strength of character to hold ourselves to an ordered way of life. And those who do have the strength for such often lack the wisdom. Very few of us would seek out hermitage for ourselves. Some of us may find a life of vagrancy somehow appealing. But given the chance, most of us would choose the sarabaites over the Benedictines, having all the appearance of religiousness under the guise of self-centeredness. But these third kind of monks serve as a warning to us. They are empty vessels caught up wholly within themselves.

The better life is in an ordered community under godly leadership, one of mutual submission, generosity and fidelity.

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The Promise of Grace

For as we advance in the religious life [conversationis] and in faith, our hearts expand [dilatato corde] and we run in the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love [inenarrabili dilectionis dulcedine]. The Rule of St Benedict Prologue 49

This of course is written for the monks under the Rule of our holy father, St Benedict. It is a precious enticement for that seeker after the monastic life as he waits those days in the guesthouse, his vocation tested by a wise and godly elder and by the reading of the whole of this Rule. For this manner of life is not an easy one, there is the discipline of struggle, fasting, prayer, godly reading, physical labor, obedience, poverty. But look at what is promised from this life: unspeakable sweetness of love and the expansion of our hearts.

We of course, at least most of us engaging this post, are not monastics, and yet we are not devoid of this promise. We must, of course, temper our lives by disciplines such as these, but always with an eye to the specific vocation we have here and now. As we labor at our work, as we build our home, as we live chastely and faithfully with our spouses, as we parent our children in mercy. We too have our vocations and our disciplines. We, too, though not with St Benedict in the monastic enclosure, have in our days all the fastings, and obediences, and prayers, and poverties that his monks had, though shaped to the forms and norms of our ways of living.

And all these disciplines, onerous though they may be to us in our passions and weaknesses, heavy though they feel at times, yield to us far greater return for that which we give them. Any man who has witnessed the birth of his daughters, who marvels with tears how he can so wildly love this red and squirming, dear, precious person whom he has just met, this sort of man has perhaps only the very slightest of hints of the sweetness of love, of the phenomenon of the expanding heart. But however thin this apprehension, even this is a sweet and warming fire in the heart.

May God give us all this enlargement of the heart from the overflowing grace and sweetness of his love.

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