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. ]