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The Order of Saint Benedict is a loose affiliation of monastics of the Orthodox Church who strive to live according to the Rule of St Benedict. While there is no actual incorporated body known as the "Order of Saint Benedict", Orthodox Benedictines enjoy good relations with each other, which frequently cross jurisdictional boundaries.
There are currently at least five Benedictine monastic houses within the Orthodox Church, namely, Our Lady of Mount Royal, under Abbot Augustine (Whitfield); the Christ the Saviour Monastery (or Christminster) is a Benedictine monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and is currently under Abbot James (Deschene); and the Abbey of the Holy Name with its daughter house of St John the Theologian. In addition, an Oblate programme exists at Saint Benedict Russian Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. All of these houses and the parish in Oklahoma City are either under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia or the Holy Synod of Milan. Within the United States of America, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, while having no monastic houses, does have a number of parishes that run an Oblate programme.
The Benedictine monastic tradition began with St Benedict of Nursia himself, who was a Christian monk in the 6th century. Influenced by the writings of Ss Basil the Great and John Cassian, he composed a monastic rule for the ordering of the life of monastic communities in the West, rather than adopting one of the many rules that existed at the time but which had been composed for monks in a very different climate, with different foods available, and so forth. The liturgical traditions he ennumerated conformed to the Roman Rite of the local church; which, it should be noted, was neither as elaborate or as legislated as it later became.
Most of the Benedictine communities existed in the West under what was geographically the canonical jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. After some centuries of increasing distance between Rome and the other four ancient Patriarchates that formed the Pentarchy, (due to doctrinal, linguistic, and cultural differences, and the development of different schools of theology), the Western and Eastern branches of the Church separated, with the Western Church taking with it most of the Benedictine monastic communities that had come to flourish in the West since the time of St Benedict.
However, there were some Benedictines outside of the jurisdiction of Rome who remained Orthodox, not the least of whom were the monks of the Amalfion Monastery, which was a community of Benedictine monks from Italy who had come to reside on Mount Athos in the late 10th century, where they remained until near the end of the 13th century.
Orthodox Benedictines today
The Benedictine tradition was largely lost to the Orthodox Church until the 20th century, when a revival was seen, encouraged by the efforts to restore the Western Rite to Orthodoxy which began in the 19th century.
In 1962, under the leadership of its abbot, Dom Augustine (Whitfield), the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Royal, which had been an Old Catholic monastic community since its foundation in 1910, was received into the Moscow Patriarchal Russian Orthodox Church by Bishop Dositheus (Ivanchenko) of New York. It was later received into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, in 1975, by Archbishop Nikon (Rkitzsky). Mount Royal continues to this day under Abbot Augustine.
In 1993, Bishop Hilarion (Kapral) of Manhattan (now Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) blessed the founding of a new Benedictine monastery under its abbot, Dom James (Deschene). Christ the Saviour Monastery (Christminster) today runs an oblate programme and seeks to make modest provision for the formation of clergy within the Western Rite of the Orthodox Church, a provision lacking in many Orthodox seminaries. It also publishes music and liturgical books to enhance the offering of the Western Rite Orthodox liturgy.
In 1997, Archbishop Hilarion of Sydney (since transferred from Manhattan) received into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia the monastery of Saint Petroc in Tasmania, Australia. This monastic community had been formed as a Continuing Anglican monastery in 1992 under its superior, Hieromonk Michael (Mansbridge-Wood). While it is not a Benedictine foundation it does have a Benedictine presence attached to it and cares for a number of Orthodox missions.
There are currently no female Benedictine monastic houses in the Orthodox Church.
The word Oblate derives from the Latin oblatus, which means "one offered". Oblates of Saint Benedict offer themselves to God in much the same way that monks and nuns do, except that they do not take monastic vows or necessarily live within the monastic enclosure. Rather, they make a commitment to God, in the presence of the monastic community (or the parish community, depending on circumstances) to strive to live according to the Rule of St Benedict as adapted to suit their own life situations. Usually, the Rule is adapted according to the individual spiritual and practical needs of each oblate by the Abbot or Oblate-Master of the monastery to which he is to retain a bond of practical support and spiritual obedience.
Oblates may be male or female, celibate or married. They are not tonsured as monastics, and, unlike monastic vows, their oblation may be revoked at any time. Out of necessity, Antiochian oblates are not usually attached to a monastery, (except for those who are under the direction of Christminster), as there are currently no Benedictine monasteries in that jurisdiction. However, the oblature operates on the parish level.
The Rule of St. Benedict does not stipulate a particular colour for the monastic habit, and the habit of unbleached, undyed, wool has not been unknown among Benedictines. However, the colour most associated with the Benedictine tradition is black, (hence the name "black monk" used to refer to a Benedictine monk), and that is the colour currently worn by Orthodox Benedictines.
The first layer of the habit is the tunic, which is secured in place by a belt. This is the form of habit worn by Oblates during their period of Novitiate. The next layer is the monastic scapular, which is a tabard-like garment worn over the tunic. The tunic, belt, and scapular, (with a head-veil for women), form the complete habit worn by Oblates while in the monastic enclosure and by monastics during the Novitiate. Outside of the monastery, the Oblate simply wears a reduced scapular and the Saint Benedict Medal under civilian clothing. When the monastic makes his solemn profession, he is tonsured and invested with the cowl.
Monastics and Oblates alike, upon their repose, are buried in the habit proper to their order.
- Orthodox Order of St. Benedict - Abbey of St. James
- Orthodox Research Institute article - an article about the now defunct, Benedictine d’Alleray Priory of Paris
- Christ the Saviour Monastery - A male Benedictine community in Hamilton, ON, Canada (also known as Christminster)
- The Oratory of Our Lady of Glastonbury - the monastery chapel of Christminster
- Monastic Oblates: A Brief Overview - an article by Dom James (Deschene) on the Benedictine Oblature
- Oblate Observances - detailing the Observances of the Oblates of Christminster
- Another site with aids for living the oblate life
- Amalfion (.pdf) - An essay on the Benedictine monastery of Mount Athos
- Offices and Prayers of the Oblates of St Benedict (.pdf) - A collection of services and prayers used by Benedictine Oblates under the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America
- St Columba Orthodox Church - detailing the constitution and guidelines of the Antiochian Oblate programme
- The Benedictine Fellowship of St Laurence
- The Mass of St Gregory the Great (.pdf) - The Benedictine Use of Mount Royal
- Directions for the Mass of St Gregory (.pdf) - for use in conjunction with the above