Coptics are from Egypt
As a Protestant I wondered about early Christianity. How did early Christians live, what did they believe, how did they view the world? I thought acquiring knowledge of those early Christians would help in understanding the Bible's written words, but I also wondered whether it was possible to peer that far back in time. The means of preserving and transmitting knowledge of the early believers to the present was full of hazards.
After becoming a Benedictine oblate, I discovered that today's desert monk in Egypt is remarkably similar to his ancient brothers. I did not need to look back in time — just in the right place today — to the Coptic monks of the Egyptian desert. [Overview of the Copts]. Seeing the lives of these modern-day monks is just like looking back 1,700 years to some of the earliest Christians.
Journey Back to Eden and Sacrifice in the Desert are two books about the author's year of living with Coptic monks in 1986-1987 as part of his doctoral research in anthropology. Two Oriental Christians highly recommended Gruber's books, which was good enough for me. They were correct. I highly recommend these books too.
Father Mark Gruber, O.S.B., is a Catholic Benedictine monk at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA. St. Vincent Archabbey is the first Benedictine monastery in the USA.
Journey Back to Eden is the personal journal of Father Mark Gruber's time living with the Coptic monks while Sacrifice in the Desert is his anthropological study of the monks during the same time in the desert.
Just before the conclusion of Sacrifice in the Desert, Gruber writes, "Religion has a grammar of which language has no knowledge."1 After previewing both books and with a slightly better sense of the monastic charism, I start the books with the hope that acquiring knowledge will be the least of the results.
Picture is *100_3398.JPG by cohdra and is used subject to license.
1. Gruber, Mark, and M. Michele Ransil. Sacrifice in the Desert: a Study of an Egyptian Minority through the Prism of Coptic Monasticism. Lanham, MD: University of America, 2003. Page 191.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Sunday, July 25, 2010
An Arab proverb says, "Man fears Time, Time fears the Pyramids." The Coptic church may be the pyramid among Christian traditions. The Coptic Church's stability stands through the centuries despite plunder and persecution that have gradually eroded the church built on other lands.
It may be no coincidence that Christian monasticism was founded by the enduring Copts in the same Egyptian desert where their ancestors built the pyramids.
"Coptic missionaries reached as far as the British Isles long before the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD. Stanley Lane-Poole, the well-known historian, wrote:The ancient Copts gave monasticism to their Christian brothers and sisters, recognized as the greatest contributions from Egypt to the world (another blog on this topic and the Scetis community).
'We do not know yet how much we in the British Isles owe to these remote hermits. It is more than probable that to them we are indebted for the first preaching of the Gospel in England, where, till the coming of Augustine, the Egyptian monastic rule prevailed. But more important is the belief that Irish Christianity, the great civilizing agent of the early Middle Ages among the northern nations, was the child of the Egyptian Church. Seven Egyptian monks are buried at Desert Uldith, and there is much in the ceremonies and architecture of Ireland in the earliest time that reminds one of still earlier Christian remains in Egypt. Every one knows that the handicraft of the Irish monks in the ninth and tenth centuries far excelled anything that could be found elsewhere in Europe; and if the Byzantine-looking decoration can be traced to the influence of Egyptian missionaries, we have more to thank the Copts for than has been imagined.'" From The Coptic Orthodox Church.
"Irish monasteries became centre of learning and centres for the training of missionaries who went out to evangelise in Britain and on the European mainland." From the beautiful Under the Oak blog by Brigit
Copts (meaning Egyptian) are Egyptian Christians who are members of the Coptic Church founded by St. Mark. According to the Copts and some other Christian traditions, the book of Mark is the oldest Gospel narrative.
Copts are ethnically the same as most Egyptians. The Copts look like their Muslim neighbors and speak the same language, but the Copts are Christians who are members of the Coptic Church.
The word Copt is English for the Arabic word Gibt or Gypt. When the Arabs came to Egypt in the early 600s A.D., they called the Egyptians they conquered Gypt which is from the Greek word Egyptos or Egypt. "The Greek word Egyptos came from the ancient Egyptian words Ha-Ka-Ptah or the house or temple of the spirit of God Ptah, one of the major ancient Egyptian Gods."1
I met a Copt online recently. He is a member of the Coptic church (general info on the Coptic church and its ecumenical relations with the Catholic church here and here.)
My Coptic online friend speaks about the past and present persecution of the Coptic church. When I consider the hardships those devout Christians faced and are still living with today, it is humbling.
I also asked him about monasticism. He knows about the lives of many Coptic monks. He said he was named after Father Bola who lived for nearly 90 years in a place where today there is a monastery bearing his name.
He told me that there is only one aphorism still remembered from Father Bola, "Who avoids trials, avoids God."
The implication of Father Bola's saying might be a fitting description of the Coptic Church through time — they have not avoided trials and stayed close to God. In that closeness to God they have been preserved through suffering.
Philip Jenkins author of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, HarperOne, 2008 studied Christian churches that exist today only as remnants in many formerly Christian lands.
Philip Jenkins said in an interview with Christianity Today the Coptic church is his personal selection as the greatest example of Christian survival in history.
For the Coptic church to be recognized as the leading example of successful faithfulness during prolonged attacks gave me a lot to think about. What is there in the Coptic church that has infused such strength and stamina? I don't know.
From the little interaction I have with Coptic Christians online, there seems to be a greater intensity — but certainly the Copts might describe something else. Parents naming their sons after a monk whose only saying carried down through the years is, "Who avoids trials, avoids God" may be a good place to start looking for the answer.
As you know, my wife and I are studying John Cassian's Conferences and that has caused us to look more into the early Coptic desert monastic fathers.
Much of what endures in the wider church is associated with monasticism and its sheer endurance in the lives of faithful men and women. They return to the desert — not to avoid trials of the world, but to engage the enemy with the only weapon that lasts throughout time — God alone.
Picture is Coptic Egypt by ctsnow and is used subject to license.
1. Quote is from Copts.com.
For more extensive information on the Coptic church see the Coptic Encyclopedia at Coptic.net.
Thanks to Joe Rawls whose blog is The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic, I learned about a Coptic monastery in the USA. It is the St. Antony's Monastery in Barstow, the California desert. The monastery's website has a good Coptic overview.
Monasticism is a well-organized and detailed description of Coptic monasticism compiled Mark Mikhael and edited by Father Daniel Al-Anthouny in Australia.
Coptic Cairo is a beautiful site about Coptic culture.
I blogged about the Valley of Natron — Scetis — where a prominent early monastic settlement was established and still exists.
Here is the beautiful home page of the website (not in English) of St. Mary Monastery (El Sourian Monastery)- Wadi El Natron. I found a page of fabulous pictures and videos (at the bottom of the screen) here.
Additional Coptic monasteries.
If you came from Facebook and saw Saint Cecilia's picture, for some reason Facebook got the picture at the bottom of this blog rather than the one at the top. You can read about Saint Cecilia at the bottom of the screen, that's where her picture is.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Antique Russian Icon
The Benedictines (530 AD) were the only religious order(1) existing prior to division of the church into Eastern and Western parts in 1054(2). The Franciscans (1209 AD), Dominicans (1216 AD), the Augustinians (1244) and Jesuits (1540 AD) were founded after the Church divided between East and West.(3)
The significance of the antiquity of the Benedictine order is that prior to the division of the Church in 1054 there were Benedictine monasteries in Russia which retained their Benedictine traditions after the division. They may have rejected the Western Church and its pope, but they saw no reason to depart from the Benedictine way. Even today there are Orthodox Benedictine monasteries. One is in Canada. It is the Monastery of Christ the Saviour in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Picture is IMG_1891, Antique Russian Icon for sale at Izmaylovo Market, by beggs and is used subject to license.
(1) The term Benedictine Order is described as follows in the New Advent Encyclopedia:
"The term Order as here applied to the spiritual family of St. Benedict is used in a sense differing somewhat from that in which it is applied to other religious orders. In its ordinary meaning the term implies one complete religious family, made up of a number of monasteries, all of which are subject to a common superior or "general" who usually resides either in Rome or in the mother-house of the order, if there be one. It may be divided into various provinces, according to the countries over which it is spread, each provincial head being immediately subject to the general, just as the superior of each house is subject to his own provincial. This system of centralized authority has never entered into the organization of the Benedictine Order. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists, so to speak, of what are practically a number of orders, called "congregations", each of which is autonomous; all are united, not under the obedience to one general superior, but only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule, which may be modified according to the circumstances of each particular house or congregation. It is in this latter sense that the term Order is applied in this article to all monasteries professing to observe St. Benedict's Rule."
(2) The Great Schism: The Estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom is an article describing the division from the Orthodox aspect. From the Orthodox Christian Information Center website.
(3) The Western church is generally called Catholic and the Eastern church is composed of several churches, the largest being the Orthodox, but the Eastern part of Christianity also includes, for example the Coptic Church. See the several Eastern churches described and listed.
However, there are many Catholic churches in the same areas in the East where the "Eastern" churches are the primary form of Christianity. These are real Catholic -- in communion with the Pope. These churches are called Eastern Catholic churches. See list of Eastern Catholic rites and churches.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
St. Leo Abbey
[Click picture to enlarge, then click on enlarged picture]
Recently I found Bryan Sherwood's blog on which he writes about liturgy, monasticism, and Benedictine spirituality. He's a Benedictine oblate.
He is also a good photographer. Today I saw he had posted a picture of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, USA. Look at the entrance structures in the picture of St. Meinrad. What pretty yellow sandstone. It sure looks familiar. Alert blog readers will spot that St. Leo Abbey has the same St. Meinrad-quarried sandstone. St. Leo's yellow sandstone came from St. Meinrad.
In the 1940s when the St. Leo Abbey was building its Church of the Holy Cross, St. Meinrad trucked its sandstone down to Florida and in return, St. Leo Abbey sent back orange juice from its groves.
Bryan Sherwood's picture is the best example of the same stone used at St. Meinrad. Thanks!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
A new series of home shrine photos has been added to the Oblate Spring website page on how to set up a prayer corner or home altar/shrine. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of each item, such as how they were obtained and their special meanings — just the kind of items for a home shrine/altar.
The heart's shelter is peace of the Holy Spirit. The home should know the heart.
Barb in California has organized and held Benedictine gatherings in her home -- following the Benedictine tradition of hospitality. An interview with Barb has been added to the Oblate Spring website. This is one of two interviews with experts in holding Benedictine gatherings/meetings in the home. The first interview was with Julia in Texas.
Barb gives a step-by-step description of how she plans such home gatherings for the divine office and Benedictine study. Hope you enjoy the interview.
Thank you Barb!
The picture is coffee & sugar by inya and is used subject to license.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Replica of first-century oil lamp
A page has been added to the Oblate Spring website about how to set up a prayer corner or home shrine. Includes pictures of several homes shrines.
The picture on this blog is actually of an oil lamp I own. It is the newest addition to my prayer corner -- a replica of an oil lamp from the times of the earliest Christians. Here is a picture of the oil lamp in my prayer corner.
Remember the house where Paul spoke until after midnight with many lamps? Acts 20. The lamps in the house with Paul could have been like the one shown in the picture. In my case, this replica came with a candle. After the candle was gone, I thought, hey why not fill the lamp with oil and use some candle wick? So, I did. I set the oil lamp on a baker's rack where I keep my books and I took the picture for this blog and the webpage. I left the lamp burning, the flame got bigger the longer it burned and oil spread on the spout. Then the entire spout caught on fire with a huge flame. Hmmm. OK, note to self, leave the first-century oil lamps to the good folks in Troas, but I know that Eutychus would not have fallen asleep with me tending the lamps.
Thankfully, no books were incinerated in the filming for this blog.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Getting directions at night
Scetis is among several areas where the Egyptian desert produced its greatest gift to the world — not the Great Pyramids, not mummies, but monasticism. Beginning about 300 AD Coptic men went to live in the Egyptian desert because they wanted to live the complete Christian life — the life that dwells with God. Some of those Coptic monks went to a remote Egyptian desert valley called Natron. They called their monastic settlements "Scetis" which is Coptic for "to weigh the heart."1 All of Christianity owes its monastic heritage to the Coptic church in Egypt and one of its most important examples, Scetis.
The remote Valley Natron (Wadi Natrun) is where monks established Scetis which consisted of groups of related monastic huts (cells) and settlements. The valley is in Lower Egypt (the northern part of Egypt by the delta of the Nile River).
Scetis is about 25 miles west of the Nile River. In ancient times, Scetis was a day and a night's journey south of Nitria — another monastic area and about a three-day journey northwest of the Great Pyramids.
Monasticism is often associated with stability and perseverance. At the time the Coptic monks went to Valley Natron, the Step Pyramid at Saqqara which is now the oldest free-standing stone structure in the world was already about 3,000 years old. They lived among antiquity even then.
Scetis' remoteness did have a direct connection to the Pyramids and mummies, however. The Valley Natron's ten "salt lakes" were a principal source of Natron also called niter. The Egyptians mined Natron — a salt-like mineral used as a drying agent in embalming. Natron was also used for hardening glass and ceramics.2
The Valley Natron is about 22 miles long and some of it lies below sea level. Low marshes and oases in the valley helped the monks find enough water to live. The water did not taste bad even though it had an unpleasant bituminous odor.
There were no marked routes on the earth leading to the Valley Natron. Travelers needed to know the map of the stars to find their way.3
If the monks chose the word "Scetis" ("to weigh the heart") as a description of their practices, it was a perfect choice. In about 400 AD or a 100 years after the first Coptic monks went to Scetis, the European monk John Cassian was in Scetis recording the monastic way. Weighing the heart was surely how the monks saw the effect of the remote wilderness.4
For monks in Scetis, the ultimate goal was to dwell in the tent of God, but the Scetis desert monks knew there was an intermediate goal — the daily, hourly path to follow. They taught that purity of heart must be the traveler's constant guide — without it the way is lost.4 In Valley Natron purity of heart was weighed.
John Cassian recorded what he learned and brought that Egyptian monastic wisdom back to the west in two key books, the Institutes and Conferences.
It may seem ironic that early Coptic desert monks who sought one of the most remote regions of Egypt developed a way of monastic life that shaped all of subsequent western history.
In addition to the works of John Cassian, the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" are contained in two main series, the Alphabetical and Systematic Series of the Apophthegmata Patrum (from the Greek: apo, from; phtheggomai, to cry out; pater, father). Descriptions of the lives of Coptic desert fathers have also been preserved. Today, three easily-available books give an excellent study of the desert fathers:
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Cistercian studies 59) [Paperback]Many of the monastic principles Cassian lived with in Scetis were taken up and used 130 years later in about 530 AD by St. Benedict in his Rule for monks.
The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers [Paperback]
The Lives of the Desert Fathers: Historia Monachorum in Aegypto (Cistercian Studies No. 34) [Paperback]
The Rule not only contains principles of monastic life from Scetis, but in Chapters 42 and 73 of the Rule, St. Benedict instructs monks to read the Institutes and Conferences (also called Collations). The clear voice of early Egyptian monks in Scetis carries well across the stillness of the desert at night.
St. Benedict became the father of western monasticism. His Rule became a trusted guide in the chaotic breakdown of civilization after the collapse of the western part of the Roman Empire. The Rule of St. Benedict (RB) became the main Rule for all monks in Europe. St. Benedict's monks and his Rule helped preserve the ancient Roman and Greek manuscripts and then reformed European civilization from a new mineral — the salt of the earth.
I blogged about the extensive Benedictine contributions to the world, but it would be equally true to recognize that behind those great accomplishments is Egyptian Coptic Christianity and in particular the Scetis monks.
Picture is M42 Orion by makelessnoise and is used subject to license.
1. Harmless, W. (2004). Desert Christians an introduction to the literature of early monasticism. Oxford [etc.: Oxford University Press, pp 173-175.
2. Natron as a flux.
See especially this interesting article:
The Use of Natron in Human Mummification: A modern
Experiment, (in PDF), by Bob Brier and Ronald S. Wade
3. Harmless, W. (2004). Desert Christians an introduction to the literature of early monasticism. Oxford [etc.: Oxford University Press, pp 173-175.
4. From Cassian's Conferences:
"And so the end of our way of life is indeed the kingdom of God. But what is the (immediate) goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose, because a man who is traveling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey. And when we stood gaping at this remark, the old man proceeded: The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it."
Monday, July 5, 2010
In a recent blog, I summarized the Benedictine contributions to the world. Much of the material was taken from How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization, by Thomas Woods1. I have updated that recent blog by adding the following quote from Cardinal Newman:
St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that 'contended or cried out,' or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again. (Mission of St. Benedict, §9; reprint, p. 67) quoted in Benedictine Monachism, by Cuthbert Butler, London: Longmans, Green &, 1924, page 319-320.__________________________
The picture is All Monks. New Norcia, Western Australia by fastskybus and is used subject to license.
1. Thomas Woods' book is available on Amazon.
As always, any links on the Oblate Spring website or the Oblate blog are for handy reference. I receive no compensation from the links or any purchases you make. I am not associated with any of the companies listed. Hey, if this were an incoming-producing site, it would be better!
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Church of the Holy Cross
St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA
My wife and I went to vespers at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, today. We arrived at 4:00 pm for the evening prayers in the church with the monks at 5:00 pm.
In the hour before the monks arrived in person we read and prayed. I read a portion of St. Augustine's sermon on "A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit." (scroll down in this Office of Readings.) My wife read Cassian's Conferences.
Although a man was praying in the church when we arrived, he left before the start of vespers. My wife and I were the only people to pray with the monks at evening prayer and to watch as they entered and left the church. My wife commented after we arrived back home after 6:00 pm that she had the thought while in the abbey church that it was good that there was someone in the church for vespers. Today it happened to be us.
The monks processed into the church in silence. The monks were wearing their long, white choir robes that make them seem to glide across the floor. There is a rhythm about the way they enter, take their places, sing the divine office, and leave the church. A flow and movement connects all the parts. The monks appear at the entrance — each pair of monks two-by-two — each making the Sign of the Cross together, walking to the front of the church, making one step up together onto the platform, taking a few more steps, and then bowing to each other before they go to sit in the choir stalls. They sing the divine office and then process out to complete this liturgy (public worship). And like the other hours in the divine office, this evening monastic prayer constitutes and joins with the Catholic (universal) Church at prayer.
The architecture of the Church of the Holy Cross makes the St. Leo Abbey vespers a beautiful part of the Church at prayer. The abbey church is well suited to show the cadence of the procession into the church as the monks take their places in the mirror-image choir stalls. The series of arches along both sides of the church moves the eye toward the front of the church, the rows of pews are markers as each pair of monks moves along the way, and the step onto the choir-stall platform is a physical step up anticipating the monks lifting their hearts and voices to God.
Even though we are not able to visit the abbey often, being able to pray with the monks is a major part of our lives. We will think about the prayers for days. And we know that we are blessed by God to be able to have a monastery close to our home.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
Kylemore Abbey, Republic of Ireland
The Benedictine monastic way has produced some of the greatest achievements in all of history. Thomas Woods, author of How the Catholic Church built Western Civilization, said,
"The monks played a critical role in the development of Western civilization...This historical fact comes as less of a surprise when we recall Christ's words: 'Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added unto you.' That, stated simply, is the history of the monks."1Much of the following is taken from Woods' excellent book:
The Benedictines enshrined work as a means to glorify God, the Benedictines preserved ancient texts. Virtually every ancient text that survived to the eighth century has survived to today.
The Benedictines were pioneers in all forms of agriculture. A modern expert noted that "every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located."2
Benedictine monks developed Sweden's commerce in corn, Ireland's salmon fisheries, and Para, Italy's cheese making. "Please pass the Parmesan cheese. Thank you monks."
It was the Benedictines who first improved cattle breeding by other than random means. But it is a monk of another order — the Augustinians' — Gregor Johann Mendel (1822 - 1884) who is known to all biology students as the father of the modern science of genetics.
The Benedictines fostered the production of great wine. In 1531 Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne, in southern France produced sparkling wine (champagne is a sparkling wine).
Although Dom Perignon (late 1600s) of Saint Peter's Abbey, Hautvilliers-on-the-Marne, did not invent champagne, his deserved fame as the father of champagne comes from the fact that Dom Perignon did develop many of the modern techniques used in the effective production of champagne, including the use of wire to hold the cork in place. Pop!
The Benedictine band made technological advancements in architecture and buildings. They expanded the use of water power and directed spring waters to Paris.
A Benedictine monk made the first modern clock in about 996 AD.
About 1200 AD a Benedictine monk built and tested a glider that went 600 feet.
The English Benedictines developed advanced furnaces for the production of metals — specifically the extraction of iron from ore. Within in the last 20 years an archeometallurgist discovered that the slag (a byproduct of smelting) from an early 1500s English Benedictine smelting furnace showed a level of technological sophistication that was not achieved until much later by other inventors.
An English king's short-sighted suppression of the English monasteries stopped the work of talented Benedictines who now appear to have been on the verge of the techniques that sparked the advances of the industrial age 200 years later.
Cardinal Newman would have understood why such Benedictine abilities and effective endeavors passed without notice at the time only to be recognized recently in the light of better 20-20 hindsight:
St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that 'contended or cried out,' or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again. (Mission of St. Benedict, §9; reprint, p. 67) quoted in Butler, Cuthbert. Benedictine Monachism. London: Longmans, Green &, 1924, page 319-320.While some people think of monasteries as being shut away from the world, that view gives a too narrow view of how monastic life affects and enhances the wider community. Benedictine monasteries were places of beauty and learning, as focus on God often is.
"These monasteries too, presented pictures of a cultured society engaged in the pursuit of art, literature, and science, while at the same time they exemplified in themselves the benefits which civilization brought into every detail of daily life. If the "Pax Romana" had been a blessing in an earlier age, the "Pax Benedictina" brought with it even greater happiness, for now both supernatural and natural benefits were simultaneously put in reach of everyone alike."3When it came to using modern means of communication virtually no one surpassed the Benedictine monks — I am speaking of those like Abbot Fredegise at Saint Martin’s Abbey (early 800s AD) who helped develop the Carolingian minuscule — a better form of writing. Before the monks put there hooded heads to task, Europe had many forms of scripts such as
ALLCAPITALLETTERSANDNOPUNCTUATIONAfter the work of Abbot Fredegise, Europe and its future had a form of writing with lower case letters, spaces between the words, and punctuation. These advancements led to easy reading and writing — and widespread learning — which helped build the new civilization.
During centuries of upheaval, barbarian invasions, and cultural collapse, perhaps the most under recognized achievement of the Benedictine monks was that they existed at all and were able to maintain monastic houses as islands above the worldly wash. Amid chaos, they were places of prayer, work, and reading. Those three Benedictine characteristics helped build the greatest civilization ever known.
By the 1500s the Benedictines had given the Church 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, 1,500 canonized saints, 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens.
At its pinnacle, Benedictine Europe had 37,000 Benedictine monasteries. Many cities of today trace their origins to such monastic houses.
All these Benedictine accomplishments should be seen as secondary to the greater accomplishment of spreading the good news of life to a "chaotic and pagan Europe."4
St. Benedict — the first Benedictine — is also known for another accomplishment — compiling his famous Rule in about 530 AD. Other than the Bible, the Rule of St. Benedict has been called the most important book in the development of European civilization.
This Rule for monks, sisters and nuns guides many people seeking to dwell with God. That was the goal to which St. Benedict aspired. All else was secondary.
For St. Benedict who lived in a time of cultural chaos and wars, he was guided by a simple charge:
"prefer nothing to the love of Christ"All the accomplishments flowed from that truth about the human condition. The Benedictines' accomplishments have earned them the right to be heard by anyone wanting to live in the "real world" — it is the one the Benedictines help build.
On July 5, 2010 I updated this blog by adding the Newman quote. It was too good to leave out.
Picture is Kylemore Abbey by Jule_Berlin and is used subject to license.
At Jule_Berlin's Flickr page there is the following description of this most beautiful abbey:
Kylemore Abbey (Irish: Mainistir na Coille Móire) is a Benedictine nunnery founded in 1920 on the grounds of Kylemore Castle, in Connemara, County Galway, Republic of Ireland. The abbey was founded when Benedictine Nuns fled Belgium in World War I.1. Woods, Jr. Thomas E. How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Grand Rapids: Regnery, Inc., 2005. P. 60.
Originally called Kylemore Castle, it was built between 1863 and 1868 as a private home for the family of Mitchell Henry, a wealthy politician from Manchester, England who was also MP for Galway County from 1871 to 1885. After the death of his wife Margaret in 1875, Mitchell did not spend much time there. He and his wife are both buried in the small mausoleum near the church in the grounds of the abbey. Notable features of the abbey are the neo-Gothic church (built between 1877 and 1881), a miniature replica of Norwich Cathedral, made from local green Connemara marble, and the Victorian walled garden.
The abbey houses a secondary girls' boarding school, Kylemore Abbey International Girls' School. The house and gardens are open to the public.
The name Kylemore originates from the Irish words Coill Mór – meaning Great Wood.
2. Id. P. 29.
3. "The Benedictines" by Dom Bruno Hicks, (1878-1954)
4. Dom David Knowles, "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns, Second Edition, page 50 in chapter 6. Forward by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B. Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey, The Abbey Press, Saint Leo, Florida, 1962
Online version (but this online version omits chapters 5 and 6, the last two chapters).
Friday, July 2, 2010
Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon, USA, posted a great blog. A short excerpt sets the scene June 24, 2010.
"Postulant Patricia officially began her formation in monastic life in a ceremony that comes from the 6th century Rule of Benedict. That Rule, in Chapter 58, speaks about a newcomer knocking on the door of the monastery and being granted admission if she "shows eagerness for the Work of God, for obedience and for trials...that will lead to God."The blog goes on to explain in classic Benedictine style and language how the welcome ceremony proceeded from a literal knock on the monastery door to the final blessing.
As the Prologue is to Rule's 73 chapters, the ceremony beautifully describes the beginning of Postulant Patricia's first steps in monastic life. This is the path — an ancient spirit lives.
Thank you Queen of Angels Monastery for posting a remarkable blog on monasticism. It should be read by everyone interested in the Benedictine monastic life and especially by anyone considering the calling as a sister, nun, or monk.
Congratulations to Postulant Patricia.
Picture is Ancient door 1 in the convent "Marienberg" South Tirol - Italy by alexwall and is used subject to license.
Contact information for the Queen of Angels Monastery, Mt. Angel, Oregon, USA:Note: Under the label “An Ancient Spirit Lives” are blogs, web sites, and videos that best reveal the most ancient monastic principles — first light in the monastic day. These are essential truths I hope I never forget and ones that carry the ancient ways into my understanding today. In the past two years of the Oblate Blog, there have been a total of three such blogs of "An Ancient Spirit Lives." An alert reader may quip, "you must not understand very much" — I would readily agree.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Compline at Home
I interviewed Julia Smead about having a Benedictine Gathering at home or at a church. Here is the interview with Julia Smead.
A big public Thank You to Julia Smead for her time in being interviewed online -- that means a lot of typing for her -- and for the pictures she e-mailed about the group. She also e-mailed many examples of the excellent materials she prepares for the group sessions. Those materials are also linked in the interview.
The picture at the top of this blog is provided by Julia Smead. It shows Compline at her home.
At the end of Compline they turn out the lights, and with the candles, they have several minutes of silent meditation. Silence is sometimes the biggest adjustment for those not familiar with Benedictine practices. Julia Smead said:
"The one thing that is very difficult for people to assimilate to is the silence. It's also the thing that keeps them coming back. When I hear folks share with others about our group, the silence is what they talk about. We have two blocks of time when we're silent: following Vespers/while we're eating dinner; and after Compline as we enter the Great Silence."
After you read the interview, take the poll in the right sidebar of this blog.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Picture by cohdra
[Click picture to enlarge]
My wife and I are reading and discussing Cassian's "Conferences". Here is my first blog on our Cassian reading 1.
Cassian's classic book made me want to go to the old well of Eastern monasticism. I want to understand the ascetic life as Cassian, St. Anthony of Egypt, and the other early writers understood it.
My wife and I are amazed at the concise presentation of the monastic way in Cassian's "Conferences." All extraneous ideas are omitted.
The abbots who present the conferences portray the monastic process in an orderly manner — no fluff or fog. They describe the goal and the path to attain it.
Although details matter, the "Conferences" are not intellectually complex. Hey, that's for me. It is a way of beginning as St. Benedict says in Chapter 73 of the Rule 2.
Abbot Moses is the main speaker in the following excerpt from "Conferences" #1:
Wherefore, said he, answer and tell me what is the goal and end, which incite you to endure all these things so cheerfully.Christian monasticism has at least an 1,800-year track record. That history goes a long way to validate both the principles and the practices given by desert abbots and writers of monastic rules: Here is a way to dwell in the tent of God, begin here.
AND when he insisted on eliciting an opinion from us on this question, we [Cassian and Germanus] replied that we endured all this for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
TO which he [Abbot Moses] replied: Good, you have spoken cleverly of the (ultimate) end. But what should be our (immediate) goal or mark, by constantly sticking close to which we can gain our end, you ought first to know.
And when we frankly confessed our ignorance, he proceeded:
The first thing, as I said, in all the arts and sciences is to have some goal, i.e., a mark for the mind, and constant mental purpose, for unless a man keeps this before him with all diligence and persistence, he will never succeed in arriving at the ultimate aim and the gain which he desires.
For, as I said, the farmer who has for his aim to live free from care and with plenty, while his crops are springing has this as his immediate object and goal; viz., to keep his field clear from all brambles, and weeds, and does not fancy that he can otherwise ensure wealth and a peaceful end, unless he first secures by some plan of work and hope that which he is anxious to obtain.
The business man too does not lay aside the desire of procuring wares, by means of which he may more profitably amass riches, because he would desire gain to no purpose, unless he chose the road which leads to it.
And those men who are anxious to be decorated with the honours of this world, first make up their minds to what duties and conditions they must devote themselves, that in the regular course of hope they may succeed in gaining the honours they desire.
And so the end of our way of life is indeed the kingdom of God. But what is the (immediate) goal you must earnestly ask, for if it is not in the same way discovered by us, we shall strive and wear ourselves out to no purpose, because a man who is travelling in a wrong direction, has all the trouble and gets none of the good of his journey.
And when we stood gaping at this remark, the old man proceeded:
The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it.
Picture is Copy_of_100_2640cpy.jpg by cohdra and is used subject to license.
1 The first blog on our reading of Cassian's "Conferences" is titled, "Cassian – Our Summer Reading." I wish I had titled it "Cassian – Our Reading for the weeks after Pentecost." I feel this is the time of the Holy Spirit.
2. The translation of the Rule of St. Benedict (short or long in PDF biography of St. Benedict) linked in this blog says the Rule is "a beginning:"
Thou, therefore, who hastenest to the heavenly home, with the help of Christ fulfil this least rule written for a beginning; and then thou shalt with God's help attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above.Instead of "a beginning," many English translations have that the Rule is for "beginners."
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Rainbow by cohdra
I have been visiting St. Leo Abbey and praying the divine office for some time now. People who do not pray the divine office may think that it would be boringly repetitious. But each divine office prayed with the monks and each private prayer of the divine office I do at home is different from all others.
Some divine office elements change each day and I could point to the differences in content. Much of the difficulty I have in flipping around in The Monastic Diurnal (MD) and Benedictine Daily Prayer (BDP) stems from the changing content. The variable content means many offices are different.
But the newness of each divine office comes mostly from how God's mercy is new each day and for each office even the little hours and compline. The Lord's hourly care for the soul is the blessing for those who pray the divine office. Those monks knew the path.
Picture is PIC1079491066.jpg by cohdra and is used subject to license.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Picture: by cohdra
[Click picture to enlarge]
Before I started visiting St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, I thought secluded monks had excluded themselves from most human interaction and therefore were irrelevant because they had no communication with the rest of the world -- where I lived.
I came to see that such an idea was misleading. For example, a large amount of written materials about the earliest Christian monks comes from the sayings/wisdom of the Egyptian desert fathers. This material generally comes from a collection of documents called the Apophthegmata Patrum which is from the Greek: apo, from; phtheggomai, to cry out; pater, father.
Even the name of this collection tends to erode the idea of complete exclusion — the name refers to what they passed on to their spiritual children. There is a large amount of such material -- the monks really had much to say and expected people to hear it.
Monks may have been secluded, but they kept the means and lines of communications open for the information they thought was most important. The early monks were like 50,000-watt radio stations in the desert, broadcasting on a clear channel. We can still tune in today.
Picture is cohdranknalchmy19.JPG by cohdra and is used subject to license.
Monday, June 21, 2010
Old English Sheepdog
Recently, I found that the Liturgy Office of England and Wales (The Bishops of England and Wales) has an English translation of the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours (GILOH). The file is in PDF. The English-English translation is excellent. I rely on it more than the American-English version offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Another advantage of the English-English version is that the footnotes are at the bottom of the page rather than at the back as is the case with the EWTN online version of the USCCB version. And the English-English version uses less abbreviations in the footnotes so it is easier for a LOH novice like me to understand the reference without referring to the list of abbreviations.
For those who prefer the style of American-English, the USCCB GILOH is available online courtesy of the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), or by purchase from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), or in the 4-Volume "Liturgy of the Hours." I do not know whether the GILOH is available in other books such as "Christian Prayer - Liturgy of the Hours."
If you are studying the GILOH, compare the two English translations versions, you might also have a preference or just want to use both for a fuller sense of each section of the GILOH.
Picture is dewollewei from OES.org, the community of "Old English Sheepdog Lovers".
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Picture: by cohdra
[Click picture to enlarge]
I am new to the Catholic faith and new to being a Benedictine oblate. And coming from a completely non-Catholic background means there is so much I do not know. My biggest problem is finding Catholic sources that thoroughly explain topics systematically.
Having come from the Calvinist — Reformed Tradition of Protestant Christianity, I became used to vast amounts of well-organized materials that are remarkably effective in teaching every tiny part as well as the big picture to people who knew nothing about a particular subject.
As I began to look for quality Catholic reference materials I discovered that many modern Catholic materials — at least to me — are more confusing and less complete than materials written before Vatican II. Of course, there are excellent, high quality modern materials. The Catechism and Compendium come easily to mind in that category.
A 1920 book is a great example of a wonderful pre-Vatican II resource that helped me understand the history of the Breviary [pronounced BRE-vuh-re] and the structure of the divine office (the Oblate Spring web site has an example of the divine office). The book is the 1920 "The Divine Office -- A Study of the Roman Breviary," by By Rev. E.J. Quigley.
The well organized and highly effective Canons Regular of St. John Cantius in Chicago, Illinois, USA, have the book in a beautifully formatted online version.
The fine folks over at Project Gutenberg also have the book online in one file so I will use the Project Gutenberg version for text searches. The book is also available at Amazon.
Here is an excerpt from the 1920 "The Divine Office -- A Study of the Roman Breviary":
PART I.End of Quote
THE DIVINE OFFICE CHAPTER I.
IDEA OF THE BREVIARY.
Etymology. — The word, Breviary, comes from an old Latin word, Breviarium, an abridgment, a compendium. The name was given to the Divine Office, because it is an abridgment or abstract made from holy scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints. The word had various meanings assigned to it by early Christian writers, but the title, Breviary, as it is employed to-day—that is, a book containing the entire canonical office—appears to date from the eleventh century. Probably it was first used in this sense to denote the abridgment made by Pope Saint Gregory VII. (1013-1085), about the year 1080.
Definition. — The Breviary may be defined as "the collection of vocal prayers established by the Church, which must be recited daily by persons deputed for that purpose."
Explanation of the Definition. — "Prayers," this word includes not only the prayers properly so called, but also, the whole matter of the divine office. "Vocal," the Church orders the vocal recitation, the pronunciation of each word. "Established by the Church," to distinguish the official prayers of obligation from those which the faithful may choose according to their taste. "Which must be recited," for the recitation is strictly obligatory. "Daily," the Church has fixed these prayers for every day of the year, and even for certain hours of the day. "By persons deputed for that purpose," therefore, persons in holy orders recite these prayers not in their own name, but as representatives of the universal Church.
Different Names for the Breviary. — This book which is, with us, commonly called the Breviary, has borne and still bears different names, amongst both Latins and Greeks.
Amongst the Latins, the recitation of the Breviary was called the Office (officium), that is, the duty, the function, the office; because it is, par excellence, the duty, function and office of persons consecrated to God. This is the oldest and most universal name for the Breviary and its recitation. It was called, too, the Divine Office (officium divinum), because it has God for its principal object and is recited by persons consecrated to God. It is called the ecclesiastical office (officium ecclesiasticum), because it was instituted by the Church. Other names were, Opus Dei; Agenda; Pensum servitutis; Horae; Horae Canonicae.
Which books were employed in olden times in reciting the Office?
Before the eleventh century the prayers of the Divine Office were not all contained in one book, as they are now in the Breviary, which is an abridgment or compendium of several books. The recitation of the Office required the Psaltery, the Lectionary, the Book of Homilies, the Legendary, the Antiphonarium, the Hymnal, the Book of Collects, the Martyrology, the Rubrics. The Psaltery contained the psalms; the Lectionary (thirteenth century) contained the lessons of the first and second nocturn; the Book of Homilies, the homilies of the Fathers; the Legendary (before the thirteenth century), the lives of the saints read on their feast days. The Hymnal contained hymns; the Book of Collects, prayers, collects and chapters; the Martyrology contained the names with brief lives of the martyrs; the Rubrics, the rules to be followed in the recitation of the Office. To-day, we have traces of this ancient custom in our different choir books, the Psalter, the Gradual, the Antiphonarium. There were not standard editions of these old books, and great diversities of use and text were in existence.
Divisions of the Divine Office. — How is the daily Office divided? The Office is divided into the night Office and the day Office. The night Office is so called because it was originally recited at night. It embraces three nocturns and Lauds. The day Office embraces Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.
Parts or Hours of the Office. — How many parts or hours go to make up the Office? Rome counts seven, and seven only; and this is the number commonly counted by liturgists and theologians. They reckon Matins and Lauds as one hour.
The old writers on liturgy ask the question: "Why has the Church reckoned seven hours only?" Their replies are summarised well by Newman: "In subsequent times the hours of prayer were gradually developed from the three or (with midnight) the four seasons above enumerated to seven, viz.:–by the addition of Prime (the first hour), Vespers (the evening), and Compline (bedtime) according to the words of the Psalm—'Seven times a day do I praise thee, because of thy righteous judgments.' Other pious and instructive reasons existed, or have since been perceived, for this number. It was a memorial of the seven days of creation; it was an honour done to the seven petitions given us by our Lord in His prayer; it was a mode of pleading for the influence of that Spirit, who is revealed to us as sevenfold; on the other hand, it was a preservative against those seven evil spirits which are apt to return to the exorcised soul, more wicked than he who has been driven out of it; and it was a fit remedy of those successive falls which, scripture says, happen to the 'just man' daily." (Tracts for the Times, No. 75. "On the Roman Breviary.")
"Matutina ligat Christum qui crimina purgat, Prima replet sputis. Causam dat Tertia mortis. Sexta cruci nectit. Latus ejus Nona bipertit. Vespera deponit. Tumulo completa reponit. Haec sunt septenis propter quae psallimus horas.""At Matins bound;(Gloss. Cap. I. De Missa)
at Prime reviled;
Condemned to death at Tierce;
Nailed to the Cross at Sext;
at None His blessed Side they pierce.
They take him down at Vesper-tide;
In grave at Compline lay,
Who thenceforth bids His Church observe
The sevenfold hours alway."
Thus, this old author connects the seven hours with the scenes of the Passion. Another author finds in the hours a reminder and a warning that we should devote every stage of our lives to God. For the seven canonical hours, he writes, bear a striking resemblance to the seven ages of man.
Matins, the night office, typifies the pre-natal stage of life. Lauds, the office of dawn, seems to resemble the beginnings of childhood. Prime recalls to him youth. Terce, recited when the sun is high in the heavens shedding brilliant light, symbolises early manhood with its strength and glory. Sext typifies mature age. None, recited when the sun is declining, suggests man in his middle age. Vespers reminds all of decrepit age gliding gently down to the grave. Compline, night prayer said before sleep, should remind us of the great night, death.
Picture is cohdranknmath10.JPG by cohdra and is used subject to license.
 Note: St. Benedict's Rule in Chapter 16 counts the hours differently:
Chapter 16: How the Work of God Is to Be Performed During the Day
"Seven times in the day," says the Prophet, "I have rendered praise to You" (Ps. 118:164).
Now that sacred number of seven will be fulfilled by us if we perform the Offices of our service at the time of the Morning Office, of Prime, of Terce, of Sext, of None, of Vespers and of Compline, since it was of these day Hours that he said, "Seven times in the day I have rendered praise to You" (Ps. 118:164).
For as to the Night Office the same Prophet says, "In the middle of the night I arose to glorify You" (Ps. 118:62). Let us therefore bring our tribute of praise to our Creator "for the judgments of His justice"
at these times: the Morning Office, Prime, Terce, Sext, None,
Vespers and Compline; and in the night let us arise to glorify Him (Ps. 118:164,62).
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Picture: Cristo Redentor
My wife and I are studying Cassian's Conferences. I blogged about our study a few days ago.
We study Cassian because we want to hear the monastic/ascetic message from those who were closest to its earliest desert blooms. Cassian wrote about 400 AD. St. Benedict's Rule recommends that monks read Cassian.
Hundreds of books have been written in the past 50 years about spirituality and knowing God. I do not know which books will still be on the must-read list in the year 3600 -- Cassian's will.
We like Cassian because of the substance, the depth, and the full presentation of the life seeking to dwell with God. But here is the interesting thing — clarity in our hearts comes from that substance and full presentation. Reading the ancient works is the best way for us to know what they saw while listening to God — the clarity of pure light.
Picture is Cristo Redentor by idman and is used subject to license.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Picture: By cohdra
[Click picture to enlarge]
The New Advent Encyclopedia's Easter article has this quote about the effect of Easter on how we set liturgical time:
"Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast (festum festorum), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year. The order of Sundays from Septuagesima to the last Sunday after Pentecost, the feast of the Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and all other movable feasts, from that of the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden (Tuesday after Septuagesima) to the feast of the Sacred Heart (Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi), depend upon the Easter date."The liturgical calendar was changed after Vatican II so some of the information in the above quote may be inapplicable to the current church calendar, but the main points about how Easter's date controls the movable feasts until the end of the liturgical calendar was a big light bulb in my liturgical mind.
I have always felt there is something different about using the liturgical calendar to establish my relation to time. The above quote has helped me start looking in the right place — I think.
As the quote from the Easter article shows, for much of the liturgical year, time is imprinted with the effects God's great power (the resurrection).
The liturgical calendar gets its substance from the central event in human history rather than from mere astronomical markings. This enables the pattern of liturgical time to strengthen the praying heart.
Picture is cohdranknhangers2.JPG by cohdra and is used subject to license.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Church of the Holy Cross at
St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA
[Click picture to enlarge]
Over 1.5 million people live within a 45-minute drive to St. Leo Abbey. Five of us visited the abbey today to pray vespers with this Catholic Benedictine monk community -- the only one in Florida.
I was by myself and there was the man staying in the guest house — we met and talked with him last Sunday in the abbey bookstore — and there was a family of 3 including a child about 8 years old.
Five visitors is about average -- to pray with the monks during their times of the divine office. It is easy to greet and exchange a couple of words (literally) with every visitor and I try to do that if possible — and other visitors will often smile and speak first to me as well — again, these are not conversations — just a sincere smile and acknowledgment.
I can't remember the last time anyone was not considerate of the stillness that attends the prayers or the obvious desire of all visitors to spend the time in prayer rather than chatting.
Today after the last words of vespers, all of the monks and the visitors bow to the altar and then the monks walk out of the Church of the Holy Cross in silence as they go to dinner. The visitors are standing as the monks exit and we stand still until the last monk has left the church — well, the last monk except the guest master monk who takes care of the microphones, lights, and guests staying for dinner. And there is one other monk who stays -- the monk who plays the organ.
The monk who plays the organ will always, as he did today keep playing while the visitors — now alone in the dimly lit church after the other monks have left — gather their belongings and begin to walk to the big double doors. His gesture of accompanying us with beautiful music as we leave is a perfect example of Benedictine hospitality. I always have the feeling that he is thinking: "this little musical blessing is also for the other 1,499,995."
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
[Click picture to enlarge]
Lectio divina, praying the divine office, the treasured spiritual retreats at a monastery, and time spent at rest in the harbor of silence, are all helped by several home improvements.
Big Ben Chimes. Every fifteen minutes we hear beautiful chimes just like those at the St. Leo Abbey where we visit. Our chimes are played on an inexpensive second-hand computer we bought from a man who repairs and then resells old computers. The computer is connected to a pair of deep bass speakers and another set of wireless speakers located in another part of the house. Every fifteen minutes we are reminded to pray. We use this chimes program. The sound from this program is of very high quality.
Wind Chimes. We like to be reminded of the Holy Spirit and the wind chimes give that reminder in beautiful sounds. Both the Big Ben Chimes and the wind chimes outside our home illustrate that although we often speak of making our home quieter, that is somewhat misleading. What we actually want to do is replace noise from the world with sounds that call us to God's peace and turn our hearts to his path. We have the grandfather chimes from Jacob chimes.
Phone flasher. Silencing the phone is a way to avoid noisy disruptions. We bought the KMFT-793 Krown Strobe Visual Flasher that allows us to see a very subtle flashing light anytime we have a phone call. Although the small flasher is called a strobe, if you are imagining the strobe lights you have seen on emergency vehicles or remember from your college days (oh, boy) — you have the wrong image of the Krown Flasher — the light is subdued and lacks anything that could be called intense.
Prayer chair. Some fortunate oblates have rooms in their homes set aside for prayer. We have not been able to do that, but I have a chair that is used for praying the divine office and lectio divina.
Candles for prayer. I like to light a candle when praying the divine office. We will light a sanctuary-style candle in the weeks before we go on retreats at the abbey.
Incense. I have not used incense yet, but after writing this blog, thought it would be another practice I should try. You can get incense online from the incense shop of Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel who are in Texas, USA.
Shades open. We like to have as much natural light in our home as possible and are surprised by the number of people whose homes have the shades or blinds shut so the home is always dark. I think people were meant to live in the light.
Home Shrine. We do not have one, but here are some links to pictures of home "altars" or places of prayer. I liked each of these examples of drawing close to God. The links are to a thread about home shrines on the Catholic Answers forum. It is a long thread and I selected some of the most recent pictures. The short descriptions are my own -- my impression of the pictures.
Simple, BenedictineBook stand. My wife reads without one, but I like to use a small wooden book stand when I am sitting in the prayer chair. I use the books The Monastic Diurnal and Benedictine Daily Prayer, both require a lot of flipping back and forth. The book stand helps.
Icon beauty in gold
Celtic ocean calm
Mother and child
Prayer reading corner
Gardens. This takes the most time and is constantly on our list of projects, but no matter how large or small, some form of garden is part of the monastic pattern.
How does your home help you on the journey to dwell with God?
The garden picture at the top of this blog is 000_0008_0001ENHsml.jpg by cohdra and is used subject to license.
I have linked to several of the products we use -- there are places where similar or superior products might be bought and I receive no compensation for the links placed in this blog or any purchases you make. I am not associated with any of the companies listed. You must decide if any of the products would help your home, but I do think it is a sign that the first review on Amazon for the Krown Strobe Visual Flasher said the unit was purchased for a church! :)
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Church of the Holy Cross,
St. Leo Abbey, Florida
[Click picture to enlarge]
My wife and I are reading the Conferences of John Cassian in a translation by Edgar C. S. Gibson available at the fine Order of St. Benedict website - Cassian. This translation of the Conferences was published in 1894 as part of "A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11."
About every day we read a chapter in the Cassian's Conferences and then discuss it.
We almost always identify the same key points in a chapter and we give the same explanation of what the chapter means for the contemplative life. I take this to mean that Cassian wrote clearly and there's not much left for: "and what does this chapter mean to you?" We talk about what the abbots meant. The Conferences are easier to read than I thought.
And we each add observations based on our own interests — my wife might mention something that is similar to an idea from St. Teresa of Avila or I will claim I see where something in the Rule of St. Benedict came from Cassian — I actually do not know enough to say "this is from Cassian," but — at least until my wife reads this blog — she does not know that.
We look forward to our discussions of Cassian's Conferences.1
1. St. Benedict mentions Cassian's Institutes and Conferences in Chapter 73 of the Rule of St. Benedict as good reading for the monks.
Cassian was born in what is known today as southern France or in Romania. Cassian lived 360 to 435 AD — which is within a few generations after the end in 313 AD of the Roman persecutions of Christians.
Cassian died about 45 years before the birth in 480 AD of St. Benedict.
Cassian traveled extensively in the Egyptian deserts to learn about monasticism which had began to flourish in Egypt about the time the Roman persecutions were ending.
John Cassian’s accounts and interpretations of the most ancient wisdom of the desert fathers were important in the “transmission of the culture of Egyptian monasticism into the early medieval west.” (John Cassian and Augustine Casiday, Saint John Cassian on prayer (Oxford: SLG P, 2006) pg. # 1.)
St. Benedict of Nursia, Italy. Born at Nursia, c. 480 AD; died at Monte Cassino, Italy, 543 AD. Benedict was author/compiler of a Rule for monks. The Rule consists of 73 short chapters on how to live in a monastery.
St. Benedict’s Rule became the foundation of western monasticism.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Entrance to Church of the Holy Cross at St. Leo Abbey, Florida
[Click picture to enlarge]
I tried to observe the seasons of Lent, Easter and Pentecost with as much concentration as I had. During Lent I tried a mild fast — the first I had ever done. The result was that I have seen first hand why Christians fast — ascesis (rigorous training, self-discipline, or self-restraint) and penance and "mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart."1 Those reasons fit well in the monastic purposes of the Rule of St. Benedict — from the Prologue:
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.And I have a better understanding of the importance of Pentecost as beginning the age in which we live. I like using The Monastic Diurnal because it describes the current part of the liturgical calendar as "weeks after Pentecost."2
I am better able to see the relation of today to Pentecost and also its link to Easter and Lent and Christmas when I mark the time as the weeks after Pentecost.
1. From Paragraph 2043 of the Catechism
2. Here are some of my blogs comparing "The Monastic Diurnal" and "Benedictine Daily Prayer."