TOWARD A POLICY ON WESTERN-RITE BENEDICTINE MONKS
In light of several developments over the course of the past few years, it has become clear that some formal and definite policy needs to be observed within the western rite of ROCOR with regard to the status of monks in general and Benedictine monks in particular.
It has become clear through our experience at Christminster, with the long-term stay of several eastern-rite monks, that there is a great difference between an eastern monastic and a Benedictine. This difference has little, if anything, to do with rite, but entirely with monastic formation and philosophy.
The Holy Rule of our father Saint Benedict is a well-tested classical foundation for a solid and sane monastic life. Its genius has been tried and recognized over centuries and its wisdom is unquestioned – at least this is so among western-rite Orthodox Benedictines. In his Rule, Saint Benedict makes clear that his monasticism is clearly a cenobitic one, for monks in community. His scorn for solitary gyrovagues, loosely defined “monks” and premature hermits is unquestionable
His Rule is based on the principle that one works out one’s monastic vocation, not by oneself, but precisely through and within the dynamics of a stable and specific community. To this community an aspirant is first of all to be denied easy admission, and the difficulties of living in community are to be firmly pointed out to him. He is in fact to be at first heartily discouraged from a monastic vocation, and is to have all the dura et aspera of the vocation made clear.
The reason for this is that, like marriage, the monk is entering into a new and communal life that requires the shedding and indeed the death of the former individual self and the growth and formation of a new monastic self-in-community. This is accomplished, as in marriage, by solemn commitment to stability, continual reformation of life, and obedience – the three vows of the Benedictine monk. As with the marriage vows, these bind the monk, until death, to one specific monastic community, to the daily reformation of life in that community, and the continual subjection of every individualistic and selfish element to the will of another – this being the Rule, the Abbot or the demands of communal life itself, especially the demands – and they are demands – of charity and humility toward one’s brethren.
Obviously this wise and well-programmed discipline is not to be taken or entered into lightly, no more than a marriage would or should be. And the disasters of entering marriage unprepared for its self-reforming discipline are clearly and widely seen in our society. So are the disasters of entering the Benedictine life and discipline lightly or unadvisedly or without the clear presence and direction of a community and abbot.
The formation for this difficult discipline of life may take several years within community before the monastic is allowed to make his formal commitment for life. But once he does it is – like marriage – a commitment to this Rule, this community, and monastic obedience for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, etc., until death.
Thus to presume that one can become a monk instantly or with no long preparation and formation within a specific Benedictine community and under the Rule and direction of an abbot – is a formula for failure and is seriously disrespectful of the tried and true tradition of Saint Benedict and his Rule.
If an eastern-rite monk, of however long standing, wishes to become a Benedictine monk, he must undergo the formation and discipline required by Saint Benedict and his Rule. He must be examined, like any other candidate, for a capability and aptitude to live the life in a specific community. It would be entirely unfair, to both the individual and the prospective community – as well as to western-rite Benedictine monasticism – to presume a readiness for this monastic discipline and life and not to test it as Saint Benedict requires.
Therefore, in light of all this, the following policies would seem to be advisable:
· No eastern-rite monk may become a western-rite Benedictine monk without undergoing the full admission and formation procedures of the holy Rule within a specific community.
· No priest or layman may become a western-rite Benedictine monk without undergoing the full admission and formation procedures of the holy Rule within a specific community.
· Final and formal admission, as indicated in the Rule, is the prerogative of the abbot and monks of the specific community.
· There are no Benedictine solitaries or hermits or “free-lance” monastics.
· All western-rite Orthodox monastics are affiliated with and live within one of the two established Benedictine monasteries within ROCOR: Our Lady of Mount Royal or Christ the Saviour (Christminster)."
· Lay men and women as well as celibate or married clergy may be affiliated with either of these communities as Oblates, following their acceptance as such and following the Oblate Observances of their monastery. These may be permitted, under stated and specific conditions, to wear the oblate habit, but are in no way to hold themselves forth as full monastics.
· As the need appears, new Benedictine monasteries may grow out of the established ones (Our Lady of Mount Royal or Christ the Saviour) and will consist of some fully formed monastics of these communities.