A Short History of the Oblates
and Benedictine Monasticism
Benedictine monastic tradition began with Saint Benedict of Nursia, who
was a monk of the Orthodox Church 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,
particularly in the Eastern part of the Empire. The liturgical
traditions he ennumerated conformed to the Roman Rite of the local
church; which, at that time, was neither as elaborate or as legislated
as it later became.
of the Benedictine communities existed in the West under what was
geographically the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Rome.
After some centuries of increasing estrangement between Rome and the
other four ancient Patriarchates that formed the Pentarchy (due to
doctrinal, linguistic, and cultural differences,), the Patriarchate of
Rome separated from the remainder of the Orthodox Church, taking with
it most of the Benedictine monastic communities that had come to
flourish in the West since the time of Saint Benedict.
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. The Benedictine
religious Order is the only Western religious Order which exists in the
Orthodox Church, because it is the oldest of the Orders, and the only
one which pre-dated the departure of the Roman church from Orthodox
Orthodox Benedictines Today
The Benedictine tradition was largely lost to the Orthodox Church until
the 20th century, when a revival was seen, encouraged by efforts to
restore the Western Rite to Orthodoxy, beginning in the 19th century.
The restoral of the Western Rite was accomplished by the Holy Synod of
the Church of Russia in 1872.
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). Abbot Augustine reposed in 2012, but Mount Royal continues to this day.
In 1993, Bishop Hilarion (Kapral) of Manhattan (later Metroplitan
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 is located in Canada.
Bishop Hilarion was tranferred to Australia and became the ruling
Archbishop of Sidney, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1997, Archbishop
Hilarion of Sydney 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 women's Benedictine monastic houses in the
Oblates are mentioned in the Holy Rule of St. Benedict,
the fifth-century document laying the foundation for western Orthodox
monastic observance. Originally these Oblates were children or young
persons offered by their families to the monastery to be raised free
from the dangers and distractions of the pagan world. Over the
centuries the status of Oblate evolved to include adults who wished to
live their lives according to the Holy Rule, but without actually
taking full monastic vows.
Eventually child-oblates were completely replaced by adults who,
following Oblate observance, remained in the world, sanctifying their
secular lives and infusing them with monastic virtues. The Oblature was
specifically provided for and established by the founding Constitution
and By-Laws of Saint Benedict Russian 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 community
(monastic or parish, whichever hosts the Oblate Community to which they
belong), 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 Superior, either the Abbot or Oblate-Master of the
monastery, or the Rector or Oblate-Master of the parish, to which he is
to retain a bond of practical support and spiritual obedience.
Oblature is open to any properly motivated, observant Orthodox
Christian, man or woman, married or single, clergy or lay. For married
people, either one or both spouses may become oblates, but the decision
must be a mutually agreeable one. Children are no longer received as
An Oblate consecrates self to God, seeking and serving God in the
spirit of the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict, within the context of and
according to his or her state of life and occupation. The Oblate
becomes in a true sense a member of the Church's Benedictine
monasticism, with obligations and privileges that arise from such
membership. The Oblate shares in the spiritual life and good works of
the entire Benedictine brotherhood; receives the guidance and direction
of the Oblate-Master, and is remembered in prayer at all Benedictine
establishments, both in this life and after death. The obligations of
the Oblate are spelled out in the Oblate Observances established for
Oblates of Saint Benedict Church.
To become an Oblate, one begins by receiving a blessing from his or her
parish Priest and asking to be received as an Oblate-postulant, i.e.,
one requesting to become an Oblate. This begins a short period of trial
and training, the duration always at the discretion of the Superior. If
the person wishes to go on, he or she is invested as an Oblate-novice,
with the small black scapular and/or the medal of Saint Benedict, receives an Oblate name (which may be the same as the baptismal name, and does not supplant it), and spends the next year and one day studying and assiduously following the Oblate Observances and seeking to mould their life according to the spirit of the holy Rule of Saint Benedict, under the direction of the Superior or Oblate-Master.
After successfully completing the Novitiate of one year and one day,
the Oblate-novice is permitted to make the Act of Oblation.
The vision of the Rule of St. Benedict, whether for monastics or for
Oblates, is that of a spiritual family living under the guidance of a
Spiritual Father, seeking in all things to discover and follow the will
of God, thereby sanctifying all the moments and actions of their lives.
This is a calling laid upon all Orthodox Christians; the life of the
oblate provides encouragement and support for this, as well as
practical rules for such a calling. That goal is expressed in the
ancient maxim of Saint Benedict's disciples: "Ut in omnibus
glorificetur Deus" - that in all things God may be glorified.
|The Oblate Observances - From the Constitution and By-Laws of Saint Benedict Russian
The act of
Oblation is a public act whereby an Orthodox Christian man or woman
freely chooses to become a member of a particular Oblate family, while
living one’s secular life in the spirit of the Rule of Saint Benedict
as determined by these Observances and by the rule of life as
established by the Oblate and the Oblate-Master, promoting as much as
possible the good of the community of one’s affiliation. The vocation
of the Oblate is to seek God above all things and to live one’s life
wholly for God and in the monastic spirit.
The act of Oblation is not a monastic vow, and is not irrevocable. It
is a free and deliberate choice, publicly affirmed within the context
of a sacred rite, to live one’s life by the high spiritual standards of
monastic observance. While one’s Oblation endures, one remains a member
of the particular Oblate family, and is expected to maintain
appropriate contact with it. An Oblate is free at any time, upon the
advice and consent of the Oblate Master, to revoke his or her Oblation.
If an Oblate, by inactivity or indifference to the fact of the Oblation
and its prerogatives, should indicate an unwillingness to continue as
an Oblate, the Oblate-Master may terminate the Oblate’s membership.
Oblate membership is open to all Orthodox Christian men and women.
While it is highly desirable that spouses seek Oblate status together,
as strengthening the family bond, membership is not conditional upon
this, so long as the membership of one spouse is acceptable to the
other. The isolation of any individual, or his physical distance from
the Oblate brotherhood, in no way diminishes full status as an
Oblate member thereof.
It is the duty of Oblates is to strive with perseverance in seeking God
and living a more holy life. Thus only those are received as Oblates
who are commendable for their moral life and good reputation. Oblates
may discreetly encourage others in examining, and perhaps seeking, the
Oblate life. No one under the age of sixteen will be accepted as an
Oblate Novice. Oblate status is open only to faithful and observant
Oblates apply to their lives, according to the guidance of their
Spiritual Father/Oblate-Master, and in accordance with their state of
life, the Holy Rule's imposition of the virtues of stability and
conversion of manners. The observance of those virtues include, but are
not limited to:
- A life observant of the
Gospel, grounded in faith, hope, and charity. The Oblate should
renounce the earthly vanities and empty values of the world and strive
to live according to a spiritual and heavenly standard, and in a spirit
- The devotion of self to works
of prayer and penance, and to observance of the appointed fasts and
- A spirit of detachment
from worldly goods. Oblates and Novices should cultivate a warm-hearted generosity
toward the poor and unfortunate, and be liberal in their almsgiving.
The Oblates should set apart a fixed amount of their income for God,
keeping in mind the Biblical Standard of one-tenth of one's increase,
and make a statement to that effect in their Oblate Rule. In addition
to that set-aside, it is the duty of every Orthodox Christian to give
alms, which may usually most effectively be distributed through the
parish church; likewise they should contribute to the financial support
of the Oblate Community to which they belong.
- In a spirit of obedience
they shall submit in humility and respect to all lawful ecclesiastical
- They shall daily read a
portion of the Rule of our holy Father Benedict and seek always to live
by its spirit and, wherever possible, by its prescriptions, as adapted
to their state in life.
- Oblates should readily and
with perfect submission to the will of God fulfil the duties of their
state in life, knowing that one must not neglect what is necessary in
order to take on extraordinary obligations. Above all they must not
neglect those family duties upon which the Holy Apostle Paul so
strongly insists: “But if any provide not for his own and especially
for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than
an infidel.” (I Timothy 5:8)
- Oblates must be faithful
to those religious practices incumbent upon all observant Orthodox
Christians, among these being morning and evening prayers, reverent and
timely attendance at the Divine Liturgy and sacred services on Sundays,
Feast Days, and other days as possible; prayer before and after meals,
and the Church's other acts of worship and devotion.
- Remembering the words of
our holy Father Benedict – “Let nothing be preferred to the Work of
God” – Oblates should cultivate a special love for the sacred Liturgy,
taking an active concern for all that relates to the beauty and
adornment of churches and altars, especially their parish church, doing
all they can to preserve and foster the splendor of divine worship and its environment.
- Priest-Oblates will offer
the Holy Sacrifice with the utmost care and reverence, and dutifully
pray the Hours with piety and devotion. Lay Oblates will attend as
often as they can at the Divine Liturgy and the Hours sung in Choir.
When it is not possible to be in church, they will at least pray with
their brethren in spirit. The recitation of the Hours is the
ideal way for an Oblate to participate in the prayers of the Oblate
Brotherhood, though its recitation in full each day is not obligatory.
Each Oblate, with the Oblate Master, will establish which of the Hours
he will recite each day. Prominence and priority should be given to
Prime and Compline.
- Oblates should cultivate a
deep devotion to the Mother of God, to our Holy Father Benedict, and to
Saint John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Oblates should pray fervently
for the triumph of holy Orthodoxy, for the overcoming of all heresies
and schisms, and for the souls of the faithful departed, especially
those for whom no one prays.
- Each day Oblates should
carefully examine their conscience and cultivate a genuine repentance
for their sins, availing themselves often of the holy Mystery of
- Each day Oblates should
devote some time to the prayerful reading of Holy Scripture. Likewise,
some time each day should be given to the works of the Fathers and of
the Saints and their lives.
- Oblates should avail
themselves often of the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion
according to the expectations of their parish Priest.
- Oblates who have not made
a lifetime Oblation shall renew their temporary Oblation each year on
its anniversary or some other date as prescribed by the Superior or
Oblate-Master. They should observe in a special way the feasts of our
holy Father Saint Benedict (14/27 March, 11/24 July).
- Oblates have the right and
privilege of being buried in the full Oblate habit i.e., tunic and scapular.
- Oblate-Postulants may
choose, with the approval of the Oblate-Master, the name of any
Orthodox Benedictine Saint, or other monastic Saint as their new name in
Oblation. To do so, the Postulant will submit to the Oblate-Master
three names of his own choice, from which the Oblate-Master or Superior
may choose, and that named Saint will be venerated by and be a heavenly
patron of the Oblate. The Oblate name will not supercede the Baptismal
name received at entrance into the Church.
- Each Oblate’s baptismal,
family, and Oblate name will be recorded in the monastic archives,
along with the date of Investiture and Oblation, as well as the date of
- Oblates should apply to
their lives the two traditional Benedictine maxims: "Ut in omnibus
glorificetur Deus" (That in all things God may be glorified), and "Pax"
- Oblates shall attend any
scheduled meetings of Oblates, unless prevented by grave cause, such as
distance. In any case, some monthly and regular contact hould be
maintained between each Oblate and the Oblate Master.
- Each Postulant, before
Investiture as an Oblate Novice shall submit a Petition for Oblation to
the Oblate-Master or Superior. This Petition shall be kept in the
Archives. In addition, in a time-frame established by the Superior or
Oblate-Master, the Oblate Novice shall commit to writing those specific
details of the application of these Observances and of the Holy Rule of
Saint Benedict to his or her own life. This Oblate Rule of Life shall
be deposited in the monastic or parish archives.