The Oblates of Saint Benedict

 Saint Benedict Russian Orthodox Church
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma USA

A Short History of the Oblates
and Benedictine Monasticism

The 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.

Most 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.

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. 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 Christianity.

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 Orthodox Church.

The Oblature

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 Oblates.

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 Orthodox Church

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 Orthodox Christians.

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 of simplicity.
  • The devotion of self to works of prayer and penance, and to observance of the appointed fasts and abstinence.
  • 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 authority.
  • 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 Confession.
  • 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 repose.
  • 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" (Peace).
  • 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.