15 March 2016

Newsletter #2

NB: the Text of my newsletter with pictures...
PAX!

With the help of your prayers, I've been trying to do this stuff for four weeks, now (if not the whole of my life, already) it seemed good to let let you know what “this stuff” all is. First, thank you for all the continued texts, tweets, email, and other forms of support. I killed my Facebook on 27 February, so keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

To get the most asked-for news out of the way: I would let you know that Lucia Kitteh is adjusting well to her new environment. She is greatly enjoying getting outside! We have learned that she doesn’t like wet feet, nor muddy feet. She is unimpressed with gravel and dogs, although the latter can be easily dealt with: she is currently enjoying her ability to scare Fr Prior’s dog, Sebastian, and keep him off the porch. She is the first cat he has met who has claws. Kitteh is not yet two years old, but slapping has a new, Jungle-Red sort of meaning when there are claws. I have also gotten her a bit of a "kitty palace" to occupy her brain since there are no birds here (yet).


I was officially received as a Postulant on before Vespers (evening prayers) on 20 Feb. This is an indefinite step. His Eminence, Archbishop Benjamin, told me that finding the right monastery was a bit like getting married. So, as a Postulant, it's a bit of "Going Steady", if you will. It could last three to six months. The next stage is the Novitiate. In becoming a Novice one gets a new name. It's more like "Getting Engaged" and is set to last three years. Just now I'm studying - both in books and in real life - learning the ropes and trying to avoid sabotaging myself.

As part of my studies, I’ve been reading “Benedictine Monachism: Studies in the Benedictine Life and Rule” by Cuthbert Butler, OSB. Published in London in 1919, it is no longer under copyright and you can grab it as a free ebook at the Archive. Butler was a noted scholar of his day, writing articles for the Encyclopedia Britannica and other publicans as well as many of his own books. In order to understand what is done here, at Tallahassee Creek, it’s helpful to understand what St Benedict was on about (together with generations of Benedictines after him). Quoth Butler: St Benedict's idea was to form a community of monks bound to live together until death, under rule, in common life, in the monastery of their profession, as a religious family, leading a life not of marked austerity but devoted to the service of God—'the holy service they have professed,' he calls it; the service consisting in the community act of the celebration of the divine office, and in the discipline of a life of ordered daily manual work and religious reading, according to the Rule and under obedience to the abbot.



The day here starts and ends with prayer and such is included in all parts of our common life. I get up at 3:45 and, after remembering all of you before God in my heart, I feed the cat. She calls me to my duties earlier, perhaps, but she has been good about not doing so more than ten minutes in advance of my alarm clock.

Matins is the first and longest service of the day. It consists of cycles of hymnody, Psalms, canticles, prayer and readings. The readings can be from the Bible or from the Saints. This last may surprise you: the Orthodox Church believes the Spirit of God inspires us continually through His Saints. This is a belief that we share with pious and faithful Roman Catholics as well. I have included below a reading from St Ceasarius of Arles (A.D. 468 – 542) which we recently had at Matins in preparation for Lent.(For the non-Orthodox reading this, our Easter is on 1 May this year. We are just getting Lent-ified: 20 March is the First Sunday of Lent.) 

The High Altar
The Lady Altar, with icon of Our Lady of Glastonbury,
Patroness of the Monastery
The Reliquary Altar in the "Statio",
a small chapel off the main Oratory.
After Matins the community returns to our cells to do Lectio Divina. This is not the best place to give this practice the full treatment this Benedictine practice deserves (perhaps a later newsletter, after I’ve learned more!) but basically, it’s an active meditation on and with the scriptures or other sacred text for application in our daily life. Then we return to the church for the office of Lauds. This takes its name from Psalms 148 - 150, the Laudate Psalms, which are sung every day at sunrise in St Benedict’s teaching. In this (as in many other things) he follows Byzantine practice - where these same Psalms are included in Matins. Unlike most parishes, the Benedictine rite includes the recitation of the full text of the Psalms. Over the course of each week we recite the full 150 Psalms, rather than only some verses as is normal, modern parish practice. St Benedict wrote in the 5th century that of old (3rd century) the practice was to do the full 150 Psalms every day but he hopes weekly will do fine. (Byzantine Monasteries have also the tradition of saying all 150 Psalms in a week - twice during Lent.)

After Lauds, on most days, there is a chance for Coffee and maybe a light breakfast, unless we are fasting for communion, Lent, or another reason.

Then we go to the service or office of Prime a.k.a. the “First Hour” from which we adjourn to our daily community meeting where we discuss the business of the day, upcoming retreats, etc. We also read here a chapter of the Rule of St Benedict (a practice shared, year round, by all Benedictines, everywhere, reading on the same schedule). This is where the daily meeting gets its name: Chapter.

The daily work begins: during the work periods of the last two weeks, I’ve unpacked, moved furniture, cleaned the cat pan, done laundry – including hanging it out to dry! – had choir practice, gone to class, cooked lasagna for the community lunch, and many other such chores. Today I'm writing this letter. Indeed, it is an “ordered daily manual work and religious reading”. We are running a house here, both for ourselves, and for guests and the Benedictine Moto is “Ora et Labore”, Prayer and Work, for a reason.

Father Prior Theodore removing guck from under
the bridge over Tallahassee Creek.
At noon there is another short service during which we pray by name for everyone on our personal and community prayer lists, all the living and departed. Then Dinner! Our noonday meal is the main meal of the day and can be quite formal. I have had to learn the placement of salad forks and dessert spoons. Sometimes this is preceded by a reading or else there is a reading during the meal. We usually have these midday meals in silence.

A welcomed period of rest follows. By this point in the day I’ve been up for nine hours so a nap is nice, or else reading for pleasure (which often results in a nap, I admit). Then, in the early afternoon we have the Ninth Hour or Nones with more house work, etc, until Vespers (evening prayers), which comes about the time of Sunset.

A light, informal supper comes at the end of the day – leftovers, a salad, popcorn. Whatever one wants or not. There is conversation and recreation follows until Compline at 8PM with a long reading and the prayers at bedtime. Then begins the Great Silence, there is no talking outside of prayers until the Chapter Meeting the next day. 

This is day-in and day-out on Cabin Creek Road. Once a week we go to town for shopping and errands. Of a Sunday we may drive to one of several local Orthodox parishes for Liturgy (either Western or Byzantine Rite), or if Father Prior is scheduled to serve or preach. Largely, however, this is our life: 

Deep breath. Pray. Repeat. 

“The monastic life is nothing more than the Christian life of the Gospel Counsels received in its fullest simplicity.” – Sketch of Monastic History, F. A. Gasquet, OSB.
Thanks for reading! As I said: keep those cards and letters coming! Facebook is gone and Twitter will go away soon. In other words: only normal human-sized communications!

St John of San Francisco,
The Patron of the Western Rite.
A quote from St John that may explain...


Until next time! 

By your prayers, I remain,

Yours, faithfully…

Huw Raphael


Monastery of Our Lady and St Laurence
4076 Cabin Creek Road
Canon City, CO 81212

PS: The Promised Reading from St Ceasarius of Arles:
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

‘Mercy’ is a beautiful word: more beautiful still is the thing itself. All men wish to receive it, but the worst thing is that not all of them behave in a way that deserves it. Although everyone wishes to be shown mercy only a few wish to show it.

O man, how can you have the effrontery to ask for what you refuse to give to others? You must show mercy in this world if you want to receive mercy in heaven. So, my dearest brethren, since we all desire mercy, let us make ourselves mercy’s slaves in this world so that she can give us our freedom in the world to come. For there is mercy in heaven and we come to it through earthly mercies. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven.

So there is earthly and heavenly mercy: that is, human and divine. What is human mercy? Exactly this: to have care for the sufferings of the poor. What is divine mercy? Without doubt, to grant forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy gives away on the journey, divine mercy pays back when we arrive at last in our native land. For it is God who feels cold and hunger, in the person of the poor. As he himself has said: “As much as you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me.” What God deigns to give on heaven, he yearns to receive on earth.

What sort of people are we if we want to receive, when God offers, but when God asks, we refuse to give? For when a poor man hungers, it is Christ who suffers want, as he himself has said: I was hungry and you gave me no food. Do not despise the misery of the poor if you want a sure hope of forgiveness for your sins. Christ is hungry now, brethren, in all the poor. He consents to suffer hunger and thirst – and whatever he receives on earth he will give back in heaven.

I ask you, brethren: when you come to church, what do you want? What are you looking for? Is it anything other than mercy? Then give earthly mercy and you will receive the heavenly kind. The poor man asks of you, and you ask of God: the poor man for food, you for eternal life. Give to the beggar what you want to deserve from Christ. Hear Christ saying “Give and it will be given to you.” I do not know how you can have the effrontery to want to receive what you do not want to give. And so, when you come to church, give, whatever you can afford as alms for the poor.