This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on the Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Friday, March 20, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.
I have to admit that I am a little nervous right now, not because I don’t like speaking in front of people – that doesn’t bother me- but of what the response is going to be afterwards!
Pull your toes back a little, because they’re going to get stepped on a little. All of us are.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
Well, today, we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict. I’ve got a small icon of him over here. We’ll be able to venerate it later, but I will put it up here. Anything that I say, blame him, okay?
During Benedict’s time, much like what is going on around the world today, Saint Benedict lived in a politically and theologically turbulent time. What was going on: About 70 years before he was born, Rome had fallen to some Barbarian invasions, and civil authority during that time was in ruin. This was Northern Italy.
There were a lot of wars. There was a lot of violence. There was a lot of anarchy going on, and even the Orthodox Church at this time was being torn apart as the Copts at this time were just splitting away from the Orthodox Church.
Benedict was born around 480 AD. Right before that, we had had the Council of Chalcedon. So, this whole split with the Coptic Church was going on right then. So there was a lot of unrest both politically and in the Church at this time.
Benedict was born into a noble family. He was sent to Rome to study. They had a lot of money, so he went to Rome to study, but when he got there, he really hated all of the decadence that he found there, and he ended up abandoning the city completely for a solitary life. He went up to live in the hills.
There is a long story about the things that happened to him. At one point, they tried to kill him. Some monks in one of the monasteries tried to kill him as he was the abbot!
But eventually, he became the abbot of another monastery and developed what has become known as The Rule of Saint Benedict. While this Rule is most often used in a monastic setting, and has actually been followed by monks and nuns for probably around 1500 years right now, it’s also often used by laypeople.
In probably about six to eight weeks, my wife and I are going to become what they call oblates of a Benedictine monastery located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado about 90 minutes from Colorado Springs. An oblate is just one who has made the decision, with the blessing of your spiritual father, to begin, as much as possible, to begin to apply that Rule of Saint Benedict into your lives and into your home.
We’re not going to be monastic per se, but we’re going to start taking on a lot of the aspects of the Rule of Saint Benedict. We already have been doing this for about a year. But they are going to formalize it. We will be what are called novices in May.
Fr. Michael asked us to live this life as much as we can without a lot of oversight for a year to see if this is something we want to do, and then in May it will be a year. Then we will be – Fr. Joseph will be sent some sort of words or a liturgy to say over us, and we will be brought in as novices in this May. Then, Lord willing, we will be full oblates a year from this May, in 2016 that would be.
Now, if you find yourself wondering, “How can a man, from fifteen centuries ago, who never was married and never had any children of his own have any understanding of what it is like to have a Christian family in the United States of America in 2015 like we do, and tells us how we should live?”, keep in mind that the Rule of Saint Benedict is very easily adapted and applied to family life, because, at its most basic, a monastery is basically just a small family.
[A monastery] is usually men or women separated. Once in a while, they’ve got some men and women in the same monastery under the same authority of one abbot. The word abbot is based on the Aramaic abba, or, as Jesus said it, Abba Father, which Christ used basically to describe His own Father, God the Father. As such, the Rule instructs and abbot or a father how to run a monastery, but it can also be easily applied to the abba or the father within the Christian home.
I would (and I have talked to Fr. Joseph about this, in fact he purchased one today) – but I would encourage every family in our parish (especially the father) to find a copy of this.
[Listen My Son] is a book written by a Roman Catholic priest, but he has taken The Rule of Saint Benedict (and, first of all, get The Rule. We’re going to be given a copy, each of us, a Rule of Saint Benedict. It’s a short book), but this takes the Rule, and breaks it up into four months. It’s basically a daily devotional, and you read daily for four months, and then you start over. So you would actually read through it three times in a year. (Dwight Longenecker if you can’t see it)
It takes the Rule and makes it kind of devotional, but it takes it out of the monastery and puts it into a family is basically what he is doing. So you read a section of the Rule, and then he takes it and says, “How does this work within a family?” Some of it is stretching, because, you know, there’s even a line in here about, “when you sleep, don’t sleep with your swords strapped to your leg, because you might hurt yourself.” I mean, that probably… “Don’t sleep with your knife.” Maybe that’s what that means. There’s a lot of stuff in here that you kind of have to stretch it to fit.
For instance, one thing is, did you guys notice, when you went to Alabama, that they had, at the top of the first set of stairs, they had a candle burning? That’s Benedict. He tells people to do that in the dormitories, to have a candle burning. It symbolizes keeping watch. So things like that, that you can apply into your family life.
There [are] a lot of good nuggets of truth that will help grow into the father and the family that God desires from this book.
Saint Benedict covers a wide variety of important topics in the Rule ranging from what [constitutes] appropriate clothing to [the inclusion of] a long part on humility.
He talks about how many Psalms should be said each day [and] the jobs that are assigned to each person.
He talks about how discipline in the monastery or in the family is to be handled and how even dormitories are to be arranged and set up.
So there are a lot of things he talks about in here. Each of these can be tweaked to really apply to the life of a Christian family.
Benedict was really centrally concerned with dispelling the mortal sin of sloth. That was his focus. And you’ll read through this. There’s a lot of stuff in here, but he focuses mainly on overcoming sloth.
To him, sloth is not simply being physically lazy, although there is that aspect. Instead, it is a state of mind that makes a person unable to actually take spiritual action. It’s complacency. It’s disinterestedness in moving forward with your life spiritually. Somebody may show you things, teach you things, and you hear it, but you just don’t feel like moving forward. That’s what he’s talking about in this kind of thing.
What happens is [this]: It creates a deadly downward spiral in your life that is basically disobedience leading to more disobedience, because when you get that way, then it is harder to pull yourself up out of it. Although it really seems obvious, it really needs to be said that the remedy for disobedience is strict obedience. So Benedict focuses most strongly on strict obedience to the abbot in order to overcome sloth.
So how do we overcome sloth?
Well there are four practical ways I am going to bring up tonight. There are more in here, but four practical ways directly from The Rule of Saint Benedict:
In the very beginning of The Rule of Saint Benedict, he actually uses the word[s] “wake up.”
It’s time for us to move from a state of spiritual complacency to a state of spiritual inertia. We have been lulled to sleep, into a dream world by the world that we live in. We have fallen into the idea that we are here for entertainment, for comfort, for relaxation, and for a life of ease; and we go through our days, each one slipping quickly into the next day, and we don’t really make a lot of progress toward the kingdom of God because we are seeking comfort and ease instead.
Have you ever noticed how fast time goes when you are sleeping? I know sometimes we’ve been driving home from somewhere, even from church, and Landon will fall asleep, and we’ll get home, and he’ll say, “How did we get here already?” When you sleep, time goes by so fast! This is one of Satan’s tricks. We need sleep, absolutely! But one of his ways is, “If I can keep you sleeping longer, that’s time that you’re not focused on Christ. That’s time that you’re not progressing forward.”
So, Benedict noticed, even in his time that sloth and complacency were absolute killers of the human soul and of the family.
It’s also time for us to wake up literally. Stop sleeping so much!
Just like many monastics wean themselves from food – like we eat a lot of food, and over time, I’ve read several stories as we’ve read the Prologue of people who’ve weaned themselves off of food until they’re eating minimally. They’re fasting a lot. They’re eating a lot of bread and water. Their bodies have grown accustomed to less food. We can actually wean ourselves from so much sleep.
I was looking up yesterday, and according to WebMD and the Sleep Foundation (there’s two different websites I looked at), most adults today, they say, need an average of seven hours of sleep a day. Now, kids were a little bit more, and older people were a little bit more too, but [for] most adults it’s seven hours.
Like I said, sleep’s necessary, but it’s become an entrenched passion in so many people’s lives that a lot of people sleep for ten hours or twelve hours. I was reading [of] some people that sleep for 18 and 20 hours a day! That’s just what they start doing. If you’re sleeping for more than seven hours, you’ve got to ask yourself: “Am I being slothful?”
Just recently, I thought, “I need eight hours of sleep.” So whenever I think of what time I need to get up, I always plan, like if I have to get up at six, I go, “Seven, eight, nine, ten. So I need to go to bed at 10:00 at night in order to get eight hours of sleep.” I do that all the time. I rarely get it, but according to these, seven hours is all that an adult needs. If you’re getting a lot more sleep than that, then we need to ask, “Are we being slothful?”
And what could be, or what should you be doing instead?
Are there chores that you have that you’ve been putting off?
Dishes piling up?
Repairs that should have been made?
Bathrooms that need cleaned?
Oil in your car that needs changed?
Grass that needs cut?
Are you doing your morning and evening prayers every day?
Are there people that you could be helping?
Are there Orthodox books that you could be reading?
If there are, wake up!
The second thing is discipline. It might be that sleep isn’t your problem, but when you’re awake, what are you doing?
Saint Benedict set up a strict schedule for the men under his care. This schedule was centered on discipline and obedience, and it’s not just to maintain order, but is to build godly character. Everyone does the same thing at the same time in humble submission to their abbot, to their father.
When the bell rings, you eat, and when it is not time to eat, you don’t eat.When it is not mealtime, you don’t eat, because you eat at mealtime! You live by this schedule.
When it is time for prayers (and, by the way, Saint Benedict has seven times each day and once in the middle of the night, so eight times in a 24-hour period, you’re at prayer), when everybody gets up for prayer, you go to prayer.
When everybody leaves, you leave too. When it’s time to work, everyone’s busy about their assigned duties.
No one grumbles. No one complains. That’s the way that The Rule of Saint Benedict is set up.
When you don’t have a schedule or an agenda, the day gets away from you.
I am speaking to myself right now. How many times I get up, and Landon will ask me, “What are we doing today?” Well, I don’t know, and then here it is 4:00, and I haven’t done anything today, because I didn’t plan my day. You end up getting to the end of your day and realize that you have been busy about nothing, and you’ve accomplished nothing in the day.
In order to overcome sloth, adherence to a schedule is imperative.
If you have a family, make a schedule.
If it is just you and your spouse, make a schedule.
If you live alone, make a schedule, and stick to it, and be disciplined.
I didn’t bring it with me, but I have a coffee mug that I think you bought for me. It says “Benedict: Ora et Labora: Prayer and Work.”
Saint Benedict’s guiding principle is ora et labora.
Ora is prayer, and as I mentioned, Saint Benedict had scheduled corporate prayers eight times each 24-hour period. This is the monastic bare minimum. Eight times is the minimum for a monastery.
For those of us who are not monastic, what’s the minimum? Well, there’s some debate on this, but it seems that, pretty well, a consensus is that the bare minimum for a Christian is at least twice a day: Once in the morning and once in the evening you and your family stand in front of your icons and pray matins prayers and vespers prayers.
If you are not doing that, you’re not even on the prayer radar. You’re not even meeting the bare minimum scraping by.
Aside from this, we should probably be constantly in prayer, intercessory prayers, prayers to the saints, saying the Hail Mary, saying the Lord’s Prayer throughout the day.
Prayer is our most valuable weapon in this spiritual battle.
Imagine if you’re going to go into hand-to-hand combat with your mortal enemy, and you just stand there and never pick up your weapon. That’s basically what you do when you’re not praying. You’re just keeping your hands down and letting yourself get beat up, letting your family get beat up.
Do you think you’ll last long in the battle doing that? What makes you think you and your family will last any longer against your passions in this battle, in the war against Satan and hell, if you never pick up your weapon of prayer?
The fourth one: We had “wake up.” We had discipline. We had prayer. Ora et labora. Labora is work.
The other half of Saint Benedict’s guiding principle is work.
Our culture has two competing categories when it comes to work: One group says, “I hate to work, and I’m not going to.” The other group says, “I hate to work, and therefore I am going to work only as much as I need to get by and to pay the bills, and after that, I am done.” Both of those are un-biblical ways of looking at work.
Even before the Fall, before the Fall, God assigned work. Man was tasked to do things like: He was a botanist. He was tending the garden. He was a zoologist. He was taking care of animals and naming them. Adam was tending the garden and taking care of the animals, and, even in the perfect world of Eden, man in found working.
This work is not just assumed, but it is commanded. In Genesis, on the seventh day of creation, when God rested from His labors, He said, “six days you shall labor and do all your work” [Exodus 20:9]. So He establishes a day of rest. We hear this, but included in the command is a command also to work. And it says how many days? Six days.
This is not some twenty to thirty measly little hours because that’s what your boss assigned you to work that week. It’s not some measly little forty hours because you have a full-time job. This work is not some five-day work week with a two-day weekend tacked on.
And God said that we are to labor for six days, so that when you get home from your job after working eight hours, congratulations. You’re half-way through your work day, because what happens is [this]: Now you get to come home, and you get to finish the other eight hours. Actually [it’s] nine, if we’re only sleeping seven. So, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, studying Holy Scripture, reading Orthodox books, teaching your children, being a father or mother, saying your prayers. . .
Where did we get the idea that our days off from our job are meant to be sleeping, browsing the internet, playing games, lounging or resting?
It didn’t come from God. And if it didn’t come from God, where did it come from? God said, “Six days you labor, and then you rest.” Look, do you want to go to heaven or not? That’s what it amounts to. Do you want to climb that ladder of divine ascent or not? Tell the truth. I mean, honestly. If you do, you can’t do that lying on your memory foam mattress or looking around on Facebook. That’s not how it works.
Do you want your children to go to heaven? Is that honestly your passion or your goal? You cannot get them there by lounging in that chair or playing that computer game.
According to our holy father Saint Benedict whom we commemorate today, the only way to overcome the spiritual deadly mortal sloth – it will send you to hell – is to wake up, to get disciplined, to pray, and to work.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
This sermon was preached by Subdeacon Jeremy Conrad on the Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia, Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha Illinois.
Transcribed by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.