Saint Benedict, whose name means “blessed,” was born during 480 A.D. in Nursia, a small town about 100 kilometres northeast of Rome. He struggled in asceticism from his youth in deserted regions, where his example drew many who desired to emulate him. Hence, he ascended Mount Cassino in Campania and built a monastery there. The Rule that he gave his monks, which was inspired by the writings of Saint John Cassian, Saint Basil the Great, and other Fathers, became a pattern for monasticism in the West; because of this, he is often called the first teacher of monks in the West.
When he was fourteen years of age, Saint Benedict’s parents sent him to Rome to study. Unsettled by the immorality around him, he decided to devote himself to a different sort of life. At first he settled near the church of the holy Apostle Peter in the village of Effedum, but news of his ascetic life compelled him to go farther into the mountains. There he encountered the hermit Romanus, who tonsured him into monasticism and directed him to live in a remote cave at Subiaco. From time to time, the hermit would bring him food.
For three years the Saint waged a harsh struggle with temptations and conquered them with the grace of God. People soon began to gather to him for guidance. The number of disciples grew so much, that the Saint divided them into twelve communities. Each community was comprised of twelve monks and was a separate skete. The Saint gave each skete an igumen (the head of the community) from among his experienced disciples, and only the novice monks remained with Saint Benedict for instruction. The strict monastic rule that Saint Benedict established for the monks was not accepted by everyone, and more than once he was criticized and abused by dissenters.
Finally he settled in Campagna and on Mount Cassino he founded the Monte Cassino monastery, which for a long time was a center of theological education for the Western part of the Church. The monastery possessed a remarkable library. Saint Benedict wrote his Rule, based on the experience of life of the Eastern desert-dwellers and the precepts of Saint John Cassian the Roman (commemorated February 29).
The Rule of Saint Benedict dominated Western monasticism for centuries (by 1595 A.D. it had appeared in more than 100 editions). The Rule prescribed the renunciation of personal possessions, as well as unconditional obedience, and constant work. It was considered the duty of older monks to teach the younger and to copy ancient manuscripts. This helped to preserve many memorable writings from the first centuries of Christianity.
Every new monk was required to live as a novice for a year, to learn the monastic Rule and to become familiar with monastic life, and every deed required a blessing from the igumen, who discerns, teaches, and explains. The igumen solicits the advice of the older, experienced brethren, but he makes the final decisions. Keeping the monastic Rule was strictly binding for everyone and was regarded as an important step on the way to spiritual perfection.
Saint Benedict was granted by the Lord the gift of foresight and wonderworking. He healed many by his prayers, and he foretold the day of his death in 547. The main source for his Life is the second Dialogue of Saint Gregory. Saint Benedict’s sister, Saint Scholastica (commemorated February 10), also became famous for her strict ascetic life and was numbered among the saints.
Dismissal Hymn (Plagal of Fourth Tone)
In you the image of God was faithfully preserved, O Father; for taking up your cross, you followed Christ, and by your deeds you taught us to overlook the flesh, for it passes away, but to attend to the soul since it is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Benedict, your spirit rejoices with the angels.
Kontakion (Plagal of Fourth Tone)
To you, the Champion Leader
O sun that shines with the Mystic Dayspring’s radiance, who enlightened the monastics of the western lands, you are worthily the namesake of benediction; purge us of the filth of passions thoroughly by the sweat of your illustrious accomplishments, for we cry to you, “Rejoice, O thrice-blessed Benedict”.
We Also Celebrate Today:
- Euschemon the Confessor, Bishop of Lampasakos