Who are Oblates?
Oblates first appeared in the 6th century. They were largely minors, children of nobility and of the peasantry, offered up (oblation) to God by their parents in turn for the child’s formation and education; in some cases, a child’s reformation was hoped for. These Oblates would often grow up and yet remain in the monastery as a layman living as monastics. In not so later times, many of the faithful came to desire an ongoing association with the monastery for their spiritual benefit but could not break from their situation in the world.
Whether in the East or the West, monasteries have always had the compliment of the laity present. The monastery was set near a village or a village grew up near a monastery. Where there was no village the laity settled on near-by lands to be close to this place known as “heaven on earth”. There are always at least a handful of the faithful who seem to make the monastery temple their parochial home. Pilgrims visiting will always see a non-monastic man or woman laboring on the monastery grounds. There is nothing unique to see laity worshiping, working and eating at a monastery. While most go to their own homes at the end of the day, there are certain persons who are not monks yet do live in the monastery sharing in the life and blessings of the place. Among Slavic monasteries these laymen are known as trudniki or laborer who reside with the monks without taking vows. In the Western Church, as we mentioned, these were, and still are known, as Oblates. There are two categories of Lay Oblates: Intern and Extern.
We referred to certain laypeople living in the monastery now known as “intern oblates” or conventual oblates; laymen (laywomen in female monasteries) who live, work, pray and share in the life and routine of the monastic community. Today, there are two distinctions among Romualdian Intern Oblates. One, more or less, are like the trudniki. Another intends upon a path to become a monk. This kind of Intern Oblate has been created in our times because the “world” has made people so “fragile” we do not wish to force life-long commitments on anyone if they are unsure they may endure. However, after, “3 years’ experience” they must make a decision to move forward, stay as they are or leave this life of solitude.
Likewise, in the 5th century we observe the historical presence of “Confrates“. These are persons of all walks-of-life who seek confraternity with the monks for their spiritual benefits. The Confrates or Extern Oblates, are any man or woman or diocesan priest who could not enter the monastic life due to familial, financial or other worldly commitments. This continues to be true in the 21st century as the reader may see among Our Oblates. This is neither an innovation nor an aberration of our Orthodox Hermitage. There are other Oblates within ROCOR and the AWRV and elsewhere attached to other Orthodox (Benedictine) monastic houses.
These “Secular” Oblates promise (instead of vow) obedience and stability to the monastery they had chosen to affiliate with and its superior. Externs or Secular Oblates (Confrates) supports the monastery financially incrementally or by legacy. As residents, the Interns give of their labor to maintain and build up the monastery.
So you are considering becoming an Oblate but would like to know what will be expected of you? Above we mentioned the material support of the monastery either financially or by deeds, and prayer.
The Oblate is expected to:
- Emulate the monastic life as inspired by the Rule of Life as appropriate to your life situation. (Example, Oblate makes “promise” but no “vows” mirroring the vows: Charity (poverty), Sobriety (Chastity), Stability and Obedience.
- Pray the abbreviated Divine Office or the Romualdian Rosary in its place.
- Attend the Divine Liturgy. Confess and commune as often as possible.
- Set aside the Holy Feasts for attendance, especially but not exclusively:
- Purification of our Lady Feb 2nd,
- Scholastica Feb 10th,
- St Benedict March 21st,
- Romuald June 19th,
- St Henry July 15th,
- St John the Theologian June 30th & Sept. 26th,
- Entrance of our Lady in the Temple (Presentation or Oblation) Nov 21st.
5. Set aside certain Commemoration Days observed at the monastery (Benedictine, Romualdian, Apostolic and Byzantine saints; especially, the Feasts of the Holy Mother of God.).
6.Pray the Romualdian Prayer Rule daily in silence and in solitude.
7.Continue to study Benedictine/Romualdian spirituality.
8.Participate in Oblate Retreats or its alternatives.
9.Visit the Hermitage or a more local Orthodox monastery at least, annually.
10.Be engaged in some apostolate in your home parish or by other means of service.
11.Remain in good standing in your parish, your diocese and the monastery you are attached to. The above 10 items are in addition and beyond what is expected of the average Orthodox Christian by The Church.
Oblate Formation – Novitiate:
With the approval of the Superior, the individual is permitted to enter the Oblate Novitiate. The Novice formally enters the Novitiate with a ceremony in which he or she makes a promise to try to follow the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. The Novitiate lasts for a period of one year, may be longer. This is the time the Novice studies the Holy Rules of Ss. Benedict & Romuald, receives direction from the Oblate Master on the practice of the Divine Office and Lectio Divina. The Novice attends meetings, retreats, and the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) at the Hermitage when offered and the novice is available. Given that our Oblates are largely from locations other than local to the Hermitage contact with the Oblate Master shall be via e-mail & Skype or Google Hangout.
After one year (approximately) as a Novice, the individual may request permission from the Oblate Master to become an Oblate. During the Oblation ceremony, the new Oblate receives a “new name.” This name is the name of a saint (preferably a Benedictine or Western saint) which the Oblate would like to emulate, a patron saint to call on as intercessor for God’s help, wisdom and mercy. Since it is likely that many of our Oblates will have also been converts to Orthodoxy it will be permissible for them to utilize their “Orthodox name” if it had been given to them at their reception.
Our Oblate Program
The Oblate program at our Hermitage is primarily contemplative, rather than active. It is possible for the novice to engage in this formation from home. Whenever the Oblates is present he shall join the hermits at Divine Liturgy and in praying the Divine Office. It is hoped that while at the Hermitage (kelija) the Oblate will become spiritually rejuvenated through prayer, retreats and the sacraments so that he can continue to be Christ’s light in the world. Many Oblate programs have done away with a special garb. We have created a “modified” scapular that is larger than those in the Roman Church but shorter than those worn by monastics. The Oblate Scapular is hoodless, grey and covers one’s chest, shoulders and back while not exceeding past the waist as illustrated here. The Intern Oblate habit consists of a black half-length tunic, black leather belt and grey skufia.
Have Questions? Want to Apply for Novitiate? Let us know by using the following mail form: