Opus Dei

Opus Dei – “the Work of God.”

Let nothing be preferred to the work of God,” Saint Benedict wrote in his Rule (RB 43.3) referring to the Divine Office or Liturgy of Hours. It is work because it consumes the monk’s many hours of the day to accomplish. Far from being laborious, the Divine Office is the monastic’s sacred nectar that nourishes the soul and sustains them from hour to hour, day to day. It is the ideal for the laity as well as it engages them to pray seven times each day. Since it is the ideal outside the Divine Liturgy it is therefore the entire Church who prays what St Benedict calls Opus Dei. It touches both our lives in real time (chronos) while transporting the monk into significant times (kairos) of Salvation History as the seven hours of prayer possess significance:

    • Matins (during the night, at midnight with some); also called Vigils or Nocturns or, in monastic usage, the Night Office

Christ’s midnight prayer in Gethsemane; a reminder to be ready for the Bridegroom
coming at midnight and the Last Judgment.

  • Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)

The Lord having given us not only daylight but spiritual light, Christ the Savior

  • Prime* or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour = approximately 6 a.m.)

Christ’s being brought before Pilate.

  • Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour = approximately 9 a.m.)

Pilate’s judgement of Christ and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which happened at this hour.

  • Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour = approximately 12 noon)

Christ’s crucifixion, which happened at this hour

  • None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour = approximately 3 p.m.)

Christ’s death which happened at this hour.

  • Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)

Glorification of God, the Creator of the world and its Providence

  • Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)

Sleep as the image of death, illumined by Christ’s Harrowing of Hell after His death.

 * An eighth office, Prime, was added by Benedict of Nursia in the 6th century


The Anglo-Roman Rite

Everyone possessed by sincere concern about the genuine restoration of the Western liturgical rites within the Eastern Orthodox Church must always question the authenticity of the source documents from which such restoration is being based upon. Certainly we know there are congregations under canonical Orthodox hierarchs that are observing a post-Schism** liturgics whose praxis and catechesis is far from Orthodox. Within the Russian Church there are a variant of Uses and Rites. This was also true during the millennium of Orthodox Europe. And such diversity is acceptable if all are grounded in unifying doctrines and dogmas of the Orthodox Church Patristic Fathers.

We are fortunate to have in our possession a complete monastic hours of the rule of St Benedict according to the use of Orthodox England at the time of and just prior to the great schism, together with the pre-Sarum Masses of the ancient monasteries of Sherborne and Worcester. On The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 2014, our Hermitage was blessed by His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) in the use of this translation of Monastic Psalter or Divine Office and the Divine Liturgy of St. Gregory the Great Pope of Old Rome belonging to the Anglo-Roman Rite.

Many attempts had been made in the early and latter parts of 20th century to produce a version of the Hours of the Monastic Office in the English Language that claimed to be Orthodox. First, by way of correction, was the need to present the ancient Western usage for Monks and Nuns that followed the Rule [RSB] of St. Benedict of Nursia in a manner that was completely Orthodox, i.e., completely in accordance with the doctrine, canons, and practices of the Orthodox Church. This, of course, requires that the Hours be done in the completely ancient manner that was practiced in the first millennial Orthodox Churches of the West, which by the year 950 a.d. had spread through the greater part of the civilized world, from the Baffin Islands in what is now Canada, to the island of Valaam in Lake Ladoga in the present day Russia, to the Western Rite Monastery of Amalphon (called Morphonu by the Greeks) on Mount Athos. This usage was the singularly predominant prayer of the Monks and Nuns of the present day Italy, France, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and England. It has been considered most appropriate to look to the latter country, whose Monks and Nuns were the source of conversion for the aforementioned countries in the north of Europe, and which had received the Monastic Office itself from St. Augustine of Canterbury, the Italian monk that had been the Prior of St. Andrew’s Monastery on the Coelian Hill in Rome where our Father among the saints, St. Gregory Dialogus, Pope of Old Rome, had been the Abbott. St. Bede the Venerable writes that St. Gregory, after learning that St. Augustine had successfully begun the mission among the Angles and relating his joy for this success in a letter to St. Eulogius, Pope of Alexandria, sent “all things needed in general for Divine Worship and the services of the Church, sacred vessels, altar clothes, furniture for Churches, vestments for the Clergy, relics, and also many books.” It is the latter books that served as the foundation for this life of prayer in the Latin usage of the Monks and Nuns of medieval England that these volumes of Monastic Office in the English language are meant to continue.

The Gregorian Chant –an ancient and essential tool of assistance for prayer service in the Western Rite– was needed to produce these Office books. This was no small matter of difficulty, since much that had existed in manuscript form from the various monasteries of England had been destroyed during the Protestant Revolt. Three main manuscripts were available, being the Portiforium of St. Oswald of York, (also known as the Portiforum Wulstani), the Antiphonale Wigorniense of Worcester Cathedral Priory where St. Oswald (died A.D. 992) was Bishop, and the Breviary of Abingdon Abbey in Winchester (later called Hyde Abbey) where St. Ethelwaold (died A.D. 984) was Bishop. These two were great monastic reformers of the 10th Century Orthodox Church in England. They have left for us a wonderful treasure of prayer for the entire Church year. Second only to the Rule of St. Benedict which provides the main structure and cycle of Psalms for the Psalter, the aforementioned Antiphonale Witgorniense provided the main Antiphons and Responsories. The Portiforium of St. Oswald which appears also to have been derived from Winchester, provided the many Chapters and Collects that have been used, and the Abingdon Breviary provided those items missing from the first two manuscripts. Together, they provide us with a clear picture showing how the Monks and Nuns of the Orthodox West conducted what St. Benedict calls. “the Work of God“, Opus Dei.

We are indebted to, not only the translators at the Abbey of the Holy Name, but also to those who gave assistance: The Rev’d Presbyter John Shaw (now Bishop Jerome) –when as Dean at Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Cathedral (ROCOR) in Chicago Illinois—who directed the translators to appropriate source manuscripts as well as tirelessly translating and clarifying the chant notations. And the Rev’d Hieromonk Aidan (Keller) of Austin who had been the protégé and assistant to the translators and who travelled to the U.K. in order to glean what was needed from source manuscripts in the British Museum.

** Though the Great Schism was initiated in 1054 Orthodoxy continued to survive at various locations throughout Europe. We have placed the finality of Orthodoxy throughout Western World and the Rise of modern Roman Catholicism at 1072 when Hildebrand becomes Pope Gregory VII and launches the Gregorian reforms.

The Liturgy of Saint John the Divine

In the evolution of the liturgical rites we see the migration and development of various rites in the Far East of Persia, Babylon, East Syria (East Syrian Rite) , the Near East & Northeast being Byzantium and the Slavic nations (Byzantine Rite), in the south of European continent: South Italia, Sicily, South Gaul and Iberia (Gallic, Hispano-Gallican Mozarabic Rite) and the Celts of Brittany, Normandy, Britain, Ireland (Ephesian Rite, Coptic Rite).  It is understood in Church Tradition that the disciples of St John the Apostle, who resided in Ephesus, inherited the Ephesian Rite. Such personages as St. Polycarp of Smyrna was a disciple of St John while St. Irenaeus Bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon) in Gaul was Polycarp’s disciple.  By this missionary migration the Ephesian Rite entered southwestern Gaul and spread to Britain.  There is some evidence that the Irish Church adapted much of the Coptic Rite. We can only speculate that the Coptic and Ephesian rites were the basis for the Celtic Rite which itself spread into Britain. We see the developmental progression from the Ephesian to the Celtic to the Britain to an Anglo-Roman rite finalized in the post-Schism Sarum Use of the Roman Rite.  Sources state the Ephesian ‘origin of the Gallican Rite rested first upon a statement of St. Colman of Lindisfarne in 664 at the Synod of Whitby respecting the origin of the Celtic Pascha and second upon an 8th-century Irish writer who derived the Celtic divine office from Alexandria. Archbishop Nuttall also asserted the Eastern origin of the Celtic rite’.  Perhaps we could say our pre-Sarum Anglo-Roman Rite as a Romanized Celtic Rite?

We mention the Ephesian Rite because of our Hermitage’s particular devotion to St John the Theologian and the Mother of Our God Holy Lady Mary during her life in Ephesus, after her Son had Ascended to Heaven. We honor all the saints of Ephesus and Patmos and earlier disciples of St John.  Therefore, on special occasions and certain feasts and commemorations our Hermitage celebrates the Divine Liturgy of St. John the Divine; a ROCOR approved liturgy as found in the St. Colman Service Book of St. Bride Hermitage in Scotland.

While we do not neglect all the saints of the Church we particularly cannot over look our own American and British sacred heroes in Heaven.