Q.1. I see the initials “OCSB Rom” and I see what they mean but is this a new order you’ve created?
A.1. Thank you for this question because I suppose it could cause much confusion. First off, there are no “orders” in Orthodoxy. This is purely a Papist phenomena regarding their monastic’s administrative structures which were always different than the Benedictines. Even from its years in Orthodox Europe, Benedictines were autonomous never administrated by a hierarch anywhere.
We are in the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia subject to His Eminence Metropolitan +Hilarian. As is Christminster.
Now as to your question and for others to know what we are speaking of: the initials you refer to “OCSB Rom” represent for us the initials of our monastic brotherhood namely, “Orthodox Congregation of St Benedict of Norcia, Romualdian Tradition”. The only thing new here is the name and initials. Our reason is this, we find it to be an unorthodox practice to use the Papists Use of O.S.B. “Ordo Sancti Benedicti” which may not have begun to make use of their initials OSB until Pope Leo XIII‘s Apostolic Brief “Summum semper” on 12 July 1883 or according to reason at least until the rise of the mendicants in the 13th c. since until then everyone knew who the Benedictines were. Point is our Orthodox ancestors under the Rule of St Benedict did not likely use such self-designations. And neither should we today, regardless of the fact that some Orthodox Benedictines do and I dare say our poor Eastern Bishop do not take such issues into account. So we prefer the Orthodox Congregation (not Order) of St Benedict OCSB.
Yes I know. Are we not still creating an “order” by adding “Romualdian Tradition”? To call us “Romualdians” is simply an associative term related to our first founder. And those same Orthodox OSB would have you believe that there are no hermits among the Benedictines. Well maybe they are technically correct. But our historical founder never swore off his monastic vows as a Benedictine. In all accounts St Romuald was seen as a monastic reformer. He, wherever he could, made the observance of the Rule of St Benedict stricter and within their same monastic brotherhood within a few miles from the monastery were the hermitages of hermits. History tells us they were Benedictines known as Romualdines or Romualdites. In 1072 by Papal Bull, Pope Gregory VII named them “Camaldolese” and that’s what Catholics have known them ever since. With the rebirth of Western Orthodoxy, we have taken the name Romualdian and like our Orthodox ancestors as well as our Catholic counterparts we too are still Benedictine, to be precise Romualdian Benedictines. So we are not an order just a different shade of monasticism. The East is no different. There you will find no “orders” but neither will you find convention. Every monastery or brotherhood has its own rule (typikon) and they are not always that belonging to St Basil the Great.
Q2. You seem to insist that yours is a Hermitage not a Skete, not a Monastery. Please explain just how your Hermitage differs from other forms of Orthodox monasticism?
A2. As the word indicates a Hermitage is a residence of hermits typically no more than three. A hermit’s life is spent more hours in prayer and contemplation than that of a monk; for this reason pilgrims and visitors are often discouraged in visiting so as not to disrupt the hesychastic quiet hermits enjoy in and around their hermitage.
I will not go into the historical differences between the various types of monasticism, there isn’t the space here for that. Such topics have already been covered in various publications most notably here. Allow me therefore to explain our specific form of monastic/eremitic life at the Hermitage. Before I became completely disabled in terms of gainful employment and was in fact earning “good money” as they say, it was never an issue of sustaining the Hermitage. Needless to say it did become an issue once I was removed from employment due to my physical condition. Monastic houses of any kind are financially independent of the Church in which they are spiritually obedient to. We had no one to turn to except the laity but at that time we were not widely known. Now in theory we are based upon the monastic system of St Romuald who had reformed Benedictine (cenobitic) monasteries and attached to them eremitical Hermitages all within the same brotherhood. Our first problem we neither had the finances nor the land resources. So what do we do?
Though we are Western Orthodox monks we have no shame in borrowing, or at least benchmarking, from our Eastern Brothers. Until we are able to secure our own property those monks who are in temporary vows (technically, “Resident Oblates”) and monks having taken their 1st vows (~ rasaphore) live as cenobites or regular monks; while the final vowed monk (~ stavrophore) and the full monk (~ great schema) are the hermits and live accordingly in the same Hermitage. Since we have no “cottage industry” of our own [and we are highly disagreeable with the many layman worldwide who have gotten into the business of ecclesiastical arts and metal works] each of our monks must have some type of income. Out of that income they make a sizeable “donation” to the hermitage for its operation. This does not violate one’s vow of poverty since “everything is to be considered as in common”. This all comes closest to the kellion system on Mt Athos, as we interpret it. Like that system, our Spiritual Father or Father Superior is neither an Abbot (Archimandrite) nor a Prior (Hegumen) but a Protos. In our use a protos is a functional leader both spiritual & administrative (cf., “Kellion”, in R.N.Robinson’s Monasticism in the Orthodox Churches p. 17+). If we remain too small the seat of Protos will be selected by the previous Protos. If we are blessed by God to increase we shall likely adopt the system St Benedict established in his Rule.
Hope that helps.