Are you interested in contemplative spirituality and intentional Christian community?
The Order of St. Anthony the Great provides two main ministries to the Church. The first is as a resource for those seeking to learn about and develop their own contemplative prayer life. We teach by offering classes throughout our Diocese, by offering retreats across the U.S., and by providing online forums for discussion and instruction.
The second ministry we provide is that of intentional Christian community. As our Abbot is fond of saying, "Christian responsibility is the obligation to community." While there may be times in which we retreat into solitude, we cannot be fully engaged as Christians unless we are engaged in community. For thousands of years, Christians have felt called to live in community or be a part of community with a common prayer life as its center. In community, we learn from one another, share with one another, and eventually rely on one another.
The structure of our Order is to provide for both residential and dispersed community. For some of our members, community means living in residence at the Monk House and sharing the Divine Office each day, along with meals and social time. For others, community means attending weekly meetings at the Monk House every Thursday and joining in our yearly retreats. And yet for others, community is dialogue and instruction via email and listserv chats along with the same yearly retreat.
For those interested in either learning about contemplative spirituality or being a part of a contemplative community, then we invite you to share time with us and get to know our diverse family.
What is "Postulancy" within the Order?
A postulant is someone who is interested in our Order and participating in our meetings (whether in person or online) with the intent of taking simple vows. The period of postulancy allows you to get to know us while we can get to know you. For those not looking to join, you are always welcome to learn with us as perpetual guests and friends of the Order.
The easiest way to start the path to inquiry in the Order is to just start attending our meetings or receiving our emails. For those interested, contact Br. Kenneth at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After a period of time as a declared postulant (anywhere between a few months to over a year, depending on background), you can take the next step towards developing a contemplative life in community and take simple vows. You can find the vows under the "Vocations" section of this website.
What is the "Novitiate" within the Order?
A member under simple vows is consideried a novice. Simple vows are renewed annually and serve as the real "test run" of what it's like to be professed member of our community. When you profess simple vows for the first time, the novice is clothed in a black hooded tunic and black scapular. Following the first year of the novitiate, the solemn professed of the Order will decide whether they think the novice is suited for life vows. At any point after the first year, the novice may be clothed in a grey scapular at the time of their renewal. This is a nod from the solemn or life professed members to the novice letting them know that when they feel ready, they can take solemn vows. The grey scapular is not obligatory, though. A novice may live under simple vows, renewing from year to year for as long as they desire. Unlike the more traditional Orders, we do not feel that we can determine God's timeline for an individual. All we can do is direct them and let them know when they have our approval to move forward.
What are the requirements for Postulancy and Novitiate?
Anyone can approach the Order for postulancy. During this time you will learn from and participate with the community. The Abbot then decides, through observation and conversation with the postulant whether they are ready for the novitiate. During the period of postulancy and novitiate, there are directed lessons and required readings.
The required reading list includes:
1) The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen – Henri Nouwen was one of the greatest contemplative writers of the 20th century, standing alongside others like Thomas Merton and Joan Chittister. This very small book is his basic introduction into the purpose and practice of silence. Being Roman Catholic, his theology flavors a lot of his descriptions, but it is still a wonderful bite size morsel. Best when read, allowed to sit, and then reread slowly.
2) What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills – In a short and straight forward format, Wills shows how radical the really outward teachings of Jesus really were and what he was trying to accomplish within religious identity. He also shows where the Church has been trying to cover up, overshadow, and outright ignore a lot of his radically inclusive message while claiming to be the “embodiment of Christ on earth.” A good “back to the basics” book for any Christian contemplative.
3) Wisdom Jesus by Mother Cynthia Bourgeault – This is best read as a companion to What Jesus Meant. Where Wills shows the radical outward ministry of Jesus, Mother Cynthia shows the radical inward spiritual teachings of Jesus. Her grasp and explanation of ancient texts, including the Gospel of Thomas, is excellent and provides a far more internal view of Christian spirituality than is often found in traditional church teachings.
4) Through the Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong – For anyone interested in intentional religious community, these two books are a must. In the 1960s as a woman in her early 20s, Karen entered a convent to become a nun. She entered at a time when Religious life was being redefined by Vatican II and systems of tradition were giving way to much needed innovation and restructuring…but the change was hardly easy for those that had lived under the old system for most of their lives. Karen is caught between two worlds as she enters into her novitiate, and struggles in her own religious identity as her own Religious Order struggles with theirs. The Spiral Staircase is the second half of her autobiography, picking up from where she left her convent and tried assimilate into the secular world while eventually coming to terms with her own faith and experience of God. Her transformation speaks to many who are searching, and her observations of Religious life can offer us numerous lessons as we move into community as modern contemplatives in our Church.
5) Meditation without Myth by Daniel Helminiak – Dr. Helminiak, a former Roman Catholic priest, is now a professor of psychology at West Georgia College. By initially “taking God out of the equation” for teaching centering/meditation, he offers a good introduction to the very basic practice while showing the benefits both physical and psychological. At the end of the book, he brings God back in, showing the greater depth one can achieve through the basic practice of being still. His simple instruction and medical explanation shows how all of us are wired for centering, and what to expect when we begin doing it on a regular basis.
6) God is a Verb by Rabbi David A. Cooper – For anyone interested in the mystical aspects of Judaism (which figured into early Christian practice) this is a great and easy to read guide to the basics of Kabbalah, the contemplative branch of Judaism. The concept of Ein Sof will resonate with anyone who has practiced contemplative spirituality, regardless of tradition.
7) The Wisdom of the Desert: Sayings of the Desert Fathers of the Fourth Century by Thomas Merton—A concise collection and excellent introduction into the sayings of the early Christian hermits as compiled by one of the 20th century’s best known contemplatives. Each small reading offers a wealth of material for prayer and contemplation.