Saint Benedict of Nursia (480 – c.547 )
On the 27th March, according to the Gregorian calendar, Orthodox Christians celebrate the feast day of Saint Benedict of Nursia. He is celebrated also by all the other Christian churches on other days of the year.
Saint Benedict of Nursia lived in the early Christian world when there was in existence only the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and, of course, this church was described as Orthodox and all the other churches were considered as non-Orthodox, heretical or as sects and as such were condemned and persecuted by the Imperial authorities. A central theme of ecclesiology relates to the four notes or marks of the church, in other words, the four defining characteristics of the Christian church, as stated in the creeds of Christendom. The creeds affirm belief in one holy catholic and apostolic church and are known as the notes or marks of the church, and have been of importance to ecclesiological discussion since the 4th century. The different provinces of the Roman Empire developed various liturgies/masses in the spoken languages of the ancient world. In the case of the territory occupied by present day Montenegro, it was either conducted in Latin or Greek, and of course, Slavonic came much later in the time of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. It should be noted that in the Roman Empire, Latin was the language of Law and of the Army whilst Greek was the language of religion, commerce and education. The Christian Church was administratively structured like the Roman Civil service, that is, it was based on the provinces and divisions of the Roman Empire. We see from maps of the period, with some exceptions, that most of present day Montenegro was under the rule of the Patriarch of Elder Rome. We must also stress that the Christian Church was based on the prophets and apostles of the Old and New Testaments and preserved by the Fathers of Church whose tradition was defended by the Nine Roman Ecumenical Councils. These Councils were convened by the Roman Emperor, beginning with Constantine the Great, in coordination with the Roman Patriarchates of Elder Rome, Constantinople New Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and finally Jerusalem by 451.These Councils are 1) Nicea 325, 2) Constantinople 381, 3) Ephesus 431, 4) Chalcedon 451, 5) Constantinople 553, 6) Constantinople 680, 7) Nicea 786/7, 8) Constantinople 879 and 9) Constantinople 1341. We have here Eight Ecumenical Councils which were promulgated as Roman Law by the signature of the Emperor after their minutes had been signed by the Five Roman Patriarchates and their Metropolitans and bishops. Then we have the Ninth Ecumenical Council of 1341, whose minutes were signed by only Four Roman Patriarchates and countersigned by the Roman Emperor. Already since the end of the 5th century the western part of the Roman Empire was lost to barbarian invasions and gone was now the Patriarchate of Elder Rome which had been forcefully captured by the Franks, Lombards, Germans and with the help of the Normans. The struggle began in intensity in 983 and was consummated in 1009-1046. After 1045 the Popes of Rome, except for Pope Benedict X, were no longer Romans, but members of the Franco-Latin nobility who enslaved the Roman population. Pope Benedict X (1058-9) had given the pallium to the last Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury Stigand (1052-1070). However, he and all his fellow native bishops of England were condemned by the foreign bishops of William the Conqueror to prison as schismatics and heretics where they all died. In any case it would seem highly unlikely that one receives apostolic succession by murdering Orthodox predecessors.
The Eastern part of the Roman Empire survived until 1453. The people who lived in the “Byzantine Empire” never knew nor used the word “Byzantine”. The very name is in fact an insult. The so called “Byzantine Empire” flourished in the same era that found Western Europe under the conquered barbarians ensnared by poverty and violence, formally known as the Dark Ages .The people of the Eastern Roman Empire know themselves to be Romans, nothing more and absolutely nothing less. For a Roman meant a Roman citizen, wherever he lived. In 212, Emperor Caracalla declared all free persons in the Empire to be Roman citizens, entitled to call themselves Roman, not merely subject to the Romans. Within a few decades, people begin to refer to the entire Empire less often as “Imperium Romanorum”, in Latin, meaning the “Domain of the Romans”, and more often as “Romania” that is “Romanland”.
The phrase “Byzantine Empire” was coined and popularized by French scholars such as Montesquieu, an influential figure of 18th century intellectual life. Montesquieu and other thinkers of his time, revered the ancient Greeks and Romans as masters of politics and culture to be copied. He regarded the Empire at Constantinople as corrupt and decadent and therefore he could not bring himself to refer to the Empire with the noble names of “Greek” or “Roman”. From the archaic word “Byzantium”, he used the word “Byzantine”, that denoted the Empire and connoted its supposed characteristics of dishonesty, dissimulation and decadence. However, whatever anybody thinks or says it was still the Roman Empire, even though it was reduced in size and not the derogatory term “Byzantium”.
Returning from our explanatory digression on the background historical context, we see that in the period of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, when Orthodox Christianity was the rule in the whole Roman Empire, Duklja, corresponding roughly to present day Montenegro, in the period from the VII to the IX century, came under profound spiritual influences from the Benedictines, who were followers of the monastic communities that were started in the first part of the VI century in south Italy by Saint Benedict of Nursia..
In those pre-1054 years before the break in the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, the Benedictines were not a religious order but monastic communities that obeyed Saint Benedict of Nursia’s rules. Benedictines became only a religious order after the split in 1054 and hence can no longer be considered orthodox. Some historians estimate that in Montenegro there were up to 20 Benedictine Monastic Communities with the rule of Saint Benedict. All of them fell under the Archbishop of Bar, including other monastic communities that followed other Rules. We note that all of these monastic communities were under the Patriarchate of Elder Rome.
In should be emphasized that there is strong historical evidence that the Greek monks under the Patriarchate of New Rome, were one of the first very strong influences in this region from the river Bojana to Risan. This fact is evidenced by many place names and church ruins. Not only was the monastery of Saint Luke in Krtolama first Greek and afterwards Benedictine. However, there is even a possibility that the monastery of the Saint Archangels Michael and Gabriel at Prevlaci near Tivat was first served by Greek monks and then afterwards by Benedictine monks all the way up to the coming of Saint Sava of Raska.
The Benedictine monks not only served mass in the Latin tradition but also encouraged the Cyrillic and Glagolic tradition. However, as is well known, the Split Council of 925 prohibited the use of Slavonic in church service in favour of Latin. There is evidence that this ruling was ignored by the Benedictines in some places, until the XIV century.
What emerges from all this, with all the available sources and research carried out so far, is that the Greek monks came before the Benedictine monks, to the territories of the present day Montenegrins, however, both of these groups were channels of the same spiritual Palestine-Egyptian monastic Christian tradition. However, new archeological and documentary evidence will shed further light on this disputed area of precedence.
What is fascinating and extremely important to point out, is that the Benedictan monks used and encouraged the Cyrilic-Methodian tradition and that this tradition was not implanted in the invasion of Duklja by Raska and the consequent arrival of Saint Sava of Raska, as some scholars have claimed. Duklja had already a native tradition of using both the Latin and Greek traditions and afterwards in including the Cyrillic-Methodian tradition. The above mentioned scholars are right in pointing out that the invasion destroyed the Latin and Greek church traditions in Duklja.
The principle Rule of the Benedictine monastic communities was “ORA ET LABORA” (MOLI SE I RADI). Benedictan monks had through generations played a significant role in the christianisation of Coastal Slavs, in other words, the ancestors of the present day Montenegrins, on the eastern Adriatic shores.
Already in 840 in Budva, the Benedictines had founded the church of Saint Mary and today it still exists.
The monastery of Saint Archangels Michael and Gabriel at Prevlaka near
Tivat, as we have mentioned already, was a key and significant Benedictine
spiritual monastic center. This Holy Monastery by the Adriatic sea or the
Dukljan sea, was the Mount Athos of its day in these parts, in learning
and culture and a spiritual pilgrimage site for believers from Duklja and
further afield. Here use to come and stay at residence the old Kings and
“Gospodars” of the ancient kingdom of Duklja. The Benedictine monks presence
at this holy and ancient place and at other monastic sites throughout Duklja
came to an abrupt end with the invasion and destruction of the old Dukljan
church structure and its supplanting by Saint Sava and his church organization
from Raska. We note that historical theological researchers have shown
how the Benedictine Monastic tradition survived and fused with that
of St Cyril and St Methodius and also that of St Sava’s monastic traditions,
inherited from Mount Athos in Greece, to produce a rich and distinct tradition
of monastic life that survived continually intact throughout the centuries
only in the Montenegro Metropolitan area to the present day. Let us pray
and remember Saint Benedict on his feast day!
A. De Vogue, Le Regle du maitre, Paris, 1971
B. Steidle, Die Benediktus Rege, lateinich deutsch, Beuron 1975
G. Holzherr, La Regula di San Benedetto, testo integrale latino-Italiano, ed.Piemme,1992
I.Ostojic, Benediktanci u Hrvatskoj, Split, 1963/4, 3 volumes
Istorija Crne Gore, tom II. 1997
Prevlaka Svetog Arhangela Mihaila-Humak srpske duhovnosti, izdanje Srpska svestena carska lavra Svetog arhangela Mihaila-Prevlaka, Tivat, III dopunjeno izdanje, 2000
Milovan Ivanovic, O Hriscanskoj Crkvi u Crnoj Gori-od IV do XX vijeka
Benediktinska i svetosavska tradicija u Primoriju, Mitropolit Amfilohije
Radovic, otisak iz zbornika radova “Crkva Svetoga Luke”, Kotor, 1997
Milan Glendza, London.
Last updated Jan 2002