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Monastic friendship – Pachomian and Benedictine

Brother Paschal Jordan OSB shares on the close ties the monks at Mount St Benedict have with their counterparts of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The monks will celebrate the feast of their founder, St Benedict, on July 11.

 

Fr Hildebrand Greene OSB, then Prior of the Abbey at Mt St Benedict, first had contact with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in 1979, during a Caribbean Conference of Churches meeting at Pax Guest House, adjacent to the Abbey.

There, he met the young Abba Wolde Gabriel Wolde Selassie, a monk of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, sent to minister to its fledgling Church in Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana. Prior Greene was elected Third Abbot of Mt St Benedict in December 1979 and received the Abbatial Blessing in January 1980.

Following the initial meeting, Abba Gabriel visited Abbot Hildebrand and the monastic community several times, engaging in a mutual dialogue and recognising their communal monastic roots in the lives and teachings of St Antony of Egypt, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and St Pachomius, considered the ‘father’ of cenobitic life.

St Pachomius, who died in 348 AD, spread his Rule for monastics and his organisation of monastic communities from Egypt to Palestine, the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa, and eventually Western Europe. Some of Pachomius’ ideas were incorporated in the Rule of St Basil (330 –379 AD) and  the Rule of St Benedict (480–547 AD).

Ethiopian monastic life developed along Pachomian lines, flourishing from the 5th century onward. This form of monasticism has continued in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church over the centuries and remains to this day.

 

Pastoral work

Although initially a monk for 14 years, Abba Gabriel Selassie embraced pastoral work to build up the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, and the Caribbean.

Twenty-one years after his arrival, in 1993, Abba Gabriel was summoned to Ethiopia by the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Church and, on February 7, 1993, he was ordained Bishop of the Caribbean and America. As is customary¸ he took a new name, Abuna Thaddaeus.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church admits two types of priests: celibates who are monks, and married priests. However, only monks are chosen for the episcopate. On  February 8, 1995, he was elevated to the archiepiscopate, becoming Archbishop of the Caribbean and Latin America.

 

Continued contact with the Abbey

Despite his pastoral responsibilities in the Caribbean and Latin America, the contact between Abuna Thaddaeus and the Abbey has remained strong. When Abbot Francis Alleyne OSB (now Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana) succeeded Abbot Hildebrand as Abbot of Mt St Benedict, he welcomed His Holiness Abuna Paulos, then Head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and his senior clergy, to Evening Prayer and a discussion on the monastic life in the Abbey Church in 1995.

The present Abbot of Mt St Benedict, Abbot John Pereira OSB, and the monks have continued their fraternal exchange with Abuna Thaddaeus and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

One of their T&T clergy, Evangelist Tekle Mariam (Plant of Mary) Greene, a former monastic aspirant at Mt St Benedict, has maintained close ties.

This is a story of monastic friendship shared by Christian monks of differing monastic traditions: Pachomian and Benedictine. It demonstrates how dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ and the People of God links us across the ‘divide’ of our Church traditions.

There are no grand ecumenical gestures here, but simply brothers supporting brothers in the wholehearted seeking of God.

As Psalm 133 (132):1 tells us: How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity! and Proverbs 27:9 reminds us: Fragrant oil gladdens the heart, friendship’s sweetness comforts the soul.

Fr Lawrence Freeman OSB, writing in The Tablet (May 22, 1993) on the death of Fr Bede Griffiths, puts his finger on the heart of the matter: “The monastic life has no greater sign to show than the sweetness of human nature it can sometimes produce.”