Is there a future for monasticism in the 21st century?
Yes, if this new breviary from the Order of Saint Helena has anything to say about it. And it does. In fact, the Saint Helena Breviary speaks eloquently to the vibrancy and vision of the monastic life in our generation. For one thing, it speaks in a decidedly contemporary voice.
The Sisters of Saint Helena have been very intentional in their efforts to speak in a language that captures both the beauty and the reality of our time. In so doing, they have offered a gift to Christianity that is beyond words alone. Liturgy is theology embodied in worship. The theology that emerges from this breviary offers a clear image of God that is arising from deep within the monastic experience. It is the experience of a God who is as complex as the times in which we live: both accessible and transcendent in the same moment. The Saint Helena Breviary reminds us that our search for theological meaning in an age of instant responses and intimate globalism means that we must seek a God who can be both as personal as prayer but as universal as the human village. That God is on every page of this breviary.
And yet, as much as the Saint Helena Breviary is a work of creative, inclusive and adaptable reality in the postmodern sense, it is equally the product of ancient tradition. The balance the sisters have achieved is a question of values. Their monastic value of tradition weaves through this breviary like the chants that are the acoustic signature of this rich book of communal prayer. For any of us who have been longing for a genuine depth in worship beyond the novelty of shallow experimentation, the Saint Helena Breviary is like a gift from ages past made new just when we needed it most.
Is there a future for monasticism in the 21st century? You are holding part of the answer in your hand. And it is a response filled with many surprises, many opportunities and many blessings for those who would put it to use. I pray that every congregation will become familiar with this breviary as a marvelous gift from the monastic family in our church. I would encourage congregations to use it and to delight in it as it inspires us all to discover God in our time and to worship God in our place. The Sisters of Saint Helena have shown us that the monastic vision is timeless and, therefore, an enduring gift to any of us who would sing the praises of our God.
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, DD
President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School
(former) Bishop Visitor of the Order of Saint Helena