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Three Years Of ‘The Benedict Option’

It was published in Korean too

Today is the Feast Day of St. Benedict of Nursia in the Orthodox Church — which is to say, my name day. Three years ago, it was a happy coincidence — though I call it God’s winking at me — when my publisher released The Benedict Option on this day. Sentinel is a secular publisher; they had no idea that March 14 is St. Benedict’s feast day. But it is, so today is the third birthday of The Benedict Option too.

What a surprising and gratifying three years it has been for me. The book has sold over 70,000 copies in the US, and has been published in eleven languages. It is currently being translated into Hungarian, which will be the twelfth. It inspired at least one other book, Leah Libresco Sargeant’s wonderful, practical Building The Benedict Option. I have had the opportunity to speak to many people, both in the US and Europe, about the book and its message. I know of at least one lay Christian community, the Cascina San Benedetto in the countryside near Milan, founded by readers of the book.

As I have said here on many occasions, I have found it fascinating that the most enthusiastic audience for the book has been European Christians under the age of 40. The main reason, as far as I can tell: they don’t need to be convinced of the book’s claim that we’re in a time of spiritual catastrophe. If you’re still going to church in Europe today, and you’re a Millennial or a Zoomer, it’s because you really, really want to be there. And you also know that the older generations don’t have much of a clue how to lead the church through this crisis, and to make us more resilient. I wrote The Benedict Option as an attempt to make practical use of ancient monastic wisdom, and to incorporate a monastic way of seeing the world, and living out the faith, into the lives of lay Christians today.

Do you know that after all this time, I still get questions — frequently! — from people who haven’t read the book, but who are sure that Christians should not be heading for the hills? Nothing I can say about what the book actually says can move them off that narrative. Thank God for Terrence Malick’s film A Hidden Life (now available for purchase), about the Catholic martyr Franz Jägerstätter. It helps me explain what the Ben Op is, to a large extent. Franz and his family lived in the mountains of Austria, far away from the world. But the world — that is, Nazism — found its way to their village. Though it was a churchgoing village, only Franz and his family were able both to recognize Nazism for what it really was, and to find the courage to resist it, even though it meant their neighbors despised them.

The Benedict Option is about living in such a way that when the bad guys show up at your door and command you to blaspheme or apostatize, you can see who they are and what they’re really asking, and find the inner strength to bear witness, even unto death.

Today the entire world — though especially, at this moment, the West — is facing a terrible plague that is going to take the lives of many of us, and that will leave everyone’s lives changed in tremendous ways, ways that we cannot fully appreciate now. It is quite likely that our world will not endure such a convulsive shock — entire national economies shut down, health care systems overwhelmed, the free movement of peoples arrested — without major changes resulting. I invite you Christians who have not read the book to use your time at home in the days and weeks to come to read it — if you don’t want to leave your house, or depend on a hand-delivery, you can buy a Kindle version for $9.99 — and to think, and pray, about what message it has for you and your community as we plan for the post-pandemic future. If you have already read the book, consider going back to it, and thinking creatively about what we as Christian families and communities can and should be doing with respect to the pandemic, and post-pandemic, situation.

I want to leave you with some hope. As regular readers know, last month I visited St. Benedict’s cave in Subiaco — the hideaway into which young Benedict, around the year 500, retreated for prayer and fasting, as he sought God’s will for his life. The Roman Empire had fallen. Vice was everywhere. What should a good man do in a bad time? Benedict retreated from the world and put the question to God. When he emerged, Benedict ended by founding communities of prayer governed by a Rule he composed. In the centuries following his death, those communities spread Christianity and the habits of an ordered, godly life, throughout western Europe. They prepared the barbarian world for life in Christ.

It all came from a hole in the side of the mountain, which enclosed a heart open to the Holy Spirit. From that seed of faith, planted in a rock in a narrow, hidden valley, came the spiritual fruits that changed the world.

Maybe you are the new, and doubtless very different, Benedict that this world awaits. Why not?

Here are sung liturgical Orthodox prayers for Benedict, the Wonderworker of Nursia, via the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese:

Apolytikion of Benedict of Nursia

Plagal of the Fourth Tone

The image of God, was faithfully preserved in you, O Father. For you took up the Cross and followed Christ. By Your actions you taught us to look beyond the flesh for it passes, rather to be concerned about the soul which is immortal. Wherefore, O Holy Benedict, your soul rejoices with the angels.

Kontakion of Benedict of Nursia

Plagal of the Fourth Tone

O sun that shinest with the Mystic Dayspring’s radiance, who didst enlighten the monastics of the western lands, thou art worthily the namesake of benediction; do thou purge us of the filth of passions thoroughly by the sweat of thine illustrious accomplishments, for we cry to thee: Rejoice, O thrice-blessed Benedict.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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