Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 41

We have read about how much food to eat. We have read about how much wine to drink. And we have even read about allowing the sick, the elderly, and the children to have a bit more as they need it. Now we will read about when the brothers should eat. It sounds immeasurably strange, but I hope to explain below the text why this should be something written about.

  1. From holy Easter to Pentecost, the brothers eat at noon and take supper in the evening. 
  2. Beginning with Pentecost and continuing throughout the summer, the monks fast until mid afternoon on Wednesday and Friday, unless they are working in the fields or the summer heat is oppressive.
  3. On the other days they eat dinner at noon. 
  4. Indeed, the abbot may decide that they should continue to eat dinner at noon every day if they have work in the fields or if the summer heat remains extreme. 
  5. Similarly, he should so regulate and arrange all matters that souls may be saved and the brothers may go about their activities without justifiable grumbling.
  6. From the thirteenth of September to the beginning of Lent, they always take their meal in midafternoon. 
  7. Finally, from the beginning of Lent to Easter, they eat towards evening. 
  8. Let Vespers be celebrated early enough so that there is no need for a lamp while eating, and that everything can be finished by daylight. 
  9. Indeed, at all times let supper or the hour of the fast-day meal be so scheduled that everything can be done by daylight.
Again, it seems strange that times for eating should be regulated, especially since it seems that the brothers are not breaking the fast until noon or even mid afternoon!

From my understanding, it is not uncommon for monks to celebrate the Divine Liturgy daily. Traditionally, we Orthodox fast from the night before Liturgy to after the Liturgy is over. So if a typical Divine Liturgy lasts around 2 hours (the older form - the Divine Liturgy of Saint James - was originally 6 hours long!) then it makes sense that the brothers are not eating until noon or mid afternoon.

We see that from Lent until Easter that the brothers eat in the evening - this is not unusual as traditionally that is when families eat their meals during Lent. 

And then we read that supper should be held during daylight so lamps and candles don't need to be used. This makes sense to me because I can see this as aiding digestion. Many people who end up having stomach issues eat right before bed, and then their sleep isn't as good as it should be, and they may get indigestion. Also, this saves oil for the lamps and allows candles to be used when necessary.

So, while it seems strange to us in our modern age we can glean from history and tradition that there is a reason for regulating meal times.
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