It is the mission and ministry of our Order to provide a source of instruction and renewal of Contemplative Spirituality within the Church, specifically focusing in the urban setting. We are called as an Order of men and women to serve God through a contemplative life and service to God’s children according to the Gospel. The one thing the Order must do is live as an example of a life of contemplative prayer and teach contemplative prayer to those who are searching, with the intent of bringing them into a closer presence of Almighty God, restoring the presence of contemplative spirituality in the Church.
From the advent of Christianity, there has always been a presence of Contemplatives within the Church. This contemplative spirituality began to flourish significantly with the desert hermits in the 3rd to 4th centuries. When these hermits were seen as a threat to the institutionalized Church, they were cloistered into monasteries and convents. For the greater part of Christian history, these Religious Orders were the wellspring of contemplative spirituality for the Church. They were the spiritual balance to the business and political aspects of parish life. The Contemplatives have always been a source of spiritual renewal in the Church’s life as we have seen with St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Theresa, St. John of the Cross, Henri Nouwen, Sr. Joan Chittister, etc.
Following the Protestant Reformation, monasteries and convents were seen as obvious signs of the corruption of the Roman Church, and thus were used as scapegoats by the Protestant reformers. Unfortunately, though there were Religious Orders who were corrupt and in need of reorganization, by condemning all Religious Orders and removing them from the Body of the Church, that source of contemplative spirituality was lost with them.
During the English Reformation, we find the same snuffing of Religious Orders; however, as the Church of England in the end kept the same frame work of the Roman Catholic Church, those Orders that had not died off entirely under Henry VIII and his son Edward were allowed to grow again. By this same lineage, the Episcopal Church U.S.A. has also kept a presence of Religious Orders as part of its organization.
Sadly, despite brief resurgence during the Victorian Era, traditional Religious Orders have never recovered since the Protestant Reformation. Across the board, in the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox and the Anglican Communions, contemplative vocations are dying out. It should be noted that this is due only in part to the Reformation, but also is due in part to the cloistered life being an antithesis of modern western culture today.
For this reason, the Order of Saint Anthony the Great, O.P.C. was founded in order to renew contemplative spirituality within the Church. Our goal is to meld the monastic life with the urban setting and make the contemplative prayer life available for all laity and clergy, not just cloistered Religious. We have tempered the traditional vows of Obedience, Poverty, Chastity and Stability, drawing on their intent in fostering a contemplative prayer life to make them accessible to anyone, no matter their walk of life.
It is our belief that contemplative prayer is essential for a healthy religious life both for the individual and parish as a whole. Additionally, contemplative prayer offers a unique and effective ministry to the disenfranchised who have been cast out of other churches due to gender, social class, race and sexuality. As contemplative prayer allows the individual a one on one experience of God’s Love, this can be the start of healing which can eventually lead the individual back into the community of the Body of Christ.