Monday, May 02, 2011

Spiritual Conferences at Chevetogne

NLM Guest Article by Frater Anselm J. Gribbin, O.Praem. of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Tongerlo

Before Ash Wednesday, the Premonstratensian students of the Brabant Circary went to the abbey of Chevetogne (Belgium) for their annual spiritual conferences. Each conference was given by a monk of the abbey – in Dutch – and the conference focused on Byzantine spirituality and liturgy, including ‘the spirituality of icons’; ‘the theology of the Byzantine church building’; and ‘the history of Chevetogne and its founder, Dom Lambert Beauduin.

Dom Beauduin (1873-1960) is no stranger to readers of NLM, as he was instrumental in the beginning of the ‘Liturgical Movement’ in the twentieth century. Beauduin, a monk of Mont César (Keizersberg, Louvain), founded his community in 1925, very much with the idea that the Christian East and West should become better acquainted with each other, and the promotion of Christian unity. The apostolic letter Equidem Verba of Pope Pius XI to the abbot primate of the Benedictine Order, drew attention to the importance of Christian unity, and this presented Beauduin with the idea to realise his project. The community were originally founded in Amay-sur-Meuse (diocese of Liege , Belguim), and moved to Chevetogne (diocese of Namur) in 1939. On December 11 1990, the priory became an abbey.

Apart from the promotion of Christian unity between East and West, in particular, the emphasis given to the liturgy at the abbey is of paramount importance. Some of the monks observe the Latin Rite, while the others celebrate the liturgy in the Byzantine Rite. They have two churches for this purpose. The Latin church, which is dedicated to our Holy Saviour, was built between 1981 and 1988, and is modeled on the pattern of a basilica (atrium, nave, and sanctuary). The church is decorated by two frescos, inspired by the Roman tradition, by a Russian monk and iconographer, Archimandrite Zeno. The second of these, which surmounts the sanctuary, represents Christ in majesty (Maiestas Domini). It is unusual in several respects, particularly as the figure of Christ bears the wounds of his sacred passion. The pavement of the atrium, portrays a labyrinth, which symbolises man’s quest for God.

Apse mosaic of the Latin church

The labryinth

An overall view of the interior of the Latin church

Byzantine church, exterior

Byzantine church, interior

The conferences concerning the spirituality and theology of the icon – which included a guided tour of the Byzantine church – made a great impression, in showing how icons are very much bound up with the Eastern understanding of the liturgy. In fact, I was struck by how much the liturgical theology of the Pope Benedict XVI – in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy – owes so much to the Eastern Fathers. Another highlight was the opportunity to visit the grave of the abbey’s founder, Dom Beauduin.

It was also moving the attend the Byzantine liturgy of the hours – Matins, Sext, Vespers and Compline – in the crypt of the Byzantine church, which serves as a winter chapel. I now understand better why Pope Benedict, in his book, wants the West to re-examine the theology of the icon, and the eschatological aspects of the liturgy. I would warmly recommend a visit to this abbey, or to any other monastery that uses the Byzantine liturgy in order to re-discover, and to better appreciate, the liturgical riches of our own Latin Rite, particularly the usus antiquior.

With acknowledgements to the confreres who took the photographs.

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