History of the Order of Saint Athanasius
The Order of Saint Athanasius was founded on October 2, 1996 and officially accepted its first members on that day at a Solemn High Mass at the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, Okeechobee, Florida.
The present Superior, Mother Mary Joanna, founded the Order. Mother had been Sister Mary Joanna in the Order of St. Andrew, for over six years, prior to leaving to begin her own Community. She felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit in her call to take on this tremendous task. Her vision of an Order that would encompass vowed religious life for women of the Apostolic Succession, both single and married, was both unique and heart felt. She saw a need for a Community where those under the traditional vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience would live in community as the First Order. She also made provision for other Sisters, married or single, in a Second Order, to live independently under the same Vows, defined according to their state in life. Associates of the Order would provide support through prayer and alms, sharing in the life and work of the Sisters. The work and ministry of The Order of Saint Athanasius would, therefore, be widespread.
Mother set about to make this vision a reality with the help and support of her parish priest, and now the Orderís Chaplain, The Rev. Canon Timothy Shaw. The Rt. Rev. John Howe, Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, readily agreed to act as Episcopal Visitor to the Order and has provided much-needed support and encouragement.
Having received the permission and blessing of Bishop Howe, Mother began the long process of drafting the Constitution, Rule and Customary that would be needed to begin officially, providing both administrative and spiritual guidelines as required under the Canons of the Episcopal Church.
In discerning the particular charism that she felt the Order would best exemplify, she turned to The Rule of Saint Benedict. While not taking the actual Rule of Saint Benedict as the Rule for The Order of Saint Athanasius, Mother felt that a religious life lived in the spirit of the Rule of that great father of western monasticism would be most appropriate. The Rule of The Order of Saint Athanasius reflects this spirit. Indeed, The Rule of Saint Benedict has provided inspiration and guidance for countless religious orders down through the centuries since St. Benedict of Nursia wrote it for his own monks at Monte Cassino c.540.
The Rule of Saint Benedict is hallmarked by common sense. It makes possible the living of extraordinary lives by ordinary people. Benedict did not expect perfection but accepted human limitations, at the same time gently urging his monks to strive for improvement. He placed much importance on the virtue of humility. The Rule leads its adherents by observance and obedience in tending to perfection by following Christ. Benedictís Rule provided a via media for his monastic family, a middle path between severe asceticism and self-indulgence.
Saint Benedict calls for a balance and rhythm of prayer, work and study. The Sisters of The Order of Saint Athanasius strive to live the balanced monastic life set out by Saint Benedict.
Saint Benedict made the opus Dei, the Divine Office, the central focus for his monks. "Let nothing be preferred to the Work of God", he said in naming worship as the primary task for his monks. Prayer, therefore, is placed as the number one priority for the Sisters of The Order of Saint Athanasius. Daily communal worship in the Offices, the praying of the rosary and private prayer are emphasized.
The work the Sisters are engaged in daily, for the Church and for Godís people, is another essential element in the balance that makes up Benedictine monasticism. Sisters work and minister according to the needs of the parishes and communities in which they find themselves, whether at the Orderís Mother House or in the many geographical locations where the Second Order Sisters live. Their daily prayer becomes grounded in the work they are doing so that the two together exemplify a life dedicated to God and neighbor.
Saint Benedict also placed emphasis upon intellectual pursuits and study, especially of Holy Scripture. Accordingly, The Order of Saint Athanasius requires of its Sisters extensive reading and study in many areas, such as Church history, the Sacraments, the Life and Rule of Saint Benedict, the Vows of Religion and many other classic spiritual and devotional texts to enhance their spiritual growth. Bible study and meditation upon Holy Scripture are called for daily.
Perhaps reminiscent of his early days as a hermit, Saint Benedict stressed the need for periods of silence and solitude. The Sisters maintain The Great Silence from Compline until after Morning Prayer the next day.
In reflecting upon the name she should choose for her Order, Mother decided on that of Saint Athanasius (c.296-373). As a Bishop in Alexandria, Athanasius is well known for his life-long work to preserve orthodoxy in the Church. His struggles brought him into conflict with the heretic Arian and he spent much of his life in exile for his unrelenting battle in maintaining the truths of the divinity of Jesus and the virginity of His Mother. In addition, he is well known for his biography of Saint Antony the Hermit, a work that had much influence on Western monasticism. Saint Athanasius was also a friend of Saint Pachomius, often referred to as the founder of cenobitic monasticism. Thus, The Order of Saint Athanasius took, as its patron, one who exemplifies the orthodoxy of our heritage and also one who had much to do with bringing to the West the ideals of the eremitical lives of the dessert fathers as well as the cenobitic monasticism of the East.
In 1998 The Order moved to its present location in Winter Haven, Florida where the First Order Sisters are an integral part of the parish of Saint Paulís there and Father Shaw is rector.
Since 1996, the Order has grown slowly and in addition
to the First Order Sisters at the Mother House in Winter Haven, the Order
now has Second Order Sisters in Florida, New Jersey and Nova Scotia, Canada.
They all come together once each year for Retreat, Chapter and profession
or renewal of Vows or Clothing of Novices. Within the next year The
Order of Saint Athanasius expects to begin the process of applying
for official recognition with the ECUSA House of Bishops' Standing Committee
on Religious Communities.
Mother Mary Joanna, Sister Mary Joseph, Sister Angelica (all of first order) and Sister Mary Frances of the second order.
Send e-mail to Mother Mary Joanna