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Chapter XIX.

How throughout Palestine and Mesopotamia a daily service is undertaken by the brethren.

In order that we may not appear to omit any of the Institutes of the Cœnobia I think that it should be briefly mentioned that in other countries as well there is a daily service undertaken by the brethren. For throughout the whole of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Cappadocia and all the East the brethren succeed one another in turn every week for the performance of certain duties, so that the number serving is told off according to the whole number of monks in the Cœnobium. And they hasten to fulfil these duties with a zeal and humility such as no slave bestows on his service even to a most harsh and powerful master; so that not satisfied only with these services which are rendered by canonical rule, they actually rise by night in their zeal and relieve those whose special duty this is; and secretly anticipating them try to finish those duties which these others would have to do. But each one who undertakes these weeks is on duty and has to serve until supper on 225Sunday, and when this is done, his duty for the whole week is finished, so that, when all the brethren come together to chant the Psalms (which according to custom they sing before going to bed) those whose turn is over wash the feet of all in turn, seeking faithfully from them the reward of this blessing for their work during the whole week, that the prayers offered up by all the brethren together may accompany them as they fulfil the command of Christ, the prayer, to wit, that intercedes for their ignorances and for their sins committed through human frailty, and may commend to God the complete service of their devotion like some rich offering. And so on Monday after the Mattin hymns they hand over to others who take their place the vessels and utensils with which they have ministered, which these receive and keep with the utmost care and anxiety, that none of them may be injured or destroyed, as they believe that even for the smallest vessels they must give an account, as sacred things, not only to a present steward, but to the Lord, if by chance any of them is injured through their carelessness. And what limit there is to this discipline, and what fidelity and care there is in keeping it up, you may see from one instance which I will give as an example.  For while we are anxious to satisfy that fervour of yours through which you ask for a full account of everything, and want even what you know perfectly well to be repeated to you in this treatise, we are also afraid of exceeding the limits of brevity.776776    The weekly officers here spoken of were termed “Hebdomadarii” (see the next chapter). According to most rules their duties included cooking, serving, and reading at meals. They are mentioned in S. Jerome’s preface to the Rule of Pachomius (cf. also Ep. xxii. ad Eustochium), but it would appear from what Cassian says below in c. xxii. that in Egypt the office of cook was assigned to some one brother and not undertaken by all in turn. According to Cassian they entered upon office on Monday morning but the Benedictine (c. xxxv.) and other rules speak of them as beginning their duties on Sunday morning. The custom of washing the feet of the brethren, which Cassian here describes, is also mentioned by S. Benedict. l. c.


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