The Church has entered the third millennium of its existence. Its 2,000 year long journey has experienced a very mixed history. It has wandered the path from its origins in the Roman Empire and Greek culture, permeating throughout Europe with the Gospel, expanding to the newly discovered continents, and continuing right up until the contemporary technical world. Throughout its entire history, its journey has always been accompanied by monks and nuns – as a model of life according to the Gospel and as the answer of Christians to the problems of society during specific eras. For every essential problem faced within society, God has awakened the spirit of the Gospel in the human mind, and both men and women have responded to the issues of the day in the way of the Gospel. It is for this reason that various religious orders have emerged throughout history and have been accepted, modified and included in the Church’s task of salvation.
The Church has stepped into the third millennium along with the charismas of numerous men and women, who by their asceticism live as witnesses to a society that proclaims that God is dead and in which the new Tower of Babel is being built by the development of technology. Among these many charismas who have walked into the third millennium are the Cistercian family with its 900 years of enduring history. We, the Cistercians, carry with us our entire history from our initial ascendancy, through our ebb and imminent extinction, until our revival. The Cistercian Order has entered this millennium having less than 3,000 monks and nuns, but the monastic ideal remains the same as in the 12th century: to realise a consecrated life to God in prayer, silence and obedience. Benedict’s motto persists, but the work nowadays is different from that in the 6th or the 12th century. Current society with its form of mentality, technological inventions and spiritual sensualisation are a new challenge for the monasticism of our time: either to succumb to the influences or to permeate it with the spirit of the Gospel. We, the Cistercians, are one of the religious orders who, within the Church, serve above all by prayer and by being living examples. Our monasteries in Europe are being confronted with a deficit in vocations; those in the Far East however are in the ascendancy – some monasteries in Vietnam for example have more than 100 monks.