Brother Randall Horton: The Hermit as Servant

While the Hermit, hidden and solitary in the (physical) desert, dominates the popular imagination, there is, and has always been, a tradition of Hermits living as servants – in the Russian tradition, the poustinik is one who has been called by God to live life in the desert (poustinia), alone with God in the service of humanity through prayer, fasting, and availability to those who might call upon him or her.
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Randall D. Horton (1952 – 2011)

“Brother Randall D. Horton died of a sudden heart attack on April 28, 2011, at Fessenden House in Yonkers. He was 59 years old. Brother Randy was born on February 8, 1952, in Taft, California. After attending local elementary and high schools, he enrolled at San Jose State University, receiving his BA in 1972, and Stanford University, where he received his MA in Early Music and Organ Performance in 1975. He soon found himself drawn to the Religious Life and at the age of 30 he entered Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. He was professed as an oblate, and served as the order’s music director for six years.
Holy Cross Monastery
In 1988 he left Holy Cross Monastery to pursue a vocation as a solitary monk under vows held by his bishop. He made his life profession of vows to the Episcopal Bishop of New York, in 1998. In March of 2002 became House Manager at Fessenden House – a supportive living facility for men dealing with substance abuse and medical or psychiatric issues – where he lived and worked until his death. He is survived by his sister, Betty, of Maui, HI, and the scores of people who have benefited from his insights and wisdom in the spirituality of recovery. A funeral mass and interment will be held at Christ Church in Bronxville, at a date and time to be announced.”

May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.
randall horton
Interesting and inspiring insights from Brother Randall can still be found at his blog: :

“Q. Why do some Religious seem to be centered on prayer exclusively and others seem to be centered on work of some sort?

A. The Religious life comes in many different shapes and forms. The biblical type is the story of Mary and Martha, the prototypes of the active and the contemplative lives. But the Religious life goes back further than the development of contemplatives and, later, actives. The story of Christian monks begins with the desert hermits in the 4th century. They did not live in community at all, but alone. Then came the Rule of Benedict and the contemplative movement which saw the development of communal monasticism. Last, but certainly not least, we have Francis and the development of the active Religious life—the friars. All of these are radically different life styles and a person who is called to one would probably not be successful at all in adapting to another style. This is why in discernment of vocation it is very wise to explore many different communities and different styles of life before choosing a novitiate. While active Religious appear to be centered on work, they are actually centered on prayer. It is just that they understand prayer in a different way. Mary is not holier or better than Martha. She is just a representative of a different way to pray.”

“I would suggest that, while a hermit is professed to NOT be a part of a community (any community, including a parish community), he or she has all the normal human needs for society that anybody else has. Furthermore, even though a hermit may from time to time spend extended time in a solitary hermitage, this does not obviate his or her need for involvement of others–friends, spiritual directors, confessors and, at times, therapists. Does this mean a hermit as described above is not a true hermit? Not at all.

I would maintain that solitude is an interior disposition, not an exterior one. While I do recognize that a hermit has the need for an extended period apart from society to develop the propensity toward inward solitude, that solitude can be brought back to society when the hermit leaves the place of physical aloneness. Indeed, this is the only justification I can see for hermits living as part of a cenobitic community at all apart from an extended period of formation and training as a monk or nun. The Trappists benefited far more from Thomas Merton’s presence in the community than he did. He brought back the fruits of his contemplation and gave them to those who were not called to do it themselves.

Having said that, I would go on to add that the hermit who cannot or has not spent concentrated time in the physical solitude of a hermitage has a questionable vocation as a hermit. I am not questioning whether he or she has a vocation–just whether or not it is to the life of a hermit.

One final thought–given the nature of the eremitical personality, true community is a situation in which a hermit is not likely to be found. It is, in my belief, not by chance that hermits historically have had little, if any, direct contact with parish life apart from receiving the sacrament. Some bishops seem to think that an active parish involvement is somehow a sign of an eremitical vocation. It is not. In fact, most hermits I have known should probably have as little parish involvement as possible.”

For Fessenden House see

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