Feb 26th, 2015 by philokalia
The group began Conference Ten, the high point of Cassian teaching on imageless and unceasing prayer. Cassian sets the stage by seeking to put the notion of imageless prayer in highest possible relief through giving an account of the monk Serapion's fall into the anthropromorphite heresy. Serapion's mind becomes cluttered with the erroneous and deadly image of a God with human contours; unable to let go of the confines of what the imagination and intellect can construct to be drawn by faith into the intimacy and mystery of the Triune God. It is through the pathos of this story that Cassian brings his readers to see the beauty of pure prayer and the unbroken communion with God it promises. When such prayer is attained, everything a person does is God. And this, which is the end of all perfection, is equivalent to transforming one's whole life into a single and continuous prayer.
A lengthy discussion then ensued regarding the simplicity of life that must be fostered in order for the silence of solitude to emerge in which such unceasing prayer can take place. The group considered the types of pseudo contemplation that have arisen in the modern culture that sadly make genuine prayer more and more unlikely.
Feb 19th, 2015 by philokalia
Along with Cassian and Germanus, we came to the end of the first conference on prayer with Abba Issac, where discussion focussed on the different origins of tears (consciousness of one's own sins, fear of Gehenna, the sins of others, and the hardships of this life in the face of a deep longing for heaven). Tears are to be fostered as a part of compunction, but never forced once one has reached deeper level of prayer, so as not to focus on things of lesser importance.
Prayers are heard or not heard for various reasons. Our hearts must be filled with a kind of urgency that gives rise to persistence in prayer and we must not doubt that God will hear and answer our prayers in due course, so long as like our Lord we seek only the will of God and what is for our salvation.
Prayer is to be engaged in silently; not only so as not to disturb others but in order not to reveal to demons the more intimate aspects of our relationship with God. Some things are only to be shared between the soul and the Heavenly Bridegroom.
Feb 12th, 2015 by philokalia
Continuing our discussion of Conference Nine, we picked up with Abba Isaac's exposition of the final petitions of the Our Father: "And subject us not to the trial . . . but deliver us from evil." Trial is an inevitable part of the human condition and the spiritual life, but we seek in such trials the protection of God and the grace of perseverance and long-suffering so as not to succumb to the evil of the loss of our faith or to act in a way contrary to God's will. We ask not to be tried beyond our capacity.
When praying, care must be given not to seek those things that our transitory in nature and nothing base or temporal. To do so is to offer great injury to God's largesse and grandeur with the paltriness of our prayer.
Abba Isaac then moves on to discuss the more sublime character of "wordless prayer" that transcends understanding and to which few are called. It is a infusion of divine light through which God can in a brief moment fill the mind and heart. The precondition of this prayer is the breaking and humbling of the heart which is expressed through compunction and the overflow of tears that purify the heart.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the potential enigma of philokalic spirituality to the Western mind - the setting aside of imagination and the focus on taking every thought captive so as to eventually be brought to unceasing prayer.
Feb 5th, 2015 by philokalia
The group continued to discuss Abba Isaac's breathtaking exposition of the "Our Father"; considering the third, fourth and fifth petitions. The beauty of his words are only equaled by their challenge. We are called to desire above all to live the "angelic" life (to be wrapped in our desire to fulfill God's will in every aspect of our lives), to seek to nourish ourselves upon His Word (discerning the gift that we receive daily and receiving it with reverence and awe), and to cry out for God's forgiveness (understanding that the mercy we receive depends on the mercy we offer to others).
Lengthy discussion ensued regarding the secularism and worldliness that has colored many people's experience of the faith and what it means to pray the "Our Father" and to receive the Holy Eucharist.
Jan 22nd, 2015 by philokalia
Germanus, Cassian's traveling companion, begins this section by talking about the mind's inconstancy and seeming inability to hold on to holy thoughts. He presses Abba Issac to move ahead with a discussion on how to pray without ceasing. But Abba Issac knows that there is work that must first be done in understanding the various aspects of prayer as outlined by the Apostle Paul and to see an example of the forms of prayer expressed perfectly and in unison by Jesus in the Our Father. No person's prayers are uniform and each is affected by their level of purity of heart.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the struggle with secularism and worldliness that impedes the freedom and simplicity necessary to allow prayer to become the focus and center of one's life.
Jan 15th, 2015 by philokalia
Picking up with Cassian's Conference 9 on Prayer, we continue to focus on the necessary dispositions for unceasing and pure prayer. We must not let anything, worldly vices or concerns, weigh us down; nor can we underestimate the impact of the actions and thoughts we may consider beneficial or of little significance hinder us. In fact, it is often that which appears good or innocent that is most destructive to our spiritual life because we pay it no attention and so don't struggle to overcome it. Sometimes we have hidden anxieties about worldly things and seek to find our identity in them or a sense of self worth and value in the eyes of others.
The simplicity of life and detachment that allows for true prayer often eludes us and we have to struggle as did the fathers to allow God to show us the depth of prayer He is calling us to in His wisdom.
Jan 8th, 2015 by philokalia
Prayer is the subject of conferences 9 and 10 and its importance is underlined at the very beginning of the 9th: "The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer." But this constant prayer demands, in turn, perfection of heart and the virtues that go with it. This ninth conference serves as a kind of preliminary, among other things establishing the conditions for prayer and the different possible characteristics of prayer.
Nov 13th, 2014 by philokalia
After a brief hiatus due to illness, the group picked up with the final few pages of Conference Eight which was Abba Serenus' response to Germanus' questions as to whether demons could have had intercourse with the daughters of men and whether the devil had a father, given the words of Jn 8:44 "he is a liar and the father of it." Serenus responds to the first be asserting that a spiritual being could not have had carnal relations with a corporeal being. He explain the account in Gn 6:2, instead, in terms of the reprehensible intermarriages between the offspring of Seth and that of Cain. When they mingled with the wicked daughters of Cain, Seth's sons "abandoned that true discipline of natural philosophy which was handed down to them by their forebears and which that first man, who was at once immersed in the study of all natural things, was able to grasp clearly and to pass on in unambiguous fashion to this descendants. In particular, the group focused on a brief digression on how the law forbidding intermarriages such as these would have applied, since it was promulgated after the event. The old man points out that the holy ones of the OT had a natural and spontaneous knowledge of the law.
In response to Germanus's second question, Serenus says that God himself was the devil's father, for God created him. This issue, though perhaps not as pertinent in our day, was of great interest in Cassian's time. It had already been raised by heretics, who asserted that the devil was the offspring of a being other than God.
The group then moved on to Conference Nine which takes up the topic of prayer: the end of every monk (and of every Christan) and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer. This constant prayer, Cassian teaches, requires in turn perfection of heart and the the virtues that go with it.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about establishing such a clarity about the aims of the spiritual life and establishing not only the discipline but the simplicity of life that would foster such goals. The pursuit of such simplicity would set a Christian apart in a culture that values and exalts busyness.
Oct 24th, 2014 by philokalia
The group picked up with Abba Serenus' exposition of the nature and characteristics of demons - the fact that they occupy the airy void between heaven and earth, their hideous appearance, their mutual adversity (which is the result of their having befriended mutually opposed nations on earth), their titles, functions and hierarchy, and their assignment to individual human beings, such that each human being has a personal demon as well as a personal angel. It is fortunate that human beings cannot ordinarily see them, for otherwise they would either be horrified by their aspect or seek to imitate them in their wickedness. Finally , as aggressive as demons may be against humans, they may also obey them in one of two instances, either when rendered submissive by human holiness or when soothed by the sacrifices and incantations of the wicked.
Oct 16th, 2014 by philokalia
The group took up Cassian’s eighth conference – listening once again to the wise counsel of Abba Serenus. This conference treats of demons in themselves and their origins. In particular, the question is raised: “Were they created by God, in all their variety, specifically to wage war against humankind?”
Serenus begins with some lengthy preliminaries about the interpretation of Scripture and about the possibility of understanding it both historically and allegorically. From there, he proceeds to affirm the goodness of everything that God created and hence those angelic beings that were created before the foundation of the visible world and that eventually fell came to be called demons. As far as their variety is concerned, the demons either maintained in hell the hierarchy that they originally had in heaven or imitated those ranks after the fall. Lucifer fell “a first time by pride, for which he deserved to be called a serpent, and a second fall followed as a result of envy.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the eternality of God and His foreknowledge of the Fall of angels.