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.
Oct 13th, 2014 by philokalia
The group considered the closing sections of Conference Seven with Abba Serenus. The Divine Physician often will allow demons to afflict souls for the purposes of correction and at times that affliction will be severe; especially among the holy ones whose sin might seem slight in the eyes of the world but yet prevents the spiritual perfection to which God calls them. Serenus reminds Cassian and Germanus of the importance of praying ceaselessly for those who are afflicted and of encouraging frequent Communion as a means of spiritual healing.
Oct 2nd, 2014 by philokalia
The elder Serenus clarifies for Cassian and Germanus that the evil spirits, although capable of working in a kind of temporary accord, do not act in harmony with each other. Rather, a spirit must set out by itself to attack the mind in such a way that if it departs vanquished it gives it over to another spirit to be attacked more vehemently. Not all evil spirits are as powerful or fight with the same ferocity and with beginners and the weak only the weaker spirits are paired off in battle. The picture Serenus paints is of constant and intense warfare that only grows in its intensity with growth in virtue and holiness. The individual must learn to fight relentlessly and seek to completely defeat the enemy; developing a hatred for sin. If the power of demons seem blunted in our day in comparison to the early days of the anchorites it is most likely due to our negligence having made them milder and made them disdain to fight as they did against the more accomplished soldiers of Christ. This kind of a battle is used often by God to purify the soul of even the slightest sins; he chastises the ones whom he loves and scourges every son he receives in order to perfect them.
Sep 27th, 2014 by philokalia
Germanus and Cassian continue to engage the elder Serenus about the action of evil spirits. Serenus with great patience and eloquence shows them that evil spirits only have the power to incite and that we as human beings remain capable of either rejecting or accepting their suggestions. We either choose to be deceived or fail quickly to oppose them. So called "possession" is only due to the weakening of the body that comes from the acceptance and embrace of sin; much akin to the effects of wine or fever on the human person. God alone is incorporeal and has access to the deepest part of our soul. Evil spirits, however, discern from bodily gestures and from perceptible movements whether temptation or suggestion has taken hold of the heart: for example, when a person has been silent, or sighing with a certain indignation, or his face pale or blush and thus they have a subtle knowledge of who is given to what vice.
Sep 18th, 2014 by philokalia
Cassian and Germanus seek out the guidance of the elder Serenus, whose name captures his character. Serenus had attained great purity of heart, peace, and freedom from the carnal desires of the flesh. Cassian and Germanus come to him in a state of despair; for although having labored for years they found their thoughts wandering and pulling them back to the things of the world and the passions. In their desolation they had begun to give up any hope of attaining such virtue and complain to Serenus that it is their nature that has prevented stability of mind and heart. Serenus in both his teaching and example is becomes the cypher though which we are meant to come to understand both the path to and nature of purity of heart. It is desire and thirst for God alone that can bring us to this freedom. Faith, Hope and Love are the weapons we use to engage in the battle (the theological virtues that have God as their end) and the depths of the heart is purified by the sharp sword of the Spirit. Once again the discussion was thoughtful and enriching and Cassian’s insights immeasurably valuable.
Sep 4th, 2014 by philokalia
The group considered the final paragraphs of Conference Six; reflecting in particular on the effects of diligence and negligence on the spiritual life. Cassian’s elder reminds him and us that we should call no person blessed until after his or her death. Virtue acquired by the grace of God and asceticism must be preserved with the same concern and effort with which it was obtained. Spiritual carelessness is like a leaky roof through which there are tiny leaks of passion that penetrate the soul. Left unattended they weaken the structure of the virtues and afterward they pour in a heavy shower of sinfulness.
As we began the introductory material of Conference Seven on Demons we considered the modern tendency to psychologize spiritual afflictions, labeling them as such, and how this weakens the soul. It often leads one to excuse oneself (ex causa); that is, free themselves from the charge of the spiritual warfare that is necessary and from the desire and the intensity of mind that would lead them otherwise to reach out for God and His help. Cassian reminds us that the demons’ knowledge of the secrets of the mind is not infallible; it is instead a clever deduction from our observable behaviors.
Aug 28th, 2014 by philokalia
We continue to make our way through Cassian's analysis of the spiritual life and its trials. As we approach the end of the Sixth Conference, Cassian makes it clear that there is no unchanging state in the spiritual life. We are either seeking God and growing in virtue (driven by desire) or we are being drawn deeper into the life of sin. Love of God, desire for the Beloved, must draw us on through the life of grace. With an intensity of mind, we must pursue what lies ahead and not let ourselves be molded and shaped by the things of the world. We must be held by God and shaped in accord with His wisdom and will.
Aug 21st, 2014 by philokalia
The group continued its discussion of the sixth conference following the elder’s teaching on the necessity of trials in the spiritual life as a means of purification from sin. One must seek to trust in the wisdom of God as he finds himself afflicted for the sake of correction or to burn away the dross. At times one will undergo trials for the sake of the glory of God, to manifest the power of his grace through his endurance. In the most challenging section of the conference, the elder tells Cassian and Germanus that there are those so hardened in their sin that they are beyond the remedy of chastisement and who must be abandoned to the darkness of the sin and the full consequence of the loss of communion with God. Having failed to respond to God’s remedy, they must be abandoned to the desolation of their choosing with the hope that its emptiness will stir them at last to conversion or simply be a warning to others.