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We began Homily 4 where St Isaac introduces us to the importance of Renunciation and the fruit it produces in the soul. We are to wean ourselves from the things of the world in our search for the divine.

Fleeing the ease of this age and freely embracing the suffering and humiliations we begin to understand and live in accord with the standard of the Cross. The mercy we show toward others is to be the mercy of Christ - nothing less.

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Once worldly cares have been stilled and virtue acquired, Abba Nesteros tells Cassian and Germanus that an assiduous program of reading the Bible must be undertaken. Reading though brings with it the danger of pride and consequently Abba Nesteros tells them that humble discretion must be exercised. He suggest the memorization of Scripture - in fact, perhaps, surprising to modern ears, the memorization of the entire Bible. Scripture is put forward here as the subject of continual mediation.

Spiritual matters are not to be spoken of lightly; nor without experience behind them.  Our one desire should be to seek to be the spouse of Christ and to allow our hearts to be shaped fully by His Word.  Holiness leads to the deepest knowledge and we must avoid relying simply on human wisdom and rhetorical skill.  Likewise we must set aside all daydreaming about worldly literature and the exercise of the intellect, reason and imagination and make Christ our lasting treasure; understanding that in Him we lack absolutely nothing.  

Finally, when speaking of the mysteries of God, our words should be directed especially to those who know the bitterness of life, whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of their own sin - those who know their poverty and so can truly be nourished and healed by the Word.

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Cassian and Germanus came to the end of their conference with Abba Chaeremon on Perfection discussing the various ranks of perfection that depend on an individual's virtue, will and ardor.  We are challenged by God to go from the heights to sill higher places, driven by love.  The greatest perfection is to share in the sonship of Christ; to be motivated by love in all things.  The only fear we are to have is the fear that is a part of the nature and disposition of love itself - a fear of not doing the will of God or of losing a life a virtue through negligence.  We must be preoccupied with a concerned devotion not only in every action but also in every word, lest our ardor become to the slightest extent lukewarm.

From this, we moved on to consider the distinct connection between perfection and chastity which is the subject of Conference Twelve.  Chastity, an inner tranquillity and peace and freedom from impurity is a means to an end for Cassian; a means to love with the perfection and purity of heart he has described.  It is possible to eradicate impurity through ascetical practices strengthened by the grace of God.  There is a difference between abstinence and chastity. With abstinence there can be a gnawing longing for the thing struggled against; whereas with chastity there is a love of purity for its own sake that penetrates into the unconscious and touches even the involuntary movements of the flesh.
Discussion then ensued regarding the profound depth psychology of the desert fathers and how this differs from modern, secular psychological thought and practice as a means of healing.
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After discussing the three sources of one's calling to monastic life or conversion, Cassian moves on to consider three forms of renunciation that lead one to embrace the life of grace: renunciation of one's attachment to material things, renunciation of one's attachment to sin, and renunciation of anything that prevents one from living in the fullness of theoria, or contemplation of God. Discussion ensued about how this renunciation is fulfilled by those who live in the world and in the face of the challenges of this generation and in light of the modern culture. How does one live for God alone in our day and seek purity of heart? What are the obstacles that we often place in our own way to pursuing the life of holiness and the joy in brings?

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Cassian takes up the theme of the three sources of one's calling to the monastic life or to conversion (God, the example of others, need) and the three types of renunciation essential for living a life of deep conversion (detachment from worldly goods, one's passions, and from all things that prevent theoria or contemplation.)  Discussion ensued about compunction, conversion in one's daily life, and embracing a spirit of renunciation in the modern world.

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St. John then discusses more advanced forms of discernment and how such a gift may be fostered in a persons' soul. (a) He speaks of the necessity of mortifying one's will, seeking the counsel of others with humility, and abandoning attachment to everything. (b) A person must learn how to judge failures and successes in his spiritual pursuits and interpret their meaning. (c) He must also learn not to follow certain inclinations that would lead him to take upon himself tasks beyond his capabilities. (d) Such a virtue will help him to understand the meaning of the moral lapses in those who seem to be holy and blessed with many spiritual gifts. (e) Gradually he will learn not to be surprised at the unexpected actions of others, but will remain a peace even when afflicted and rebuked. (f) He will understand the need to strike down demons before giving them an opportunity to wound him. (g) His eyes will be open to how demons seek to teach us how to interpret scripture in a distorted fashion and how they seek to confuse our thoughts. (h) He will see how and in what manner he must enter into the struggle and who his enemies are.

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We will be looking at these two steps together because they represent opposite sides of the same coin. Step 16 describes the spiritual illness, while Step 17 prescribes the spiritual cure. The words of Jesus fittingly introduce their theme: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). There is very little which reveals the state of our hearts more clearly than our attitude towards our possessions and the way we use them. It is easy to say we are living for heaven. The way that we use our money demonstrates the veracity of our claim. Are we living for the kingdom or do the things of this world predominate and consume us?

The cure for avarice is poverty. For the monk this poverty is absolute. The true monk owns nothing, having forsaken it all in his pursuit of God. For those of us who live in the world, this poverty is approximate. We have obligations ("mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, shelter to obtain") and we must fulfill these obligations. Poverty is best approximated in our position by striving to reduce the amount of our obligations. What we should be aiming for is the simple life, not deprivation. Severe deprivation can be as distracting as financial prosperity. The words of scripture reveal the royal way: "Give me neither poverty nor riches - - feed me with the food allotted to me, lest I be full and deny you, and say, `Who is the Lord?' Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Prov. 30:8,9).
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On Exile:detachment from relations and absolute value of commitment to Christ; the necessity of humility and avoiding corrupting influence of demons and those of bad character; Dreams and the dangers of deception through literal interpretation.

On Obedience: renunciation of self-will and self-direction

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Applying St. John's Teaching to Daily Life in the World

Detachment:

John does not hide the difficulty of the struggle ahead for those who have entered the religious life, and provides little hope for an easier way to progress in virtue.  To give oneself up to God requires a stripping of oneself of all possible attachments, concerns, anxieties, possessions, and even certain loves and friendships.  In short, one must strip oneself of anything and everything and live solely for God.  Only in doing this, John states, can one be truly able to pray as the psalmist, "I will cling close to you" (Ps 62:9).

There are many things, John calls them demons, which try to attack a monk after he has renounced the world.  In convincing a monk that he is no better off for the renunciation, the monk either returns to the world, or falls through his grief into despair.

The grief, John tells us, comes from the love of things left behind in the world and, therefore, a monk must be diligent in guarding his heart.  Once beginning the difficult journey on the narrow way, John states, it is easy to fall again onto the broad highway that leads to destruction.  When the thoughts of the world threaten to overwhelm, the best weapon is prayer.

Exile:

With this third step, John concludes the first section of his treatise describing renunciation and the break with the world which is a prerequisite to the spiritual journey of the monk.  As with the two previous steps, exile involves the painful stripping away of  worldly attachments - renouncing all for God.  Exile means leaving all that one finds familiar.  For those in the religious life, it means separation from relations.

John is quick to point out that this does not mean hatred of family, but the recognition that even what is good can be used to draw one away from God.  Once a person has renounced the world and entered the monastic life, the strength of his feelings for his family can draw him away from his commitment.

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Ladder of Divine Ascent; St. John Climacus; Renunciation; Detachment

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