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Archive for the 'Memories and Imagination' Category

We began Homily 40 and it has proven like so many before it to be challenging and beautiful. St. Issac captures not only the foundational and essential elements of the spiritual life but presents us with an ever so honest presentation of the consequences of negligence. St. Isaac teaches us that stability of place fosters a kind of internal stability and stillness of mind. To leave the stillness and the watchfulness it affords opens our imagination and memories back up to the passions that had been once healed. 
 
Fasting humbles the mind and body to make them more docile and placid to the workings of grace. Fasting involves the whole self in the spiritual life in order that life itself can become Liturgy - that is worship of God. To let go of perpetual fasting is to make ourselves swine - our belly and passions become insatiable and we begin to consume what is unfit for human being created in the imagine and likeness of God. The unconscious bears witness to this as fantasies emerge in dreams and the body responds by emitting the concrete manifestation of those fantasies enacted. 
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In tonight’s conclusion of Homily 37, St. Isaac set before us the end that the hesychast seeks and meditates upon - the life of the Kingdom and the vision of God. The hesychast who lives a life of exacting purity and chastity prays without ceasing and eventually becomes the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prays within him always - whether asleep or awake or occupied with work. He is taken captive by the love of God in such a way that prolonged prayer is no longer necessary. Fidelity to the commandments is the foundation for this experience and the setting aside of sin and the passions. 
 
In this perfection the monk has no illusions about the source of his prayer or virtues. All is grace.  Life becomes Liturgy- a sacrifice of praise and the abiding attitude one of gratitude.  Nothing is feared - not suffering or death - because the hesychast is one with He who is Life.
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We continued our discussion of Homily 37 and began with St. Isaac’s distinction between revelations and visions. Visions are concrete appearances of the incorporeal world such as angels and saints and are consolation for those who have embraced the anchoritic life in particular. Stripped of all worldly attachments God strengthens and encourages such individuals for the ascetic life. Revelations however come to the perfect and pure of heart and give insights into eschatological future states.  The intellect (Nous) is engaged and participated in the Kingdom. It is an inward mystical experience. 
 
The fathers, including Isaac, make these distinctions because of the dangers of prelest or delusion. Purity of heart is essential. A man must be free from outside modes of knowledge and embrace a kind of primordial simplicity and guilelessness.  
 
It is in this profound childlike and humble state that God can raise one up to experience his love and life. Such purity comes through spiritual mourning and compunction. Humbled by the truth He raises us up.  This is not raw emotionalism but rather a life wholly directed toward God and desiring Him. Such weeping purifies memory and imagination so that nothing holds a person back from God.
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We pick up with Germanus and Cassian speaking with Abba Theonas about Nocturnal Illusions, or rather the emissions that sometimes occur at night, the causes of these emissions, and whether or not one should presume to receive the sacred and saving food from the altar or avoid do so when overcome by them.

Theonas begins making it clear that we should strive with all effort to maintain the purity of chastity unstained - particularly at the moment when we wish to stand at the holy altar and that we must be watchful lest the integrity of the flesh that we have protected be snatched away when we are preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.  

If such emissions are produced through our sinfulness - negligence in spiritual practice or through a surfeit of food - then would should refrain.  If it is produced through the onslaught of the devil simply to humilate a a soul yet without any feeling of wantonness then one should confidently approach the grace of the saving food.

Having said this, great care must be given to discern one's state before receiving the saving Mysteries; for if we do not discern the body and blood of the Lord and approach the altar with presumption, we eat and drink to our own condemnation.  Theonas tells us that for "many who receive it unlawfully and abusively are weakened in faith and grow sickened by catching the diseases of the passions, and they fall asleep in the sleep of sinfulness, never rising from this mortal slumber" through lack of concern for their salvation.  

A lengthy discussion ensued about the current state of Church and the frequency with which many approach the altar with seemingly no consideration of these realities and how this might be remedied.  One must above all begin to live from communion to communion; that is, in a constant state of repentance, unceasing prayer, the avoidance of sin, frequent confession and the ascetic life.  Only by simplicity - that is, only by having God as the focus of our lives and that which shapes our entire existence - will we overcome the current state of things.  We must understand and embrace the fact that we live now "under grace" and seek to conform ourselves not to human but rather divine standards.   
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We come to the conclusion of Conference 20 on repentance and reparation and consider the depth of the desert Fathers understanding of the human person.  Abba Pinufius sets off carnal sins from the others as those that one would not want to recall as a means of uprooting the disposition to them.  Such sins, touching upon our natural appetites and desires carry within them the danger of drawing us back into them if we allow them to return to memory and imagination.  Pinufius is not treating such natural appetites as evils but rather respecting their power and importance to our identity as human beings.  For such reasons they are not to be treated casually or lightly in the spiritual battle. We must instead turn our minds to heavenly things - the desire for God and the virtues.  

The closing note is a reminder that what has been addressed in this conference pertains to the more grave sins in the eyes of God.  We may come to the point where we do not commit them and have freed ourselves from the disposition towards them.  However, the smaller sins we commit repeatedly throughout the day, often without noticing, remain something we struggle with and continue to do penance for throughout our lives.  Repentance and reparation our constant fixtures of the spiritual life.
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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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Cultural Collapse and Schizoid nature of modern society; purification of memories and imagination; Remembrance of Death and Perception of Religious and Spiritual Reality; Prayer as essential to identity as human beings and our life

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