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.
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.
The group continued this week following Cassian’s discussion with the elder Theodore about the ability to be “ambidextrous” in the spiritual life; that is, the importance of being able to remain at peace in the face of prosperity or adversity. Our chief desire should be to avoid sin and to trust that God, in his providence, can make all things work for the good of those who love and obey Him. A lengthy discussion ensued about how such an understanding of things changes our approach to life and what we value. The group also discussed the experience of suffering in relation to Cassian’s teaching.
Tonight we began reading Conference 6 on the Slaughter of Holy Men where Cassian introduces us to the meaning of suffering and affliction. It is by no means an easy journey. Cassian slowly constructs a foundation upon which we can build. The only real good is virtue and the only evil is vice and separation from God. This is the frame, perhaps unfamiliar and uncomfortable to the modern mind and sensibilities, within which we are to shape our understanding of life. Ultimately affliction is only understood in light of Christ’s immersion in the affliction of our sin and entering into the depths of the hell that it places a soul. He enters into the depths through love in order that we might rise to the heights through love. We meet most intimately and powerfully in that place of affliction – the Cross. It is these realities that we will be unpacking in the weeks to come.