Philokalia Ministries
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twelve on Chastity Part II

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twelve on Chastity Part II

April 30, 2015

As we sat at the feet of Abba Chaeremon with Cassian and Germanus, we continued this most important conference on Chastity.  We began by considering the presence or absence of the other passions, especially anger, as a barometer of the depth of a person's chastity.  The Lord must destroy all inner wars between the flesh and the spirit and no one will enjoy this virtue enduringly in whose flesh there still rages these battles.  When the Lord has freed the person from every seething emotion and impulse, he shall attain to the state of purity.  However, there can be no peace while the struggle continues.  We must not boast, then, at some small measure or period of chastity.  In fact, until a person arrives at the state of perfect purity he has to be trained frequently by enduring patiently inner discrepancies and until he acknowledges fully the truth that God alone can lift a person out of the pit of wretchedness. 

Chaeremon, then, went on to discuss the various degrees of chastity in detail and the deepening of freedom that comes with each stage.  We cannot define the purity that God desires for us in accord with human standards or measures. Nor can we think that simply because something is tied to human nature and natural bodily movements that they are somehow beyond moral judgment or have no moral value.  
Discussion then ensued about the cultural, educational and psychological implications of Cassian's teaching.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twelve on Chastity Part I

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twelve on Chastity Part I

April 23, 2015

Last evening we sat with Cassian and Germanus at the feet of Abba Chaeremon for a conference on Chastity - one of the most important of Cassian's entire work and discussing the virtue that is at the heart of the spiritual life and through which we grow in our capacity to love God and others.  Chaeremon begins by reminding us that lust and impurity can be completely extinguished from the heart.  We must let go of our tendency to cast it as something completely out of reach and rather understand that we are called to "Put to death the members of sin" within us (fornication, impurity, wantonness, evil desire and avarice) ; to destroy them as quickly as possible by a zeal for perfect holiness.  

Yet, even though we are called to all the rigors of abstinence we must not labor under the illusion that our efforts alone can bring us to this freedom.  The school of experience teaches us very quickly that incorruption is granted to us only by the bounty of divine grace.  Furthermore, we must come to have a love for the virtue of chastity.  Abstinence does not bring us to a perpetual integrity but rather an insatiable yearning for this most precious of virtues.  Also, it is not by repression that one comes to chastity but rather by filling the heart with a greater desire and love.  We must burn for love of Christ and fill our minds, imagination and memories with salutary dispositions.  We must fix our who gaze and all our efforts and concerns on the cultivation of our hearts.
Discussion then ensued about fostering chastity in modern times and the need for clarity and an heroic response to the grace of God.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection Part II and Conference Twelve Intro.

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection Part II and Conference Twelve Intro.

April 16, 2015

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.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection

April 9, 2015

Cassian describes his initial travels to Egypt with Germanus and their first encounter with Abba Chaeremon, and man of great age and holiness and seek a word from him regarding the path to perfection.  Acknowledging their desire for God, the old man agrees and settles down to speak of the three things that forestall vicious behavior, namely, fear of punishment, hope of reward, and love.  To the three checks on evil there correspond three virtues - faith, hope and love.  The virtues in question are all directed toward a good end, to be sure, but they are not all equally excellent, for they correspond in turn to three significantly different states: Fear belongs to the condition of a slave, hope to that of a hireling and love to that of a son.  Only those who have attained to the image and likeness of God may be numbered in the third state, which is the noblest.  

Persons who avoid vice out of fear are far less stable in virtue than are those who do so out of love.  The former acts as if coerced and when the coercive element is no longer present they cease to be attracted to the good.  The latter, however, are drawn to the good for its own sake.  
Persons who are moved by love also will have in particular the gift of compassion for others in their weakness, realizing that they themselves are utterly dependent upon divine mercy and grace.
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