Cassian's discussion with Abba Piamun about the various kinds of monks stands more as a backdrop to a greater reflection on the necessary virtues of the Christian life; virtues not requiring a retreat to the desert but rather a willingness to retreat into the heart and there do battle to free oneself from the grip of the ego. Tonight we were presented with a most beauty portrait of humility - the virtue that becomes like the oil used by wrestlers and which allows the rebukes, insults and detraction of others to slide off of us, never being able to take grip of our hearts and pull us down into indignation and anger towards others. Abba Piamun provides us with the stories of two exemplars of patience and humility that provoke the desire for imitation and help us to understand that the spiritual life is not about leisure or joy in this world. Trial and affliction shape and sharpen these virtues until they take on the quality God desires.
We continue to listen with Cassian and Germanus to Abba Piamun discuss the kind of monks - Cenobites, Anchorites, Sarbaites and a fourth category of monk who briefly enters the cenobitic life only to rapidly leaves the confines of communal discipline and obedience to an elder for a premature embrace of the life of seclusion. The distinctions made by Abba Piamun, however, merely serve as a backdrop to a greater discussion the necessary progress and formation that one must embrace before seeking a life a greater hiddenness and contemplation. The conference is fraught with examples of the dangers of seeking to leap over the fundamental formation of the common life. To do so, reveals a kind of pride or self-delusion; that one can enter into a higher state without having properly formed the mind and heart in humility and obedience.
Cassian and Germanus move deeper into the Egyptian desert in search of a larger and more perfect group of holy men. The meet Abba Piamun, the elder and priest of all the anchorites living a more solitary life there under his guidance. Before speaking to them about the various kinds of monastic life, Piamun discusses the necessary dispositions that would make a journey such as their's fruitful. There had been many before Cassian and Germanus who simply came to Egypt to satisfy their curiosity but lacking the necessary desire to embrace the teachings of the elders and to imitate their lives. They must approach the spiritual life as anyone seeks to acquire a skill in some art; they must give themselves over to the pursuit fully. They must seek to imitate fully and faithfully the elders rather than simply to discuss or analyze everything that they see or hear. In other words, they must not cling to or trust their own judgment for they will only come to the point where even things which are very beneficial or salutary will seem useless or harmful to them. Letting go of all obstinacy they must seek to become docile and allow the truth to emerge through their experience over time.
We come to the conclusion of Germanus' and Cassian's discussion with Abba Joseph on Making Promises and the rare dispensation that would allow one to break them. The considerations laid out in this conference must be seen in light of a life lived in pursuit of holiness and specifically in seeking purity of heart. Cassian and Germanus are well aware of the implications of going back on their promise to return from Egypt to their home monastery. In fact, they are in anguish about the prospect.