February 25, 2016
We join Cassian and Germanus now as they visit with Abba Pinufius - well known to them for his holiness and humility. Because of these qualities, they seek him out in particular as they grapple not with understanding the need for repentance and reparation but rather with the desire to know the when end of repentance has been achieved and by what marks reparation and full healing from sin can be identified.
For the modern Christian, this can be very difficult to understand; so largely have repentance and reparation become symbolic in our lives. Seeking forgiveness and confessing one's sins can simply be a legalistic notion - acknowledging infractions of certain moral laws rather than addressing the restoration of a relationship of love and repairing or healing the damage done by our sin and overcoming our disposition to sin. In a few sentences, Abba Pinufius pulls from our grasp all room for presumption. Conscience becomes the truest judge - speaking to our hearts about the true state of our souls and whether we have received the forgiveness and grace of God in vain. It becomes the strongest indicator of whether or not we have been freed from the disposition to particular sins. Repentance and reparation, and the formation of conscience, then, become constant and essential elements of the spiritual life.
February 11, 2016
We come now to the conclusion of Conference 19 where Cassian and Germanus question Abba John about how one overcomes and does battle with vices that reemerge after the solitary life of the anchorite has been embraced. Abba John describes for them how they must engage in a kind of mental warfare - drawing the vices they see active in their hearts to mind and allowing themselves to be humbled by them and then apply the necessary reparation that is need; that is, apply the healing balm of penance and self rebuke to uproot the vestiges of these sins. The self-honesty as well as the self-awareness necessary for such an undertaking is great, especially since it is done without the support and guidance of others. The only vice where this is not to be done is fornication or unchastity. Since such vices arise out of and are connected to bodily appetites, the use of mental imagery could be very dangerous and simply draw one further into sin.
Lengthy discussion ensued about renewing the asceticism that would even allow this kind of mindfulness and purity of heart to develop. In particular, the group discussed the importance of fasting in the humbling of mind and body and allowing one to recognize one's dependence on God. We must come to see once more the necessity of such practices, develop the resolve to embrace them, and take them up with love; acknowledging that they bring us freedom and draw us closer to Christ.
We also spoke at length about the importance of not receiving the grace of God in vain. When receiving the grace and mercy of God through confession of our sins, we must take up the means available to us to repair the damage that the sin has inflicted; to uproot the vice and apply the healing balm.
February 4, 2016
Again, Germanus and Cassian take up their discussion with Abba John about the end of the life of a cenobite and of the hermit. Both have been deeply humbled as their understanding of the necessity and importance of long formation in the cenobia for developing the capacity of pursuing the anchoritic life. Only by having lived in community and having crucified the ego and one's passions can one possibly pursue the life of greater solitude and contemplation. For it is in the deeper silence of the the anchoritic life that the once hidden passions will again emerge. In fact, some people become so savage due to the unbroken silence of the desert simply because they sought it in pride or prematurely. If one goes off to the desert with vices not yet attended to, only their effects will be repressed but the dispositions to them will not be extinguished.
A great deal of discussion focused on the applying the wisdom of the desert to the life of one seeking holiness while living in the world. Simplicity of life and clarity about the essential pursuit of purity of heart as well as emotional maturity were discussed at length in regard to how they apply to the married state, consecrated single life and the life of the secular clergy. One must cultivate a sensitive conscience through frequent examination and humble repentance. Prayer must be fostered not as a good activity but as the very source of life and holiness. Christians must once again foster a culture that is truly shaped by the gospel. They must also be attentive to the ways the Divine Physician provides for healing when spiritual guides our lacking.