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.
Cassian and Germanus conclude there discussion with Abba Joseph by discussing the various kinds of feigned patience that mask the anger and bitterness that we can hold in our hearts towards others. Our words may be smoother than oil but become darts meant to wound. One can relish gaining the position of emotional advantage over the other while maintaining the perception of virtue; fasting or embracing greater silence in a diabolical fashion that only increases pride rather than fostering humility.
Cassian continues to "take us where we do not want to go" in this Conference on Friendship. Divine Love and purity of heart must become the lens through which we see every interaction with another person. A willingness to set aside our will and judgment for the sake of charity is paramount. We must not make our perception of the truth or need to speak the truth our god, but rather we must be willing to set aside all in humility so as not to be the source of discord and contention. These are truly hard sayings and difficult to bear and we will keep coming back in our pride to make the will and wisdom of God inappropriate and impossible to live. Cruciform love is what we must bear witness to in our actions and allow to form our every thought and perception. We must overcome every wave of anger and annoyance that wells up within our hearts and develop such a sensitivity to and desire to preserve this charity that we do everything in our power to soothe the hearts of those who are angry with us justly or unjustly.
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.
CALMING THE STORM: ADDRESSING OUR ANGER AND BITTERNESS TOWARD OTHERS.
It is only through attaining the virtue of mourning spoken of in the previous step that placidity and meekness may be achieved. For it is mourning which destroys all anger and any desire to be spoken well of in this life.
Placidity, or freedom from anger, begins when one keeps silent even when the heart is moved and provoked. Slowly the virtue develops as one learns to control and silence his thoughts during an angry encounter. Eventually one is able to remain calm even when a tempest rages about him.
Freeing oneself from anger, however, requires great humility and meekness. For to be free from anger necessitates that one be calm, peaceful and loving to a person who has treated him wrongly. This is what makes a monastery such a wonderful training ground in John's eyes. For it is there that one is purified through the constant reproofs and rebuffs of his fellow monks. Such reproof gradually cleanses a soul of this passion.