Abba Theonas continues to draw Cassian and Germanus into the greater vision of the Christian life - guided not by law but by grace. The measure of holiness for the Christian is always Christ, the sinless one, and so even though our conscience does not rebuke us we know that we are but worthless servants who have only done our duty. We seek the purity of heart and chastity that not only avoids fornication but seeks freedom from all wantonness. In this the fundamental attitude of the Christian must be humility. We must live in a constant state of repentance, penance and prayer; understanding that daily we fall through weakness into the capital sins and that it is only by being lifted up by God's grace and participating in the perfect purity of Christ that we come to share in the holiness of God.
Along with Cassian and Germanus, we came to the end of the first conference on prayer with Abba Issac, where discussion focussed on the different origins of tears (consciousness of one's own sins, fear of Gehenna, the sins of others, and the hardships of this life in the face of a deep longing for heaven). Tears are to be fostered as a part of compunction, but never forced once one has reached deeper level of prayer, so as not to focus on things of lesser importance.
Germanus, Cassian's traveling companion, begins this section by talking about the mind's inconstancy and seeming inability to hold on to holy thoughts. He presses Abba Issac to move ahead with a discussion on how to pray without ceasing. But Abba Issac knows that there is work that must first be done in understanding the various aspects of prayer as outlined by the Apostle Paul and to see an example of the forms of prayer expressed perfectly and in unison by Jesus in the Our Father. No person's prayers are uniform and each is affected by their level of purity of heart.
Prayer is the subject of conferences 9 and 10 and its importance is underlined at the very beginning of the 9th: "The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer." But this constant prayer demands, in turn, perfection of heart and the virtues that go with it. This ninth conference serves as a kind of preliminary, among other things establishing the conditions for prayer and the different possible characteristics of prayer.
Cassian takes up the theme of the three sources of one's calling to the monastic life or to conversion (God, the example of others, need) and the three types of renunciation essential for living a life of deep conversion (detachment from worldly goods, one's passions, and from all things that prevent theoria or contemplation.) Discussion ensued about compunction, conversion in one's daily life, and embracing a spirit of renunciation in the modern world.
JOYFUL SORROW: TEARS OF REPENTANCE THAT LEAD US INTO THE EMBRACE OF LOVE
In this step John discusses the source of tears and what they do for the soul. Not only are they a gift of God which purifies our hearts and drains away our passions, but true tears produce joy within the heart. Mourning gives way to the consolation of being forgiven by and reconciled with God.
At the heart of our mourning, then, is love for God. We weep because we long for God and the love that He alone can provide. According to John, this makes it one of the most important and essential of virtues.