Tonight‘s group was challenging as always. Saint Isaac begins to draw us into the heart of the gospel and the embrace of the cross. We must be willing he tells us to endure afflictions. We cannot draw near to Christ crucified without them or grow in righteousness. There is no static position in the spiritual life. Truly speaking there is no spiritual life but only life in Christ and a single hearted pursuit of the Kingdom. The world beguiles us; constantly trying to pull us away from the narrow path; ensnaring even great ascetics. We must keep before our eyes the brevity of life and come to love the Lord and our souls so much that we also come to hate sin. Furthermore, we must study the scriptures to rouse ourselves to faith and increase our fervor. This alone gives rise to greater faith and desire for God.
We picked up this evening with Homilies 36 and 37. Once again Isaac speaks to us of the importance of the Ascetical life and how it is the foundation of our sanctification. The ordering of the passions through tears, prayer and solitude are key as is humility. What Isaac seeks most of all in these Homilies though is to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and His desire to draw us into His life. Isaac wants us to see how this love permeates all things and in seeing it he wants to stir our desire for God. This Life and Love are greater than all things worldly and so we should freely and without fear be willing to sacrifice all for it.
We picked up this evening about midway through Saint Isaac’s Homily 25. St. Isaac has been speaking about the beauty of the solitary way of life and the constant called to intimacy with God. In the sections considered this evening Isaac warns of the pitfalls solitaries often experience. As one is separated from the false self and the ego diminished one experiences the full vision of the poverty of their sin and the darkness it brings. The self is left to walk in the darkness of faith to rely only on the mercy of God. The temptation is to shrink back from this intimacy and knowledge of God or to seek worldly and sensible consolations. Worse yet one might fall into despair having been stripped of all worldly consolations but not seeking rest in God. This is by far the most pitiable state of man.
Isaac presents this all as a prelude to calling us to live out our lives in Expectation of the promise of life and eternal love that come to us through Christ. To seek the Kingdom above all things and to desire the things of the Kingdom frees us from the net of despair and fosters an invincible form of long suffering. Come what may one lives in and through hope.
We began Homily 4 where St Isaac introduces us to the importance of Renunciation and the fruit it produces in the soul. We are to wean ourselves from the things of the world in our search for the divine.
Fleeing the ease of this age and freely embracing the suffering and humiliations we begin to understand and live in accord with the standard of the Cross. The mercy we show toward others is to be the mercy of Christ - nothing less.
Once worldly cares have been stilled and virtue acquired, Abba Nesteros tells Cassian and Germanus that an assiduous program of reading the Bible must be undertaken. Reading though brings with it the danger of pride and consequently Abba Nesteros tells them that humble discretion must be exercised. He suggest the memorization of Scripture - in fact, perhaps, surprising to modern ears, the memorization of the entire Bible. Scripture is put forward here as the subject of continual mediation.
Spiritual matters are not to be spoken of lightly; nor without experience behind them. Our one desire should be to seek to be the spouse of Christ and to allow our hearts to be shaped fully by His Word. Holiness leads to the deepest knowledge and we must avoid relying simply on human wisdom and rhetorical skill. Likewise we must set aside all daydreaming about worldly literature and the exercise of the intellect, reason and imagination and make Christ our lasting treasure; understanding that in Him we lack absolutely nothing.
Finally, when speaking of the mysteries of God, our words should be directed especially to those who know the bitterness of life, whose hearts have been crushed by the weight of their own sin - those who know their poverty and so can truly be nourished and healed by the Word.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection Part II and Conference Twelve Intro.
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.
After discussing the three sources of one's calling to monastic life or conversion, Cassian moves on to consider three forms of renunciation that lead one to embrace the life of grace: renunciation of one's attachment to material things, renunciation of one's attachment to sin, and renunciation of anything that prevents one from living in the fullness of theoria, or contemplation of God. Discussion ensued about how this renunciation is fulfilled by those who live in the world and in the face of the challenges of this generation and in light of the modern culture. How does one live for God alone in our day and seek purity of heart? What are the obstacles that we often place in our own way to pursuing the life of holiness and the joy in brings?
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.