Philokalia Ministries
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying III

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying III

December 3, 2015

 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.  

Yet, Abba Joseph understands that they made their oath rashly and in such a way that they could see that leaving Egypt without having gained knowledge of their life through long experience was foolhardy.  To leave prematurely would be to jeopardize their own salvation in the sense that it may lead them to return to a life of mediocrity.  Cassian and Germanus must apply what Joseph describes as a "hellebore": a poisonous herb that when applied in the state of deadly illness can be curative.  It must be used then and only then.  For if applied when one is healthy it will bring about death.  Such is the breaking of their oath now.  They are exchanging one tool for another - remaining in Egypt as a higher state of life and one that will lead them more assuredly along the path to their immediate goal of purity of heart.  They will have to bear the burden of this breaking this rashly made oath and make reparation for it, but nonetheless it is the appropriate decision.  Lying or breaking an oath under any other circumstance however would be spiritually deadly. 
Our tendency in the West is to seek comfort in the legal and moral absolutes.  Yet on those rare occasions it can be means of excusing ourselves from the greater charge of holiness of life.  We can cling with fidelity to some truth only to excuse ourselves from heeding the call of Truth Himself.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying II

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying II

October 8, 2015

Cassian and Germanus find themselves struggling, as it were, with a seemingly no win situation.  No matter what decision they make they will experience loss on a spiritual level.  They had made a rash promise when coming to Egypt.  They had promised their superiors that they would return quickly.  However, they have found that simply hearing the teachings of the elders was insufficient; they must live the discipline of the desert for a much longer period of time in order to have their hearts formed and purged of the slackness that lies within.  To return now would not only make it impossible for them to communicate the wisdom of the desert fully but also place them both in jeopardy on a spiritual level.  Once have let the inspiration to pursue the perfection of the desert monasticism pass they would experience enormous spiritual loss.  However, to remain now would be to set aside a promise they had made to their superiors.  Abba Joseph seeks to guide them through this situation realizing that they had acted rashly and without discernment.  One must never promise anything quickly.  The question now, however, is where can the inevitable damage they will experience be made more tolerable and compensated for by the remedy of reparation. They must humbly assume the damage caused by their sin but remain along the path where their lack of discernment and purity of heart will be addressed in order that they same mistake not be made again.  What hospital do you go to depending on your infirmity?  Where will the deepest and most lasting healing take place? 

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying

Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Seventeen on Promises and Lying

September 10, 2015

This is probably the most challenging Conference to read, to read patiently, and with a sense of generosity when interpreting its teachings. Cassian and Germanus made a promise to their superiors in Palestine that when visiting Egypt they would return as quickly as possible.  Once there, however, they discover that it was a promise rashly made and without discernment.  The way of desert wisdom is not learned quickly or communicated to others after only a brief stay.  Cassian and Germanus are then faced with the question of breaking their promise in order to stay and so know the blessings of the Egyptian lifestyle or to return prematurely and fall perhaps back into a a kind of mediocrity.  They turn to Abba Joseph once again for guidance and counsel.

It is important to read this Conference understanding that Cassian is focused more on the spiritual life and living in the tension of real experience than with theological exactness.  We must place this discussion in the context of the pursuit of God, which within the broken character of the world and the sinfulness of one's own life will often, if not always, require special repentance in recognition of how far one falls short of perfection.
There are genuinely cases in which one must act in a way that is imperfect, guilty or sinful.  One must!  However, there can be no rationalization in this regard.  It is lying; permitted for good not evil, of necessity, and medicinal in nature.  It is employed as if its nature were that of a hellebore - useful if taken when some deadly disease is threatening but if taken without being required by some great danger is the cause of immediate death.  
The difference between Palestine and Egypt is among other things, the difference between rigidity and flexibility, which in this case is another way of describing discretion.  It is better to go back on our word than to suffer the loss of something that is salutary and good.  We do not recall that the reasonable and proven fathers were ever hard and inflexible in decisions of this sort but that, like wax before fire, they were so softened by reason and by the intervention of more salutary counsel that they unhesitatingly yielded to what was better. But those whom we have seen cling obstinately to their own decisions we have always experienced as unreasonable and bereft of discretion.  
Ladder of Divine Ascent - Steps Twelve and Thirteen on Falsehood and Despondency (Acedia)

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Steps Twelve and Thirteen on Falsehood and Despondency (Acedia)

August 8, 2013


Throughout the Ladder John Climacus discusses the logical progression from one vice to another. And so it is with the vice of falsehood. It arises out of undisciplined chatter, talkativeness and foolery. Falsehood, or lying, John states, is the destroyer of charity and perjury is the denial of God himself. Thus, he tells us, we must not be fooled into thinking that lying is a minor offense. In reality, it is a sin "above all others."

The effects of one who lies are not restricted to himself, but have the consequence of leading others into sin. Through their ability to deceive, and provoke laughter in doing so, they often distract others from their spiritual pursuits and dry up their tears of contrition. Therefore, John argues that we should seek to separate ourselves from such people, or, when appropriate and helpful, to offer fraternal correction with charity.

To combat such a vice we must foster a genuine fear of the Lord and the judgement He will bring. A strong and well-formed conscience will serve us well in this task. Likewise, true compunction will aid us in this struggle. Sorrow for one's sins will destroy this vice.


St. John explains "tedium of the spirit" in this way: "Tedium is a paralysis of the soul, a slackness of the mind, a neglect of religious exercises, a hostility to vows taken. It is an approval of things worldly." The word for despondency in the Greek is "akidia" and it indicates a listlessness or torpor. The best English word that could be used to explain this is the word "BOREDOM" or perhaps we could even use the word "DISTRACTION." Very often, it begins with a loss of a sense of purpose and ends in despair and spiritual death. St. John gives numerous examples which are sure to strike home to us.

In our day and age, this demon is very much at work. How often does he confuse us with the suggestion that our spiritual labors are in vain!? How often does he suggest to us that our efforts are accomplishing no good result? How often does he point out to us many others who seem to be "gaining ground" without laboring as hard as we are? How often does he suggest that we shouldn't take the spiritual life quite seriously? How often does he remind us of our failures and suggest that perhaps we are wasting our time in pursuing the spiritual life? How often does he weigh our hearts down with earthly cares and thoughts even in the midst of our prayers? How often does he encourage us to take a day off, to sleep in and skip our prayers, to take a spiritual vacation? How often does the demon of boredom confuse our thoughts so that we forget what the goal is and how we are to achieve it?

How do we battle such a powerful demon? St. John suggest two things: Perseverance in the course taken and cooperation with others who are struggling. The only way to beat boredom is to labor through it. Once we have been started on a certain path of prayer and struggle, we must keep on keeping on without allowing ourselves to be distracted. Furthermore, we beat boredom by reminding ourselves of what others have done and are doing. Tedium is rebuffed by the common life and by the constant remembrance of the lives of the saints. Knowing that we are not alone, gives us the encouragement and motivation to persevere when we feel like quitting.  

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