Living in the desert, having access to a holy elder, and being surrounded by those of great virtue is not a guarantee that one will grow in humility and patience. The true battle ground is within the heart and the fierce struggle that must take place is with one's own dispositions. The Christian must undergo a decisive change in the way they look at reality and the struggles of life. The pursuit of holiness and virtue must become the center of consciousness - the frame of reference; as well as an unceasing reliance upon the grace of God through prayer. The wisdom that must guide us in our reaction to the slights and insults of others must be the wisdom of the cross; the ego must as it were be crucified in love for God and neighbor. Our natural disposition so often is to defend and strike back rather than to receive with love the hatred of others in such a way that it can be transformed by the love of God.
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.
Having shown us the danger of pride, St. John wishes to lead us step by step to the virtue of humility (Step 25). Before we consider humility, however, he insists that we must seek meekness. What is meekness? St. John answers: "Meekness is a mind consistent amid honor and dishonor; meekness prays quietly and sincerely for a neighbor however troublesome he may be; meekness is a rock looking out over the sea of anger which breaks the waves which come crashing on it and stays entirely unmoved; meekness works alongside of obedience, guides a religious community, checks frenzy, curbs anger."
A meek person 1) is not quick to defend or justify himself in the presence and thoughts of others. He is not easily unsettled by the words and opinions of others, 2) guards his heart carefully against the intrusion of thoughts of "frenzy (against any thoughts which disturb his internal peace), 3) is calm in the midst of disturbing events; he is not easily excited or provoked, 4) watches over his words, carefully choosing to utter only those which bring peace, 5) does not project himself into conversations or situations in which his presence is not desired, 6) does not jump in to correct everyone and everything, 7) is willing to wait for God to act and does not believe that his action is necessary to God, 8) knows how to pray and to be quiet, 9) has no personal agenda and is concerned only for God's will - recognizing that God's will unfolds itself in ways that are unusual and unexpected. Thus, even in his concern for God's will, he is willing to calmly wait for God to accomplish His purpose. When he must act, he does so out of calm faith rather than panicky unbelief.
It is interesting that St. John connects meekness with simplicity and guilelessness: "A meek soul is a throne of simplicity, but a wrathful mind is a creature of evil." "Guilelessness is the joyful condition of an uncalculating soul." He use three images as illustrations: childhood, Adam in the Garden and St. Paul the simple.
During childhood, he tells us, there is an absence of concern to "fit in". Those who have struggled for simplicity live much the same. Fitting in with the crowd, and compromising one's integrity to do so, are not a part of their lifestyle. They are free from the necessity to change themselves (becoming social/spiritual chameleons) to "fit in" and to meet the expectations of others.
From Adam in the Garden we learn that simplicity is the absence of self-awareness. St. John writes: "As long as Adam has simplicity, he saw neither the nakedness of his soul nor the indecency of his flesh." Adam was free from the desire to "look in the mirror" and the necessity of "standing on the scale." Does not a lot of vanity spring from an unhealthy desire to look good in the eyes of other people or to find out how we look to others? Here we see why St. John keeps mentioning hypocrisy as he discusses simplicity. Our outside appearance often becomes the equivalent of a mask, designed to keep people from seeing us as we really are. Our outside appearance becomes divorced from our inner self. The inherent, simple connection between our inner soul and outer body becomes distorted. This distortion wreaks havoc on our spiritual lives. From St. Paul the Simple, we learn that simplicity is linked to obedience and firm faith. St. Paul was a disciple of Antony the Great. St. Antony thought him too old to be a monk, but Paul submitted to the severest disciplines with such unquestioning obedience that in a relatively short time he acquired holiness and spiritual powers even greater than his master's. After relating this story, St. John draws this conclusion: "Fight to escape your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ. . . "
If we follow the simple path - distrusting our own wisdom, doing the best we can yet realizing that our mind, without warmth of heart is a very weak tool - - then a Godly life will begin to be formed in us.
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.