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.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twenty On the End of Repentance and on the Mark of Reparation Part III
We come to the conclusion of Conference 20 on repentance and reparation and consider the depth of the desert Fathers understanding of the human person. Abba Pinufius sets off carnal sins from the others as those that one would not want to recall as a means of uprooting the disposition to them. Such sins, touching upon our natural appetites and desires carry within them the danger of drawing us back into them if we allow them to return to memory and imagination. Pinufius is not treating such natural appetites as evils but rather respecting their power and importance to our identity as human beings. For such reasons they are not to be treated casually or lightly in the spiritual battle. We must instead turn our minds to heavenly things - the desire for God and the virtues.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twenty On the End of Repentance and on the Mark of Reparation Part I
We join Cassian and Germanus now as they visit with Abba Pinufius - well known to them for his holiness and humility. Because of these qualities, they seek him out in particular as they grapple not with understanding the need for repentance and reparation but rather with the desire to know the when end of repentance has been achieved and by what marks reparation and full healing from sin can be identified.
We come now to the conclusion of Conference 19 where Cassian and Germanus question Abba John about how one overcomes and does battle with vices that reemerge after the solitary life of the anchorite has been embraced. Abba John describes for them how they must engage in a kind of mental warfare - drawing the vices they see active in their hearts to mind and allowing themselves to be humbled by them and then apply the necessary reparation that is need; that is, apply the healing balm of penance and self rebuke to uproot the vestiges of these sins. The self-honesty as well as the self-awareness necessary for such an undertaking is great, especially since it is done without the support and guidance of others. The only vice where this is not to be done is fornication or unchastity. Since such vices arise out of and are connected to bodily appetites, the use of mental imagery could be very dangerous and simply draw one further into sin.
THE REPUGNANT NATURE OF SIN AS REFLECTED IN THE PENANCE OF THE MONKS OF THE "PRISON"
John then speaks of the value of penitence and the humility needed to embrace such a path.
The causes of moral lapses are considered and the need for courage and perseverance in the face of recurring failures. John exhorts the penitent to trust in the mercy and grace of God but also warns against presumption. Humility is key and true repentance will keep one from judging or even recognizing another's faults.
John concludes by telling his readers to above all let the image of the inmates at the "Prison" be imprinted upon their minds and hearts. They are to let the example of these holy men be their rule and model for repentance.
ON PENITENCE AND THE AVOIDANCE OF PRESUMPTION
John begins this step with a somewhat moderate and encouraging tone by describing repentance as a "renewal of one's baptism and a contract with God for a fresh start in life." With repentance there is always hope and never despair. As penitents we stand before our God guilty, but never disgraced. Indeed, we inflict punishments on ourselves out of love for God, in an attempt to reconcile ourselves to him and to receive the peace that comes through his forgiveness.
However, if there is a step in the "Ladder" which pierces one's heart, if there is any part of the book which really shakes us and brings the message home, it is precisely this step concerning those blessed and compunctionate and voluntary inmates of "the Prison." For truly these holy ones, crazed for Christ, described by John, are a mirror for us, the sluggish and indolent, to look into and to behold how wanting we are in the realm of true heartfelt repentance. They were earnest and serious about their repentance; we are light and distracted concerning our salvation. Some are repelled by the Prison of the "Ladder", while others are pierced and moved by the love for God and strength of soul of these stouthearted inmates, and mourn the lack of both in themselves.