Philokalia Ministries
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.  
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App