March 15, 2018
We continued this evening with our reading of St. Isaac’s 37th Homily and his discussion of the essential practices of fasting and vigil that are the foundation of the spiritual life. Through this fasting we begin to experience the “warmth” of our hunger for God and the unshakable peace of prayer. It is also here that we move toward stillness of the thoughts and the passions and so are prepared for the purification of heart that God alone brings about.
Isaac also emphasizes the importance of solitude in achieving and maintaining this purity of heart. We can’t throw ourselves into the chaos and disorder of the world and expect to thrive. Rather we must guard our hearts vigilantly.
Discussion ensued about Isaac’s thought that this is the true mode of freedom and that we should choose fidelity to God’s law and the salvation it promises over the law of the world which is rooted in the flesh. Life in this world is brief and we must be mindful of the dust to which we shall return and the judgement we shall undergo.
Final thoughts centered on the state of cultural collapse in the West and the reduction of Christianity for many to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a similitude of faith but not life in Christ or the deification that we are called to by grace.
May 19, 2016
We pick up with Germanus and Cassian speaking with Abba Theonas about Nocturnal Illusions, or rather the emissions that sometimes occur at night, the causes of these emissions, and whether or not one should presume to receive the sacred and saving food from the altar or avoid do so when overcome by them.
Theonas begins making it clear that we should strive with all effort to maintain the purity of chastity unstained - particularly at the moment when we wish to stand at the holy altar and that we must be watchful lest the integrity of the flesh that we have protected be snatched away when we are preparing ourselves to receive Holy Communion.
If such emissions are produced through our sinfulness - negligence in spiritual practice or through a surfeit of food - then would should refrain. If it is produced through the onslaught of the devil simply to humilate a a soul yet without any feeling of wantonness then one should confidently approach the grace of the saving food.
Having said this, great care must be given to discern one's state before receiving the saving Mysteries; for if we do not discern the body and blood of the Lord and approach the altar with presumption, we eat and drink to our own condemnation. Theonas tells us that for "many who receive it unlawfully and abusively are weakened in faith and grow sickened by catching the diseases of the passions, and they fall asleep in the sleep of sinfulness, never rising from this mortal slumber" through lack of concern for their salvation.
A lengthy discussion ensued about the current state of Church and the frequency with which many approach the altar with seemingly no consideration of these realities and how this might be remedied. One must above all begin to live from communion to communion; that is, in a constant state of repentance, unceasing prayer, the avoidance of sin, frequent confession and the ascetic life. Only by simplicity - that is, only by having God as the focus of our lives and that which shapes our entire existence - will we overcome the current state of things. We must understand and embrace the fact that we live now "under grace" and seek to conform ourselves not to human but rather divine standards.
May 12, 2016
The desert fathers are not shy when it comes to talking about the more intimate details of human sexuality and its interplay with the spiritual life. Conference 22 picks up with Cassian and Germanus' much anticipated discussion with Abba Theonas about why fasting does not always seem to guarantee freedom from nocturnal emission of semen. There is no dualism between mind and body in Cassian's thought - each has an impact on the spiritual life and are intimately tied together. Nocturnal emissions take place for three possible reasons: Either a surfeit of food and drink has demanded this sort of release; or some kind of spiritual neglect has provoked it; or, finally, the devil himself has brought it about and uses it to humiliate a person who is otherwise progressing in purity, thus making him hesitate to receive Holy Communion.
This leads Germanus to ask whether a person who has had a nocturnal emission is permitted to receive communion and if so under what circumstances. Passions may lie deep within the unconscious and arise within dreams and cause such natural phenomena. An individual can incur guilt by irregularity and neglectful practices - times of gluttony, entertaining momentary sinful thoughts, lack of prayer, etc. The unconscious reveals a great deal about one's conscious spiritual life and practice.
Such considerations are important especially when it comes to receiving Holy Communion for one who seeks to truly discern the Body and Blood of the Lord. Though seeming subtle and significant to the modern mind all of this speaks to the importance of purity of heart and whether one is in a right relationship with God and living, as it were, from communion to communion. Do we appreciate the nature of the gift that we receive in the Holy Eucharist and do we live our lives in such a fashion that we are constantly preparing to receive the gift of God's grace and striving to allow it to bear the greatest fruit possible? If the Eucharist is Life and the center of our lives then our attentiveness to both our conscious awareness and practices and to manifestations of our unconscious should be great. What do our dreams or the presence of nocturnal emissions tell us about aspects of our internal state that may be hidden to us?
March 10, 2016
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.
The closing note is a reminder that what has been addressed in this conference pertains to the more grave sins in the eyes of God. We may come to the point where we do not commit them and have freed ourselves from the disposition towards them. However, the smaller sins we commit repeatedly throughout the day, often without noticing, remain something we struggle with and continue to do penance for throughout our lives. Repentance and reparation our constant fixtures of the spiritual life.
April 30, 2015
As we sat at the feet of Abba Chaeremon with Cassian and Germanus, we continued this most important conference on Chastity. We began by considering the presence or absence of the other passions, especially anger, as a barometer of the depth of a person's chastity. The Lord must destroy all inner wars between the flesh and the spirit and no one will enjoy this virtue enduringly in whose flesh there still rages these battles. When the Lord has freed the person from every seething emotion and impulse, he shall attain to the state of purity. However, there can be no peace while the struggle continues. We must not boast, then, at some small measure or period of chastity. In fact, until a person arrives at the state of perfect purity he has to be trained frequently by enduring patiently inner discrepancies and until he acknowledges fully the truth that God alone can lift a person out of the pit of wretchedness.
Chaeremon, then, went on to discuss the various degrees of chastity in detail and the deepening of freedom that comes with each stage. We cannot define the purity that God desires for us in accord with human standards or measures. Nor can we think that simply because something is tied to human nature and natural bodily movements that they are somehow beyond moral judgment or have no moral value.
Discussion then ensued about the cultural, educational and psychological implications of Cassian's teaching.
April 16, 2015
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.
From this, we moved on to consider the distinct connection between perfection and chastity which is the subject of Conference Twelve. Chastity, an inner tranquillity and peace and freedom from impurity is a means to an end for Cassian; a means to love with the perfection and purity of heart he has described. It is possible to eradicate impurity through ascetical practices strengthened by the grace of God. There is a difference between abstinence and chastity. With abstinence there can be a gnawing longing for the thing struggled against; whereas with chastity there is a love of purity for its own sake that penetrates into the unconscious and touches even the involuntary movements of the flesh.
Discussion then ensued regarding the profound depth psychology of the desert fathers and how this differs from modern, secular psychological thought and practice as a means of healing.
March 27, 2014
The Importance of Discretion in the Spiritual Life; Various Titles of Discretion; Necessity to attain and sustain virtue; examples of lack of discretion; Necessity of Humility for Attain Discretion; Importance of the Revelation of one's thoughts to another.
March 21, 2013
Prayer; Body and its place in purifying the nous through asceticism; necessity of asceticism; impassioned nous and dispassionate nous; contemporary questions about connection between liturgy, worship and the ascetical life; group questions about disciplining the body as a means of purifying the nous and rigor and consistency needed in such discipline.
March 7, 2013
Prayer and the Purification of the Nous; Critique of Centering Prayer; The Fathers Understanding of Demons; Demons in the Desert; Snares of the Demons; Struggling Against the Demons, Indirect Warfare, Asceticism and Modernity
February 28, 2013
Cultural Collapse and Schizoid nature of modern society; purification of memories and imagination; Remembrance of Death and Perception of Religious and Spiritual Reality; Prayer as essential to identity as human beings and our life