We continued our discussion tonight of homily 64. The group only considered two paragraphs over the course of the hour. But the discussion was eminently practical. Isaac challenges us to look at many things that we take for granted and asks us whether or not these things lead us to God or to be mindful of God. Do we understand the value of silence and prolonged silence? What does sleep mean for us and how do we enter it - prayerfully or distractedly? What do we do when we cannot sleep, do we turn our minds and our hearts to God, do we pray or do we distract ourselves with other things, like television or simply our own thoughts. Have we ever thought about breaking the night to pray? Isaac along with the other Fathers show us how this experience of praying at night allows us to be more wakeful during the day, in the sense of being vigilant about our thoughts and mindful of God.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Eleven on Perfection Part II and Conference Twelve Intro.
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.
According to St. John, as we pursue the heavenly goal we need to be aware of the great danger of becoming desensitized to the importance of spiritual realities. What he describes should be familiar to all. When we are first awakened to the spiritual life and introduced to its depths, we are awestruck and experience a godly fear. Yet, familiarity often breeds contempt or at least invites one to have a casual attitude.
Insensitivity develops when we allow a division to exist between our words and our actions. It is brought on by a lengthy illness which prevents a person from engaging in spiritual disciplines, carelessness and prolonged negligence. In many ways it is hypocrisy at its worst and most pathetic. We speak to others about certain spiritual practices and their importance and yet rarely embrace themselves for ourselves. We remain unmoved and untouched by our own words and exhortations. Even the reality of death and the judgement of God provoke no response.
To understand such a vice and overcome it, John tells us, we must deliberately take hold of it and scourge it with unceasing prayer and the fear of God. The source of this vice is not the same for all, and so greater effort is required from us to expose its causes and defeat them
There is a saying in the book of Proverbs which introduces the theme of Step 19 very well: "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep - - so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man." (Interestingly, this saying is repeated twice: Proverbs 6:10,11 and Proverbs 24:33,34). In step 19, St. John reminds us that too much sleep, like too much of anything, can be spiritually dangerous. Of course, we all need to sleep. Just as we need to eat, so we need to sleep in order to live. But, although sleep is natural and needful, like desire it has many sources.
How can we tell the difference? St. John does not spend a great deal of time in explaining the answer. He simply reminds us: it is too much sleep when it keeps us from fulfilling our rule of prayer. When we choose to sleep rather than to pray - we have entered into the spiritual danger zone.
Many of the fathers have pointed out that Satan can oppress and make us feel more tired than we are in order to keep us from praying. This often happens at night when it is time to say your prayers before going to bed. All of a sudden, you are hit with a tremendous sense of fatigue so that you can barely make it to your bed without falling asleep. Sometimes, undoubtedly, this is natural, but more often than not it comes from the evil one. It is a trick to get us to go to bed without prayer. For if we go to bed without prayer, we leave open our minds and imaginations for demonic assault all night. When we are sleeping, we cannot be vigilant over our thoughts. Therefore, our prayer before sleep is of the greatest importance.
In this short step, John describes sleep and its sources, the habit of oversleeping, the tactics of demons especially at the time of prayer, and finally how these demons may be overcome.