Cassian and Germanus continue their discussion of Cenobitism and Anchoritism with an elderly Abba Paul who had lived in solitude for 20 years only later to return to the common life of the Cenobium. While praising the anchoritic life and its possibilities for ardent prayer, Abba Paul states that the common life is marked with the evangelical disregard for the morrow and submission to the elder. Those living the common life are able to share the labor and a monastery becomes self-sufficient, allowing the monks simply to focus upon fulfilling the rule daily undisturbed. Living in obedience to an elder they also are able to better address the scourge of the anchoritic life which is being tempted by pride and vainglory. Anchorites often run the risk of becoming overly occupied with food and possessions since they do not have the common life to support them. Furthermore, anchorites are often besieged by visitors seeking counsel and do not have the enclosure to protect their solitude.
In any case, Abba Paul tells them that perfection in either life is a rare thing. The end of the cenobite is to put to death and to crucify all his desires and, in accordance with the Gospel precept to have no thought for the next day . . . But the perfection of the of the hermit is to have a mind bare of all earthly things and, as much as human frailty permits, to unite it with Christ.
Even after 20 years of solitude, Abba Paul return to the Cenobium; having seen fault lines in his own heart - worldly or carnal desires that he believed only the discipline of the common life could address. In the end, the cenobitic life was the "safer" path for him.
This conference like the last begins with a profound example of patience; unlike anything Cassian or Germanus had seen in their previous monastery and that must have deeply humbled these two travelers who had only spent 2 years in a monastery prior to seeking out the perfection of the East. A young monk bears a slap from one of the elders that echoed so loudly as to be heard and felt physically by the 200 monks gathered to celebrated the death anniversary of a former abba of the monastery. Not only did the young monk bear the humiliation patiently but with no physical or emotional sign of disturbance. How could Cassian and Germanus failed to be humbled in their pursuit of the ideal of solitude while confronted with the perfection of the cenobitic life unlike anything they encountered before?
A lengthy discussion ensued about how such teaching applies to the life and formation of those living in the world. What comes into sharp focus regardless of the specific path taken is the need to have Christ and the pursuit of purity of heart at the center of one's life and shaping its contours. Truly one may live in the world but one must not be of the world or shaped by it. How starkly different must the Christian life be in comparison to the secular!!
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