We come to the conclusion of Germanus' and Cassian's discussion with Abba Joseph on Making Promises and the rare dispensation that would allow one to break them. The considerations laid out in this conference must be seen in light of a life lived in pursuit of holiness and specifically in seeking purity of heart. Cassian and Germanus are well aware of the implications of going back on their promise to return from Egypt to their home monastery. In fact, they are in anguish about the prospect.
Yet, Abba Joseph understands that they made their oath rashly and in such a way that they could see that leaving Egypt without having gained knowledge of their life through long experience was foolhardy. To leave prematurely would be to jeopardize their own salvation in the sense that it may lead them to return to a life of mediocrity. Cassian and Germanus must apply what Joseph describes as a "hellebore": a poisonous herb that when applied in the state of deadly illness can be curative. It must be used then and only then. For if applied when one is healthy it will bring about death. Such is the breaking of their oath now. They are exchanging one tool for another - remaining in Egypt as a higher state of life and one that will lead them more assuredly along the path to their immediate goal of purity of heart. They will have to bear the burden of this breaking this rashly made oath and make reparation for it, but nonetheless it is the appropriate decision. Lying or breaking an oath under any other circumstance however would be spiritually deadly.
Our tendency in the West is to seek comfort in the legal and moral absolutes. Yet on those rare occasions it can be means of excusing ourselves from the greater charge of holiness of life. We can cling with fidelity to some truth only to excuse ourselves from heeding the call of Truth Himself.
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