Tag Archive: Conferences of Cassian

Praying[Abba Isaac said:] Whether the prayer is expressing repentance, or is pledging the heart in the confident trust of a pure conscience, or is expressing the intercessions which spring from a charitable heart, or is rendering thanks in the sight of the great and loving gifts of God—we have known prayers dart up like sparks from a fire. It is therefore clear that all men need to use all four kinds. The same person according to his diversity of affective states will use prayers of repentance or offering or intercession or thanksgiving.

The first kind seems particularly suitable to beginners, who are still smarting under the recollection of their sins. The second kind seems particularly suitable to people who have already attained a certain progress towards goodness. Intercession seems particularly suitable to people who are fulfilling the pledges of self-offering which they made, see the frailty of others, and are moved by charity to intercede for them. Thanksgiving seems particularly suitable for those who have torn out of their hearts the sins which pricked their conscience and are at last free from fear of falling again: and then, recollecting the generosity and the mercy of the Lord, past or present or future, are rapt away into that spark-like prayer which no mortal can understand or describe.

~ Conferences of Cassian, 9.15

I have written in the past about the destructive cycle of passions that so often leads to tragedy in our lives here. And I have reflected on this particular passage with regards to thanksgiving here. However, I would like to focus a little more closely on this passage and see the connection that Abba Isaac draws between different forms of prayer and virtuous passions that typically follow a particular order—how the way out of the vicious cycle of death is a virtuous progression of life. Continue reading


Slaying Dragons and Weathering Storms

[Abba Piamun said:] Our Lord and Saviour taught a parable about two houses, one founded on a rock and the other on sand. On both houses fell the rain and the floods and the storms. But the one built on the rock sustained the violence unharmed: the one built on the shifting sand straightway collapsed. It is obvious that it did not collapse because the rains and the floods beat upon it, but because it had been built foolishly on sand. The saint does not differ from the sinner in not being tempted so strongly. The saint is not conquered by a great onslaught, the sinner falls to a trivial temptation. As I said, we should not praise the courage of a man who had won a fight without opposition. No conflict with an enemy—no victory.

~ Conferences of Cassian 18.13

Of the four classic cardinal virtues, perhaps one of the most peculiar is courage or fortitude, as it is variously translated. Furthermore, it is strange, in general, that those four (prudence, temperance, courage, and justice) should be the four cardinal virtues and not others. What about, for example, compassion or honesty or humility? Nevertheless, the more I have contemplated them (which is not as often as I should), the more I have come to see that these four really do tend to play a fundamental role. Compassion takes courage. Honesty is ultimately an expression of justice. One cannot be humble without temperance. I am not so sure that one cannot start elsewhere, but it does not hurt to begin with these four. This story from the Conferences of St. John Cassian is ultimately about courage, or fortitude. Continue reading