Wednesday, February 28, 2007

St John Cassian: February 29

Although his feast day falls on February 29, provision is often made to remember St John Cassian a day early on February 28.

I recall reading his Institutes in a Church History class almost twenty years ago in my first semester of seminary. He was the first significant Orthodox writer to capture my imagination...

Here's an excerpt from his entry in the OCA menologion:
When Chrysostom was exiled from Constantinople in 404, Sts John Cassian and Germanus went to Rome to plead his case before Innocent I. Cassian was ordained to the holy priesthood in Rome, or perhaps later in Gaul. After Chrysostom's death in 407, St John Cassian went to Massilia [Marseilles] in Gaul (now France). There he established two cenobitic monasteries in 415, one for men and another for women, based on the model of Eastern monasticism.

At the request of Bishop Castor of Aptia Julia (in southern Gaul), Cassian wrote THE INSTITUTES OF CENOBITIC LIFE (De Institutis Coenobiorum) in twelve books, describing the life of the Palestinian and Egyptian monks. Written between 417-419, the volume included four books describing the clothing of the monks of Palestine and Egypt, their schedule of prayer and services, and how new monks were received into the monasteries.The last eight books were devoted to the eight deadly sins and how to overcome them. Through his writings, St John Cassian provided Christians of the West with examples of cenobitic monasteries, and acquainted them with the asceticism of the Orthodox East.

Cassian speaks as a spiritual guide about the purpose of life, about attaining discernment, about renunciation of the world, about the passions of the flesh and spirit, about the hardships faced by the righteous, and about prayer.

St John Cassian also wrote CONFERENCES WITH THE FATHERS (Collationes Patrum) in twenty-four books in the form of conversations about the perfection of love, about purity, about God's help, about understanding Scripture, about the gifts of God, about friendship, about the use of language, about the four levels of monasticism, about the solitary life and cenobitic life, about repentance, about fasting, about nightly meditations, and about spiritual mortification. This last has the explanatory title "I do what I do not want to do."

Books 1-10 of the CONFERENCES describe St John's conversations with the Fathers of Sketis between 393-399. Books 11-17 relate conversations with the Fathers of Panephysis, and the last seven books are devoted to conversations with monks from the region of Diolkos.

In 431 St John Cassian wrote his final work, ON THE INCARNATION OF THE LORD, AGAINST NESTORIUS (De Incarnationem Domini Contra Nestorium). In seven books he opposed the heresy, citing many Eastern and Western teachers to support his arguments.

In his works, St John Cassian was grounded in the spiritual experience of the ascetics, and criticized the abstract reasoning of St Augustine (June 15). St John said that "grace is defended less adequately by pompous words and loquacious contention, dialectic syllogisms and the eloquence of Cicero (i.e. Augustine), than by the example of the Egyptian ascetics." In the words of St John of the Ladder (March 30), "great Cassian reasons loftily and excellently." His writings are also praised in the Rule of St Benedict.

St John Cassian lived in the West for many years, but his spiritual homeland was the Orthodox East. He fell asleep in the Lord in the year 435. His holy relics rest in an underground chapel in the Monastery of St Victor in Marseilles. His head and right hand are in the main church.
Holy John Cassian, well-pleasing to God, pray for us!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Listen and be Edified!

The talks from the recent Colloquium on Orthodoxy for Anglicans held in Detroit are now available online!

Presenters included His Eminence Archbishop Nathaniel of the OCA's Romanian Episcopate, Father Stephen Freeman, Father John Parker, Father Patrick Henry Reardon, and Father Gregory Mathewes-Green.

Thanks to the wondrous generosity of Ancient Faith Radio, you may listen to the talks or download them in mp3 format by clicking here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

What's Wrong with Spirituality?

Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green has posted a very perceptive essay on modern understandings of "spirituality." Here's a snippet:

"I don’t like the category 'spirituality.' It sounds so external. It sounds so optional. It isn’t a concept I find in the first millennium, or anywhere in Eastern Christianity. As far as I can tell, what people today mean by 'spirituality' is what St. Paul meant by 'life in Christ.'

This is a transformation that every Christian is supposed to be experiencing, because we are all 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4). As we partake of the life of Christ and discipline ourselves, seeking to assimilate that life, it affects both our souls and bodies. His light spreads within us like fire spreading through a lump of coal, and so we become Christ-bearers to the world. This is such an essential, foundational element of life in Christ that to extract it and label it seems to deaden it..."

Read it all on her website here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Orthodoxy in America: Diaspora or Church?

This article by Archpriest Leonid Kishkovsky reviews the history of Orthodox jurisdictionalism in North America and soberly acknowledges the perils and promise of a path ahead.

Worth reading. Again.

"The most common image of Orthodoxy in America is the image of immigrant communities, of parishes and dioceses gathered according to the organizing principle of cultural and linguistic heritages. Often, this is the view of Orthodoxy in America held in the patriarchates and "mother churches" of Europe and the Middle East. Often enough, this is the view of Orthodoxy held by the mass media in the United States and Canada. And it is all-too-common for many Orthodox Christians in America to see themselves in light of the "immigrant image."

As a result, any definition of Orthodoxy in America built on the "immigrant model" has more in common with sociological interpretations and cultural categories than it does with ecclesiology. This makes the question "Is Orthodoxy in America Diaspora or Church?" a relevant starting point for my paper on the Orthodox understanding of the Church in the American experience.

The historical origins of the Orthodox Church in North America are connected not to immigration but to mission and evangelization. In 1794 missionary monks from Valaam Monastery arrived on Kodiak Island in Alaska. The mission they inaugurated brought the Gospel of Christ to the native tribes of Alaska. At the center of their endeavor was the evangelization of the Alaskan peoples, and not the dissemination of Russian language and culture. Indeed, at the heart of the missionary approach of the monks from Valaam was a respect for the native cultures and customs and a desire to baptize what was legitimate and valid in the native cultural traditions.

Thus the first dimension of Orthodoxy in America was the apostolic dimension, a genuine missionary impulse to evangelize..."

Continue reading on the Orthodox Europe website by clicking here.