Commemorated on February 29
The Monk John
Cassian the Roman, as to the place of birth and the language in which he
wrote – belonged to the West, but the spiritual native-land of the saint was
always the Orthodox East. John accepted monasticism at a Bethlehem monastery,
situated at a place not far from where the Saviour was born. After a two-year
stay at the monastery, in the year 390 the monk with his spiritual brother
Germanus journeyed over the course of seven years through the Thebaid and Skete
wilderness monasteries, drawing upon the spiritual experience of innumerable
ascetics. Having returned in 397 for a brief while to Bethlehem, the spiritual
brothers asceticised for three years in complete solitude, but then they set
out to Constantinople, where they attended to Sainted John Chrysostom.
The Monk Cassion was
ordained to the dignity of presbyter in his own native land. At Massilia
(Marseilles) in Gallia (Gaul, now France) he first established there two
coenobitic (life-in-common) monasteries, a men's and a women's, on the order of
monastic-rules of Eastern monasticism. At the request of Bishop Castor of Aptia
Julia (in Gallia Narbonensis), the Monk Cassian in the years 417-419 wrote 12
books entitled "De Institutis Coenobiorum" ("On the
Directives of Coenobitic Life") from the Palestinian and Egyptian monks
and including 10 conversations with the desert fathers, so as to provide his
fellow countrymen examples of life-in-common (cenobitic) monasteries and
acquaint them with the spirit of the asceticism of the Orthodox East. In the
first book of "De Institutis Coenobiorum" the talk concerns the
external appearance of the monastic; in the second – concerning the order of
the night psalms and prayers; in the third – concerning the order of the
daytime prayers and psalms; in the fourth – concerning the order of
renunciation from the world; in the eight remaining books – concerning eight
In the conversations
of the fathers Saint Cassian as a guide within asceticism speaks about the
purpose of life, about spiritual discernment, about the degrees of renunciation
from the world, about the passions of the flesh and spirit, about the eight sins,
about the hardship of the righteous, and about prayer.
In the years
following, the Monk Cassian described another fourteen (or else twenty-four)
"Conversations of the Fathers" (the "Collationes Patrum"):
about the perfection of love, about purity, about the help of God, about the
comprehending of Scripture, about the gifts of God, about friendship, about the
use of language, about the four levels of monasticism, about solitary hermetic
life and coenobitic life-in-common, about repentance, about fasting, about
nightly meditations, about spiritual mortification – this last given the
explanatory title "I want not to, yet this I do".
In the year 431 Saint
John Cassian wrote his final work, the "Against Nestorius" ("De
incarnationem Domini contra Nestorium" – literally "On the
Incarnation of the Lord, against Nestorius"). In it he gathered together
against the heresy the opinions of censure of many Eastern and Western
teachers. In his works the Monk Cassian grounded himself in the spiritual
experience of the ascetics, meriting the admiration of Blessed Augustine (Comm.
15 June), that "grace far least of all is defensible by pompous words and
loquacious contention, by dialectic syllogisms and the eloquence of a Cicero".
In the words of the Monk John of the Ladder (Climaticus or Lestvichnik; Comm.
30 March), "great Cassian discerns loftily and quite excellently".
Saint John Cassian the Roman reposed peacefully in the year 435.
© 1996-2001 by translator Fr. S. Janos.