February 29

1. THE VENERABLE JOHN CASSIAN

John, this great spiritual father, was born in Rome of renowned parents. In his youth he studied all the secular sciences, especially philosophy and astronomy. Afterward he devoted himself completely to the study of Holy Scripture. Striving to go from good to better and desiring even higher levels of perfection, Cassian traveled from Rome to Constantinople to personally hear and see St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom instructed him and ordained him a deacon. Benefiting much from the wise Chrysostom, Cassian traveled farther east, to learn even more and achieve greater perfection. He remained in Egypt, spending the longest time in Nitria among the famous spiritual athletes, from whom he learned the art of every virtue. He finally returned to the West and settled in the town of Marseilles. There he established two monastic communities--one for men and one for women. At the request of the monks, Cassian wrote many essays. Especially beneficial for lovers of the spiritual life is his work, "Eight Books on the Struggle Against the Eight Principle Passions" (The Institutes of the Monastic Life). Of great importance is his essay against the heretic Nestorius. This essay was written at the request of Archdeacon Leo. He served our Lord faithfully and enriched many with his wisdom, then took up his habitation in eternal life in the year 435 A.D. The relics of St. John lie in Marseilles [France] even to this day.

2. THE VENERABLE BARSANUPHIUS

Barsanuphius was born a pagan in Palestine. He was baptized in his eighteenth year and immediately was tonsured a monk, taking the name of John. When he became known for his virtuous life, Barsanuphius was elected Archbishop of Damascus. He did not remain long in this position. Yearning for the reclusive, ascetic spiritual life, he secretly left Damascus and went to the wilderness of Nitria. There he presented himself as the monk Barsanuphius.  As an obedience, he was immediately assigned to be a water-carrier for the monastery. The former archbishop accepted this obedience with joy. By his wise discourse, his meekness and his diligence, Barsanuphius soon became a model to all the monks. Only before his death was it revealed to the monks who this Barsanuphius was. Thus this saint, by his example, served as a reproach to the proud and power-loving, and as a comfort to the humble and meek. He died peacefully and took up his habitation with the Lord in the year 457 A.D.

HYMN OF PRAISE

ST. JOHN CASSIAN ON THE PASSIONS

Cassian numbered eight terrible passions,

And yet there is a ninth--impure thoughts.

Gluttony in food and drink is the first,

Promiscuity in spirit and body is the second,

Avarice: a shackle, which ties one to metal,

Anger: the frost of man's heart, which freezes and constricts.

Melancholy: the insatiable worm, which eats at the soul.

Despondency: drowsiness, also called death of the soul.

Vanity: a serpent, a many headed serpent,

Which is everywhere and nowhere, concealed by the grass.

Pride: a double-edged sword that cuts and hews,

Mercilessly destroying both the young and old:

The vigorous ones become proud because of their strength,

And the spiritual elders become dear to themselves.

Against all these passions, our defense is God,

Through the prayers of the holy St. John Cassian.


REFLECTION

St. John Cassian writes of the struggle with the spirit of lust in this manner: "The struggle with the spirit of lust is a bitter struggle, longer than other struggles, a daily struggle accomplished victoriously and completely by only a small number of people. This struggle begins with the first mature growth and does not cease until all the other passions are defeated. In this struggle, a twofold weapon is necessary. For the achievement of perfect and pure chastity, bodily fasting alone is not sufficient (although, before everything else, fasting is necessary). Along with this, meekness of the spirit and unremitting prayer are necessary against this most impure spirit. After that, continual study of Holy Scripture, together with prudent mental exercises, are necessary; then, physical labor and handiworks. All of these keep the heart from lusting and restore it to itself.  Above all, profound and true humility are needed, without which victory can never be achieved over any passion. Victory over this passion is conditional upon the perfect purification of the heart--the vessel from which, according to the words of the Lord, flows the poison of this sickness: For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies (Matthew 15:19). One must have constant humility and patience in the heart, and carefully guard oneself from anger and other passions during the course of the day. For the more the fire of anger enters us, the easier the embers of lust penetrate us afterward." It is interesting that many other great spiritual fathers draw a causal connection between the passion of anger and the passion of lustful desire. From this it follows that the most angry ones are the most lustful ones.

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplate the Lord Jesus as the vigilant Watchman over His Church (Matthew 28:20):

1. How He watches over the entire created world and especially His Church acquired by His Blood;

2. How He watches over every baptized soul, as a gardener watches over His plantings;

3. How He leads His Church through tranquility and through tempest, leading her to ultimate victory;

4. How He also watches over my life, that it may grow and be built into His Eternal Kingdom.

HOMILY

on the living presence of Christ

"I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).

Here is consolation beyond consolations!

Here is consolation for those broken by the tempest! Let them only remember that Christ is there beside them, and let them not be afraid. He is the Helmsman.

Here is consolation for those who are sick! Let them know that Christ is there beside their bed, and let them not despair. He is the Physician.

Here is consolation for those who grow old! Let them not lose sight of the fact that Christ travels with them through time to all eternity, into eternal youth, and let them be at peace.

Here is consolation for those who are tormented by men! Let them not think that they are abandoned, for Christ is with them in all suffering, in court and in prison, and let them rejoice. He is the Judge.

Here is consolation for those who are disturbed by evil spirits! Let them remember that Christ is the Conqueror of evil spirits, that He is on their side, and let them be strengthened. He is the Victor.

Here is consolation for all who seek the light of justice and truth! Let them believe that Christ is closer to their souls than their eyes, and let them adhere to His leadership. He is Light.

O my brethren, in truth, Christ is constantly with us as light is constantly with eyes that see. But it is to our sorrow if the eyes of our souls are closed, for then in vain does the light labor to encounter the pupils of our eyes!  Oh, our sorrow and grief when we are not with Christ!

He goes out to meet us. Are we going out to meet Him? He wants to be with us. Do we want to be with Him? If we want consolation, we must be with Him every day, to the end of our lives.

O Lord, our only Consolation, do not leave us!

To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.