Revista Studii Teologice


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Funcţionalitate filocalică şi liturghie practică la Sfântul Ioan Casian

Philocalic functionality and practical liturgy according to St John Cassian

Autor(i): Cristian ANTONESCU

St John Cassian’s theology is an edifying source, revealing how spiritual life was lived during the early Christian centuries. Even though he is not frequently quoted by later patristic writers – although his works, written in Latin, were transla-ted into Greek, a rare ocurrence in the Christian Antiquity –, his influence can be easily traced in the writings of neptic authors of the subsequent centuries. His theo-logical inquiry is centered on an in-depth examination of human soul, the trials it faces and the ways in which it can overcome the temptations through which the enemy of salvation struggles to distract man from his ultimate goal – deification. The present study, strictly centered on the philocalic themes, and not on St John’s theolo-gy as a whole, addresses the following teachings of the great Father: meditation, watchfulness, incessant prayer and its role in ascetical struggle, acedia (spiritual negligence or torpor), spiritual failings, spiritual progress, detachment, dispassion, deification (theosis).
Clear awareness of the purpose and goal of spiritual life has two extremely important results: on the one had, it spares the struggler from pointless detours, keeping him on the verified path of the Fathers, and on the other hand it supports him in his struggling, since by focussing on the true life found in the practice of vir-tues, man no longer finds it difficult to undertake hesychast struggle but he rather finds joy and satisfaction in it. Among other aspects that claim the struggler’s attenti-on, achieving a pure heart is a major one. An evangelic commandment, stated in the Beatitudes, by which our Saviour promises the contemplation of God, the pure heart holds a promient place in hesychast theology. By insisting on the notion that a clean heart is the path to God’s Kingdom, St John indicates that there is no other path leading to this desideratum. The straightest path – a pure heart – can be followed only by those who have deeply impressed on the desiring part of their souls, the yearning for the Kingdom of Heaven. Strong will and mental effort – that is, watchfulness – are necessary to prevent straying from this path.
Although watchfulness is often described as hard to attain, it is the method that enables ascetics to reach the contemplation of God, and is described by many neptic Fathers as a prerequisite to spiritual life. Obviously, to St John Cassian as well as other Fathers, the highest virtues are humility and love, but, in keeping with the patristic teachings – preached by the Fathers of the Egyptian desert –, he points out that no virtue can be obtained without watchfulness. Watchfulness helps the struggler become aware of the slightest strayings from his chosen path. If this does happen, then the ascetic needs to react promptly, every time he finds himself stra-ying, and regain his position according to the norms of conduct he has adhered to. And the norm is given by the Kingdom of Heaven. Constant focus on God, through prayer, is critical as this is the only means that provides the struggler with true life. Everything beside this activity brings about only spiritual death.
Trenchant as this line of thought may seem, spiritual logic can only see things as right or wrong. What is beneficial is prayer, while what is harmful is whatever hinders incessant prayer – the essential concern of ascetics. Also known as the prayer of the mind, the prayer of the heart or Jesus’ prayer, it has always been the absolute tool in the spiritual struggle. The stake of constant prayer is union with God. For this reason, any other concern of the mind, beside prayer, is not only devoid of importance but even harmful, because it delays this encounter with God, and may even thwart it altogether if minor concerns interfere constantly. Though it is general-ly deemed very difficult – virtually impossible – for man to keep only prayer in mind, St John Cassian points out that mind can only go where it is directed.
Prayer is not simply part of the ascesis, but its very foundation. To overcome the obstacles to spiritual life, divine grace is always needed, and this aid can only be granted through continuous prayer and communion with God. Beside prayer, an ascetic also has to undertake many other struggles in order to cleanse his soul. Actu-ally, he needs a number of interdependent endeavours: constant watchfulness to prevent harmful thoughts from affecting the soul; abstinence from food to encourage repentance and curb the force of passions that affect the body; night vigil when prayer is purest; all these perfected and sustained by God’s grace.
In this context, acedia poses one of the greatest challenges of spiritual warfa-re, as it causes such sadness that seems reasonless, pushing the soul to loneliness and despair. St John teaches that this hindrance can have three distinct causes: negligence from the part of man, a temptation from the devil, or a trial from God. The worst of the three is the failure of the ascetic, because in this state man proves to be lukewarm in his relation with God, and unwilling to make real efforts in order to become a new man. In believing that he can reach perfection soon and easily, but finding that this is not possible, such man is overwhelmed by frustration, selfishness and pride. This problem hehimself has created can only be solved when he becomes aware of the harm he does to himself.
To be constantly aware of his own state, the struggler must also know the ca-uses that may hinder his spiritual life, in order to cope with them and also to under-stand that temptations arise for a reason and not blame the devil for them, thus cultivating his selfishness. No failure can occur all of a sudden, without a clear reason to be found in man’s inner state. Fall is prepared long in advance and it is a volunta-ry choice made by man. Even when the one aware of his fall is disconcerted and fails to understand what has happened to him, he still is responsible for it because he has strayed from God through negligence and carelessness, and now reaps what he has sown.
It is to be noted that spiritual strugle has to be permanent. Any compromise in cultivating virtues has a negative influence on the soul. Awareness of the dynamism of mind must stir the ascetic’s willingness to foster virtues. Otherwise, unless he strives to advance, passions and sins will draw him into the whirl of this world. Watchfulness clearly enables him to gauge his own state: if he sincerely finds that he has advanced in virtue, then he is on the right path. If, however, he fids he has not, then he must remedy the situation. One’s inner state cannot be stagnant, anyway, and if the struggler concludes that he has neither progressed nor regressed, then he deludes himself, does not actually know himself and is obviously regressing.
Dispassion requires a radical change of man’s former life, before his decision to climb the ladder of virtues. To St John Cassian, dispassion is the starting point in a truly spiritual life. Soul is so created that it naturally reaches towards God, but follo-wing his failure man needs a constant voluntary effort to drive sins and passions away. Dispassion is also a prerequisite to making prayer into what it is meant to be, that is, a means to address God directly. Any earthly care hinders perfect prayer. The ascetic has to examine himself carefully, to see whether he retains any residual earthly cares, even though he has formally renounced all material concerns and things.
Achieving dispassion is one of the most important steps in spiritual life. Altho-ugh it is sometimes regarded as an end in itself, it actually is a means to man’s union with God. This is the stage of real intimacy with God, who can now dwell in man’s soul purified of sins. Struggle must be undertaken joyfully and willfully. St John Cassian describes Abba Serenus’ enthusiastic spiritual struggle and his tirelessness. Ascetical struggle should not be marred by reluctance, regret or sadness, but it should be joyous, proving that man knows what he is striving for – the Kingdom of Heaven. If, however, fatigue and sadness are frequent, it means that the decision to follow Christ was not sincere and completely selfless.
Since most faithful view deification as perfection impossible to reach, we often forget it is the real mission of man. Even though difficulties and sins keep alienating man from God, the Holy Fathers have bequeathed to us the means to renounce sins and become close to God. Deification is not a desideratum, but a commandment. This is not to say that it is imposed on man, but that to any reasonable person deification is the only possible choice.
St John Cassian’s writings also stress the so-called inner phenomenology. The Philocalia is the most important theological work documenting the extremely complex and crucial realities of the inner world. This inner world is not unknown to St John Cassian; on the contrary, he is an outstanding precursor of mystical theology. Anot-her notable element in both the Philocalia and the writings of St John Cassian is the so-called ascetical, spiritual and theological realism. Nothing in his writings suggests that he might have expressed anything but his partaking of the grace of God. This is another important trait of the philocalic spirit which many have sought in the mo-dern times, to justify and ground their own theological positions. Thus St John Cassi-an’s philocalism is natural, free, not subject to any particular criteria. This highlights the authentic character of his theology and experience.

Pagini: 113-144