John Cassian Conferences on Prayer "IX & X"

Summary of Main Points

  • The main virtues: unceasing prayer and purity of heart: "The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer: and, as much as human frailty allows, it strives after an unchanging and continual tranquility of mind and perpetual purity." (II.1.p.329)
  • Abandon anxiety and purify the emotions: "First anxiety about fleshly matters should be completely cut off. Then, not only the concern for but in fact even the memory of affairs and business should be refused all entry whatsoever; detraction, idle speech, talkativeness, and buffoonery should also be done away with; the disturbance of anger, in particular, and of sadness should be entirely torn out; and the harmful shoot of fleshly lust and of avarice should be uprooted." (III,1 p.330)
  • How to prepare for prayer: "For whatever our soul was thinking about before the time of prayer inevitably occurs to us when we pray as a result of the operation of the memory. Hence we must prepare ourselves before the time of prayer to be the prayerful persons that we wish to be. For the mind in prayer is shaped by the state that it was previously in, and when we sink into prayer, the image of the same deeds, words and thoughts plays itself out before our eyes. …Therefore before we pray we should make an effort to cast out from the innermost parts of our heart whatever we do not wish to steal upon us as we pray, so that in this way we can fulfill the apostolic words: 'Pray without ceasing.' And: 'In every place lifting up pure hands without anger and dissension.'" (III,3 p.331)
  • Simplify your life: "The elders….understood that whatever exceeds the minimum of daily food and the unavoidable requirements of the flesh contributes to worldly concern and anxiety… If working for one solidus were able to provide for the needs of our body, but we wished to exhaust ourselves by more effort and labor for the sake of earning two or three solidi; and if two tunics were enough clothing for day and night, but we succeeded in becoming the owners of three or four; and if a dwelling of one or two rooms were enough, but we were moved by worldly ambition and a desire for spaciousness to build four or five rooms, exquisitely furnished and larger than required by utility…we would be displaying the passion of worldly lust wherever we could." (V,4/5 p.333)
  • Distractions are inevitable: "If only we were able to enjoy uninterruptedly these spiritual thoughts in the same way and with the same ease that we usually conceive their beginnings… the mind has no constancy of its own." (VII.1/2 p.334)

A brother came to Abbot Pastor and said: "Many distracting thoughts come into my mind, and I am in danger because of them." Then the elder thrust him out into the open air and said: "Open up the garments about your chest and catch the wind in them." But he replied: "This I cannot do." So the elder said to him: "If you cannot catch the wind, neither can you prevent distracting thoughts from coming into your head. Your job is to say 'No' to them."

  • All types of prayer are important: "I urge first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made." (IX p.335) "Thus it is clear that all these kinds which we have spoken about appear helpful and necessary to everyone, so that in one and the same man a changing disposition will send forth pure and fervent prayers of supplication at one time, prayer at another, and intercessions at another (XV.1 p.338)… Yet sometimes the mind which advances to that true disposition of purity and has already begun to be rooted in it… pours out to God wordless prayers of the purest vigor (XV.2 p.339) … Hence, in whatever state a person is, he sometimes finds himself making pure and intense prayers." (XV.3 p.339)
  • The ultimate way to pray is 'wordless prayer': "This prayer (The Lord's Prayer), although it seems to contain the utter fullness of perfection inasmuch as it was instituted and established on the authority of the Lord himself, nonetheless raises his familiars to that condition which we characterized previously as more sublime. It leads them by a higher stage to that fiery and, indeed, more properly speaking, wordless prayer which is known and experienced by very few." (XXV.1 p.345)
  • Different experiences may occur in prayer: "… an ineffable joy and gladness of spirit… profound speechlessness… outpouring of tears (XXVII p.346/7)…'That is not a perfect prayer,' (St Anthony) said, 'wherein a monk understands himself or what he is praying."(XXXI p.349)
  • The importance of interiority: "Before anything else, we must carefully observe the gospel command which says that we should go into our room and pray to our Father with the door shut. We shall fulfill this in the following way. We pray in our room when we withdraw our hearts completely from the clatter of every thought and concern and disclose our prayers to the Lord in secret and, as it were, intimately. We pray with the door shut when, with closed lips and in total silence, we pray to the searcher not of voices but of hearts. We pray in secret when, intent in heart and mind alone, we offer our petitions to God alone… prayer should be made frequently, but briefly..." (XXXVI.1 (p.353)
  • There is an inherent danger in images: "It is against the error of ..people that the text is well directed: 'The changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of an image of a corruptible man.(Conference X V.1)
  • Solitude is important: "But they alone see his Godhead with purest eyes who, mounting from humble and earthly tasks and thoughts, go off with him to the lofty mountain of the desert…..our Lord…taught us by the example of his withdrawal that, if we too wish to address God with purity and integrity of heart, we should likewise draw apart from all the turbulence and confusion of the crowd." (VI.4 p.375)

The ultimate way to pray is "wordless prayer" (XXV.1 p.345)

  • Unity is the ultimate aim of prayer: " For then will be brought to fruition in us that prayer of our Savior which he prayed to his Father on his disciples' behalf when he said: 'That the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and they in us.' And again: 'That all may be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us....also be made perfect in unity.'(VII.1 p.375)
  • The mantra should be repeated constantly - ceaseless prayer: "The formula for this discipline and prayer that you are seeking, then shall be presented to you. Every monk who longs for the continual awareness of God should be in the habit of meditating on it ceaselessly in his heart, after having driven out every kind of thought, because he will be unable to hold fast to it in any other way than by being freed from all bodily cares and concerns… This is then the devotional formula proposed to you as absolutely necessary for possessing the perpetual awareness of God: 'O God, incline unto my aid; O Lord make haste to help me.' (IX.2 p.379) "You should, I say, meditate constantly on this verse in your heart. You should not stop repeating it when you are doing any kind of work or performing some service or are on a journey. Meditate on it while sleeping and eating and attending to the least needs of nature." (IX. 14 p.382)
  • The mantra is a defense against distractions: "This verse is an unassailable wall, an impenetrable breastplate, and a very strong shield for all those who labor under the attacks of demons. It does not permit those troubled by acedia and anxiety of mind or those depressed by sadness or different kinds of thoughts to despair of a saving remedy….This verse, I say, is necessary and useful for each one of us in whatever condition we may live." (IX.4/5 p.379) "If I am boiling over with a multitude of different distractions of soul and with a fickle heart and am unable to control my wandering thoughts". (IX.10 p.381)
  • The mantra leads to Poverty of spirit: "Let the mind hold ceaselessly to this formula above all until it has been strengthened by constantly using and continually meditating upon it, and until it renounces and rejects the whole wealth and abundance of thoughts. Thus straitened by the poverty of this verse, it will easily attain to that gospel beatitude which holds the first place among the other beatitudes. For, it says, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (XI.1 p.383)

Say the "formula" "in prosperity and adversity". (John Cassian)

John Cassian