The Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century, on whose teaching John Cassian based his works, also form the foundation of Christian Meditation. John Main, our founder, rediscovered this way of prayer for us in Cassian’s writings ‘The Conferences’, especially chapters nine and ten.
The virtue to which all spiritual work of the Desert Fathers and Mothers led was the supreme virtue of compassion; only increase in love for others is seen to be a reliable sign of spiritual growth. The desert way of life would lead to a total transformation of being, a transformation into the fire of Love: “Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and he said to him, "Abba, as far as I can, I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?" Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven; his fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, "If you will, you can become all flame." God, the Divine energy, is Love. Meditation will also lead us to experiencing this love deeply within our own being and we too will be transformed by it.
Everything the Abbas and Ammas did and taught was done out of compassion for those still caught by their demons: “A brother asked Abba Sisoes, saying,’ What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen? The old man answered: ‘Get up again’. The brother says,’ I got up and fell again.’ The old man continued, ‘Get up again and again. The brother asked,’ Till when?’ The old man answered, ‘Until you have been seized either by virtue or by sin.’
Their refusal to judge others is another sign of compassion. They saw that judging others was really a result of our own unresolved woundedness, and often behaviour potentially our own. This tendency is moreover seen to come out of the ingrained habit of always judging ourselves. Only when we accept ourselves as we are, warts and all, can we accept and love others.
Not only do they consider judging harmful to the one doing it, but moreover our judging freezes a person in a certain behaviour at a specific time; it does not allow for the possibility of change in the other person. But change is always possible: Abba Xanthias said: ‘The thief was on the cross and he was justified by a single word; and Judas who was counted amongst the number of the apostles lost his labour in a single night and descended from heaven to hell.’
Compassion is therefore the true foundation and the fruit of their practice and our practice. It is considered even more important than prayer: “It can happen that when we are at prayer some brothers come to see us. Then we have to choose, either to interrupt our prayer or to sadden our brother by refusing to answer him. But love is greater than prayer. Prayer is one virtue amongst others, whereas love contains them all.” (John Climacus)
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