February 29: John Cassian, Abbot at Marseilles, 433

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

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John Cassian

About this Commemoration

John Cassian struggled with the problems of living the Christian life in a time when the world seemed to be falling apart. In so doing, he laid the foundations for what would be the spirituality of the Western Church.

Born Romania around 365, Cassian traveled as a young man to a monastery in Bethlehem and later moved to Egypt where he sought the tutelage of the great founders of the ascetic movement of the desert such as Antony and Macarius.

At the heart of desert monasticism was the idea that the image of God in each person, tarnished by sin but not destroyed, yearns to and has the capacity to love God with the purity of heart with which God loves us. Their aim was to rid themselves of the anxieties and distractions that called their attention away from loving God.

Cassian was initiated into this tradition before political pressures forced him to leave Egypt in about 399. He moved to southern Gaul and there founded a house for monks, and later a house for women religious. Though Cassian’s goal was, like his desert mentors, the perfection of the individual soul, he insisted that no one should embark on a monastic vocation alone. One should enter a house where other monks are pursuing the same goal, live according to a time-tested rule, and thereby gain the guidance and companionship of the community.

Though Cassian remained committed to the desert ideal of individual perfection, his insistence on the necessity of Christian community and loving moderation was the basis for Benedictine monasticism, which eventually became the basic spirituality of the Western Church. It was perhaps a paradox that only in community could the Christian: “lose sight of earthly things in proportion to the inspiration of its purity so that … with the inner gaze of the soul it sees the glorified Jesus coming in the splendor of His majesty.”

Collects

I    Holy and Mighty One, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ blessed the pure in heart: We offer thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a discipline of holy living for the sake of thy reign. Call us to turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul always toward thee, that we may abide in thy love, shown to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit is one God, living and true, to the ages of ages. Amen.

II    Holy and Mighty One, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ blessed the pure in heart: We give you thanks for the life and teachings of John Cassian that draw us to a discipline of holy living for the sake of your reign. Call us to turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul always toward you, that we may abide in your love, shown to us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit is one God, living and true, to the ages of ages. Amen.

Lessons

2 Kings 2:9–15

1 John 3:1–3

John 1:1–14

Psalm 145:1–7

Preface of Lent (1)

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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9 Responses to February 29: John Cassian, Abbot at Marseilles, 433

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect. This prays and reads very nicely, IMO.

    Bio. 2nd paragraph: The first sentence needs the word ‘in’ – ‘Born in Romania around 365 …’ He needs a ‘He died in 433.’statement.

  2. Philip Wainwright says:

    ‘Turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul always toward you’—er, how about ‘look to You’? Eschew obfuscation.

  3. Leonel L. Mitchell says:

    A leap saint! Are we only supposed to commemorate him once in four years?

  4. Chris Arnold says:

    should it be “our souls” in the plural? We have one soul each, I think. Other than that, glad to see John Cassian.

  5. that John LaVoe says:

    Callie Swanlund, you made the month of February on this blog go like clockwork. Thank you!

  6. that John LaVoe says:

    John Cassian, Abbot at Marseilles, 433
    .
    GENERAL: The commemoration as a whole, biography, collect and readings, seems good. I don’t find desert spirituality touches my heart especially, so for me it’s not deeply inspiring, but I don’t attribute that as a fault of the commemoration. There are minor spots where I feel the wording is a touch convoluted, but we all do that and it’s easily fixed.
    .
    Paragraphs 1 and 2 are excellent, noting Michael’s observation about “in.”
    .
    Paragraph 3 has a very complicated 42 word sentence, tripping lightly over its own tongue.
    Break it into two simpler sentences or simplify it in some way. To me it says, the image of God in us … yearns, and is able, to love God as God loves us. I’m not sure what that means. (Does it mean “I” can, or only that some postulated abstract “image” can?) I trust that is exactly what is meant. A possible rearrangement: (“At the heart of desert monasticism was the idea that God’s image abides in each person. This image, although weakened by sin, is capable of loving God and yearns to do so with purity of heart, as God loves us.”)
    .
    Paragraph 4: No idea is given regarding the nature of “political pressures” that forced Cassian out of Egypt – I don’t need to know a lot, but to mention it and mystify it seems unnecessary. You can just say he left Egypt in 399, for example. ALSO, that he was by then initiated into desert theology is already covered in paragraph 2, by having Antony & Co as his mentors.
    .
    Paragraph 5 duplicates some of the thought from paragraph 4 from “Although Cassian” and following. They could be consolidated, eliminating some repetition of thought content (not so much the wording).
    .
    Collect: I actually like this collect a lot. The only tweaking that comes to mind is in response to the observations about, “Call us to turn the gaze of the eyes of our soul.” Eliminating “the gaze of” would make it more direct and lose nothing. Asking God to “call us,” whereas beginning directly with “turn the…” gets to the point through fewer filters. The “so that” clause is good as is.
    .
    READINGS: The readings are all fine selections. THANK YOU!

  7. John LaVoe says:

    Can there possibly be a rational justification for appointing a commemoration on a day that only happens once every four years? Somebody at SCLM has finally found a way to get even with Cassian for SOMETHING personal!

  8. Nigel Renton says:

    Since February 29 normally occurs only once in every four years, why do we have a commemoration on that date for someone whose date of death is uncertain?

    Again, we have the “headline writer” summarizing the story in the first paragraph. I recommend deletion.

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “in” after “born”.

    Line 2, third paragraph: delete “to” after “yearns”.

    Line 4, fourth paragraph: insert “that of” after “like”.

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: substitute “in about 415” for “there”.

    Line 3, fourth paragraph: add “in Marseilles” after the first “house”.

    Add a sixth paragraph: “Cassian died in Marseilles in about 435.” The subtitle indicates death in 433, but several other sources suggest it was in 435.

  9. Pingback: February 29 – John Cassian : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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