Skip to comments.The Russian legend of St. Nicolas and St. Cassian(Soloviev's Application)
Posted on 11/25/2003 8:01:23 AM PST by Pyro7480
A popular Russian legend tells how St. Nicolas and St. Cassian were upon a visit to the earth. On their journey they met a poor peasant who had got his wagon, with a load of hay upon it, stuck in the mud and was making fruitless efforts to get his horses on.
'Let's go and give the good fellow a hand,' said St. Nicolas.
'Not I; I'm keeping out of it,' replied St. Cassian, 'I don't want to get my coat dirty.'
'Well, wait for me,' said St. Nicolas, 'or go on without me if you like,' and plunging without hesitation into the mud he vigorously assisted the peasant in dragging his wagon out of the rut.
When he had finished the job and caught his companion up, he was all covered in filth; his coat was torn and soiled and looked like a beggar's rags. St. Peter was amazed to see him arrive at the gate of Paradise in this condition.
'I say! Who ever got you into that state?' he asked. St. Nicolas told his story.
'And what about you?' asked St. Peter, turning to St. Cassian. 'Weren't you with him in this encounter?'
'Yes, but I don't meddle in things that are no concern of mine, and I was especially anxious not to get my beautiful clean coat dirty.'
'Very well,' said St. Peter, 'you, St. Nicolas, because you were not afraid of getting dirty in helping your neighbor out of a difficulty, shall for the future have two feasts a year, and you shall be reckoned the greatest of saints after me by all the peasants of holy Russia. And you, St. Cassian, must be content with having a nice clean coat; you shall have your feastday in leap-year only, once every four years.'
We may well forgive St. Cassian for his dislike of manual labor and the mud of the highroad. But he would be quite wrong to condemn his companion for having a different idea of the duties of saints' towards mankind. We may like St. Cassian's clean and spotless clothes, but since our wagon is still deep in the mud, St. Nicolas is the one we really need, the stout- hearted saint who is always ready to get to work and help us.
The Western Church, faithful to the apostolic mission, has not been afraid to plunge into the mire of history. After having been for centuries the only element of moral order and intellectual culture among the barbarous peoples of Europe, it undertook the task not only of the spiritual education of these peoples of independent spirit and uncivilized instincts but also of their material government.
In devoting itself to this arduous task the Papacy, like St. Nicolas in the legend, thought not so much of the cleanliness of its own appearance as of the urgent needs of mankind. The Eastern Church, on the other hand, with its solitary asceticism and its contemplative mysticism, its withdrawal from political life and from all the social problems which concern mankind as a whole, thought chiefly, like St. Cassian, of reaching Paradise without a single stain on its clothing.
The Western Church aimed at employing all its powers, divine and human, for the attainment of a universal goal; the Eastern Church was only concerned with the preservation of its purity. There is the chief point of difference and the fundamental cause of the schism between the two Churches.
It is a question of a different ideal of the religious life itself. The religious ideal of the separated Christian East is not false; it is incomplete. In Eastern Christendom for the last thousand years religion has been identified with personal piety (1), and prayer has been regarded as the one and only religious activity.
The Western Church, without disparaging individual piety as the true germ of all religion, seeks the development of this germ and its blossoming into a social activity organized for the glory of God and the universal good of mankind. The Eastern prays, the Western prays and labors. Which of the two is right?
Jesus Christ founded His visible Church not merely to meditate on heaven, but also to labor upon earth and to withstand the gates of hell. He did not send His apostles into the solitude of the desert, but into the world to conquer it and subject it to the Kingdom which is not of this world, and He enjoined upon them not only the innocence of doves but also the wisdom of serpents. If it is merely a question of preserving the purity of the Christian soul, what is the purpose of all the Church's social organization and of all those sovereign and absolute powers with which Christ has armed her in giving her final authority to bind and to loose on earth as well as in heaven?
The monks of the holy mountain of Athos, true representatives of the isolated Eastern Church, have for centuries spent all their energies in prayer and the contemplation of the uncreated light of Tabor (2). They are perfectly right; prayer and the contemplation of uncreated things are essential to the Christian life.
But can we allow that this occupation of the soul constitutes the whole Christian life? or that is what we must do if we try to put the Orthodox East, with its peculiar character and special religious tendencies, in the place of the Universal Church. We have in the East a Church at prayer, but where among us is the Church in action, asserting itself as a spiritual force absolutely independent of the powers of this world?
Where in the East is the Church of the living God, the Church which in every generation legislates for mankind, which establishes and develops the formulation of eternal truth with which to counteract the continually changing formulas of error? Where is the Church which labors to re-mould the whole social life of the nations in accordance with the Christian ideal, and to guide them towards the supreme goal of Creation free and perfect union with the Creator?
The advocates of an exclusive asceticism should remember that the perfect Man spent only forty days in the wilderness; those who contemplate the light of Tabor should not forget that that light appeared only once in the earthly life of Christ, Who proved by His own example that true prayer and true contemplation are simply a foundation for the life of action.
If this great Church, which for centuries has done nothing but pray, has not prayed in vain, she must show herself a living Church, acting, struggling, victorious. But we ourselves must will that it be so. We must above all recognize the insufficiency of our traditional religious ideal, and make a sincere attempt to realize a more complete conception of Christianity. There is no need to invent or create anything new for this purpose. We merely have to restore to our religion its Catholic or universal character by recognizing our oneness with the active part of the Christian world, with the West centralized and organized for a universal activity and possessing all that we lack.
We are not asked to change our nature as Easterns or to repudiate the specific character of our religious genius.
We have only to recognize unreservedly the elementary truth that we of the East are but a part of the Universal Church, a part moreover which has not its center within itself, and that therefore it behooves us to restore the link between our individual forces upon the circumference and the great universal center which Providence has placed in the West. There is no question of suppressing our religious and moral individuality but rather of crowning it and inspiring it with a universal and progressive life.
The whole of our duty to ourselves consists simply in recognizing ourselves for what we are in reality, an organic part of the great body of Christendom, and in affirming our spiritual solidarity with our Western brethren. This moral act of justice and charity would be in itself an immense step forward on our part and the essential condition of all further advance.
St. Cassian need not become a different person or cease to care about keeping his clothes spotless. He must simply recognize that his comrade has certain important qualities which he himself lacks, and instead of sulking at this energetic worker he must frankly accept him as his companion and guide on the earthly voyage that still lies before them.
From Russia and the Universal Church, pp. 39-42
If that is not your intention then I sincerely apologize.
However, you posting the same story again that you already posted yesterday written 100 years ago by a philosopher who disparages the Orthodox church made me think you were.
Never mind that it is exactly this "insufficiency of our traditional ideal" which is bringing the rest of Christianity to our doorstep looking for a more traditional church.
Never mind that the churches who went looking for and found a "more complete" conception of Christianity (what an oxymoron) are exactly the ones desperately ill from the pollution of the world they were not strong enough to either change or overcome, as they rushed out in their arrogance and zeal to be a role model.
Translates to "submit to the pope and the superiority of his church, you stubborn eastern Christians". LOL.
Pyro this reminds me of that excellent RC cartoon I saw on one of the Schiavo threads a short time ago. The robots or whatever they are were saying something like "Why do you resist us? We only want to make your life better."
If anyone has seen this cartoon, I hope they can post it. I loved it.
Allow me to introduce you to a favorite Russian theologian of mine.
"Wherefore it must be understood that Creeds and prayers and works are nothing of themselves, but are only an external manifestation of the inward spirit. Whereupon it also follows that neither he who prays nor he who does works nor he who confesses the Creed of the Church is pleasing to God, but only he who acts, confesses, and prays according to the spirit of Christ living within him."
"THE CHURCH, even upon earth, lives, not an earthly human life, but a life of grace which is divine.....Never is she either disfigured or in need of reformation.
"He who does not gather with Me scatters" (Luke 11:23) Recall that to do a good deed, one must be sure of one's intent beforehand.
"cursed is he who does the work of God negligently" (Jer. 48:10)
"Christianity is an ascetic religion, a teaching on gradual liberation from the passions, on the means and conditions of gradual acquisition of virtues, conditions both internal, that is, personal struggle, and external, that is, dogmatic tenets and grace-filled Mysteries, all having one purpose: to heal human sinfulness and lead us to perfection."
What you fail to grasp and apparently what your friend Solo failed to grasp as well, is that no one is alone. While it is difficult for westerners to move beyond the typical "rugged individualist" concept, if you try I think you may be able to see it. Each time we sin we pollute the world around us a tad more. Each time we are virtuous we help the world around us to be a better place.
Each monastery provides to the world, and especially to the church, a tremendously valuable thing - prayer.
When a friend of mine was a catechumen I told her, think of this - every Sunday morning, roughly, millions of Orthodox Christians are praying for you, all over the world.
The liturgy is the work of a people joined together, most importantly in that they seek salvation as a community, not as individuals. No one is alone.
So these ascetics which your Solo friend scorns, are making a far greater contribution than your one friend who stops to help someone, if you can see it. It's like this, which you probably can see - If I come here and post something nasty to you, I am hurting not only myself and you, but all Orthodox Christians and God too. Because each of us is made in the Image of God, we are all linked by this mystical creation.
This is the best explanation I can offer you, from an eastern view to a westerner. On a short amount of sleep, to boot. If I can find something better to explain this concept I will post a link for you.
It is the reason that a famous Russian theologian, said "Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved".
And I believe it is the reason behind a famous Russian proverb - "Don't trust yourself this side of the grave".
As well as this - "Has some good thought come to you? Have you felt some good impulse or inclination in your heart? Stop! Check it with the Gospel."
Blessed Vladyka Ignatij
Finally the church is not an engine for social change in this world, but for the next. That said, we collect regularly at our parish, about $2000 each month, and give it to someone or some place. Last summer, a friend of mine at work lost her son to a freak accident and I took it to our priest. He spoke about it at the next liturgy and a donation of $1600 was handed to me a few weeks later, which I then passed on to the woman's son's family.
Several weeks ago, we collected, on the spur of the moment, just over 2 grand and gave it to an Orthodox family who were down here from Alaska because their daughter is undergoing chemotherapy at Childrens here. Our priest said the father cried when they gave it to him. There is a lovely thank you letter in our current bulletin from these people, with a photo of a very bald young girl.
Our parish has ongoing food and toy collections right now, as we do every year. In our area there is a camp run by two local Greek parishes for children with cancer, which is absolutely free. I am thinking about working at it next year. It is completely staffed by Orthodox volunteers, many of them nurses.
Our parish also helps to support an Orthodox orphanage in Moscow with about 5 grand each year. We give locally to protestant homes for unwed moms, and occasionally to groups who help the homeless. Since our church is located right in downtown Seattle, each month we give a few hundred out to transients and homeless who knock on the door asking for food or money. Additionally it is not uncommon for homeless to show up at our agape meal after liturgy. I have personally served them on many occasions.
Last but not least, last year sometime a bunch of us Orthodox online sent contributions to a freeper overseas for an orphanage there. I think we made quite a nice dent.
So I hope this helps you to understand us better. And I hope you have a nice Thanksgiving!
In response, I don't think Soloviev is "scorning" asceticism. In fact, asceticism is also a part of the Western tradition. One good book about this in this tradition is Lorenzo Scupoli's "Spiritual Warfare." What he is criticizing is the "asceticism only" approach, and the fracturing between the East and the West. For Christ prayed at the Last Supper that "we may be one." As Fr. Ryland said in his article, all that is required from the Orthodox is a simple "Amen."
The current Pope (to the chagrin of some in Catholic circles) is practically bending over backwards in an attempt to further relations between East and West. It is my opinion, as well as the opinion of the author of the article that I will post in December that the actions of the Pope have lead to unnecessary sacrifices on the account of the "Uniate" Churches. While the goal of reunification is admirable, the Eastern Rite Catholics have been forced to give up too much for the sake of "ecumenism."
Tell the Pope to get busy in Europe.... his RC Church is in BIG trouble. Islam are getting really HUGE in normally RC countries.... even ITALY.
The Pope kissed the koran to the horror of Orthodox Christians worldwide.
When I saw that photo, I just about fainted.
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