St John Cassian: Is the Point of Your Clothing Decent Simplicity?

Feast of St Pimen the Great

Cassian_Square_4.jpegTHE EGYPTIAN monks refuse shoes as being forbidden by gospel precept (cf. Matt. 10.10), even when bodily infirmity or a winter morning’s chill or the intense midday heat demands them, and they only put sandals on their feet. They understand that this use of them, with the Lord’s permission, means that if, once having been placed in this world, we cannot be utterly removed from the care and worry of this flesh and are unable to be completely rid of it, we should at least provide for the necessities of the body with a minimum of preoccupation and involvement. Thus we should not allow the feet of our soul, which must always be ready for the spiritual race and for preaching the peace of the Gospel (with which we run after the odor of the ointments of Christ [Sg. 1.3], and of which David says: “I ran in thirst” [Ps. 62.5], and also Jeremiah: “But I was not troubled when I followed you” [Jer. 17.16 LXX]), to be entangled in the deadly cares of this world—namely, by thinking of what caters not to the needs of nature but to superfluous and harmful pleasure. This we shall accomplish if, in the words of the Apostle, “we do not make provision for the flesh in its desires (Rom. 13.14). But although they legitimately use sandals, since they were conceded by the Lord’s decree (Cf. Mk. 6.9), they nonetheless do not allow them on their feet when they approach to celebrate or to receive the most holy mysteries, considering that they must keep literally what was said to Moses and Joshua son of Nun: “Undo the strap of your sandal, for the place on which you stand is holy ground” (Ex. 3.5; Jos. 5.15).

We have said all of this so that it might not seem that we have left out anything concerning the Egyptian’s garb. But we ourselves should keep only those things that the situation of the place and the custom of the region permit. For the harshness of the winter does not allow us to be satisfied with sandals or colobia or a single tunic, and wearing a little hood and having a melotis would evoke derision rather than edification of the beholder. Hence we are of the opinion that, of the things we have mentioned above, we should wear only what is in keeping with the humility of our profession and the character of the climate, so that the whole point of our clothing may not consist in strangeness of apparel, which might be offensive to persons of this world, but in decent simplicity.

Clothed, then, in these garments, the soldier of Christ should know first that he is protected by being bound with a belt so that he may be not only mentally prepared for all the exercises and works of the monastery but also unimpeded by his garb itself. For the more zealous he is in the pursuit of obedience and toil, the more fervent he will be proven in purity of heart with respect to spiritual progress and knowledge of divine things. Second, he should also be aware that in this very piece of clothing—his belt—there is no small mystery impinging upon him. For girding his loins and encircling himself with dead skin means that he is bearing about the mortification of his members, which contain the seeds of wantonness and lasciviousness, and he always understands that the gospel precept which declares “Let your loins be girt” (Lk. 12.35) pertains to him by way of the apostolic interpretation, namely: “Put to death your members that are on earth—fornication, impurity, wantonness, evil desire” (Col. 3.5). Hence we read in Holy Scripture that only those in whom the seeds of sexual intercourse were extinct were girt with a belt. These are the ones who repeat by deed and virtuous disposition the phrase of the blessed David: “I have become like a wineskin in the frost” (Ps. 119.83), because once their flesh has been purged of vices from within they can stretch the dead skin of the outer man in the power of the Spirit. And therefore he intentionally added “in the frost” because they will never be satisfied with the mortification of the heart alone but, by the frost of abstinence that comes from without, will also have frozen the movements of the outer man and even the impulses of nature to the extent that, according to the Apostle, they do not permit the reign of sin in their mortal bodies (Cf. Rom. 6.12) or carry about a flesh that resists the Spirit (Gal. 5.17).

—St John Cassian, The Institutes

Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.