On the Dangers of Desert Solitude

No one should be desirous of solitude in the desert. Only the perfect are to go, he that is purified of every passion, who in a community of cenobitic monks together with the others has boiled down and skimmed off his unrighteousness, and even then, not going off because of discouragement or out of zealous fervor, but only in order to attain divine vision, desiring the perfect and radiant vision of the Lord God; for this can be acquired by the perfect only in solitude. If a monk brings unhealed passions with him into the desert they will simply remain concealed within him but not be eradicated.
For the desert only knows the man who has corrected his ways and who is about to open the entrance to gladsome vision and fulfill the beholding of radiant spiritual mysteries. But those who have not corrected their ways will retain their evil in the desert. Not only this, but they will become deceitful and greatly multiply their evils. Such a monk will think he is keeping patience as long as no one comes and associates with him. But as soon as he allows an occasion for this, he immediately returns to his former ways. Then the hidden passions will break loose and like unbridled horses attened by prolonged idleness will whisk their rider off to catastrophe all the more quickly. If we reject the instruction and chastisement of our brothers, the wild shoots of evil will grow up inside us, unless they are cleared out. Also the wall patience which we maintain when we live in common with our brothers, partly due to their respect and partly to avoid shame and scandal, keeping ourselves thus free from sorrow, will vanish from around us because of negligence.
Any poisonous snake or beast of prey, when it conceals itself and hides in the caves and hiding places of the desert, is it not fierce and harmful? But it does not work any harm at that time and does not know its measure, whether it is innocent or vicious, because there is nothing present to prey on. This is not because of the good disposition of the viper, but because that deserted and uninhabited place does not allow him to work evil. But if he finds an occasion for working harm, he pours out his hidden venom and bitter viciousness. Likewise, for those seeking perfection in the desert, it is not enough simply not to get angry at men. We remember that when we lived in the desert that we became so bitterly angered with the reeds which were either too thick or thin for handiwork and with the hatchet which was dull and did not cut the branches quickly,and also with the flint when it did not give off fiery sparks when we were hurrying to the chanting in the congregation. Our thoughts were so stricken over this that we cursed not only dumb creation but even the demon himself.

Saint John Cassian

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