Monday, April 27, 2020

Of the Death of the Old Man Heron, Who Was Deluded by the Devil

By St. John Cassian

(Conferences, 2.5)

And so by the judgment of the blessed Anthony as well as of all others it has been laid down that it is discernment which leads a fearless monk by fixed stages to God, and preserves the virtues mentioned above continually intact, by means of which one may ascend with less weariness to the extreme summit of perfection, and without which even those who toil most willingly cannot reach the heights of perfection. For discernment is the mother of all virtues, as well as their guardian and regulator.

And to support this judgment delivered of old by the blessed Anthony and the other fathers by a modern instance, as we promised to do, remember what you lately saw happen before your very eyes, I mean, how the old man Heron, only a very few days ago was cast down by an illusion of the devil from the heights to the depths, a man whom we remember to have lived for fifty years in this desert and to have preserved a strict continence with special severity, and who aimed at the secrecy of solitude with marvelous fervor beyond all those who dwell here. By what device then or by what method was he deluded by the deceiver after so many labors, and falling by a most grievous downfall struck with profound grief all those who live in this desert? Was it not because, having too little of the virtue of discernment he preferred to be guided by his own judgment rather than to obey the counsels and conference of the brethren and the regulations of the elders?

Since he ever practiced incessant abstinence and fasting with such severity, and persisted in the secrecy of solitude and a monastic cell so constantly that not even the observance of the Easter festival could ever persuade him to join in the feast with the brethren: when in accordance with the annual observance, all the brethren remained in the church and he alone would not join them for fear lest he might seem to relax in some degree from his purpose by taking only a little beans. And deceived by this presumption he received with the utmost reverence an angel of Satan as an angel of light and with blind slavishness obeyed his commands and cast himself down a well, so deep that the eye could not pierce its depths, nothing doubting of the promise of the angel who had assured him that the merits of his virtues and labors were such that he could not possibly run any risk. And that he might prove the truth of this most certainly by experimenting on his own safety, in the dead of night he was deluded enough to cast himself into the above mentioned well, to prove indeed the great merit of his virtue if he should come out thence unhurt. And when by great efforts on the part of the brethren he had been rescued already almost dead, on the third day afterward he expired, and what was still worse, persisted in his obstinate delusion so that not even the experience of his death could persuade him that he had been deceived by the craft of devils.

Wherefore in spite of the merits of his great labors and the number of years which he had spent in the desert those who with compassion and the greatest kindness pitied his end, could hardly obtain from Abbot Paphnutios that he should not be reckoned among suicides, and be deemed unworthy of the memorial and oblation for those at rest.