Finally! After a ton of crazy Egyptian monk names, we finally have someone who’s name we can pronounce with St. John Cassian! However, St. John isn’t just important because of his pronounceable name – he serves as the link between the East and the West. All these monks had been in Egypt, and maybe a few in Palestine or Syria, but St. John Cassian was the first to bring these practices to Europe in a concrete way.
St. John Cassian was born around 360 in the area now shared by Bulgaria and Romania. His parents were very wealthy, and they used this wealth to give him a top-notch education. St. John grew up learning the works of Cicero, and spoke both Latin and Greek.
While he was still a young man, he and his friends took a road trip of sorts to Palestine. While most teens and young adults would spend their road trip doing…other things…St. John and his friends stayed in a monastery near Bethlehem to study and pray. The monastery where they stayed was set up by one of the desert monks, and St. John Cassian loved the experience so much that he wanted to learn from the horse’s mouth. He and his friends travelled to Egypt and spent fifteen years learning from the monks.
Struggles in the Church in Egypt drove St. John Cassian and his brothers to flee to Constantinople, where they sought the protection and support of the famous Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom. And of course, as soon as they got there, St. John Chrysostom himself was exiled as well! Cassian chose to go to Rome, where he met with Pope Innocent I.
While he was in Rome, he received an invitation to begin a monastic community following the style of our old pal St. Pachomius in what is now Marseilles, France. He founded the Abbey of St. Victor in 415 to hold communities of both men and women who spent their lives following the style of prayer and simplicity that St. John Cassian had learned from the Egyptian monks. Today, we wouldn’t really think too much of that – there are thousands and thousands of monasteries throughout Europe and around the world, and some even in St. Louis! At the time, however, the ideas of a monastery and following a life of simplicity were brand new concepts to the Western World!
St. John Cassian died around 435, and was buried in his community. The Abbey of St. Victor was still active as a monastery until the 1700’s, and can be visited today in Marseilles as a museum.
Well, there you go! The ideas of St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers finally made it to Europe. But it was all just the beginning!