The Patron Saint of the “Nones”

Inspiration and spiritual growth can come from many sources, often from the unexpected. Have you been inspired by someone you least expected?

The religious landscape of the United States is changing. The Pew Research Institute has found that over 20% of people in the United States describe themselves as having no religious affiliation. Among those under the age 35, this number rises to 35%. Pew Research calls these people “nones”, those who, when asked about religious affiliation, check the box marked “none.”

This is not the first time in history when people preferred not to affiliate with religious institutions. In the Common Era, the first notable time when significant numbers of people left “organized religion” to pursue spirituality away from established institutions occurred in the third to sixth centuries. This is referred to as the era of the “desert fathers and mothers.” After Christianity had been decreed to be the official religion of the empire, many people wanted nothing to do with the forced wedding between church and state. They chose instead to move to the fringes of civilization, seeking spiritual pursuits on their own or in small groups. Such was a man who became a critical teacher of Christian spirituality: St. John Cassian. From my perspective, John Cassian is the patron saint of the “nones.”

John Cassian was a monk from a desert monastery in the Middle East. Wanting to learn all he could about the spiritual dimension of life, he sought out the great spiritual teachers of his day in the Egyptian desert. His goal was to find a place where he could live the perfect spiritual life.

In the end, Cassian didn’t find a perfect monastery. Instead, he took what he had learned and traveled to the other end of the Empire. In Gaul (modern day France), he founded a monastery for both men and women in Marseille. For approximately a thousand years, this monastery was known as a place for contemplative prayer, meditation, and spiritual pursuits. Cassian played a pivotal role in bringing the spiritual wisdom of the Egyptian desert to Europe and the West.

Cassian is known for his belief that the Divine is at the heart of each person. He understood spiritual growth as letting go of all the things that cloud the essence of Divinity within each person. For Cassian, this was a process of healing. He conveyed this in a simple statement: “The Doctor of our souls has placed the remedy in the hidden regions of the soul.”

There are many people today who seek out authenticity in spiritual experience and practice. While many members of institutional religion dismiss the “spiritual but not religious” as less than credible, I believe that those who are serious about spirituality outside of religious institutions have St. John Cassian as a model and friend. He’s truly the patron of those who seek authentic spirituality.


Authentic spiritual growth opens us to learn from sources we don’t expect. How has your life been nourished when you were open to learning from those different from you?

© 2016, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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2 Responses to The Patron Saint of the “Nones”

  1. John Purssey says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It is very interesting and I had not heard of this before.

  2. Lou says:

    Thanks, John. Glad to be able to share something new.

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