Cyril of Alexandria: Christ was carried into the temple… Friday, Feb 3 2017 

cyril_alexandriaChrist was carried into the temple, being yet a little child at the breast.

And the blessed Symeon being endowed with the grace of prophecy, takes Him in his arms, and filled with the highest joy, blessed God, and said:

“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy Word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all the nations, the Gentiles’ light for revelation, and a glory of Thy people Israel.”

For the mystery of Christ had been prepared even before the very foundation of the world, but was manifested in the last ages of time, and became a light for those who in darkness and error had fallen under the devil’s hand.

These were they “who serve the creation instead of the Creator,” worshipping moreover the dragon, the author of evil, and the impure throng of devils, to whom they attach the honour due unto God: yet were they called by God the Father to the acknowledgment of the Son Who is the true light.

Of them in sooth He said by the voice of Isaiah, “I will make signs unto them, and receive them, because I will ransom them, and they shall be multiplied, as they were many: and I will sow them among the nations, and they who are afar off shall remember Me.”

For very many were they that were astray, but were called through Christ: and again they are many as they were before; for they have been received and ransomed, having obtained as the token of peace from God the Father, the adoption into His family and the grace that is by faith in Jesus Christ.

And the divine disciples were sown widely among the nations: and what is the consequence? Those who in disposition were far from God, have been made near. To whom also the divine Paul sends an epistle, saying, “Now ye who some time were afar off have been made near in the blood of Christ.”

And having been brought near, they make Christ their glorying: for again, God the Father has said of them, “And I will strengthen them in the Lord their God, and in His Name shall they glory, saith the Lord.”

This also the blessed Psalmist teaches, speaking as it were unto Christ the Saviour of all, and saying, “Lord, they shall walk in the light of Thy countenance, and in Thy Name shall they exult all the day, and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted: for Thou art the glorying of their strength.”

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel, Sermon 4 (on Luke 2:25-35).

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Sophronius of Jerusalem: A Baptism of Salvation Saturday, Jan 7 2017 

St.-Sophronios-of-JerusalemToday the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came upon the waters.

Today the unwaning sun has dawned, and the world is lit up with the light of the Lord.

[…]  Today the clouds refresh humanity with a rain of justice from above.

Today the uncreated One is by His own will touched by the creature.

Today the prophet and forerunner approaches the Master, but pauses in awe, seeing God’s condescension towards us.

Today the waters of the Jordan are turned into healing by the presence of the Lord.

Today all creation is watered by mystical waters. Today men’s sins are washed away in the waters of the Jordan.

Today Paradise is thrown open to humankind, and the sun of righteousness shines upon us. Today the water that the people under Moses found bitter, is turned into sweetness at the Lord’s presence.

Today we are free of the ancient grief, and like a new Israel have been redeemed. Today we are delivered from the darkness and are bathed in the light of the knowledge of God.

Today the world’s gloom is dispersed in the epiphany of our God. Today the entire universe is lit as by a heavenly torch. Today error is abolished and the coming of the Lord opens the way to salvation.

Today the heavenly joins the earthly in celebration, and that which is below holds discourse with that which is above. Today the holy and vibrant assembly of the Orthodox rejoices.

Today the Master hastens towards baptism so as to raise humankind to the heights. Today He Who bends to none, bows before His own servant, so as to free us from bondage.

Today heaven has been deeded to us, for of the Lord’s kingdom there shall be no end. Today the earth and the sky have divided the world’s joy, and the world is filled with gladness.

The waters saw You, O God, the waters saw You and were afraid. The Jordan reversed its flow when it saw the fire of divinity descending bodily and entering it.

The Jordan turned back seeing the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove and hovering about You.

The Jordan turned back seeing the invisible become visible, the creator made flesh, the Master in the form of servant.

The Jordan turned back and the mountains leapt, seeing God in the flesh, and the clouds gave voice, marveling at the One present, light of light, true God of true God, Who submerged in the Jordan the death of disobedience and the sting of error and the bond of Hades, giving to the world a baptism of salvation.

Sophronius of Jerusalem (560-638): Theophany Poem.

Leo the Great: Our Lord Jesus Christ made in Himself the beginning of a new creation Monday, Jan 2 2017 

Saint_Leo_of_RomeThe bodily Nativity therefore of the Son of God took nothing from and added nothing to His Majesty because His unchangeable substance could be neither diminished nor increased.

For that “the Word became flesh” does not signify that the nature of God was changed into flesh, but that the Word took the flesh into the unity of His Person.

And therein undoubtedly the whole man was received, with which within the Virgin’s womb fecundated by the Holy Spirit, whose virginity was destined never to be lost, the Son of God was so inseparably united that He who was born without time of the Father’s essence was Himself in time born of the Virgin’s womb.

For we could not otherwise be released from the chains of eternal death but by Him becoming humble in our nature, Who remained Almighty in His own.

And so our Lord Jesus Christ, being at birth true man though He never ceased to be true God, made in Himself the beginning of a new creation, and in the “form” of His birth started the spiritual life of mankind afresh, that to abolish the taint of our birth according to the flesh there might be a possibility of regeneration without our sinful seed for those of whom it is said, “Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

What mind can grasp this mystery, what tongue can express this gracious act?  Sinfulness returns to guiltlessness and the old nature becomes new; strangers receive adoption and outsiders enter upon an inheritance.  The ungodly begin to be righteous, the miserly benevolent, the incontinent chaste, the earthly heavenly.

And whence comes this change, save by the right hand of the Most High?  For the Son of God came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8), and has so united Himself with us and us with Him that the descent of God to man’s estate became the exaltation of man to God’s.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 27, 2.

Gregory Palamas: The genealogy of Christ Wednesday, Dec 21 2016 

Gregory_PalamasMatthew…begins with those born first, and makes no mention of anyone born before Abraham.

He traces the line down from Abraham until he reaches Joseph to whom, by divine dispensation, the Virgin Mother of God was betrothed (Matt. 1:1-16), being of the same tribe and homeland as him, that her own stock may be shown from this to be in no way inferior.

Luke, by contrast, begins not with the earliest forebears but the most recent, and working his way back from Joseph the Betrothed, does not stop at Abraham, nor, having included Abraham’s predecessors, does he end with Adam, but lists God among Christ’s human forebears (Lk. 3:23-38);

wishing to show, in my opinion, that from the beginning man was not just a creation of God, but also a son in the Spirit, which was given to him at the same time as his soul, through God’s quickening breath (Gen. 2:7).

It was granted to him as a pledge that, if, waiting patiently for it, he kept the commandment, he would be able to share through the same Spirit in a more perfect union with God, by which he would live forever with Him and obtain immortality.

By heeding the evil counsel of the pernicious angel, man transgressed the divine commandments, was shown to be unworthy, forfeited the pledge, and interrupted God’s plan.

God’s grace, however, is unalterable and His purpose cannot prove false, so some of man’s offspring were chosen, that, from among many, a suitable receptacle for this divine adoption and grace might be found, who would serve God’s will perfectly, and would be revealed as a vessel worthy to unite divine and human nature in one person, not just exalting our nature, but restoring the human race.

The holy Maid and Virgin Mother of God was this vessel, so she was proclaimed by the Archangel Gabriel as full of grace (Lk. 1:28), being the chosen one among the chosen, blameless, undefiled and worthy to contain the person of the God-Man and to collaborate with Him.

Therefore God pre-ordained her before all ages, chose her from among all that had ever lived, and deemed her worthy of more grace than anyone else, making her the holiest of saints, even before her mysterious childbearing.

For that reason, He graciously willed that she should make her home in the Holy of Holies, and accepted her as His companion to share His dwelling from her childhood.

He did not simply choose her from the masses, but from the elect of all time, who were admired and renowned for their piety and wisdom, and for their character, words and deeds, which pleased God and brought benefit to all.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily on the Old Testament Saints. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009).

Cyril of Jerusalem: A treasure of life has now been committed to you Saturday, Nov 5 2016 

Cyril-of-JerusalemIn learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to thee by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures.

For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines.

This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart.

[…] I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14) should wish to lead you astray.

For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that ye have received, let him be to you anathema (Gal. 1:8-9).

So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed, and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents.

For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith.

And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments.

Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which ye now receive, and write them an the table of your heart (Prov. 7:3).

Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you.

For faith is like putting money into the bank, even as we have now done; but from you God requires the accounts of the deposit.

I charge you, as the Apostle says, before God, who quickens all things, and Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession, that ye keep this faith which is committed to you, without spot, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 5:21; 6:13-14).

A treasure of life has now been committed to you, and the Master demands the deposit at His appearing, which in His own times He shall shew.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386): Catechetical Lectures 5, 12-13.

Maximus the Confessor: When Moses pitches his tent outside the camp… Tuesday, Nov 1 2016 

Maximus_ConfessorIn the multiplicity of beings there is diversity, dissimilarity and difference.

But in God, who is in an absolute sense one and alone, there is only identity, simplicity and similarity.

It is therefore not safe to devote oneself to the contemplation of God before one has advanced beyond the multiplicity of beings.

Moses showed this when he pitched the tent of his mind outside the camp (cf. Exod. 33:7) and then conversed with God.

For it is dangerous to attempt to utter the inexpressible by means of the spoken word, for the spoken word involves duality or more than duality.

The surest way is to contemplate pure being silently in the soul alone, because pure being is established in undivided unity and not among the multiplicity of things.

The high priest, who was commanded to go into the holy of holies within the veil only once every year (cf. Lev. 16; Heb. 9:7), shows us that only he who has passed through what is immaterial and holy and has entered the holy of holies – that is, who has transcended the whole natural world of sensible and intelligible realities, and is free from all that is specific to creatures and whose mind is unclad and naked – is able to attain the vision of God.

When Moses pitches his tent outside the camp (cf. Exod. 33:7) – that is, when he establishes his will and mind outside the world of visible things – he begins to worship God.

Then, entering into the darkness (cf. Exod. 20:21) – that is, into the formless and immaterial realm of spiritual knowledge – he there celebrates the most sacred rites.

The darkness is that formless, immaterial and bodiless state which embraces the knowledge of the prototypes of all created things.

He who like another Moses enters into it, although mortal by nature, understands things that are immortal.

Through this knowledge he depicts in himself the beauty of divine excellence, as if painting a picture which is a faithful copy of archetypal beauty.

Then he comes down from the mountain and offers himself as an example to those who wish to imitate that excellence. In this way he manifests the love and generosity of the grace he has received.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Two Hundred Texts on Theology and the Incarnate Dispensation of the Son of God written for Thalassios, First Century, 83-85, Text  from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 132-133.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Maximus and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).

Tikhon of Zadonsk: This healing plaster of the Gospel is applied to your wounded souls Thursday, Oct 27 2016 

Tikhon_of_ZadonskTo whom is the Gospel preached?

Christ answers us, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for Whose sake He hath anointed Me to preach to the poor, He hath sent Me to heal the broken hearted” (Lk.4:18).

In other words, to those people who, acknowledging their sins, see their poverty, misfortune, and wretchedness, and have a contrite heart with fear of God’s judgement and sorrow, to them the Gospel is rightly preached as a healing plaster is applied to a wounded body.

Hear, you sorrowful and contrite souls, hear the most sweet voice of the Gospel! “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost!”

This healing plaster of the Gospel most sweet is applied to your wounded souls. By this saving medicine heal your broken hearts. “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

He seeks you and saves you, because you are one of those that He came to seek. Accept and confess yourselves to be sinners before God. Your sins are also forgiven for Christ’s name’s sake.

Repent of your sins and lament for God, for salvation is prepared for you, too, by God. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief” (1 Tim. 1:15).

The Holy Spirit speaks to you through His servant, “The sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit, a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise” (LXX-Ps. 50:19 [KJV-Ps. 51:17]).

This sacrifice is offered to God from a repentant and contrite heart and is more acceptable to Him than any other offering. God looks mercifully upon such a sacrifice and sends His grace down upon it.

And so you see, O Christian, that the Gospel is not intended for those Christians who…do not recognize their sins, poverty and misfortune, and do not have a contrite heart. For of what use is oil to a rock? A plaster is applied to a wound, and healing is given to him who recognizes and admits his weakness.

To such people is it said, “Repent, be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy into heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (Jas. 4:9-10).

[…] Sinners! Let us fear the judgement of God and endeavor to have a contrite and humble heart, that we also may draw from the Gospel as from a saving font of living water of refreshment and consolation, and that we may water our souls and so receive everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783; Russian Orthodox): extract @ Kandylaki from Journey to Heaven: Counsels On the Particular Duties of Every Christian by Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2004).

John Chrysostom: There can be no mistake in attributing this work to Luke; and when I say, to Luke, I mean, to Christ Tuesday, Oct 18 2016 

Chrysostom3Feast of St Luke (October 18th).

The greater part, however, of this work [the Book of Acts] is occupied with the acts of Paul, who “laboured more abundantly than they all” (1 Cor. 15:10).

And the reason is, that the author of this Book, that is, the blessed Luke, was his companion: a man, whose high qualities, sufficiently visible in many other instances, are especially shown in his firm adherence to his Teacher, whom he constantly followed.

Thus at a time when all had forsaken him, one gone into Galatia, another into Dalmatia, hear what he says of this disciple: “Only Luke is with me” (2 Tim. 4:10). And giving the Corinthians a charge concerning him, he says, “Whose praise is in the Gospel throughout all the Churches” (2 Cor. 8:18).

Again, when he says, “He was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve,” and, “according to the Gospel which ye received” (1 Cor. 15:5, 1), he means the Gospel of this Luke. So that there can be no mistake in attributing this work to him: and when I say, to him, I mean, to Christ.

And why then did he not relate everything, seeing he was with Paul to the end? We may answer, that what is here written, was sufficient for those who would attend, and that the sacred writers ever addressed themselves to the matter of immediate importance, whatever it might be at the time. It was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition.

Now while all that is contained in this Book is worthy of admiration, so is especially the way the Apostles have of coming down to the wants of their hearers: a condescension suggested by the Spirit who has so ordered it, that the subject on which they chiefly dwell is that which pertains to Christ as man.

For so it is, that while they discourse so much about Christ, they have spoken but little concerning His Godhead; it was mostly of the Manhood that they discoursed, and of the Passion, and the Resurrection, and the Ascension. For the thing required in the first instance was this, that it should be believed that He was risen, and ascended into heaven.

As then the point on which Christ himself most insisted was, to have it known that He was come from the Father, so is it this writer’s principal object to declare, that Christ was risen from the dead, and was received up into Heaven, and that He went to God, and came from God.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Book of Acts, 1.

Isaac the Syrian: Faith requires a serene and simple mind Sunday, Oct 9 2016 

Isaac_the_SyrianWhen the soul in the course of its behaviour walks in the way of faith, this improves it much.

When it then turns towards the means of knowledge, it becomes alienated to faith at once.

And it is removed from that intelligible force of faith which reveals itself by different acts of help in the serene soul that simply, without inquiry, uses all that belongs to it.

The soul that has once, in faith, entrusted itself unto God and, under many temptations, has received the taste of faith’s help, no longer thinks of itself, but is made speechless by ecstasy and silence, nor is it allowed to return unto the means of its knowledge or to make use of them, lest it also be bereft, on the contrary, of the divine care which visits it incessantly and provides for it and clings to it everywhere.

For the soul would consider it as a despicable thought to deem itself sufficient to guide itself by the power of its knowledge.

For those in whose hearts the light of faith has dawned, do not venture to pray in their own behalf, they do not even venture to ask God: Give us this, or: Take from us that, nor dare they think of themselves in any way.

For by the initiated eyes of their faith they always see the paternal care which protects them on the part of that Father whose strong and immeasurable love surpasses the love of all fleshly fathers and who has power to supply us with all things above what we ask and think.

[…] Faith…requires a serene and simple mind, far from any cunning or need of means.

Behold, how knowledge and faith are each other’s opposites. The mansion of faith is a childlike mind and a pure heart. For in the purity of their heart people have praised God. For ‘except ye be converted and become as little children’ (Matt. 18:3) and so on.

Knowledge, however is the persecutor and opposite of  these two. Knowledge adheres to the domain of nature, in all its ways. Faith makes its course above nature.

Knowledge does not admit unto itself anything which is in disharmony with nature, not even for the sake of trial, but it lets these things dwell at a distance.

Faith on the other hand orders with authority and says: Thou shall tread upon the serpent and the lion: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet (Psalm 90:13).

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 51, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 242-243.

John Cassian: There are three things which enable men to control their faults Saturday, Oct 8 2016 

Sf-IoanCasianThen the blessed Chæremon spoke:

There are, said he, three things which enable men to control their faults;

viz., either the fear of hell or of laws even now imposed;

or the hope and desire of the kingdom of heaven;

or a liking for goodness itself and the love of virtue.

For then we read that the fear of evil loathes contamination: “The fear of the Lord hateth evil” (Prov. 9:13).

Hope also shuts out the assaults of all faults: for “all who hope in Him shall not fail” (Ps. 33:23).

Love also fears no destruction from sins, for “love never faileth” (1 Cor. 13), and again “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

And therefore the blessed Apostle confines the whole sum of salvation in the attainment of those three virtues, saying “Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three” (1 Cor. 13:13).

For faith is what makes us shun the stains of sin from fear of future judgment and punishment;

hope is what withdraws our mind from present things, and despises all bodily pleasures from its expectation of heavenly rewards;

love is what inflames us with keenness of heart for the love of Christ and the fruit of spiritual goodness, and makes us hate with a perfect hatred whatever is opposed to these.

And these three things although they all seem to aim at one and the same end (for they incite us to abstain from things unlawful) yet they differ from each other greatly in the degrees of their excellence.

For the two former belong properly to those men who in their aim at goodness have not yet acquired the love of virtue, and the third belongs specially to God and to those who have received into themselves the image and likeness of God.

For He alone does the things that are good, with no fear and no thanks or reward to stir Him up, but simply from the love of goodness. For, as Solomon says, “The Lord hath made all things for Himself” (Prov. 16:4).

For under cover of His own goodness He bestows all the fulness of good things on the worthy and the unworthy because He cannot be wearied by wrongs, nor be moved by passions at the sins of men, as He ever remains perfect goodness and unchangeable in His nature.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 11, 6.

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