Mark the Hermit: Accept present afflictions for the sake of future blessings Saturday, Mar 5 2016 

St Mark the AsceticMarch 5th is the feast of St Mark the Hermit (Mark the Ascetic).

He who tests all things and ‘holds fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:21) will in consequence refrain from all evil.

‘A patient man abounds in understanding’ (Prov. 14: 29); and so does he who listens to words of wisdom.

Without remembrance of God, there can be no true knowledge but only that which is false.

Deeper spiritual knowledge helps the hard-hearted man: for unless he has fear, he refuses to accept the labor of repentance.

Unquestioning acceptance of tradition is helpful for a gentle person, for then he will not try God’s patience or often fall into sin.

[…] Do not listen to talk about other people’s sins. For through such listening the form of these sins is imprinted on you.

When you delight in hearing evil talk, be angry with yourself and not with the speaker. For listening in a sinful way makes the messenger seem sinful.

[…] Accept present afflictions for the sake of future blessings; then you will never weaken in your struggle.

[…] All good things come from God providentially, and those who bring them are the servants of what is good.

Accept with equanimity the intermingling of good and evil, and then God will resolve all inequity.

It is the uneven quality of our thoughts that produces changes m our condition. For God assigns to our voluntary thoughts consequences which are appropriate but not necessarily of our choice.

[…] From a pleasure-loving heart arise unhealthy thoughts and words; and from the smoke of a fire we recognize the fuel.

Guard your mind, and you will not be harassed by temptations. But if you fail to guard it, accept patiently whatever trial comes.

Pray that temptation may not come to you; but when it comes, accept it as your due and not undeserved.

Reject all thoughts of greed, and you will be able to see the devil’s tricks.

He who says he knows all the devil’s tricks falls unknowingly into his trap.

The more the intellect withdraws from bodily cares, the more clearly it sees the craftiness of the enemy.

A man who is carried away by his thoughts is blinded by them; and while he can see the actual working of sin, he cannot see its causes.

It can happen that someone may in appearance be fulfilling a commandment but is in reality serving a passion, and through evil thoughts he destroys the goodness of the action.

When you first become involved in something evil, don’t say: ‘It will not overpower me.’ For to the extent that you are involved you have already been overpowered by it.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 145-149, 152-153, 156, 158-160, 161-170, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 120-121.

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Mark the Hermit: Sin is a blazing fire: the less fuel you give it, the faster it dies down Wednesday, Mar 5 2014 

St Mark the AsceticMarch 5th is the feast of St Mark the Hermit (Mark the Ascetic).

When you sin, blame your thought, not your action.

For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.

[…] He who secretly mingles his own wishes with spiritual counsel is an adulterer, as the Book of Proverbs indicates (cf. Prov. 6:32-33); and because of his stupidity he suffers pain and dishonor.

Just as water and fire cannot be combined, so self -justification and humility exclude one another.

He who seeks forgiveness of his sins loves humility, but if he condemns another he seals his own wickedness.

Do not leave unobliterated any fault, however small, for it may lead you on to greater sins.

If you wish to be saved, welcome words of truth, and never reject criticism uncritically.

[…] To accept words of truth is to accept the divine Word; for He says: ‘He that receives you receives me’ (Matt. 10:40).

[…] Those engaged in spiritual warfare practice self-control in everything, and do not desist until the Lord destroys all ‘seed from Babylon’ (Jer. 27:16. LXX).

[…] Sin is a blazing fire. The less fuel you give it, the faster it dies down: the more you feed it, the more it bums.

When elated by praise, be sure disgrace will follow; for it is said: ‘Whoever exalts himself will be abased’ (Luke 14:11).

When we have freed ourselves from every voluntary sin of the mind, we should then fight against the passions which result from prepossession.

Prepossession is the involuntary presence of former sins in the memory.

At the stage of active warfare we try to prevent it from developing into a passion; after victory it is repulsed while still but a provocation.

A provocation is an image-free stimulation in the heart.

Like a mountain-pass, the experienced take control of it ahead of the enemy.

Once our thoughts are accompanied by images we have already given them our assent; for a provocation does not involve us in guilt so long as it is not accompanied by images.

Some people flee away from these thoughts like ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’ (Zech. 3:2); but others dally with them, and so get burnt.

Do not say: ‘I don’t want it, but it happens.’ For even though you may not want the thing itself, yet you welcome what causes it.

He who seeks praise is involved in passion; he who laments afflictions is attached to sensual pleasure.

The thoughts of a self-indulgent man vacillate, as though on scales; sometimes he laments and weeps for his sins, and sometimes he fights and contradicts his neighbor, justifying his own sensual pleasures.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 119, 124-128, 130, 134, 136-144, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 118-120.

Mark the Hermit: Love of Christ is tested by adversity Monday, Feb 3 2014 

St Mark the AsceticEvery thought has its weight and measure in God’s sight.

For it is possible to think about the same thing either passionately or objectively.

After fulfilling a commandment expect to be tempted: for love of Christ is tested by adversity.

Never belittle the significance of your thoughts, for not one escapes God’s notice.

[…] The enemy, understanding how the justice of the spiritual law is applied, seeks only the assent of our mind.

Having secured this, he will either oblige us to undergo the labors of repentance or, if we do not repent, will torment us with misfortunes beyond our control.

Sometimes he encourages us to resist these misfortunes so as to increase our torment, and then, at our death, he will point to this impatient resistance as proof of our lack of faith.

Many have fought in various ways against circumstances; but without prayer and repentance no one has escaped evil.

Evils reinforce each other; so do virtues, thus encouraging us to still greater efforts.

The devil belittles small sins; otherwise he cannot lead us into greater ones.

Praise from others engenders sinful desire, while their condemnation of vice, if not only heard but accepted, engenders self-restraint.

[…]  All vice is caused by self-esteem and sensual pleasure; you cannot overcome passion without hating them.

‘Avarice is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10); but avarice is clearly a product of these two components.

The intellect is made blind by these three passions: avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure.

Scripture calls these three the daughters of the horseleech, dearly loved by their mother folly (cf. Prov. 30:15, LXX).

These three passions on their own dull spiritual knowledge and faith, the foster-brothers of our nature.

It is because of them that wrath, anger, war, murder and all other evils have such power over mankind.

We must hate avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure, as mothers of the vices and stepmothers of the virtues.

Because of them we are commanded not to love ‘the world’ and ‘the things that are in the world’ (1 John 2:15); not so that we should hate God’s creation through lack of discernment, but so that we should eliminate the occasions for these three passions.

‘The soldier going to war’, it is said, ‘does not entangle himself in the affairs of this world’ (2 Tim. 2:4).

For he who entangles himself with the passions while trying to overcome them is like a man who tries to put out a fire with straw.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 87-89, 91-95, 99-107, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 116-117.

Mark the Hermit: To accept an affliction for God’s sake is a genuine act of holiness Friday, Oct 25 2013 

St Mark the AsceticDo good when you remember, and what you forget will be revealed to you; and do not surrender your mind to blind forgetfulness.

Scripture says: ‘Hell and perdition are manifest to the Lord’ (Prov. 15:11. LXX). This refers to ignorance of heart and forgetfulness.

Hell is ignorance, for both are dark; and perdition is forgetfulness, for both involve extinction.

Concern yourself with your own sins and not with those of your neighbour; then the workplace of your intellect will not be robbed.

Failure to do the good that is within your power is hard to forgive. But mercy and prayer reclaim the negligent.

To accept an affliction for God’s sake is a genuine act of holiness; for true love is tested by adversities.

Do not claim to have acquired virtue unless you have suffered affliction, for without affliction virtue has not been tested.

Consider the outcome of every involuntary affliction, and you will find it has been the destruction of sin.

Neighbors are very free with advice, but our own judgment is best.

If you want spiritual health, listen to your conscience, do all it tells you, and you will benefit.

God and our conscience know our secrets. Let them correct us.

He who toils unwillingly grows poor in every way, while he who presses ahead in hope is doubly rich.

Man acts so far as he can in accordance with his own wishes; but God decides the outcome in accordance with justice.

If you wish not to incur guilt when men praise you, first welcome reproof for your sins.

Each time someone accepts humiliation for the sake of Christ’s truth he will be glorified a hundredfold by other men. But it is better always to do good for the sake of blessings in the life to come.

When one man helps another by word or deed, let them both recognize in this the grace of God. He who does not understand this will come under the power of him who does.

[…] He who is ignorant of the enemy’s ambush is easily slain; and” he who does not know the causes of the passions is soon brought low.

Knowledge of what is good for him has been given to everyone by God; but self-indulgence leads to negligence, and negligence to forgetfulness.

A man advises his neighbor according to his own understanding; but in the one who listens to such advice, God acts in proportion to his faith.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 60-78, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 114-115.

Mark the Hermit: God became what we are so that we might become what He is Monday, Dec 24 2012 

St Mark the AsceticCall to mind who He is; and what He became for our sakes.

Reflect first on the sublime light of His Divinity revealed to the essences above (in so far as they can receive it) and glorified in the heavens by all spiritual beings:

angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, cherubim and seraphim, and the spiritual powers whose names we do not know, as the Apostle hints (cf. Eph. 1:21).

Then think to what depth of human humiliation He descended in His ineffable goodness, becoming in all respects like us who were dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death (cf. Isa. 9:2; Matt. 4:16), captives through the transgression of Adam and dominated by the enemy through the activity of the passions.

When we were in this harsh captivity, ruled by invisible and bitter death, the Master of all visible and invisible creation was not ashamed to humble Himself and to take upon Himself our human nature, subject as it was to the passions of shame and desire and condemned by divine judgment.

And He became like us in all things except that He was without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15), that is, without ignoble passions.

All the penalties imposed by divine judgment upon man for the sin of the first transgression – death, toil, hunger, thirst and the like – He took upon Himself, becoming what we are, so that we might become what He is.

The Logos [Greek for “Word”] became man, so that man might become Logos.

Being rich, He became poor for our sakes, so that through His poverty we might become rich (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9).

In His great love for man He became like us, so that through every virtue we might become like Him.

From the time that Christ came to dwell with us, man created according to God’s image and likeness is truly renewed through the grace and power of the Spirit, attaining to the perfect love which ‘casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18) – the love which is no longer able to fail, for ‘love never fails’ (1 Cor. 13:8).

Love, says John, is God; and ‘he who dwells in love dwells in God’ (1 John 4:16).

The apostles were granted this love, and so were those who practised virtue as they did, offering themselves completely to the Lord, and following Christ with all their heart throughout their lifetime.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): Letter to Nicolas the Solitary, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), p. 155.

Mark the Hermit: At the times when you remember God… Monday, Nov 26 2012 

At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.

When you read Holy Scripture, perceive its hidden meanings. ‘For whatever was written in past times was written for our instruction’ (Rom. 15:4).

Scripture speaks of faith as ‘the substance of things hoped for’ (Heb. 11:1), and describes as ‘worthless’ those who do not know the indwelling of Jesus (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5).

Just as a thought is made manifest through actions and words, so is our future reward through the impulses of the heart.

Thus a merciful heart will receive mercy, while a merciless heart will receive the opposite.

The law of freedom teaches the whole truth. Many read about it in a theoretical way, but few really understand it, and these only in the degree to which they practice the commandments.

Do not seek the perfection of this law in human virtues, for it is not found perfect in them. Its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.

The law of freedom is studied by means of true knowledge, it is understood through the practice of the commandments, and is fulfilled through the mercy of Christ.

When we are compelled by our conscience to accomplish all the commandments of God, then we shall understand that the law of the Lord is faultless (cf. Ps. 19:8. LXX).

It is performed through our good actions, but cannot be perfected by men without God’s mercy.

[…] God is the source of every virtue, as the sun is of daylight.

When you have done something good, remember the words ‘without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

Afflictions bring blessing to man; self-esteem and sensual pleasure, evil.

He who suffers injustice escapes sin, finding help in proportion to his affliction.

The greater a man’s faith that Christ will reward him, the greater his readiness to endure every injustice.

By praying for those who wrong us we overthrow the devil; opposing them we are wounded by him.

Distress reminds the wise of God, but crushes those who forget Him.

Let all involuntary suffering teach you to remember God, and you will not lack occasion for repentance.

Forgetfulness as such has no power, but acquires it in proportion to our negligence.

Do not say; ‘What can I do? I don’t want to be forgetful but it happens.’ For when you did remember, you cheated over what you owed.

Do good when you remember, and what you forget will be revealed to you; and do not surrender your mind to blind forgetfulness.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 25-33, 40-45, 56-60, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 112-114.

Mark the Hermit: There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle Wednesday, Jun 6 2012 

We know that God is the beginning, middle and end of everything good; and it is impossible for us to have faith in anything good or to carry it into effect except in Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Everything good is given by the Lord providentially; and he who has faith that this is so will not lose what he has been given.

Steadfast faith is a strong tower; and for one who has faith Christ comes to be all.

May He who inaugurates every good thing inaugurate all that you undertake, so that it may be done with His blessing.

When reading the Holy Scriptures, he who is humble and engaged in spiritual work will apply everything to himself and not to someone else.

Call upon God to open the eyes of your heart, so that you may see the value of prayer and of spiritual reading when understood and applied.

[…] Do not attempt to explain something difficult with contentiousness, but in the way which the spiritual law enjoins: with patience, prayer and unwavering hope.

Blind is the man crying out and saying: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me’ (Luke 18:38). He prays with the body alone, and not yet with spiritual knowledge.

When the man once blind received his sight and saw the Lord, he acknowledged Him no longer as Son of David but as Son of God, and worshipped Him (cf John 9; 38).

[…] He who, like the blind man, casts away his garment and draws near to the Lord, becomes His disciple and a preacher of true doctrine (cf. Mark 10:50).

To brood on evil makes the heart brazen; but to destroy evil through self-restraint and hope breaks the heart.

There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely.

Vigils, prayer and patient acceptance of what comes constitute a breaking that does not harm but benefits the heart, provided we do not destroy the balance between them through excess.

[…] A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.

‘The iron gate that leads into the city’ is a hard heart (Acts 12 : 10); but to one who suffers hardship and affliction the gate will open of its own accord, as it did to Peter.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 2-21, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979). 

Mark the Hermit: Every affliction tests our will Wednesday, Mar 21 2012 

Unless a man acquires, through the grace of Christ, knowledge of the truth and fear of God, he is gravely wounded not only by the passions but also by the things that happen to him.

When you want to resolve a complex problem, seek God’s will in the matter, and you will find a constructive solution.

When something accords with God’s will, all creation aids it. But when God rejects something, creation too opposes it.

He who opposes unpleasant events opposes the command of God unwittingly. But when someone accepts them with real knowledge, he ‘waits patiently for the Lord’ (Ps 27:14).

When tested by some trial you should try to find out not why or through whom it came, but only how to endure it gratefully, without distress or rancor.

Another man’s sin does not increase our own, unless we ourselves embrace it by means of evil thoughts.

If it is not easy to find anyone conforming to God’s will who has not been put to the test, we ought to thank God for everything that happens to us.

If Peter had not failed to catch anything during the night’s fishing (cf. Lk 5:5), he would not have caught anything during the day. And if Paul had not suffered physical blindness (cf. Ac 9:8), he would not have been given spiritual sight.

And if Stephen had not been slandered as a blasphemer, he would not have seen the heavens opened and have looked on God (cf. Ac 6:15; 7:56).

As work according to God is called virtue, so unexpected affliction is called a test.

God ‘tested Abraham’ (cf. Gn 22:1-14), that is, God afflicted him for his own benefit, not in order to learn what kind of man Abraham was – for He knew him, since He knows all things before they come into existence – but in order to provide him with opportunities for showing perfect faith.

Every affliction tests our will, showing whether it is inclined to good or evil.

This is why an unforeseen affliction is called a test, because it enables a man to test his hidden desires.

The fear of God compels us to fight against evil; and when we fight against evil, the grace of God destroys it.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works,194-205, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), online version here.

Mark the Hermit: Who puts his trust in Christ and yet worries or quarrels about transitory things? Sunday, Oct 16 2011 

Ample room in the heart denotes hope in God; congestion denotes bodily care.

The grace of the Spirit is one and unchanging, but energizes in each one of us as He wills (cf. 1 Cor 12:11).

When rain falls upon the earth, it gives life to the quality inherent in each plant: sweetness in the sweet, astringency in the astringent.

Similarly, when grace falls upon the hearts of the faithful, it gives to each the energies appropriate to the different virtues without itself changing.

To him who hungers after Christ grace is food; to him who is thirsty, a reviving drink; to him who is cold, a garment; to him who is weary, rest; to him who prays, assurance; to him who mourns, consolation.

When you hear Scripture saying of the Holy Spirit that He ‘rested upon each’ of the

Apostles (Acts 2:3), or ‘came upon’ the Prophet (1 Sam 11:6), or ‘energizes’ (1 Cor 12:11), or is ‘grieved’ (Eph 4:30), or is ‘quenched’ (1 Thess 5:19), or is ‘vexed’ (Is 63:10), and again, that some ‘have the first fruits’ (Rom 8:23), and that others are ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:4), do not suppose that the Spirit is subject to somekind of division, variation or change; but be sure that…He is unvarying, unchanging and all-powerful.

Therefore in all His energies He remains what He is, and in a divine manner He gives to each person what is needful.

On those who have been baptized He pours Himself out in His fullness like the sun.

Each of us is illumined by Him to the extent to which we hate the passions that darken us and get rid of them.

But in so far as we have a love for them and dwell on them, we remain in darkness.

He who hates the passions gets rid of their causes. But he who is attracted by their causes is attacked by the passions even though he does not wish it.

When evil thoughts become active within us, we should blame ourselves and not ancestral sin.

The roots of evil thoughts are the obvious vices, which we keep trying to justify in our words and actions.

We cannot entertain a passion in our mind unless we have a love for its causes.

For what man, who cares nothing about being put to shame, entertains thoughts of self-esteem? Or who welcomes contempt and yet is disturbed by dishonor?

And who has ‘a broken and a contrite heart’ (Ps 51:17) and yet indulges in carnal pleasure?

Or who puts his trust in Christ and yet worries or quarrels about transitory things?

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works,114-123, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), online version here.

Mark the Hermit: Nothing is stronger than prayer in its action, nothing more effective in winning God’s favour Thursday, May 12 2011 

The intellect changes from one to another of three different noetic states: that according to nature, above nature, and contrary to nature.

When it enters the state according to nature, it finds that it is itself the cause of evil thoughts, and confesses its sins to God, clearly understanding the causes of the passions.

When it is in the state contrary to nature, it forgets God’s justice and fights with men, believing itself unjustly treated.

But when it is raised to the state above nature, it finds the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace and the other fruits of which the Apostle speaks (cf. Gal. 5:22).

And it knows that if it gives priority to bodily cares it cannot remain in this state.

[…] Each man’s knowledge is genuine to the extent that it is confirmed by gentleness, humility and love.

Everyone baptized in the orthodox manner has received mystically the fullness of grace.

But he becomes conscious of this grace only to the extent that he actively observes the commandments.

If we fulfil Christ’s commandments according to our conscience, we are spiritually refreshed to the extent that we suffer in our heart. But each thing comes to us at the right time.

Pray persistently about everything, and then you will never do anything without God’s help.

Nothing is stronger than prayer in its action, nothing more effective in winning God’s favour.

Prayer comprises the complete fulfillment of the commandments; for there is nothing higher than love for God.

Undistracted prayer is a sign of love for God; but careless or distracted prayer is a sign of love for pleasure.

He who can without strain keep vigil, be long-suffering, and pray, is manifestly a partaker of the Holy Spirit.

But he who feels strain while doing these things, yet willingly endures it, also quickly receives help.

One commandment is higher than another; consequently one level of faith is more firmly founded than another.

There is faith ‘that comes by hearing’ (Rom. 10:17) and there is faith that ‘is the substance of things hoped for’ (Heb. 11:1).

It is good to help enquirers with words; but it is better to co-operate with them through prayer and the practice of virtue.

For he who through these offers himself to God, helps his neighbour through helping himself.

If you want with a few words to benefit one who is eager to learn, speak to him about prayer, right faith, and the patient acceptance of what comes.

For all else that is good is found through these.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On Those who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works, 90-102, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), online version here.

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