Gregory of Sinai: Prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic activity of the Holy Spirit Friday, Jul 1 2016 

Gregory of SinaiThe energy of the Holy Spirit, which we have already mystically received in baptism, is realized in two ways.

First – to generalize – this gift is revealed, as St Mark tells us, through arduous and protracted practice of the commandments: to the degree to which we effectively practice the commandments its radiance is increasingly manifested in us.

Secondly, it is manifested to those under spiritual guidance through the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus, repeated with conscious awareness, that is, through mindfulness of God.

In the first way, it is revealed more slowly, in the second more rapidly, if one diligently and persistently learns how to dig the ground and locate the gold.

Thus if we want to realize and know the truth and not to be led astray, let us seek to possess only the heart-engrafted energy in a way that is totally without shape or form, not trying to contemplate in our imagination what we take to be the figure or similitude of things holy or to see any colors or lights. For in the nature of things the spirit of delusion deceives the intellect through such spurious fantasies, especially at the early stages, in those who are still inexperienced.

On the contrary, let our aim be to make the energy of prayer alone active in our hearts, for it brings warmth and joy to the intellect, and sets the heart alight with an ineffable love for God and man. It is on account of this that humility and contrition flow richly from prayer.

For prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic** activity of the Holy Spirit. To start with it rises like a fire of joy from the heart; in the end it is like light made fragrant by divine energy.

There are several signs that the energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen and are not just putting God to the test – for, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, it is found by those who do not put it to the test, and manifests itself to those who do not distrust it (cf. Wisd. 1:2).

In some it appears as awe arising in the heart, in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation, in others as joy, in others as joy mingled with awe, or as tremulousness mingled with joy, and sometimes it manifests itself as tears and awe. For the soul is joyous at God’s visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins.

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On the Signs of Grace and Delusion 3-4, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 259-260.

** noetic = relating to the nous. The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word nous: as used in this passage from Gregory 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).

John Chrysostom: Let us not be sad that we are mortal, but rather let us be grateful Sunday, Jun 26 2016 

Chrysostom3Not seven days have passed since we celebrated the holy feast of Pentecost and again we are overtaken by a chorus of martyrs, or better, serried ranks of martyrs, which are in no way lesser than the ranks of the angels seen by the Patriarch Jacob but equal to and of the same worth as them.

Because martyrs and angels differ only as regards the name, whereas in their works they’re united. Angels reside in the heavens, but so, too, do the martyrs. The former are eternal and immortal; the martyrs will become so.

But have the latter assumed a bodiless form? What does it matter? Because the martyrs, even though they have a body, are still immortal, or rather, before immortality, the death of Christ adorns their bodies even more greatly than immortality.

The sky, be it adorned with ever so many stars, is not so bright as the bodies of the martyrs, which are made beautiful by the blood of their wounds. So, because they died for Him, they are, in fact, superior and have been decorated before achieving immortality, since they were crowned from the moment death.

‘You have made them a little lower than the angels, with glory and honour you have crowned them’, said David, regarding the nature of the whole of the human race. But when Christ came, He completed this small amount, because He condemned death by His own death.

That is not what I am saying though. What I mean is that this defect of death became an advantage. If they had not been mortal, they would not have become martyrs. So, had there been no death, there would not have been any crown. Had there been no death, there would not be martyrdom.

Had there been no death, Saint Paul would not have been able to say ‘I affirm by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord: I die every day’. Had there been no death and corruption, the same Apostle would not have been able to say, ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’.

Therefore let us not be sad that we are mortal, but rather let us be grateful, since the arena of martyrdom has been opened to us by death and, by corruption, we have been given the chance of winning the prize. From now on, we have a reason to strive.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Encomium on All Saints @ Pemptousia [slightly adapted].

Gregory Palamas: Christ now sent forth the Spirit Who comes from the Father Sunday, Jun 19 2016 

Gregory_PalamasA short while ago, with the strong eyes of faith, we beheld Christ ascending, no less clearly than those accounted worthy to be eye-witnesses.

Nor are we less favoured than they. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed”, says the Lord (John 20:29), referring to those who have found assurance through hearing, and see by faith.

Recently we saw Christ lifted up from the ground bodily (Acts 1:9). Now, through the Holy Spirit sent by Him to His disciples, we see how far Christ ascended and to what dignity He carried up the nature He assumed from us.

Clearly He went up as high as the place from which the Spirit sent by Him descended. He who spoke through the prophet Joel showed us whence the Spirit comes, saying, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28), and to Him David addressed the words, “Thou wilt send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created; and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 103:32).

It follows that at His ascension Christ went up to the Father on high, as far as His Fatherly bosom, from which comes the Spirit. Having been shown, even in His human form, to share the Father’s glory, Christ now sent forth the Spirit Who comes from the Father and is sent by Him from heaven.

But when we hear that the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son, this does not mean that the Spirit has no part in their greatness, for He is not just sent, but also Himself sends and consents to be sent.

This is clearly shown by Christ’s words spoken through the prophet, “Mine hand hath laid the foundation of the earth and stretched out the heavens, and now the Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me” (cf. Isa. 48:13-16). Again, speaking through the same prophet He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek” (Isa. 61:1).

The Holy Spirit is not just sent, but Himself sends the Son, Who is sent by the Father. He is therefore shown to be the same as the Father and the Son in nature, power, operation and honour.

By the good pleasure of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, the only-begotten Son of God, on account of the boundless ocean of divine love for mankind, bowed the heavens and came down (Ps. 17:9). He appeared on earth after our fashion, lived among us, and did and taught great, wonderful and sublime things truly worthy of God, which led those who obeyed Him towards deification and salvation.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 24, on Pentecost, 1-2. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), full version online here.

Cyril of Jerusalem: The water that I shall give them will become in them a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life Saturday, Jun 18 2016 

Cyril-of-JerusalemThe water that I shall give them will become in them a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life.

This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy.

But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water.

Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation.

It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each person as he wills.

Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit.

Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvellous.

The Spirit makes some teachers of divine truth, inspires others to prophesy, gives others the power of casting out devils, enables others to interpret holy Scripture.

The Spirit strengthens the self-control of some, shows others how to help the poor, teaches others to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes others oblivious to the needs of the body, trains others for martyrdom.

His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each man, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The coming of the Spirit is gentle, his presence fragrant, his weight very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches.

The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console.

The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then through that person the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of those who come out of darkness into the sunshine and enables them to see clearly things they could not discern before, so does light flood the souls of those counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables them to see things beyond the range of human vision of which they had previously been ignorant.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386): Catechesis 16, 11-12, 16; from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Easter Friday, Year 2.

Leo the Great: I have become Son of Man that you might have power to be sons of God Friday, Jun 17 2016 

Saint_Leo_of_RomeThe Lord Jesus does, indeed, say to His disciples, as was read in the Gospel lection, if you loved Me, you would assuredly rejoice, because I go to the Father, because the Father is greater than I.

But those ears, which have often heard the words, I and the Father are One, and He that sees Me, sees the Father also, accept the saying without supposing a difference of Godhead or understanding it of that Essence which they know to be co-eternal and of the same nature with the Father.

Man’s uplifting, therefore, in the Incarnation of the Word, is commended to the holy Apostles also.

And they, who were distressed at the announcement of the Lord’s departure from them, are incited to eternal joy over the increase in their dignity; If you loved Me, He says, you would assuredly rejoice, because I go to the Father.

That is, if, with complete knowledge you saw what glory is bestowed on you by the fact that, being begotten of God the Father, I have been born of a human mother also, that being invisible I have made Myself visible, that being eternal in the form of God I accepted the form of a slave, you would rejoice because I go to the Father.

For to you is offered this ascension, and your humility is in Me raised to a place above all heavens at the Father’s right hand.

But I, Who am with the Father that which the Father is, abide undivided with My Father, and in coming from Him to you I do not leave Him, even as in returning to Him from you I do not forsake you.

Rejoice, therefore, because I go to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. For I have united you with Myself, and have become Son of Man that you might have power to be sons of God.

And hence, though I am One in both forms, yet in that whereby I am conformed to you I am less than the Father, whereas in that whereby I am not divided from the Father I am greater even than Myself.

And so let the Nature, which is less than the Father, go to the Father, that the Flesh may be where the Word always is, and that the one faith of the Catholic Church may believe that He Whom as Man it does not deny to be less, is equal as God with the Father.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 77, 5.

Ælfric of Eynsham: Now today that same nature went incorruptible into the kingdom of heaven Wednesday, Jun 8 2016 

All_SS_of_BritainJesus taught the holy lore to his disciples before his passion, and after his resurrection he was continuing among them these forty days, from the holy Eastertide until this present day, and in many ways reproved and tried his disciples, and repeated that which he had before taught, for the perfection of doctrine and right faith.

He ate and drank after his resurrection, not because he then had need of earthly food, but because he would manifest his true body. He ate through power, not for need. As fire consumes drops of water, so did the divine power of Christ consume the received meat.

Verily after the universal resurrection our bodies will require no strengthening of earthly meats, for Jesus will supply all our needs with heavenly things, and we shall be enriched with glory, and mighty to execute whatsoever is pleasing to us, and we shall be full swift to go through all the immensities of the kingdom of God.

He promised to his disciples then and frequently that he would send to them the Holy Ghost, and thus said, “When he comes he will stimulate and direct you to all the things which I have said unto you.”

Then came the Holy Ghost in semblance of fire to the holy company on the eleventh day after Christ’s ascension, and inflamed them all with innoxious fire, and they were filled with heavenly lore, and knew all worldly tongues, and fearlessly preached faith and baptism to the powerful and cruel.

[…] All creatures serve their Creator. When Christ was born, heaven sent forth a new star, which announced the birth of God. Again, when he ascended to heaven, the heavenly cloud bowed down towards him, and received him: not that the cloud bare him, for he holds the throne of heaven, but he passed with the cloud from the sight of men.

There were seen two angels in white garments. In like manner at his birth angels were seen; but the holy gospel has not explained how they were adorned; for God came to us very humble.

At his ascension were seen angels adorned with white garments. Joy is betokened by white garments, for Christ departed hence with great joy and with great majesty. At his birth it seemed as though the Godhead were humbled, and at his ascension humanity was exalted and magnified. With his ascension is annulled the writ of our condemnation, and the sentence of our destruction is abrogated.

When Adam had sinned, the Almighty Ruler said to him, “Thou art earth, and thou shalt to earth return. Thou art dust, and thou shalt return to dust.” Now today that same nature went incorruptible into the kingdom of heaven.

Ælfric of Eynsham (c. 955 – c. 1010): Homily 21 (for the Ascension), trans. Benjamin Thorpe; icon of All Saints of Britain and Ireland.

Aphrahat the Persian: Let us honour the Spirit of Christ, that we may receive grace from Him. Tuesday, Jun 7 2016 

ephrem-isaac-aphrahatExpedient is the word that I speak and worthy of acceptance:

Let us now awake from our sleep (Rom.13:11),

and lift up both our hearts and hands to God towards heaven;

lest suddenly the Lord of the house come, that when He comes He may find us in watchfulness (Luke 12:37).

Let us observe the appointed time of the glorious bridegroom (Matt. 25:4, 10), that we may enter with Him into His bride-chamber.

Let us prepare oil for our lamps that we may go forth to meet Him with joy.

Let us make ready provision for our abiding-place, for the way that is narrow and strait.

And let us put away and cast from us all uncleanness, and put on wedding garments.

Let us trade with the silver that we have received (Matt. 25:21), that we may be called diligent servants.

Let us be constant in prayer, that we may pass by the place where fear dwells.

Let us cleanse our heart from iniquity, that we may see the Lofty One in His honour.

Let us be merciful, as it is written, that God may have mercy upon us  (Matt. 5:7).

Let there be peace amongst us, that we may be called the brethren of Christ.

Let us hunger for righteousness, that we may be satisfied (Matt. 5:6) from the table of His Kingdom.

Let us be the salt of truth, that we may not become food for the serpent.

Let us purge our seed from thorns, that we may produce fruit a hundred-fold.

Let us found our building on the rock (Matt. 7:24), that it may not be shaken by the winds and waves.

Let us be vessels unto honour (2. Tim. 2:21), that we may be required by the Lord for His use.

Let us sell all our possessions, and buy for ourselves the pearl (Matt. 13:46), that we may be rich.

Let us lay up our treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20),. that when we come we may open them and have pleasure in them.

Let us visit our Lord in the persons of the sick (Matt. 25:33-35), that He may invite us to stand at His right hand.

Let us hate ourselves and love Christ, as He loved us and gave Himself up for our sakes (John 12:25; Eph. 5:2).

Let us honour the Spirit of Christ, that we may receive grace from Him.

Let us be strangers to the world (John 17:14), even as Christ was not of it.

Let us be humble and mild, that we may inherit the land of life.

Aphrahat the Persian (c.270-c.345): Demonstrations, 6 – On Monks. (The icon accompanying this extract depicts Ephrem the Syrian, Isaac the Syrian, and Aphrahat.)

Philoxenus of Mabbug: For the giving of thanks have we received speech from God our Creator Sunday, Jun 5 2016 

philoxenos_of_mabbugFaith…makes certain that God is, and enquires not.

It holds His words to be sure and seeks not to investigate His nature.

It hearkens to His words, and judges not His deeds and actions.

[…] When it is God Himself who speaks, and the Lord of the universe Who says that He will perform it, it is necessary for us to believe.

For it is sufficient for the persuading of our faith that it is God Himself Who speaks and will perform.

And man has not the power to judge His will; for how can man who hath been made judge the will of Him that created him?

For as the vessel cannot chide the handicraftsman and ask why he hath thus formed it, or judge any of his works, so also is it with man who is a rational vessel, and has no power to chide the Workman Who made him.

And although man possesses the speech of knowledge, it was given to him not so that he could  judge the will of Him that made him, but that he might be a panegyrist of the knowledge which formed him.

For the rational man is farther removed from the power of scrutinizing His Creator than is the speechless vessel from the power of criticising him that made it.

For the giving of thanks have we received speech from God our Creator, and in order that we may admire His created things He has placed in us thoughts of knowledge.

He has made us to possess a sense of wisdom so that we may perceive Him and He has placed within our soul the sense of discernment so that we may receive a foretaste of His gracious acts.

He has given to us the eye of faith which can see deeply into His secret things so that we may see Him in His works.

God is too great to be investigated by the thoughts, and His dispensation surpasses the seeking out of speech. And with His nature go also His works. For, as His nature is inscrutable, so also the deeds and actions of His nature cannot be sought out.

[…] As He cannot be judged by us as to why He has made us in this form, and why He has formed us, and placed us in the world in this order of constitution, so also none of His wishes can be found fault with by us, either as to why He willed thus, or why He performed thus.

Philoxenus of Mabbug (d. 523): Discourse 2 – on Faith [adapted].

John Damascene: Hail! O Christ, the Word and Wisdom and Power of God, and God omnipotent! Friday, Jun 3 2016 

John-of-Damascus_01Continued from here….

The worship of demons then has ceased;

creation has been sanctified by the divine blood;

altars and temples of idols have been overthrown;

the knowledge of God has been implanted in men’s minds;

the co-essential Trinity, the uncreate divinity, one true God, Creator and Lord of all receives men’s service;

virtues are cultivated, the hope of resurrection has been granted through the resurrection of Christ;

the demons shudder at those men who of old were under their subjection.

And the marvel, indeed, is that all this has been successfully brought about through His Cross and passion and death.

Throughout all the earth the Gospel of the knowledge of God has been preached; no wars or weapons or armies being used to rout the enemy, but only a few, naked, poor, illiterate, persecuted and tormented men.

With their lives in their hands, they preached Him Who was crucified in the flesh and died, and who became victors over the wise and powerful.

For the omnipotent power of the Cross accompanied them.

Death itself, which once was man’s chiefest terror, has been overthrown, and now that which was once the object of hate and loathing is preferred to life.

These are the achievements of Christ’s presence: these are the tokens of His power.

For it was not one people that He saved, as when through Moses He divided the sea and delivered Israel out of Egypt and the bondage of Pharaoh (Ex. 14:16);

nay, rather He rescued all mankind from the corruption of death and the bitter tyranny of sin: not leading them by force to virtue, not overwhelming them with earth or burning them with fire, or ordering the sinners to be stoned, but persuading men by gentleness and long-suffering to choose virtue and vie with one another, and find pleasure in the struggle to attain it.

For, formerly, it was sinners who were persecuted, and yet they clung all the closer to sin, and sin was looked upon by them as their God. But now for the sake of piety and virtue men choose persecutions and crucifixions and death.

Hail! O Christ, the Word and Wisdom and Power of God, and God omnipotent! What can we helpless ones give Thee in return for all these good gifts?

For all are Thine, and Thou askest naught from us save our salvation, Thou Who Thyself art the Giver of this, and yet art grateful to those who receive it, through Thy unspeakable goodness.

Thanks be to Thee Who gave us life, and granted us the grace of a happy life, and restored us to that, when we had gone astray, through Thy unspeakable condescension.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 4,4 [slightly adapted].

Cyril of Alexandria: The rectification of our condition is the function of the whole sacred and consubstantial Trinity Wednesday, Jun 1 2016 

cyril_alexandriaContinued from here….

I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman (John 15:1).

And when He calls the Father Husbandman, why does He give Him this title?

For the Father is not idle or inert in His dealings with us, and while the Son nourishes us and sustains us in a perfect state by the Holy Spirit, the rectification of our condition is as it were the function of the whole sacred and consubstantial Trinity, and the will and power to do all the actions done by It pervades the whole Divine Nature. 

Therefore It is glorified by us in its entirety, and in one single aspect. For we call God a Saviour, not gaining the graces which are compassionately bestowed upon us partly from the Father, and partly from the Son Himself or the Holy Spirit, but calling our salvation the work of One Divinity.

And if we must apportion the gifts which are bestowed upon us, or those activities which They display about creation, to each person of the Trinity separately, none the less do we believe that everything proceeds from the Father by the Son in the Spirit.

You will think then quite rightly that the Father nourishes us in piety by the Son in the Spirit. He husbands us, that is He watches over us, and cares for us, and deems us worthy of His sustaining providence by the Son in the Spirit.

[…]  For it is the function of the vine to nourish the branches, and of the tiller of the soil to tend them. And if we think aright, we shall believe that neither the one function, if performed apart from the Father, nor the other apart from the Son or the Holy Ghost, could sustain the whole. For all proceeds from the Father by the Son in the Spirit, as we have said.

Very appropriately now the Saviour called the Father a Husbandman, and it is not at all difficult to assign the cause. For it was to the intent that no one might think that the Only-Begotten merely exercised care over us that He represents God the Father as co-operating with Him, calling Himself the Vine that quickens His own branches with life and productive power, and the Father a Husbandman, and for this reason teaching us that providential care over us is a sort of distinct activity of the Divine Substance.

For we were bound to know that God did not only make us partakers of His nature, conceived of as belonging to the Holy and consubstantial Trinity, but also He watches over us with, the most diligent care, which is illustrated to us very appropriately on this occasion by the figure of husbandry.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on John, Book 10 (on John 15:1ff).

« Previous PageNext Page »