Peter of Damascus: “I remembered God, and I rejoiced” Wednesday, Jul 13 2016 

peter_of_damascus“Rejoice in the Lord”, said St Paul (Phil. 3:1). And he was right to say, “in the Lord”.

For if our joy is not in the Lord, not only do we not rejoice, but in all probability we never shall.

Job, as he described the life of men, found it full of every kind of affliction (cf. Job 7:1-21), and so also did St Basil the Great.

St Gregory of Nyssa said that birds and other animals rejoice because of their lack of awareness, while man, being endowed with intelligence, is never happy because of his grief; for, he says, we shall not been found worthy even to have knowledge of the blessings we have lost.

For this reason nature teaches us rather to grieve, since life is full of pain and effort, like a state of exile dominated by sin.

But if a person is constantly mindful of God, he will rejoice: as the psalmist says, “I remembered God, and I rejoiced” (Ps. 77:3. LXX).

For when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God, then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him, and is no longer troubled or anxious.

Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks; and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gifts of grace it has received. And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness, and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.

Slowly the man emerges from the tears of distress and from the passions, and enters fully into the state of spiritual joy.

Through the things that bring him pleasure, he is made humble and grateful; through trials and temptations his hope in the world to come is consolidated; in both he rejoices, and naturally and spontaneously he loves God and all men as his benefactors.

He finds nothing in the whole of creation that can harm him. Illumined by the knowledge of God he rejoices in the Lord on account of all the things that He has created, marveling at the care He shows for His creatures.

The person who has attained spiritual knowledge not only marvels at visible things, but also is astounded by his perception of many essential things invisible to those who lack experience of this knowledge. Thus he looks with wonder not only on the light of day, but also at the night.

[…] In the words of the psalmist, “As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart” (Ps. 4:4. LXX), that is, repent in the stillness of the night, remembering the lapses that occurred in the confusion of the day and disciplining yourself in hymns and spiritual songs (cf Col. 3:16).

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): Twenty -Four Discourses: XXII – Joy; Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 260-261.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Peter 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).

Pete of Damascus: The hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness Monday, May 30 2016 

peter_of_damascusWhenever a person even slightly learned reads the Scriptures or sings psalms he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another.

But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory. Yet there is no contradiction in the Holy Scriptures….

For some texts are confirmed by others, while some were written with reference to a particular time or a particular person.

[…] The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself.

Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St Antony the Great says.

For St Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one’s own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.

This is especially the case if a person does not approach the Scriptures through the door of humility but, as St John Chrysostom says, climbs up some other way, like a thief (cf John 10:1), and forces them to accord with his allegorizing.

[…] What kind of knowledge can result from adapting the meaning of the Scriptures to suit one’s own likes and from daring to alter their words? The true sage is he who regards the text as authoritative and discovers, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness.

The three great luminaries, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom, are outstanding examples of this: they base themselves either on the particular text they are considering or on some other passage of Scripture.

Thus no one can contradict them, for they do not adduce external support for what they say, so that it might be claimed that it was merely their own opinion, but refer directly to the text under discussion or to some other scriptural passage that sheds light on it.

And in this they are right; for what they understand and expound comes from the Holy Spirit, of whose inspiration they have been found worthy. No one, therefore, should do or mentally assent to anything if its integrity is in doubt and cannot be attested from Scripture.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 144-145.

Peter of Damascus: We ought all of us always to give thanks to God Friday, Nov 27 2015 

peter_of_damascusMen have four different attitudes towards sensible realities.

Some, like the demons, hate God’s works, and they commit evil deliberately.

Others, like the irrational animals, love these works because they are attractive, but their love is full of passion and they make no effort to acquire natural contemplation or to show gratitude.

Others, in a way that befits men, love God’s works in a natural manner, with spiritual knowledge and gratitude, and they use everything with self-control.

Finally, others, like the angels, love these works in a manner that is above and beyond nature, contemplating all things to the glory of God and making use of them only in so far as they are necessary for life, as St Paul puts it (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8).

We ought all of us always to give thanks to God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us.

The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures.

The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual.

These include wealth, so that one can perform acts of charity;

poverty, so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude;

authority, so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue;

obedience and service, so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul;

health, so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God;

sickness, so that one may earn the crown of patience;

spiritual knowledge and strength, so that one may acquire virtue;

weakness and ignorance, so that, turning one’s back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility;

unsought loss of goods and possessions, so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may be helped when incapable of shedding all one’s possessions or even of giving alms;

ease and prosperity, so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls;

trials and hardship, so that those who cannot eradicate their own will may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection.

All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body.

Better than them all, however, is the patient endurance of afflictions; and he who has been found worthy of this great gift should give thanks to God in that he has been all the more blessed.

For he has become an imitator of Christ, of His holy apostles, and of the martyrs and saints.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 171-172.

Peter of Damascus: God’s Grace will Give Us Gentleness so that We Begin to Imitate Christ Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

peter_of_damascusGod’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.

This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle” (Matt. 5:5).

Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honor or dishonor.

In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and that this life is a path leading to the future life.

We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.

For whatever God does is “wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen. 1:31), even if we are unaware of this. As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps. 25: 9. LXX) or, rather, how to exercise discrimination.

Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.

Unwittingly or wittingly we must have offended God, or a brother, or someone else, and now we are being given a chance to receive forgiveness for this. For through patient endurance we may be granted forgiveness for many sins.

Moreover, if we do not forgive others their debts, the Father will not forgive us our debts (cf Matt. 6:14). Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt. 6:14).

This, then, is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.

But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.

Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul. Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.

[…] God, being self-sufficient and giving to each what is to his profit, does indeed deserve our thanks, since He patiently suffers both the devil and the wickedness of men, and yet bestows His blessings upon those who repent both before and after they sin.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 94-96.

Peter of Damascus: “The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom” Monday, Mar 3 2014 

peter_of_damascusAs David says, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’.

[…] Our Lord Himself began His teaching by speaking of fear: He says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, that is, those who quail with fear of God and are inexpressibly contrite in soul.

For the Lord has established this as the fundamental commandment, since He knows that, without this, even living in heaven would be without benefit to us, because we would still be possessed of the same madness through which the devil, Adam, and many others have fallen.

If, then, we wish to observe the first commandment – that is, to possess fear of the Lord – we should think very carefully about the contingencies of life already described and upon God’s immeasurable and unfathomable blessings.

We should consider how much He has done and continues to do for our sake through things visible and invisible, through commandments and dogmas, threats and promises;

how He guards, nourishes and provides for us, giving us life and saving us from seen and unseen enemies;

how through the prayers and intercessions of His saints, He cures the diseases caused by our own indiscipline;

how He is always long-suffering as regards our sins, our irreverence, our delinquency, all those things we have done, are doing, and will do, from which His grace has saved us;

how we have angered Him with our actions, words and thoughts; and how He not only bears with us, but even bestows greater blessings on us, either He Himself, or acting through the angels, the Scriptures, through righteous men and prophets, apostles and martyrs, teachers and holy fathers.

Moreover, we should not only recall the sufferings and struggles of the saints and martyrs, but should also reflect with wonder on the self-abasement of our Lord Jesus Christ:

how He lived in the world, His spotless Passion, the Cross, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the advent of the Holy Spirit, His ineffable miracles which are always occurring, every day, paradise, the crowns, the adoption that He has accorded us, and all the things contained in Holy Scripture and so much else.

If we bring all this to mind, we will be overwhelmed at God’s compassion, and with trembling will marvel at His forbearance and patience.

We will grieve because of what our nature has lost – the dispassion of the angels, paradise and all the blessings which we have forfeited – and because of the evils into which we have fallen: demons, passions and sins.

In this way our soul will be filled with contrition, realizing all the evils which have been caused by our wickedness and the cunning of the demons.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  @ Pemptousia.

Peter of Damascus: “I have Come to Do not My Own Will, but the Will of the Father Who Sent Me” Saturday, Dec 14 2013 

peter_of_damascusContinued from here…

Our Lord Himself said, ‘I have come to do, not My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me’ (cf. John 6:38), even though the will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, since they constitute a single inseparable nature.

But He said this on our account and with respect to the will of the flesh.

For if the flesh is not consumed and if a man is not wholly led by the Spirit of God, he will not do the will of God unless he is forced to.

But when the grace of the Spirit rules within him, then he no longer has a will of his own, but whatever he does is according to God’s will.

Then he is at peace. Men like that will be called sons of God (cf. Matt. 5:9), because they will the will of their Father, as did the Son of God who is also God.

Yet it is impossible to discover the will of God unless we keep the commandments, thereby cutting off all pleasure or personal will, and  unless we endure all the pain that this involves.

As has been said, pleasure and pain are born of folly, and they give rise to all evil. For the foolish man loves himself and cannot love his brother or God; he can neither refrain from pleasure or from the desires that give him satisfaction, nor can he endure pain.

Sometimes he gets what he wants, and then he is filled with pleasure and elation; sometimes he does not get it and, completely dominated by the pain which this engenders, he is cast down and dejected, experiencing a foretaste of hell.

From knowledge, or understanding, is born self-control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain.

And, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come.

Thus through self-control he practices the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God’s debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt.

For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt.

But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2:11).

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 84-85.

Peter of Damascus: “God did not Create Us for Wrath but for Salvation” Tuesday, Dec 3 2013 

peter_of_damascusBriefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him.

He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose.

Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen.

We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity.

Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin.

The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed.

For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result.

Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented.

We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of, to what is unwitting.

But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second.

Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.

If we so wish, however, God’s second gift of grace – repentance – can lead us back to our former beauty.

But if we fail to repent, inevitably we will depart with the unrepentant demons into agelong punishment, more by our own free choice than against our will.

Yet God did not create us for wrath but for salvation (cf 1 Thess. 5:9), so that we might enjoy His blessings; and we should therefore be thankful and grateful towards our Benefactor.

But our failure to get to know His gifts has made us indolent, and indolence has made us forgetful, with the result that ignorance lords it over us.

We have to make strenuous efforts when we first try to return to where we fell from. For we resent abandoning our own desires, and we think that we can carry out both God’s wishes and our own – which is impossible.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 83-84.

Peter of Damascus: The Divine Physician Heals the Sickness of the Soul Monday, Feb 18 2013 

peter_of_damascusJust as sick people need surgery and cautery to recover the health they have lost, so we need trials, and toils of repentance, and fear of death and punishment, so that we may regain our former health of soul and shake off the sickness which our folly has induced.

The more the Physician of our souls bestows upon us voluntary and involuntary suffering, the more we should thank Him for His compassion and accept the suffering joyfully.

For it is to help us that He increases our tribulation, both through the sufferings we willingly embrace in our repentance and through the trials and punishments not subject to our will.

In this way, if we voluntarily accept affliction, we will be freed from our sickness and from the punishments to come, and perhaps even from present punishments as well.

Even if we are not grateful, our Physician in His grace will still heal us, although by means of chastisement and manifold trials. But if we cling to our disease and persist in it, we will deservedly bring upon ourselves agelong punishment.

[…] We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like.

And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his lightless condition.

For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.

[…] Greater practice is rewarded by greater knowledge; and from the understanding thus acquired we gain control of the passions and learn how to endure our sufferings patiently.

Sufferings produce devotion to God and a recognition of His gifts and our faults. These give birth to gratitude, and gratitude inculcates the fear of God which leads us to the keeping of the commandments, to inward grief, gentleness and humility.

These three virtues produce discrimination, which…makes it possible for the intellect…to foresee coming faults and to forestall them through its experience and recollection of what has happened in the past. In this way it can protect itself against stealthy attacks.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 77-78.

Peter of Damascus: “In Everything Give Thanks” and “Pray Without Ceasing” Thursday, Sep 6 2012 

We should all give thanks to Him, as it is said: “In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Closely linked to this phrase is another of St Paul’s injunctions: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), that is, be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance.

For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things.

When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life.

In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly.

And in this way your soul will always rejoice, as St Paul commends (cf. 1 Thess. 5:15).

For as St Dorotheos explains, remembrance of God rejoices the soul; and he adduces David as witness: “I remembered God, and rejoiced” (cf. Ps. 77:3. LXX).

God has done all things for our benefit.

We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence.

On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world.

[…] We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works.

It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger.

On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be.

[…]  Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.

Thus God in His unutterable goodness has arranged all things in a marvellous way for us.

And if you want to understand this and to be as you should, you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 173-174.

Peter of Damascus: Reading the Scriptures so as to Become Worthy of God’s Indwelling Friday, Jul 27 2012 

Spurious knowledge, or “knowledge falsely so called” (1 Tim. 6:20), is that which a man possesses when he thinks he knows what he has never known.

It is worse than complete ignorance, says St John Chrysostom, in that its  victim will not accept correction from any teacher because he thinks that this worst kind of ignorance is in fact something excellent.

For this reason the fathers say that we ought to search the Scriptures assiduously, in humility and with the counsel of experienced men, learning not merely theoretically but by putting into practice what we read; and that we ought not to inquire at all into what is passed over in silence by Holy Scripture.

Such enquiry is senseless, St Antony the Great tells us, speaking with reference to those who want to know about the future rather than renouncing any claim to such knowledge on the grounds of their unworthiness.

If God in His providence does impart such knowledge, as He did to Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 2:31-45) and Balaam (cf. Num. 23:8-10), He imparts it for the benefit of all, even if some of the recipients are unworthy of the gift.

[…] We are not told much about these things, lest we search the Scriptures simply – with our minds and then out of pride think that we have grasped something.

For the Lord commands that we should search the Scriptures above all by means of bodily and moral actions, and in this way find eternal life (cf. John 5:39-40).

In particular we should bear in mind that things have been hidden from us for our greater humility, and so that we may not be condemned for sinning knowingly.

The man who has been enabled by grace to acquire spiritual knowledge should struggle to study the divine Scriptures and this knowledge with deep dedication, humility, attention and fear of God;

for unless he does this he will be deprived of his knowledge and threatened with punishment, as unworthy of what God has given him, in the same way as Saul was deprived of his kingdom, as St Maximos explains.

But he who devotes himself to spiritual knowledge and struggles to attain it, St Maximos states, should call upon God at all times, as did David, saying: “Create in me a pure heart, God, and renew an upright Spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).

In this way he may become worthy of God’s indwelling, like the apostles who received grace “at the third hour” (Acts 2:15).

For the Spirit came down on the apostles, as St Luke declares, at the third hour of the day.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 191-192.

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