John Damascene: The Tree of Life Saturday, Mar 1 2014 

John-of-Damascus_01Continued from here….

The tree of life, on the other hand, was a tree having the energy that is the cause of life, or to be eaten only by those who deserve to live and are not subject to death.

Some, indeed, have pictured Paradise as a realm of sense, and others as a realm of mind.

But it seems to me, that, just as man is a creature, in whom we find both sense and mind blended together, in like manner also man’s most holy temple [i.e. Paradise] combines the properties of sense and mind, and has this twofold expression.

For, as we said, the life in the body [in Paradise] is spent in the most divine and lovely region, while the life in the soul is passed in a place far more sublime and of more surpassing beauty.

There God makes His home, and there He wraps man about as with a glorious garment, and robes him in His grace, and delights and sustains him like an angel with the sweetest of all fruits, the contemplation of Himself.

Verily it has been fitly named the tree of life. For since the life is not cut short by death, the sweetness of the divine participation is imparted to those who share it.

And this is, in truth, what God meant by every tree, saying, Of every tree in Paradise thou mayest freely eat (Gen. 2:16).

For the ‘every’ is just Himself in Whom and through Whom the universe is maintained.

But the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was for the distinguishing between the many divisions of contemplation, and this is just the knowledge of one’s own nature.

This, indeed, is a good thing for those who are mature and advanced in divine contemplation (which is of itself a proclamation of the magnificence of God).

And it is a good thing for those who have no fear of falling, because they have through time come to have the habit of such contemplation.

[…] But it is an evil thing to those still young and with stronger appetites, who…are not firmly established in the seat of the one and only good, are apt to be torn and dragged away from this to the care of their own body.

[…] Such knowledge was dangerous for Adam who had been so lately created.

The tree of life too may be understood as that more divine thought that has its origin in the world of sense, and the ascent through that to the originating and constructive cause of all.

And this was the name He gave to every tree, implying fulness and indivisibility, and conveying only participation in what is good.

But by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we are to understand that sensible and pleasurable food which, sweet though it seems, in reality brings him who partakes of it into communion with evil.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 2, 11.

Severus of Al-Ushmunain: The Mercy and Compassion of God the Word Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 

St.-Mark-the-ApostleThe merciful, the compassionate one, the Lord Christ, gave himself by the mystery of his Incarnation to save his creatures, and vanquished the mighty by humility and weakness, and speaks through the mouth of his prophets by the Holy Ghost.

When it pleased him to manifest himself on earth and become incarnate, that he might save his creatures whom he had created after the likeness of the image of his majesty, he appeared among them in a human body, born of the Virgin Mary, most excellent of women in creation.

For he had elected her from among the offspring of Adam, the sinner and rebel against his Lord, who obeyed his enemy and broke the commandment of his Creator, so that it was necessary that he should die, as God had said to him when he warned him not to disobey.

But Adam would not listen, desiring to be a god and similar to his Creator, and so was caught in the net of stumbling.

Yet even then God the Word had mercy upon him in pity for him, and became incarnate. He, the uncreated in respect of his Godhead, the man in respect of his humanity, the pure from all sin.

And the Virgin Mary bore him in her womb and brought him forth, by a mystery to which the intelligence of creatures cannot attain, and by which he exalted her above all other created beings in heaven or on earth; above the angels, the powers, the principalities, the cherubim and the seraphim, and all whom God has made in heaven or on earth.

For she became the throne of him who is Lord of the first and the last, without division or change, of him whom no space can enclose, and no time contain.

And when, in his unattainable wisdom, he established his dispensation, and the union of his humanity with his divinity, the mystery of which is hidden from all in heaven or on earth, he chose his disciples, the apostles, and gave them the great commission, authorising them to bind and to loose.

And so likewise their successors after them inherit this gift in all regions of the world, each one following his predecessor. Thus the inheritance of this power, which Christ gave to the great father and evangelist, Mark, the apostle, is carried on to his successor, the patriarch who sits upon his episcopal throne in the great city of Alexandria, in the midst of the regions where he preached.

Severus of Al-Ushmunain (d. 987): History of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria, Second Preface.

The image, found at Pravmir, is a Coptic icon of St Mark, the first of the Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria in the history written by Severus.

John Damascene: The Tree of Knowledge Friday, Feb 21 2014 

John-of-Damascus_01Now when God was about to fashion man out of the visible and invisible creation in His own image and likeness to reign as king and ruler over all the earth and all that it contains, He first made for him, so to speak, a kingdom in which he should live a life of happiness and prosperity.

And this is the divine paradise, planted in Eden by the hands of God, a very storehouse of joy and gladness of heart (for “Eden” means luxuriousness).

[…] It is flooded with light, and in sensuous freshness and beauty it transcends imagination: in truth the place is divine, a meet home for him who was created in God’s image: no creature lacking reason made its dwelling there but man alone, the work of God’s own hands.

In its midst God planted the tree of life and the tree of knowledge (Gen. 2:9).

The tree of knowledge was for trial, and proof, and exercise of man’s obedience and disobedience: and hence it was named the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or else it was because to those who partook of it was given power to know their own nature.

Now this is a good thing for those who are mature, but an evil thing for the immature and those whose appetites are too strong, being like solid food to tender babes still in need of milk.

For our Creator, God, did not intend us to be burdened with care and troubled about many things, nor to take thought about, or make provision for, our own life.

But this at length was Adam’s fate: for he tasted and knew that he was naked and made a girdle round about him: for he took fig-leaves and girded himself about. But before they took of the fruit, They were both naked, Adam and Eve, and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25).

For God meant that we should be thus free from passion, and this is indeed the mark of a mind absolutely void of passion.

Yea, He meant us further to be free from care and to have but one work to perform, to sing as do the angels, without ceasing or intermission, the praises of the Creator, and to delight in contemplation of Him and to cast all our care on Him.

[…] So to Martha Christ said, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41, 42), meaning, clearly, sitting at His feet and listening to His words.

John Damascene (c.675-749): De Fide Orthodoxa 2, 11.

Hilarion Troitsky: In the New Humanity, Built upon the Foundation of the Incarnation, the Unity of Our Human Nature is Restored Sunday, Feb 9 2014 

Hilarion_TroitskyThe Sunday nearest February 9th (Julian calendar) is the feast (Russian Orthodox Church) of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, one of whom was St Hilarion Troitsky.

Continued from here….

St. Irenaeus of Lyons…points out that the purpose and the essence of Christ’s coming is not in a new teaching.

He writes: “…What new thing then did the Lord bring to us by His advent? Know ye that He brought all [possible] novelty, by bringing Himself Who had been announced.

“For this very thing was proclaimed beforehand, that a novelty should come to renew and quicken mankind.”

The renewal of humanity is therefore the fruit of the very advent, the very Incarnation of the Son of God.

St. Irenaeus expressed this idea especially clearly in his recently discovered work, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching:

“Others do not ascribe any significance to the descent of the Son of God and the dispensation of His Incarnation, which the Apostles proclaimed and the prophets foretold, that by it must be accomplished the perfection of our humanity.… And such men should be counted among those who are lacking in faith.”

Thus the perfection of our humanity, according to the teaching of St. Irenaeus, must be brought to pass by the dispensation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, not by any kind of doctrine, not by the writing of any book.

By taking flesh and becoming man, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, made men partakers of the Divine nature. 

Assuming human nature in the unity of His Hypostasis, the Son of God by taking flesh became the New Adam, the Progenitor of the new humanity.

“Beholding him that was in God’s image and likeness fallen through the transgression, Jesus bowed the heavens and came down, and without changing He took up His dwelling in a Virgin womb: that thereby He might fashion corrupt Adam anew.”

St. Irenaeus says that the Son of the Most High became the Son of man in order to make man a son of God.

In the new humanity, built upon the foundation of the Incarnation of the Son of God, the unity of our human nature, broken by sin, is restored. Christ Himself named this new humanity the Church.

[…] We read how the Apostle Peter on behalf of all the Apostles confessed the truth of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God. And Christ responded to him: Upon this rock (upon the Incarnation, upon the fact that He is the Son of the Living God) I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:16–18).

When Christ parted with and said farewell to His disciples, He promised to send them another Comforter, the Holy Spirit, Who would instruct them, would guide them into all truth, and Who would abide with them forever (cf. John 14:16–17; 15:26; 16:13).

Hilarion Troitsky (1886-1929; Russian Orthodox): Holy Scripture and the Church (1914), translated by Igor Radev in The Orthodox Word № 264-265 @ Pravoslavie.

Proclus of Constantinople: The Holy Mother of God is the Intended Paradise of the Second Adam Wednesday, Jan 15 2014 

Proclus_of_ConstantinopleOur present gathering in honor of the Most Holy Virgin inspires me, brethren, to say of Her a word of praise, of benefit also for those come unto this churchly solemnity.

It comprises a praise of women, a glorying of their gender, which (glory) is brought it by Her, She Who is at one same time both Mother, and Virgin.

O desired and wondrous gathering! Celebrate, O nature, that wherein honour be rendered to Woman; rejoice, O human race, that wherein the Virgin be glorified.

“For when sin did abound, grace did superabound” (Rom 5:20).

The Holy Mother of God and Virgin Mary has gathered us here. She is the pure treasure of virginity, the intended paradise of the second Adam.

She is the place wherein was accomplished the co-uniting of natures, wherein was affirmed the counsel of salvific reconciliation.

Who has ever seen, who has ever heard, that within a womb the limitless God – whom the heavens cannot circumscribe, whom the womb of a Virgin limits not – would make for Himself a habitation?

He who was born of woman is not only God and He is not only Man.  He made woman, who had been the ancient gateway of sin, into the gateway of salvation.

Where evil poured forth its poison, bringing on disobedience, there the Word made for Himself a living temple, into which He brought obedience. From whence the arch-sinner Cain sprang forth, there without seed was born Christ the Redeemer of the human race.

The Lover-of-Mankind did not disdain to be born of woman, since this bestowed His life.  He was not subject to impurity, being settled within the womb, which He Himself arrayed free from all harm.

If perchance this Mother did not remain a Virgin, then that born of Her might be a mere man, and the birth would be no wise miraculous. But since she after birth remained a Virgin, then how could it be that He who is born in this way be other than God?

It is an inexplicable mystery, since in an inexplicable manner was born He who without hindrance went through doors when they were locked.

When confessing in Him the co-uniting of two natures, Thomas cried out: “My Lord, and my God!” (Jn 20:28). The Apostle Paul says, that Christ is “to the Jews indeed scandal, and to the Gentiles yet folly” (1 Cor 1:23).

They did not perceive the power of the mystery, since it was incomprehensible to the mind: “for had they understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Cor 2:8).

Proclus of Constantinople (d. 446 or 447): Sermon on the Annunciation; full text @ Preachers Institute.

Cyril of Alexandria: The Heavens were Opened, and Man upon Earth Brought Near to the Holy Angels Sunday, Jan 12 2014 

cyril_alexandriaAnd it came to pass, that when all the people were baptized, Jesus also was baptized: and as He was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.

And there was a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased. And Jesus Himself was beginning to be about thirty years old (Luke 3:21-23).

Continued from here….

Having been baptized, He prays that you, my beloved, may learn that never-ceasing prayer is a thing most fitting for those who have once been counted worthy of holy baptism.

And the Evangelist says that the heavens were opened, as having long been closed. For Christ said, “Forthwith shall ye see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

For both the flock above and that below being now made one, and one chief Shepherd appointed for all, the heavens were opened, and man upon earth brought near to the holy angels.

And the Spirit also again came down as at a second commencement of our race: and upon Christ first, Who received it not so much for His own sake as for ours: for by Him and in Him are we enriched with all things.

Most suitably therefore to the economy of grace does He endure with us the things of man’s estate: for where otherwise shall we see Him emptied, Whose in His divine nature is the fulness?

How became He poor as we are, if He were not conformed to our poverty? How did He empty Himself, if He refused to endure the measure of human littleness?

Having taken therefore Christ as our pattern, let us draw near to the grace of holy baptism, that so we may gain boldness to pray constantly, and lift up holy hands to God the Father, that He may open the heavens also unto us, and send down upon us too the Holy Ghost, to receive us as sons.

For He spake unto Christ at the time of holy baptism, as though having by Him and in Him accepted man upon earth to the sonship, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”

For He Who is the Son by nature and in truth, and the Only-begotten, when He became like unto us, is specially declared to be the Son of God, not as receiving this for Himself – for He was and is, as I said, very Son – but that He might ratify the glory unto us.

For He has been made our firstfruits, and firstborn, and second Adam: for which reason it is said, that “in Him all things have become new:” for having put off the oldness that was in Adam, we have gained the newness that is in Christ.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel, Sermon 11.

Gregory Palamas: The Very Word of God from God Emptied Himself in an Indescribable Way Saturday, Jan 4 2014 

Gregory_PalamasHe who produced all earthly and heavenly things out of non-being, when He saw that His rational creatures were brought to nothing because of their desire for something greater (Genesis 3.5), bestowed upon them Himself…

…in order that from that time forward we might exercise our desire for something better without risk, although in the beginning we fell into the ultimate danger on that account (1 Corinthians 15.26),

and in order that each of us, in desiring to become God, might not only be blameless, but also attain to our longing.

[…] Because the author of evil did not want to be lower than any of the angels, but to be equal in excellence to the Creator Himself, he was the first to suffer the terrible fall before anyone else.

Smitten by envy, he deceitfully attacked Adam and dragged him down to the abyss of Hades by means of the same desire.

By so doing, he made Adam’s fall difficult to reverse, and it required God’s extraordinary presence, which has now been accomplished, to restore him.

[…] Now since it was God’s good pleasure to annul the pretext for that pride which brought down His rational creatures, He makes everything like Himself;

and because by nature He is equal to Himself and equal in honour, He makes the creation equal to itself by grace and equal in honour.

And how was this done? The very Word of God from God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man’s nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself, and in humbling Himself and becoming poor like us, He raised on high the things below,

or rather, He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards, setting forth today Himself as an example before men and holy angels alike.

Because of this, the angels now possess steadfastness, having learnt in a practical way from the Master that the way to be exalted and to resemble Him is not arrogance but humility.

Because of this, men are easily set right, as they recognize humility as the road by which they are recalled.

Because of this, the prince of evil, who is conceit itself, has been put to shame and overthrown, whereas previously he imagined that he could somehow stand and was something, inasmuch as he had enslaved some, and pulled them down with himself, through their desire for something greater, while also hoping to do the same to others through their extreme folly.

[…] Now that Christ had been born, the devil is trampled down by those who were previously under his feet, who are no longer presumptuous, as the destroyer advised, but identify with the lowly (Romans 12.16), as the Saviour taught through His deeds, and win heavenly exaltation through humility.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 58, on the Holy Nativity of the Lord. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California.

Ephrem the Syrian: The Days of Christmas (2) Friday, Jan 3 2014 

Mor_Ephrem_iconContinued from here…

Let the fifth day praise Him Who created
on the fifth day creeping things and dragons
of whose kind is the serpent.
He deceived and led astray our mother,
a young girl without understanding.
Since the deceiver mocked the young girl,
the fraudulent one was exposed by the Dove
Who shone forth and emerged from an innocent womb,
the Wise One, Who crushed the crafty one.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the sixth day praise Him Who created
on Friday Adam whom the evil one envied.
As a false friend he pleased him
by offering him poison in his food.
The Medicine of Life diffused Himself to them both.
He put on a body and was offered to them both.
The mortal tasted Him and lived by Him;
the devourer who ate Him was destroyed.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the seventh day cry “holy” to the Holy One
Who sanctified the Sabbath to give rest to living beings.
The untiring Gracious One took care of humanity and He took care of animals.
Since freedom fell under the yoke,
He came to the birth and was subjected to free it.
He was struck by a servant’s slap in the court.
As Lord, He broke the yoke upon the free.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the eighth day that circumcised the Hebrews
confess Him Who commanded His namesake Joshua
to circumcise with flint the People whose body was circumcised
but whose heart was unbelieving from within.
Behold on the eighth day as a babe
The Circumciser of all came to circumcision.
Although the sign of Abraham was on His flesh,
the blind daughter of Sion has disfigured it.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the tenth day praise its number
for yodh, the letter of the fair name of Jesus,
in counting its ten.
This number that is like a Lord
reverses the numbers.
For whenever counting goes up to ten,
it goes back to begin again from one again.
O great mystery that is in the name Jesus
Whose power turns Creation back again!

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

The First-born, Purifier of all, on the day of His purifying
purified the purification of the first-born and was offered.
The Lord of offering was in need of offerings
to make an offering of a bird.
By His birth were completed the archetypes:
He came and paid the debts by His descent;
by His resurrection He ascended and sent treasures.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Twenty-Sixth Hymn of the Nativity from Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, translated by Kathleen McVey, preface by John Meyendorff [Paulist Press, 1989])

John Henry Newman: The New Adam was Fashioned from the Virgin Mary Tuesday, Dec 31 2013 

John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_MillaisThe Word was from the beginning, the Only-begotten Son of God.

Before all worlds were created, while as yet time was not, He was in existence, in the bosom of the Eternal Father,

God from God, and Light from Light, supremely blessed in knowing and being known of Him, and receiving all divine perfections from Him, yet ever One with Him who begat Him.

As it is said in the opening of the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

[…] He, indeed, when man fell, might have remained in the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.

But that unsearchable Love, which showed itself in our original creation, rested not content with a frustrated work, but brought Him down again from His Father’s bosom to do His will, and repair the evil which sin had caused.

And with a wonderful condescension He came, not as before in power, but in weakness, in the form of a servant, in the likeness of that fallen creature whom He purposed to restore.

So He humbled Himself; suffering all the infirmities of our nature in the likeness of sinful flesh, all but a sinner,—pure from all sin, yet subjected to all temptation,—and at length becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

I have said that when the Only-begotten Son stooped to take upon Him our nature, He had no fellowship with sin. It was impossible that He should.

Therefore, since our nature was corrupt since Adam’s fall, He did not come in the way of nature, He did not clothe Himself in that corrupt flesh which Adam’s race inherits.

He came by miracle, so as to take on Him our imperfection without having any share in our sinfulness. He was not born as other men are; for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6).

[…] He came by a new and living way; not, indeed, formed out of the ground, as Adam was at the first, lest He should miss the participation of our nature, but selecting and purifying unto Himself a tabernacle out of that which existed.

As in the beginning, woman was formed out of man by Almighty power, so now, by a like mystery, but a reverse order, the new Adam was fashioned from the woman.

He was, as had been foretold, the immaculate “seed of the woman,” deriving His manhood from the substance of the Virgin Mary; as it is expressed in the articles of the Creed, “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary.”

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. 2, 3: The Incarnation.

John of Kronstadt: The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to make us sons of God Tuesday, Dec 24 2013 

john_kronstadtWe are approaching…the world-saving feast of the birth in the flesh of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

For several days before the feast, the holy Church will celebrate this wondrous mystery in the spiritual hymns of her daily services.

These hymns remind us of our divine birthright, and the squandering of our sonship through sin; of its restoration through repentance of our common spiritual kinship and of the spirit of love and care for one another.

[…] God became man to save His people from their sin (Mt 1:21). For this reason He is called Jesus, which means Saviour.

And so, it was for our salvation that the Lord came to earth and became man, for the regeneration in us of the image of God which had fallen.

The Son of God became the Son of Man in order to make us sons of God who were the children of wrath and eternal damnation; in the words of the Holy Apostle John the Theologian: that we should be called the sons of God (I Jn 3:1).

Now God became man, that He may make Adam a god (Stichera for lauds of Annunciation). O the unutterable love of God! O the unspeakable compassion of the Lord! And He, the Most Holy, did this.

He deified mankind in His chosen ones, cleansed them from all evil both of soul and body, sanctified, glorified, led them from corruption to everlasting life, made them worthy to stand in blessedness before the terrible throne of His glory.

And He deified us also, brothers and sisters; He gave us a new birth through water and the Holy Spirit, sanctified us, made us His sons, gave us the promise of eternal life and eternal blessings, surpassing all telling and imagining.

And in confirmation, as a surety of the future blessings, He gave to us, still here on earth, the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts: God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father (Gal 4:6) writes the Apostle.

And so, my brothers, the feast of the Nativity of Christ reminds us that we are born of God, that we are sons of God, that we have been saved from sin and that we must live for God and not sin; not for flesh and blood, not for the whole world which lies in evil and wickedness (1 Jn 5:19), not for earthly corruption.

We must live for an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you (1 Pet 1:4), and for which the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, (Isa 7:14).

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): The Nativity of Christ: The Feast of Renewal from Orthodox Heritage Vol. 11, Issue 11-12 @ ΑΠΑΝΤΑ ΟΡΘΟΔΟΞΙΑΣ.

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