Gregory Nazianzen: Holding Communion with God, Associated with the Purest Light Thursday, Jan 30 2014 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenIn the eastern calendar, January 30th is the Synaxis of The Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, & John Chrysostom.

In praising Athanasius, I shall be praising virtue….  Again, in praising virtue, I shall be praising God, who gives virtue to men and lifts them up, or lifts them up again, to Himself by the enlightenment which is akin to Himself (1 John 1:5).

For many and great as are our blessings—none can say how many and how great—which we have and shall have from God, this is the greatest and kindliest of all, our inclination and relationship to Him.

For God is to intelligible things what the sun is to the things of sense.  The one lightens the visible, the other the invisible, world.  The one makes our bodily eyes to see the sun, the other makes our intellectual natures to see God.

And, as that, which bestows on the things which see and are seen the power of seeing and being seen, is itself the most beautiful of visible things; so God, who creates, for those who think, and that which is thought of, the power of thinking and being thought of, is Himself the highest of the objects of thought, in Whom every desire finds its bourne, beyond Whom it can no further go.

For not even the most philosophic, the most piercing, the most curious intellect has, or can ever have, a more exalted object.  For this is the utmost of things desirable, and they who arrive at it find an entire rest from speculation.

Whoever has been permitted to escape by reason and contemplation from matter and this fleshly cloud or veil (whichever it should be called) and to hold communion with God, and be associated, as far as man’s nature can attain, with the purest Light, blessed is he, both from his ascent from hence, and for his deification there, which is conferred by true philosophy, and by rising superior to the dualism of matter, through the unity which is perceived in the Trinity.

And whosoever has been depraved by being knit to the flesh, and so far oppressed by the clay that he cannot look at the rays of truth, nor rise above things below, though he is born from above, and called to things above, I hold him to be miserable in his blindness, even though he may abound in things of this world;

and all the more, because he is the sport of his abundance, and is persuaded by it that something else is beautiful instead of that which is really beautiful, reaping, as the poor fruit of his poor opinion, the sentence of darkness, or the seeing Him to be fire, Whom he did not recognize as light.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 21 (on the Great Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria), 1-2.

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Gregory of Nyssa: The Real Beauty and the Illusion of Beauty Friday, Jan 10 2014 

Gregory_of_NyssaJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Man was fashioned in imitation of the Divine nature, preserving his resemblance to the Deity as well in other excellences as in possession of freedom of the will, yet being of necessity of a nature subject to change.

For it was not possible that a being who derived his origin from an alteration should be altogether free from this liability.

For the passing from a state of non-existence into that of existence is a kind of alteration – when being that is by the exercise of Divine power takes the place of nonentity.

In the following special respect, too, alteration is necessarily observable in man.

For man was an imitation of the Divine nature, and unless some distinctive difference had been occasioned, the imitating subject would be entirely the same as that which it resembles.

In this instance, it is to be observed, there is a difference between that which “was made in the image” and its pattern; namely this:

that the one [God] is not subject to change, while the other [man] is (for, as has been described, it has come into existence through an alteration), and, being thus subject to alteration, does not always continue in its existing state.

For alteration is a kind of movement ever advancing from the present state to another; and there are two forms of this movement:

the first is ever towards what is good, and in this the advance has no check, because no goal of the course to be traversed can be reached;

the other is in the direction of the contrary, and of it this is the essence, that it has no subsistence.

As has been before stated, the contrary state to goodness conveys some such notion of opposition, as when we say, for instance, that that which is is logically opposed to that which is not, and that existence is so opposed to non-existence.

By reason of this impulse and movement of changeful alteration, it is not possible that the nature of the subject of this change should remain self-centred and unmoved, but there is always something towards which the will is tending.

The appetency for moral beauty naturally draws the will on to movement. But this beauty is in one instance genuinely beautiful in its nature, and in another instance it is not so, only blossoming with an illusive appearance of beauty.

And the criterion of these two kinds is the mind that dwells within us.

Under these circumstances it is a matter of risk whether we happen to choose the real beauty, or whether we are diverted from its choice by some deception arising from appearance, and thus drift away to the opposite.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Great Catechism, 21 (adapted).

Basil the Great: Swimming Upwards to the Light Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatIf you would speak of God, or hear of Him, go out from your body, put aside your bodily senses, leave this earth behind you, leave the sea behind you, set the skies beneath you, pass beyond the measuring of time, the procession of the seasons, the ordered perfection of the universe;

rise above the heavens, pass beyond the stars, and the wonders that relate to them, their ordered movement, their magnitude, their service to all the universe, their harmony, their shining splendour, their ordered station, their motion, their rotation one in respect of another.

Passing in mind beyond all these things, raised above them all, gaze in thought upon all the beauty there, upon the heavenly hosts, the Angelic Choirs, the Dignities of the Archangels, the Glory of the Dominations, the Seats of the Thrones, the Virtues, the Principalities, the Powers.

Passing beyond all these, reaching upwards in thought beyond every created thing, uplifting the mind beyond them, now contemplate the Divine Nature: stable, immovable, unchangeable, impassable, simple, indivisible, dwelling in light inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:10), surpassing glory, goodness the most desired, beauty inconceivable; which fastens fiercely upon the soul, wounding it, yet cannot fittingly be spoken of in words.

There are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: Nature Uncreated, Sovereign Majesty, Goodness Itself. The Father the beginning of all things, the Source of existence of all that is, the Root of all that lives. From Him comes forth the Fount of Life, Wisdom, Power, the perfect Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the Son Begotten of the Father, the Living Word, Who is God, Who is with God (Jn. 1:2).

[…] The mind then that has been able to purify itself of all earthly affections, and to leave behind it every known creature, and, like some fish from the deep, swim upwards to the light, now attaining to the purity of the beginning, with the Father and Son, there shall look upon the Holy Spirit, Who by reason of His essential Unity of Nature with Them shares also in their Goodness, Their Justice, Their Holiness, Their Life.

For Thy Spirit, it is written, is good (Ps. 142:10). And again, He is a right Spirit (Ps. 1:12). And again, He is Thy holy Spirit (5:13). And the Apostle also speaks of: The law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). Of these things none has been received by Him, none afterwards added to Him; but as heat is inseparable from fire and radiance from light, so Sanctification cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit, nor the Giving of Life, nor Goodness, nor Justice.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1-3, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.

Silouan the Athonite: With the Holy Spirit the saints glorify God, and with the Holy Spirit the Lord glorifies the saints Thursday, Nov 14 2013 

Silouan the Athonite“I love them who love Me, and I will glorify them who glorify Me,” says the Lord (cf. Prov. 8:17 & 1 Kg. 2:30).

God is glorified by His Saints, and, in turn, the Saints are glorified by God.

The glory that God gives to the Saints is so great, that if people were to see a saint as he truly is, they would fall to the ground on account of reverence and fear, because physical man cannot endure the glory of such a heavenly appearance.

Do not marvel at this. The Lord loved man, whom He created, to such an extent that He poured the Holy Spirit abundantly upon man, and through this Holy Spirit man became like unto God.

The Lord gave His grace to the Saints, and they loved Him and completely devoted themselves to Him, because the sweetness of God’s love surpasses the love for the world and its beauty.

And if things are so here on the earth, then in Heaven the saints are even more closely united with the Lord through love.

God is love, and the Holy Spirit is love for the saints. With the Holy Spirit the Lord becomes known. With the Holy Spirit, the Lord is magnified in the heavens.

With the Holy Spirit the Saints glorify God, and with the Holy Spirit the Lord glorifies the Saints—and this glory has no end.

To many people it seems as though the Saints are far away from us. In reality, they are far from those people who have distanced themselves from the Saints;

whereas, they are very close to the people who keep Christ’s commandments and who have the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In Heaven, everything lives and moves in the Holy Spirit. But even on the earth, we have the same Holy Spirit.

This Holy Spirit lives in our Church. The Holy Spirit unites everyone, and for this reason the Saints are close to us.

And when we pray to them, they hear our prayers through the Holy Spirit, and our souls sense and feel their intercessions for us.

The Saints live in another world where they behold, through the Holy Spirit, the divine glory and beauty of the Lord’s face.

Through this same Holy Spirit they also see our lives and our deeds. They are familiar with our sorrows, and they hear our fervent prayers.

While on the earth, they were taught the love of God by the Holy Spirit. And whoever has acquired love on the earth proceeds with it to the eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, where this love increases until it becomes perfect.

And if on the earth love cannot forget about its fellow man, then even more so the Saints in Heaven do not forget about us, and they pray for us.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox) @ Discerning Thoughts and St Nektarios Monastery.

Denys the Areopagite: The Divine Justice – Preservation and Redemption Tuesday, Nov 5 2013 

DionysiosIf those whom you call pious do indeed love things on earth, which are zealously sought after by the earthly, they have altogether fallen from the Divine Love.

And I do not know how they could be called pious, when they unjustly treat things truly loveable and divine, which do not at once surpass in influence in their estimation things undesirable and unloveable.

But, if they love the realities, they who desire certain things ought to rejoice when they attain the things desired.

Are they not then nearer the angelic virtues, when, as far as possible, by aspiration after things Divine, they withdraw from the affection for earthly things, by being exercised very manfully to this, in their perils, on behalf of the beautiful?

So that, it is true  to say, that this is rather a property of the Divine Justice – not to pamper and destroy the bravery of the best, by the gifts of earthly things, nor, if any one should attempt to do this, to leave them without assistance, but to establish them in the excellent and harsh condition, and to dispense to them, as being such, things meet for them.

This Divine Justice, then, is celebrated also even as preservation of the whole, as preserving and guarding the essence and order of each, distinct and pure from the rest; and as being genuine cause of each minding its own business in the whole.

But, if any one should also celebrate this preservation, as rescuing savingly the whole from the worse, we will entirely accept this as the cantique of the manifold preservation.

[…] Without missing the mark of the sacred theology, one might celebrate this preservation as redeeming all things existing, by the goodness which is preservative of all, from falling away from their own proper goods, so far as the nature of each of those who are being preserved admits.

Therefore also the Theologians name it redemption, both so far as it does not permit things really being to fall away to non-existence, and so far as, if anything should have been led astray to discord and disorder, and should suffer any diminution of the perfection of its own proper goods, even this it redeems from passion and listlessness and loss.

Redemption supplies what is deficient, paternally overlooking the slackness, and raising up from evil; yea, rather, establishing in the good, and filling up the leaking good, and arranging and adorning its disorder and deformity, and making it complete, and liberating it from all its blemishes.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th-early 6th century?): On the Divine Names 8, 8-9.

Basil the Great: In Proportion to the Size of the Heart, the Spirit Writes in Hearts More or Less Tuesday, Sep 17 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatMy tongue is the pen of a scrivener that writeth swiftly (Psalm 44[45]:2).

As the pen is an instrument for writing when the hand of an experienced person moves it to record what is being written, so also the tongue of the just man, when the Holy Spirit moves it, writes the words of eternal life in the hearts of the faithful, dipped ‘not in ink, but in the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3).

The scrivener, therefore, is the Holy Spirit, because He is wise and an apt teacher of all; and swiftly writing, because the movement of His mind is swift.

The Spirit writes thoughts in us, ‘Not on tablets of stone but on fleshy tablets of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3).

In proportion to the size of the heart, the Spirit writes in hearts more or less, either things evident to all or things more obscure, according to its previous preparation of purity.

Because of the speed with which the writings have been finished all the world now is filled with the Gospel.

[…] Thou art ripe in beauty, above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips (Ps. 44:3).

[…] David calls the Lord ripe in beauty when he fixes his gaze on His divinity. He does not celebrate the beauty of the flesh.  ‘And we have seen him, and he had no sightliness, nor beauty, but his appearance was without honor and lacking above the sons of men’ (Isa. 53:2, 3, LXX).

It is evident, then, that the prophet, looking upon His brilliancy and being filled with the splendor there, his soul smitten with this beauty, was moved to a divine love of the spiritual beauty, and when this appeared in the human soul all things hitherto loved seemed shameful and abominable.

Therefore, even Paul, when he saw His ripe beauty ‘counted all things as dung that he might gain Christ’ (Phil. 3:8).

Those outside the word of truth, despising the simplicity of expression in the Scriptures, call the preaching of the Gospel folly; but we, who glory in the cross of Christ, ‘to whom the gifts bestowed on us by God were manifested through the Spirit, not in words taught by human wisdom’ (Cf. 1 Cor. 2.12, 13) know that the grace poured out by God in the teachings concerning Christ is rich.

Therefore, in a short time the teaching passed through almost the whole world, since grace, rich and plentiful, was poured out upon the preachers of the Gospel, whom Scripture called even the lips of Christ.

Moreover, the message of the Gospel in its insignificant little words possesses great guidance and attraction toward salvation. And every soul is overcome by the unalterable doctrines, being strengthened by grace to an unshaken faith in Christ.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 17 (on Psalm 44[45]), 3-4,  from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 281-283.

Gregory of Nyssa: Through the Church the Heavenly Powers Discover the Manifold Wisdom of God Saturday, Aug 24 2013 

Gregory_of_NyssaThat the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the Church, according to the eternal purpose, which he made, in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Ephesians 3:10-12).

It is indeed through the Church that the heavenly powers discover the manifold wisdom of God that accomplished great wonders by contrary means: how life resulted from death, righteousness from sin, a blessing from a curse, glory from disgrace, power from weakness.

In earlier times the heavenly powers were aware only of the simple, unqualified wisdom of God working wonders in a manner appropriate to its nature.

There was nothing complex in what they saw when in its mighty power the Godhead created the universe by a simple act of will, bringing the natural world into being and endowing all things with the great beauty that springs from the source of all beauty.

Now, however, through the Church, they have been clearly shown this manifold kind of wisdom which consists in the combination of opposites.

They have learned how the Word became flesh; how life mingled with death; how Christ healed our wounds by his own bruises; and how by the weakness of the Cross he overcame the power of the adversary.

They have learned how the Invisible was revealed in flesh; how he re­deemed captives, being himself both the Redeemer and the price, since he gave himself up to death to pay our ransom; how he also entered the realm of death without abandoning life, and became a servant without ceasing to be a king.

All these and similar things contained in the manifold and not simple works of Wisdom the friends of the Bridegroom learned through the Church, and were fascinated to perceive in the mystery yet another mark of the divine Wisdom.

Indeed, if it is not too bold a thing to say, perhaps in gazing at the beauty of the Bridegroom reflected in the bride, they beheld with wonder that which is invisible and incomprehensible to all created beings.

For God, whom no one has ever seen, as John says, or can see, as Paul testifies, has made the Church his body, and by the addition of those who are saved he builds it up in love until we all attain full maturity, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.

If then the Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the body’s head who impresses his own features on its face, this may explain why the friends of the Bridegroom were fascinated to see the Church, since through her they beheld more clearly the invisible Bridegroom.

Just as one cannot look straight at the sun but can see its brilliance reflected on water, so they too see the Sun of Righteousness in the clear mirror of the Church, in which they contemplate him through his reflection.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On the Song of Songs, 8 (Jaeger, 6:254-7); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Gregory of Nyssa: Why Man was Brought into the World Last, After the Creation Monday, Aug 12 2013 

Gregory_of_NyssaNot as yet had that great and precious thing, man, come into the world of being; it was not to be looked for that the ruler should appear before the subjects of his rule.

But when his dominion was prepared, the next step was that the king should be manifested.

When, then, the Maker of all had prepared beforehand, as it were, a royal lodging for the future king (and this was the land, and islands, and sea, and the heaven arching like a roof over them),

—and when all kinds of wealth had been stored in this palace (and by wealth I mean the whole creation, all that is in plants and trees, and all that has sense, and breath, and life,

—and, if we are to account materials also as wealth, all that for their beauty are reckoned precious in the eyes of men, as gold and silver, and the substances of your jewels which men delight in,

—having concealed, I say, abundance of all these also in the bosom of the earth as in a royal treasure-house,

—he thus manifests man in the world, to be the beholder of some of the wonders therein, and the lord of others:

that by his enjoyment he might have knowledge of the Giver, and by the beauty and majesty of the things he saw might trace out that power of the Maker which is beyond speech and language.

For this reason man was brought into the world last after the creation, not being rejected to the last as worthless, but as one whom it behoved to be king over his subjects at his very birth.

And as a good host does not bring his guest to his house before the preparation of his feast, but, when he has made all due preparation, and decked with their proper adornments his house, his couches, his table, brings his guest home when things suitable for his refreshment are in readiness,

—in the same manner the rich and munificent Entertainer of our nature, when He had decked the habitation with beauties of every kind, and prepared this great and varied banquet,

—then introduced man, assigning to him as his task not the acquiring of what was not there, but the enjoyment of the things which were there; and for this reason He gives him as foundations the instincts of a twofold organization, blending the Divine with the earthy:

that by means of both he may be naturally and properly disposed to each enjoyment, enjoying God by means of his more divine nature, and the good things of earth by the sense that is akin to them.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On the Making of Man, 2, 1-2.

Gregory of Nyssa: Uncovering the Buried Beauty of the Soul Saturday, Dec 15 2012 

Gregory_of_NyssaContinued from here…

There is no such thing in the world as evil irrespective of a will, and discoverable in a substance apart from that.

Every creature of God is good, and nothing of His “to be rejected”; all that God made was “very good.”

But the habit of sinning entered as we have described, and with fatal quickness, into the life of man; and from that small beginning spread into this infinitude of evil.

Then that godly beauty of the soul which was an imitation of the Archetypal Beauty, like fine steel blackened with the vicious rust, preserved no longer the glory of its familiar essence, but was disfigured with the ugliness of sin.

This thing so great and precious, as the Scripture calls him, this being man, has fallen from his proud birthright.

As those who have slipped and fallen heavily into mud, and have all their features so besmeared with it, that their nearest friends do not recognize them, so this creature has fallen into the mire of sin and lost the blessing of being an image of the imperishable Deity.

He has clothed himself instead with a perishable and foul resemblance to something else; and this Reason counsels him to put away again by washing it off in the cleansing water of this calling.

The earthly envelopment once removed, the soul’s beauty will again appear. Now the putting off of a strange accretion is equivalent to the return to that which is familiar and natural.

Yet such a return cannot be but by again becoming that which in the beginning we were created. In fact this likeness to the divine is not our work at all; it is not the achievement of any faculty of man.

It is the great gift of God bestowed upon our nature at the very moment of our birth; human efforts can only go so far as to clear away the filth of sin, and so cause the buried beauty of the soul to shine forth again.

This truth is, I think, taught in the Gospel, when our Lord says, to those who can hear what Wisdom speaks beneath a mystery, that “the Kingdom of God is within you.”

That word points out the fact that the Divine good is not something apart from our nature, and is not removed far away from those who have the will to seek it.

It is in fact within each of us, ignored indeed, and unnoticed while it is stifled beneath the cares and pleasures of life, but found again whenever we can turn our power of conscious thinking towards it.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On Virginity, 12.

Benedict XVI: St John Damascene – “The Great Sea of Love that God Bears Towards Man” Tuesday, Dec 4 2012 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIJohn Damascene was able serenely to deduce: “God, who is good…created him [man] envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought, enriched with the word, and orientated towards the spirit”.

And to clarify this thought further, he adds: “We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder at all the works of Providence, to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, and admitting instead that the project of God goes beyond man’s capacity to know or to understand, while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future”.

Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature, of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it.

From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, “should be strengthened and renewed” by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in “being”, but also in “well-being”.

With passionate eagerness John explains: “It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught, the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life…. So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)”….

It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man.

John Damascene continues: “he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example…. And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended… to his servants… achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God”.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On St John Damascene [c.675-749] (General Audience, 6 May 2009).

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