Gregory Palamas: Incarnation, Death, Resurrection Saturday, Apr 19 2014 

Gregory_PalamasThe pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Logos and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man.

He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority….

But the incarnation of the Logos of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice….

Man…had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him.

In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.

Christ clearly had to make immortal not only the human nature which existed in Him, but the human race, and to guide it towards participating in that true life which in due course procures eternal life for the body as well, just as the soul’s state of death in due course brought about the death of the body too.

That this plan for salvation should be made manifest, and that Christ’s way of life should be put before us to emulate, was highly necessary and beneficial.

At one time God appeared visibly before man and the good angels that they might imitate Him.

Later, when we had cast ourselves down and fallen away from this vision, God came down to us from on high in His surpassing love for mankind, without in any way giving up His divinity, and by living among us set Himself before us as the pattern of the way back to life.

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and love of God! In His wisdom, power and love for mankind God knew how to transform incomparably for the better the falls resulting from our self-willed waywardness.

If the Son of God had not come down from heaven we should have had no hope of going up to heaven. If He had not become incarnate, suffered in the flesh, risen and ascended for our sake, we should not have known God’s surpassing love for us.

If He had not taken flesh and endured the passion while we were still ungodly, we should not have desisted from the pride which so often lifts us up and drags us down.

Now that we have been exalted without contributing anything, we stay humble, and as we regard with understanding the greatness of God’s promise and benevolence we grow in humility, from which comes salvation.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily on Great and Holy Saturday, from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) @Kandylaki (fuller version).

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Gregory Palamas: Spiritual Circumcision of the Heart Tuesday, Apr 1 2014 

Gregory_PalamasEven when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind.

When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions.

This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of a cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside, and the whole cup will be clean (Matthew 23:25-26).

“Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labour is according to God’s will, and you will conquer the outward passions” (Abba Arsenios, Apophthegmata Pateron 9).

If the root is holy, so are the branches (John 15:5). If the yeast is holy, so is the dough (Galatians 5:9).

“Walk in the spirit”, says Paul, “and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Christ did not abolish the Jewish circumcision but fulfilled it. He Himself says, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5.17).

How did He do this? It was a seal, a sign and a symbolic way of teaching about cutting off evil thoughts in the heart….

The Jews…were reproached by the prophets for being uncircumcised in their hearts (cf.  Jeremiah 9:26; Romans 2:25).

Man looks at the outward person, but God regards the heart, and if it is full of foul or evil thoughts, that man deserved to have God turn away from him.

That is why the apostle exhorts us to pray without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

To teach us to strive for the spiritual circumcision of our hearts, the Lord pronounces the pure in heart and the poor in spirit blessed.

He stresses that the reward for this purity of heart is seeing God, and He promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (Matthew 5:8, 3). By the poor He means those who live frugally and in need.

But it is not only such people whom He calls blessed, but also those who are like them in spirit, those who, because of their inner humility of heart and their good purpose, have arranged their outward life accordingly.

He forbids not just murder but anger, and commands us to forgive from our hearts those who sin against us. Nor will He accept the gift we offer unless we are first reconciled with one another and let go of anger (Matthew 5:21-24).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent,  from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009).

Elder Sophrony: When We Choose Christ We are Carried Beyond Time and Space, Beyond the Reach of what is Termed “Tragedy” Friday, Mar 28 2014 

SophronyContinued from here….

In refusing to accept Christ as Eternal Man and, more importantly, as True God and our Saviour – whatever the form the refusal takes, and whatever the pretext – we lose the light of life eternal.

‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the founda­tion of the world’ (John 17.24).

There, in the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, must our mind dwell. We must hunger and thirst to enter into this wondrous Kingdom.

Then we shall overcome in ourselves the sin of refusing the Father’s love as revealed to us through the Son (cf. John 8.24).

When we choose Christ we are carried beyond time and space, beyond the reach of what is termed ‘tragedy’.

The moment the Holy Spirit grants us to know the hypostatic form of prayer we can begin to break the fetters that shackle us.

Emerging from the prison cell of selfish individualism into the wide expanse of life in the image of Christ, we perceive the nature of the personalism of the Gospel.

[…] It is a recognised fact that the ego is the weapon in the struggle for existence of the individual who refuses Christ’s call to open our hearts to total, universal love.

The persona, by contrast, is inconceivable without all-embracing love either in the Divine Being or in the human being.

Prolonged and far from easy ascetic effort can open our eyes to the love that Christ taught, and we can apprehend the whole world through ourselves, through our own sufferings and searchings.

We become like a world-wide radio receiver and can identify ourselves with the tragic element, not only in the lives of individual people but of the world at large, and we pray for the world as for our own selves.

In this kind of prayer the spirit beholds the depths of evil, the sombre result of having eaten of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

But it is not only evil that we see – we make con­tact, too, with Absolute Good, with God, Who translates our prayer into a vision of Uncreated Light.

The soul may then forget the world for whom she was praying, and cease to be aware of the body. The prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body.

The soul may return to this world. But the spirit of man, having experienced his resurrection and come near existentially to eternity, is even further persuaded that tragedy and death are the consequence of sin and that there is no other way to salvation than through Christ.

Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): from His Life Is Mine, London 1977, p. 37-40 @ Pemptousia.

Gregory Palamas: Love of God and Love of the World Sunday, Mar 16 2014 

Gregory_PalamasWhereas love for God is the source and starting point of every virtue, love for the world is the cause of all evil.

For that reason these two loves are at enmity with each another and destroy each other.

As the Lord’s brother declares: “Friendship of the world is enmity to God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

And John, whom Christ loved, says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, is not of the Father” (cf. 1 John 2: 15-16).

Let us take heed, brethren, lest by loving evil desires and being arrogant to one another, we fall away from our heavenly Father’s love. For these two evils include every passion which separates us from God.

The foundation, origin and cause of these two opposing roots, love for God and love for the world, is another pair of implacably opposed loves.

Love for the world springs from love for the body, since we love the world because of our body’s well-being. On the other hand, love for God comes from love for our spirit, our soul, for we love God on account of the comfort and good fortune our souls will have in the world to come.

The great Paul bears witness to the fact that these two attitudes are at enmity with each other by saying, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit”, meaning the soul, “and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5: 17).

[…] Because they yearn to attain to divine, unfading delight and are afraid of suffering in that fire, they break their ties with everything passionate, blameworthy and earthly, and strive to cleave to God through intense prayer.

[….] In this way they acquire love for God, and as they become more perfectly united with God through this love, they gain all the virtues as well. When God is at work in us, every kind of virtue becomes our own….

Those who truly act virtuously are aware of this, and do not pride themselves on any of their achievements, but humbly glorify God, the Fount of virtues, by Whom they are filled with the light that bestows goodness.

When the air is full of sunlight, the glory and radiance it displays are not its own but the sun’s. So those who are united with God through fulfilling His commandments are, according to Paul, the sweet savour of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).

They have Christ’s fragrance, and proclaim the virtues of Him Who called them “out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 33 – Virtues and their Opposite Passions, 4-5, 7, from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), @ Kandylaki (fuller version)

Macarius the Egyptian: The grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of Heaven on the tables of the heart Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

Macarius3January 19th is the feast of St Macarius the Egyptian (eastern calendar).

When the rich men of the earth have brought much fruit into their garners, they set to work again every day to get more, in order to have plenty, and not run short.

If they presume upon the wealth laid up in the garners, and take things easily and add no more, but use up what they have stored already, they soon sink into want and poverty.

So they have to labour and add, enlarging their intake, that they may not get behindhand.

In Christianity, to taste of the grace of God is like that. Taste, it says, and see how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 35:8).

This tasting is an effectual power of the Spirit in full certainty, ministering in the heart.

As many as are the sons of light, and of the ministry of the New Covenant in the Holy Ghost, these have nothing to learn from men; they are taught of God (1 Thess. 4:9).

Grace itself writes upon their hearts the laws of the Spirit.

They ought not therefore to rest their assurance only upon the scriptures that are written in ink; the grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of heaven upon the tables of the heart as well (2 Cor. 3:2).

For the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it reigns over all the members and the thoughts.

For there, in the heart, is the mind, and all the faculties of the soul, and its expectation; therefore grace penetrates also to all the members of the body.

On the other hand, as many as are sons of darkness, sin reigns over their heart, and penetrates to all their members, for out of their hearts proceed evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19), and thus diffused puts the man in darkness.

Those who say that evil is not born and bred in man, may have no anxiety about tomorrow, nor any desire either.

For a certain length of time, evil ceases to cause trouble in them by suggesting some object of desire, so that a man will affirm on oath, “Such a passion no longer assails me.”

After a short while he is consumed with the desire, so that he is found guilty of perjury into the bargain.

As water runs through a pipe, so does sin through the heart and thoughts.

As many as will not have this notion, are refuted and mocked by sin itself, even if sin did not wish to triumph; for evil endeavours to escape notice and to be hidden in the mind of man.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 15, 20-21, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

Gregory Palamas: When Our Nature was Remade in the Jordan, the Most Sublime and All-Accomplishing Trinity was Made Manifest Saturday, Jan 11 2014 

Gregory_PalamasJesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water:

and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him:

and lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17).

Man is the only creature who, in the image of the tri-hypostatic Being, has a mind, reason, and a spirit which gives life to his body, inasmuch as he also has a body which needs to be infused with life.

When our nature was re-made in the Jordan, the most sublime and all-accomplishing Trinity was made manifest, as the archetype of the image in our soul.

[…] Christ’s going down into the water and His being underneath it, at the time of His baptism, foreshadowed His descent into Hades; and, accordingly, His coming up from under the water prefigured His resurrection from the dead.

As a fitting consequence, when He came up from the water the heavens were immediately opened unto Him.

For at the time of His descent into Hades, He went under the earth for our sake, and on returning thence, He opened all things both to Himself and to us, not just things on or around the earth, but highest heaven itself, to which afterwards He ascended bodily, “whither the forerunner is for us entered” (Hebrews 6.20).

Just as He foreshadowed the saving Passion through the mystical bread and cup, and then handed on this mystery to the faithful to perform for their salvation (1 Corinthians 11.25; Luke 22.17-20), so He mystically foretold His descent into Hades and His ascent from there through this baptism of His, and afterwards passed on this sacrament to believers to perform that they may be saved.

He allowed Himself what was painful and difficult, but bestowed on us communion in His sufferings right from the start through these painless means, causing us, according to the Apostle, to be “planted together in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6.5), that in due time we might also be vouchsafed the promised resurrection.

Having a soul and body like ours, which He assumed from us for our sake, by means of this body He underwent the Passion, death and burial for us, and showed forth the resurrection from the tomb that this same body might become immortal.

He taught us to accomplish the bloodless sacrifice in remembrance of these events, that through it we might reap salvation.

With His soul He went down to Hades and returned, making us all partakers in eternal light and life, and in token of this He handed on to us the practice of holy baptism, that through it we might harvest salvation;

and indeed that through each of these two mysteries and through both elements, soul and body, we might be initiated into and receive the seeds of incorruptible life.

For our whole salvation depends on these two sacraments, as the entire dispensation whereby God became man is summed up in them.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 60, on the Holy Feast of Theophany: Disclosing the Mystery of Christ’s Baptism as far as is Possible. From Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009) @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, Oakland, California.

Gregory Nazianzen: Let Us Purify Ourselves and Receive the Elementary Initiation of the Word Wednesday, Jan 8 2014 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenWherefore we must purify ourselves first, and then approach this converse with the Pure;

unless we would have the same experience as Israel (Exod. 34:30), who could not endure the glory of the face of Moses, and therefore asked for a veil (2 Cor. 3:7),

or like the Centurion (Matt. 8:8) would seek for healing, but would not, through a praiseworthy fear, receive the Healer into his house.

Let each one of us also – as long as he is still uncleansed, and is a Centurion still, commanding many in wickedness, and serving in the army of Cæsar, the World-ruler of those who are being dragged down – speak thus: “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof.”

Let each one look upon Jesus, though he be little of stature like Zaccheus (Luke 19:3) of old, and climb up on the top of the sycamore tree by mortifying his members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5).

Let each one rise above the body of humiliation. Then he shall receive the Word, and it shall be said to him, This day is salvation come to this house (Luke 19:9).

Then let him lay hold on the salvation, and bring forth fruit more perfectly, scattering and pouring forth rightly that which as a publican he wrongly gathered.

For the same Word is on the one hand terrible through its nature to those who are unworthy, and on the other, through its loving kindness, can be received by those who are thus prepared.

These are they who have driven out the unclean and worldly spirit from their souls, and have swept and adorned their own souls by self-examination […], who, besides fleeing from evil, practise virtue, making Christ entirely, or at any rate to the greatest extent possible, to dwell within them.

This they do so that the power of evil cannot meet with any empty place to fill it again with himself, and make the last state of that man worse than the first, by the greater energy of his assault, and the greater strength and impregnability of the fortress.

Having guarded our soul with every care, and having appointed goings up in our heart (Ps. 84:5), and broken up our fallow ground (Jer. 4:3), and sown unto righteousness (Prov. 11:18), as David and Solomon and Jeremiah bid us, let us enlighten ourselves with the light of knowledge, and then let us speak of the Wisdom of God that hath been hid in a mystery (2 Cor. 2:6), and enlighten others.

Meanwhile let us purify ourselves, and receive the elementary initiation of the Word, that we may do ourselves the utmost good, making ourselves godlike, and receiving the Word at His coming; and not only so, but holding Him fast and shewing Him to others.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 39 (on the Holy Lights), 9-10. Another extract from this Oration can be read here….

Isaac the Syrian: God’s affection for the repentant sinner Sunday, Dec 15 2013 

Isaac the Syrian 3Those, in whom the light of faith truly shines, never reach such unashamedness as to ask God: “Give us this,” or — “Remove from us this.”

Because their spiritual eyes — with which they were blessed by that genuine Father, Who with His great love, countlessly transcends any fatherly love — continually view the Father’s Providence, they are not concerned in the slightest about themselves.

God can do more than anyone else, and can assist us by a far greater measure than we could ever ask for, or even imagine.

[…] Not having distinctly experienced God’s patronage, the heart is in no condition to commune with Christ.

A person cannot acquire a reliance on God if, prior to this, he hasn’t fulfilled His will according to one’s own strength.

Because hope in God and fortitude is born from witness of the conscience (in God): and only with genuine witness of our mind (in God) can we have trust in Him.

God demands not only the fulfillment of the commandments but also — more importantly — reformation of the soul, which is the reason why the commandments were given.

The body participates equally in good as well as bad deeds, and reason, by its behavior, becomes either righteous or sinful, judging by its disposition.

Life in this temporary world is akin to writing letters on a tablet. Everyone, when he wants to, can add or delete words on it or rearrange the letters.

But the future life is akin to a manuscript, written on a clean sheet, on which it is forbidden to add or delete and stamped with the king’s seal. That’s why while we are in this inconstant world, let us be attentive to ourselves.

And while we have authority over the earthly manuscript, on which we write with our own hand, let us endeavor to make good additions from a righteous life, and delete on it all the failings of our past actions.

This is because while we are in this world, God does not affix His stamp — neither to the virtuous nor to the evil — up to the hour of our leaving this life.

When in remembering his sins a person punishes himself, God looks upon him with affection. God is pleased that for turning away from His path, the individual has conferred punishment upon himself — this serves as a sign of genuine repentance.

And the harder the sinner compels himself, the greater the increase in God’s affection for him.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Selections from the Homilies @ Orthodox Photos.

Augustine of Hippo: Jesus Brings to Light Things Hidden in Darkness and Makes Plain the Secrets of the Heart Friday, Nov 29 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaAnd we possess a more certain prophetic word to which you do well to attend, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (1 Peter 2:19).

When our Lord Jesus Christ comes and, as the apostle Paul says, brings to light things hidden in darkness and makes plain the secrets of the heart, so that everyone may receive his commendation from God, then lamps will no longer be needed.

When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself.

Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.

When all these things are removed as no longer necessary for our illumination, and when the men of God by whom they were ministered to us shall themselves together with us behold the true and dear light without such aids, what shall we see?

With what shall our minds be nourished? What will give joy to our gaze? Where will that gladness come from, which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, which has not even been conceived by the heart of man? What shall we see?

I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers.

What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed.

Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind.

I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Commentary on the Gospel of John, Tract. 35, 8-9 (CCL 36, 321-323) from the Roman Office of Readings for Tuesday in the 34th week in Ordinary Time @ Crossroads Initiative.

Gregory of Nyssa: Bethlehem and Golgotha and Olivet and the Scene of the Resurrection are Really in the God-Containing Heart Wednesday, Nov 27 2013 

Gregory_of_Nyssa(From a letter to the most discreet and devout Sisters, Eustathia and Ambrosia, and to the most discreet and noble Daughter, Basilissa, recalling a visit to the Holy Places).

The meeting with the good and the beloved, and the memorials of the immense love of the Lord for us men, which are shown in your localities, have been the source to me of the most intense joy and gladness.

Doubly indeed have these shone upon divinely festal days:

both in beholding the saving tokens of the God who gave us life, and in meeting with souls in whom the tokens of the Lord’s grace are to be discerned spiritually in such clearness, that one can believe that Bethlehem and Golgotha, and Olivet, and the scene of the Resurrection are really in the God-containing heart.

For when through a good conscience Christ has been formed in any, when any has by dint of godly fear nailed down the promptings of the flesh and become crucified to Christ,

when any has rolled away from himself the heavy stone of this world’s illusions, and coming forth from the grave of the body has begun to walk as it were in a newness of life,

abandoning this low-lying valley of human life, and mounting with a soaring desire to that heavenly country with all its elevated thoughts,

where Christ is, no longer feeling the body’s burden, but lifting it by chastity, so that the flesh with cloud-like lightness accompanies the ascending soul

—such an one, in my opinion, is to be counted in the number of those famous ones in whom the memorials of the Lord’s love for us men are to be seen.

When, then, I not only saw with the sense of sight those Sacred Places, but I saw the tokens of places like them, plain in yourselves as well, I was filled with joy so great that the description of its blessing is beyond the power of utterance.

But because it is a difficult, not to say an impossible thing for a human being to enjoy unmixed with evil any blessing, therefore something of bitterness was mingled with the sweets I tasted:

and by this, after the enjoyment of those blessings, I was saddened in my journey back to my native land, estimating now the truth of the Lord’s words, that “the whole world lieth in wickedness,” so that no single part of the inhabited earth is without its share of degeneracy.

For if the spot itself that has received the footprints of the very Life is not clear of the wicked thorns, what are we to think of other places where communion with the Blessing has been inculcated by hearing and preaching alone.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): Letter 17.

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