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.

Symeon the New Theologian: The commandments of the Master were given as guardians of God’s ineffable graces and gifts Friday, Aug 23 2013 

SYMEON-iconConfession is nothing other than the admission of our debts and, therefore, a deep awareness of our falls, that is, a decrial of our poverty and foolishness.

[…] Listen now to what it is that we have received from Him…:

deliverance from condemnation, sanctification from defilement, advancement from darkness to His ineffable light,

the possibility of becoming His children and sons and inheritors through divine baptism and to be clothed with God Himself, and to become His members and to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us.

[…] He makes us like Himself and crafts us into His brethren and co-inheritors.

To those who are being baptized, all these things are given directly by baptism, which are called by the divine Apostle “divine riches and inheritance” (Col. 1:12; Eph. 3:8; 2 Cor. 4:7).

The commandments of the Master were given as guardians of these ineffable graces and gifts and they encircle the believer all about like a wall, creating a safe haven for the treasure hidden in his soul.

And they sustain it and make it inaccessible to all enemies and thieves.

However, we think that it is we ourselves who labour under the burden of keeping the commandments of a man-loving God; but we are unaware of the fact that it is we, rather, who are guarded by them.

For he who keeps the commandments of God does not sustain and guard them but guards himself from visible and invisible enemies, the innumerable entities which the Apostle Paul spoke of: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spirits of wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12), in other words, which are found in the air and are always invisibly arrayed against us.

Therefore, he who keeps the commandments is himself protected by them and cannot lose the riches, which God has entrusted in him. But he who disdains the commandments stands exposed before the enemies and is easily defeated by them.

And having lost all these riches, he is in debt to the King and Master for all the things we spoke of which are impossible for man to pay back or even to find. For these are heavenly and He came from heaven. And He comes every day and brings them and distributes them to the faithful.

Where could those who had once received them but also lost them possibly find them again? Truly nowhere.

Just as neither Adam, nor any of his sons, was able to restore himself or remake his relatives, it would have been impossible had not God, Who is above all being, become Adam’s son according to the flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, and come and raised up both him and us from our fall by His divine power.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD): Epistle on Confession, full translation and introduction @ Discerning Thoughts, from Saint Symeon the New Theologian: The Mystical Life, volume III (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Popular Patristics Series).

Tikhon of Zadonsk: Love of God Cannot Exist Within the Heart Without Joy Tuesday, Jun 18 2013 

Tikhon_of_ZadonskBut let us see what the signs of love for God are, so that we may not have a false dream of love instead of love itself. In nothing does a man deceive himself so much as in love.

[…] God Himself indicates this, saying, “He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me” (Jn. 14:21).

For the true lover of God will preserve himself from everything that is repugnant to God, and hastens to fulfil everything that is pleasing to God. Wherefore he keeps His holy commandments.

From this it follows that those Christians that neglect the commandments have no love for God…. They love themselves and their own appetites, but not God or His holy Law.

A manifest sign of love for God is a heartfelt gladness in God, for we rejoice in what we love.

Likewise love of God cannot exist without joy, and whenever a man feels the sweetness of the love of God within his heart, he rejoices in God.

For so sweet a virtue as love cannot be felt without joy. As honey sweetens our throat when we taste of it, so the love of God makes our heart glad when we taste and see that the Lord is good (LXX Ps. 33:9).

Such joy in God is found in many places in Holy Scriptures, and is portrayed most of all in the holy Psalms. This joy is spiritual and heavenly, and is a foretaste of the sweetness of eternal life.

The true lover of God disdains the world and all that is in the world, and strives toward God, his most beloved. He counts honor, glory, riches, and all the comforts of this world which the sons of this age seek, as nothing.

For him only God, the uncreated and most beloved good, suffices. In Him alone he finds perfect honor, glory, riches and comfort. For him God alone is the pearl without price, for the sake of which he holds everything else as little. Such a one desires nothing in heaven or on earth besides God.

Such love is portrayed in the very words of the Psalter, “For what have I in heaven? And besides Thee what have I desired upon earth? My heart and my flesh have failed, O God of my heart, and God is my portion forever” (LXX Ps. 72:25).

He uses food, drink, clothing, and everything else only as needful, and not for sensual pleasure. From this it follows that whoever loves the world does not love God. According to the witness of the Apostle, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15).

Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783; Russian Orthodox): extract @ Kandylaki   from Journey to Heaven: Counsels On the Particular Duties of Every Christian by Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2004) .

Dorotheus of Gaza: By compunction of heart, peace of mind returns to you Saturday, Mar 23 2013 

Dorotheos2If from the beginning man had humbled himself and listened to God and obeyed his command, there would have been no fall.

Again, after Adam had done wrong, God have him a chance to repent and be forgiven and yet he kept on being stiff-necked and unrepentant.

For God came to him and said, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:12) instead of saying, “From what glory are you come to this? Are you not ashamed? Why did you sin? Why did you go astray?”—as if urging him sharply to say, “Forgive me!”

But there was no sign of humility. There was no change of heart but rather the contrary.

He replied, “the wife that you gave me”—mark you, not “my wife”—”deceived me”; “the wife that you gave me,” (Gen 3:13) as if to say, “this disaster you placed upon my head”.

So it is, my brethren, when a man has not the guts to accuse himself, he does not scruple to accuse God Himself.

Then God came to Eve and said to her, “Why did you not keep the command I gave you?” as if saying, “If you would only say, ‘Forgive me’, to humble your soul and be forgiven.”

And again, not a word! No “forgive me”. She only answered, “the Serpent deceived me!”—as if to say, if the serpent did wrong, what concern is that to me?

What are you doing, you wretches? Kneel in repentance, acknowledge your fault, take pity on your nakedness. But neither the one nor the other stooped to self-accusation, no trace of humility was found in either of them.

And now look and consider how this was only an anticipation of our own state! See how many and great the evils it has brought on us—this self-justification, this holding fast to our own will, this obstinacy in being our own guide.

All this was the product of that hateful arrogance towards God. Whereas the products of humility are self-accusation, distrust of our own sentiments, hatred of our own will.

By these one is made worthy of being redeemed, of having his human nature restored to its proper state, through the cleansing operation of Christ’s holy precepts.

Without humility it is impossible to obey the Commandments or at any time to go towards anything good. As Abba Mark says: without a contrite heart it is impossible to be free from wickedness or to acquire virtue.

Therefore, by compunction of heart you get a grip on the Commandments, are free from evil, gain virtue and, what is more, peace of mind returns to you.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620):  Conference on Renunciation @ Fr Luke Dysinger, OSB.

John Chrysostom: “To Fulfil Every Righteousness” Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

John_ChrysostomFor whom was Jesus baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit?

[…] When John said: I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?—He answered thus: Stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil every righteousness (Matthew 3:14-15).

[…] What does He mean: To fulfill every righteousness? By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: Both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord (Luke 1:6).

Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people, but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it, Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.

And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous.

As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet.

[…] If obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.

Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii (see Luke 10:35). The human race needed to pay this debt [i.e. observing the commandments] but did not pay it…, and so is embraced by death. Christ…paid the debt…and seized from it those who were not able to pay.

Wherefore He does not say: It is necessary for us to do this or that, but rather, To fulfill every righteousnessIt is for Me, being the Master, says He, proper to make payment for the needy.

[…] Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God, there also is the dove.

So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive—a sign of God’s love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood.

And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body…the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: Except ye be converted and become as children, you shall not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom (Mt 18:3).

But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Discourse on the Day of the Baptism of Christ @ Pravoslavie.

Gregory of Sinai: When We Chasten Our Assailants with the Rod of Dauntless Psalmody, We Become Established in Prayer Saturday, Oct 20 2012 

Many who practice the commandments think they are following the spiritual path. But they have not yet reached the city, and in fact remain outside it.

For they travel foolishly, deviating unawares from the straight highway into side-roads, not realizing how close the vices are to the path of virtue.

For the true fulfillment of the commandments demands that we do neither too little nor too much but simply pursue a course acceptable to God and in accordance with His will.

Otherwise we labor in vain and do not make straight the paths of the Lord (cf. Isa.

40:3). For in everything we do we must be clear about the goal we are pursuing.

To be on the spiritual path means seeking the Lord in your heart through fulfilling the commandments.

For when you listen to John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’ (Matt. 3:3), you must understand that he is referring to the commandments and their fulfillment both in the heart and in actions.

It is impossible to ‘make straight’ the path of the commandments and to act rightly unless your heart too is straight and upright.

When Scripture speaks of rod and staff (cf. Ps. 23:4), you should take these to signify in the prophetic sense judgment and providence, and in the moral sense psalmody and prayer.

For when we are chastened by the Lord with me rod of correction (cf 1 Cor. 11 :32), this is so that we may learn how to mend our ways.

And when we chasten our assailants with the rod of dauntless psalmody, we become established in prayer.

Since we thus wield the rod and the staff of spiritual action, let us not cease to chasten and be chastened until we are wholly in the hands of providence and escape judgment both now and hereafter.

The essence of the commandments is always to give precedence to the one that embraces them all: mindfulness of God, as stipulated in the phrase, ‘Always be mindful of the Lord your God’ (cf. Deut. 8:18).

Our failure or success in keeping the commandments depends on such mindfulness, for it is this that forgetfulness first destroys when it shrouds the commandments in darkness and strips us of every blessing.

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On Commandments and Doctrines, chs 14-17, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 214-216.

Irenaeus of Lyons: The Law Was a School of Instruction and a Prophecy of What Was to Come Wednesday, Mar 7 2012 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonGod who stands in need of no one gave communion with himself to those who need him.

[…] By his own hand he gave food in Egypt to those who did not see him. To those who were restless in the desert he gave a law perfectly suited to them.

To those who entered the land of prosperity he gave a worthy inheritance. He killed the fatted calf for those who turned to him as Father, and clothed them with the finest garment.

In so many ways he was training the human race to take part in the harmonious song of salvation.

[…] As the Word passed among all these people he provided help in generous measure for those who were obedient to him, by drawing up a law that was suitable and fitting for every circumstance.

He established a law for the people governing the construction of the tabernacle and the building of the temple, the choice of Levites, the sacrifices, the offerings, the rites of purification and the rest of what belonged to worship.

He himself needs none of these things. He is always filled with all that is good.

Even before Moses existed he had within himself every fragrance of all that is pleasing.

Yet he sought to teach his people, always ready though they were to return to their idols. Through many acts of indulgence he tried to prepare them for perseverance in his service.

He kept calling them to what was primary by means of what was secondary, that is, through foreshadowings to the reality, through things of time to the things of eternity, through things of the flesh to the things of the spirit, through earthly things to the heavenly things.

As he said to Moses: You will fashion all things according to the pattern that you saw on the mountain.

For forty days Moses was engaged in remembering the words of God, the heavenly patterns, the spiritual images, the foreshadowings of what was to come.

Saint Paul says: They drank from the rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

After speaking of the things that are in the law he continues: All these things happened to them as symbols: they were written to instruct us, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Through foreshadowings of the future they were learning reverence for God and perseverance in his service.

The law was therefore a school of instruction for them, and a prophecy of what was to come.

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202):Adversus Haereses, Lib. 4, 14, 2-3; 15, 1; from the Office of Readings for Wednesday of the Second Week in Lent @ Crossroads Initiative.  

Archimandrite Zacharias: Prodigal Sons Sunday, Nov 1 2009 

The great tragedy of our times lies in the fact that we live, speak, think, and even pray to God, outside our heart, outside our Father’s house.

And truly our Father’s house is our heart, the place where “the spirit of glory and of God” would find repose, that Christ may “be formed in us”.

Indeed, only then can we be made whole, and become hypostases in the image of the true and perfect Hypostasis, the Son and Word of God, Who created and redeemed us by the precious Blood of His ineffable sacrifice.

Yet as long as we are held captive by our passions, which distract our mind from our heart and lure it into the ever-changing and vain world of natural and created things, thus depriving us of all spiritual strength, we will not know the new birth from on High that makes us children of God and gods by grace.

In fact, in one way or another, we are all “prodigal sons” of our Father in heaven, because as the Scriptures testify, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”. Sin has separated our mind from the life-giving contemplation of God and led it into a “far country”.

In this “far country” we have been deprived of the honour of our Father’s embrace and, in feeding swine, we have been made subject to demons. We gave ourselves over to dishonourable passions and the dreadful famine of sin, which then established itself by force, becoming the law of our members.

But now we must come out of this godless hell and return to our Father’s house, so as to uproot the law of sin that is within us and allow the law of Christ’s commandments to dwell in our heart.

For the only path leading out of the torment of hell to the everlasting joy of the Kingdom is that of the divine commandments: with our whole being we are to love God and our neighbours with a heart that is free of all sin.

Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou), The Hidden Man of the Heart (Essex, Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2007) 12-15.

Hat tip to Sr Macrina Walker OSCO (A Vow of Conversation)