Gregory the Great: Wrestling Jacob Saturday, Mar 12 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThe pursuit of the contemplative life is something for which a great and sustained effort on the part of the powers of the soul is required,

an effort to rise from earthly to heavenly things,

an effort to keep one’s attention fixed on spiritual things,

an effort to pass beyond and above the sphere of things visible to the eyes of flesh,

an effort finally to hem oneself in, so to speak, in order to gain access to spaces that are broad and open.

There are times indeed when one succeeds, overcoming the opposing obscurity of one’s blindness and catching at least a glimpse, be it ever so fleeting and superficial, of boundless light.

[…] We have a beautiful illustration of all this in the sacred history of the Scriptures where the story is told of Jacob’s encounter with the angel….

Like anyone involved in such a contest, Jacob found his opponent, now stronger, now weaker than himself.

Let us understand the angel of this story as representing the Lord, and Jacob who contended with the angel as representing the soul of the perfect individual who in contemplation has come face to face with God.

This soul, as it exerts every effort to behold God as he is in himself, is like one engaged with another in a contest of strength.

At one moment it prevails so to speak, as it gains access to that boundless light and briefly experiences in mind and heart the sweet savour of the divine presence.

The next moment, however, it succumbs, overcome and drained of its strength by the very sweetness of the taste it has experienced.

The angel, therefore, is, as it were, overcome when in the innermost recesses of the intellect the divine presence is directly experienced and seen.

Here, however, it is to be noted that the angel, when he could not prevail over Jacob, touched the sciatic muscle of Jacob’s hip, so that it forthwith withered and shrank. From that time on Jacob became lame in one leg and walked with a limp.

Thus also does the all-powerful God cause all carnal affections to dry up and wither away in us, once we have come to experience in our mind and hear the knowledge of him as he is in himself.

Previously we walked about on two feet, as it were, when we thought, so it seemed, that we could seek after God while remain­ing at the same time attached to the world.

But having once come to the knowledge and experience of the sweetness of God, only one of these two feet retains its life and vigour, the other becoming lame and useless.

For it necessarily follows that the stronger we grow in our love for God alone, the weaker becomes our love for the world.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Homilies on Ezekiel, 1.12 (PL 76:955) from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Thursday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.

 

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Isaac the Syrian: His mind will stand still and his heart will follow God as a captive Thursday, Jul 16 2015 

Isaac the Syrian 3Continued from here….

When a man follows his discipline perfectly and when he has succeeded in rising above the degree of repentance,

and when he is near to taste the contemplation of his service,

when it is given him from above to taste the delight of spiritual knowledge,

a second working, after the first, will take its origin here.

In the first place man is assured concerning God’s care for him and illuminated concerning His love of the creatures — rational creatures — and His manifold care for the things which regard them.

Then there arises in him that sweetness of God and the flame of His love which burns in the heart and kindles all the affections of body and of soul.

And this power he will perceive in all the species of the creation and all things which he meets.

From time to time he will become drunk by it as by wine; his limbs will relax, his mind will stand still and his heart will follow God as a captive.

And so he will be, as I have said, like a man drunk by wine.

And according as his inner senses are strengthened, so this sight will be strengthened and according as he is careful about discipline and watchfulness and applies himself to recitation and prayer, so the power of sight will be founded and bound in him.

In truth, my brethren, he that reaches this from time to time, will not remember that he is clad with a body, nor will he know that he is in the world.

This is the beginning of spiritual sight in a man, and this is the principle of all intellectual revelations.

By this the intellect will be educated unto hidden things and become mature, and by this he will be gradually elevated unto other things which are higher than human nature.

In short, by this will be conducted unto man all divine visions and spiritual revelations which the saints receive in this world.

Thus nature can become acquainted with the gift of revelations that happen in this life. This is the root of our apperception in our Creator.

Blessed is he that has preserved this good seed when it fell in his soul, and has made it to increase, without destroying it by idle things and by the distraction of that which is transitory.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 47, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp.226-227.

John Cassian: Dejection Monday, Apr 7 2014 

Sf-IoanCasianWe have to resist the pangs of gnawing dejection.

For if this, through separate attacks made at random, and by haphazard and casual changes, has secured an opportunity of gaining possession of our mind, it keeps us back at all times from all insight in divine contemplation, and utterly ruins and depresses the mind that has fallen away from its complete state of purity.

It does not allow it to say its prayers with its usual gladness of heart, nor permit it to rely on the comfort of reading the sacred writings, nor suffer it to be quiet and gentle with the brethren;

it makes it impatient and rough in all the duties of work and devotion: and, as all wholesome counsel is lost, and steadfastness of heart destroyed, it makes the feelings almost mad and drunk, and crushes and overwhelms them with penal despair.

Wherefore if we are anxious to exert ourselves lawfully in the struggle of our spiritual combat we ought with no less care to set about healing this malady also. For “as the moth injures the garment, and the worm the wood, so dejection the heart of man.”

With sufficient clearness and appropriateness has the Divine Spirit expressed the force of this dangerous and most injurious fault. For the garment that is moth-eaten has no longer any commercial value or good use to which it can be put; and in the same way the wood that is worm-eaten is no longer worth anything for ornamenting even an ordinary building, but is destined to be burnt in the fire.

So therefore the soul also which is a prey to the attacks of gnawing dejection will be useless for that priestly garment which, according to the prophecy of the holy David, the ointment of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven, first on Aaron’s beard, then on his skirts, is wont to assume: as it is said, “It is like the ointment upon the head which ran down upon Aaron’s beard, which ran down to the skirts of his clothing.”

Nor can it have anything to do with the building or ornamentation of that spiritual temple of which Paul as a wise master builder laid the foundations, saying, “Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you:” and what the beams of this are like the bride tells us in the Song of Songs: “Our rafters are of cypress: the beams of our houses are of cedar.”

And therefore those sorts of wood are chosen for the temple of God which are fragrant and not liable to rot, and which are not subject to decay from age nor to be worm-eaten.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Institutes 9, 1-3.

Bede the Venerable: St Cuthbert and the Hermitage of Farne Thursday, Mar 20 2014 

icon_bede-March 20th is the feast of St Cuthbert….

When Cuthbert had remained some years in the monastery, he was rejoiced to be able at length, with the blessing of the abbot and brethren accompanying him, to retire to the secrecy of solitude which he had so long coveted.

He rejoiced that from the long conversation with the world he was now thought worthy to be promoted to retirement and Divine contemplation: he rejoiced that he now could reach to the condition of those of whom it is sung by the Psalmist: “The holy shall walk from virtue to virtue; the God of Gods shall be seen in Zion.”

At his first entrance upon the solitary life, he sought out the most retired spot in the outskirts of the monastery. But when he had for some time contended with the invisible adversary with prayer and fasting in this solitude, he then, aiming at higher things, sought out a more distant field for conflict, and more remote from the eyes of men.

There is a certain island called Farne, in the middle of the sea, not made an island, like Lindisfarne, by the flow of the tide…, and then restored to the mainland at its ebb, but lying off several miles to the East, and, consequently, surrounded on all sides by the deep and boundless ocean.

No one, before God’s servant Cuthbert, had ever dared to inhabit this island alone, on account of the evil spirits which reside there: but when this servant of Christ came, armed with the helmet of salvation, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, all the fiery darts of the wicked were extinguished, and that wicked enemy, with all his followers, were put to flight.

Christ’s soldier, therefore, having thus, by the expulsion of the tyrants, become the lawful monarch of the land, built a city fit for his empire, and houses therein suitable to his city.

The building is almost of a round form, from wall to wall about four or five poles in extent: the wall on the outside is higher than a man, but within, by excavating the rock, he made it much deeper, to prevent the eyes and the thoughts from wandering, that the mind might be wholly bent on heavenly things, and the pious inhabitant might behold nothing from his residence but the heavens above him.

The wall was constructed, not of hewn stones or of brick and mortar, but of rough stones and turf, which had been taken out from the ground within. Some of them were so large that four men could hardly have lifted them, but Cuthbert himself, with angels helping him, had raised them up and placed them on the wall.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Life of St Cuthbert, 17 @ Mediaeval Sourcebook.

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.

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.

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.

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.

John Cassian: An incomprehensible and all-devouring flame… Thursday, Nov 7 2013 

Sf-IoanCasianSupplication is an imploring or petition concerning sins, in which one who is sorry for his present or past deeds asks for pardon….

Prayers are those by which we offer or vow something to God….

Intercessions we offer up for others….

Thanksgivings the mind in ineffable transports offers up to God.

[…] Supplication seems to belong more especially to beginners, who are still troubled by the stings and recollection of their sins.

Prayers belong to those who have already attained some loftiness of mind in their spiritual progress and the quest of virtue.

Intercessions belong to those who fulfil the completion of their vows by their works, and are so stimulated to intercede for others also through the consideration of their weakness, and the earnestness of their love.

Thanksgivings belong to those who have already torn from their hearts the guilty thorns of conscience.

Being now free from care, they can contemplate with a pure mind the beneficence of God and His compassions, which He has either granted in the past, or is giving in the present, or preparing for the future.

Thus they are borne onward with fervent hearts to that ardent prayer which cannot be embraced or expressed by the mouth of men.

Sometimes however the mind which is advancing to that perfect state of purity and which is already beginning to be established in it, will take in all these at one and the same time.

Like some incomprehensible and all-devouring flame, it will dart through them all and offer up to God inexpressible prayers of the purest force.

The Spirit Itself, intervening with groanings that cannot be uttered, while we ourselves understand not, pours forth these prayers to God, grasping at that hour and ineffably pouring forth in its supplications things so great that they cannot be uttered with the mouth nor even at any other time be recollected by the mind.

And thence it comes that in whatever degree any one stands, he is found sometimes to offer up pure and devout prayers.

Even in that first and lowly station which has to do with the recollection of future judgment, he who still remains under the punishment of terror and the fear of judgment is so smitten with sorrow for the time being that he is filled with no less keenness of spirit from the richness of his supplications than he who through the purity of his heart gazes on and considers the blessings of God and is overcome with ineffable joy and delight.

For, as the Lord Himself says, he begins to love the more, who knows that he has been forgiven the more.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 9, 11-15.

Gregory Palamas: The Light of Thabor Shines in the Hearts of the Faithful and Perfect Thursday, Oct 10 2013 

Gregory_PalamasThe commandments of God also grant knowledge, and not that alone, but deification also.

This we possess in a perfect manner, through the Spirit, seeing in ourselves the glory of God, when it pleases God to lead us to spiritual mysteries, in the manner indicated by St. Isaac….

But let us also hear what certain other saints who preceded him have to say of the glory of God, mysteriously and secretly visible to the initiated alone.

[…] And, first among them, let us listen to their leader Peter, who says, “It is not by following improbable fables that we have come to know the power and presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but because we have ourselves become witnesses of His greatness” (2 Pet. 1:16).

And here is another apostolic eyewitness of this glory: “Keeping themselves awake, Peter and his companions beheld the glory of Christ” (Lk. 9:32).

What glory? Another evangelist testifies: “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white like the light” (Mt. 17:2), showing them that He was Himself the God Who, in the Psalmist’s words, “wraps himself in light as in a mantle” (Ps. 103 [104]:2).

But, after having testified to his vision of Christ’s glory on the holy mountain (2 Pet. 1:18)—of a light which illumines, strange though it may be, the ears themselves (for they contemplated also a luminous cloud from which words reverberated)—Peter goes on to say, “This confirms the prophetic word” (2 Pet. 1:19).

What is this prophetic word which the vision of light confirms for you, O contemplators of God? What if not that verse that God “wraps Himself in light as in a mantle”?

He continues, “You would do well to pay attention to that prophetic word, as to a lamp which shines in a dark place till the day dawns.”  What day, if not that which dawned in Thabor?

“Let the morning star arise!” What star, if not that which illuminated Peter there, and also James and John? And where will that star rise, but “in your hearts”?

Do you not see how this light shines even now in the hearts of the faithful and perfect? Do you not see how it is superior to the light of knowledge?

It has nothing to do with that which comes from Hellenic studies, which is not worthy to be called light, being but deception or confounded with deception, and nearer to darkness than light.

Indeed, this light of contemplation even differs from the light that comes from the holy Scriptures, whose light may be compared to “a lamp that shines in an obscure place”, whereas the light of mystical contemplation is compared to the star of the morning which shines in full daylight, that is to say, to the sun.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): The Triads, D 17-18, in Gregory Palamas: The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle, Classics of Western Spirituality series, Paulist Press, 1983.

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