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.

Tikhon of Zadonsk: Remember Your Unseen Benefactor Everywhere and Always with Love Wednesday, Feb 19 2014 

Tikhon_of_ZadonskTake care not to forget your Benefactor when you enjoy His benefactions, lest you appear ungrateful to Him; for forgetfulness of a benefactor is a clear sign of ingratitude.

God is your creator, deliverer, supreme benefactor, and good provider.

He created you just as He gives you every good thing, since without His goodness you could not live even for a minute.

You do not see your Benefactor with these eyes, but you see the benefits He has given you.

You see the sun, the moon and His stars which illumine you.

You see the fire that warms you and cooks your food.

You see the food which satisfies you, you see the clothing by which your naked body is covered.

You see all other countless blessings which He gave you for your needs and comfort.

Seeing, then, and receiving these benefits, remember your unseen Benefactor everywhere and always with love, and thank Him for all His benefits with a pure heart.

The greatest and highest of all His blessings is that by His good will Christ, His Only-Begotten Son, came to us and redeemed us by His precious Blood and suffering from the devil, hell, and death.

In this work He showed us His unspeakable goodness to us. We must, then, always gaze with faith upon this great work of God so incomprehensible to the mind, and remember God Who so loved us unworthy ones.

We must thank Him from our whole heart, worship Him, praise, hymn, and glorify Him with our heart and lips.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Lk. 1:68-69).

You, too, should always remember this great work of God and marvel at it, and thank God from your heart, and live as it pleases God, Who came into the world to save sinners, lest you offend Him with your ingratitude.

He desires to save you, since He came into the world for your sake, and suffered and died in His holy flesh. You should fulfil His holy will, then, and take care for the salvation of your soul with all diligence.

Be thankful to Him, and live in the world humbly, with love, meekly and patiently, as He Himself lived. He also desires the same of you.

Endeavor to please God with faith and obedience, that is, do what He desires and what is pleasing to Him, and do not do what He does not desire and what is not pleasing to Him. Without obedience, whatever a man may do is not pleasing to God.

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) .

Mark the Hermit: Love of Christ is tested by adversity Monday, Feb 3 2014 

St Mark the AsceticEvery thought has its weight and measure in God’s sight.

For it is possible to think about the same thing either passionately or objectively.

After fulfilling a commandment expect to be tempted: for love of Christ is tested by adversity.

Never belittle the significance of your thoughts, for not one escapes God’s notice.

[…] The enemy, understanding how the justice of the spiritual law is applied, seeks only the assent of our mind.

Having secured this, he will either oblige us to undergo the labors of repentance or, if we do not repent, will torment us with misfortunes beyond our control.

Sometimes he encourages us to resist these misfortunes so as to increase our torment, and then, at our death, he will point to this impatient resistance as proof of our lack of faith.

Many have fought in various ways against circumstances; but without prayer and repentance no one has escaped evil.

Evils reinforce each other; so do virtues, thus encouraging us to still greater efforts.

The devil belittles small sins; otherwise he cannot lead us into greater ones.

Praise from others engenders sinful desire, while their condemnation of vice, if not only heard but accepted, engenders self-restraint.

[…]  All vice is caused by self-esteem and sensual pleasure; you cannot overcome passion without hating them.

‘Avarice is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10); but avarice is clearly a product of these two components.

The intellect is made blind by these three passions: avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure.

Scripture calls these three the daughters of the horseleech, dearly loved by their mother folly (cf. Prov. 30:15, LXX).

These three passions on their own dull spiritual knowledge and faith, the foster-brothers of our nature.

It is because of them that wrath, anger, war, murder and all other evils have such power over mankind.

We must hate avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure, as mothers of the vices and stepmothers of the virtues.

Because of them we are commanded not to love ‘the world’ and ‘the things that are in the world’ (1 John 2:15); not so that we should hate God’s creation through lack of discernment, but so that we should eliminate the occasions for these three passions.

‘The soldier going to war’, it is said, ‘does not entangle himself in the affairs of this world’ (2 Tim. 2:4).

For he who entangles himself with the passions while trying to overcome them is like a man who tries to put out a fire with straw.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 87-89, 91-95, 99-107, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 116-117.

Ambrose of Milan: The Lord Jesus was Created of the Virgin for the Redeeming of the Father’s Works Wednesday, Jan 29 2014 

ambrose_of_milanThe prophecy of the Incarnation, “the Lord created me the beginning of His ways for His works” (Prov. 8:22), means that the Lord Jesus was created of the Virgin for the redeeming of the Father’s works.

Truly, we cannot doubt that this is spoken of the mystery of the Incarnation, forasmuch as the Lord took upon Him our flesh, in order to save the works of His hands from the slavery of corruption, so that He might, by the sufferings of His own body, overthrow him who had the power of death.

For Christ’s flesh is for the sake of things created, but His Godhead existed before them, seeing that He is before all things, whilst all things exist together in Him (Col. 1:16).

His Godhead, then, is not by reason of creation, but creation exists because of the Godhead; even as the Apostle showed, saying that all things exist because of the Son of God, for we read as follows:

“But it was fitting that He, through Whom and because of Whom are all things, after bringing many sons to glory, should, as Captain of their salvation, be made perfect through suffering”  (Heb. 2:10).

Has he not plainly declared that the Son of God, Who, by reason of His Godhead, was the Creator of all, did in after time, for the salvation of His people, submit to the taking on of the flesh and the suffering of death?

Now for the sake of what works the Lord was “created” of a virgin, He Himself, whilst healing the blind man, has shown, saying: “In Him must I work the works of Him that sent Me (John  9: 4).

Furthermore He said in the same Scripture, that we might believe Him to speak of the Incarnation: “As long as I am in this world, I am the Light of this world” (John 9:5), for, so far as He is man, He is in this world for a season, but as God He exists at all times.

In another place, too, He says: “Lo, I am with you even unto the end of the world (Matt. 28:20).  […] During His earthly life, He was asked, “Who art Thou?” He answered: “The beginning, even as I tell you” (John 8:25).

This refers not only to the essential nature of the eternal Godhead, but also to the visible proofs of virtues, for hereby has He proved Himself the eternal God, in that He is the beginning of all things, and the Author of each several virtue, in that He is the Head of the Church, as it is written:

“Because He is the Head of the Body, of the Church” (Col. i. 18); “Who is the beginning, first-begotten from the dead” (Eph. 4:15, 16).

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Exposition of the Christian Faith, 3,7,46-49.

Denys the Areopagite: Sovereign Lord and Ancient of Days Thursday, Jan 23 2014 

DionysiosThe time is come to sing the God of many Names, as “Sovereign Lord,” and as “Ancient of days.”

For He is called the formerby reason that He is an all-controlling basis,

binding and embracing the whole, and establishing and supporting, and tightening, and completing the whole,

continuous in itself, and from itself, producing the whole, as it were from a Sovereign root, and turning to itself the whole, as to a sovereign parent stock,

and holding them together as an all-embracing basis of all, securing all the things embraced, within one grasp superior to all,

and not permitting them, when fallen from itself to be destroyed, as moved from an all-perfect sanctuary.

But the Godhead is called Sovereign, both as controlling and governing the members of His household, purely, and as being desired and beloved by all,

and as placing upon all the voluntary yokes, and the sweet pangs of the Divine and Sovereign, and in dissolvable love of the Goodness itself.

But Almighty God is celebrated as “Ancient of days” because He is of all things both Age and Time, and before Days, and before Age and Time.

And yet we must affirm that He is Time and Day, and appointed Time, and Age, in a sense befitting God, as being throughout every movement unchangeable and unmoved, and in His ever moving remaining in Himself, and as being Author of Age and Time and Days.

Wherefore, in the sacred Divine manifestations of the mystic visions, He is represented as both old and young;

the former indeed signifying the “Ancient” and being from the beginning, and the latter His never growing old; or both teaching that He advances through all things from beginning to end.

[…] The Oracles…do not always merely call all the things absolutely unoriginated and really everlasting, eternal, but also things imperishable and immortal and unchangeable.

[…] The Word of God says that even we, who are bounded here by time, shall partake of Eternity, when we have reached the Eternity which is imperishable and ever the same.

But sometimes eternity is celebrated in the Oracles, even as temporal, and time as eternal. … It is necessary then to suppose that things called eternal are not absolutely co-eternal with God, Who is before Eternity.

[…] But Almighty God we ought to celebrate, both as eternity and time, as Author of every time and eternity, and “Ancient of days,” as before time, and above time, and as changing appointed seasons and times;

and again as being before ages, in so far as He is both before eternity and above eternity and His kingdom, a kingdom of all the Ages. Amen.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th-early 6th century?): On the Divine Names 10, 1-3.

Antony the Great: The Only-Begotten, the Very Mind of the Father and His Image, the Great Physician Friday, Jan 17 2014 

saints_101_anthonyJanuary 17th is the feast of St Antony the Great.

Truly, my beloved in the Lord, not at one time only did God visit His creatures; but from the foundation of the world, whenever any have come to the Creator of all by the law of His covenant implanted in them, God is present with each one of these in His bounty and grace by His Spirit.

But in the case of those rational natures in which that covenant grew cold, and their intellectual perception died, so that they were no longer able to know themselves according to their first condition; concerning them I say that they became altogether irrational, and worshipped the creation rather than the Creator.

But the Creator of all in His great bounty visited us by the implanted law of the covenant. For He is immortal substance.

And as many as became worthy of God and grew by His implanted law, and were taught by His Holy Spirit and received the Spirit of Adoption, these were able to worship their Creator as they ought: of whom Paul says that “they received not the promise” on account of us. (Heb. 11:39).

And the Creator of All, who repents not of His love, desiring to visit our sickness and confusion, raised up Moses the Lawgiver, who gave us the law in writing, and founded for us the House of Truth, which is the Catholic Church, that makes us one in God; for He desires that we should be brought back to our first beginning.

Moses built the house, yet did not complete it, but left it and went away. Then again God raised up the choir of the Prophets by His Spirit. And they also built on the foundation of Moses, but could not complete the house, and likewise left it and went away.

And all of them , being clothed with the Spirit, saw that the wound was incurable, and that none of the creatures was able to heal it, but only the Only-begotten, who is the very Mind of the Father and His Image, who after the pattern of His Image made every rational creature.

For these knew that the Saviour is the great physician; and they assembled all together, and offered prayer for their members, that is, for us, crying out and saying, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” (Jer. 8:22) “We would have healed her, but she is not healed: now therefore let us forsake her and go away.” (Jer.51:9)

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Letter 2 (trans. Derwas J. Chitty).

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).

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

Mor_Ephrem_iconContinued from here…

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

Ephrem the Syrian: The Days of Christmas (1) Friday, Jan 3 2014 

Mor_Ephrem_iconThe first year of our Redeemer’s birth
is the source of blessings and foundation of life.
For by it are borne a multitude of victories
and the sum of helps.
As the first day “in the beginning”
the great pillar of the creation
bears the building of the creation,
so the first-born day bears the help for humanity.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

In the second year of our Redeemer’s birth
the Magi are glad, the Pharisees are gloomy,
treasures are opened, kings are hastening,
and infants are slain.
For in it are offered in Bethlehem
desirable and fearful gifts.
For love offered gold,
but envy offered infants by the sword.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

The day of the All-Illuminating is glad at His birth.
It is a pillar of rays that pursues with its beams
the works of darkness in a type of that day
on which the light was created
and tore away the darkness
spread over the beauty of creation.
The ray of our Redeemer’s birth
entered and tore away the darkness upon the heart.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

The first day, the source and beginning,
is a type of the root that germinated everything.
Much greater than it is our Redeemer’s day planted in the universe.
For His death is like a root inside the earth,
His resurrection like the summit in heaven,
His words extend in every direction like branches,
and like His fruit is His body for those who eat it.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the second day sing praise on the birth
of the Son, the Second, and the Voice of the First.
He commanded the firmament and it came into existence;
He divided the waters from above,
and He gathered the seas below.
He Who separated the waters from the waters
separated from the Watchers and came down to humankind.
Instead of the waters He commanded and they were gathered,
He let flow a source of water and gave it to drink.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the third day weave with hymns
a crown of psalms and offer it with one voice
for the birth of Him Who made flowers and blossoms grow
on the third day.
But now He Who makes all things grow,
came down and became a Holy Blossom.
From the thirsty earth He sprouted, and He went up
to adorn and crown the victorious.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

Let the fourth day confess fourfold
the birth of Him Who created on the fourth day
the pair of luminaries that fools worship
and they are blind and unseeing.
He, the Lord of the luminaries, came down,
and like the sun He shone on us from the womb.
His radiances have opened the eyes of the blind;
His rays have enlightened the straying.

Blessed is Your birth that makes all Creation glad!

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

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