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.

Augustine of Hippo: “Be Ye Enlarged” Friday, Nov 15 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaGod’s gifts are very great, but we are small and straitened in our capacity of receiving.

Wherefore it is said to us: “Be ye enlarged, not bearing the yoke along with unbelievers.”

For, in proportion to the simplicity of our faith, the firmness of our hope, and the ardour of our desire, will we more largely receive of that which is immensely great;

which “eye hath not seen,” for it is not colour; which “the ear hath not heard,” for it is not sound; and which hath not ascended into the heart of man, for the heart of man must ascend to it.

When we cherish uninterrupted desire along with the exercise of faith and hope and charity, we “pray always.”

But at certain stated hours and seasons we also use words in prayer to God:

that by these signs of things we may admonish ourselves,

and may acquaint ourselves with the measure of progress which we have made in this desire,

and may more warmly excite ourselves to obtain an increase of its strength.

For the effect following upon prayer will be excellent in proportion to the fervour of the desire which precedes its utterance.

And therefore, what else is intended by the words of the apostle: “pray without ceasing” than “desire without intermission, from Him who alone can give it, a happy life, which no life can be but that which is eternal”?

This, therefore, let us desire continually from the Lord our God; and thus let us pray continually.

But at certain hours we recall our minds from other cares and business, in which desire itself somehow is cooled down, to the business of prayer.

We admonish ourselves by the words of our prayer to fix attention upon that which we desire, lest what had begun to lose heat become altogether cold, and be finally extinguished, if the flame be not more frequently fanned.

When the same apostle says “let your requests be made known unto God,” this is not to be understood as if thereby they become known to God, who certainly knew them before they were uttered.

Rather, it should be understood in this sense: that they are to be made known to ourselves in the presence of God by patient waiting upon Him, not in the presence of men by ostentatious worship.

Or perhaps our requests may be made known also to the angels that are in the presence of God, that these beings may in some way present them to God, and consult Him concerning them.

Perhaps they bring to us, either manifestly or secretly, that which, hearkening to His commandment, they may have learned to be His will, and which must be fulfilled by them.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba, VIII,17 – IX, 18 @ Crossroads Initiative.

John Henry Newman: The True Christian Pierces Through the Veil of This World and Sees the Next Wednesday, Oct 9 2013 

John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_MillaisContinued from here…

Afterwards, in the same Epistle [Galatians], he tells us first that nothing avails but faith working by love; but soon after, he calls this same availing principle a new creature: so that the new birth and a living faith are inseparable.

Never, indeed, must it be supposed, as we are indolently apt to suppose, that the gift of grace which we receive at baptism is a mere outward privilege, a mere outward pardon, in which the heart is not concerned;

or as if it were some mere mark put on the soul, distinguishing it indeed from souls unregenerate, as if by a colour or seal, but not connected with the thoughts, mind, and heart of a Christian.

This would be a gross and false view of the nature of God’s mercy given us in Christ. For the new birth of the Holy Spirit sets the soul in motion in a heavenly way: it gives us good thoughts and desires, enlightens and purifies us, and prompts us to seek God.

In a word (as I have said), it gives a spiritual life; it opens the eyes of our mind, so that we begin to see God in all things by faith, and hold continual intercourse with Him by prayer;

and if we cherish these gracious influences, we shall become holier and wiser and more heavenly, year by year, our hearts being ever in a course of change from darkness to light, from the ways and works of Satan to the perfection of Divine obedience.

These considerations may serve to impress upon our minds the meaning of the precept in the text, and others like it which are found in St. Paul’s Epistles. For instance, he enjoins the Ephesians to “pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.”

To the Philippians he says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God” (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6). To the Colossians, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” To the Romans, “Continue instant in prayer” (Col. 4:2; Rom. 12:12).

Thus the true Christian pierces through the veil of this world and sees the next. He holds intercourse with it; he addresses God, as a child might address his parent, with as clear a view of Him, and with as unmixed a confidence in Him;

with deep reverence indeed, and godly fear and awe, but still with certainty and exactness: as St. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). with the prospect of judgment to come to sober him, and the assurance of present grace to cheer him.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. 7, 15: Mental Prayer.

Maximus the Confessor: Soaring towards God through Pure Prayer, the Intellect Rises above the Realm of Created Beings Thursday, Sep 19 2013 

Maximus_ConfessorAll the virtues co-operate with the intellect to produce this intense longing for God, pure prayer above all. For by soaring towards God through this prayer the intellect rises above the realm of created beings.

When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity.

It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity it repeats the prophet’s words:

‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5).

The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself, even though he is grieved by the passions of those who are not yet purified. But when they amend their lives, his delight is in­describable and knows no bounds.

A soul filled with thoughts of sensual desire and hatred is unpurified. If we detect any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault, we are utterly estranged from love for God, since love for God absolutely precludes us from hating any man.

He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep My commandments (cf. John 14: 15, 23); and ‘this is My commandment, that you love one another’ (John 15:12). Thus he who does not love his neighbour fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord.

Blessed is he who can love all men equally. Blessed is he who is not attached to anything transitory or corruptible. Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty.

If you make provision for the desires of the flesh (cf. Rom. 13:14) and bear a grudge against your neighbour on account of something transitory, you worship the creature instead of the Creator.

[…] God, who is by nature good and dispassionate, loves all men equally as His handiwork. But He glorifies the virtuous man because in his will he is united to God. At the same time, in His goodness He is merciful to the sinner and by chastising him in this life brings him back to the path of virtue.

Similarly, a man of good and dispassionate judgment also loves all men equally. He loves the virtuous man because of his nature and the probity of his intention; and he loves the sinner, too, because of his nature and because in his compassion he pities him for foolishly stumbling in darkness.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Four Hundred Texts on Love 11-20, 25, Text  from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp.54-55.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Maximus and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).

Theodore the Studite: Fasting Renews the Soul and Makes Us Habitations of God Sunday, Feb 17 2013 

Theodore_the_StuditeThe present days of the holy fast are, among the other periods of the year, a calm haven to which all gather and find spiritual serenity –

not only monastics, but laymen as well…., for this period is beneficial and salvific for every country and age of mankind.

At this time every disruption and disorder comes to a halt, and doxology and hymnody are multiplied, charities and prayer by means of which our good God is moved to compassion and is pleased to grant peace to our souls and forgiveness of sins –

if only we shall sincerely turn to Him with all our heart, falling down before Him with fear and trembling, and promising to cease from every bad habit which we might have.

[…] Brethren, fasting is the renewal of the soul, for the Apostle says insofar as the body weakens and withers from the ascetic labor of fasting, then so much is the soul renewed day by day and is made beauteous and shines in the beauty which God originally bestowed upon it.

And when it is purified and adorned with fasting and repentance, then God loves it and will live in it as the Lord has said: “I and the Father will come and make Our abode with him” (John 14.23).

Thus if there is such value and grace in fasting that it makes us into habitations of God, then ought we to greet it with great rejoicing and gladness.

[…] If we desire that the fast be for us a true one and acceptable unto God, then together with abstaining from food, let us restrain ourselves from every sin of soul and body, as the sticheron instructs us in which it is said,

“Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers to all sinful passions”.

[…] Let us guard against ill temper and self-assertion, that is, let us not appropriate things for ourselves and indulge our self-will.

For nothing is so loved of the devil as to find a person who has not forgiven another and has not taken advice from those able to instruct him in virtue; then the enemy easily deludes the self-assertive and traps him in all that he does and reckons as good.

Let us vigilantly attend to ourselves, especially in regard to the desires of the flesh; for it is just now, when we fast, that the chameleon serpent-devil fights us with bad thoughts.

Theodore the Studite: (759-826): Catechetical Homilies, 47 @ Orthodox Christian Information Center.

Francis de Sales: Strive Above All Else to Keep a Calm and Restful Spirit Thursday, Jan 24 2013 

Franz_von_SalesAnxiety of mind is not so much an abstract temptation, as the source whence various temptations arise.

Sadness, when defined, is the mental grief we feel because of our involuntary ailments—whether the evil be exterior, such as poverty, sickness or contempt; or interior, such as ignorance, dryness, depression or temptation.

Directly that the soul is conscious of some such trouble, it is downcast, and so trouble sets in.

Then we at once begin to try to get rid of it, and find means to shake it off; and so far rightly enough, for it is natural to us all to desire good, and shun that which we hold to be evil.

If anyone strives to be delivered from his troubles out of love of God, he will strive patiently, gently, humbly and calmly, looking for deliverance rather to God’s Goodness and Providence than to his own industry or efforts.

But if self-love is the prevailing object he will grow hot and eager in seeking relief, as though all depended more upon himself than upon God. I do not say that the person thinks so, but he acts eagerly as though he did think it.

Then if he does not find what he wants at once, he becomes exceedingly impatient and troubled, which does not mend matters, but on the contrary makes them worse, and so he gets into an unreasonable state of anxiety and distress, till he begins to fancy that there is no cure for his trouble.

Thus you see how a disturbance, which was right at the outset, begets anxiety, and anxiety goes on into an excessive distress, which is exceedingly dangerous.

[…] Just as internal commotions and seditions ruin a commonwealth, and make it incapable of resisting its foreign enemies, so if our heart be disturbed and anxious, it loses power to retain such graces as it has, as well as strength to resist the temptations of the Evil One, who is all the more ready to fish (according to an old proverb) in troubled waters.

Anxiety arises from an unregulated desire to be delivered from any pressing evil, or to obtain some hoped-for good. Nevertheless nothing tends so greatly to enhance the one or retard the other as over-eagerness and anxiety.

Birds that are captured in nets and snares become inextricably entangled therein, because they flutter and struggle so much.

Therefore, whensoever you urgently desire to be delivered from any evil, or to attain some good thing, strive above all else to keep a calm, restful spirit,—steady your judgment and will, and then go quietly and easily after your object, taking all fitting means to attain thereto.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 11.

Leo the Great: Love of God and Neighbour Saturday, Nov 10 2012 

There are two loves from which proceed all wishes, as different in quality as they are different in their sources.

For the reasonable soul, which cannot exist without love, is the lover either of God or the world.

In the love of God there is no excess, but in the love of the world all is hurtful.

Therefore we must cling inseparably to eternal treasures, but things temporal we must use like passers-by.

Accordingly, as we are sojourners hastening to return to our own land, all the good things of this world which meet us may be as aids on the way, not snares to detain us.

[…] But as the world attracts us with its appearance, and abundance and variety, it is not easy to turn away from it unless in the beauty of things visible the Creator rather than the creature is loved.

When He says, “thou shalt love the Lord thy God from all thy heart, and from all thy mind, and from all thy strength” He wishes us in nothing to loosen ourselves from the bonds of His love.

And when He links the love of our neighbour also to this command, He enjoins on us the imitation of His own goodness, that we should love what He loves and do what He does.

For … in all things He requires our ministry and service, and wishes us to be the stewards of His gifts, that he who bears God’s image may do God’s will.

For this reason, in the Lord’s prayer we say most devoutly, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done as in heaven, so also on earth.”

What else do we ask for in these words but that God may subdue those whom He has not yet subdued, and as in heaven He makes the angels ministers of His will, so also on earth He may make men?

And in seeking this we love God, we love also our neighbour. And the love within us has but one Object, since we desire the bond-servant to serve and the Lord to have rule.

This state of mind, therefore, beloved, from which earthly love is excluded, is strengthened by the habit of well-doing, because the conscience must needs be delighted at good deeds, and do willingly what it rejoices to have done.

Thus it is that fasts are kept, alms freely given, justice maintained, frequent prayer resorted to, and the desires of individuals become the common wish of all.

Labour fosters patience, gentleness extinguishes anger, loving-kindness treads down hatred, unclean desires are slain by holy aspirations, avarice is cast out by liberality, and burdensome wealth becomes the means of virtuous acts.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 90, 3-4.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Kingdom of Heaven Within Us – the Joy which the Spirit Instils into Our Souls Monday, Oct 22 2012 

In speaking about the different virtues, we cannot say that one is better than the rest, or that we should pursue them in order of merit.

For in fact they are of equal importance with one another, and linked together they lead those who practice them to the height of perfection.

Sincerity leads to obedience, obedience in turn to faith, and faith to hope, hope to righteousness, righteousness to service, and service to humility.

From humility we learn gentleness which leads to joy, as joy leads to love, and love to prayer.

Thus bound to one another and binding their zealous follower, the virtues lead him to the very height of his desires, just as the various forms of wickedness lead those attached to them down the oppo­site way to the utmost depths of evil.

But we must above all devote ourselves to prayer; for prayer is like a choir-leader in the choir of virtues, by means of which we ask God for the virtues we still lack.

Devotion to prayer unites the Christian to God in the communion of a mystic sanctity, in a spiritual possession and a disposition of the soul that no words can describe.

With the Spirit then to guide and help him, his love for the Lord like a bright flame, he prays unceasingly in ardent desire, always burning with love for the divine good and refreshing his soul with renewed zeal.

As Scripture says: Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more; and elsewhere: You have filled my heart with gladness.

So too the Lord says: The kingdom of heaven is within you.

By the kingdom within us he certainly means that joy which the Spirit instils into our souls from above, as an image and a pledge, reflecting the eternal joy which the souls of the faithful possess in the life to come.

So the Lord comforts us in all our afflictions through the working of the Spirit, to keep us safe and to grant us a share of spiritual gifts and of his own special grace.

He comforts us in all our troubles, says the Apostle, so that we may be able to comfort others in their distress.

And the psalmist says: My whole being cries out with joy to the living God; and: My soul is richly feasted, indicating in all such symbolic sayings the joy and comfort that come from the Spirit.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Christian Way of Life, II (Jaeger VIII, 77-79); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Wednesday of the 29th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2

Richard of St Victor: Gathering the Wanderings of the Mind, and Fixing the Impulses of the Heart Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Let one who eagerly strives for contemplation of celestial things, who sighs for knowledge of divine things, learn to assemble the dispersed Israelites.

Let him endeavor to restrain the wanderings of the mind; let him be accustomed to remain in the innermost part of himself and to forget everything exterior.

Let him make a church, not only of desires but also of thoughts, in order that he may learn to love only true good and to think unceasingly of it alone: “In the churches bless God” (Ps. 67:27).

For in this twofold church, namely of thoughts and of desires, in this twofold concord of efforts and wills, Benjamin is carried away into the height, and the divinely inspired mind is raised to supernal things: “There is Benjamin a youth in ecstasy of mind” (Ps. 67:28).

Where do you think, except “in the churches”?  “In the churches bless God, the Lord of the fountains of Israel.  There is Benjamin a youth in ecstasy of mind” (Ps. 67:27-28).

Nevertheless each one must first make of his thoughts and desires a synagogue rather than a church.

You know well that synagogue means “congregation.”  Church means “convocation.”

It is one thing to drive some things together in one place without the will or against the will; it is another to run together spontaneously by themselves at the nod of the one who commands.

Insensible and brute beings can be congregated but they cannot be convoked.  Yet even a concourse of rational things themselves must occur spontaneously at a nod in order rightly to be called a convocation.

Thus you see how much difference there is between a convocation and a congregation, between church and synagogue.

Therefore if you perceive beforehand that your desires are becoming devoted to exterior delights and that your thoughts are being occupied with them incessantly, then you ought with great care to compel them to go within so that for a while you may at least make of them a synagogue.

As often as we gather the wanderings of the mind into a unity and fix all the impulses of the heart in one desire of eternity, what are we doing other than making a synagogue from that internal household?

But when that throng of our desires and thoughts, after being attracted by a taste of that internal sweetness, has already learned to run together spontaneously at the nod of reason and to remain fixed in the innermost depths, then it can certainly be judged worthy of the name of church.

Therefore let us learn to love only interior goods, let us learn to think often about them only, and without doubt we make churches such as we know that Benjamin loves.

Richard of St Victor (d. 1173): The Twelve Patriarchs, c. 84, translated by Grover A. Zinn, Paulist Press @ Lectionary Central.

John Chrysostom: Prayer – an Eternal Longing for the Lord, which Sets the Heart Ablaze as with a Mighty Fire Saturday, Sep 29 2012 

Prayer is the height of our blessings and communion with God; for it is both companionship and unity with God.

Just as the eyes of the body are enlightened when they look upon light, so a soul intent on God is illumined and enlightened by his inexpressible light.

It is not indeed formal prayer that I refer to, but prayer offered from the heart, and so not confined to suitable times and fixed intervals, but continuing in action without cease day and night.

For we do not only have to withdraw to pray, and suddenly turn our minds towards God.

No, even while we are busy among the needy, either with the care of the poor or with other concerns, or useful good works – into their very midst we should also bring our desire for and remembrance of God, so that seasoned, as it were, with the love of God they may provide a most acceptable offering for the Lord of all men.

If we devote most of our time to prayer, the delight we can gain from it will last us the whole of our lives.

Prayer is illumination of the soul and true knowledge of God.

It mediates between God and men; it heals suffering and counter­acts disease.

It calms the soul and guides it to heaven, for prayer has no earthly life, but follows a path leading to the very heights of heaven.

It transcends the created world, and in the spirit cuts through and soars above the air.

It passes beyond the circle of stars, opens the gates of heaven, and taking precedence over the angels enters the very presence of the unapproachable Trinity.

There it worships the deity, and is held worthy to be the companion of the king of heaven. The soul, raised by it high into heaven, embraces the Lord in an ineffable embrace, and cries out tearfully like a child to its mother, begging for the heavenly milk.

It seeks its own desires, and receives gifts surpassing all that belongs to the world of nature.

Now in speaking of prayer, you must not imagine that I mean words.

I mean desire for God, unutterable love, which men cannot offer of themselves but by the inspiration of divine grace.

Of this the Apostle says: We do not know how we ought to pray, but in our wordless sighs the Spirit himself intercedes for us.

If the Lord grants to anyone prayer of this kind; it is wealth that will never be taken away, and heavenly food that satisfies the soul.

He who tastes it is possessed with an eternal longing for the Lord, which sets his heart ablaze as with a mighty fire.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407):On Prayer 6 (PG 64:462.466); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Sunday of the 26th Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.

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