John Paul II: Life in the Spirit transcends even death Friday, May 22 2015 

jp2“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

In these words from the Gospel of John, the gift of “eternal life” represents the ultimate purpose of the Father’s loving plan.

This gift gives us access through grace to the ineffable communion of love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit:

“This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).

The “eternal life” that flows from the Father is communicated to us in its fullness by Jesus in his paschal mystery through the Holy Spirit.

By receiving it we share in the risen Jesus’ definitive victory over death. “Death and life”, we proclaim in the liturgy, “have contended in that combat stupendous: the Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal” (Sequence for Easter Sunday).

In this decisive event of salvation, Jesus gives human beings “eternal life” in the Holy Spirit.

In the “fullness of time” Christ thus fulfils, beyond all expectation, that promise of “eternal life” which the Father has inscribed in the creation of man in his image and likeness since the beginning of the world (cf. Gn 1:26).

As we sing in Psalm 104, man experiences that life in the cosmos and, particularly, his own life have their beginning in the “breath” communicated by the Spirit of the Lord:

“When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth” (vv. 29-30).

Communion with God, the gift of his Spirit, more and more becomes for the chosen people the pledge of a life that is not limited to earthly existence but mysteriously transcends and prolongs it forever.

[…] Jesus links belief in the resurrection to his own person: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25).

In him, through the mystery of his Death and Resurrection, the divine promise of the gift of “eternal life” is fulfilled.

This life implies total victory over death: “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear the voice [of the Son] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life …” (Jn 5:28-29).

“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:40).

John Paul II (1920-2005): General Audience, October 28th, 1998.

 

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Ambrose of Milan: We are anointed by the Father unto life everlasting Thursday, Apr 23 2015 

ambrose_of_milanYou were asked: ‘Do you believe in God the Father almighty?’

You said: ‘I do believe’ and you dipped [in the baptismal font], that is: you were buried.

Again you were asked: Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His cross?’

You said: ‘I do believe,’ and you dipped. So you were also buried together with Christ. For who is buried with Christ rises again with Christ.

A third time you were asked: ‘Do you believe also in the Holy Spirit?’

You said: ‘I do believe’ you dipped a third time, so that the threefold confession absolved the multiple lapse of the higher life.

[…] Thus, then, the Father dismisses sin; thus the Son dismisses it; thus, too, the Holy Spirit.

But do not marvel that we are baptized in one name, that is, ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’ because He said one name, in which is one substance, one divinity, one majesty.

This is the name of which it is said: ‘Whereby we must be saved.’ In this name you all have been saved; you have returned to the grace of life.

So the Apostle exclaims, as you heard in the reading of the Gospel today, that whoever is baptized is baptized in the death of Jesus.

What is ‘in the death’? That, just as Christ died, so you also taste of death; just as Christ died to sin and lives unto God, so you, too, died to the former allurements of sins through the sacrament of baptism and rose again through the grace of Christ.

So death is [i.e., so we really do die in baptism], but not in the reality of corporal death but in likeness.

For when you dip, you take on the likeness of death and burial, you receive the sacrament of that cross, because Christ hung on the cross and His body was transfixed with nails.

You then are crucified with Him; you cling to Christ, you cling to the nails of our Lord Jesus Christ, lest the Devil be able to take you from Him. Let the nail of Christ hold you, whom the weakness of human condition recalls.

So you dipped; you came to the priest. What did he say to you? He said : ‘God the Father Almighty, who regenerated you by water and the Holy Spirit and forgave you your sins, Himself will anoint you unto life everlasting.’

See, unto what you were anointed, he said : ‘Unto life everlasting’ Do not prefer this [present] life to that life [life everlasting].

[…] Do not choose that in which you are not anointed, but choose that in which you are anointed, so that you prefer eternal life to temporal life.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On the Sacraments, 2,7,20-24 in St Ambrose: Theological and Dogmatic Works, tr. Roy J. Deferrari, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 1963, pp. 286-288.

Justin Popovich: The Word of God has a Wonder-Working and Life-Giving Effect Tuesday, May 27 2014 

JustinEvery word of God is full of God’s Truth, which sanctifies the soul for all eternity once it enters it.

Thus does the Saviour turn to His heavenly Father in prayer: “Father! Sanctify them with Thy Truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

If you do not accept the word of Christ as the word of God, as the word of the Truth, then falsehood and the father of lies within you is rebelling against it.

In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace, and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it.

Therefore the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation “the word of the grace of God” (Acts 20:32).

Like a living grace-filled power, the word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith (1 Thess. 2:13).

Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed by the word of God and prayer – everything – all creation from man on down to a worm (1 Tim. 4:5).

By the Truth which it carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the word of God is “sharper than any sword and pierces to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Nothing remains secret before it or for it.

Because every word of God contains the eternal Word of God – the Logos – it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth.

For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth “by the word of truth” (1:18); and St. Peter tells them that they “have been born anew…by the word of the living God, which abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).

All the words of God, which God has spoken to men, come from the Eternal Word – the Logos, who is the Word of life and bestows Life eternal.

By living for the Word, a man brings himself from death to life. By filling himself with eternal life, a man becomes a conqueror of death and “a partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and of his blessedness there shall be no end.

The main and most important point of all this is faith and feeling love towards Christ the Lord, because the mystery of every word of God is opened beneath the warmth of that feeling, just as the petals of a fragrant flower are opened beneath the warmth of the sun’s rays. Amen

Justin Popovich (1894-1979; Orthodox Church): How to Read the Bible and Why.

Justin Popovich: Man Sentenced God to Death; by His Resurrection, God Sentenced Man to Immortality Saturday, Apr 26 2014 

Justin PopovichMan sentenced God to death; by His Resurrection, He sentenced man to immortality.

In return for a beating, He gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality.

Man never showed so much hate for God as when he crucified Him; and God never showed more love for man than when He arose.

Man even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by His Resurrection made man immortal.

The crucified God is Risen and has killed death. Death is no more. Immortality has surrounded man and all the world.

By the Resurrection of the God-Man, human nature has been led irreversibly onto the path of immortality, and has become dreadful to death itself.

For before the Resurrection of Christ, death was dreadful to man, but after the Resurrection of Christ, man has become more dreadful to death.

When man lives by faith in the Risen God-Man, he lives above death, out of its reach; it is a footstool for his feet: “O Death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15:55).

When a man belonging to Christ dies, he simply sets aside his body like clothing, in which he will again be vested on the day of Dread Judgement.

Before the Resurrection of the God-Man, death was the second nature of man: life first, death second.

But by His Resurrection, the Lord has changed everything: immortality has become the second nature of man, it has become natural for man; and death – unnatural.

As before the Resurrection of Christ, it was natural for men to be mortal, so after the Resurrection of Christ, it was natural for men to be immortal.

By sin, man became mortal and transient; by the Resurrection of the God-Man, he became immortal and perpetual. In this is the power, the might, the all-mightiness of the Resurrection of Christ.

[…] Because of the Resurrection of Christ, because of His victory over death, men have become, continue to become, and will continue becoming Christians.

The entire history of Christianity is nothing other than the history of a unique miracle, namely, the Resurrection of Christ, which is unbrokenly threaded through the hearts of Christians form one day to the next, from year to year, across the centuries, until the Dread Judgment.

Man is born, in fact, not when his mother bring him into the world, but when he comes to believe in the Risen Christ, for then he is born to life eternal, whereas a mother bears children for death, for the grave.

The Resurrection of Christ is the mother of us all, all Christians, the mother of immortals. By faith in the Resurrection, man is born anew, born for eternity.

Justin Popovich (1894-1979; Orthodox Church):Paschal Homily @ Pravmir.

Basil of Seleucia: Your Baptism is the Promise of the Life of Heaven Friday, Apr 25 2014 

Fathers_of_the_ChurchChrist descended into hell to liberate its captives.

In one instant he destroyed all record of our ancient debt incurred under the Law, in order to lead us to heaven where there is no death but only eternal life and righteousness.

By the Baptism which you, the newly-enlightened, have just received, you now share in these blessings.

Your initiation into the life of grace is the pledge of your resurrection.

Your Baptism is the promise of the life of heaven.

By your immersion you imitated the burial of the Lord, but when you came out of the water you were conscious only of the reality of the Resurrection.

Believe in this reality, of which previously you saw only the outward signs.

Accept the assurance of Paul when he says: If we have been united to Christ in a death like his, we shall be united to him also in a resurrection like his.

Baptism is the planting of the seed of immortality, a planting which takes place in the font and bears fruit in heaven.

The grace of the Spirit works in a mysterious way in the font, and the outward appearance must not obscure the wonder of it.

Although water serves as the instrument, it is grace which gives rebirth. Grace transforms all who are placed in the font just as the seed is transformed in the womb.

It refashions all who go down into the water as metal is recast in a furnace. It reveals to them the mysteries of immortality; it seals them with the pledge of resurrection

These wonderful mysteries are symbolized for you, the newly-enlightened, even in the garments you wear. See how you are clothed in the outward signs of these blessings.

The radiant brightness of your robe stands for incorruptibility. The white band encircling your head like a diadem proclaims your liberty.

In your hand you hold the sign of your victory over the devil. Christ is showing you that you have risen from the dead.

He does this now in a symbolic way, but soon he will reveal the full reality if we keep the garment of faith undefiled and do not let sin extinguish the lamp of grace.

If we preserve the crown of the Spirit, the Lord will call from heaven in a voice of tremendous majesty, yet full of tenderness: Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdomprepared for you since the beginning of the world.

To him be glory and power forever, through endless ages. Amen.

Basil of Seleucia (d. 458-460): Paschal Homily (PG 28:1079-1082); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Low Sunday, Year 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Palamas: “Two Men Went Up Into the Temple to Pray” Wednesday, Feb 12 2014 

Gregory_PalamasOn Luke 18:9-14 (the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee).

The Publican, as a publican, dwells in the depths of sin.

All he has in common with those who live virtuously is one short utterance, but he finds relief, is lifted up and rises above every evil.

He is numbered with the company of the righteous, justified by the impartial Judge Himself.

If the Pharisee is condemned by his speech, it is because, as a Pharisee, he thinks himself somebody, although he is not really righteous, and utters many arrogant words which provoke God’s anger with their every syllable.

Why does humility lead up to the heights of righteousness, whereas self-conceit leads down to the depths of sin?

Because anybody who thinks he is something great, even before God, is rightly abandoned by God, as one who thinks that he does not need His help.

Anybody who despises himself, on the other hand, and relies on mercy from above, wins God’s sympathy, help and grace. As it says, “The Lord resisteth the proud: but he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Prov. 3:34 LXX).

The Lord demonstrates this in a parable, saying. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican” (Luke 18:10).

Wanting to set clearly before us the gain that comes from humility and the loss from pride, he divided into two groups all who went to the Temple, or, rather, those who went up into the Temple, who are the ones who go there to pray.

This is the nature of prayer, it brings a man up from the earth into heaven and, rising above every heavenly name, height and honor, sets him before the God Who is over all (cf. Rom. 9:5).

The ancient Temple was set in a high place, on a hill above the city. Once when a deadly epidemic was destroying Jerusalem, David saw the Angel of Death on this hill, stretching out his sword against the city.

He went up there and built an altar to the Lord, on which he offered a sacrifice to God, and the destruction ceased (2 Sam. 24:15-25).

All these things are an image of the saving ascent of the spirit during holy prayer and of the forgiveness it brings – for these things all foreshadowed our salvation.

They can also be an image of this holy church of ours, which is indeed set in a high place, in another angelic country above the world, where the great, bloodless sacrifice, acceptable to God, is offered for the forgiveness of the whole world, the destruction of death and abundance of eternal life.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily on the Publican and the Pharisee, 2-4, from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009); full text @ Discerning Thoughts.

Ignatius of Antioch: The Medicine of Immortality, and the Antidote to Prevent Us from Dying Monday, Jan 20 2014 

Ignatius_of_AntiochLet my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal.

“Where is the wise man? where the disputer?” Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent?

For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost.

He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.

Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God.

How, then, was He manifested to the world? A star shone forth in heaven above all the other stars, the light of Which was inexpressible, while its novelty struck men with astonishment.

And all the rest of the stars, with the sun and moon, formed a chorus to this star, and its light was exceedingly great above them all. And there was agitation felt as to whence this new spectacle came, so unlike to everything else in the heavens.

Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life.

And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death.

If Jesus Christ shall graciously permit me through your prayers, and if it be His will, I shall, in a second little work which I will write to you, make further manifest to you the nature of the dispensation of which I have begun to treat, with respect to the new man, Jesus Christ, in His faith and in His love, in His suffering and in His resurrection.

Especially will I do this if the Lord make known to me that you come together in common, man by man, through grace – individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God;

and if you thus obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but which causes that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 107): Letter to the Ephesians, 18-20 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Nektarios the Wonderworker: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride! Wednesday, Jan 15 2014 

St NektariosRefrain: Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

O Virgin pure, immaculate / O Lady Theotokos
O Virgin Mother, Queen of all / and fleece which is all dewy
More radiant than the rays of sun / and higher than the heavens
Delight of virgin choruses / superior to Angels.
Much brighter than the firmament / and purer than the sun’s light
More holy than the multitude / of all the heav’nly armies.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

O Ever Virgin Mary/ of all the world, the Lady
O bride all pure, immaculate/ O Lady Panagia
O Mary bride and Queen of all/ our cause of jubilation
Majestic maiden, Queen of all/ O our most holy Mother
More hon’rable than Cherubim/ beyond compare more glorious
than immaterial Seraphim / and greater than angelic thrones.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

Rejoice, O song of Cherubim / Rejoice, O hymn of angels
Rejoice, O ode of Seraphim / the joy of the archangels
Rejoice, O peace and happiness / the harbor of salvation
O sacred chamber of the Word / flow’r of incorruption
Rejoice, delightful paradise / of blessed life eternal
Rejoice, O wood and tree of life / the fount of immortality.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

I supplicate you, Lady/ now do I call upon you
And I beseech you, Queen of all / I beg of you your favor
Majestic maiden, spotless one / O Lady Panagia
I call upon you fervently / O sacred, hallowed temple
Assist me and deliver me / protect me from the enemy
And make me an inheritor/ of blessed life eternal.

Rejoice, O Unwedded Bride!

Nektarios of Aegina (Orthodox Church; 1846-1920): Source and translation: Holy Nativity Convent, Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.) @ http://www.serfes.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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