Pete of Damascus: The hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness Monday, May 30 2016 

peter_of_damascusWhenever a person even slightly learned reads the Scriptures or sings psalms he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another.

But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory. Yet there is no contradiction in the Holy Scriptures….

For some texts are confirmed by others, while some were written with reference to a particular time or a particular person.

[…] The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself.

Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St Antony the Great says.

For St Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one’s own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.

This is especially the case if a person does not approach the Scriptures through the door of humility but, as St John Chrysostom says, climbs up some other way, like a thief (cf John 10:1), and forces them to accord with his allegorizing.

[…] What kind of knowledge can result from adapting the meaning of the Scriptures to suit one’s own likes and from daring to alter their words? The true sage is he who regards the text as authoritative and discovers, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness.

The three great luminaries, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom, are outstanding examples of this: they base themselves either on the particular text they are considering or on some other passage of Scripture.

Thus no one can contradict them, for they do not adduce external support for what they say, so that it might be claimed that it was merely their own opinion, but refer directly to the text under discussion or to some other scriptural passage that sheds light on it.

And in this they are right; for what they understand and expound comes from the Holy Spirit, of whose inspiration they have been found worthy. No one, therefore, should do or mentally assent to anything if its integrity is in doubt and cannot be attested from Scripture.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 144-145.

Hilarion Troitsky: It was the Incarnation of the Son of God that was Necessary for the Salvation of Mankind, and not a Book Sunday, Jan 26 2014 

Hilarion_TroitskyThe Sunday nearest January 25th (new calendar) is the feast of the Holy New Martyrs of Russia, one of whom was Hilarion Troitsky.

In the Church there are no stone tablets with letters inscribed by a Divine finger.

The Church has the Holy Scriptures, but He Who established the Church wrote nothing.

[…] And yet the Church has Scripture, which is called by her Holy and Divine. Christ did not write anything.

It seems that if one reflects enough on this fact, one can somewhat understand the very essence of the work of Christ.

As a rule, other religious leaders of humanity, founders of various philosophical schools, have written readily and in abundance, and yet Christ wrote nothing at all.

Does not this mean that in its essence the work of Christ has nothing in common with the work of any of the philosophers, teachers, or leading representatives of the intellectual life of mankind?

Furthermore, has the Church herself ever viewed her Founder as one of the teachers of mankind? Has she ever considered His teachings as the essence of His work?

No, with the utmost exertion of her theological strength, the Christian Church has defended as the greatest religious truth that Christ is the Only-begotten Son of God, One in essence with God the Father, Who became incarnate on earth.

For that truth, the greatest Fathers of the Church labored to the point of blood. They were unbending in the battle for this truth.

They did not yield a single inch to their adversaries, literarlly not even a single iota, which in the Greek language differentiates homoiousion, ”of similar essence,” from homoousion, “coessential.”

“Those who call these men [i.e., Arians] Christians are in great and grievous error,” writes St. Athanasius the Great.

Thus did this adamant of Orthodoxy argue definitively about the impossibility of being a Christian while denying the Incarnation of the Son of God, Who is coessential with God the Father. 

But was the Incarnation of the Only-begotten Son of God necessary only in order to write a book and entrust it to mankind?

Was it absolutely essential for Him to be the Only-begotten Son of God just to write a book?

If the Church insisted with such determination on the Divine dignity of her Founder, then obviously she did not regard writing to be the essence of His work.

It was the Incarnation of the Son of God that was necessary for the salvation of mankind, and not a book.

No book is able, nor could it ever have been able to save mankind. Christ is not the Teacher but precisely the Savior of mankind.

It was necessary to regenerate human nature, which had become decayed through sin, and the beginning of this regeneration was laid by the very Incarnation of the Son of God—not by His teaching, not by the books of the New Testament.

Hilarion Troitsky (1886-1929; Russian Orthodox): Holy Scripture and the Church (1914), translated by Igor Radev in The Orthodox Word № 264-265 @ Pravoslavie.

Benedict XVI: The Tenderness and Love of God Who Stoops to Our Limitations Sunday, Dec 23 2012 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIChristmas and Easter are both feasts of redemption.

Easter celebrates it as a victory over sin and death; it marks the final moment when the glory of the Man-God shines out like the light of day.

Christmas celebrates it as God’s entry into history, his becoming man in order to restore mankind to God.

[…] The Church Fathers always interpreted Christ’s Birth in the light of the whole redemptive work which culminates in the Paschal Mystery.

The Incarnation of the Son of God not only appears as the beginning and condition for salvation, but as the very presence of the Mystery of our salvation: God is made man, he is born an infant, like us, he takes our flesh to conquer death and sin.

Two important texts of St Basil illustrate this clearly.

St Basil said to the faithful: “God takes flesh precisely in order to destroy death that is concealed in it.

“Just as antidotes to poison neutralize its effects as soon as they are ingested and as the shadows in a house are dispelled by sunlight, so death that held sway over human nature was destroyed by God’s presence.

“But just as ice in water remains solid as long as night lasts and darkness prevails, it quickly melts in the heat of the sun, so death, that reigned until Christ’s coming, as soon as God the Saviour’s grace appeared and the sun of justice arouse, unable to coexist with life, ‘is swallowed up in victory’ (1 Cor 15:54)” (Homily on the Birth of Christ).

In another text St Basil again formulates this invitation: “Let us celebrate the salvation of the world, the birth of the human race. Today, Adam’s sin has been pardoned.

“Now we can no longer say ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (Gen 3:19), but, united to him who came from heaven, you will be admitted to heaven” (Homily on the Birth of Christ).

In Christmas we find the tenderness and love of God who stoops to our limitations, to our weaknesses, to our sins, and who bends down even to us.

St Paul declares that Jesus Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:6-7).

[…] God humbled himself to the point of being laid in a manger, already a prelude to the humbling of himself in the hour of his passion.

The culmination of the love story between God and man passes through the manger in Bethlehem and the tomb in Jerusalem.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Holy Christmas (General Audience, 21st December 2011).

Benedict XVI: The Oil of Gladness Thursday, Apr 5 2012 

The Fathers of the Church were fascinated by a phrase from Psalm 45 (44) – traditionally held to be Solomon’s wedding psalm – which was reinterpreted by Christians as the psalm for the marriage of the new Solomon, Jesus Christ, to his Church.

To the King, Christ, it is said: “Your love is for justice; your hatred for evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above other kings” (v. 8).

What is this oil of gladness with which the true king, Christ, was anointed?

The Fathers had no doubt in this regard: the oil of gladness is the Holy Spirit himself, who was poured out upon Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the gladness that comes from God.

From Jesus this gladness sweeps over us in his Gospel, in the joyful message that God knows us, that he is good and that his goodness is the power above all powers; that we are wanted and loved by him.

Gladness is the fruit of love. The oil of gladness, which was poured out over Christ and comes to us from him, is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Love who makes us glad to be alive.

Since we know Christ, and since in him we know the true God, we know that it is good to be a human being.

It is good to be alive, because we are loved, because truth itself is good.

In the early Church, the consecrated oil was considered a special sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself to us as a gift from Christ. He is the oil of gladness.

[…]  The gladness that comes to us from Christ…does indeed make us happy, but it can also perfectly well coexist with suffering.

It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad.

It gives us the capacity to share the suffering of others and thus by placing ourselves at one another’s disposal, to express tangibly the light and the goodness of God.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): Homily at Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, 2010.

John Paul II: Salvation, Eucharist, Divinization, Communion with the Mystery of the Trinity Tuesday, Oct 5 2010 

“Everyone knows with what love the Eastern Christians celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic mystery, source of the Church’s life and pledge of future glory.

“In this mystery the faithful, united with their bishops, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

“And so, made ‘sharers of the divine nature’ (2 Peter 1:4) they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity” (Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 15).

These features describe the Eastern outlook of the Christian. His or her goal is participation in the divine nature through communion with the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

In this view the Father’s “monarchy” is outlined as well as the concept of salvation according to the divine plan, as it is presented by Eastern theology after Saint Irenaeus of Lyons and which spread among the Cappadocian Fathers.

Participation in Trinitarian life takes place through the liturgy and in a special way through the Eucharist, the mystery of communion with the glorified body of Christ, the seed of immortality.

In divinization and particularly in the sacraments, Eastern theology attributes a very special role to the Holy Spirit:

through the power of the Spirit who dwells in man deification already begins on earth; the creature is transfigured and God’s kingdom inaugurated.

The teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage.

This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by Saint Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.

This theology of divinization remains one of the achievements particularly dear to Eastern Christian thought.

On this path of divinization, those who have been made “most Christ-like” by grace and by commitment to the way of goodness go before us: the martyrs and the saints.

And the Virgin Mary occupies an altogether special place among them. From her the shoot of Jesse sprang (cf. Isaiah 11:1).

Her figure is not only the Mother who waits for us, but the Most Pure, who – the fulfillment of so many Old Testament prefigurations – is an icon of the Church, the symbol and anticipation of humanity transfigured by grace, the model and the unfailing hope for all those who direct their steps towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

John Paul II (1920-2005): Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, 6.

Benedict XVI: Bernard of Clairvaux – Theology as a Personal Encounter with Jesus Wednesday, Dec 30 2009 

Today I would like to speak about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called “the last father” of the Church, because in the 12th century he renewed once again and rendered present the great theology of the Fathers.

[…] His solicitude for the intimate and vital participation of the Christian in the love of God in Jesus Christ does not offer new guidelines in the scientific status of theology.

But, in a more than decisive way, the abbot of Clairvaux configures the theologian to the contemplative and the mystic.

Only Jesus – insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time – only Jesus is “honey to the mouth, song to the ear,  joy to the heart”.

From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, “runs like honey”.

In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists – two philosophical currents of the age – the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene.

“Arid is all food of the soul”, he confesses, “if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus.”

And he concludes: “When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus”.

For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love.

And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more.

[…] St. Bernard, solidly based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility.

Theology takes us back to the “science of the saints”, to their intuitions of the mysteries of the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the point of reference for theological thought

Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily “with prayer than with discussion”.

In the end, the truest figure of the theologian and of every evangelizer is that of the Apostle John, who leaned his head on the heart of the Master.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): On St Bernard of Clairvaux (translation by Zenit).


John of Kronstadt: God’s words Saturday, Oct 17 2009 

john_kronstadtHave you learned to see God and represent Him to yourself–as the omnipresent Wisdom, as the living, acting Word, as the vivifying Holy Spirit?

The Holy Scripture is the domain of Wisdom, Word and Spirit, of God in the Trinity: in it He clearly manifests Himself: “The Words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life, said the Lord.”


The writings of the Holy Fathers are again the expression of the Mind, Word and Spirit of the Holy Trinity, in which the spirit of the higher class (spiritually speaking) of mankind has largely participated; the writings of ordinary worldly men are the expression of the fallen spirit of men, with all their sinful attachments, habits and passions.


In the Holy Scriptures we see God face to face, and ourselves as we are. Man, know thy self through them, and walk always as in the presence of God.


As you are aware, man, in his words, does not die; he is immortal in them, and they will speak after his death. I shall die, but shall speak even after my death.


How many immortal words are in use amongst the living, which were left by those who have died long ago, and which sometimes still live in the mouths of a whole people!


How powerful is the word even of an ordinary man! Still more so is the Word of God: it will live throughout all ages, and will always be living and acting.


As God is the creative, living and life-giving Wisdom, therefore those greatly sin who, by the thoughts of their spirit, turn aside from the Wisdom of the Trinity and occupy themselves with material, perishable things, thus materialising their spirit itself.


Especially do those sin who, during Divine Service in church or during their prayers at home, entirely turn aside in their thoughts from God and allow their minds to wander in different places outside the church. By doing so they greatly offend God, upon Whom on such occasions our minds should be fixed.


John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox):My Life in Christ