Nektarios the Wonderworker: We need to want to see in order to open our eyes to the brilliant, abundant light Friday, May 27 2016 

St NektariosA study of the history of the redemption of humankind reveals the Son of God, Who became a man in order to save all of us, treading the path to His voluntary passion, bearing the sin of the world, healing our wounds, fulfilling the great mystery of divine dispensation, reconciling us with God and yet in no way infringing our free will.

There you are! The gate of Paradise, which had been shut, was opened; the fiery sword which guarded the entrance was removed and the voice of the Lord invited excluded humanity to enter thereby into a place of peace and quiet. But we were left free to enter or not, as we choose.

[…] The prime agent in the work of our salvation is indeed the grace of God, because Christ the Saviour came as Light to those who were in the dark and shed the light of His Grace on those “dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death”.

He sought the lost sheep, called back those who had strayed, spoke secretly to people’s hearts and showed us the way to salvation. It’s the grace of God which perfects and saves, yet our own will should not be accounted of any less importance.

We should regard it as the outstanding gem in the crown of our salvation, since it’s the main lever that shifts our outlook that has been rendered inert by sin. This is what urges our footsteps to follow the Saviour, this is what strengthens our hearts to show self-denial, this is what bears the cross on the shoulder.

Because, although grace invites us, dispels the gloom and illumines the dark places, it’s possible  nevertheless, due to the carelessness and slothfulness, the contamination and spiritual idleness of the carnal view of life, for our free will to feign deafness, to close its eyes, to remain in darkness and to proceed in exactly the opposite direction: the one to perdition. In other words, our free will can act in total contradiction to what it actually wants.

So it’s necessary for us truly to want our salvation, to seek it. We have to want to hear, in order to hearken to the voice of  Him Who is calling us. We need to want to see in order to open our eyes to the brilliant, abundant light.

We have to want to move, to follow the Saviour, to refuse to be the people we once were, with our passions and desires, in order to take the cross upon our shoulders. We must follow the “strait and circumscribed road” so that we may pass through the narrow gate of Paradise.

Nektarios of Aegina (Orthodox Church; 1846-1920): Περί επιμελείας ψυχής, Athos editions, pp. 25ff @ Pemptousia.

John Chrysostom: I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him do I call Wednesday, Aug 19 2015 

John_Chrysostom“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 14:24).

Peter said, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee;” and was told, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:22-23).

For Jesus was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke, but, willing also more abundantly to show both the extravagance of what Peter had said, and the benefit of His passion, He says “Thy word to me is: Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee.

“But my word to thee is: Not only is it hurtful to thee, and destructive, to hinder me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.”

Thus, lest they should think His suffering unworthy of Him…, He teaches them the gain thereof. Thus in John first, He says: “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24)….

He does not bring forward the statement that it is meet to die concerning Himself only, but concerning them also: “for so great is the profit thereof, that in your case also unwillingness to die is grievous, but to be ready for it, good.”

[…]  See how He also makes His discourse unexceptionable, not saying at all “whether you will, or no, you must suffer this” but “if any man will come after me.”

He says “I force not, I compel not, but each one I make lord of his own choice; wherefore also I say if any man will.

“For to good things do I call you, not to things evil, or burdensome; not to punishment and vengeance, that I should have to compel. Nay, the nature of the thing is alone sufficient to attract you.”

Speaking thus, He drew them unto Him the more. For he indeed that uses compulsion often turns men away, but he that leaves the hearer to choose attracts him more. For soothing is a mightier thing than force.

Wherefore even He Himself said, “If any man will.” “For great,” says He, “are the good things which I give you, and such as for men even to run to them of their own accord. For neither if one were giving gold, and offering a treasure, would he invite with force.

“And if that invitation be without compulsion, much more this, to the good things in the Heavens. Since if the nature of the thing persuade thee not to run, thou art not worthy to receive it at all, nor if thou shouldest receive it, wilt thou well know what thou hast received.”

Wherefore Christ compels not, but urges, sparing us. For since they seemed to be murmuring much, being secretly disturbed at the saying, He says “there is no need for disturbance or for trouble.

“If ye do not account what I have mentioned to be a cause of innumerable blessings, even when befalling yourselves, I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him do I call.”

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Gospel According to St Matthew, 55 (on Matthew 16:24ff); slightly adapted.

Gregory of Nyssa: “God created man, in the image of God created He him” Friday, Jul 3 2015 

Gregory_of_NyssaThe creation of our nature is in a sense twofold: one made like to God, one divided according to this distinction.

For something like this Scripture darkly conveys by its arrangement, where it first says:

“God created man, in the image of God created He him” (Gen.1:27);

and then, adding to what has been said, “male and female created He them”—a thing which is alien from our conceptions of God.

[…] While two natures—the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes—are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them.

For in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned—

—of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female;

—of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female.

For each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life.

[…] God is in His own nature all that which our mind can conceive of good—rather, transcending all good that we can conceive or comprehend.

He creates man for no other reason than that He is good.

And, being such, and having this as His reason for entering upon the creation of our nature, He would not exhibit the power of His goodness in an imperfect form, giving our nature some one of the things at His disposal, and grudging it a share in another.

The perfect form of goodness is here to be seen by His both bringing man into being from nothing, and fully supplying him with all good gifts.

Since the list of individual good gifts is a long one, it is out of the question to apprehend it numerically.

The language of Scripture therefore expresses it concisely by a comprehensive phrase, in saying that man was made “in the image of God”.

This is the same as to say that He made human nature participant in all good.

For if the Deity is the fulness of good, and this is His image, then the image finds its resemblance to the Archetype in being filled with all good.

Thus there is in us the principle of all excellence, all virtue and wisdom, and every higher thing that we conceive.

But pre-eminent among all is the fact that we are free from necessity, and not in bondage to any natural power, but have decision in our own power as we please.

For virtue is a voluntary thing, subject to no dominion. That which is the result of compulsion and force cannot be virtue.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On the Making of Man, 16, 8-11 (slightly adapted).

Silouan the Athonite: The Lord does not desire the death of a sinner, and on him who repents He bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit Wednesday, Jul 1 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteO all ye peoples of the earth, I fall on my knees to you, beseeching you with tears to come to Christ.

I know His love for you.  I know and therefore I cry to the whole world.

If one does not know a thing, how could one speak of it?

‘But how may I know God?’ you will ask.

And I say that we have seen the Lord by the Holy Spirit.

If you humble yourself, the Holy Spirit will show our Lord to you too; and you too will want to proclaim Him to all the world.

I am an old man awaiting death. I write the truth for love of God’s people over whom my soul grieves.

If I should help but a single soul to salvation, I will give thanks to God;

but my heart aches for the whole world, and I pray and shed tears for the whole world, that all may repent and know God and live in love, and delight in freedom in God.

O all ye peoples of the earth, pray and weep for your sins, that the Lord may forgive them.

Where there is forgiveness of sins there is freedom of conscience and love, even if but a little.

The Lord does not desire the death of a sinner, and on him who repents He bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit, which gives peace to the soul and freedom for the mind and heart to dwell in God.

When the Holy Spirit forgives us our sins we receive freedom to pray to God with an undistracted mind, and we can freely think on God and live serene and joyous in Him.

And this is true freedom. But without God there can be no freedom, for the enemy agitates the soul with evil thoughts.

O my brethren the world over, repent while there is still time. God mercifully awaits our repentance.

And all heaven and all the Saints look for our repentance.  As God is love, so the Holy Spirit in the Saints is love.

Ask, and the Lord will forgive. And when you receive forgiveness of sins there will be joy and gladness in your souls, and the grace of the Holy Spirit will enter into your souls, and you will cry:

‘This is true freedom. True freedom is in God and of God.’

The grace of God does not take away freedom, but merely helps man to fulfil God’s commandments.

Adam knew grace but he could still exercise his will. Thus too the angels abide in the Holy Spirit and yet are not deprived of free will.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): from St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos – The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Archimandrite Sophrony, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) @ Kandylaki.

Silouan the Athonite: The man in whom the Holy Spirit lives feels that he has paradise within him Tuesday, Jun 16 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteWhen the Mother of God stood at the foot of the Cross, the depth of her grief was inconceivable, for she loved her Son more than any one can realize.

And we know that the greater the love the greater the suffering.

By the laws of human nature, the Mother of God could not possibly have borne her affliction;

but she had submitted herself to the will of God, and the Holy Spirit sustained her and gave her the strength to bear this affliction.

And later, after the Ascension of the Lord, she became a great comfort to all God’s people in their distress.

The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit, and the man in whom the Holy Spirit lives feels that he has paradise within him.

Perhaps you will say, ‘Why is it I have not grace like that?’  It is because you have not surrendered yourself to the will of God but live in your own way.

Look at the man who likes to have his own way.  His soul is never at peace and he is always discontented: this is not right and that is not as it should be.

But the man who is entirely given over to the will of God can pray with a pure mind, his soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable.

Thus did the Most Holy Virgin submit herself to God: ‘Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.’

And were we to say likewise — ‘Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word’ — then the Lord’s words written in the Gospels by the Holy Spirit would live in our souls, and the whole world would be filled with the love of God, and how beautiful would life be on earth!

And although the words of God have been heard the length and breadth of the universe for so many centuries, people do not understand and will not accept them.

But the man who lives according to the will of God will be glorified in heaven and on earth.

We all suffer here on earth and seek freedom, but few there are who know the meaning of freedom and where it is to be found.

I too want freedom and seek it day and night.  I learnt that freedom is with God and is given of God to humble hearts who have repented and sacrificed their wills before Him.

To those who repent the Lord gives His peace and freedom to love Him.  There is nothing better in the world than to love God and one’s fellow man.  In this does the soul find rest and joy.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): from St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos – The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Archimandrite Sophrony, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) @ Kandylaki.

Cyril of Jerusalem: “Wash Yourselves, Make Yourselves Clean, Put Away Your Iniquities From Before My Eyes” Tuesday, Mar 18 2014 

Cyril-of-JerusalemMarch 18th is the feast of St Cyril of Jerusalem….

Disciples of the New Testament and partakers of the mysteries of Christ, as yet by calling only, but ere long by grace also, make you a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:31), that there may be gladness among the inhabitants of heaven.

For if over one sinner that repenteth there is joy, according to the Gospel (Luke 15:7), how much more shall the salvation of so many souls move the inhabitants of heaven to gladness.

As ye have entered upon a good and most glorious path, run with reverence the race of godliness.

For the Only-begotten Son of God is present here most ready to redeem you, saying, Come unto Me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).

Ye that are clothed with the rough garment of your offences, who are holden with the cords of your own sins, hear the voice of the Prophet saying, Wash you, make you clean, put away your iniquities from before Mine eyes (Isaiah 1:16):  that the choir of Angels may chant over you, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered (Ps. 32:1).

Ye who have just lighted the torches of faith, guard them carefully in your hands unquenched; that He, who erewhile on this all-holy Golgotha opened Paradise to the robber on account of his faith, may grant to you to sing the bridal song.

If any here is a slave of sin, let him promptly prepare himself through faith for the new birth into freedom and adoption; and having put off the miserable bondage of his sins, and taken on him the most blessed bondage of the Lord, so may he be counted worthy to inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Put off, by confession, the old man, which waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit, that ye may put on the new man, which is renewed according to knowledge of Him that created him (Eph. 4:22; Col. 3:10).

Get you the earnest of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22) through faith, that ye may be able to be received into the everlasting habitations (Luke 16:9).

Come for the mystical Seal, that ye may be easily recognised by the Master; be ye numbered among the holy and spiritual flock of Christ, to be set apart on His right hand, and inherit the life prepared for you.

For they to whom the rough garment of their sins still clings are found on the left hand, because they came not to the grace of God which is given through Christ at the new birth of Baptism:  new birth I mean not of bodies, but the spiritual new birth of the soul.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386): Catechetical Lectures 1, 1-2.

Theophylact of Ohrid: The Rebellion of the Prodigal Son Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

Theophylact_the_Bulgarian (1)On Luke 15:11-32 (the Parable of the Prodigal Son).

Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son (born at the beginning) does not become estranged from the father.

But sin is an evil thing which was born later.

This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time.

The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father’s will. Father, give me the portion of the property (ousia) that falleth to me.

The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will (autexousia), for all that is rational is inherently self-governing.

The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property.

He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing.

But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift.

Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets.

But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God’s law, and did evil to the prophets.

On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God.

Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and self-determination, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling.

If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will.

But the younger son completely spent this inheritance. Why? Because he had gone into a far country.

When a man rebels against God and places himself far away from the fear of God, then he squanders all the divine gifts.

But when we are near to God, we do not do such deeds that merit our destruction. As it is written, I beheld the Lord ever before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken (Ps. 15:8).

But when we are far from God and become rebellious, we both do, and suffer, the worst things, as it is written, Behold, they that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:25).

Theophylact of Ohrid (1055-1107): Explanation of the Gospel of St Luke, on Luke 15:11-32 (Sunday of the Prodigal Son) @ Chrysostom Press.

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])

Theophan the Recluse: Everything is Illumined by this Grace-Filled Awakening Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Theophan the RecluseContinued from here…

Sin first enveloped man in blindness, insensitivity and indolence.

At the moment of grace’s influence, this three-layered, crystallized millstone falls from his fettered soul.

The person now sees well all his ugliness within, and not only sees it, but also feels it.

[…] Notice how necessary this action of grace is on the path of freeing the soul from the reign of sin.

The goal of awakening grace and its power extricates man from the jaws of sin and places him on the point of indifference between good and evil.

The scales of our will, on which the will leans toward one side or the other, should now be evenly weighted.

But this cannot happen if the sinner is not given at least a foretaste of the sweetness of goodness.

If this were not given, then the sweetness of sin, as we pointed out before, would attract him more strongly to itself than to goodness; and the choice would fall to the former, as happens with those who have contrived to change their lives without grace-filled awakening.

For this is a general law: what you do not know you will not desire.

But when grace-filled awakening allows him to taste the sweetness of goodness, it attracts him to itself, as we said, consciously and perceptively.

The scales are even. Now complete freedom to act is in the person’s hands. In this manner, as in a flash of lightning, everything within and around the person is illuminated by this grace-filled awakening.

For one instant it introduces the heart to that state from which sin has been cast out, and places man into that chain of creation from which he voluntarily exiled himself through sin.

That is why this act of grace is always signified by a sudden fright and jolt, like the way the abrupt sound of the word “stop!” jolts a person walking quickly but lost in thought.

If you look at this state from a psychological point of view, it is nothing other than an awakening of spirit.

It is natural for our spirit to acknowledge Divinity, and the higher world or order of things, to raise man above everything sensual, and carry him away to the purely spiritual realm.

But in the sinful state our spirit loses its strength and commingles with psychological emotionality, and through it with sensuality to the point of practically disappearing into it.

Now through grace it is extricated from this and placed as if on a candle stand within our inner temple, and it sheds light upon everything dwelling within and is visible from within.

Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894; Russian Orthodox); Excerpts from The Path to Salvation @ Kandylaki.

Leo the Great: Christ Shared His Victory with Those in Whose Body He had Triumphed Monday, Jul 22 2013 

leo1As it cannot be denied that “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us” (John 1:14), so it cannot be denied that “God was in Christ , reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

But what reconciliation can there be, whereby God might look favourably on the human race, unless the mediator between God and man took up the cause of all?

And in what way could He properly fulfil His mediation, unless He who in the form of God was equal to the Father, were a sharer of our nature also in the form of a slave?

This was necessary so that the one new Man might effect a renewal of the old,  and the bond of death fastened on us by one man’s wrongdoing might be loosened by the death of the one Man who alone owed nothing to death.

For the pouring out of the blood of the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous was so powerful in its effect, and so rich a ransom, that, if the whole body of us prisoners only believed in their Redeemer, not one would be held in the tyrant’s bonds.

As the Apostle says, “where sin abounded, grace also did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). And since we, who were born under the imputation of sin, have received the power of a new birth unto righteousness, the gift of liberty has become stronger than the debt of slavery.

What hope then do they, who deny the reality of the human person in our Saviour’s body, leave for themselves in the efficacy of this mystery?  Let them say by what sacrifice they have been reconciled, by what blood-shedding brought back.

Who is He “who gave Himself for us an offering and a victim to God for a sweet smell” (Eph. 5:2); or what sacrifice was ever more hallowed than that which the true High priest placed upon the altar of the Cross by the immolation of His own flesh?

[…] One alone among the sons of men, our Lord Jesus Christ, stands out as One in whom all are crucified, all dead, all buried, all raised again.  Of them He Himself said “when I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all things unto Me” (John 12:32).

True faith also, that justifies the transgressors and makes them just, is drawn to Him who shared their human natures and wins salvation in Him, in whom alone man finds himself not guilty.

Thus true faith is free to glory in the power of Him who in the humiliation of our flesh engaged in conflict with the haughty foe, and shared His victory with those in whose body He had triumphed.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Letter 124, 3-4.

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