Seraphim of Sarov: The True Aim of Our Christian Life Consists of the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

Seraphim_SarovskyJanuary 2nd is the feast of St Seraphim of Sarov in the Orthodox Church.

The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.

As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, these are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.

Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good.

The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35).

As we see from another sacred narrative, the man who does what is right is pleasing to God.

We see the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: “Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there you will find Peter and he will tell you the words of eternal life, whereby you will be saved and all your house.”

Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man, in return for his good works, the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life.

But to this end, we must begin with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life.

But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cf. Hebrews. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not.

[…] If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favor of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake.

[…] Good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is said: “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34-35).

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Ignatius of Antioch: Faith and Love towards Christ Jesus are the Beginning and the End of Life Wednesday, Oct 30 2013 

Ignatius_of_AntiochTake heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise.

For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.

Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.

None of these things is hid from you, if ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ Jesus which are the beginning and the end of life.

For the beginning is faith, and the end is love. Now these two. being inseparably connected together, are of God, while all other things which are requisite for a holy life follow after them.

No man truly making a profession of faith sins; nor does he that possesses love hate any one.

The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognised by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.

It is better for a man to be silent and be a Christian, than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. There is then one Teacher, who spake and it was done; while even those things which He did in silence are worthy of the Father.

He who possesses the word of Jesus, is truly able to hear even His very silence, that he may be perfect, and may both act as he speaks, and be recognised by his silence.

There is nothing which is hid from God, but our very secrets are near to Him. Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God, which indeed He is, and will manifest Himself before our faces. Wherefore we justly love Him.

[…] For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not ye anointed with the bad odour of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you.

And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we foolishly perish, not recognising the gift which the Lord has of a truth sent to us?

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 107): Letter to the Ephesians, 13-17 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Augustine of Hippo: Pilgrims Absent from the Lord Saturday, Oct 26 2013 

St Augustine of Africa

To Proba, a devoted handmaid of God….

In the darkness…of this world, in which we are pilgrims absent from the Lord as long as “we walk by faith and not by sight,” the Christian soul ought to feel itself desolate, and continue in prayer, and learn to fix the eye of faith on the word of the divine sacred Scriptures, as “on a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in our hearts.”

For the ineffable source from which this lamp borrows its light is “the Light which shineth in darkness, but the darkness comprehendeth it not.”

In order to seeing this Light our hearts must be purified by faith; for “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”; and “we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, foe we shall see Him as He is.”

Then after death shall come the true life, and after desolation the true consolation, that life shall deliver our “souls from death “that consolation shall deliver our “eyes from tears,” and, as follows in the psalm, our feet shall be delivered from falling; for there shall be no temptation there.

Moreover, if there be no temptation, there will be no prayer; for there we shall not be waiting for promised blessings, but contemplating the blessings actually bestowed.

Therefore he adds, “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living,” where we shall then be — not in the wilderness of the dead, where we now are: “For ye are dead,” says the apostle, “and your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.”

For that is the true life on which the rich are exhorted to lay hold by being rich in good works; and in it is the true consolation, for want of which, meanwhile, a widow is “desolate” indeed, even though she has sons and grandchildren, and conducts her household piously, entreating all dear to her to put their hope in God.

And in the midst of all this, she says in her prayer, “My soul thirsteth for Thee; my flesh longeth in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;” and this dying life is nothing else than such a land, however numerous our mortal comforts, however pleasant our companions in the pilgrimage, and however great the abundance of our possessions.

You know how uncertain all these things are; and even if they were not uncertain, what would they be in comparison with the felicity which is promised in the life to come!

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba (Letter 130), II,5 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Bede the Venerable: Jesus and the Healing of Ten Lepers (3) Wednesday, Oct 16 2013 

icon_bede-On Luke 17:11-19

Continued from here…

And Jesus, answering said: Were not ten made clean? And where are the nine? … There is no one found to return and give glory to God, but this stranger.

As to the body, it is easy to see that a man may have no leprosy; and yet he may not be sound of soul. But in the light of this miracle, it troubles the mind to know how one who is thankless can be said to be made clean?

But it is now easy to see, that this also can happen that someone within the society of the Church may know her true and pure doctrine, and may interpret it all in accord with the Catholic rule of faith;

he may distinguish the creature from the Creator, and by this show that he is free as it were from leprosy, from the spots of lies, and nevertheless be ungrateful to God and Lord Who made him clean, because uplifted in pride, he has not thrown himself down in loving humility to give thanks, and so has become like those of whom the Apostle said: When they knew God, they have not glorified Him as God or given thanks (Rom. 1:21).

Saying, they knew God, Paul shows that they had been made clean of leprosy; yet he goes on to call them ungrateful. And he said to him: Arise, go thy way; for thy faith hath made thee whole. He who had fallen in humble devotion at the Lord’s feet, is told to rise, and go on his way.

For whoever is acutely aware of his own unworthiness, and humbles himself before God, is told by the comforting divine word, to rise, and to put his hand to strong things (Prov. 31:19); and growing daily in merit, go on his way to the more perfect things (Heb. 6:1).

For if faith made him whole who had hurried back to give thanks to his Saviour and to the One Who had made him clean, unfaith has brought spiritual ruin to those who, receiving favours from God, fail to return and give Him glory.

And so this lesson is joined to the one preceding it in the gospel (that of the unprofitable servants) for this reason; that there we learn, through the parable, that faith must grow through humility, while here more clearly we are shown by actual happenings, that it is not only confession of faith, but also the doing of the works that follow faith, which makes whole those who believe, and give glory to the Father Who is in heaven.  Amen.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel (PL 92, Lib. III, Cap. X, col. 467); Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. @ Lectionary Central.

Seraphim of Sarov: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins and the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Monday, Sep 23 2013 

Seraphim_SarovskyOn the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 15:1-13).

I think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God.

These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works.

By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they cared little whether they acquired the grace of God’s Spirit.

These ways of life, based merely on doing good, without carefully testing whether they bring the grace of the Spirit of God, are mentioned in the patristic books: “There is another way which is deemed good in the beginning, but ends at the bottom of hell.”

[…] The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, the oil, which the foolish virgins lacked.

They were called foolish just because they had forgotten the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which no one is or can be saved, for: “Through the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened and through purification is exalted and illumined by the Triune Unity in a Holy mystery.”

The oil in the lamps of the wise virgins could burn brightly for a long time. So these virgins, with their bright lamps were able to meet the Bridegroom, who came at midnight.

With Him, they could enter the bridal chamber of joy. But the foolish ones, though they went to market to buy more oil, when their lamps were going out, were unable to return in time, for the door was already shut.

The market is our life; the door of the bridal chamber, which was shut and barred the way to the Bridegroom is human death; the wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not the good deeds, but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through good deeds and which changes souls from one state to another

– such as, from a corruptible state to incorruptible state, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from darkness to light, from the stable of our being (where the passions are tied up like dumb animals and wild beasts) into a temple of the Divinity, the shining bridal chamber of eternal joy in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Creator, Redeemer and eternal Bridegroom of our souls.

How great is God’s compassion on our misery, that is to say, our inattention to His care for us, when God says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20), meaning by “door” the course of our life which has not yet been closed by death! Oh, how I wish…that in this life you may always be in the Spirit of God!

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

John Henry Newman: “Blessed are they that Do His Commandments, that they may have Right to the Tree of Life” Thursday, Oct 20 2011 

(On 2 Kings 22:19-20.)

In conclusion, my brethren, I would have you observe in what Josiah’s chief excellence lay.

This is the character given him when his name is first mentioned; “He did … right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the ways of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left.” (2 Kings 22:2).

[…] Now what is this strict virtue called? it is called faith. It is no matter whether we call it faith or conscientiousness, they are in substance one and the same:

where there is faith, there is conscientiousness—where there is conscientiousness, there is faith; they may be distinguished from each other in words, but they are not divided in fact.

They belong to one, and but one, habit of mind—dutifulness; they show themselves in obedience, in the careful, anxious observance of God’s will, however we learn it.

Hence it is that St. Paul tells us that “the just shall live by faith” under every dispensation of God’s mercy.

And this is called faith, because it implies a reliance on the mere word of the unseen God overpowering the temptations of sight.

Whether it be we read and accept His word in Scripture (as Christians do), or His word in our conscience, the law written on the heart (as is the case with heathens); in either ease, it is by following it, in spite of the seductions of the world around us, that we please God.

St. Paul calls it faith; saying after the prophet, “The just shall live by faith”;

and St. Peter, in the tenth chapter of the Acts, calls it “fearing and working righteousness,” where he says, that “in every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him.”

It is all one: both Apostles say that God loves those who prefer Him to the world; whose character and frame of mind is such.

Elsewhere St. Paul also speaks like St. Peter, when he declares that God will render eternal life to them, who by “patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory” (Rom. 2:7).

St. John adds his testimony: “Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.” (1 John 3:7).

And our Saviour’s last words at the end of the whole Scripture, long after the coming of the Spirit, after the death of all the Apostles but St. John, are the same: “Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life” (Rev. 22:14).

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 8,  Sermon 7. Josiah, a Pattern for the Ignorant. 

Augustine of Hippo: The Width and Length and Height of the Cross Friday, Aug 19 2011 

St Augustine of AfricaListen to the Apostle saying to you, But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us too make it our boast, if only because we lean totally upon it. Perhaps it is there that we shall find both width, and length, and height, and depth.

These words of the Apostle, you see, somehow set up the cross before our very eyes.

[…] So where is the width? Turn your mind to the life and behaviour of the saints, who say, Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We find in their way of life and behaviour the width of charity; which is why the Apostle himself gives them this advice: Open yourselves wide, lest you should be bearing the yoke with unbelievers.

So width means charity, which alone does good works.

But because the Lord said, When iniquity abounds, the charity of many will grow cold, he gave me also length. What is meant by length? Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

This is the length of the cross, where the whole body is stretched; where after a fashion it is standing, the kind of standing by which one perseveres.

So if you are seeking, you that make the cross your boast, to have the width of the cross, make sure you have the virtue to do good.

If you want to have the length of the cross, make sure you have the long suffering capacity to persevere.

But if you want to have the height of the cross, make sure you know the meaning of the words you hear, ‘Lift up your hearts’, and of where you hear them.

Well, what does it mean, ‘Lift up your hearts’? Place your hope up there, place your love up there, ask for strength from up there, look for your reward from up there.

Because if you do good, and give cheerfully, you seem to have the width; if in the same good works you persevere to the end, you seem to have the length.

But if you don’t do any of this for the sake of the reward up above, you won’t have the height; which means you won’t have the real width and real length either.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430:  Sermon 165, 1-5, 9;  from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Friday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Name of Christ Shares in Our Soul, Words and Life’s Activities so that Holiness may be Constantly Kept Thursday, Aug 11 2011 

A Christian has three characteristics: deed, word and thought. First among these is thought.

Reason is the beginning of every thought; next comes speech which reveals one’s mind by words. Action is third in order after thought and word, bringing thought to realization.

[…] It does us well to be carefully attentive so that our thoughts, words and deeds may participate in Christ’s lofty names.

Paul says that everything not proceeding from faith is sin (Rom 14.23); as a result, he clearly states that every word, deed or thought which does not look to Christ is contrary to him; whatever does not partake of light nor life shares in darkness or death.

If any word or thought according to Christ is contrary to the good, that which is manifested through these three elements becomes clear: whoever separates himself from Christ does not belong to him, whether in thought, deed or in speech.

[…] How, then, should the person worthy of Christ’s great name behave? What can he do except to always discern his thoughts, words and deeds, and to see whether or not they are of Christ or are alien to him?

Much skill is needed here for discernment. Anything effected, thought or said through passion has no association with Christ but bears the adversary’s mark; smearing the soul’s pearl with passion as if with mud, it corrupts the precious stone’s brightness.

But a state free from every passion looks to the author of detachment, Christ.

He who draws to himself thoughts as from a pure, incorruptible fountain will resemble the prototype as water drawn into a jar resembles water gushing from a fountain.

[…] In my judgment this is the perfection of the Christian life: the name of Christ…shares in our soul, words and life’s activities so that the holiness praised by Paul (1Thess 5.23) may be constantly kept in the entire body, mind and spirit with no admixture of evil.

If anyone says that the good is difficult to attain…, my response is that a person who does not lawfully strive in a contest cannot be crowned (1Tim 2.5)….

Without an opponent there is no crown, for victory against oneself is lacking if there is no weakness.

Hence, let us struggle against our nature’s mutability as though against an adversary; wrestling with our reason makes us victors not by casting it down but by not consenting to the fall.

[…] No one should lament his mutable nature; rather, by always being changed to what is better and by being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3.18), let him so be changed.

[…] Perfection consists in never stopping our growth towards the good nor in circumscribing perfection.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On Perfection, translation originally published in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 29, 4 (Brookline, Mass., 1984), pp.349-79.

Gregory the Great: The Kingdom of Heaven is Likened unto Treasure Hidden in a Field Tuesday, Jul 26 2011 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistDearly beloved brethren, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto the things of earth.

This is in order that, by the mean of things which we know, our mind may rise to the contemplation of the things which we know not by the example of things which are seen.

Thus may our mind fix her gaze on things which are not seen by the touch of things which she uses, and be warmed towards the things which she uses not – by things which she knows and loves, to love also the things which she knows not.

For, behold, the kingdom of heaven is likened unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hides, and, for joy thereof, goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

And herein we must remark that the treasure, when once it hath been found, is hidden to keep it safe.

He who does not keep hidden from the praises of men his eager striving heavenwards, does not do enough to keep the same safe from the attacks of evil spirits.

In this life we are, as it were, on the way home, and the road is beset by evil spirits, as it were, by highwaymen.

He, therefore, who carries his treasure glaringly invites robbery.

This I say, not that our neighbour should not see our good works, since it is written Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father.

Rather, I speak of what we do, to gain the praise of men.

Let the outward work agree with the inward thought, that by our good works we may give an example to our neighbour, and still, by our intention, directed only to the pleasing God, we may also prefer that our works should be secret.

The treasure is the desire for heaven the field wherein it is hidden is the earnest observance wherewith this desire is surrounded.

Whosoever turns his back upon the enjoyments of the flesh, and by earnest striving heavenward, puts all earthly lusts under the feet of discipline, so that he smiles back no more when the flesh smiles at him, and shudders no more at anything that can only kill the body – whosoever doth thus, has sold all that he had, and bought that field.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Homilies on the Gospels, 11, from Mattins of the Feast of St Anne in the Old Breviary.

John Tauler: “When the Spirit Looks Within, to the Spirit of God, from the Ground of the Heart” Saturday, Apr 16 2011 

St Thomas Aquinas says this: “Great external works, however great they may be, inasmuch as they are works, have their own reward.

But when the Spirit looks within, to the Spirit of God, from the ground of the heart,

where man, empty and bare of all works, seeks God only,

far above all thoughts, works and reason,

it is truly a thorough conversion, which will ever be met with a corresponding reward,

and God will be with him.”

Another conversion may take place in an ordinary external way, whenever man turns to God,

thinking wholly and entirely of Him,

and of nothing else but of God for Himself and in Himself.

But the first turning is in an inner, undefined, unknown presence,

in an immaterial entrance of the created spirit into the uncreated Spirit of God.

If a man could only once in his life thus turn to God, it would be well for him.

Those men whose God is so powerful, and Who has been so faithful to them in all their distress, will be answered by God with Himself.

He draws them so mysteriously unto Himself and His own blessedness;

their spirits are so lovingly attracted, while they are at the same time so filled and transfused with the Godhead, that they lose all their diversity in the Unity of the Godhead.

These are they to whom God makes their work here on earth a delight;

so that they have a real foretaste of that which they will enjoy forever.

These are they on whom the Holy Christian Church rests;

and, if they did not form part of Christianity, Christianity could no longer exist;

for their mere existence, what they are, is infinitely worthier and more useful than all the doings of the world.

These are they of whom our Lord has said:

“He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of Mine eye.”

Therefore, take heed that ye do them no wrong. May God help us.

John Tauler (c.1300-1361): Sermon on the Feast of St John the Baptist.

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