Ambrose of Milan: In applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, God makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain Thursday, Jun 18 2015 

ambrose_of_milan‘In addition she bore his brother Abel’ (Gen. 4:2).

[…] When…Abel is born in addition, Cain is eliminated.

This can be understood better if we examine the signification of their names.

Cain means ‘getting’ because he got everything for himself, Abel, on the other hand, did not, like his brother before him, refer everything to himself.

Devotedly and piously, he attributed everything to God, ascribing to his Creator everything that he had received from Him.

There are two schools of thought, therefore, totally in opposition one to the other, implied in the story of the two brothers.

One of these schools attributes to the mind itself the original creative source of all our thoughts, sensations, and emotions. In a word, it ascribes all our productions to man’s own mind.

The other school is that which recognizes God to be the Artificer and Creator of all things and submits everything to His guidance and direction.

Cain is a pattern for the first school and Abel of the second.

One living being gave birth to these two schools of thought. Hence, they are related as brothers because they come from one and the same womb.

At the same time, they are opposites and should be divided and separated, once they have been animated with the life of the spirit.

Those who are by nature contraries cannot abide for long in one and the same habitation.

Hence, Rebecca, when she gave birth to two individuals of dissimilar nature, the one good and the other evil, and when she felt them leap in her womb (Esau was the type of wickedness, Jacob the pattern of what is good), marveled at the reason for the discord which she perceived within her.

She appealed to God to make known the reason for her suffering and to grant a remedy. This was the response given to her prayer: ‘Two nations are in your womb; two peoples shall stem from your body’ (Gen. 25:23).

Interpreted spiritually, this can mean the same generation of good and evil, both of which emanate from the same source in the soul.

The former is likely to be the fruit of sound judgment whereby evil is repudiated and goodness is fostered and strengthened.

Prior to giving birth to what is good, that is to say, to giving complete reverence and deference owed to God Himself, the soul shows preference to its own creation.

When…the soul is generated with faith and trust in God, relief comes at the time of parturition.

Thus God, in applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 1, 3-4, in St Ambrose: Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, tr. John J. Savage, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 1961, pp. 360-361.

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Tikhon of Zadonsk: Remember Your Unseen Benefactor Everywhere and Always with Love Wednesday, Feb 19 2014 

Tikhon_of_ZadonskTake care not to forget your Benefactor when you enjoy His benefactions, lest you appear ungrateful to Him; for forgetfulness of a benefactor is a clear sign of ingratitude.

God is your creator, deliverer, supreme benefactor, and good provider.

He created you just as He gives you every good thing, since without His goodness you could not live even for a minute.

You do not see your Benefactor with these eyes, but you see the benefits He has given you.

You see the sun, the moon and His stars which illumine you.

You see the fire that warms you and cooks your food.

You see the food which satisfies you, you see the clothing by which your naked body is covered.

You see all other countless blessings which He gave you for your needs and comfort.

Seeing, then, and receiving these benefits, remember your unseen Benefactor everywhere and always with love, and thank Him for all His benefits with a pure heart.

The greatest and highest of all His blessings is that by His good will Christ, His Only-Begotten Son, came to us and redeemed us by His precious Blood and suffering from the devil, hell, and death.

In this work He showed us His unspeakable goodness to us. We must, then, always gaze with faith upon this great work of God so incomprehensible to the mind, and remember God Who so loved us unworthy ones.

We must thank Him from our whole heart, worship Him, praise, hymn, and glorify Him with our heart and lips.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Lk. 1:68-69).

You, too, should always remember this great work of God and marvel at it, and thank God from your heart, and live as it pleases God, Who came into the world to save sinners, lest you offend Him with your ingratitude.

He desires to save you, since He came into the world for your sake, and suffered and died in His holy flesh. You should fulfil His holy will, then, and take care for the salvation of your soul with all diligence.

Be thankful to Him, and live in the world humbly, with love, meekly and patiently, as He Himself lived. He also desires the same of you.

Endeavor to please God with faith and obedience, that is, do what He desires and what is pleasing to Him, and do not do what He does not desire and what is not pleasing to Him. Without obedience, whatever a man may do is not pleasing to God.

Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783; Russian Orthodox): extract @ Kandylaki  from Journey to Heaven: Counsels On the Particular Duties of Every Christian by Our Father Among the Saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, Bishop of Voronezh and Elets (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2004) .

Denys the Areopagite: Before Everything, and Especially Theology, We Must Begin with Prayer Sunday, Feb 16 2014 

DionysiosLet us examine the all-perfect Name of Goodness, which is indicative of the whole progressions of Almighty God.

But first let us invoke the supremely good, and super-good Triad – the Name which indicates Its whole best Providences.

For, we must first be raised up to It, as Source of good, by our prayers; and by a nearer approach to It, be initiated as to the all good gifts which are established around It.

For It is indeed present to all, but all are not present to It.

But then, when we have invoked It, by all pure prayers and unpolluted mind, and by our aptitude towards Divine Union, we also are present to It.

For, It is not in a place, so that It should be absent from a particular place, or should pass from one to another.

But even the statement that It is in all existing beings, falls short of Its infinitude (which is) above all, and embracing all.

Let us then elevate our very selves by our prayers to the higher ascent of the Divine and good rays.

For it is as if a luminous chain were suspended from the celestial heights, reaching down hither, and we, by ever clutching this upwards, first with one hand, and then with the other, seem indeed to draw it down.

But, in reality we do not draw it down, it being both above and below, but ourselves are carried upwards to the higher splendours of the luminous rays.

Or it is as if, after we have embarked on a ship, and are holding on to the cables reaching from some rock, such as are given out, as it were, for us to seize, we do not draw the rock to us, but ourselves, in fact, and the ship, to the rock.

Or to take another example, if any one standing on the ship pushes away the rock by the sea shore, he will do nothing to the stationary and unmoved rock, but he separates himself from it, and in proportion as he pushes that away, he is so far hurled from it.

Wherefore, before everything, and especially theology, we must begin with prayer, not as though we ourselves were drawing the power, which is everywhere and nowhere present, but as, by our godly reminiscences and invocations, conducting ourselves to, and making ourselves one with, it.

Denys the Areopagite (late 5th-early 6th century?): On the Divine Names 3, 1.

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.

Theophan the Recluse: The Sleep of Sin and the Awakening of the Soul by Grace Thursday, Dec 5 2013 

Theophan the RecluseWhat is grace-filled awakening? Into what state does it put the sinner? And how does this state differ from other similar states?

It is necessary to know the characteristic traits of awakening in order not to let it go by fruitlessly, and so that you might not accept some natural state in its place.

The state of the soul awakened by grace can be discerned by comparing it to the opposite state of a soul lost in the sleep of sin.

Sin separates man from God. A person who has left God for sin does not perceive his dependence on God, lives as he pleases, as though he is not God’s and God is not his. He is like a self-willed slave who is running from his master.

Now his barrier is broken. The feeling of dependence on God returns. The person clearly realizes his total subservience to God and his absolute responsibility to Him.

Before, heaven for him was just a heavy, copper lid stretched over his head; but now some rays of light pass through this dark veil, showing him God the Master and Judge.

Within him is powerfully awakened the perception of the Divinity in all His perfection, and the Divinity irresistibly inhabits the soul, filling it entirely.

This is the foundation and potentiality for the future spiritual life. 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.

He also realizes the danger of his condition, begins to be ashamed of himself and takes care for his fate. Not only does shame fall into the soul, but with the feeling of responsibility for himself before God, fear, agony, and disappointment begin to powerfully attack his heart.

His conscience gnaws at him. Now he feels a certain sweetness in godly life. Sensing all the futility of a sinful life and nursing a revulsion for it as for a sea of evil, he also has a presentiment that joy and consolation are hidden in the realm of goodness, which is now being revealed to his spiritual eye.

It comes into his view like the promised land, as a most blessed haven from all disquiet. This presentiment in a sinful soul is ultimately a manifestation that man himself cannot produce. It is God’s blessing and is subject to His authority.

Thinking about it is not the same as feeling it. God Himself leads man’s spirit into His treasure-house and allows man to taste its blessings.

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

Basil the Great: Swimming Upwards to the Light Saturday, Nov 30 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatIf you would speak of God, or hear of Him, go out from your body, put aside your bodily senses, leave this earth behind you, leave the sea behind you, set the skies beneath you, pass beyond the measuring of time, the procession of the seasons, the ordered perfection of the universe;

rise above the heavens, pass beyond the stars, and the wonders that relate to them, their ordered movement, their magnitude, their service to all the universe, their harmony, their shining splendour, their ordered station, their motion, their rotation one in respect of another.

Passing in mind beyond all these things, raised above them all, gaze in thought upon all the beauty there, upon the heavenly hosts, the Angelic Choirs, the Dignities of the Archangels, the Glory of the Dominations, the Seats of the Thrones, the Virtues, the Principalities, the Powers.

Passing beyond all these, reaching upwards in thought beyond every created thing, uplifting the mind beyond them, now contemplate the Divine Nature: stable, immovable, unchangeable, impassable, simple, indivisible, dwelling in light inaccessible (1 Tim. 6:10), surpassing glory, goodness the most desired, beauty inconceivable; which fastens fiercely upon the soul, wounding it, yet cannot fittingly be spoken of in words.

There are the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: Nature Uncreated, Sovereign Majesty, Goodness Itself. The Father the beginning of all things, the Source of existence of all that is, the Root of all that lives. From Him comes forth the Fount of Life, Wisdom, Power, the perfect Image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), the Son Begotten of the Father, the Living Word, Who is God, Who is with God (Jn. 1:2).

[…] The mind then that has been able to purify itself of all earthly affections, and to leave behind it every known creature, and, like some fish from the deep, swim upwards to the light, now attaining to the purity of the beginning, with the Father and Son, there shall look upon the Holy Spirit, Who by reason of His essential Unity of Nature with Them shares also in their Goodness, Their Justice, Their Holiness, Their Life.

For Thy Spirit, it is written, is good (Ps. 142:10). And again, He is a right Spirit (Ps. 1:12). And again, He is Thy holy Spirit (5:13). And the Apostle also speaks of: The law of the Spirit of life (Rom. 8:2). Of these things none has been received by Him, none afterwards added to Him; but as heat is inseparable from fire and radiance from light, so Sanctification cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit, nor the Giving of Life, nor Goodness, nor Justice.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15,1-3, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. (PG 31) @ Lectionary Central.

Nikolai Velimirovich: The Light of the Lord’s Countenance is Etched in Our Hearts Wednesday, Oct 2 2013 

Nikolai VelimirovichThere be many who say, Who will show us any good? (Psalm 4:6).

My brethren, great is God’s goodness. What words can express that goodness? Great is the goodness of the Heavenly Kingdom with its fiery angels, wonderful saints, and the sweetness of Paradise.

Who can describe this goodness? Immortal life, close to God and the angels of God, in the company of the saints and the righteous, is a great good.

Another great good will be our meeting with our kinsmen and friends in the heavenly world; with our parents, our children, and our most beloved ones, who by their departure left us in sadness and grief.

Who will show us all that good? Many asked this in King David’s time, and many ask even today. Who will show it to us, so that we may believe and hope?

That good is shown to us Christians, and we wait for nothing higher, for no one but the Lord Christ – the true Witness to all this good, the true Witness and Lord, brethren, of all this good.

The compassionate Lord showed this good to His chosen prophets even before His coming to earth. That is why David says to God: Lord, lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us (Psalms 4:6).

This is the reply to those who ask: Who will show us any good? God Himself showed us that good. The light of the Lord’s countenance is marked upon us, inscribed and etched in our hearts, and in that light we recognize that good which only heaven can give.

Brethren, is there a cure for those who have heard about the coming of Christ on earth, but nevertheless asked: Who will show us any good?

If Christ had not shown and revealed all that is good by His glorious birth, His glorious miracles, His glorious Resurrection, and His Holy Church, the dark earth would not show it, for it cannot; men would not show it, for they do not know.

However, there is a cure for everyone – even for the most incorrigible unbelievers-up to the moment of death. This cure is in repentance of one’s evil, in the cleansing of one’s heart, and in the fulfilling of Christ’s commandments.

The healthy can see the light of the countenance of the Lord; but not the sick in soul, the impure in heart or the wrong-minded.

O our Lord God, light of angels and men; help us that we not darken the light that Thou hast given us – and by which we see the heavenly good – by the darkness of our sin. Do not deprive us of these good things,

O Most-merciful One. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): Prologue from Ohrid, October 5th.

Gregory Nazianzen: The Coming of the Holy Spirit in Tongues of Fire Monday, May 13 2013 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenHe [the Holy Spirit] worked…in the disciples of Christ…on three occasions—before Christ was glorified by the Passion; and after He was glorified by the Resurrection; and after His Ascension….

Now the first of these manifests Him—the healing of the sick and casting out of evil spirits, which could not be apart from the Spirit;

and so does that breathing upon them after the Resurrection, which was clearly a divine inspiration;

and so too the present distribution of the fiery tongues, which we are now commemorating.

But the first manifested Him indistinctly, the second more expressly, this present one more perfectly, since He is no longer present only in energy, but as we may say, substantially, associating with us, and dwelling in us.

[…] And therefore He came after Christ, that a Comforter should not be lacking unto us; but “another Comforter”, that you might acknowledge His co-equality.

For this word “another” marks an “alter ego”, a name of equal Lordship, not of inequality.  For “another” is not said, I know, of different kinds, but of things consubstantial.

And He came in the form of tongues because of His close relation to the Word.  And they were of fire, perhaps because of His purifying power…, or else because of His Substance.  For our God is a consuming fire….

And the tongues were cloven, because of the diversity of gifts. And they sat to signify His royalty and rest among the saints, and because the cherubim are the throne of God.

And it took place in an upper chamber …, because those who should receive it were to ascend and be raised above the earth; for also certain upper chambers are covered with divine waters, by which the praise of God are sung.

And Jesus Himself in an upper chamber gave the communion of the Sacrament to those who were being initiated into the higher mysteries, that thereby might be shown on the one hand that God must come down to us, as I know He did of old to Moses;

and on the other that we must go up to Him, and that so there should come to pass a communion of God with men, by a coalescing of the dignity.

For as long as either remains on its own footing, the one in His glory the other in his lowliness, so long the goodness of God cannot mingle with us, and His loving-kindness is incommunicable, and there is a great gulf between, which cannot be crossed;

and which separates not only the rich man from Lazarus and Abraham’s Bosom which he longs for, but also the created and changing natures from that which is eternal and immutable.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 41 (on Pentecost), 11-12.

Dorotheus of Gaza: The sickness of sin and the healing of God Friday, Feb 15 2013 

Dorotheos2In the beginning when God created man he set him in paradise (the divine holy scripture says [Gen. 2:20]) adorned with every virtue, and gave him a command not to eat of the tree in the middle of paradise.

He was provided for in paradise, in prayer and contemplation in the midst of honor and glory; healthy in his emotions and sense perceptions, and perfect in his nature, as he was created.

For, in the likeness of God did God make man, that is, immortal, having the power to act freely, and adorned with all the virtues.

When he disobeyed the command and ate of the tree that God commanded him not to eat, he was thrown out of paradise (Gen. 3) and fell from a state in accord with his nature to a state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey to sin, to ambition, to love of the pleasures of this life and the other passions; and he was mastered by them, and became a slave to them through his transgression.

Then, little by little evil increased and death reigned. There was no more piety, and everywhere was ignorance of God.

[…] The good God then gave the law as a help—for their conversion, for putting right what was evil, but they did not reform. He sent the prophets, but they were unable to do anything.

For evil prevailed as said Isaiah, no injury, no bruise, no wound was cauterized; no chance of soothing dressings; no oil, no bandaging of wounds (Isaiah 1:6), as much as to say that the evil was not in one member, or in one place, but in the whole body. It encompassed the whole soul and all its powers.

Everything was a slave to sin; everything was under the control of sin. As Jeremiah said, We would heal Babylon, but she would not be healed (Jer. 51:9).

All the same she is not healed; she has not been converted, she has not feared, she has not turned from her wickedness. In another place he says, they have not submitted to discipline (Jer. 2:30), that is, to correction and instruction. And in the psalm it says, All food did their soul abhor, and they drew nigh even unto the gates of death (Ps. 106:18).

Then finally the most good and man-loving God sent His Only Begotten Son; for God alone could heal such a disease.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620):  Conference on Renunciation @ Pravoslavie.

Gregory Palamas: The Trinity and the Life of the Soul Wednesday, Jan 30 2013 

Gregory_PalamasThe Spirit of the supreme Word is a kind of ineffable yet intense longing or eros experienced by the Begetter for the Word born ineffably from Him, a longing experienced also by the beloved Word and Son of the Father for His Begetter.

But the Word possesses this love by virtue of the fact that it comes from the Father in the very act through which He comes from the Father, and it resides co-naturally in Him.

[…] Our intellect, because created in God’s image, possesses likewise the image of this sublime Eros or intense longing – an image expressed in the love experienced by the intellect for the spiritual knowledge that originates from it and continually abides in it.

This love is of the intellect and in the intellect and issues forth from it together with its innermost intelligence or Word.

[…] This intense longing is – and is called – the Holy Spirit and the other Comforter (cf John 14:16), since He accompanies the Word.

Thus we know Him to be perfect in a perfect and individual hypostasis, in no way inferior to the Father’s essence, but indistinguishably identical with the Son and the Father, although not according to hypostasis; for His distinction as hypostasis is manifest in the fact that He proceeds from God in a divinely fitting manner.

[…] The most sublime Goodness is a holy, awe-inspiring and venerable Trinity flowing forth out of Itself into Itself without change and divinely established in Itself before the ages.

The Trinity is without limits and is limited only by Itself; It limits all things, transcends all and permits no beings to be outside Itself.

[…] After our forefather’s transgression in paradise through the tree, we suffered the death of  our soul – which is the separation of the soul from God – prior to our bodily death; yet although we cast away our divine likeness, we did not lose our divine image.

Thus when the soul renounces its attachment to inferior things and cleaves through love to God and submits itself to Him through acts and modes of virtue, it is illuminated and made  beautiful by God and is raised to a higher level, obeying His counsels and exhortations; and by these means it regains the truly eternal life.

Through this life it makes the body conjoined to it immortal, so that in due time the body attains the promised resurrection and participates in eternal glory.

But if the soul does not repudiate its attachment and submission to inferior things whereby it shamefully dishonours God’s image, it alienates itself from God and is estranged from the true and truly blessed life of God; for as it has first abandoned God, it is justly abandoned by Him.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): One Hundred and Fifty Texts chs 36-39, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 361-363.

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