Theodore the Studite: “Lord, by your will you granted power to my beauty” Thursday, Nov 12 2015 

Theodore_the_StuditeSince we have been counted worthy to celebrate the forefeast of the divine Transfiguration, from this then let us compose an instruction, discharging our duty in a few words.

On the one hand, all the feasts of the Lord expound the mysteries of his sojourn in the flesh, such as that he was born, that he was baptized, that he was crucified, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, that he was taken up in glory; while the mystery of the Transfiguration hints at the restoration in the age to come.

For in the same way that ‘his face blazed like the sun, while his garments became white as light’ (Matt. 17:2), in the same way he will come from heaven like lightning, with power and great glory to judge the universe.

And as Peter, James and John were with him on the holy mountain, so the elect will be with him in the kingdom of heaven, enjoying his ineffable manifestation as God and inexpressible joy.

And who is adequate for all this? Who is worthy to attain that joy? Who else but one whose way of life is pure and undefiled? For since our God is pure, or rather the highest light, he comes to the pure, and as he has placed a pure soul in us, he will also ask it from us pure.

For since it has been made according to God’s image and likeness, that is to say as a figure of the divine beauty, it has also shared in that beauty.

And knowing this the poet speaks thus, ‘Lord, by your will you granted power to my beauty’ (Psalm 29:8), that is to say to the beauty of the soul, lest, having turned away towards the ugly passions of sin and become disfigured, it fall from God and his divine rewards.

Since therefore it is agreed that our soul should be like this, lovely and beautiful, and that we should give it back to God like a pledge on the last day, the day of resurrection, I beg and urge that we love this beauty and carefully guard this loveliness, not turning back to the fair things of the present age or to the beauties of flesh and blood.

They are not beauties, but idols of beauty; they are rather corruption and change. And this we can learn from the end of things, for one who today is outstandingly beautiful and fair of face is tomorrow cast into a tomb, stinking and abhorrent. So there is nothing fair and loveable but exemplary virtue, which should be our chief pursuit, my brothers.

Theodore the Studite: (759-826): Catechesis 20 trans. Archimandrite Ephrem Lash @ Anastasis.

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Gregory the Great: Heaven and hell are shut up together Saturday, Jun 20 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistIf He overturn all things, or shut them up together, then who shall gainsay Him?  Or who can say to Him, Why doest Thou so? (Job 11:10).

It very often happens that the spirit already lifts the mind on high, yet that the flesh assails it with pressing temptations.

And, when the soul is led forward to the contemplation of heavenly things, it is struck back by the images of unlawful practice being presented.

For the sting of the flesh suddenly wounds him, whom holy contemplation was bearing away beyond the flesh.

Therefore heaven and hell are shut up together, when one and the same mind is at once enlightened by the uplifting of contemplation, and bedimmed by the pressure of temptation —

— so that both by straining forward it sees what it should desire, and through being bowed down it should be in thought subject to that which it should blush for.

For light springs from heaven, but hell is held of darkness.

Heaven and hell then are brought into one, when the soul which already sees the light of the land above, also sustains the darkness of secret temptation coming from the warfare of the flesh.

Yea, Paul had already gone up to the height of the third heaven, already learnt the secrets of Paradise, and yet being still subject to the assaults of the flesh, he groaned, saying:

But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

How then was it with the heart of this illustrious Preacher, saving that God had ‘shut up together’ heaven and hell, in that he had both already obtained the light of the interior vision, and yet continued to suffer darkness from the flesh?

Above himself he had seen what to seek after with joy, in himself he perceived what to bewail with fear.  The light of the heavenly land had already shed abroad its rays, yet the dimness of temptation embarrassed the soul.

Therefore he underwent hell together with heaven, in that assurance set him erect in his enlightenment, and lamentation laid him low in his temptation.

And it often happens that faith is now vigorous in the soul, and yet in some slight point it is wasted with uncertainty, so that both being well-assured, it lifts itself up from visible objects, and at the same time being unassured it disquiets itself in certain points.

For very often it lifts itself to seek after the things of eternity, and being driven by the incitements of thoughts that arise, it is set at strife with its very own self.

[…] Did not he experience that ‘earth and sea were shut up together’ in his breast, who, both hoping through faith and wavering through faithlessness, cried, Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief? (Mark 9:23).

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 17-18 (on Job 11:10) @ Lectionary Central (slightly adapted).

Nikolai Velimirovich: Thus Did The One Ascend To Heaven Who Held Heaven Within Himself Friday, May 30 2014 

Nikolai VelimirovichThus did the One ascend to Heaven Who held heaven within Himself.

He who carries hell within himself will end up in hell, but he who bears heaven within his soul will ascend to heaven.

And truly, no one can ascend to heaven other than those who have heaven within; and no one can end up in hell besides those who have hell within.

The familiar is drawn to what is familiar and unites with the familiar; but it rejects what is not familiar.

Matter submits to the spirit to the extent that the human soul is filled with the Divine Spirit; and the laws of nature are obedient to moral laws, which govern the world.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ is the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the perfection of moral law, to Him is subject all matter—the entire physical world, with all the laws of nature.

Any person, as a spirit, can be victorious in his life over a certain law of nature, with the help of another law of nature—that is, he can overcome it with his own spirit.

Christ, as the God-Man, could subject the laws of nature to Himself through the law of the Spirit, which is the supreme law of the created world.

However, this concept, just as any other spiritual concept, can be but partially explained by ordinary earthly conceptualizations and reasoning—and that only by examples and comparisons.

Spiritual things only become clear beyond a doubt when the spirit sees them and perceives them.

In order to see and feel the manifestations of the spiritual world, long and exhausting spiritual practice is needed, after which, by God’s grace, spiritual vision may be opened in a person; this vision allows him to see what seems unbelievable and impossible to ordinary mortals.

Nevertheless, a person must first believe those who have seen the unbelievable, and strengthen their faith from day to day, striving to see what is inaccessible to the common gaze.

Not in vain does the Lord say, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn. 20:29).

[…]  But the day will come—and that day is not far off—when all the righteous mean and women who firmly believed in Him throughout their lives will see Him.

And around Him in the heavens will gather all those who were baptized on earth in His name—not only with water, but also with the Spirit and Fire.

And they will enter into His joy, which the Heavenly Father has prepared for all His chosen, and will inherit a joy that they have never known before.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): The Ascension of the Lord @ Pravoslavie.

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

Fathers_of_the_ChurchChrist descended into hell to liberate its captives.

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

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

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

Your Baptism is the promise of the life of heaven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Paul II: “Heaven is Wedded to Earth and Man is Reconciled to God!” Monday, Apr 21 2014 

jp2“God said: ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” (Gen 1:3).

An explosion of light, which God’s word brought forth from nothing, rent asunder the first night, the night of Creation.

The Apostle John will write: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn 1:5). God did not create darkness but light!

And the Book of Wisdom, clearly revealing that God’s work has always had a positive purpose, puts it thus:

“He created all things that they might exist; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them; and the dominion of Hades is not on earth” (Wis 1:14).

In that first night, the night of Creation, is rooted the Paschal Mystery which, following the tragedy of sin, represents the restoration and the crowning of that first beginning.

The divine Word called into existence all things and, in Jesus, became flesh for our salvation.

And if the destiny of the first Adam was to return to the earth from which he had been made (cf. Gen 3:19), the last Adam has come down from heaven in order to return there in victory, the first-fruits of the new humanity (cf. Jn 3:13; 1 Cor 15:47).

Another night constitutes the fundamental event of the history of Israel: it is the wondrous Exodus from Egypt, the story of which is read each year at the solemn Easter Vigil.

[…] This is the second night, the night of the Exodus.

[…] In his Passover, as the new Moses, Christ has made us pass from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the children of God. Having died with Jesus, with him we rise to new life, thanks to the power of his Spirit. His Baptism has become our baptism.

[…]  This is the third night, the night of the Resurrection.

“Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!”. We sang these words in the Easter Proclamation at the beginning of this solemn Vigil, the Mother of all Vigils.

After the tragic night of Good Friday, when “the power of darkness” (Lk 22:53) seemed to have prevailed over the One who is “the light of the world” (Jn 8:12),

after the great silence of Holy Saturday, in which Christ, having completed his work on earth, found rest in the mystery of the Father and took his message of life into the pit of death,

behold at last the night which precedes “the third day”, on which, in accordance with the Scriptures, the Messiah would rise, as he himself had often foretold to his disciples.

“Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth and man is reconciled to God!” (Easter Proclamation).

John Paul II (1920-2005): Homily at the Easter Vigil, March 30th, 2002.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athanasius of Alexandria: Preparing to Eat the Passover Saturday, Apr 5 2014 

AthanasiusWho then will lead us to such a company of angels as this?

[…] ‘Who shall ascend to the hill of the Lord?’

‘Who shall stand in His holy place, but he that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, who hath not devoted his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour.’

‘For he,’ as the Psalmist adds, when he goes up, ‘shall receive a blessing from the Lord’ (Ps. 24:3).

Now this clearly also refers to what the Lord gives to them at the right hand, saying, ‘Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you’ (Matt. 25:34).

But the deceitful, and he that is not pure of heart, and possesses nothing that is pure…shall assuredly, being a stranger, and of a different race from the saints, be accounted unworthy to eat the Passover, for ‘a foreigner shall not eat of it’ (Exod. 12:43).

[…] Wherefore let us not celebrate the feast after an earthly manner, but as keeping festival in heaven with the angels.

Let us glorify the Lord, by chastity, by righteousness, and other virtues. And let us rejoice, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, that we may be inheritors with the saints.

Let us keep the feast then, as Moses. Let us watch like David who rose seven times, and in the middle of the night gave thanks for the righteous judgments of God.

Let us be early, as he said, ‘In the morning I will stand before Thee, and Thou wilt look upon me: in the morning Thou wilt hear my voice’ (Ps. 5:3).

Let us fast like Daniel; let us pray without ceasing, as Paul commanded; all of us recognising the season of prayer…, so that having borne witness to these things, and thus having kept the feast, we may be able to enter into the joy of Christ in the kingdom of heaven.

Israel, when going up to Jerusalem, was first purified in the wilderness, being trained to forget the customs of Egypt, the Word by this typifying to us the holy fast of forty days.

So also let us first be purified and freed from defilement, so that when we depart hence, having been careful of fasting, we may be able to ascend to the upper chamber (cf. Luke 14:15) with the Lord, to sup with Him; and may be partakers of the joy which is in heaven.

In no other manner is it possible to go up to Jerusalem, and to eat the Passover, except by observing the fast of forty days.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Sixth Festal Letter, 11-12.

Aphrahat the Persian: The Overflowing Love of Christ Saturday, Mar 29 2014 

ephrem-isaac-aphrahatBecause of His overflowing love…He opened the eyes of two blind men who had come to Him; and also He gave to the Twelve power and authority over all disease and infirmity, and also to us by their hands.

And He prohibited us from the way of the Gentiles and of the Samaritans. And He gave power to us by His mercy that we might not fear when they brought us before the rulers of the world.

And He set a division in the earth because of His great peace. And He forgave the many sins to the woman who was a sinner because of His mercies.

[…]  And He cast out from us unclean spirits, and He made us a lodging place of His divinity, and sowed in us a good seed which should give fruit a hundredfold, and sixtyfold and thirtyfold.

And He was placed in the midst of the world in the likeness of a treasure which is put in a field. And He manifested the power of His greatness when He was cast down from on high to the depth and was not harmed.

And He satisfied the hungry who had grown faint with five loaves and two fishes, five thousand men besides woman and children, and manifested the greatness of His glory.

And on account of His abundant love He heard the Canaanitish woman and raised up her daughter from her infirmity.

And by the power of Him who sent Him He loosed the tongue of the man who was dumb, and who was also deaf; and the blind saw His light, and by means of Him they glorified Him who had sent Him.

And when He went up into the mountain to pray the rays of the sun were overcome by His light. And He made His power known in the case of that boy upon whom a spirit had come, and at His word the demon went away.

And He gave us an example and a pattern that we should become as children and enter the kingdom of heaven.

[…] And again He showed His healing perfectly in the case of that man who was infirm thirty-eight years, and He magnified His mercy towards him and healed him.

[…] And He hired us as laborers that we should work in His vineyard, which is the vineyard of truth.

All these things our Saviour did unto us because of His great love. And we also, beloved, should be partakers of the love of Christ, while we love one another and fulfil these two commandments, on which hang all the law and the prophets.

Aphrahat the Persian (c.270-c.345): Demonstrations, 2 – On Love (19; 20). (The icon accompanying this extract depicts Ephrem the Syrian, Isaac the Syrian, and Aphrahat). 

Nicholas Cabasilas: The words of the Angel Gabriel to Mary Tuesday, Mar 25 2014 

nicholas_cabasilasEven if she had been a Cherub or a Seraph, or some other creature much purer than these Angelic beings, how could she [the Virgin Mary] have endured these words?

How could she have supposed that she would be able to fulfill these promises? How could she have furnished strength that would be commensurate with the magnitude of the work?

John, “a greater” than whom, according to the judgment of the Savior Himself, “there hath not risen”(Matthew 11:11), did not consider himself worthy even to touch His shoes, and that, when the Lord was leading a life of poverty.

The All-Blameless Virgin was bold enough to carry in her womb the Word Himself, the very Hypostasis of God.

“Who am I, and what is the house of my father?” (2 Kings 7:18). “Even in me, O Lord, shalt Thou save Israel?” (cf. Judges 6:36). Such things are to be heard from righteous men who were called to perform deeds accomplished by many persons and at many times.

But the Blessed Virgin was induced to undertake something unwonted and in no way congruent with human nature, something surpassing all rational understanding—for what else was she doing than elevating the earth to Heaven and through herself changing and transforming all things?—; and she was not shaken in her mind, nor did she perceive her soul to be inferior to this task.

But, just as we are not at all bothered if someone tells us that light is going to strike our eyes, and it is not strange for someone to state that when the sun rises it brings day, so also the Virgin, on learning that she would be capable of conceiving and bearing God Himself, Who is not contained in any place, was not at all surprised.

And she did not leave the words addressed to her unexamined, nor did she experience any light-mindedness, nor was she carried away by the great loftiness of the Angelic laudation, but she restrained herself and focused her attention on the salutation; she inquired into the manner of her conceiving and sought to learn about other matters related to this.

She did not go on to ask whether she was adequate and suited to the great magnitude of this ministry, or whether she had properly purified her body and her soul; rather, concerning what pertained to nature, she was puzzled, whereas she passed over what pertained to the readiness of her soul.

She requested an explanation of the former from Gabriel, but the latter she knew from herself. She had confidence and boldness before God from within, as John says, since her heart was an advocate for her (cf. 1 John 3:21).

Nicholas Cabasilas (1319/1323–after 1391): On the Occasion of the Feast of the Annunciation, 5, Translated from the Greek text in “Homélies Mariales Byzantines (II),” ed. M. Jugie, in Patrologia Orientalis, Vol. XIX, pp. 484-495@ Old Calendar Orthodox Church of Greece.

John Chrysostom: “Reflecting the Lord’s Glory, We are Refashioned to His Likeness” Sunday, Mar 16 2014 

John_ChrysostomWhat does it mean, to say (as Saint Paul does) that: Reflecting the Lord’s glory, we are refashioned transformed to his likeness (2 Corinthians 3;18)?

This was clearer in evidence when the grace of miracles was actively at work; but it is not hard to see even now, for anyone with the eyes of faith.

For on receiving baptism the soul shines brighter than the sun, being purified by the Holy Spirit; and not only do we behold God’s glory, but from it we receive a certain gleam ourselves.

Just as bright silver, when struck by beams of light, can send out beams in its turn, not simply of its own nature but from the sun’s brilliance, so also the soul, once purified and become brighter than silver, receives a beam from the glory of the Holy Spirit and sends that on.

That is why he says, Reflecting, we are refashioned he same pattern from – or of, or by – his glory, that of the Holy Spirit, into a glory, our own, which is contingent, modelled on the Spirit of the Lord.

See how he calls the Spirit “Lord,” or “Master.” He it is who transforms us, who does not permit us to conform to this world, the maker and first cause of creation as he is. As he says: You have been established in Christ Jesus.

This can be explained in more concrete terms from the apostles. We think of St. Paul, whose very clothes were activated; of St. Peter, whose very shadow had power.

That could never have been, if they had not borne the king’s likeness; if they had not had something of his unapproachable brightness – so much, it appears, that their clothes and their shadows worked wonders.

See how that brightness shines through their bodies! Gazing on the face of Stephen, he says, they seemed to see the face of an angel.

But that was nothing to the glory shining like lightning within. What Moses bore on his face, they carried in their souls, but to a much higher degree.

The mark on Moses was more tangible; but this was incorporeal. Dimly glowing bodies catch fire from brighter ones close by and pass on to others their own incandescence.

All that resembles what happens to the faithful. In this way they detach themselves from the world and have their converse only in the things of heaven.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407):  From a Homily by Saint John Chrysostom on 2 Corinthians 3 @ Dom Donald’s Blog.

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