Bede the Venerable: Let Us Seek His Face Always Friday, May 25 2012 

icon_bede-When Elijah was raised up to the heavens, he let the cloak with which he had been clothed fall to Elisha.

When our Lord ascended into heaven, he left the mysteries of the humanity he had assumed to his disciples, to the entire Church in fact, so that it could be sanctified by them, and warmed by the power of his love.

Elisha took up Elijah’s cloak and struck the waters of the river Jordan with it; and when he called upon the God of Elijah, the waters were divided and he crossed over.

The apostles and the entire Church took up the sacraments of their Redeemer that had been instituted through the apostles, so that, spiritually guided by them, and cleansed and consecrated by them, they too learned to overcome death’s assault by calling upon the name of God the Father, and to cross over to undying life, spurning the obstacle of death.

Let us the, with all devotion, dearly beloved brothers, venerate this glory of the Lord’s ascension, which was first expressed by the words and deeds of the prophets, and was afterward brought to fulfilment in our Mediator himself.

And that we ourselves may become worthy of following in his footsteps and ascending to heaven, let us in the meantime become humble on earth for our own good, always mindful that, as Solomon says, Humiliation follows the proud, and honor follows the humble in spirit (Prov. 29:23).

Behold we have learned in our Redeemer’s ascension whither all our effort should be directed; behold we have recognized that the entry to the heavenly fatherland has been opened up to human beings by the ascension into heaven of the Mediator between god and human beings.

Let us hurry, with all eagerness, to the perpetual bliss of this fatherland; since we are not yet able to be there in our bodies, let us at least always dwell there by the desire of our minds.

In accord with the words of the great preacher, let us seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; let us savor the things that are above and not those that are upon the earth (Col. 3:1-2).

Let us seek him and be strengthened; let us seek him by works of charity, and be strengthened by the hope of finding him.

Let us seek his face always, so that when he who ascended peacefully returns terrifying, he may find us prepared, and take us with him into the feasts of the city on high.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Homilies on the Gospels, 2:8 (Easter), Homilies on the Gospels, Book Two, Lent to the Dedication of the Church, trans. Lawrence T. Martin and David Hurst OSB (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991).

Ambrose of Milan: The Lord Enlightens His Saints and Makes His Light Shine in the Hearts of the Just Saturday, Mar 17 2012 

Let your face shine on your servant, and teach me your precepts.

The Lord enlightens his saints and makes his light shine in the hearts of the just.

This means that when you see wisdom in anyone you can be sure that the glory of God has come down and flooded that person’s mind with the light of understanding and knowledge of divine truth.

With Moses, God’s glory affected his body also, causing his face to shine.

Indeed, his countenance was so transfigured that…he was obliged to cover his face with a veil so that the children of Israel should not be alarmed at the sight of it.

[…] As long as Moses lived, he wore a veil over his face whenever he spoke to the Jewish people. But after his death Jesus, or Joshua, the son of Nun, spoke to the elders and the people without a veil.

[…] The Holy Spirit signified that when Jesus, the true Joshua, came, he would lift the veil from the heart of anyone who turned to him in willingness to listen, and that person would then see his true Saviour with unveiled face.

So it was that, through the coming of his Son, God the almighty Father made his light shine into the hearts of the Gentiles, bringing them to see his glory in the face of Christ Jesus.

This is clearly stated in the Apostle’s letter, where we find the following written: The God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has made his light shine in our hearts, to enlighten us with the knowledge of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ Jesus.

And so when David says to the Lord Jesus: Let your face shine upon your servant, he is expressing his longing to see the face of Christ, so that his mind may be capable of enlightenment.

These words can be taken as referring to the incarnation, for as the Lord himself declared: Many prophets and righteous men have desired to have this vision.

David was not asking for what had been denied to Moses, namely that he might see the face of the incorporeal God with his bodily eyes.

(And yet if Moses…could ask for this direct, unmediated vision, it was because it is inherent in our human nature for our desire to reach out beyond us.)

There was nothing wrong, therefore, in David’s desire to see the face of the Virgin’s Son who was to come.

He desired it in order that God’s light might shine in his heart, as it shone in the hearts of the disciples who said: Were not our hearts burning within us when he opened up the Scriptures to us?

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On Psalm 118, 17:26-29 (CSEL 62:390-392);  from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent, Year 2.

Gregory Palamas: Mystery of the Transfiguration Sunday, Mar 20 2011 

The Evangelist Luke says: “And as He prayed, His countenance was altered” (Lk 9:29); and from the Evangelist Matthew we read: “And His face shone as the sun” (Mt 17:2).

The Evangelist said this…to show that Christ-God, for those living and contemplating by the Spirit, is the same as the sun is for those living in the flesh and contemplating by the senses.

Therefore, some other Light for the knowing the Divinity is not necessary for those who are enriched by Divine gifts.

That same Inscrutable Light shone and was mysteriously manifest to the Apostles and the foremost of the Prophets at that moment, when the Lord was praying.

This shows that what brought forth this blessed sight was prayer, and that the radiance occurred and was manifest by uniting the mind with God.

And it shows that it is granted to all who, with constant exercise in efforts of virtue and prayer, strive with their mind towards God.

True beauty, essentially, can be contemplated only with a purified mind.

To gaze upon its luminance assumes a sort of participation in it, as though some bright ray etches itself upon the face.

Even the face of Moses was illumined by his association with God. Do you not know that Moses was transfigured when he went up the mountain, and there beheld the Glory of God?

Moses did not effect this, but rather he underwent a transfiguration. However, our Lord Jesus Christ possessed that Light Himself….

Christ did not need prayer for His flesh to radiate with the Divine Light; it was but to show from whence that Light descends upon the saints of God, and how to contemplate it.

For it is written that even the saints “will shine forth like the sun” (Mt 13:43), which is to say, entirely permeated by Divine Light as they gaze upon Christ, divinely and inexpressibly shining forth His Radiance, issuing from His Divine Nature.

[…] This Light was the Light of the Divine Nature, and as such, it was Uncreated and Divine.

So also, in the teachings of the Fathers, Jesus Christ was transfigured on the Mount, not taking upon Himself something new nor being changed into something new, nor something which formerly He did not possess.

[…] This Light is not a light of the senses, and those contemplating it do not simply see with sensual eyes, but rather they are changed by the power of the Divine Spirit.

They were transformed, and only in this way did they see the transformation taking place amidst the very assumption of our perishability, with deification through union with the Word of God in place of this.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): extracted from Homilly on the Transfiguration (from the translation at Pravoslavie.ru).

John Henry Newman: A Hand was Lifted up Against the Face of Christ Saturday, Mar 12 2011 

A hand was lifted up against the Face of Christ. Whose hand was that?

My conscience tells me: “thou art the man”. I trust it is not so with me now.

But, O my soul, contemplate the awful fact. Fancy Christ before thee, and fancy thyself lifting up thy hand and striking Him!

Thou wilt say, “It is impossible: I could not do so”. Yes, thou hast done so. When thou didst sin wilfully, then thou hast done so.

He is beyond pain now: still thou hast struck Him, and had it been in the days of His flesh, He would have felt pain.

Turn back in memory, and recollect the time, the day, the hour, when by wilful mortal sin, by scoffing at sacred things,

or by profaneness, or by dark hatred of this thy Brother, or by acts of impurity, or by deliberate rejection of God’s voice,

or in any other devilish way known to thee, thou hast struck the All-holy One.

[…] O my God, how can I look Thee in the face when I think of my ingratitude, so deeply seated, so habitual, so immovable—or rather so awfully increasing!

Thou loadest me day by day with Thy favours, and feedest me with Thyself, as Thou didst Judas, yet I not only do not profit thereby, but I do not even make any acknowledgment at the time.

[…] It is the same day after day. When wilt Thou give me a still greater grace than Thou hast given, the grace to profit by the graces which Thou givest?

When wilt Thou give me Thy effectual grace which alone can give life and vigour to this effete, miserable, dying soul of mine?

My God, I know not in what sense I can pain Thee in Thy glorified state; but I know that every fresh sin, every fresh ingratitude I now commit, was among the blows and stripes which once fell on Thee in Thy passion.

O let me have as little share in those Thy past sufferings as possible. Day by day goes, and I find I have been more and more, by the new sins of each day, the cause of them.

[…] Let others wound Thee—let not me. Let not me have to think that Thou wouldest have had this or that pang of soul or body the less, except for me.

O my God, I am so fast in prison that I cannot get out. O Mary, pray for me. O Philip, pray for me, though I do not deserve Thy pity.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Meditations on Christian Doctrine, 3,2,1,6.

John Tauler: Let Us Contemplate with the Eyes of Our Heart Tuesday, Mar 30 2010 

O my soul, and all ye who love God, come, and let us follow now Christ Jesus with sorrow of heart and inward devotion, and with tears and pity, into the garden.

Let us contemplate with the eyes of our heart, Jesus, that is, our Saviour, the Lamb without spot, how He bore therein all our sins; how heavily, all alone, He trod the wine-press, that like the grape that is pressed with all care, He, too, might be pressed in the wine-press of His Passion, and might pour upon us richly, and give us to drink, the red wine of His precious Blood, so as to make us drunk with His love.

Let us see, I pray you, how the glory of the angels became sorrowful even unto death, that He might carry us into joy everlasting.

For, in order to rescue us from the torments of hell, He bore in Himself all the pains which we had merited; and He, the Lord of might, at Whose look the angels tremble, and every knee is bowed, appeared not as God, but as the poorest, and most abject, and most desolate man, whom the world possessed.

See how He lies with His Face upon the ground, in much anguish of spirit, covered with a bloody sweat, forsaken even by His Father as well as by all men.

There He lies, I say, and prays, not as God, not as a just man, but, as it were, a public malefactor, as some dreadful sinner, as if He were not worthy to be heard by His Father, or, at least, as if He were ashamed to lift up His eyes to heaven.

Does it not seem as if He had been cast away by God, and were held to be God’s enemy, that we who were, of a truth, God’s enemies, might be made His friends and elect children?

It is written: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. Yet see, how our sweet Jesus, of His own free will, gave Himself up into those Hands, and gladly suffered all the wrath, and vengeance, and punishment of God His Father, which we had deserved, to fall down upon Himself.

[…]Let us also do somewhat for the sake of our salvation; when we see how zealously Christ Jesus, in every member of His Body, and in every power of His Soul, is busied about us.

John Tauler (c.1300-1361): Meditations on the Life and Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 7.

Archimandrite Zacharias: Discovering the “Deep Heart” Monday, Oct 26 2009 

All of the ordinances of the undefiled Church are offered to the world for the sole purpose of discovering the “deep heart”, the centre of man’s hypostasis.

According to the Holy Scriptures, God has fashioned every heart in a special way, and each heart is His goal, a place wherein He desires to abide that He may manifest Himself.

Since the kingdom of God is within us, the heart is the battlefield of our salvation, and all ascetic effort is aimed at cleansing it of all filthiness, and preserving it pure before the Lord.

“Keep thy heart with diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”, exhorts Solomon, the wise king of Israel. These paths of life pass through man’s heart, and therefore the unquenchable desire of all who ceaselessly seek the Face of the living God is that their heart, once deadened by sin, may be reconciled by His grace.

The heart is the true “temple” of man’s meeting with the Lord. Man’s search “seeketh knowledge” both intellectual and divine, and knows no rest until the Lord of glory comes and abides therein.

On His part God, Who is “jealous God”, will not settle for a mere portion of the heart. In the Old Testament we hear His voice crying out, “My son, give Me thy heart”, and in the New Testament He commands: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”.

He is the one who has fashioned the heart of every man in a unique and unrepeatable way, though no heart can contain Him fully because “God is greater than our heart”.

Nevertheless, when man succeeds in turning his whole heart to God, then God begets it by the incorruptible seed of His word, seals it with His wondrous Name and makes it shine with His perpetual and charismatic presence.

He makes it a temple of His Divinity, a temple not made by hands, able to reflect His “shape” and to hearken unto His “voice” and “bear” His Name.

In a word, man then fulfils the purpose of his life, the reason for his coming into the transient existence of this world.

Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou): The Hidden Man of the Heart (Essex, Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2007) 11-12.

Hat tip to Sr Macrina Walker OSCO (A Vow of Conversation)