Augustine of Hippo: “The purpose of our instruction is to arouse the love that comes from a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a genuine faith” Friday, Oct 7 2016 

St Augustine of AfricaSpeak that by hearing those whom you address may believe, and that belief may give them hope, and hope inspire them to love

In everything we say we should bear in mind that the purpose of our instruction is to arouse the love that comes from a pure heart, and clear conscience, and a genuine faith.

This is the end to which we should relate all our words, and toward which we should also move and direct the thoughts of those for whose instruction we are speaking.

The chief reason for Christ’s coming was so that we should know how much God loves us, and knowing this be on fire with love for him who loved us first, and for our neighbour at the bidding and after the example of him who became our neighbour by loving us when we were not his neighbours, but had wandered far from him.

Moreover, all inspired Scripture written before the Lord’s coming was written to foretell that coming, and all that was later committed to writing and ratified by divine authority speaks of Christ and teaches us to love.

It is clear therefore that upon these two commandments, love of God and of our neighbour, depend not only the whole of the Law and the Prophets, which was all that made up holy Scripture when the Lord spoke these words, but also all the divinely inspired books which were later written for our salvation and handed down to us.

In the Old Testament, then, the New is concealed, and in the New the Old is revealed. Insofar as the New Testament is con­cealed, worldly people, who interpret Scripture in a worldly way, are now as in the past subject to the fear of punishment.

But insofar as the Old Testament has been revealed, spiritual people, who interpret Scripture spiritually, are set free by the gift of love; that is to say, both those of old to whose devout knocking hidden things were made known, and those of today who seek without pride, for fear that even what is manifest may be hidden from them.

And so, since nothing is more contrary to love than envy, and the mother of envy is pride, to cure our boundless conceit by a more powerful antidote, the Lord Jesus Christ, God and man, became both the proof of God’s love for us, and the example of humility among us. Great is the misery of human pride, but even greater is the mercy of divine humility.

With this love before you, then, you have something to which you may relate everything you say; so speak that by hearing those whom you address may believe, and that belief may give them hope, and hope inspire them to love.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): De catechizandis rudibus I, 6-8  (CCL 46:124, 126-128); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Wednesrday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year 2.

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Gregory the Great: How the humble and the haughty are to be admonished Wednesday, Feb 3 2016 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistDifferently to be admonished are the humble and the haughty.

To the former it is to be insinuated how true is that excellence which they hold in hoping for it.

To the latter it is to be intimated how that temporal glory is as nothing which, even when embracing it, they hold not.

Let the humble hear how eternal are the things that they long for, how transitory the things which they despise.

Let the haughty hear how transitory are the things they court, how eternal the things they lose.

[…] The pride…of the devil became the occasion of our perdition, and the humility of God has been found the argument for our redemption.

For our enemy, having been created among all things, desired to appear exalted above all things.

But our Redeemer, remaining great above all things, deigned to become little among all things.

Let the humble, then, be told that, when they abase themselves, they ascend to the likeness of God.

Let the haughty be told that, when they exalt themselves, they fall into imitation of the apostate angel.

What, then, is more debased than haughtiness, which, while it stretches itself above itself, is lengthened out beyond the stature of true loftiness?

And what is more sublime than humility, which, while it depresses itself to the lowest, conjoins itself to its Maker who remains above the highest?

There is, however, another thing in these cases that ought to be carefully considered; that some are often deceived by a false show of humility, while some are beguiled by ignorance of their own haughtiness.

For commonly some who think themselves humble have an admixture of fear, such as is not due to men; while an assertion of free speech commonly goes with the haughty.

And when any vices require to be rebuked, the former hold their peace out of fear, and yet esteem themselves as being silent out of humility; the latter speak in the impatience of haughtiness, and yet believe themselves to be speaking in the freedom of uprightness.

Those the fault of timidity under a show of humility keeps back from rebuking what is wrong; these the unbridled impetuosity of pride, under the image of freedom, impels to rebuke things they ought not, or to rebuke them more than they ought.

Whence both the haughty are to be admonished not to be free more than is becoming, and the humble are to be admonished not to be more submissive than is right; lest either the former turn the defence of righteousness into a display of pride, or the latter, while they study more than needs to submit themselves to men, be driven even to pay respect to their vices.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Pastoral Rule, 3, 17.

Isaac the Syrian: Prayer is a joy that gives place to thanksgivings Thursday, Jan 28 2016 

Isaac_the_SyrianPrayer is a joy that gives place to thanksgivings.

[…] This prayer that gives place to thanksgiving, in which a man does not pray nor act as in the other passionate prayers which he prayed, perceiving grace, consists therein that in the heart, which is filled with joy and ecstasy, frequently emotions of thanksgivings and gratitude stir themselves, in the silence of kneelings.

Then, on account of the inner ardour, which is set in motion by wonder at the understanding of God’s bounties, he will of a sudden raise up his voice and praise without being wearied, while the inner ardour gives place to thanksgivings also of the tongue; and so he will give utterance to his feelings long and wonderfully.

Whoever has experienced these things clearly, not dimly, and has noted them with intelligence, will understand when I say that it occurs without variation, for it has been experienced many times.

And furthermore such a man will leave idle things and be constantly with God, without a break, in constant prayer, fearing that he will be bereft of the current of its helping forces.

All these beautiful things are born from a man’s perceiving his own weakness. For from this, because of his longing for help, he turns to God with beseechings. And as he brings near his spirit unto God, God comes nigh unto him with His gifts.

And He does not take away from him His inspiration, because of his great humility. For as a widow unto the judge, he cries at all times: avenge me on my adversary. Therefore God, the merciful, necessarily will delay his petitions, that he have the better reason to approach unto Him.

And because of his need he will constantly remain at the fountain of help, while God grants some of his demands quickly, others not: He grants those concerning which He knows that they are necessary for life, the rest He delays.

And in some cases He withholds from him the ardour of his enemies, and in others He gives an opening to temptations, that this, as I have said, should be a cause for approaching unto God, and that he should become prudent by temptations.

And this is what is said in the scripture: The Lord left many peoples and He did not destroy them at once, nor did He give them into the hand of Joshua, in order to test Israel by them so that the generations of the children of Israel should learn war (cf. Judges 3:1-2).

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 8, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 72-73.

Antony the Great: Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes Sunday, Jan 17 2016 

saints_101_anthonyJanuary 17th is the feast of St Antony the Great.

When the holy Abba Anthony was living in the desert, he was in a state of melancholy (ακηδια) and his mind was darkened by a multitude of imagined things (λογισμων), and he said to God:

“Lord, I want to be saved, but these thoughts will not leave me alone. What shall I do in my trouble? How will I be saved?”

A little later, when he went outside, Anthony saw someone like himself, sitting and working, then rising from work and praying, and again sitting and plaiting a rope, then again rising for prayer.

It was an angel of the Lord, sent for the correction and insurance against stumbling of Anthony.

And he heard the angel saying, “Do this, and you will be saved.” And when he heard this, he had great joy and courage, and did this, and was saved.

When Abba Anthony meditated upon the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, saying, “Lord, how is it that some perish when short-lived, and some live to extreme old age? And why are some poor, and yet others rich? And why are the unrighteous rich, and yet the righteous are poor?”

And he heard a voice saying to him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself, for these things are the judgments of God, and they will not benefit you to learn them.”

Someone asked Abba Anthony, saying, “What must we keep in order to be pleasing to God?”

And the elder answered, saying, “Keep what I tell you. Whoever you may be, always keep God before your eyes. And whatever you do, do it from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. And in whatever place you live, do not leave quickly. Keep these three things, and you will be saved.”

Abba Anthony said to Abba Poimen that this is the great work of man: “always to reproach himself for his own faults before God, and expect temptation until the last breath.”

The same said, “No one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven untempted.” He said, “Remove the temptations, and no one would be saved.”

Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What should I do?” The elder said to him, “Do not put your trust in your righteousness, nor regret past actions, but control your tongue and stomach.”

Abba Anthony said, “I saw all the traps of the enemy spread over the earth,” and groaning, said, “What can get through these?” And I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

Antony the Great (c.251-356): Thirty Eight Sayings, 1-7 @ Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension.

John Chrysostom: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” Thursday, Oct 22 2015 

John_Chrysostom“Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:3).

What is meant by “the poor in spirit?”

The humble and contrite in mind.

For by “spirit” He hath here designated the soul, and the faculty of choice.

[…] He blesses them first, who by choice humble and contract themselves.

But why said he not, “the humble,” but rather “the poor?”

Because this is more than that. For He means here them who are awestruck, and tremble at the commandments of God.

God earnestly accepted these by His prophet Isaiah, saying, “To whom will I look, but to him who is meek and quiet, and trembleth at My words?” (Isa. 66:2 [LXX]).

For indeed there are many kinds of humility: one is humble in his own measure, another with all excess of lowliness.

It is this last lowliness of mind which that blessed prophet commends, picturing to us the temper that is not merely subdued, but utterly broken, when he saith, “The sacrifice for God is a contrite spirit, a contrite and an humble heart God will not despise” (Ps. 50:17).

And the Three Children also offer this unto God as a great sacrifice, saying, “Nevertheless, in a contrite soul, and in a spirit of lowliness, may we be accepted” (Dan. 3:39 [LXX]). This Christ also now blesses.

The greatest of evils, and those which make havoc of the whole world, had their entering in from pride.

For the devil, not being such before, did thus become a devil, as indeed Paul plainly declared, saying, “Lest being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).

The first man, too, puffed up by the devil with these hopes, was made an example of, and became mortal – for expecting to become a god, he lost even what he had.

And God also upbraided him with this, and mocking his folly, said, “Behold, Adam is become as one of us” (Gen. 3:22).

And each one of those that came after did hereby wreck himself in impiety, fancying some equality with God.

Since, I say, this was the stronghold of our evils, and the root and fountain of all wickedness, He, preparing a remedy suitable to the disease, laid this law first as a strong and safe foundation.

For this being fixed as a base, the builder in security lays on it all the rest. But if this be taken away, though a man reach to the Heavens in his course of life, it is all easily undermined, and issues in a grievous end.

Though fasting, prayer, almsgiving, temperance, any other good thing whatever, be gathered together in thee; without humility all fall away and perish.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Gospel According to St Matthew, 15, 2-3 (on Matthew 5:3); slightly adapted.

Isaac the Syrian: And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him Tuesday, Oct 6 2015 

Isaac_the_SyrianBlessed is the man who knows his weakness.

This knowledge becomes for him the foundation and the beginning of his coming unto all good and beautiful things.

When a man knows and perceives that he really and in truth is weak, then he restrains his soul from profuseness which is dissipation of knowledge and he will augment the watchfulness of his soul.

Unless a man has been remiss in some small thing, and a slight negligence has appeared in him, and tempters have surrounded him either with temptations that arouse bodily affections or with temptations which stir the affectable power of the soul, he cannot perceive his own weakness.

Then, however, he recognizes the greatness of God’s help by comparing it with his own weakness.

Thus if he sees that his heart does not rest from fear…, he understands and knows that this whole impulse of his heart denotes some other thing which is lacking and which is very necessary to him, viz. that he needs other help.

For the heart testifies to this within, by the fear that moves in it, denoting the lack of something. And therefore he cannot remain in confidence. For the help of God is necessary for deliverance.

When he knows that he needs divine help, he will frequently pray. And by much beseeching the heart becomes humble, for there is no man who is needy and asking, without being humble. And God will not despise a broken and contrite heart!

Until the heart has become humble, it will not rest from distraction. Humility restrains the heart. And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him. And when mercy draws near, the heart will perceive help at once, because some confidence and force will also move in it.

When it perceives that divine help approach unto it and that He is its support and its helper, then the heart will be filled with faith at once.

Then it will see and understand that prayer is the port of help, the fountain of salvation, the treasure of confidence, the sheet-anchor amidst the storms, the light in the darkness, the stick of the weak, the shelter at the time of temptations, the medicine at the time of illness, the shield of protection in the battle, the sharp arrow against the enemies.

And because by prayer he has found the entrance unto all this good, he will delight in prayer of faith for ever more, while his heart exults in confidence, not blindly and with words only, as it had been till then.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 8, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 70-72.

Silouan the Athonite: The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God Wednesday, May 27 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteNothing troubles the man who is given over to the will of God, be it illness, poverty or persecution.

He knows that the Lord in His mercy is solicitous for us. The Holy Spirit, whom the soul knows, is witness therefore.

But the proud and the self-willed do not want to surrender to God’s will because they like their own way, and that is harmful for the soul.

Abba Pimen said: ‘Our own will is like a wall of brass between us and God, preventing us from coming near to Him or contemplating His mercy.’

We must always pray the Lord for peace of soul that we may the more easily fulfil the Lord’s commandments; for the Lord loves those who strive to do His will, and thus they attain profound peace in God.

He who does the Lord’s will is content with all things, though he be poor or sick and suffering, because the grace of God gladdens his heart.

But the man who is discontent with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offence, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude towards God.

But if it be so with you, do not lose heart but try to trust firmly in the Lord and ask Him for a humble spirit; and, when the lowly spirit of God comes to you, you will then love Him and be at rest in spite of all tribulations.

The soul that has acquired humility is always mindful of God, and thinks to herself: ‘God has created me. He suffered for me. He forgives me my sins and comforts me. He feeds me and cares for me. Why then should I take thought for myself, and what is there to fear, even if death threaten me?’

The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God, for He said: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.

But the Lord Himself guides with His grace those who are given over to God’s will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Whom they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified for ever.

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

Silouan the Athonite: The Lord loves us much, quickening all things by his Grace Monday, May 4 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteIt is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God.  Then the Lord alone is in the soul.

No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God’s love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God.

Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction.

But it rarely happens that the soul’s teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God’s will.

[…] O God of Mercy, Thou knowest our infirmity. I beseech Thee, grant me a humble spirit, for in Thy mercy Thou dost enable the humble soul to live according to Thy will.

[…] How are you to know if you are living according to the will of God?

Here is a sign:  if you are distressed over anything it means that you have not fully surrendered to God’s will, although it may seem to you that you live according to His will.

He who lives according to God’s will has no cares.  If he has need of something, he offers himself and the thing he wants to God, and if he does not receive it, he remains as tranquil as if he had got what he wanted.

The soul that is given over to the will of God fears nothing….  Whatever may come, ‘Such is God’s pleasure,’ she says.

If she falls sick she thinks, ‘This means that I need sickness, or God would not have sent it.’  And in this wise is peace preserved in soul and body.

The man who takes thought for his own welfare is unable to give himself up to God’s will, that his soul may have peace in God.

But the humble soul is devoted to God’s will, and lives before Him in awe and love; in awe, lest she grieve God in any way; in love, because the soul has come to know how the Lord loves us.

The best thing of all is to surrender to God’s will and bear affliction, having confidence in God. The Lord, seeing our affliction, will never give us too much to bear.

If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God.

The soul that is in all things devoted to the will of God rests quiet in Him, for she knows of experience and from the Holy Scriptures that the Lord loves us much and watches over our souls, quickening all things by His grace in peace and love.

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

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).

Isaac the Syrian: The burning of the heart unto the whole creation Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3What is repentance? To desist from former sins and to suffer on account of them.

And what is the sum of purity? A heart full of mercy unto the whole created nature.

And what is perfection? Depth of humility, namely giving up all visible and invisible things….

Another time the same father was asked: What is repentance? He answered: A broken heart.

And what is humility? He replied: Embracing a voluntary mortification regarding all things.

And what is a merciful heart? He replied:

The burning of the heart unto the whole creation, man, fowls and beasts, demons and whatever exists so that by the recollection and the sight of them the eyes shed tears on account of the force of mercy which moves the heart by great compassion.

Then the heart becomes weak, and it is not able to bear hearing or examining injury or any insignificant suffering of anything in the creation.

And therefore even in behalf of the irrational beings and the enemies of truth and even in behalf of those who do harm to it, at all times he offers prayers with tears that they may be guarded and strengthened; even in behalf of the kinds of reptiles, on account of his great compassion which is poured out in his heart without measure, after the example of God.

[…] The sum of all is God, the Lord of all, who from love of His creatures, has delivered His Son to death on the cross. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son for it.

Not that He was not able to save us in another way, but in this way it was possible to show us His abundant love abundantly, namely by bringing us near to Him by the death of His son.

If He had anything more clear to Him, He would have given it us, in order that by it our race might be His.

And out of His great love He did not even choose to urge our freedom by compulsion, though He was able to do so. But His aim was, that we should come near to Him by the love of our mind.

And our Lord obeyed His Father out of love unto us, taking upon Him scorn and suffering joyfully, as Scripture says: “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

Therefore our Lord said in the night in which He was betrayed: “This is my body which is given for the salvation of the world unto life. And this is my blood which is shed for all for the remission of sins. In behalf of them I offer myself.”

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 74, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck).

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