Peter of Damascus: God’s Grace will Give Us Gentleness so that We Begin to Imitate Christ Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

peter_of_damascusGod’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.

This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle” (Matt. 5:5).

Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honor or dishonor.

In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and that this life is a path leading to the future life.

We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.

For whatever God does is “wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen. 1:31), even if we are unaware of this. As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps. 25: 9. LXX) or, rather, how to exercise discrimination.

Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.

Unwittingly or wittingly we must have offended God, or a brother, or someone else, and now we are being given a chance to receive forgiveness for this. For through patient endurance we may be granted forgiveness for many sins.

Moreover, if we do not forgive others their debts, the Father will not forgive us our debts (cf Matt. 6:14). Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt. 6:14).

This, then, is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.

But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.

Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul. Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.

[…] God, being self-sufficient and giving to each what is to his profit, does indeed deserve our thanks, since He patiently suffers both the devil and the wickedness of men, and yet bestows His blessings upon those who repent both before and after they sin.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 94-96.

Nil Sorsky: Love and Forgiveness Saturday, Feb 22 2014 

Nil_SorskyIf we’re troubled by anger and it urges us to consider an injury and to return with interest the damage that someone has inflicted on us, then we should think upon the words of the Lord, Who said:

“For unless you forgive people their trespasses, Your Father will not forgive you yours” (Matth. 6, 15).

It follows, therefore, that people who want their sins to be forgiven are obliged first and foremost to forgive others with all their heart.

Because this is how God has taught us to seek forgiveness for our own transgressions. And if we don’t forgive, it’s obvious that our sins won’t be forgiven.

[…] This is why we should never become angry, nor do any harm to our fellow human beings, not only with words and deeds, but even by changing the way we look at them. Because we can disdain others merely by a look, according to the Fathers.

The perfect victory over thoughts of anger is to pray for the person who has provoked them, as Abba Dorotheos advises when he says:

“God, help my brother, and through his prayers have mercy upon me, sinner that I am. Because to pray for other people means love and affection, and to ask for their prayers means humility”.

We should even do them good, as far as we can, because then we’ll be carrying out the commandment of God that says: “Love your enemies… do well to those who hate you and pray for those who trouble you and persecute you” (Matth. 5, 44).

To those who live by this, the Lord has promised not only the Kingdom of Heaven, some sort of rest or a gift such as those we have in the present, but the very inheritance of adoption, because He says: “Thus you will become children of your father who is in heaven” (Matth. 5, 45).

And our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who instituted this commandment and promised this great recompense, carried out everything He taught, giving us Himself as an example, so that we might imitate Him, insofar as we can.

How many punishments did He endure from the Jews for us sinners, and not only did He refrain from anger, but prayed for them to His heavenly Father saying: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke, 23, 24).

In the same way, all the saints walked this path and acquired divine grace, returning good to their persecutors instead of evil. They also prayed for them and covered the sins they saw them committing and taught them with sincerity and affection.

Nil Sorsky (Russian Orthodox; c. 1433–1508): The Passions of Avarice, Anger, Sorrow and Sloth @ Pemptousia.

Macarius the Egyptian: Crucified with the crucified, glorified with Him that is glorified Tuesday, Nov 12 2013 

Macarius3How can anyone be poor in spirit, especially when he is inwardly conscious that he is a changed man, and has made progress, and has come to a knowledge and understanding which he did not possess before?

Until a man acquires these things and makes progress, he is not poor in spirit, but has some opinion of himself.

But when he comes to this understanding and point of progress, grace itself teaches him to be poor in spirit.

This means that a man being righteous and chosen of God does not esteem himself to be anything, but holds his soul in abasement and disregard, as if he knew nothing and had nothing, though he knows and has.

This is a fixed thing, like a law of nature, in the mind of men. Do you not see how our forefather Abraham, elect as he was, described himself as dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27), and David, anointed to be king, had God with him, and yet what does he say? “I am a worm and no man, a very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people (Ps. 22:6).

Those therefore who desire to be fellow-heirs with these, and fellow-citizens of the heavenly city, and to be glorified with them, ought to have this humility of mind, and not to think themselves to be anything, but to keep the heart contrite.

[…] All the righteous have gone the straight and narrow way. […] And the Lord of prophets and apostles Himself, how did He fare, as if He had forgotten His divine glory? He was made an example for us; He wore in mockery a crown of thorns upon His head ; He submitted to spittings, buffets, and the cross.

If God so fared on earth, thou oughtest also to copy Him. The apostles and the prophets fared thus, and we, if we would be built upon the foundation of the Lord and of the apostles, ought to copy them.

The apostle says by the Holy Spirit, “Be ye imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” But if thou lovest the glories of men, and desirest to be worshipped, and seekest repose, thou art turned out of the way.

It behoves thee to be crucified with the Crucified, to suffer with Him that suffered, that so thou mayest be glorified with Him that is glorified. The bride must needs suffer with the Bridegroom, and so become partner and fellow-heir with Christ.

It is not feasible, without sufferings, and without the rough, straight, narrow way, to enter into the city of the saints, and be at rest, and reign with the King to ages without end.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 12, 3-5, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

John Damascene: The Saints are Heirs of God, Co-Heirs of Christ, and Partakers in the Divine Glory Friday, Nov 1 2013 

John-of-Damascus_01I live, says the Lord, and I will glorify those who glorify Me.

And the divine Apostle says: therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. And if a son, an heir also through God. Again, If we suffer with Him, that we also may be glorified….

St John, who rested on His breast, says, that we shall be like to Him.

Just as a man by contact with fire becomes fire, not by nature, but by contact and by burning and by participation, so is it, I apprehend, with the flesh of the Crucified Son of God.

That flesh, by participation through union (kath’ hypostasin) with the divine nature, was unchangeably God, not in virtue of grace from God as was the case with each of the prophets, but by the presence of the Fountain Head Himself.

God, the Scripture says, stood in the synagogue of the gods, so that the saints, too, are gods.

Holy Gregory takes the words God stands in the midst of the gods to mean that He discriminates their several merits.

The saints in their lifetime were filled with the Holy Spirit, and when they are no more, His grace abides with their spirits and with their bodies in their tombs, and also with their likenesses and holy images, not by nature, but by grace and divine power.

[…] We depict Christ as our King and Lord, and do not deprive Him of His army. The saints constitute the Lord’s army.

Let the earthly king dismiss his army before he gives up his King and Lord. Let him put off the purple before he takes honour away from his most valiant men who have conquered their passions.

For if the saints are heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ, they will be also partakers of the divine glory of sovereignty.

If the friends of God have had a part in the sufferings of Christ, how shall they not receive a share of His glory even on earth?

I call you not servants, our Lord says, you are my friends. Should we then deprive them of the honour given to them by the Church?

[…] I worship the image of Christ as the Incarnate God; that of the Theotokos), the Mother of us all, as the Mother of God’s Son; that of the saints as the friends of God.

They have withstood sin unto blood, and followed Christ in shedding their blood for Him, who shed His blood for them.

I put on record the excellencies and the sufferings of those who have walked in His footsteps, that I may sanctify myself, and be fired with the zeal of imitation.

John Damascene (c.675-749): Against Those Who Deny Holy Images, pp 21-24.

Gregory Palamas: God has Made the Whole of this Perceptible Universe a Mirror of Heaven Wednesday, Sep 18 2013 

Gregory_PalamasBefore creating us our Maker brought this whole universe into being from nothing for the sustenance of our bodily exist­ence.

But as for improving our conduct and guiding us toward virtue, what has the Lord in his love of goodness not done for us?

He has made the whole of this perceptible universe a kind of mirror of heaven, so that by spiritual contemplation of the world around us we may reach up to heavenly things as if by some wonderful ladder.

He has implanted in us the natural law, as an inflexible rule, an infallible judge and an unerring teacher: this is our conscience.

If we look deep within ourselves, then, we shall need no other teacher to show us what is good, and if we look outside ourselves we shall find the invisible God visible in the things he has made, as the Apostle says.

After providing a school of virtue in our own nature and in the created world, God gave us the angels to protect us, he raised up the Patriarchs and Prophets to guide us, he showed us signs and wonders to lead us to faith, and gave us the written Law as a supplement to the law of our rational soul and the teaching of the world around us.

Then at last, when we had scorned all this in our indolence – how different from his own continuing love and care for us! – he gave himself to us for our salvation.

He poured out the wealth of his divinity into our lowly condition; he took our nature and became a human being like us, and was with us as our teacher.

He teaches us the greatness of his love and proves it by word and deed, at the same time persuading those who obey him not to be hard-hearted, but to imitate his compassion.

Those who manage worldly affairs have a certain love for them, as do shepherds for their flocks and owners for their personal possessions, but this cannot be compared with the love of those who share the same flesh and blood, and especially the love of parents for their children.

Therefore, to make us realize how much he loves us, God called himself our Father; for our sake he became man, and then, through the grace of the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism, he caused us to be born anew.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 3 (PG 151:36); ; from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Augustine of Hippo: So Let Us Understand How Christians Should Follow Christ Saturday, Aug 10 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaThe blessed apostle John clearly explained the mystery of the Lord’s supper when he said Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

St Lawrence understood this, my brethren, and he did it; and he undoubtedly prepared things similar to what he received at that table.

He loved Christ in his life, he imitated him in his death. And we too, brethren, if we truly love him, let us imitate him.

After all, we shall not be able to give a better proof of love than by imitating his example; for Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps.

In this sentence the apostle Peter appears to have seen that Christ suffered only for those who follow in his footsteps, and that Christ’s passion profits none but those who follow in his footsteps.

The holy martyrs followed him, to the shedding of their blood, to the similarity of their sufferings. The martyrs followed, but they were not the only ones. It is not the case, I mean to say, that after they crossed, the bridge was cut; or that after they had drunk, the fountain dried up.

The garden of the Lord, brethren, includes – yes, it truly includes – includes not only the roses of martyrs but also the lilies of virgins, and the ivy of married people, and the violets of widows.

There is absolutely no kind of human beings, my dearly beloved, who need to despair of their vocation; Christ suffered for all. It was very truly written about him:who wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the acknowledgement of the truth.

So let us understand how Christians ought to follow Christ, short of the shedding of blood, short of the danger of suffering death.

The Apostle says, speaking of the Lord Christ, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal to God. What incomparable greatness!

But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men, and found in condition as a man. What unequalled humility!

Christ humbled himself: you have something, Christian, to latch on to. Christ became obedient. Why do you behave proudly?

After running the course of these humiliations and laying death low, Christ ascended into heaven: let us follow him there.

Let us listen to the Apostle telling us, If you have risen with Christ, savuor the things that are above is, seated at God’s right hand.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 304 (on the Feast of St Lawrence) 1-4, (PL 38, 1395-1397) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Basil the Great: The Glory of Man is to Seek for the Glory of the Lord of Glory Saturday, Aug 10 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatNo truly prudent man will think himself great because of his own wisdom…, but will attend…to the excellent counsel of…the prophet Jeremias:

Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, and let not the strong man glory in his strength, and let not the rich man glory in his riches (Jer. 9:23).

But in what shall man glory: and in what is man great? Let him that glorieth glory in this, he said, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord. 

This is the grandeur of man, this his glory and greatness, truly to know Him Who is great, to cling to Him, and to seek for the glory of the Lord of glory.

For the Apostle says to us: He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31) where he declares: But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and  sanctification, and redemption: That, as it was written: He that glorieth, may glory in the Lord.

This is complete and perfect glorying in God, when a man is uplifted, not because of his own justice, but because he knows he is empty of true glory, and made just only through his faith in Christ.

In this Paul gloried, that he thought nothing of his own justice; that he sought that justice alone which comes through Christ, which is from God, justice in faith (Phil. 3:9); and that he might know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the sharing of His sufferings, and be made like Him in His death, if by any means he might himself attain to the resurrection which is from the dead.

It is here that the whole top-loftiness of arrogance falls down.  Nothing is left to you to glory in, O man; whose true glorying and whose hope is in mortifying yourself in all things, and in seeking for that future life in Christ, of which we have already a foretaste when we live wholly in the love and in the grace of God.

And it is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will (Phil. 2:13).  And God has made known to us His own wisdom, through His Spirit, for our glory (1 Cor. 2:7,10).

And in all our efforts it is God who gives us strength.  I have laboured more abundantly than all they, says Paul, yet not I, but the grace of God with me (1 Cor. 15:10).  And God has delivered us from danger, and beyond all human expectation.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 28, 3 @ Lectionary Central.

Ambrose of Milan: Christ the Good Samaritan and St Paul the Innkeeper Friday, Jul 26 2013 

ambrose_of_milanOn Luke 10:29-37 (Parable of the Good Samaritan); continued from here…

And so the Lord takes us to an inn…. Who is the innkeeper?

He perhaps who says: I count all things but as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8); from Whom he had received the care of the wounded man?

An innkeeper therefore is he who said: Christ sent me to preach the Gospel (1 Cor. 1:17).

Innkeepers are they to whom it was said: Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mk. 16:15, 16): saved from death, saved from the wound inflicted by the robbers.

Blessed is that innkeeper who can cure another’s wound. Blessed is he to whom Jesus says: Whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee. 

He is a good steward who also spends over and above.  Paul is a good steward, whose sermons and epistles are over and above the amount he had received.

He had fulfilled the simple command of the Lord by toil of body and soul that was almost beyond measure; that he might relieve many of their grave sickness by the ministry of his spiritual comfort.

[…] He then promises payment when He returns.  When will You return, O Lord, but on the Day of Judgement?  For though You are everywhere at all times, and stand now in our midst, though we see Younot, yet there shall be a time when all flesh shall behold You returning.

Then You wilt repay what You owe.  Blessed are they to whom Thou art Debtor!… How will you repay, O Lord Jesus?  You promised the just that their reward is very great in heaven (Mt. 5:12).

You will repay when You say: Well done, good and faithful servant; because you have been faithful over a few things, I will place you over many things.  Enter into the joy of your Lord (Mt. 25: 21).

And so since no one is more our neighbour than He Who has healed our wounds, let us love Him as our Lord, let us love Him as our neighbour; for nothing is closer than the Head to Its members.

And let us also love him who is an imitator of Christ.  Let us love him who in the unity of this Body has compassion on the need of another.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Commentary on St Luke, ch. 10, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. @ Lectionary Central.

Irenaeus of Lyons: Christ Poured Out the Spirit of the Father for the Communion of God and Man, Imparting God to Men by the Spirit Sunday, Jul 14 2013 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonIn no other way could we have learned the things of God, unless our Master, existing as the Word, had become man.

For no other being had the power of revealing to us the things of the Father, except His own proper Word.

For what other person “knew the mind of the Lord,” or who else “has become His counsellor?”

Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears.

In this way, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we were to have communion with Him, receiving increase from the perfect One, and from Him who is prior to all creation.

We were but lately created by the only best and good Being, by Him also who has the gift of immortality.

We were formed after His likeness — predestinated, according to the prescience of the Father, that we, who had as yet no existence, might come into being.

We were made the first-fruits of creation—have received, in the times known beforehand, the blessings of salvation according to the ministration of the Word, who is perfect in all things:

the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason, gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity.

The apostasy tyrannized over us unjustly, and, though we were by nature the property of the omnipotent God, alienated us contrary to nature, rendering us its own disciples.

The Word of God, powerful in all things, and not defective with regard to His own justice, did righteously turn against that apostasy, and redeem from it His own property.

He did this not by violent means, as the apostasy had done when it obtained dominion over us at the beginning, when it insatiably snatched away what was not its own.

Rather, he did this by means of persuasion, as became a God of counsel, who does not use violent means to obtain what He desires. This was so that neither should justice be infringed upon, nor the ancient handiwork of God go to destruction.

In this way the Lord has redeemed us through His own blood, giving His soul for our souls, and His flesh for our flesh, and has also poured out the Spirit of the Father for the union and communion of God and man.

He has imparted God to men by means of the Spirit…, attaching man to God by His own incarnation, and bestowing upon us at His coming immortality durably and truly, by means of communion with God.

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses, 5, 1, 1. (slightly adapted).

Cyril of Alexandria: The Parable of the Lost Coin Tuesday, Jun 25 2013 

cyril_alexandria(on Luke 15:1-10; following on from here…)

The parable which follows has the same meaning, that of the woman who had ten pieces of silver, and who we are told lost one, and who thereupon lit a lamp, greatly rejoicing when she finds the piece of silver.

[…] In the second parable, in which the thing lost is compared to a piece of silver, of which there were ten, that is, a perfect number, or one which makes a complete total…, we are shown clearly that we have been created in conformity with a royal image and likeness, that, namely, of the Most High God.

For the drachma, the piece of silver, is a coin upon which is stamped a royal image.  Who is there doubts that we had fallen and were lost, and that we have been found by Christ, and through His grace, and a just way of life, have been again made like unto Him?

Of this the Blessed Paul writes: But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18).

In his Epistle to the Galatians he also writes: My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed in you (4:19).

The woman lighting a lamp, a search was made for the thing that was lost.  For we were found by the Wisdom of God the Father, Which is His Son, kindling again in us the light of the divine and rational Day Star, when the Sun of Justice rose, and the day dawned, as it is written (2 Pet. 1:19).

And elsewhere God through one of the holy prophets says of Christ the Saviour of all men: Speedily my justice draws near, and soon my mercy shall be made known, and my salvation as a lamp shall be lit (Isaiah 62:1 LXX).

Of Himself He says: I am the Light of the world.  And again: I am come a light into the world, He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12; 12:46).

Therefore was it in the Light that that which was lost was saved; and this has filled the heavenly powers with joy.  For they rejoice even over one sinner doing penance, as He teaches us Who knows all things.

And if these heavenly beings, ever seeking the fulfilling of the divine will, and given to the unending praise of the most tender divine compassion, rejoice over one sinner saved, what are we to say of their joy at the salvation of the whole world, called to the knowledge of truth, through faith in Christ?

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel, ch. 15:1-10, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. @ Lectionary Central.

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