Gregory Palamas: Spiritual Circumcision of the Heart Tuesday, Apr 1 2014 

Gregory_PalamasEven when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind.

When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions.

This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of a cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside, and the whole cup will be clean (Matthew 23:25-26).

“Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labour is according to God’s will, and you will conquer the outward passions” (Abba Arsenios, Apophthegmata Pateron 9).

If the root is holy, so are the branches (John 15:5). If the yeast is holy, so is the dough (Galatians 5:9).

“Walk in the spirit”, says Paul, “and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Christ did not abolish the Jewish circumcision but fulfilled it. He Himself says, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5.17).

How did He do this? It was a seal, a sign and a symbolic way of teaching about cutting off evil thoughts in the heart….

The Jews…were reproached by the prophets for being uncircumcised in their hearts (cf.  Jeremiah 9:26; Romans 2:25).

Man looks at the outward person, but God regards the heart, and if it is full of foul or evil thoughts, that man deserved to have God turn away from him.

That is why the apostle exhorts us to pray without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

To teach us to strive for the spiritual circumcision of our hearts, the Lord pronounces the pure in heart and the poor in spirit blessed.

He stresses that the reward for this purity of heart is seeing God, and He promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (Matthew 5:8, 3). By the poor He means those who live frugally and in need.

But it is not only such people whom He calls blessed, but also those who are like them in spirit, those who, because of their inner humility of heart and their good purpose, have arranged their outward life accordingly.

He forbids not just murder but anger, and commands us to forgive from our hearts those who sin against us. Nor will He accept the gift we offer unless we are first reconciled with one another and let go of anger (Matthew 5:21-24).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent,  from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009).

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John Climacus: At the Fragrance of Humility All Anger and Bitterness Vanishes Thursday, Mar 6 2014 

ClimacusFreedom from anger, or placidity, is an insatiable appetite for dishonour, just as in the vainglorious there is an unbounded desire for praise.

Freedom from anger is victory over nature and insensibility to insults, acquired by struggles and sweat.

Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected whether in evil report or in good report, in dishonour or in praise.

The beginning of freedom from anger is silence of the lips when the heart is agitated;

the middle is silence of the thoughts when there is a mere disturbance of soul;

and the end is an imperturbable calm under the breath of unclean winds.

Anger is a reminder of hidden hatred, that is to say, remembrance of wrongs.

Anger is a desire for the injury of the one who has provoked you.

Irascibility is the untimely blazing up of the heart.

Bitterness is a movement of displeasure seated in the soul.

Peevishness is a changeable movement of one’s disposition and disorder of soul.

As with the appearance of light, darkness retreats, so at the fragrance of humility all anger and bitterness vanishes.

Some who are prone to anger are neglectful of the healing and cure of this passion.

But these unhappy people do not give a thought to him who said: ‘The moment of his anger is his fall’ (Ecclesiasticus 1:22).

There is a quick movement of a millstone which in one moment grinds and does away with more spiritual grain and fruit than another crushes in a whole day.

And so we must, with understanding, pay attention. It is possible to have such a blaze of flame, suddenly fanned by a strong wind, as will ruin the field of the heart more than a lingering flame.

And we ought not to forget, my friends, that the wicked demons sometimes suddenly leave us, so that we may neglect our strong passions as of little importance, and then become incurably sick.

As a hard stone with sharp corners has all its sharpness and hard formation crushed by knocking and rubbing against other stones, and is made round, and in the same way a sharp and curt soul, by living in community and mixing with hard, hot-tempered men, undergoes one of two things:

either it cures its wound by its patience, or by retiring it will certainly discover its weakness, its cowardly flight making this clear to it as in a mirror.

An angry person is a wilful epileptic, who on a casual pretext keeps breaking out and falling down.

Nothing is so inappropriate to penitents as an agitated spirit, because conversion requires great humility, and anger is a sign of every kind of presumption.

John Climacus (c.575-c.650): The Ladder of Divine Ascent, step 8 “on freedom from anger and on meekness”, 2-12, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) @ Prudence True.

Isaac the Syrian: The ladder unto the kingdom is hidden within you and within your soul Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3January 28th is the feast of St Isaac the Syrian.

Gratefulness on the part of the recipient spurs on the giver to bestow gifts larger than before….

The sick one who is acquainted with his sickness is easily to be cured; and he who confesses his pain is near to health.

Many are the pains of the hard heart; and when the sick one resists the physician, his torments will be augmented.

There is no sin which cannot be pardoned except that one which lacks repentance, and there is no gift which is not augmented save that which remains without acknowledgement.

For the portion of the fool is small in his eyes.

Think constantly of those who are superior to you in excellence, so you may see yourself at all times as being less than they are.

And be aware at all times of the heavy troubles of those whose vexations are difficult and serious, so that you may become grateful for your own small ones and be able to bear them with joy.

When you are in a state of subjection and are languid and dejected, and thou art hound and fettered before your foe in mournful wretchedness and laborious service of sin, then recall to mind the previous times of firmness….

Then, by these and similar recollections, your soul will be aroused as from the depth and be clad with the flame of zeal; and it will rise from its immersion as if from the dead, and stretch itself and return to its former state, in hot strife against Satan and sin….

Be a persecutor of yourself; then your foe will be driven away from you. Be on peaceful terms with your soul; then heaven and earth will be on peaceful terms with you.

Be zealous to enter the treasury within you; then you will see that which is in heaven. For the former and the latter are one, and, entering, you will see both.

The ladder unto the Kingdom is hidden within you and within your soul.

Dive into yourself, freed from sin; there you wilt find steps along which you can ascend.

What the things of the world-to-be are, the scriptures do not explain. How we may acquire the faculty to perceive their delight even now, without change of nature or local transition, they teach us plainly.

Though they call these things by beloved names of glorious things which are delightful and esteemed by us, in order to spur us on, still by saying that “the eye has not seen, nor the ear heard” (1 Cor.2:9) and so on, they show us that the things-to-be are not equal to any of the present things, by their being incomprehensible.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Six Treatises on the Behaviour of Excellence, 1, 2, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 7-8 (slightly modified)

Ignatius Brianchaninov: The work of accepting salvation, given to us by God free and complete, the work of repentance Tuesday, Jan 28 2014 

Ignatius_Brianchaninov“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

St. Simeon the New Theologian, who acquired his knowledge of truth through his holy experience…said: “The careful fulfillment of the commandments of Christ teaches a man his own infirmities.”

Exactly! As soon as one who believes in Christ begins to fulfill the all-holy commandments of the Gospel, or also, to perform the works of renewed nature, his fallen nature is instantly revealed to him, which had been hidden from sight until then, and it enters into a sustained battle with the Gospel.

The life of one who struggles for Christ is filled with unseen falls. He involuntarily confesses with the Apostle: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 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. O wretched man that I am!” (Rom. 7: 22-24).

From such an observation of oneself, blessed poverty of spirit is engendered within a Christian, rational, spiritual mourning appears, and a broken and humble heart is established, which God will not destroy (Ps. 50: 20).

In living according to the Gospel, there appears in a man, as if naturally, the repentance commanded by the Gospel. Therefore, repentance is necessary not only in order to believe in Christ; it is necessary in order to have a living faith in Christ. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

There remains to be explained: why is there such a close connection between the words of the Lord calling us to repent, and the announcing of the nearness of the Kingdom of heaven? Why is there not presented between them a kind of intermediate struggle, an intermediate condition?

The reason is that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)—He has accomplished everything for our salvation. He has reconciled us with God; He has prepared and acquired for us the Heavenly Kingdom.

We, mankind, have been presented with one work in the matter of our salvation: the work of accepting salvation, given to us by God free and complete, the work of repentance. The Heavenly Kingdom and the Heavenly King are ineffably close to us—incomparably closer than we imagine.

“Behold, I stand at the door” of the heart of man, exclaims this King, and I knock at it with My all-holy and almighty Word: “if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me (Rev. 3:20). The opening of the doors of the heart to the Heavenly King is accomplished—with repentance. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867; Russian Orthodox): Homily for the Sunday after Theophany translated by Bishop George (Schaefer) @ Pravoslavie.

Francis de Sales: Spiritual Sugar-Plums Friday, Jan 24 2014 

Franz_von_SalesJanuary 24th is the feast of St Francis de Sales.

A little child, who sees the surgeon bleed his mother, will cry when he sees the lancet touch her;

but let that mother for whom he weeps ask for his apple or a sugar-plum which he has in his hand, and he will on no account part with it; and too much of our seeming devotion is of this kind.

We weep feelingly at the spear piercing the Crucified Saviour’s Side, and we do well,—but why cannot we give Him the apple we hold, for which He asks, heartily?

I mean our heart, the only love-apple which that Dear Saviour craves of us.

Why cannot we resign the numberless trifling attachments, indulgences, and self-complacencies of which He fain would deprive us, only we will not let Him do so; because they are the sugar-plums, sweeter to our taste than His Heavenly Grace?

Surely this is but as the fondness of children;—demonstrative, but weak, capricious, unpractical.

Devotion does not consist in such exterior displays of a tenderness which may be purely the result of a naturally impressionable, plastic character; or which may be the seductive action of the Enemy, or an excitable imagination stirred up by him.

Nevertheless these tender warm emotions are sometimes good and useful, for they kindle the spiritual appetite, cheer the mind, and infuse a holy gladness into the devout life, which embellishes all we do even externally.

It was such a taste for holy things that made David cry out, “O how sweet are Thy words unto my throat, yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth.” And assuredly the tiniest little comfort received through devotion is worth far more than the most abundant delights of this world.

The milk of the Heavenly Bridegroom, in other words His spiritual favours, are sweeter to the soul than the costliest wine of the pleasures of this world, and to those who have tasted thereof all else seems but as gall and wormwood.

There is a certain herb which, if chewed, imparts so great a sweetness that they who keep it in their mouth cannot hunger or thirst; even so those to whom God gives His Heavenly manna of interior sweetness and consolation, cannot either desire or even accept worldly consolations with any real zest or satisfaction.

It is as a little foretaste of eternal blessedness which God gives to those who seek it; it is as the sugar-plum with which He attracts His little ones; as a cordial offered to strengthen their heart; as the first-fruits of their future reward.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 13.

Benedict XVI: Gregory of Nyssa – Pressing Onwards Towards Perfection Friday, Jan 10 2014 

Pope_Benedictus_XVIJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Gregory of Nyssa had a very lofty concept of human dignity.

Man’s goal, the holy Bishop said, is to liken himself to God, and he reaches this goal first of all through the love, knowledge and practice of the virtues, “bright beams that shine from the divine nature”, in a perpetual movement of adherence to the good like a corridor outstretched before oneself.

In this regard, Gregory uses an effective image already present in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: épekteinómenos (3: 13), that is, “I press on” towards what is greater, towards truth and love.

This vivid expression portrays a profound reality: the perfection we desire to attain is not acquired once and for all; perfection means journeying on, it is continuous readiness to move ahead because we never attain a perfect likeness to God; we are always on our way.

The history of every soul is that of a love which fills every time and at the same time is open to new horizons, for God continually stretches the soul’s possibilities to make it capable of ever greater goods.

God himself, who has sown the seeds of good in us and from whom every initiative of holiness stems, “models the block…, and polishing and cleansing our spirit, forms Christ within us”.

Gregory was anxious to explain: “In fact, this likeness to the Divine is not our work at all; it is not the achievement of any faculty of man; it is the great gift of God bestowed upon our nature at the very moment of our birth”. For the soul, therefore, “it is not a question of knowing something about God but of having God within”.

Moreover, as Gregory perceptively observes, “Divinity is purity, it is liberation from the passions and the removal of every evil: if all these things are in you, God is truly in you”.

When we have God in us, when man loves God, through that reciprocity which belongs to the law of love he wants what God himself wants; hence, he cooperates with God in fashioning the divine image in himself, so that “our spiritual birth is the result of a free choice, and we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we ourselves wish to be, and through our will forming ourselves in accordance with the model that we choose”.

To ascend to God, man must be purified. […] In this journey of spiritual ascesis Christ is the Model and Teacher, he shows us the beautiful image of God. Each of us, looking at him, finds ourselves “the painter of our own life”, who has the will to compose the work and the virtues as his colours.

Benedict XVI (b. 1927): St Gregory of Nyssa (General Audience, 5th September 2007.

Theophan the Recluse: Everything is Illumined by this Grace-Filled Awakening Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Theophan the RecluseContinued from here…

Sin first enveloped man in blindness, insensitivity and indolence.

At the moment of grace’s influence, this three-layered, crystallized millstone falls from his fettered soul.

The person now sees well all his ugliness within, and not only sees it, but also feels it.

[…] Notice how necessary this action of grace is on the path of freeing the soul from the reign of sin.

The goal of awakening grace and its power extricates man from the jaws of sin and places him on the point of indifference between good and evil.

The scales of our will, on which the will leans toward one side or the other, should now be evenly weighted.

But this cannot happen if the sinner is not given at least a foretaste of the sweetness of goodness.

If this were not given, then the sweetness of sin, as we pointed out before, would attract him more strongly to itself than to goodness; and the choice would fall to the former, as happens with those who have contrived to change their lives without grace-filled awakening.

For this is a general law: what you do not know you will not desire.

But when grace-filled awakening allows him to taste the sweetness of goodness, it attracts him to itself, as we said, consciously and perceptively.

The scales are even. Now complete freedom to act is in the person’s hands. In this manner, as in a flash of lightning, everything within and around the person is illuminated by this grace-filled awakening.

For one instant it introduces the heart to that state from which sin has been cast out, and places man into that chain of creation from which he voluntarily exiled himself through sin.

That is why this act of grace is always signified by a sudden fright and jolt, like the way the abrupt sound of the word “stop!” jolts a person walking quickly but lost in thought.

If you look at this state from a psychological point of view, it is nothing other than an awakening of spirit.

It is natural for our spirit to acknowledge Divinity, and the higher world or order of things, to raise man above everything sensual, and carry him away to the purely spiritual realm.

But in the sinful state our spirit loses its strength and commingles with psychological emotionality, and through it with sensuality to the point of practically disappearing into it.

Now through grace it is extricated from this and placed as if on a candle stand within our inner temple, and it sheds light upon everything dwelling within and is visible from within.

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

Alphonsus Liguori: Behold, the Door of My Heart is Already Open Friday, Dec 6 2013 

Sant'Alfonso_LiguoriBut how is it my Jesus, that after Thou hast repaired this ruin of sin by Thy own death, I have so often wilfully renewed it again by the many offences I have committed against Thee?

Thou hast saved me at so great a cost, and I have so often chosen to damn myself, in losing Thee, O infinite Good!

But what Thou hast said gives me confidence that when the sinner who has turned his back upon Thee is converted to Thee, Thou wilt not refuse to embrace him: Turn ye to Me, and I will turn to you.

Thou hast also said, If any man shall…open to Me the door, I will come in to him.

Behold, Lord, I am one of these rebels, an ungrateful traitor, who have often turned my back upon Thee, and driven Thee from my soul; but now I repent with all my heart for having thus ill-used Thee and despised Thy grace; I repent of it, and love Thee above everything.

Behold, the door of my heart is already open; enter Thou, but enter never to leave it again.

I know well that Thou wilt never leave me, if I do not again drive Thee away; but this is my fear, and this is the grace which I ask of Thee, and which I hope always to ask; let me die rather than be guilty of this fresh and still greater ingratitude.

My dearest Redeemer, I do not deserve to love Thee, after all the offences that I have committed against Thee; but for Thy own merits sake I ask of Thee the gift of Thy holy love, and therefore I beseech Thee make me know the great good Thou art, the love Thou hast borne me, and how much Thou hast done to oblige me to love Thee.

Ah, my God and Saviour, let me no longer live ungrateful to Thy great goodness. My Jesus, I will never leave Thee again; I have already offended Thee enough. It is only right that I should employ the remaining years of my life in loving Thee and pleasing Thee.

My Jesus, my Jesus, help me ; help a sinner that wishes to love Thee. O Mary, my Mother, thou hast all power with Jesus, seeing thou art his Mother; beg of him to forgive me; beg of him to enchain me with his holy love. Thou art my hope; in thee do I confide.

Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787): Meditations for Every Day of Advent, 1 in The Incarnation, Birth, and Infancy of Jesus Christ, pp. 173-174.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the foundation and potentiality for the future spiritual life. Sin first enveloped man in blindness, insensitivity and indolence.

At the moment of grace’s influence, this three-layered, crystallized millstone falls from his fettered soul. The person now sees well all his ugliness within, and not only sees it, but also feels it.

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

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

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

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

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

John Henry Newman: He is the True Christian whose Secret Life is Hid with Christ in God Monday, Dec 2 2013 

John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_Millais“If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him” (Romans 6:8).

At first sight, one might be tempted to say, “All who come to church, at least, are in earnest, and have given up sin; they are imperfect indeed, as all Christians are at best, but they do not fall into wilful sin.”

I should be very glad, my Brethren, to believe this were the case, but I cannot indulge so pleasant a hope.

No; I think it quite certain that some persons at least, I do not say how many, to whom I am speaking, have not made up their minds fully to lead a religious life.

They come to church because they think it right, or from other cause. It is very right that they should come; I am glad they do. This is good, as far as it goes; but it is not all.

They are not so far advanced in the kingdom of God, as to resist the devil, or to flee from him. They cannot command themselves. They act rightly one day, and wrongly the next.

They are afraid of being laughed at. They are attracted by bad company. They put off religion to a future day. They think a religious life dull and unpleasant. Yet they have a certain sense of religion; and they come to church in order to satisfy this sense.

Now, I say it is right to come to church; but, O that they could be persuaded of the simple truth of St. Paul’s words, “He is not a Jew which is one outwardly; but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart in the spirit, and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28, 29);

which may be taken to mean:—He is not a Christian who is one outwardly, who merely comes to church, and professes to desire to be saved by Christ.

It is very right that he should do so, but it is not enough. He is not a Christian who merely has not cast off religion;

but he is the true Christian, who, while he is a Christian outwardly, is one inwardly also; who lives to God; whose secret life is hid with Christ in God;

whose heart is religious; who not only knows and feels that a religious life is true happiness, but loves religion, wishes, tries, prays to be religious, begs God Almighty to give him the will and the power to be religious; and, as time goes on, grows more and more religious, more fit for heaven.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. 7, 13: Love of Religion, a New Nature.

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