Ephrem the Syrian: To Thee be praise from Thy flock in the day of Thy Epiphany! Wednesday, Jan 6 2016 

Mor_Ephrem_iconResponse—To Thee be praise from Thy flock in the day of Thy Epiphany!

The heavens He has renewed, for that fools worshipped all the luminaries:
—He has renewed the earth, for that in Adam it was wasted.
—That which He fashioned has become new by His spittle:
—and the All-Sufficing has restored bodies with souls.

Gather yourselves again ye sheep
—and without labour receive cleansing!
—for one needs not as Elisha
—to bathe seven times in the river, nor again to be wearied as the priests are wearied with sprinklings.

Seven times Elisha purified himself in a mystery of the seven spirits;
—and the hyssop and blood are a mighty symbol.
—There is no room for division;
—He is not divided from the Lord of all Who is Son of the Lord of all.

Moses sweetened in Marah the waters that were bitter,
—because the People complained and murmured:
—Thus he gave a sign of baptism,
—wherein the Lord of life makes sweet them that were bitter.

The cloud overshadowed and kept off the burning heat from the camp;
—it showed a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which overshadows you in baptism
—tempering the flaming fire that it harm not your bodies.

Through the sea the People then passed, and showed a symbol
—of the baptism wherein ye were washed.
—The People passed through that and believed not:
—the Gentiles were baptized in this and believed and received the Holy Ghost.

The Word sent the Voice to proclaim before His Coming,
—to prepare for Him the way by which He came,
—and to betroth the Bride till He should come,
—that she might be ready when He should come and take her from the water.

The voice of prophecy stirred the son of the barren woman,
—and he went forth wandering in the desert and crying,
—“Lo! the Son of the Kingdom comes!
—prepare ye the way that He may enter and abide in your dwellings!”

John cried, “Who comes after me, He is before me:
—I am the Voice but not the Word;
—I am the torch but not the Light;
—the Star that rises before the Sun of Righteousness.”

In the wilderness this John had cried and had said,
—“Repent ye sinners of your evils,
—and offer the fruits of repentance;
—for lo! He comes that winnows the wheat from the tares.”

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Fifteen Hymns on the Feast of the Epiphany, 1, 1-10.

Ambrose of Milan: In magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted Tuesday, Dec 22 2015 

ambrose_of_milanElizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Notice the contrast and the choice of words. Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace.

She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery.

She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s: a woman aware of a woman’s presence, the forerunner aware of the pledge of our salvation.

The women speak of the grace they have received while the children are active in secret, unfolding the mystery of love with the help of their mothers, who prophesy by the spirit of their sons.

The child leaps I the womb; the mother is filled with the Holy Spirit, but not before her son.

Once the son has been filled with the Holy Spirit, he fills his mother with the same Spirit. John leaps for joy, and the spirit of Mary rejoices in her turn.

When John leaps for joy Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, but we know that though Mary’s spirit rejoices, she does not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Her son, who is beyond our understanding, is active in his mother in a way beyond our understanding.

Elizabeth is filled with the Holly Spirit after conceiving John, while Mary is filled with the Holy Spirit before conceiving the Lord.

Elizabeth says: Blessed are you because you have believed.

You also are blessed because you have heard and believed. A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works.

 

Let Mary’s soul be in each of you to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let her spirit be in each to rejoice in the Lord.

Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. Every soul receives the Word of God if only it keeps chaste, remaining pure and free from sin, its modesty undefiled.

The soul that succeeds in this proclaims the greatness of the Lord, just as Mary’s soul magnified the Lord and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior.

In another place we read: Magnify the Lord with me. The Lord is magnified, not because the human voice can add anything to God but because he is magnified within us.

Christ is the image of God, and if the soul does what is right and holy, it magnifies that image of God, in whose likeness it was created and, in magnifying the image of God, the soul has a share in its greatness and is exalted.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397):  Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel (Book. 2, 19.22-23. 26-27: CCL 14, 39-42) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Augustine of Hippo: He came to infirm minds, to wounded hearts, to the gaze of dim-eyed souls Wednesday, Dec 9 2015 

St Augustine of AfricaHe was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John 1:8-9).

Wherefore then did he [St John the Baptist] come? “But that he might bear witness concerning the light.”

Why so? “That all might believe through him.” And concerning what light was he to bear witness? “That was the true light.”

Wherefore is it added true? Because an enlightened man is also called a light; but the true light is that which enlightens.

For even our eyes are called lights; and nevertheless, unless either during the night a lamp is lighted, or during the day the sun goes forth, these lights are open in vain.

Thus, therefore, John was a light, but not the true light; because, if not enlightened, he would have been darkness; but, by enlightenment, he became a light.

For unless he had been enlightened he would have been darkness, as all those once impious men, to whom, as believers, the apostle said, “Ye were sometimes darkness.”

But now, because they had believed, what?—“but now are ye light,” he says, “in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8).

[…]  And thus “he was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of the light.” But where is that light? “He was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

If every man that cometh, then also John. The true light, therefore, enlightened him by whom He desired Himself to be pointed out.

Understand, beloved, for He came to infirm minds, to wounded hearts, to the gaze of dim-eyed souls. For this purpose had He come.

And whence was the soul able to see that which perfectly is? Even as it commonly happens, that by means of some illuminated body, the sun, which we cannot see with the eyes, is known to have arisen.

Because even those who have wounded eyes are able to see a wall illuminated and enlightened by the sun, or a mountain, or a tree, or anything of that sort; and, by means of another body illuminated, that arising is shown to those who are not as yet able to gaze on it.

Thus, therefore all those to whom Christ came were not fit to see Him: upon John He shed the beams of His light; and by means of him confessing himself to have been irradiated and enlightened, not claiming to be one who irradiates and enlightens, He is known who enlightens, He is known who illuminates, He is known who fills.

And who is it? “He who lighteth every man,” he says, “who cometh into the world.” For if man had not receded from that light, he would not have required to be illuminated; but for this reason has he to be illuminated here, because he departed from that light by which man might always have been illuminated.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Homilies on St John’s Gospel, Tractate 2, 6-7.

Augustine of Hippo: God Promised Men Divinity, Mortals Immortality, Sinners Justification, Outcasts Glory Thursday, Dec 12 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaGod had a time for making his promises and a time for fulfilling them.

His time for making promises was from the days of the prophets until the coming of John the Baptist.

His time for fulfilling them was from then until the end of the world. God is faithful and he has put himself in our debt, not by receiving anything from us but by promising so much.

Nor was a promise sufficient for him; he even bound himself in writing, giving us as it were a pledge in his own hand.

He wanted us to see from Scripture, when the time for fulfilment came, how he was carrying out his promises one by one.

God promised us eternal salvation, everlasting bliss with the angels, an incorruptible inheritance, endless glory, the joyful vision of his face, his holy dwelling in heaven, and after the resurrection from the dead no further fear of dying.

This is what he holds out to us at the end as the goal of all our striving. When we reach it we shall ask for nothing more. But as to how we are to reach our final goal, he revealed this too by promises and prophecies.

God promised men divinity, mortals immortality, sinners justification, outcasts glory.

But because his promise that we who are mortal, corruptible, weak and of low estate, mere dust and ashes, were to be equal to the angels seemed incredible, God not only made a written covenant with us to win our faith, but he also gave us a mediator of his pledge.

This mediator was not a prince, an angel, or an archangel, but his only Son; through his own Son he meant both to show us and give us the way by which he would lead us to the promised goal.

He was not satisfied with sending his Son to show us the way. He made him the way itself. God’s only Son, then, was to come among us, take our human nature, and in this nature be born as a man.

He was to die, to rise again, to ascend into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, and to fulfil his promises among the nations.

After that he was also to fulfil his promise to come again, to demand what he had previously requested, to separate those deserving his anger from those deserving his mercy, to give the wicked what he had threatened and the just what he had promised.

All this had to be prophesied, foretold, and impressed on us as an event in the future so that we should not be terrified by its happening unexpectedly, but wait for it with faith.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Commentary on Psalm 109, 1-3 (CSEL 40:1601-1603); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Thursday of the 2nd Week in Advent, Year 1.

Luis Beltrán: Truly Seek Prayer, a Place of Retreat and Solitude Monday, Oct 14 2013 

Louis_BertrandOctober 9th was the feast of St Luis Beltrán (1526–1581).

“From the desert you should go forth as a good preacher.”

The Holy Spirit kept John in the desert, lest he see or come to know Christ, because of the importance of the testimony that he would give later concerning him.

John testified that he had never seen Christ until the moment that he saw the dove descending upon his head in the Jordan River.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.”

That was the place where the voice of the Father was heard speaking about the Son.

There the Holy Spirit adorned him with such great virtues – humility, meekness, and all the rest – that he came forth from the desert changed into that salt which would save the human race from corruption,

changed into that light which would illumine the blind, changed into a fortified city where the holy and virtuous would find refuge.

This is the high office of a preacher, and from this it is clear that it demands such a preparation.

Why should you wonder, brother, that your teaching does not bring forth fruit, when you come to preach not from the desert but from the confused tumult of your own soul, not from the vicinity of virtue but of pride?

From the desert you should go forth as a good preacher. If Christ our Lord spent the whole night in prayer to send out his disciples to preach and to have their preaching bear fruit, what can a preacher accomplish without devotion?

If you do not come from the desert, your preaching will not bear fruit. And because you have the voice of Jacob but the hands of Esau, concern yourselves with being effective preachers.

Truly seek prayer, a place of retreat and solitude, otherwise you can never attain the reward of good preachers.

God called John to be a preacher and this was a great penance for him, for every state of life demands a certain amount of penance, if it is received from the hand of God.

It is for God to place you upon that cross on which you ought to serve God.

Truly it is not up to you to choose that cross, because although you may choose a heavier cross, you might not be saved by it since God has not placed you upon it.

Luis Beltrán, (1526–1581) from the Supplement to the Liturgy of the Hours for the Order of Preachers, feast of St Luis Beltrán, October 9th.

Ephrem the Syrian: Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan and the Cleansing and Healing of the Heart Sunday, Jan 13 2013 

Mor_Ephrem_icon(Addressed to the Church)

Give thanks, O daughter, that thy crownings have been doubled;—for lo! thy temples and thy sons rejoice. —The dedication of thy temples is in the ministration;—The dedication of thy sons is in the anointing.—Blessed art thou that at once…[art] the tabernacle for them that dwell in thee,—and the Spirit has abode upon thy sons!

Our Lord opened up Baptism—in the midst of Jordan the blessed river.—The height and the depth rejoiced in Him;—He brings forth the first fruits of His peace from the water,—for they are first fruits, the fruits of Baptism.—The good God in His compassion will bring to pass—that His peace shall be first fruits on earth.

Moses stretched out the temporal Tabernacle;—the priests bathed themselves in water,—and went in and ministered; and were stricken and punished,—because their heart within was not cleansed.—Blessed art thou that in the Passover of the great Passion,—the priests by the savour of their oblations,—lo! are cleansing souls in thee!

Great was the mystery that the Prophet saw,—the torrent that was mighty.—Into its depths he gazed and beheld—thy beauty instead of himself; thee it was he saw, for thy faith passes not away,—thou whose flood unseen shall overwhelm—the subtleties of idolatry.

Though John was great among them that are born of women,—yet he that is little is greater than he,—in this that his baptized were again baptized,—in the baptism that was of the Apostles.—Blessed art thou that thy priest is greater than he—in this alone that forever—abides his baptism.

The baptism that was of Siloam—did not bring mercy to the man that was laid there—who for thirty and eight years awaited it,—for he was a respecter of the persons of the Levites.—Blessed art thou that thy healing is in thee for all men,—and thy priests are devoted and ready—for all that are in need of thy help.

The Prophet healed the waters that were unwholesome,—and cured the disease of the land that was barren,—so that its death was done away and its region resounded, for its offspring increased and its bosom was filled.—Greater is Thy grace, Lord, than Elisha’s!—Multiply my lambs and my flocks—at the great stream of my fountain!

Great is the marvel that is within thy abode;—the flocks together with the Shepherds,—those at the stream of the waters,—two unseen with one manifest who baptizes.—Blessed is he who is baptized in their fountains!—for three arms have upheld him,—and three Names have preserved him!

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Fifteen Hymns on the Epiphany, 11.

Gregory Nazianzen: Christ is the True Light that Lightens Every Man that Comes into the World Sunday, Jan 13 2013 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenThe Holy Day of the Lights…, which we are celebrating to-day, has for its origin the Baptism of my Christ.

He is the true Light that lightens every man that comes into the world, and effects my purification, and assists that light which we received from the beginning from Him from above, but which we darkened and confused by sin.

[…] “The Light shines in darkness”, in this life and in the flesh, and is chased by the darkness, “but is not overtaken by it”.

I mean, it is not overtaken by the adverse power which leaps up in its shamelessness against the visible Adam, but which encounters God and is defeated.

This happens so that we, putting away the darkness, may draw near to the Light, and may then become perfect Light, the children of perfect Light.

See the grace of this Day; see the power of this mystery.

[…] At His birth we duly kept festival, both I, the leader of the Feast, and you, and all that is in the world and above the world.

With the star we ran, and with the magi we worshipped, and with the shepherds we were illuminated, and with the angels we glorified Him.

With Symeon we took Him up in our arms, and with Anna the aged and chaste we made our responsive confession.

[…]  Now, we come to another action of Christ, and another mystery.  I cannot restrain my pleasure; I am rapt into God.

Almost like John I proclaim good tidings; for though I am not a Forerunner, yet am I from the desert.

Christ is illumined, let us shine forth with Him.  Christ is baptized, let us descend with Him that we may also ascend with Him.

[…] John baptizes, Jesus comes to Him…, perhaps to sanctify the Baptist himself, but certainly to bury the whole of the old Adam in the water.

And before this, and for the sake of this, He comes to sanctify Jordan; for as He is spirit and flesh, so He consecrates us by Spirit and water.

[…] But further—Jesus goeth up out of the water…, for with Himself He carries up the world….

He sees the heaven opened which Adam had shut against himself and all his posterity, as the gates of Paradise by the flaming sword.

And the Spirit bears witness to His Godhead, for he descends upon One that is like Him, as does the voice from heaven (for He to Whom the witness is borne came from thence).

He descends like a dove, for He honours the body (for this also was God, through its union with God) by being seen in a bodily form.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 39, 1-2; 14-16.

Gregory the Wonderworker: Water, Spirit and Fire Saturday, Jan 12 2013 

Gregory_ThaumaturgusContinued from here…

Jesus answered…Lend me, therefore, O Baptist, your right hand for the present economy, even as Mary lent her womb for my birth.

Immerse me in the streams of Jordan, even as she who bore me wrapped me in children’s swaddling-clothes. Grant me your baptism even as the Virgin granted me her milk.

[…] With your right hand lay hold of this head, that is related to yourself in kinship. Lay hold of this head, which nature has made to be touched.

Lay hold of this head, which for this very purpose has been formed by myself and my Father.  Lay hold of this head of mine, which, if one does lay hold of it in piety, will save him from ever suffering shipwreck.

Baptize me, who am destined to baptize those who believe on me with water, and with the Spirit, and with fire: with water, capable of washing away the defilement of sins; with the Spirit, capable of making the earthly spiritual; with fire, naturally fitted to consume the thorns of transgressions.

[…] He who alone is Lord, and by nature the Father of the Only-begotten, He who alone knows perfectly Him whom He alone in passionless fashion begat…opened the gates of the heavens. He sent down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, lighting upon the head of Jesus, pointing out thereby the new Noah, yea the maker of Noah, and the good pilot of the nature which is in shipwreck.

And He Himself calls with clear voice out of heaven, and says: “This is my beloved Son.”

[…] This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: my Son, of the same substance with myself, and not of a different; of one substance with me according to what is unseen, and of one substance with you according to what is seen, yet without sin.

[…] This Son of mine and this son of Mary are not two distinct persons; but this is my beloved Son—this one who is both seen with the eye and apprehended with the mind.

This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him.

If He shall say, “I and my Father are one,” hear Him. If He shall say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” hear Him. If He shall say, “He that hath sent me is greater than I,” adapt the voice to the economy.

If He shall say, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” answer Him thus: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Gregory the Wonderworker (c.213-c.270): Homily on the Holy Theophany.

Peter Chrysologus: The Adoration of the Magi, the Baptism in the Jordan, and the Wedding at Cana Thursday, Jan 10 2013 

Church FathersThe great events we celebrate today disclose and reveal in different ways the fact that God himself took a human body.

[…] In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. He therefore reveals himself in this way, in order that this great sacrament of his love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding.

Today the Magi find, crying in a manger, the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.

Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body.

As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.

So the Gentiles, who were the last, become the first: the faith of the Magi is the first fruits of the belief of the Gentiles.

Today Christ enters the Jordan to wash away the sin of the world. John himself testifies that this is why he has come: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.

Today a servant lays his hand on the Lord, a man lays his hand on God, John lays his hand on Christ, not to forgive but to receive forgiveness.

Today, as the psalmist prophesied: The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. What does the voice say? This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.

Today the Holy Spirit hovers over the waters in the likeness of a dove. A dove announced to Noah that the flood had disappeared from the earth; so now a dove is to reveal that the world’s shipwreck is at an end forever.

The sign is no longer an olive-shoot of the old stock: instead, the Spirit pours out on Christ’s head the full richness of a new anointing by the Father, to fulfil what the psalmist had prophesied: Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.

Today Christ works the first of his signs from heaven by turning water into wine. But water has still to be changed into the sacrament of his blood, so that Christ may offer spiritual drink from the chalice of his body, to fulfil the psalmist’s prophecy: How excellent is my chalice, warming my spirit.

Peter Chrysologus (c.380–c.450): Sermon 160 (PL 52, 620-622) from the Office of Readings for the Monday between the Feasts of the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord @ Crossroads Initiative.

John Chrysostom: “To Fulfil Every Righteousness” Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

John_ChrysostomFor whom was Jesus baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit?

[…] When John said: I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?—He answered thus: Stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil every righteousness (Matthew 3:14-15).

[…] What does He mean: To fulfill every righteousness? By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: Both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord (Luke 1:6).

Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people, but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it, Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.

And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous.

As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet.

[…] If obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.

Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii (see Luke 10:35). The human race needed to pay this debt [i.e. observing the commandments] but did not pay it…, and so is embraced by death. Christ…paid the debt…and seized from it those who were not able to pay.

Wherefore He does not say: It is necessary for us to do this or that, but rather, To fulfill every righteousnessIt is for Me, being the Master, says He, proper to make payment for the needy.

[…] Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God, there also is the dove.

So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive—a sign of God’s love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood.

And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body…the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: Except ye be converted and become as children, you shall not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom (Mt 18:3).

But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Discourse on the Day of the Baptism of Christ @ Pravoslavie.

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