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)

Silouan the Athonite: In the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering Wednesday, Jan 15 2014 

Silouan the AthoniteThe Father so loved us that He gave us His Son; but such was the will of the Son too, and He became incarnate and lived with us on earth.

And the holy Apostles and a multitude of people beheld the Lord in the flesh, but not all knew Him as the Lord;

yet it has been given to me, a poor sinner, through the Holy Spirit to know that Jesus Christ is God.

The Lord loves man and reveals Himself to man.

And when the soul beholds the Lord she humbly rejoices in the Master’s compassion, and from that hour her love for her Creator is greater than her any other love:

though she may see all things and love all men, yet will she love the Lord above all.

The soul suddenly sees the Lord and knows that it is He. Who shall describe this joy, this gladness?

The Lord is made known in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit pervades the entire man – soul, mind and body. After this wise is God known in heaven and on earth.

The Lord in His boundless mercy granted this grace to me, a sinner, that others might come to know God and turn to Him. I write out of the grace of God. Yea, this is truth. The Lord Himself is my Witness.

The Merciful Lord gave the Holy Spirit on earth, and by the Holy Spirit was the Holy Church established.

The Holy Spirit unfolded to us not only the things of the earth but those too which are of heaven.

The Prophets, the beloved of the Lord, rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, wherefore the words that they spake were mighty and pleasant, for every soul would hear the word of the Lord.

Filled with love the holy Apostles went into all the world, preaching salvation to mankind and fearing nothing, for the Spirit of God was their strength.

When St Andrew was threatened with death upon the cross if he did not stay his preaching he answered: ‘If I feared the cross I should not be preaching the Cross.’

In this manner all the other Apostles, and after them the martyrs and holy men who wrestled against evil, went forward with joy to meet pain and suffering.

For the Holy Spirit, sweet and gracious, draws the soul to love the Lord, and in the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the soul loses her fear of suffering.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): from St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos – The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Sofronii (Archimandrite), trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) pp. 19-23 @ Kandylaki.

Bernard of Clairvaux: Thy Name is Music to the Heart, Inflaming It with Love Saturday, Jan 4 2014 

Heiligenkreuz_Bernard_of_ClervauxJanuary 3rd was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Jesus, the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
O Savior of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall, how kind Thou art!
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show;
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but His loved ones know.

Jesus, our only joy be Thou,
As Thou our prize will be;
Jesus be Thou our glory now,
And through eternity.

O Jesus, King most wonderful
Thou Conqueror renowned,
Thou sweetness most ineffable
In Whom all joys are found!

When once Thou visitest the heart,
Then truth begins to shine,
Then earthly vanities depart,
Then kindles love divine.

O Jesus, light of all below,
Thou fount of living fire,
Surpassing all the joys we know,
And all we can desire.

Jesus, may all confess Thy Name,
Thy wondrous love adore,
And, seeking Thee, themselves inflame
To seek Thee more and more.

Thee, Jesus, may our voices bless,
Thee may we love alone,
And ever in our lives express
The image of Thine own.

O Jesus, Thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy Name is music to the heart,
Inflaming it with love.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed,
Who eat Thee hunger still;
Who drink of Thee still feel a void
Which only Thou canst fill.

O most sweet Jesus, hear the sighs
Which unto Thee we send;
To Thee our inmost spirit cries;
To Thee our prayers ascend.

Abide with us, and let Thy light
Shine, Lord, on every heart;
Dispel the darkness of our night;
And joy to all impart.

Jesus, our love and joy to Thee,
The virgin’s holy Son,
All might and praise and glory be,
While endless ages run.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): translated by Edward Caswall (1814-1878) @ CyberHymnal.

Cyril of Alexandria: Mary, Theotokos, We Salute You Wednesday, Jan 1 2014 

cyril_alexandriaI see here a joyful company of Christian men met together in ready response to the call of Mary, the holy and ever-virgin Mother of God.

The great grief that weighed upon me is changed into joy by your presence, venerable Fathers.

Now the beautiful saying of David the psalmist: How good and pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity (Psalm 133) has come true for us.

Therefore, holy and incomprehensible Trinity, we salute you at whose summons we have come together to this church of Mary, the Theotokos [Mother of God].

Mary, Theotokos, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world’s reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, an indestructible temple, the place that held Him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin.

Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

We salute you, for in your holy womb was confined him who is beyond all limitation.

Because of you the Holy Trinity is glorified and adored; the Cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; the heavens exult;

the angels and archangels make merry; demons are put to flight; the devil, that tempter, is thrust down from heaven;

the fallen race of man is taken up on high; all creatures possessed by the madness of idolatry have attained knowledge of the truth;

believers receive holy baptism; the oil of gladness is poured out; the Church is established throughout the world; pagans are brought to repentance.

What more is there to say? Because of you the light of the only-begotten Son of God has shone upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death;

prophets pronounced the word of God; the apostles preached salvation to the Gentiles; the dead are raised to life, and kings rule by the power of the Holy Trinity.

Who can put Mary’s high honor into words? She is both mother and virgin. I am overwhelmed by the wonder of this miracle.

Of course no one could be prevented from living in the house he had built for himself, yet who would invite mockery by asking His own servant to become His mother?

Behold then the joy of the whole universe. Let the union of God and man in the Son of the Virgin Mary fill us with awe and adoration.

Let us fear and worship the undivided Trinity as we sing the praise of the ever-virgin Mary, the holy temple of God, and of God Himself, her Son and spotless Bridegroom.

To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Homily given at the Council of Ephesus, 361 @ Orthodox Martyria.

Leo the Great: The Nativity of the Saviour Gives Joy to Sound Hearts Saturday, Dec 28 2013 

leo1As yonder visible light affords pleasure to eyes that are unimpaired, so to sound hearts does the Saviour’s nativity give eternal joy.

And we must not keep silent about it, though we cannot treat of it as we ought.

For we believe that what Isaiah says, “who shall declare his generation?” (Isaiah 53:8) applies not only to that mystery, whereby the Son of God is co-eternal with the Father, but also to this birth whereby “the Word became flesh.”

God, the Son of God, equal and of the same nature from the Father and with the Father, Creator and Lord of the Universe, is completely present everywhere, and completely exceeds all things.

In the due course of time, which runs by His own disposal, He chose for Himself this day on which to be born of the blessed virgin Mary for the salvation of the world, without loss of the mother’s honour.

Her virginity was violated neither at the conception nor at the birth:  “that it might be fulfilled,” as the Evangelist says, “which was spoken by the Lord through Isaiah the prophet, saying, behold the virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is interpreted, God with us” (Matt. 1:22, 23).

This wondrous child-bearing of the holy Virgin produced in her offspring one person which was truly human and truly Divine.

[…] Thus in the whole and perfect nature of true man was true God born, complete in what was His own, complete in what was ours.  And by “ours” we mean what the Creator formed in us from the beginning, and what He undertook to repair.

For what the deceiver brought in, and man deceived committed, had no trace in the Saviour; nor because He partook of man’s weaknesses, did He therefore share our faults.

He took the form of a slave without stain of sin, increasing the human and not diminishing the divine. For that “emptying of Himself,” whereby the Invisible made Himself visible, was the bending down of pity, not the failing of power.

In order therefore that we might be called to eternal bliss from our original bond and from earthly errors, He came down Himself to us to Whom we could not ascend.

Although there was in many the love of truth, yet the variety of our shifting opinions was deceived by the craft of misleading demons.

[…] To remove this mockery, whereby men’s minds were taken captive to serve the arrogant devil, the teaching of the Law was not sufficient, nor could our nature be restored merely by the Prophets’ exhortations.

But the reality of redemption had to be added to moral injunctions, and our fundamentally corrupt origin had to be re-born afresh.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 23, 1-3.

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.

Augustine of Hippo: Jesus Brings to Light Things Hidden in Darkness and Makes Plain the Secrets of the Heart Friday, Nov 29 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaAnd we possess a more certain prophetic word to which you do well to attend, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (1 Peter 2:19).

When our Lord Jesus Christ comes and, as the apostle Paul says, brings to light things hidden in darkness and makes plain the secrets of the heart, so that everyone may receive his commendation from God, then lamps will no longer be needed.

When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself.

Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.

When all these things are removed as no longer necessary for our illumination, and when the men of God by whom they were ministered to us shall themselves together with us behold the true and dear light without such aids, what shall we see?

With what shall our minds be nourished? What will give joy to our gaze? Where will that gladness come from, which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, which has not even been conceived by the heart of man? What shall we see?

I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers.

What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed.

Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind.

I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Commentary on the Gospel of John, Tract. 35, 8-9 (CCL 36, 321-323) from the Roman Office of Readings for Tuesday in the 34th week in Ordinary Time @ Crossroads Initiative.

John Cassian: An incomprehensible and all-devouring flame… Thursday, Nov 7 2013 

Sf-IoanCasianSupplication is an imploring or petition concerning sins, in which one who is sorry for his present or past deeds asks for pardon….

Prayers are those by which we offer or vow something to God….

Intercessions we offer up for others….

Thanksgivings the mind in ineffable transports offers up to God.

[…] Supplication seems to belong more especially to beginners, who are still troubled by the stings and recollection of their sins.

Prayers belong to those who have already attained some loftiness of mind in their spiritual progress and the quest of virtue.

Intercessions belong to those who fulfil the completion of their vows by their works, and are so stimulated to intercede for others also through the consideration of their weakness, and the earnestness of their love.

Thanksgivings belong to those who have already torn from their hearts the guilty thorns of conscience.

Being now free from care, they can contemplate with a pure mind the beneficence of God and His compassions, which He has either granted in the past, or is giving in the present, or preparing for the future.

Thus they are borne onward with fervent hearts to that ardent prayer which cannot be embraced or expressed by the mouth of men.

Sometimes however the mind which is advancing to that perfect state of purity and which is already beginning to be established in it, will take in all these at one and the same time.

Like some incomprehensible and all-devouring flame, it will dart through them all and offer up to God inexpressible prayers of the purest force.

The Spirit Itself, intervening with groanings that cannot be uttered, while we ourselves understand not, pours forth these prayers to God, grasping at that hour and ineffably pouring forth in its supplications things so great that they cannot be uttered with the mouth nor even at any other time be recollected by the mind.

And thence it comes that in whatever degree any one stands, he is found sometimes to offer up pure and devout prayers.

Even in that first and lowly station which has to do with the recollection of future judgment, he who still remains under the punishment of terror and the fear of judgment is so smitten with sorrow for the time being that he is filled with no less keenness of spirit from the richness of his supplications than he who through the purity of his heart gazes on and considers the blessings of God and is overcome with ineffable joy and delight.

For, as the Lord Himself says, he begins to love the more, who knows that he has been forgiven the more.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 9, 11-15.

John of Karpathos: Let the fire of your prayer burn always on the altar of your soul Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 

johnkarpathosSo as not to be deceived and carried away by the vain and empty things that the senses bring before us, we should listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah:

‘Come, my people, enter into your inner room’ — the shrine of your heart, which is closed to every conception derived from the sensible world, that image-free dwelling-place illumined by dispassion and the overshadowing of God’s grace;

‘shut your door’ — to all things visible;

‘hide yourself for a brief moment’ — the whole of man’s life is but a moment;

‘until the Lord’s anger has passed by’ (Isa.26:20 LXX); or, as the Psalms put it, ‘until iniquity has passed’ (Ps. 57:1).

This anger of the Lord and this iniquity may be caused by demons, passions and sins; as Isaiah says to God, ‘Behold, Thou art angry, for we have sinned’ (Isa.64:5).

A man escapes this anger by keeping his attention fixed continually within his heart during prayer, and by striving to remain within his inner sanctuary.

As it is written, ‘Draw wisdom into your innermost self’ (Job 28:18 LXX); ‘all the glory of the king’s daughter is within’ (Ps. 45:13 LXX).

Let us, then, continue to struggle until we enter the holy place of God, ‘the mountain of Thine inheritance, the dwelling, O Lord, which Thou hast made ready, the sanctuary which Thy hands have prepared’ (Exod. 15:17).

[…] Once you have realized that the Amorite within you is ‘as strong as an oak’, you should pray fervently to the Lord to dry up ‘his fruit from above’ — that is, your sinful actions, and ‘his roots from beneath’ — that is, your impure thoughts.

Ask the Lord in this way to ‘destroy the Amorite from before your face’ (Amos 2:9 LXX).

[…] When there is no wind blowing at sea, there are no waves; and when no demon dwells within us, our soul and body are not troubled by the passions.

If you always feel the warmth of prayer and divine grace you may apply to yourself the words of Scripture: you have ‘put on the armour of light’ (Rom. 13:12) and ‘your garments are warm’ (Job 37:17). But  your enemies are ‘clothed with shame’ (Ps. 109:29) and with the darkness of hell.

When recalling your sins, do not hesitate to beat your breast. With these blows you will dig into your hardened heart and discover within it the gold-mine of the publican (cf. Luke 18:13); and this hidden wealth will bring you great joy.

Let the fire of your prayer, ascending  upwards as you meditate on the oracles of the Spirit, burn always on the altar of your soul.

John of Karpathos (7th century): For the Encouragement of the Monks in India, 91, 93, 95-98, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, P. Sherrard, and K. Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (Faber and Faber, London & Boston: 1979 @ J B Burnett.

Seraphim of Sarov: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins and the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Monday, Sep 23 2013 

Seraphim_SarovskyOn the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 15:1-13).

I think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God.

These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works.

By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they cared little whether they acquired the grace of God’s Spirit.

These ways of life, based merely on doing good, without carefully testing whether they bring the grace of the Spirit of God, are mentioned in the patristic books: “There is another way which is deemed good in the beginning, but ends at the bottom of hell.”

[…] The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, the oil, which the foolish virgins lacked.

They were called foolish just because they had forgotten the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which no one is or can be saved, for: “Through the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened and through purification is exalted and illumined by the Triune Unity in a Holy mystery.”

The oil in the lamps of the wise virgins could burn brightly for a long time. So these virgins, with their bright lamps were able to meet the Bridegroom, who came at midnight.

With Him, they could enter the bridal chamber of joy. But the foolish ones, though they went to market to buy more oil, when their lamps were going out, were unable to return in time, for the door was already shut.

The market is our life; the door of the bridal chamber, which was shut and barred the way to the Bridegroom is human death; the wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not the good deeds, but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through good deeds and which changes souls from one state to another

– such as, from a corruptible state to incorruptible state, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from darkness to light, from the stable of our being (where the passions are tied up like dumb animals and wild beasts) into a temple of the Divinity, the shining bridal chamber of eternal joy in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Creator, Redeemer and eternal Bridegroom of our souls.

How great is God’s compassion on our misery, that is to say, our inattention to His care for us, when God says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20), meaning by “door” the course of our life which has not yet been closed by death! Oh, how I wish…that in this life you may always be in the Spirit of God!

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

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