Symeon the New Theologian: When I recalled the beauty of undefiled Love, its Light suddenly appeared in my heart Thursday, Feb 20 2014 

SYMEON-iconLet us therefore follow one and the same path, Christ’s commandments, which elevate us to heaven and to God.

Even though the word shows us many paths and many ways for people to reach the kingdom of heaven, these paths are not, in fact, many, but one, though they’re divided into many, according to each person’s ability and disposition.

While we may begin from many and varied works and actions, just as travelers depart from different places and many cities, the destination we are attempting to reach is the same: the kingdom of heaven.

The actions and ways of godly men must be understood as spiritual virtues.

Those who begin to walk in them must head towards one goal, just as those who come from various countries and places come together, as we have said, to one city, the kingdom of heaven, where, together, they will become worthy to reign with Christ and become subjects of one King, our God and Father.

By this city, which is one, not many, you should understand the holy and undivided trinity of virtues, faith, hope and love, especially that virtue which comes before the others but is also mentioned as the last, since it is the goal of all good things and greater than them all- love.

All faith comes from it and is built on its foundation; on it, hope is based. Without love nothing has ever taken shape, nor ever will Its names and actions are numerous. Even more so are its distinctive features; its properties are divine and innumerable.

Yet it is one in nature, wholly beyond the ken of angels or men or any other creatures, even those which are unknown to us. Reason cannot tell of it; its glory is inaccessible; its counsels unsearchable. It is eternal and beyond time, and beyond sight, though it may be perceived.

How many are the delights of this Holy Zion not made by human hand. Those who have begun to see it no longer take any pleasure in perceptible, earthly objects; they become indifferent to the glory of this world.

Permit me, for a short time, to address myself to this love, to fulfill my desire for it, insofar as I can. When I recalled the beauty of undefiled love, its light suddenly appeared in my heart.

I was ravished with its sweetness and lost my senses; I lost all perception of this life and forgot all the things of this world. But then – I don’t know how – it departed from me and left me to lament my weakness.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD): In Praise of Those Who Have Love in Their Hearts @ Pemptousia.

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.

Augustine of Hippo: Praying in Words Tuesday, Jan 14 2014 

St Augustine of AfricaIn most cases prayer consists more in groaning than in speaking, in tears rather than in words.

But…words are necessary, that by them we may be assisted in considering and observing what we ask, not as means by which we expect that God is to be either informed or moved to compliance.

When, therefore, we say: “Hallowed be Thy name,” we admonish ourselves to desire that His name, which is always holy, may be also among men esteemed holy, that is to say, not despised; which is an advantage not to God, but to men.

When we say: “Thy kingdom come,” which shall certainly come whether we wish it or not, we do by these words stir up our own desires for that kingdom, that it may come to us, and that we may be found worthy to reign in it.

When we say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for ourselves that He would give us the grace of obedience, that His will may be done by us in the same way as it is done in heavenly places by His angels.

When we say: “Give us this day our daily bread,” the word “this day” signifies for the present time, in which we ask either for that competency of temporal blessings which I have spoken of before (“bread” being used to designate the whole of those blessings, because of its constituting so important a part of them),

or the sacrament of believers, which is in this present time necessary, but necessary in order to obtain the felicity not of the present time, but of eternity.

When we say: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we remind ourselves both what we should ask, and what we should do in order that we may be worthy to receive what we ask.

When we say: “Lead us not into temptation,” we admonish ourselves to seek that we may not, through being deprived of God’s help, be either ensnared to consent or compelled to yield to temptation.

When we say: “Deliver us from evil,” we admonish ourselves to consider that we are not yet enjoying that good estate in which we shall experience no evil.

And this petition, which stands last in the Lord’s Prayer, is so comprehensive that a Christian, in whatsoever affliction he be placed, may in using it give utterance to his groans and find vent for his tears – may begin with this petition, go on with it, and with it conclude his prayer.

For it was necessary that by the use of these words the things which they signify should be kept before our memory.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba, X, 20 – XI, 21 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Seraphim of Sarov: The True Aim of Our Christian Life Consists of the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

Seraphim_SarovskyJanuary 2nd is the feast of St Seraphim of Sarov in the Orthodox Church.

The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.

As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, these are the only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.

Mark my words, only good deeds done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this life.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “He who does not gather with Me scatters” (Luke 11:23).

Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, even though a deed is not done for Christ’s sake, it is still considered good.

The Scriptures say: “In every nation he who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to Him” (Acts 10:35).

As we see from another sacred narrative, the man who does what is right is pleasing to God.

We see the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: “Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there you will find Peter and he will tell you the words of eternal life, whereby you will be saved and all your house.”

Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man, in return for his good works, the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life.

But to this end, we must begin with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life.

But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cf. Hebrews. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not.

[…] If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favor of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake.

[…] Good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, it is said: “God does not give the Spirit by measure” (John 3:34-35).

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

John Chrysostom: St John – the Son of Thunder, the Beloved of Christ, Who Holds the Keys of Heaven, Who Drank the Cup of Christ Friday, Dec 27 2013 

John_ChrysostomDecember 27th is the Feast of St John the Evangelist.

For the son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world,

who holds the keys of heaven, who drank the cup of Christ, and was baptized with His baptism,

who lay upon his Master’s bosom with much confidence,

this man comes forward to us now;

not as an actor of a play, not hiding his head with a mask…,

nor mounting a platform, nor striking the stage with his foot, nor dressed out with apparel of gold, but he enters wearing a robe of inconceivable beauty.

For he will appear before us having “put on Christ” (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27), having his beautiful “feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” ( Eph. vi. 15 );

wearing a girdle not about his waist, but about his loins, not made of scarlet leather nor daubed outside with gold, but woven and composed of truth itself.

Seeing then it is no longer the fisherman the son of Zebedee, but He who knoweth “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10), the Holy Spirit I mean, that striketh this lyre, let us hearken accordingly.

For he will say nothing to us as a man, but what he saith, he will say from the depths of the Spirit, from those secret things which before they came to pass the very Angels knew not; since they too have learned by the voice of John with us, and by us, the things which we know.

And this hath another Apostle declared, saying, “To the intent that unto the principalities and powers might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10).

If then principalities, and powers, and Cherubim, and Seraphim, learned these things by the Church, it is very clear that they were exceedingly earnest in listening to this teaching; and even in this we have been not a little honored, that the Angels learned with us things which before they knew not.

[…] If we long to know what is going on in the palace, what, for instance, the king has said, what he has done, what counsel he is taking concerning his subjects, though in truth these things are for the most part nothing to us; much more is it desirable to hear what God hath said, especially when all concerns us.

And all this will this man tell us exactly, as being a friend of the King Himself, or rather, as having Him speaking within himself, and from Him hearing all things which He heareth from the Father.

“I have called you friends,” He saith, “for all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you” (John 15:15).

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on St John’s Gospel, Homily1, Preface, 2-3.

Ambrose of Milan: Then they shall See the Son of Man Coming in a Cloud Saturday, Dec 7 2013 

December 7th is the feast of St Ambrose of Milan.

On Luke 21:25-33.

ambrose_of_milanFor the powers of heaven shall be moved: and then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud (Luke 21:26-27). 

And in like manner the coming of the Son of man is longed for, so that by His presence there may be accomplished in the whole world of angels and of men, that which is wrought in single souls, who, with all fitting dispositions, receive Christ.

So the Powers of heaven, at the Coming of the Lord of salvation, will also attain to an increase of grace; for He is the Lord of the Powers as well, and they will tremble at this appearance among them of the fulness of the glory of the divinity.

Then too the Powers that proclaim the glory of God (Ps. 18) shall also tremble before this fuller revealing of His glory, as they gaze on Christ.

[…] Paul also tells how we may see Christ: for when they shall be converted to the Lord, a veil shall be taken away, and you will behold Christ (2 Cor. 3:16).

You will behold Him in the clouds. Not that I believe that Christ will come in lowering mist, or in the chill rain torrent, for when they appear, they cloak the sky in gloomy darkness.

How then shall He set His Tabernacle in the sun (Ps. 18:6), if His coming be in the rain clouds?

But there are clouds which serve, as is fitting, to veil the splendour of the divine mystery. There are clouds which moisten with the dew of spiritual refreshment.

Consider the cloud in the Old Testament: He spoke to them, it says, in the pillar of the cloud (Ps. 987). He spoke indeed through Moses, and by the mouth of Joshua, who bade the sun stand still that he might have the light of the lengthened day. So Moses and Joshua were clouds.

And observe also that the Holy Ones are clouds, who fly as clouds and as doves to their windows (Is. 60:8).  Above me, like clouds, are Isaiah and Ezekiel, of whom the former has shown me, through the Cherubim and Seraphim, the holiness of the Divine Trinity.

The Prophets all are clouds; in these clouds Christ came. He came in a cloud in the Canticle, serene and lovely, refulgent with the joy of the Bridegroom (Cant. 3:11).

He came and in a swift cloud, becoming Incarnate through the Virgin, for the prophet saw Him come as a cloud from the east (Is. 19:1).

And rightly did he call Him a swift cloud Whom no stain of earth weighed down. Consider the cloud in which the Holy Spirit descended, and from wherein the power of the Most High shadowed forth (Lk. 1:35).

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Homilies 38 (PL 76, col. 1281), Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D. @ Lectionary Central.

Macarius the Egyptian: The heart is Christ’s palace where Christ the King comes to rest Sunday, Nov 24 2013 

Macarius3Consider how the Lord has prepared for Christians the kingdom, and calls them to enter in, and they will not.

As for the gift which they are to inherit, one might say, if everyone from the creation of Adam to the end of the world strove against Satan and endured afflictions, he would do nothing great in comparison with the glory which he is to inherit.

For he will reign to ages without end with Christ. Glory to Him Who so loved a soul like this, for giving Himself and His grace and entrusting the soul therewith! Glory to His greatness!

[…] Suppose there were a very great palace, and this were deserted, and became full of every evil smell, and of many dead bodies.

Well, the heart is Christ’s palace, and it is full of all uncleanness, and of crowds of many wicked spirits. It must be refounded and rebuilt, and its store-chambers and bedrooms put in order.

For there Christ the King, with the angels and holy spirits, comes to rest, and   to dwell, and to walk in it, and to set His kingdom.

I tell you, it is like a ship furnished with plenty of tackle, where the captain disposes of all, and sets them their tasks, finding fault with some, and showing others their way about.

The heart has a captain in the mind, the conscience, which is ever judging us, thoughts accusing or else excusing one another.

[…] God and His angels came for thy salvation. The King, the King’s Son, held council with His Father, and the Word was sent, and put on the garment of flesh, and concealed His own Godhead, that like might be saved by like, and laid down His life upon the Cross.

So great is the love of God towards man. The Immortal chose to be crucified for thee. Consider then how God loved the world, because He gave His only begotten Son for them. How shall He not with Him freely give us all things?

In another place it says, Verily I say unto you that He shall make him ruler over all His goods. Elsewhere it shews the angels as ministers of the saints.

When Elias was in the mountain, and the foreigners came against him, the young servant said, “There are many coming against us, and we are by ourselves.” Then Elias answered, “Do you not see camps and multitudes of angels with us round about succouring us?”

You see that the Master and the multitudes of the angels are with His servants. How great then is the soul, and how much valued by God, that God and the angels seek after it for fellowship with themselves and for a kingdom!

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 15, 31; 33; 44, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

Silouan the Athonite: With the Holy Spirit the saints glorify God, and with the Holy Spirit the Lord glorifies the saints Thursday, Nov 14 2013 

Silouan the Athonite“I love them who love Me, and I will glorify them who glorify Me,” says the Lord (cf. Prov. 8:17 & 1 Kg. 2:30).

God is glorified by His Saints, and, in turn, the Saints are glorified by God.

The glory that God gives to the Saints is so great, that if people were to see a saint as he truly is, they would fall to the ground on account of reverence and fear, because physical man cannot endure the glory of such a heavenly appearance.

Do not marvel at this. The Lord loved man, whom He created, to such an extent that He poured the Holy Spirit abundantly upon man, and through this Holy Spirit man became like unto God.

The Lord gave His grace to the Saints, and they loved Him and completely devoted themselves to Him, because the sweetness of God’s love surpasses the love for the world and its beauty.

And if things are so here on the earth, then in Heaven the saints are even more closely united with the Lord through love.

God is love, and the Holy Spirit is love for the saints. With the Holy Spirit the Lord becomes known. With the Holy Spirit, the Lord is magnified in the heavens.

With the Holy Spirit the Saints glorify God, and with the Holy Spirit the Lord glorifies the Saints—and this glory has no end.

To many people it seems as though the Saints are far away from us. In reality, they are far from those people who have distanced themselves from the Saints;

whereas, they are very close to the people who keep Christ’s commandments and who have the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In Heaven, everything lives and moves in the Holy Spirit. But even on the earth, we have the same Holy Spirit.

This Holy Spirit lives in our Church. The Holy Spirit unites everyone, and for this reason the Saints are close to us.

And when we pray to them, they hear our prayers through the Holy Spirit, and our souls sense and feel their intercessions for us.

The Saints live in another world where they behold, through the Holy Spirit, the divine glory and beauty of the Lord’s face.

Through this same Holy Spirit they also see our lives and our deeds. They are familiar with our sorrows, and they hear our fervent prayers.

While on the earth, they were taught the love of God by the Holy Spirit. And whoever has acquired love on the earth proceeds with it to the eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven, where this love increases until it becomes perfect.

And if on the earth love cannot forget about its fellow man, then even more so the Saints in Heaven do not forget about us, and they pray for us.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox) @ Discerning Thoughts and St Nektarios Monastery.

Leo the Great: When a Man Loves What God Loves, He is Deservedly Raised into His Kingdom Wednesday, Nov 13 2013 

leo1On account of the crafty designs of our ancient foe, the unspeakable goodness of Christ has wished us to know what was to be decreed about all mankind in the day of retribution.

In this life healing remedies are legitimately offered, restoration is not denied to the contrite, and those who have been long barren can at length be fruitful,

Nevertheless, the verdict on which justice has determined may be fore-stalled, and the picture of God’s coming to judge the world should never depart from the mind’s eye.

For the Lord  will come in His glorious Majesty, as He Himself has foretold, and there will be with Him an innumerable host of angel-legions radiant in their splendour.

Before the throne of His power will all the nations of the world be gathered; and all the men that in all ages and on all the face of the earth have been born, shall stand in the Judge’s sight.

Then shall be separated the just from the unjust, the guiltless from the guilty. […] Who would not tremble at this doom of eternal torment?  Who would not dread evils which are never to be ended?

But since this severity is only denounced in order that we may seek for mercy, we too in this present life must show such open-handed mercy that after perilous neglect returning to works of piety it may be possible for us to be set free from this doom.

For this is the purpose of the Judge’s might and of the Saviour’s graciousness, that the unrighteous may forsake his ways and the sinner give up his wicked habits.

Let those who wish Christ to spare them, have mercy on the poor; let them give freely to feed the wretched, who desire to attain to the society of the blessed.

Let no man consider his fellow vile, nor despise in any one that nature which the Creator of the world made His own.  For who that labours can deny that Christ claims that labour as done unto Himself?

Your fellow-slave is helped thereby, but it is the Lord who will repay.  The feeding of the needy is the purchase money of the heavenly kingdom and the free dispenser of things temporal is made the heir of things eternal.

But how has such small expenditure deserved to be valued so highly except because our works are weighed in the balance of love, and when a man loves what God loves, he is deservedly raised into His kingdom, whose attribute of love has in part become his?

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 9, 2.

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