Isaac the Syrian: Faith requires a serene and simple mind Sunday, Oct 9 2016 

Isaac_the_SyrianWhen the soul in the course of its behaviour walks in the way of faith, this improves it much.

When it then turns towards the means of knowledge, it becomes alienated to faith at once.

And it is removed from that intelligible force of faith which reveals itself by different acts of help in the serene soul that simply, without inquiry, uses all that belongs to it.

The soul that has once, in faith, entrusted itself unto God and, under many temptations, has received the taste of faith’s help, no longer thinks of itself, but is made speechless by ecstasy and silence, nor is it allowed to return unto the means of its knowledge or to make use of them, lest it also be bereft, on the contrary, of the divine care which visits it incessantly and provides for it and clings to it everywhere.

For the soul would consider it as a despicable thought to deem itself sufficient to guide itself by the power of its knowledge.

For those in whose hearts the light of faith has dawned, do not venture to pray in their own behalf, they do not even venture to ask God: Give us this, or: Take from us that, nor dare they think of themselves in any way.

For by the initiated eyes of their faith they always see the paternal care which protects them on the part of that Father whose strong and immeasurable love surpasses the love of all fleshly fathers and who has power to supply us with all things above what we ask and think.

[…] Faith…requires a serene and simple mind, far from any cunning or need of means.

Behold, how knowledge and faith are each other’s opposites. The mansion of faith is a childlike mind and a pure heart. For in the purity of their heart people have praised God. For ‘except ye be converted and become as little children’ (Matt. 18:3) and so on.

Knowledge, however is the persecutor and opposite of  these two. Knowledge adheres to the domain of nature, in all its ways. Faith makes its course above nature.

Knowledge does not admit unto itself anything which is in disharmony with nature, not even for the sake of trial, but it lets these things dwell at a distance.

Faith on the other hand orders with authority and says: Thou shall tread upon the serpent and the lion: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet (Psalm 90:13).

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 51, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 242-243.

Cyril of Alexandria: The Mind of Christ and the Advent of the Holy Spirit Tuesday, Jun 10 2014 

cyril_alexandria“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.

Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth:

for He shall not speak from Himself; but what things soever He shall hear, these shall He speak;

and He shall declare unto you the things that are to come” (John 16;12-13).

The new instruction of the Gospel message belongs not to those who are not yet moulded by the Spirit into newness of life and knowledge, and they cannot as yet contain the mysteries of the Holy Trinity.

The exposition then of the deeper mysteries of the faith is suitably reserved for the spiritual renovation that was to proceed from the Spirit when the mind of those who believed on Christ would no longer allow them to remain in the obsolete letter of the Law but rather induce their conversion to new doctrines and implant in them thoughts enabling them to see a fair vision of the truth.

And that before the Resurrection of our Saviour Christ from the dead, and before partaking of His Spirit, the disciples were…clinging to the legal dispensation, even though the mystery of Christ was clearly superior to it, one might very readily perceive.

[…] When, by being enriched with the grace that is from above and from heaven, they had their strength renewed, according to the Scripture, and had attained to a better knowledge than before, then we hear them boldly saying: But we have the mind of Christ.

By the Mind of Christ they mean nothing else but the advent of the Holy Spirit into their hearts, revealing unto them in due measure all things whatsoever they ought to know and learn.

When then “He,” that is the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth. See how free from extravagance the expression is: note the soberness of the phrase. For having told them that the Comforter would come unto them, He called Him the Spirit of Truth, that is, His own Spirit. For He is the Truth.

[…] The Spirit of Truth then, He says, will lead you to complete knowledge of the truth. For as having perfect knowledge of the truth, of which He is also the Spirit, He will make no partial revelation of it to those who worship Him, but will rather engraft in their hearts the mystery concerning it in its entirety.

For even if now we know in part, as Paul says, still, though our knowledge be limited, the fair vision of the truth has gleamed upon us entire and undefiled.

As then no man knoweth the things of a man, according to the Scripture, save the spirit of the man which is in him, in the same way, I think, to use the words of Paul, none knoweth the things of God save the Spirit of God which is in Him.

Since He is My Spirit [says Jesus], and as it were My Mind, He will surely speak to you of the things concerning Me.

Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376-444): Commentary on John, Book 10 [on John 16:12-13].

Georges Florovsky: Gregory of Nyssa on the Appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai Friday, Jan 10 2014 

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

Gregory sees an example of the mystical ascent to God in the figure of Moses the Lawgiver and in the appearance of God on Mount Sinai.

The people were ordered to purify themselves, and the mountain was covered with a cloud and illuminated by fire.

“By the power of God alone and without any other implement the air formed itself into individual words. These words were not only distinct, but they proclaimed the divine commandments.”

The people were afraid to ascend the mountain to listen, and only Moses entered the cloud.

He himself became invisible when he penetrated the ineffable mystery of the Divinity and was in communion with the Invisible One.”

The appearance of God begins with light, and Moses had once seen God in His radiance in the Burning Bush. Now, having become closer to perfection, he saw God in a cloud and, sheltered by a cloud, he participated in eternal life.

In Gregory’s interpretation the first steps away from the path of error are light. A closer examination of that which is hidden leads into a cloud, which replaces visible things.

Finally the soul enters the innermost sanctuary of the knowledge of God “which is enveloped on all sides by the divine cloud. Everything that can be seen and comprehended remains outside, and all that is left for the vision of the soul is that which is invisible and incomprehensible. In this cloud is God.”

The Divinity is “beyond the reach of the understanding.” As man ascends, the “inaccessible nature of Divinity” gradually becomes revealed to him and reason sees God in “the invisible and incomprehensible,” in “a radiant cloud.”

Even when it reaches this cloud the soul realizes that it is as far from perfection as if it had never set out. According to Gregory, it is exactly this that is the highest truth of all.

Our true knowledge is that we do not and cannot know because that which we seek is beyond our cognition. By its very nature the Divinity is higher than knowledge and comprehension.

The first principle of theology must be that God is inaccessible. That which can be contemplated cannot be conceptually expressed.

Whoever claims that God can be known merely shows that he has abandoned the One Who truly exists in favor of something which exists only in the imagination and which does not contain true life, for this life cannot be expressed by concepts.

Georges Florovsky (1893-1979; Eastern Orthodox): “St Gregory of Nyssa” in The Eastern Fathers of the Fourth Century.

Peter of Damascus: “I have Come to Do not My Own Will, but the Will of the Father Who Sent Me” Saturday, Dec 14 2013 

peter_of_damascusContinued from here…

Our Lord Himself said, ‘I have come to do, not My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me’ (cf. John 6:38), even though the will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, since they constitute a single inseparable nature.

But He said this on our account and with respect to the will of the flesh.

For if the flesh is not consumed and if a man is not wholly led by the Spirit of God, he will not do the will of God unless he is forced to.

But when the grace of the Spirit rules within him, then he no longer has a will of his own, but whatever he does is according to God’s will.

Then he is at peace. Men like that will be called sons of God (cf. Matt. 5:9), because they will the will of their Father, as did the Son of God who is also God.

Yet it is impossible to discover the will of God unless we keep the commandments, thereby cutting off all pleasure or personal will, and  unless we endure all the pain that this involves.

As has been said, pleasure and pain are born of folly, and they give rise to all evil. For the foolish man loves himself and cannot love his brother or God; he can neither refrain from pleasure or from the desires that give him satisfaction, nor can he endure pain.

Sometimes he gets what he wants, and then he is filled with pleasure and elation; sometimes he does not get it and, completely dominated by the pain which this engenders, he is cast down and dejected, experiencing a foretaste of hell.

From knowledge, or understanding, is born self-control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain.

And, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come.

Thus through self-control he practices the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God’s debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt.

For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt.

But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2:11).

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 84-85.

Gregory Palamas: The Light of Thabor Shines in the Hearts of the Faithful and Perfect Thursday, Oct 10 2013 

Gregory_PalamasThe commandments of God also grant knowledge, and not that alone, but deification also.

This we possess in a perfect manner, through the Spirit, seeing in ourselves the glory of God, when it pleases God to lead us to spiritual mysteries, in the manner indicated by St. Isaac….

But let us also hear what certain other saints who preceded him have to say of the glory of God, mysteriously and secretly visible to the initiated alone.

[…] And, first among them, let us listen to their leader Peter, who says, “It is not by following improbable fables that we have come to know the power and presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but because we have ourselves become witnesses of His greatness” (2 Pet. 1:16).

And here is another apostolic eyewitness of this glory: “Keeping themselves awake, Peter and his companions beheld the glory of Christ” (Lk. 9:32).

What glory? Another evangelist testifies: “His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white like the light” (Mt. 17:2), showing them that He was Himself the God Who, in the Psalmist’s words, “wraps himself in light as in a mantle” (Ps. 103 [104]:2).

But, after having testified to his vision of Christ’s glory on the holy mountain (2 Pet. 1:18)—of a light which illumines, strange though it may be, the ears themselves (for they contemplated also a luminous cloud from which words reverberated)—Peter goes on to say, “This confirms the prophetic word” (2 Pet. 1:19).

What is this prophetic word which the vision of light confirms for you, O contemplators of God? What if not that verse that God “wraps Himself in light as in a mantle”?

He continues, “You would do well to pay attention to that prophetic word, as to a lamp which shines in a dark place till the day dawns.”  What day, if not that which dawned in Thabor?

“Let the morning star arise!” What star, if not that which illuminated Peter there, and also James and John? And where will that star rise, but “in your hearts”?

Do you not see how this light shines even now in the hearts of the faithful and perfect? Do you not see how it is superior to the light of knowledge?

It has nothing to do with that which comes from Hellenic studies, which is not worthy to be called light, being but deception or confounded with deception, and nearer to darkness than light.

Indeed, this light of contemplation even differs from the light that comes from the holy Scriptures, whose light may be compared to “a lamp that shines in an obscure place”, whereas the light of mystical contemplation is compared to the star of the morning which shines in full daylight, that is to say, to the sun.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): The Triads, D 17-18, in Gregory Palamas: The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle, Classics of Western Spirituality series, Paulist Press, 1983.

Ambrose of Milan: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil Saturday, Oct 5 2013 

ambrose_of_milanI shall not despoil Adam of all the virtues, so that he would appear to have attained no virtue in Paradise and would seem to have eaten nothing from the other trees, but had fallen into sin before he had obtained any fruit.

I shall…not despoil Adam lest I may despoil the whole human race, which is innocent before it acquires the capacity to know good and evil.

Not without reason was it said: ‘Unless you turn and become like this child, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt.18:3).

The child, when he is scolded, does not retaliate. When he is struck, he does not strike back. He is not conscious of the allurements of ambition and self-seeking.

The truth seems to be, then, that He commanded the tree not to be eaten, not even along with the fruit of the other trees.

Knowledge of good, in fact, although of no use to a perfect man, is, on the other hand, of no value to a man who is imperfect.

Paul speaks of himself as imperfect: ‘Not that I have already obtained this or already have been made perfect, but I press on hoping that I may lay hold of it already’ (Phil. 3:12).

Hence the Lord says to the imperfect: ‘Do not judge that you may not be judged’ (Matt. 7:1). Knowledge is, therefore, of no use to the imperfect. Hence we read: ‘I did not know sin unless the Law had said, thou shalt not lust’. And further on we read: ‘For without the Law sin is dead’ (Rom. 7:7-8).

What advantage is it to me to know what I cannot avoid? What avails it for me to know that the law of my flesh assails me? Paul is assailed and sees ‘the law of his flesh warring against that of his mind and making him prisoner to the law of sin.

He does not rely on himself, but by the grace of Christ is confident of his ‘deliverance from the body of death (Rom. 7:23-24). Do you think that anyone with knowledge of sin can avoid it?

Paul says: ‘For I do not the good that I wish, but the evil that I do not wish’ (Rom. 7:19). Do you consider that this knowledge which adds to the reproach of sin can be of help to man?

Granted, however, that the perfect man is unable to sin. God foresaw all men in the person of Adam. Hence it was not fitting that the human race in general should have a knowledge of good and evil – a knowledge which he could not utilize because of the weakness of the flesh.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On Paradise, 12, 59-60 from Saint Ambrose: Hexameron, Paradise, Cain and Abel, translated by John J. Savage, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 42), pp. 340-342.

Maximus the Confessor: Faith, Hope, Love Tuesday, Aug 13 2013 

Maximus_ConfessorAugust 13th is the feast of St Maximus the Confessor

Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things.

We cannot attain lasting possession of such love while we are still attached to anything worldly.

Dispassion engenders love, hope in God engenders dispassion, and patience and forbearance engender hope in God.

These in turn are the product of complete self-control, which itself springs from fear of God. Fear of God is the result of faith in God.

If you have faith in the Lord you will fear punishment, and this fear will lead you to control the passions.

Once you control the passions you will accept affliction patiently, and through such acceptance you will acquire hope in God.

Hope in God separates the intellect** from every worldly attachment, and when the intellect is detached in this way it will acquire love for God.

The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.

If everything that exists was made by God and for God, and God is superior to the things made by Him, he who abandons what is superior and devotes himself to what is inferior shows that he values things made by God more than God Himself.

When your intellect is concentrated on the love of God you will pay little attention to visible things and will regard even your own body as something alien.

Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incom­parably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.

If you distract your intellect from its love for God and concentrate it, not on God, but on some sensible object, you thereby show that you value the body more than the soul and the things made by God more than God Himself.

Since the light of spiritual knowledge is the intellect’s life, and since this light is engendered by love for God, it is rightly said that nothing is greater than divine love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13).

When in the intensity of its love for God the intellect goes out of itself, then it has no sense of itself or of any created thing.

For when it is illumined by the infinite light of God, it becomes insensible to everything made by Him, just as the eye becomes insensible to the stars when the sun rises.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Four Hundred Texts on Love 1-10, Text  from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 2 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp.53-54.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Maximus and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).

Maximus the Confessor: Moses, Elijah and the Mystery of the Transfiguration (2) Monday, Aug 5 2013 

Maximus_ConfessorContinued from here…

Then they [Peter, James and John] are taught through them [Moses and Elijah] about wisdom and kindness dwelling with Him.

It is in accordance with wisdom that the word is declaratory of things made and prohibitory of things not made, and of this Moses is the type, for we believe the grace of law-giving to belong to wisdom.

And it is in accordance with kindness that the word invites and causes to return to the divine life those who have slipped away from it, and of this Elijah is the type, through himself manifesting the complete prophetic gift.

For the conversion through love for humankind of those who have erred is a characteristic of divine kindness, and the heralds of this we know as the prophets.

[And they are also taught about] knowledge and education. Knowledge is the source in human beings of the understanding of good and evil.

“For I have set before your face”, he says, “life and death” (Deut. 30:19), the one you are to elect, the other to flee, and lest through ignorance you disguise the worse with the good,

Moses proclaims what is to be done, prefiguring in himself the symbols of the truth. Education is needed for those who without restraint do what is contrary and indiscriminately mix what should not be mixed. In Israel the great Elijah was their teacher, the scourge of indifference, who, like reason, led to understanding and sense the mindlessness and hardness of those who were utterly addicted to evil.

[And they are also taught about] ascetic struggle and contemplation. Ascetic struggle destroys evil and through the demonstration of the virtues cuts off from the world those who are completely led through it in their disposition, just as Moses led Israel out of Egypt and educated her persuasively through the divine laws of the Spirit.

Contemplation seizes them as it were from matter and form, like Elijah on his chariot of fire, leading them to God through knowledge and uniting them with Him, so that they are no longer weighed down by the flesh because of the setting aside of its law, nor burning with zeal for the fulfillment of the commandments, because of the grace of poverty of spirit mixed with all real virtues.

Again, they learnt from the Word the mysteries of marriage and celibacy: through Moses, how one is not prevented by marriage from being a lover of divine glory; and through Elijah, how he remained completely pure from any marital intercourse, and how the Word and God proclaims that those who direct themselves in these things by reason according to the laws that are divinely laid down concerning them are made to enter into Himself in a hidden way.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662):  Eighteen Spiritual Interpretations of the Tranfiguration, From Maximus the Confessor by Andrew Louth (Routledge: London 1999) pp. 128-134 @ Mystagogy here and here.

Maximus the Confessor: Moses, Elijah and the Mystery of the Transfiguration (1) Sunday, Aug 4 2013 

Maximus_ConfessorBut going back to what has already been contemplated, let us turn our attention according to our means to the rest of the meaning of the Transfiguration, so that the excellence of the Saints in everything and their genuine separation from the flesh and matter may be seen.

And let us note that they do not contemplate either creation or Scripture like us in a material or lowly way.

They do not acquire the blessed knowledge of God only by sense and appearances and forms, using letters and syllables, which lead to mistakes and bafflement over the judgment of the truth, but solely by the mind [nous], rendered most pure and released from all material mists.

Since therefore we want to judge reverently and see clearly and intelligibly the meanings of those things perceived by the senses, we must look carefully to the inerrant knowledge concerning God and divine things and rightly proceed along the straight path.

Therefore it was said above that through the luminous brightness that shone from the face of the Lord on the mount, the thrice-blessed apostles were secretly led in an ineffable and unknowable manner to the power and glory of God which is completely incomprehensible to every being, for they learnt that the light that appeared to their senses is a symbol of what is hidden and beyond any manifestation.

For as the ray of the light that came to pass here overwhelmed the strength of the eyes and remained beyond their grasp, so also their God transcends all the power and strength of the mind and leaves no kind of trace for the mind to experience.

The white garments teach, in a divinely fitting way, at one and the same time both the magnificence that lies in creatures proportionately to the logoi [symbols of the divine plan] according to which they have come into being and the mysterious revelation found in the understanding of the words of Holy Scripture, so that the written power in the Spirit and the wisdom and knowledge manifested together in creatures are displayed together for the knowledge of God, and through them again he is proportionately manifested.

Through Moses and Elijah, who were with Him on either side, they are taught many various conceptions which are put forward as figures of mysteries: through true contemplation of them they found ways of knowing. It is this that must now be examined.

And first they received through Moses and Elijah the most reverent notion about how the legal and the prophetic word had always to be present with God the Word, as they are and proclaim from Him and concerning Him and they are established around Him.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662):  Eighteen Spiritual Interpretations of the Tranfiguration, From Maximus the Confessor by Andrew Louth (Routledge: London 1999) pp. 128-134 @ Mystagogy.

Peter of Damascus: The Divine Physician Heals the Sickness of the Soul Monday, Feb 18 2013 

peter_of_damascusJust as sick people need surgery and cautery to recover the health they have lost, so we need trials, and toils of repentance, and fear of death and punishment, so that we may regain our former health of soul and shake off the sickness which our folly has induced.

The more the Physician of our souls bestows upon us voluntary and involuntary suffering, the more we should thank Him for His compassion and accept the suffering joyfully.

For it is to help us that He increases our tribulation, both through the sufferings we willingly embrace in our repentance and through the trials and punishments not subject to our will.

In this way, if we voluntarily accept affliction, we will be freed from our sickness and from the punishments to come, and perhaps even from present punishments as well.

Even if we are not grateful, our Physician in His grace will still heal us, although by means of chastisement and manifold trials. But if we cling to our disease and persist in it, we will deservedly bring upon ourselves agelong punishment.

[…] We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like.

And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his lightless condition.

For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.

[…] Greater practice is rewarded by greater knowledge; and from the understanding thus acquired we gain control of the passions and learn how to endure our sufferings patiently.

Sufferings produce devotion to God and a recognition of His gifts and our faults. These give birth to gratitude, and gratitude inculcates the fear of God which leads us to the keeping of the commandments, to inward grief, gentleness and humility.

These three virtues produce discrimination, which…makes it possible for the intellect…to foresee coming faults and to forestall them through its experience and recollection of what has happened in the past. In this way it can protect itself against stealthy attacks.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 77-78.

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