John Chrysostom: Let us not be sad that we are mortal, but rather let us be grateful Sunday, Jun 26 2016 

Chrysostom3Not seven days have passed since we celebrated the holy feast of Pentecost and again we are overtaken by a chorus of martyrs, or better, serried ranks of martyrs, which are in no way lesser than the ranks of the angels seen by the Patriarch Jacob but equal to and of the same worth as them.

Because martyrs and angels differ only as regards the name, whereas in their works they’re united. Angels reside in the heavens, but so, too, do the martyrs. The former are eternal and immortal; the martyrs will become so.

But have the latter assumed a bodiless form? What does it matter? Because the martyrs, even though they have a body, are still immortal, or rather, before immortality, the death of Christ adorns their bodies even more greatly than immortality.

The sky, be it adorned with ever so many stars, is not so bright as the bodies of the martyrs, which are made beautiful by the blood of their wounds. So, because they died for Him, they are, in fact, superior and have been decorated before achieving immortality, since they were crowned from the moment death.

‘You have made them a little lower than the angels, with glory and honour you have crowned them’, said David, regarding the nature of the whole of the human race. But when Christ came, He completed this small amount, because He condemned death by His own death.

That is not what I am saying though. What I mean is that this defect of death became an advantage. If they had not been mortal, they would not have become martyrs. So, had there been no death, there would not have been any crown. Had there been no death, there would not be martyrdom.

Had there been no death, Saint Paul would not have been able to say ‘I affirm by the pride in you that I have in Christ Jesus our Lord: I die every day’. Had there been no death and corruption, the same Apostle would not have been able to say, ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’.

Therefore let us not be sad that we are mortal, but rather let us be grateful, since the arena of martyrdom has been opened to us by death and, by corruption, we have been given the chance of winning the prize. From now on, we have a reason to strive.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Encomium on All Saints @ Pemptousia [slightly adapted].

Augustine of Hippo: St Laurence loved Christ in his life he imitated Him in his death Monday, Aug 10 2015 

St Augustine of AfricaThe Roman Church commends this day to us as the blessed Laurence’s day of triumph, on which he trod down the world as it roared and raged against him; spurned it as it coaxed and wheedled him; and in each case, conquered the devil as he persecuted him.

For in that Church, you see, as you have regularly been told, he performed the office of deacon; it was there that he administered the sacred chalice of Christ’s blood; there that he shed his own blood for the name of Christ.

The blessed apostle John clearly explained the mystery of the Lord’s supper when he said Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

St Laurence understood this, my brethren, and he did it; and he undoubtedly prepared things similar to what he received at that table. He loved Christ in his life, he imitated him in his death.

And we too, brethren, if we truly love him, let us imitate him. After all, we shall not be able to give a better proof of love than by imitating his example; for Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps.

In this sentence the apostle Peter appears to have seen that Christ suffered only for those who follow in his footsteps, and that Christ’s passion profits none but those who follow in his footsteps.

The holy martyrs followed him, to the shedding of their blood, to the similarity of their sufferings. The martyrs followed, but they were not the only ones. It is not the case, I mean to say, that after they crossed, the bridge was cut; or that after they had drunk, the fountain dried up.

[…] Let us understand how Christians ought to follow Christ, short of the shedding of blood, short of the danger of suffering death.

The Apostle says, speaking of the Lord Christ, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal to God. What incomparable greatness! But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men, and found in condition as a man. What unequalled humility!

Christ humbled himself: you have something, Christian, to latch on to. Christ became obedient. Why do you behave proudly? After running the course of these humiliations and laying death low, Christ ascended into heaven: let us follow him there.

Let us listen to the Apostle telling us, If you have risen with Christ, savor the things that are above where Christ is, seated at God’s right hand.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon for the Feast of St. Lawrence (Sermon 304, 1-4, PL 38, 1395-1397) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Gregory of Nyssa: How did Stephen See Transcendent Glory? Who Laid Bare Heaven’s Gates for Him? Thursday, Dec 26 2013 

Gregory_of_NyssaDecember 26th is the Feast of St Stephen, the First Martyr.

Yesterday the Lord of the universe welcomed us whereas today it is the imitator [Stephen] of the Lord.

[…] One assumed human nature on our behalf while the other shed it for his Lord.

One accepted the cave of this life for us, and the other left it for him.

One was wrapped in swaddling clothes for us, and the other was stoned for him.

One destroyed death, and the other scorned it.

[…] As Paul has said (Heb 12:4), Stephen [Stephanos] has become a spectacle to the world, angels and to men.

He was the first to have received the crown [stephanos] of martyrdom, the first to have paved the way for the chorus of martyrs and the first to have resisted sin to the point of shedding blood.

It seems to me that the entire host of transcendent powers, angels, and myriads both assist and accompany them (i.e., the martyrs).

[…] How did Stephen see transcendent glory? Who laid bare heaven’s gates for him?

Was this the work of men? Which of the angels enabled inferior human nature soar to that height?

Stephen was not alone when he was generously filled with power coming from the angels which enabled him to see what he saw.

What was recorded? “Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God and his Only-Begotten Son” (Acts 7:55).

As the Prophet says, light cannot be seen unless one is filled with light: “In your light we shall see light” (Ps 35:10).

If observation of the light does not share this same light, how can anyone deprived of the sun’s rays see it?

Since the Father’s light makes this possible, the Only Begotten Son’s light emanates through the Holy Spirit which makes it visible.

Therefore the Spirit’s glory enables us to perceive the glory of both the Father and Son.

But can we say that the Gospel is true which says that “No man has ever seen God” (John 1:18)?

How do the Apostle’s words agree with the following, “No man has seen nor can see God” (1Tim 6:16)?

If human nature and power can perceive the glory of the Father and Son, their vision must indeed be mistaken. However, history is true and cannot lie.

[…]  Stephen beholds God not in human nature and power but is united by grace to the Holy Spirit who elevates him in order to comprehend God.

Therefore, one cannot say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Spirit, as the Apostle says (cf. 1 Tim 6:16, 1 Cor 12:3).

One cannot contemplate the Father’s glory because where the Spirit is the Son is seen and the Father’s glory is grasped.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): First Homily on St Stephen, Protomartyr.

Ignatius of Antioch: I Desire the Bread of God, the Heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God Thursday, Oct 17 2013 

Ignatius_of_Antioch October 17th is the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch

Let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ.

Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones.

Let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing.

It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth.

“For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?”

Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me.

Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world.

Suffer me to obtain pure light: when I have gone thither, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God.

If any one has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened.

The prince of this world would fain carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you, therefore, who are [in Rome] help him; rather be ye on my side, that is, on the side of God.

Do not speak of Jesus Christ, and yet set your desires on the world.

Let not envy find a dwelling-place among you; nor even should I, when present with you, exhort you to it, be ye persuaded to listen to me, but rather give credit to those things which I now write to you.

For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die.

My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that liveth and speaketh, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father.

I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life.

I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham.

And I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35 – c. 107): Letter to the Romans, 5-7 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Augustine of Hippo: So Let Us Understand How Christians Should Follow Christ Saturday, Aug 10 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaThe blessed apostle John clearly explained the mystery of the Lord’s supper when he said Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

St Lawrence understood this, my brethren, and he did it; and he undoubtedly prepared things similar to what he received at that table.

He loved Christ in his life, he imitated him in his death. And we too, brethren, if we truly love him, let us imitate him.

After all, we shall not be able to give a better proof of love than by imitating his example; for Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, so that we might follow in his footsteps.

In this sentence the apostle Peter appears to have seen that Christ suffered only for those who follow in his footsteps, and that Christ’s passion profits none but those who follow in his footsteps.

The holy martyrs followed him, to the shedding of their blood, to the similarity of their sufferings. The martyrs followed, but they were not the only ones. It is not the case, I mean to say, that after they crossed, the bridge was cut; or that after they had drunk, the fountain dried up.

The garden of the Lord, brethren, includes – yes, it truly includes – includes not only the roses of martyrs but also the lilies of virgins, and the ivy of married people, and the violets of widows.

There is absolutely no kind of human beings, my dearly beloved, who need to despair of their vocation; Christ suffered for all. It was very truly written about him:who wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the acknowledgement of the truth.

So let us understand how Christians ought to follow Christ, short of the shedding of blood, short of the danger of suffering death.

The Apostle says, speaking of the Lord Christ, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal to God. What incomparable greatness!

But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being made in the likeness of men, and found in condition as a man. What unequalled humility!

Christ humbled himself: you have something, Christian, to latch on to. Christ became obedient. Why do you behave proudly?

After running the course of these humiliations and laying death low, Christ ascended into heaven: let us follow him there.

Let us listen to the Apostle telling us, If you have risen with Christ, savuor the things that are above is, seated at God’s right hand.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 304 (on the Feast of St Lawrence) 1-4, (PL 38, 1395-1397) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Bede the Venerable: The Humility and Kindness of St Oswald, the Most Christian King of the Northumbrians Friday, Aug 2 2013 

icon_bede-August 3rd is the Feast of St Oswald (604-642) in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

King Oswald, with the English nation which he governed, being instructed by the teaching of this bishop [St Aidan], not only learned to hope for a heavenly kingdom unknown to his fathers, but also obtained of the one God, Who made heaven and earth, a greater earthly kingdom than any of his ancestors.

In brief, he brought under his dominion all the nations and provinces of Britain, which are divided into four languages, to wit, those of the Britons, the Picts, the Scots, and the English.

Though raised to that height of regal power, wonderful to relate, he was always humble, kind, and generous to the poor and to strangers.

To give one instance, it is told, that when he was once sitting at dinner, on the holy day of Easter, with the aforesaid bishop, and a silver dish full of royal dainties was set before him, and they were just about to put forth their hands to bless the bread, the servant, whom he had appointed to relieve the needy, came in on a sudden.

He told the king that a great multitude of poor folk from all parts was sitting in the streets begging alms of the king; Oswald immediately ordered the meat set before him to be carried to the poor, and the dish to be broken in pieces and divided among them.

[…] Oswald, the most Christian king of the Northumbrians…was killed in a great battle, by the same pagan nation and pagan king of the Mercians, who had slain his predecessor Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue Maserfelth, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August.

How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles even after his death; for, in the place where he was killed by the pagans, fighting for his country, sick men and cattle are frequently healed to this day.

Whence it came to pass that many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water, brought much relief with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, a hole was made as deep as the height of a man.

Nor is it surprising that the sick should be healed in the place where he died; for, whilst he lived, he never ceased to provide for the poor and the sick, and to bestow alms on them, and assist them. Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the dust carried from it.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Ecclesiastical History of England, 3, 6; 9 here and here.

Gregory Palamas: Feast of St Peter and St Paul (1) – St Peter’s Healing Repentance Saturday, Jun 29 2013 

Gregory_PalamasThe first traitor, who incited the first man to desert God, saw Him Who had earlier made Adam, the father of the human race, later re-creating Peter as the father of all true worshippers.

He not only saw, but also heard the Creator saying to Peter: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18).

Once the prince of evil found this out…, he tempted Peter, the first leader of God’s faithful people, as he had previously tempted Adam, the founder of the race of men.

Realizing that Peter was endowed with intelligence and afire with love for Christ, he did not dare make a direct attack.

Instead he came upon him from the right flank, cunningly deceiving him into being excessively eager.

At the time of the saving Passion, when the Lord told His disciples, “All ye shall be offended because of me this night” (Matt. 26:31), Peter disobediently contradicted Him.

He also exalted himself above the others, saying that even if everyone else were offended, he would not be (Matt. 26:33).

Because he had been beguiled into arrogance, he fell further than the rest, so that by humbling himself more than them he might eventually appear more radiant.

Unlike Adam who was tempted, vanquished and completely brought down, Peter, having been tempted and led astray a little, overcame the tempter.

How? Through his immediate condemnation of himself, his intense sorrow and repentance, and the medicine which brings forgiveness, tears.

“A broken and contrite heart”, it says, “O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17), and “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Cor. 7:10), and “They that sow their supplications in tears shall joyfully reap forgiveness” (cf. Ps. 126:5).

Anyone who looks at Peter will see that through repentance and painful grief he not only adequately healed the denial into which he had been drawn, but he also completely rooted out of his soul that passion which had made him fall behind the others.

Wishing to demonstrate this to everyone, the Lord, after His Passion in the flesh for our sake and His rising on the third day, used those words to Peter which we read in today’s Gospel, asking him, “Simon, son of Jonah, lovest thou me more than these” (John 21:15), meaning, “more than these disciples of mine”.

But see how much humbler he has become. Whereas before, even without being asked, he set himself above the rest and said that even if all forsook the Lord, he would not; now, on being asked whether he loves Him more than the others do, he affirms that he loves Him, but leaves out the word “more”, saying “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee” (John 21:15, 16, cf. 17).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily on the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, 5-6 @ Mystagogy.

Fulgentius of Ruspe: The Love that Brought Christ from Heaven to Earth Raised Stephen from Earth to Heaven Wednesday, Dec 26 2012 

Church FathersYesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world.

Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.

Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed.

He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity.

[…] And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.

Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name.

His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him.

Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.

In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns.

Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen.

This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy.

It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense,- and the way that leads to heaven.

He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid: love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.

My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven.

Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.

Fulgentius of Ruspe (462/467—527/533):Sermon 3, 1-3, 5-6 (CCL 91A, 905-909) from the Office of Readings for the Feast of St Stephen, December 26th@ Crossroads Initiative.

Hippolytus of Rome: When We Stop Praying, the Adversary is Victorious Over Us Saturday, Nov 24 2012 

Daniel…did not yield to fright, for he was ready to become the prey of beasts rather than submit to the decree of the king.

[…] Having returned home, Daniel knelt in prayer in the upper chamber three times a day, with the windows open toward Jerusalem, as was his custom.

Let us contemplate the piety of blessed Daniel. Although he seemed to have much work to do for the king, he continued to be faithful to daily prayer, rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.

Someone might object: Was it not possible for him to pray to God in the intimacy of his heart during the day, and then, during the night, remain secretly recollected in his home as he desired, and without endangering himself?

Of course, he could have acted in that way, but…the supervisors and the satraps might have said: What is the value of the fear of God, since he is afraid of the king’s edict and is submissive to his commands? And they would have been ready to accuse him of infidelity.

[…] Hence, Daniel did not give his adversaries any ‘pretext’ for de­traction, for whoever submits to a man is that man’s slave.

That is why the blessed Daniel, who had preferred the fear of God and delivered himself to death, was saved from the lions by the angel.

If he had taken the edict into consideration and had remained quiet for thirty days, his faith would not have preserved its purity. No one can serve two masters.

The wily devil exercises his wits to persecute, oppress, bring down the saints, and prevent them from raising their holy hands to God in their prayers.

The devil knows well that the prayer of the saints gives peace to the world and brings chastisements to the wicked, which makes us recall that when Moses in the desert raised his hands, Israel overcame, and when he lowered them, it was Amalek who had the upper hand.

This still takes place for us today. When we stop praying, the adversary is victorious over us; and when we cling to prayer, the power and energy of the Evil One are fruitless.

How powerful are those who trust more in God than in men! Men extinguish all hope and deliver us to death, but God will not abandon his servants.

That is why the psalmist teaches that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to trust in princes.

Hippolytus of Rome (c.170-c.236): Commentary on Daniel,III, 21-30 (SC 14:242-258); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Tuesday of the 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Year 2.

Hippolytus of Rome: A Person Without the Holy Spirit is Frightened of the Struggle Friday, Nov 16 2012 

On chapter 3 of the book of Daniel…

Behold three youths who have set an example for all.

They were unafraid of the numerous satraps and of the words of the king.

They did not tremble when they heard about the fiery flames of the furnace, but they spurned all and the whole world for they thought only of the fear of God.

You see how the Spirit of the Father teaches eloquence to the martyrs, consoling them and exhorting them to despise death in this world, to hasten their attainment of heavenly goods.

But a person who is without the Holy Spirit is frightened of the struggle.

He hides himself, takes precautions against a death that is only temporal, is afraid of the sword, falls into a panic at the thought of the torture.

He no longer sees any other thing than the world here below, worries only about the present life, prefers his wife to everything else, is bothered only about love for his children, and seeks nothing but wealth.

Such a man, because he is not endowed with heavenly strength, is quickly lost.

That is why anyone who desires to come near the Word listens to the behest of the King and Lord of heaven:

Whoever does not bear his cross and follow me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not renounce all that he possesses cannot be my disciple.

Scripture tells us that after this those three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell into the white-hot furnace and walked about in the flames, singing to God and blessing the Lord.

[…] God saved those he wanted, in order that the wonders of his works might be revealed to the whole world.

But those whom he desired to undergo martyrdom, he crowned and let them come to him.

If he drew the three youths out of their predicament, it was to show the emptiness and folly of Nebuchadnezzar’s boastfulness and prove at the same time that what is impossible to man is possible to God.

Nebuchadnezzar had proudly declared: Who is the God that can deliver you out of my hands? God proved to him that he can free his servants when he wishes to do so.

That is why it is improper for man to oppose the decisions of God. For if we live, we live for the Lord. And if we die, we die for the Lord. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.

Hippolytus of Rome (c.170-c.236): Commentary on Daniel, II, 18-37 (SC 14:150-184); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Saturday of Week 33 in ordinary Time, Year 2.

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