Basil the Great: The mind is a wonderful thing, and therein we possess that which is after the image of the Creator Wednesday, Dec 16 2015 

St-Basil-the-GreatThe mind is a wonderful thing, and therein we possess that which is after the image of the Creator.

[…] But there are in it two faculties; in accordance with the view of us who believe in God, the one evil, that of the dæmons which draws us on to their own apostasy; and the divine and the good, which brings us to the likeness of God.

When, therefore, the mind remains alone and unaided, it contemplates small things, commensurate with itself.

When it yields to those who deceive it, it nullifies its proper judgment, and is concerned with monstrous fancies.

Then it considers wood to be no longer wood, but a god; then it looks on gold no longer as money, but as an object of worship.

If on the other hand it assents to its diviner part, and accepts the boons of the Spirit, then, so far as its nature admits, it becomes perceptive of the divine.

[…]  The mind which is impregnated with the Godhead of the Spirit is at once capable of viewing great objects; it beholds the divine beauty, though only so far as grace imparts and its nature receives.

[…] The judgment of our mind is given us for the understanding of the truth.

Now our God is the very truth. So the primary function of our mind is to know one God, but to know Him so far as the infinitely great can be known by the very small.

When our eyes are first brought to the perception of visible objects, all visible objects are not at once brought into sight.

The hemisphere of heaven is not beheld with one glance, but we are surrounded by a certain appearance, though in reality many things, not to say all things, in it are unperceived;—the nature of the stars, their greatness, their distances, their movements, their conjunctions, their intervals, their other conditions, the actual essence of the firmament….

Nevertheless, no one would allege the heaven to be invisible because of what is unknown; it would be said to be visible on account of our limited perception of it.

It is just the same in the case of God.  If the mind has been injured by devils it will be guilty of idolatry, or will be perverted to some other form of impiety.  But if it has yielded to the aid of the Spirit, it will have understanding of the truth, and will know God.

But it will know Him, as the Apostle says, in part; and in the life to come more perfectly.  For “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10).

Basil the Great (330-379): Letter 233.

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Ambrose of Milan: In applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, God makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain Thursday, Jun 18 2015 

ambrose_of_milan‘In addition she bore his brother Abel’ (Gen. 4:2).

[…] When…Abel is born in addition, Cain is eliminated.

This can be understood better if we examine the signification of their names.

Cain means ‘getting’ because he got everything for himself, Abel, on the other hand, did not, like his brother before him, refer everything to himself.

Devotedly and piously, he attributed everything to God, ascribing to his Creator everything that he had received from Him.

There are two schools of thought, therefore, totally in opposition one to the other, implied in the story of the two brothers.

One of these schools attributes to the mind itself the original creative source of all our thoughts, sensations, and emotions. In a word, it ascribes all our productions to man’s own mind.

The other school is that which recognizes God to be the Artificer and Creator of all things and submits everything to His guidance and direction.

Cain is a pattern for the first school and Abel of the second.

One living being gave birth to these two schools of thought. Hence, they are related as brothers because they come from one and the same womb.

At the same time, they are opposites and should be divided and separated, once they have been animated with the life of the spirit.

Those who are by nature contraries cannot abide for long in one and the same habitation.

Hence, Rebecca, when she gave birth to two individuals of dissimilar nature, the one good and the other evil, and when she felt them leap in her womb (Esau was the type of wickedness, Jacob the pattern of what is good), marveled at the reason for the discord which she perceived within her.

She appealed to God to make known the reason for her suffering and to grant a remedy. This was the response given to her prayer: ‘Two nations are in your womb; two peoples shall stem from your body’ (Gen. 25:23).

Interpreted spiritually, this can mean the same generation of good and evil, both of which emanate from the same source in the soul.

The former is likely to be the fruit of sound judgment whereby evil is repudiated and goodness is fostered and strengthened.

Prior to giving birth to what is good, that is to say, to giving complete reverence and deference owed to God Himself, the soul shows preference to its own creation.

When…the soul is generated with faith and trust in God, relief comes at the time of parturition.

Thus God, in applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 1, 3-4, in St Ambrose: Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, tr. John J. Savage, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 1961, pp. 360-361.

Nektarios the Wonderworker: The image of those who hope in the God who saves Tuesday, May 13 2014 

St NektariosHow wonderful, how pleasing, how charming is the image of those who hope in the God Who saves

— in God the compassionate, the God of mercy, the good God Who loves mankind.

People who hope in God are truly blessed.

God is their constant helper and they fear no evil, even if others provoke them.

They hope in God and do good.

They have set their every hope on Him and they confess to Him with all their heart.

He is their boast, their God and they call upon Him day and night.

Their mouths direct praise to God; their lips are sweeter than honey and wax when they open them to sing to God; their tongue, full of grace, is moved to glorify God.

Their heart is eager to call upon Him, their mind ready to be elevated towards Him, their soul is committed to God and “His right hand has upheld them”.

“Their souls will boast in the Lord”. They ask and receive from God whatever their heart desires.

They ask and find whatever they seek. They knock and the gates of mercy are opened.

People who hope in God rest upon untroubled waters. And God grants them His rich mercy.

The right hand of God directs their paths and the finger of the Lord guides them on their way.

Those who hope in the Lord do not fail. Their hope never dies. God is their expectation, the furthermost desire of their hearts.

Their hearts sigh before Him all the day long: “Lord, do not delay, arise, hasten, come and remove my soul from every necessity, bring my soul out of prison.

“I will glorify you with my whole heart, Lord. Every word which proceeds from my mouth will be directed to you”.

Those who hope in the Lord bless the Most High, His Redeemer and also sanctify “His holy name”.

They hope, and cry to God from the depths of their hearts: “Lord, when shall I come and appear before Your face”.

Those who hope in the Lord will call upon the Lord and enter into His holy place, in order to see and rejoice in His wonders.

And the Lord will hear the voice of their supplication.

Nektarios of Aegina (Orthodox Church; 1846-1920): from Το γνώθι σαυτόν [To know yourself], Athos publications, pp.101-4 @ Pemptousia.

Isaac the Syrian: The burning of the heart unto the whole creation Friday, Apr 11 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3What is repentance? To desist from former sins and to suffer on account of them.

And what is the sum of purity? A heart full of mercy unto the whole created nature.

And what is perfection? Depth of humility, namely giving up all visible and invisible things….

Another time the same father was asked: What is repentance? He answered: A broken heart.

And what is humility? He replied: Embracing a voluntary mortification regarding all things.

And what is a merciful heart? He replied:

The burning of the heart unto the whole creation, man, fowls and beasts, demons and whatever exists so that by the recollection and the sight of them the eyes shed tears on account of the force of mercy which moves the heart by great compassion.

Then the heart becomes weak, and it is not able to bear hearing or examining injury or any insignificant suffering of anything in the creation.

And therefore even in behalf of the irrational beings and the enemies of truth and even in behalf of those who do harm to it, at all times he offers prayers with tears that they may be guarded and strengthened; even in behalf of the kinds of reptiles, on account of his great compassion which is poured out in his heart without measure, after the example of God.

[…] The sum of all is God, the Lord of all, who from love of His creatures, has delivered His Son to death on the cross. For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son for it.

Not that He was not able to save us in another way, but in this way it was possible to show us His abundant love abundantly, namely by bringing us near to Him by the death of His son.

If He had anything more clear to Him, He would have given it us, in order that by it our race might be His.

And out of His great love He did not even choose to urge our freedom by compulsion, though He was able to do so. But His aim was, that we should come near to Him by the love of our mind.

And our Lord obeyed His Father out of love unto us, taking upon Him scorn and suffering joyfully, as Scripture says: “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.”

Therefore our Lord said in the night in which He was betrayed: “This is my body which is given for the salvation of the world unto life. And this is my blood which is shed for all for the remission of sins. In behalf of them I offer myself.”

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 74, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck).

John Cassian: Dejection Monday, Apr 7 2014 

Sf-IoanCasianWe have to resist the pangs of gnawing dejection.

For if this, through separate attacks made at random, and by haphazard and casual changes, has secured an opportunity of gaining possession of our mind, it keeps us back at all times from all insight in divine contemplation, and utterly ruins and depresses the mind that has fallen away from its complete state of purity.

It does not allow it to say its prayers with its usual gladness of heart, nor permit it to rely on the comfort of reading the sacred writings, nor suffer it to be quiet and gentle with the brethren;

it makes it impatient and rough in all the duties of work and devotion: and, as all wholesome counsel is lost, and steadfastness of heart destroyed, it makes the feelings almost mad and drunk, and crushes and overwhelms them with penal despair.

Wherefore if we are anxious to exert ourselves lawfully in the struggle of our spiritual combat we ought with no less care to set about healing this malady also. For “as the moth injures the garment, and the worm the wood, so dejection the heart of man.”

With sufficient clearness and appropriateness has the Divine Spirit expressed the force of this dangerous and most injurious fault. For the garment that is moth-eaten has no longer any commercial value or good use to which it can be put; and in the same way the wood that is worm-eaten is no longer worth anything for ornamenting even an ordinary building, but is destined to be burnt in the fire.

So therefore the soul also which is a prey to the attacks of gnawing dejection will be useless for that priestly garment which, according to the prophecy of the holy David, the ointment of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven, first on Aaron’s beard, then on his skirts, is wont to assume: as it is said, “It is like the ointment upon the head which ran down upon Aaron’s beard, which ran down to the skirts of his clothing.”

Nor can it have anything to do with the building or ornamentation of that spiritual temple of which Paul as a wise master builder laid the foundations, saying, “Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you:” and what the beams of this are like the bride tells us in the Song of Songs: “Our rafters are of cypress: the beams of our houses are of cedar.”

And therefore those sorts of wood are chosen for the temple of God which are fragrant and not liable to rot, and which are not subject to decay from age nor to be worm-eaten.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Institutes 9, 1-3.

Leo the Great: Charity Contains All Other Virtues and Covers a Multitude of Sins Thursday, Apr 3 2014 

leo1In the gospel of John the Lord says: In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.

In a letter of the same apostle we read: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God; he who does not love does not know God for God is love.

The faithful should therefore enter into themselves and make a true judgment on their attitudes of mind and heart.

If they find some store of love’s fruit in their hearts, they must not doubt God’s presence within them.

If they would increase their capacity to receive so great a guest, they should practice greater generosity in doing good, with persevering charity.

If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined.

Any time is the right time for works of charity, but these days of Lent provide a special encouragement.

Those who want to be present at the Lord’s Passover in holiness of mind and body should seek above all to win this grace, for charity contains all other virtues and covers a multitude of sins.

As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries, by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy.

In this way we shall give to those who have sinned against us what God in his goodness has already given to us.

Let us now extend to the poor and those afflicted in different ways a more open-handed generosity, so that God may be thanked through many voices and the relief of the needy supported by our fasting.

No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor.  Where he finds charity with its loving concern, there he recognizes the reflection of his own fatherly care.

In these acts of giving do not fear a lack of means.  A generous spirit is itself great wealth. There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed.

In all this activity there is present the hand of him who multiplies the bread by breaking it, and increases it by giving it away.The giver of alms should be free from anxiety and full of joy.  His gain will be greatest when he keeps back least for himself.

The holy apostle Paul tells us: He who provides seed for the sower will also provide bread for eating; he will provide you with more seed, and will increase the harvest of your goodness,

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 48, 3-5 (10th Lenten sermon) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Isaac the Syrian: Trials and temptations Wednesday, Apr 2 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3Hardships for the sake of the good are loved as the good itself.

Nobody can acquire real renunciation save him that is determined in his mind to bear troubles with pleasure.

Nobody can bear trouble save him that believes that there is something more excellent than bodily consolation which he shall acquire in reward for trouble.

Everyone that has devoted himself to renunciation, will first perceive the love of trouble stir within himself; thereupon the thought of renouncing all worldly things will take shape in him.

Everyone who comes near unto trouble will at first be confirmed in faith; then he will come near unto trouble.

He that renounces worldly things without renouncing the senses, sight and hearing, he prepares twofold trouble for himself and he will find tribulation in a twofold measure.

Or rather: while he refrains from the use of things, he delights in them through the senses; and by the affections which they cause he experiences the same from them that he had to endure in reality before; because the recollection of their customs is not effaced from the mind.

If then imaginary representations existing in the mind alone can torture man, apart from the things corresponding to them in reality, what shall we say when the real things are close at hand?

[…] The hard temptations into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts.

If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift.

As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations.So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts.

Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.

What then? Temptation, then gifts ; or gifts and afterwards temptation? Temptation does not come if the soul has not received secretly greatness above its previous rank, as well as the spirit of adoption as sons.

We have a proof of it in the temptation of our Lord and of the Apostles; for they were not allowed to be tempted before they had received the Comforter. Those who partake of good have also to bear temptations.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 39, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck (slightly adapted).

Dorotheus of Gaza: The light of conscience Saturday, Mar 22 2014 

Dorotheos2When God created man He sowed in him something divine, a certain thought which has in itself, like a spark, both light and warmth; a thought which enlightens the mind and indicates to it what is good and what is evil—this is called conscience, and it is a natural law.

This is that well which, as the Holy Fathers interpret it, Isaac dug and the Philistines covered up (Gen. 26:18). Following this law, that is, conscience, the Patriarchs and all the saints pleased God before the written Law.

But when men through the fall of sin buried and trampled upon it, then the written Law became necessary, the Holy Prophets became necessary, the very Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ became necessary in order to reveal and move it (the conscience)—in order that this buried spark might again be ignited by the keeping of His Holy Commandments.

Now it is in our power either to again bury it or to allow it to shine in us and illuminate us, if we shall submit to it. For when our conscience tells us to do something and we disdain it, and when it again speaks, and we do not do what it says, but rather continue to trample upon it, then we bury it and it can no longer speak clearly to us from the weight that lies upon it.

But like a lamp which hangs behind a curtain, it begins to show us things more darkly. And just as no one can recognize his own face in water that is obscured by many weeds, so after the transgression, we also do not understand what our conscience tells us—so that it seems to us that we have no conscience at all.

However, there is no man who has no conscience, for it is, as we have already said, something divine and never perishes. It always reminds us of what is profitable, but we do not feel it because, as has already been said, we disdain it and trample upon it.

Wherefore the Prophet laments over Ephraim and says (Hosea 5:11) Ephraim altogether prevailed against his adversary, he trod judgment under foot. By adversary was meant the conscience. […] But why is the conscience called the adversary?

It is called adversary because it always opposes our evil will and reminds us what we must do but do not do; and again, what we should not do but do, and for this it judges us, which is why the Lord calls it the adversary and commands us saying, Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him (Matt. 25:26). The way, as St. Basil the Great says, is this world.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620): Conference 3 – On the Conscience @ Pravoslavie.

Theophylact of Ohrid: The Rebellion of the Prodigal Son Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

Theophylact_the_Bulgarian (1)On Luke 15:11-32 (the Parable of the Prodigal Son).

Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son (born at the beginning) does not become estranged from the father.

But sin is an evil thing which was born later.

This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time.

The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father’s will. Father, give me the portion of the property (ousia) that falleth to me.

The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will (autexousia), for all that is rational is inherently self-governing.

The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property.

He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing.

But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift.

Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets.

But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God’s law, and did evil to the prophets.

On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God.

Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and self-determination, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling.

If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will.

But the younger son completely spent this inheritance. Why? Because he had gone into a far country.

When a man rebels against God and places himself far away from the fear of God, then he squanders all the divine gifts.

But when we are near to God, we do not do such deeds that merit our destruction. As it is written, I beheld the Lord ever before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken (Ps. 15:8).

But when we are far from God and become rebellious, we both do, and suffer, the worst things, as it is written, Behold, they that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:25).

Theophylact of Ohrid (1055-1107): Explanation of the Gospel of St Luke, on Luke 15:11-32 (Sunday of the Prodigal Son) @ Chrysostom Press.

Albert the Great: Plunged, enlarged, set on fire and dissolved into God Saturday, Feb 22 2014 

Albertus_Magnus_Painting_by_Joos_van_GentI have had the idea of writing something for myself on and about the state of complete and full abstraction from everything and of cleaving freely, confidently, nakedly and firmly to God alone, so as to describe it fully (in so far as it is possible in this abode of exile and pilgrimage), especially since the goal of Christian perfection is the love by which we cleave to God.

In fact everyone is obligated, to this loving cleaving to God as necessary for salvation, in the form of observing the commandments and conforming to the divine will, and the observation of the commandments excludes everything that is contrary to the nature and habit of love, including mortal sin.

Members of religious orders have committed themselves in addition to evangelical perfection, and to the things that constitute a voluntary and counselled perfection by means of which one may arrive more quickly to the supreme goal which is God.

The observation of these additional commitments excludes as well the things that hinder the working and fervour of love, and without which one can come to God, and these include the renunciation of all things, of both body and mind, exactly as one’s vow of profession entails.

Since indeed the Lord God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth, in other words, by knowledge and love, that is, understanding and desire, stripped of all images.

This is what is referred to in Matthew 6.6, ‘When you pray, enter into your inner chamber,’ that is, your inner heart, ‘and having closed the door,’ that is of your senses, and there with a pure heart and a clear conscience, and with faith unfeigned, ‘pray to your Father,’ in spirit and in truth, ‘in secret.’

This can be done best when a man is disengaged and removed from everything else, and completely recollected within himself. There, in the presence of Jesus Christ, with everything, in general and individually, excluded and wiped out, the mind alone turns in security confidently to the Lord its God with its desire.

In this way it pours itself forth into him in full sincerity with its whole heart and the yearning of its love, in the most inward part of all its faculties, and is plunged, enlarged, set on fire and dissolved into him.

Albert the Great (1193/1206–1280) [attributed]: On Cleaving to God, 1.

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