Charles Wesley: An Interest in the Saviour’s Blood Friday, Apr 18 2014 

Charles_wesleyAnd can it be, that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies!
Who can explore his strange design?
In vain the first-born seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel-minds inquire no more.

He left his Father’s throne above,
(So free, so infinite his grace!)
Emptied himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread,
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Charles Wesley (1701-1778; Church of England): Hymns, 201.

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Aphrahat the Persian: Love and Forgiveness Wednesday, Feb 5 2014 

ephrem-isaac-aphrahatLove is more excellent than anything else, and by it the righteous ones of the old times were perfected.

Scripture shows concerning Moses that he gave himself in behalf of the sons of his people, and he wished that he might be blotted out of the book of life if only the people might not be blotted out.

And also when they rose up against him to stone him, he offered up prayer before God in their behalf that they might be saved.

And David also showed an example of love when he was persecuted by Saul, and a trap was continually set for his life so that they might kill him.

David by love was generously performing acts of mercies in behalf of Saul his enemy, who was seeking his life.

Saul was twice delivered into the hands of David, and he did not kill him and repaid good in place of evil. Because of this good did not depart from his house, and he who forsook him was forsaken.

And Saul who repaid evil in place of good, evil did not depart from his house, and He called to God and He did not answer him, and he fell by the sword of the Philistines, and David wept over him bitterly.

And David fulfilled beforehand the precept of our Saviour, who said: “Love your enemies,” and “forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you.” Thus David loved and was loved, and forgave and it was forgiven unto him.

And Elisha also showed love in respect to this, when his enemies came against him to take him so that they might do evil to him, and he, doing good to them, set forth bread and water before them and sent them away from him in peace.

Elisha fulfilled the word which is written: “If thine enemy is hungry feed him, and if he thirsts give him to drink.”

And also Jeremiah the prophet in behalf of those who made him a captive in a pit and were continually putting him to torture, but he also prayed ardently for them before God.

By this example of those who went before our Saviour taught us that we should love our enemies and pray for those who hate us.

And if He commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for those who hate us, what shall be our excuse to Him in the day of judgment, who have hated our brothers and our own members?

Because we are of the Body of Christ and members of His members. For he who hates one of the members of Christ will be separated from the whole body, and he who hates his brother will be separated from the sons of God.

Aphrahat the Persian (c.270-c.345): Demonstrations, 2 – On Love (17; 18). (The icon accompanying this extract depicts Ephrem the Syrian, Isaac the Syrian, and Aphrahat).

Gregory Nazianzen: Holding Communion with God, Associated with the Purest Light Thursday, Jan 30 2014 

St.-Gregory-NazianzenIn the eastern calendar, January 30th is the Synaxis of The Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, & John Chrysostom.

In praising Athanasius, I shall be praising virtue….  Again, in praising virtue, I shall be praising God, who gives virtue to men and lifts them up, or lifts them up again, to Himself by the enlightenment which is akin to Himself (1 John 1:5).

For many and great as are our blessings—none can say how many and how great—which we have and shall have from God, this is the greatest and kindliest of all, our inclination and relationship to Him.

For God is to intelligible things what the sun is to the things of sense.  The one lightens the visible, the other the invisible, world.  The one makes our bodily eyes to see the sun, the other makes our intellectual natures to see God.

And, as that, which bestows on the things which see and are seen the power of seeing and being seen, is itself the most beautiful of visible things; so God, who creates, for those who think, and that which is thought of, the power of thinking and being thought of, is Himself the highest of the objects of thought, in Whom every desire finds its bourne, beyond Whom it can no further go.

For not even the most philosophic, the most piercing, the most curious intellect has, or can ever have, a more exalted object.  For this is the utmost of things desirable, and they who arrive at it find an entire rest from speculation.

Whoever has been permitted to escape by reason and contemplation from matter and this fleshly cloud or veil (whichever it should be called) and to hold communion with God, and be associated, as far as man’s nature can attain, with the purest Light, blessed is he, both from his ascent from hence, and for his deification there, which is conferred by true philosophy, and by rising superior to the dualism of matter, through the unity which is perceived in the Trinity.

And whosoever has been depraved by being knit to the flesh, and so far oppressed by the clay that he cannot look at the rays of truth, nor rise above things below, though he is born from above, and called to things above, I hold him to be miserable in his blindness, even though he may abound in things of this world;

and all the more, because he is the sport of his abundance, and is persuaded by it that something else is beautiful instead of that which is really beautiful, reaping, as the poor fruit of his poor opinion, the sentence of darkness, or the seeing Him to be fire, Whom he did not recognize as light.

Gregory Nazianzen (c.330-390): Oration 21 (on the Great Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria), 1-2.

Leo the Great: A Man is Made the Body of Christ, because Christ Also is the Body of a Man Thursday, Dec 19 2013 

leo1Such was the state of all mortals resulting from our first ancestors that…no one would have escaped the punishment of condemnation, had not the Word become flesh and dwelt in us, that is to say, in that nature which belonged to our blood and race.

And accordingly, the Apostle says:  “As by one man’s sin (judgment passed) upon all to condemnation, so also by one man’s righteousness (it) passed upon all to justification of life.

For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:18, 19);

and again, “For because by man (came) death, by man also (came) the resurrection of the dead.

And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”  (1 Cor. 15:21, 22).

All they to wit who though they be born in Adam, yet are found reborn in Christ, having a sure testimony both to their justification by grace, and to Christ’s sharing in their nature;

for he who does not believe that God’s only-begotten Son did assume our nature in the womb of the Virgin-daughter of David, is without share in the Mystery of the Christian religion, and, as he neither recognizes the Bridegroom nor knows the Bride, can have no place at the wedding-banquet.

For the flesh of Christ is the veil of the Word, wherewith every one is clothed who confesses Him unreservedly.

[…]  Hence whosoever confesses not the human body in Christ, must know that he is unworthy of the mystery of the Incarnation, and has no share in that sacred union of which the Apostle speaks, saying, “For we are His members, of His flesh and of His bones.

For this cause a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and there shall be two in one flesh” (Eph. 5:30-32). And explaining what was meant by this, he added, “This mystery is great, but I speak in respect of Christ and the Church.”

Therefore, from the very commencement of the human race, Christ is announced to all men as coming in the flesh.

In which, as was said, “there shall be two in one flesh,” there are undoubtedly two, God and man, Christ and the Church, which issued from the Bridegroom’s flesh, when it received the mystery of redemption and regeneration, water and blood flowing from the side of the Crucified.

For the very condition of a new creature which at baptism puts off not the covering of true flesh but the taint of the old condemnation, is this, that a man is made the body of Christ, because Christ also is the body of a man.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Letter 59, 4.

Justin Popovich: The Lives of the Saints are the Life of the God-Man Christ which is Poured out into His Followers Friday, Nov 1 2013 

Justin PopovichChristians are Christ-bearers…. The Saints are the most perfect Christians, for they have been sanctified to the highest degree with the podvigs (i.e.ascetic struggles) of holy faith in the risen and eternally-living Lord Christ and no death has power over them.

Their life is entirely from the Lord Christ, and for this reason it is entirely Christ’s life; and their thought is entirely Christ’s thought; and their perception is Christ’s perception.

All that they have is first Christ’s and then theirs. If the soul, it is first Christ’s and then theirs: if life, it is first Christ’s and then theirs.

In them is nothing of themselves but rather wholly and in everything the Lord Christ. Therefore, the Lives of the Saints are nothing else but the life of the Lord Christ, repeated in every saint to a greater or lesser degree in this or that form.

More precisely it is the life of the Lord Christ continued through the Saints, the life of the incarnate God the Logos, the God-man Jesus Christ who became man.

This was so that as man He could give and transmit to us His divine life; so that as God by His life he could sanctify and make immortal and eternal our human life on earth. “For both he who sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one” (Heb. 2:11).

[…] Having become man but having remained God, the God-man led a holy, sinless, Divine-human life on earth, and by this life, death, and Resurrection, annihilated the devil and his dominion of death and by this act gave and constantly gives His grace-filled energies to those who believe in Him, so that they may annihilate the devil and every death and every temptation.

[…] The lives of the saints are in fact the life of the Godman Christ, which is poured out into His followers and is experienced by them in His Church. For the smallest part of this life is always directly from Him because He is life, infinite and boundless and eternal life, which by His Divine power vanquished all deaths and resurrects from all deaths.

According to the all-true and good tidings of the All-True One: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The miraculous Lord who is completely “resurrection and life” is in His Church in His whole being as Divine-human reality, and consequently there is no end to the duration of this reality.

His life is continued through all ages; every Christian is of the same body with Christ, and he is a Christian because he lives the Divine-human life of this Body of Christ as Its organic cell.

Justin Popovich (1894-1979; Orthodox Church): Introduction to the Lives of the Saints.

Irenaeus of Lyons: The Eucharist – Life, Immortality, Incorruption, Resurrection to the Glory of God Wednesday, Oct 23 2013 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonThe mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist becomes the body of Christ, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported.

So how can anyone affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which flesh is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?

St Paul declares, “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh (Luke 24:39).

Rather, he refers to that dispensation by which the Lord became an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones—that flesh which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body.

A cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season; a corn of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things.

Then, through the wisdom of God, it serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.

So also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption (1 Cor. 15:53).

For the strength of God is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:3), in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful;

that, learning by experience, we might possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature;

that we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature;

that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives, and thus never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man.

And might it not be the case, perhaps, as I have already observed, that for this purpose God permitted our resolution into the common dust of mortality, that we, being instructed by every mode, may be accurate in all things for the future, being ignorant neither of God nor of ourselves?

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses, 5, 2, 3.

Basil the Great: “Grace has been Shed Forth on Thy Lips” Sunday, Oct 6 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatThou art more beautiful than the sons of men: grace has been shed forth on thy lips: therefore God has blessed thee for ever. Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O Mighty One, in thy comeliness, and in thy beauty (Psalm 44[45]:2-3).

‘Grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee forever’ (Ps. 44:2). In the Gospel it has been written: ‘They marvelled at the words of grace that came from his Mouth’ (Luke 4:22).

The psalm, wishing to bring forward vividly the great amount of grace in the words spoken by our Lord, says: ‘Grace is poured abroad in thy lips’ because of the abundance of grace in the words.

‘God hath blessed thee forever’ it says. It is evident that these words refer to His human nature, as it advances ‘in wisdom and age and grace’ (Ibid. 2:52).

According to this we clearly perceive that grace has been given to Him as the prize for His brave deeds. Similar to this is the saying: ‘Thou hast loved justice and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows’ (Ps. 44:7).

The saying of Paul to the Philippians is also much like to this: ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. Therefore God also has exalted him’ (Phil. 2:8). So that it is clear that these words were spoken concerning the Savior as a man.

Or, there is this explanation. Since the Church is the body of the Lord, and He Himself is the head of the Church, just as we have explained that those ministering to the heavenly Word are the lips of Christ (even as Paul, or anyone else much like to him in virtue, had Christ speaking in himself [cf. 2 Cor. 13:3]’), so also we, as many of us as are believers, are the other members of the body of Christ.

Now, if anyone refers to the Lord the praise given to the Church, he will not sin. Therefore, the saying: ‘God hath blessed thee’; that is to say, He has filled thy members and thy body with blessings from Himself for eternity, that is to say, for time without end.

‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O thou most mighty. With thy ripeness and thy beauty’ (Ps. 44:3).

We believe that this refers figuratively to the living Word of God, so that He is joined with the flesh, who is ‘efficient and keener than any two-edged sword, and extending even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints also and of marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart’ (Heb. 4:12).

[…] He is a sword that cuts through the sensual part of the soul and mortifies the motions of concupiscence.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 17 (on Psalm 44[45]), 5,  from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 283-284.

Irenaeus of Lyons: Christ Graciously Poured Himself Out, that He Might Gather Us Into the Bosom of the Father Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonNor did Christ truly redeem us by His own blood except by really becoming man, restoring to His own handiwork what was said of it in the beginning—that man was made after the image and likeness of God.

He did not not snatch away by stratagem the property of another, but took possession of His own in a righteous and gracious manner.

As far as concerned the apostasy, indeed, He redeems us righteously from it by His own blood; but as regards us who have been redeemed, He does this graciously.

For we have given nothing to Him previously, nor does He desire anything from us, as if He stood in need of it; but we do stand in need of fellowship with Him.

And for this reason it was that He graciously poured Himself out, that He might gather us into the bosom of the Father.

But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption.

But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body (1 Cor. 10:16).

For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins” (Col. 1:14).

And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills (Matt. 5:45).

He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

The mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist becomes the body of Christ, from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported.

So how can anyone affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which flesh is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him? As St Paul declares…:“we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30).

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses, 5, 2, 1-3.

Augustine of Hippo: Christ and the Church – Head and Body, Bridegroom and Bride Sunday, Aug 25 2013 

St Augustine of AfricaSometimes in the Scriptures Christ is presented as the Word equal to the Father.

Sometimes he is presented as the Mediator, since the Word became flesh to dwell amongst us, taking the form of a servant and becoming obedient unto death, even death on the cross.

Sometimes, however, he is presented in such a way that you are to understand the head and the body together, as when the Apostle expounds what was said about husband and wife in Genesis: they shall be two in one flesh.

Notice his exposition, for I don’t want to give the impression of saying something I made up myself: for they shall be two in one flesh. And he adds, this is a great sacrament.

Now just in case anyone should still think this is about a husband and wife according to the natural joining of the sexes and their bodily coming together, he goes on, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.

And just as with bridegroom and bride, so also head and body, because the head of the woman is the man. So, whether I say head and body, or whether I say bridegroom and bride, you must understand the same thing.

And that’s why the same Apostle, while he was still Saul, heard the words, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?; because the body is joined to the head.

So present yourselves to such a head as a body worthy of him, to such a bridegroom as a worthy bride. To present himself, it says, with a glorious Church, without stain or wrinkle or any such thing.

This is the bride of Christ, without stain or wrinkle. Do you wish to have no stain? Do what is written, wash yourselves, be clean, remove the wicked schemes from your heart.

Do you wish to have no wrinkle? Stretch yourself on the cross. You see, you don’t only need to be washed, but also to be stretched, in order to be without stain or wrinkle; because by the washing sins are removed, while by the stretching a desire is created for the future life, which is what Christ was crucified for.

Listen to Paul himself, once he was washed: he has saved us by the washing of rebirth; and listen to him as he is stretched: forgetting what lies behind, and stretching forward to what lies ahead I press on towards the goal for the prize of God’s calling from above in Christ Jesus.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 341, 12-13; from The Works of Saint Augustine, a Translation for the 21st Century: Sermons 341-400 (III/10) (on the Liturgical Seasons), translated by Edmund Hill, O.P. and the Monastic Office of Vigils, Wednesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Gregory of Nyssa: Through the Church the Heavenly Powers Discover the Manifold Wisdom of God Saturday, Aug 24 2013 

Gregory_of_NyssaThat the manifold wisdom of God may be made known to the principalities and powers in heavenly places through the Church, according to the eternal purpose, which he made, in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Ephesians 3:10-12).

It is indeed through the Church that the heavenly powers discover the manifold wisdom of God that accomplished great wonders by contrary means: how life resulted from death, righteousness from sin, a blessing from a curse, glory from disgrace, power from weakness.

In earlier times the heavenly powers were aware only of the simple, unqualified wisdom of God working wonders in a manner appropriate to its nature.

There was nothing complex in what they saw when in its mighty power the Godhead created the universe by a simple act of will, bringing the natural world into being and endowing all things with the great beauty that springs from the source of all beauty.

Now, however, through the Church, they have been clearly shown this manifold kind of wisdom which consists in the combination of opposites.

They have learned how the Word became flesh; how life mingled with death; how Christ healed our wounds by his own bruises; and how by the weakness of the Cross he overcame the power of the adversary.

They have learned how the Invisible was revealed in flesh; how he re­deemed captives, being himself both the Redeemer and the price, since he gave himself up to death to pay our ransom; how he also entered the realm of death without abandoning life, and became a servant without ceasing to be a king.

All these and similar things contained in the manifold and not simple works of Wisdom the friends of the Bridegroom learned through the Church, and were fascinated to perceive in the mystery yet another mark of the divine Wisdom.

Indeed, if it is not too bold a thing to say, perhaps in gazing at the beauty of the Bridegroom reflected in the bride, they beheld with wonder that which is invisible and incomprehensible to all created beings.

For God, whom no one has ever seen, as John says, or can see, as Paul testifies, has made the Church his body, and by the addition of those who are saved he builds it up in love until we all attain full maturity, measured by nothing less than the full stature of Christ.

If then the Church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the body’s head who impresses his own features on its face, this may explain why the friends of the Bridegroom were fascinated to see the Church, since through her they beheld more clearly the invisible Bridegroom.

Just as one cannot look straight at the sun but can see its brilliance reflected on water, so they too see the Sun of Righteousness in the clear mirror of the Church, in which they contemplate him through his reflection.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On the Song of Songs, 8 (Jaeger, 6:254-7); from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

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