John of Kronstadt: Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you… Thursday, Apr 21 2016 

john_kronstadtObserve the difference between the presence of the life-giving spirit and the presence of the spirit that deadens and destroys your soul.

When there are good thoughts in your soul you feel happy and at ease; when peace and joy are in your heart, then the spirit of good, the Holy Ghost, is within you;

whilst when evil thoughts or evil motions of the heart arise within you, you feel ill at ease and oppressed; when you are inwardly troubled, then the spirit of evil, the crafty spirit, is within you.

When the spirit of evil is in us, then, together with oppression of heart and disturbance, we generally feel a difficulty in drawing near to God in our heart, because the evil spirit binds our soul, and will not let it raise itself to God.

The evil spirit is a spirit of doubt, unbelief – of passions, oppression, grief and disturbance; whilst the spirit of good is one of undoubting faith, of virtue, of spiritual freedom and breadth – a spirit of peace and joy.

Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you, and when the spirit of evil, and, as often as possible, raise your grateful heart to the most Holy Spirit that gives you life and light, and flee with all your power from doubt, unbelief, and the passions through which the evil serpent, the thief and destroyer of our souls, creeps in.

Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them – hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depths of his heart cries unto God:

“Why hast Thou turned Thy face from me, Thou everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me…and has obscured all my soul….Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Thy commandments and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray Thee.”

[…] Not knowing the spirit that destroys, you will not know the Spirit that gives life. Only by means of direct contrasts of good and evil, of life and death, can we clearly know the one and the other: if you are not subjected to distresses and dangers of bodily or spiritual death, you will not truly know the Saviour, the Life-Giver, who delivers us from these distresses and from spiritual death.

Jesus Christ is the consolation, the joy, the life, the peace and the breadth of our hearts! Glory to God, the Most Wise and Most Gracious, that He allows the spirit of evil and death to tempt and torment us! Otherwise we should not have sufficiently appreciated and valued the comfort of grace, the comfort of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, the Life-Giving!

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): My Life in Christ, part 1, pp.37-38.

Augustine of Hippo: How shall we act so as not to sin with our tongue? Friday, Oct 16 2015 

St Augustine of AfricaHow shall we act so as not to sin with our tongue?

It is written that death and life are in the power of the tongue, and again: Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but even more because of the tongue.

The Lord says the same thing: They have taught their tongues to speak lies. They have taught!

You see, the tongue becomes accustomed to telling lies. It tells lies even when you do not want it to.

It is like a wheel: if you spin it once, after that ­initial impetus its own shape and roundness or what you might call its natural instability makes it go on turning.

And it is the same with our tongues: once started they run on of their own accord in the way that is easiest for them.

You have one thing ­in your mind, but sometimes out of habit the tongue choose­s another.

What is to be done? You see what a balanced judgement must be made before the tongue is allowed to say anything!

For it does not in fact wag of its own accord; there is one within who wags it. There is within us a certain power which moves both itself and the members that serve it.

Let the one in control be good and with the help of grace that person can overcome any bad habit whatever. Let the servant be good and the service will be peaceful.

The soldier has weapons but if he does nothing neither do they. So too among our members our tongues are our souls’ weapons.

Scripture calls the tongue a restless evil. O restless member! Who made this evil if not a restless person? Do not be restless yourself and this evil does not exist. Do not set it going and it will do nothing on its own.

It is not a spirit to move of its own accord. It is merely a body and lies still. It will not wag if you do not wag it. When you do use it, be careful how you do so.

[…] What an impious tongue! You have despised the Creator and respected the creature! Oh that restless evil, full of deadly poison! We use it to praise our God and Father – God and also Father, God by nature, Father by grace – then we use it to call down curses on other people made in God’s image.

Be careful, my friends, with what you are carrying about with you. But of course I should say, what we are carrying about with us, for I am a man just as you are.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Sermon 14A.2-3 (CCL 41:219-220); from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Saturday of the 28th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

Maximus the Confessor: He who anoints his “nous” for spiritual contest… Thursday, Jul 9 2015 

Maximus_ConfessorThose who are always trying to lay hold of our soul do so by means of impassioned thoughts, so that they may drive it to sin either in the mind or in action.

Consequently, when they find the intellect (Greek: ὁ νοῦς)** [see footnote] unreceptive, they will be disgraced and put to shame, and when they find the intellect occupied with spiritual contemplation, they will ‘be turned back and suddenly ashamed’ (Ps. 6:10).

He who anoints his intellect for spiritual contest and drives all impassioned thoughts out of it has the quality of a deacon.

He who illuminates his intellect with the knowledge of created beings and utterly destroys false knowledge has the quality of a priest.

And he who perfects his intellect with the holy myrrh of the knowledge and worship of the Holy Trinity has the quality of a bishop.

The demons are weakened when the passions in us decrease through our keeping the commandments, and they are defeated totally when they are routed by dispassion, for then they no longer find anything through which they can enter the soul and fight against it.

This is what is meant by ‘they will be weakened and defeated before Thy face’ (Ps. 9:3).

Some men abstain from the passions because of human fear, others because of self-esteem, and others through self-control. Some, however, are delivered from the passions by divine providence.

All the discourses of our Lord contain these four elements: commandments, doctrines, threats and promises.

With the help of these we patiently accept every kind of hardship, such as fasting, vigils, sleeping on the ground, toil and labor in acts of service, insults, dishonor, torture, death and so on. ‘Helped by the words of Thy lips,’ says the psalmist, I have kept to difficult paths’ (Ps. 17:4. LXX).

The reward of self-control is dispassion, and the reward of faith is spiritual knowledge. Dispassion engenders discrimination, and spiritual knowledge engenders love for God.

When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge.

The first leads the spiritual contestant to discriminate between virtue and vice; the second leads the participant to the inner qualities of incorporeal and corporeal things.

Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns – as far as this is possible for the human intellect – the qualities of God.

Maximus the Confessor (580-662): Four Hundred Texts on Love, Second Century, 20-26 53, 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.68-69.

**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).

Gregory the Great: Heaven and hell are shut up together Saturday, Jun 20 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistIf He overturn all things, or shut them up together, then who shall gainsay Him?  Or who can say to Him, Why doest Thou so? (Job 11:10).

It very often happens that the spirit already lifts the mind on high, yet that the flesh assails it with pressing temptations.

And, when the soul is led forward to the contemplation of heavenly things, it is struck back by the images of unlawful practice being presented.

For the sting of the flesh suddenly wounds him, whom holy contemplation was bearing away beyond the flesh.

Therefore heaven and hell are shut up together, when one and the same mind is at once enlightened by the uplifting of contemplation, and bedimmed by the pressure of temptation —

— so that both by straining forward it sees what it should desire, and through being bowed down it should be in thought subject to that which it should blush for.

For light springs from heaven, but hell is held of darkness.

Heaven and hell then are brought into one, when the soul which already sees the light of the land above, also sustains the darkness of secret temptation coming from the warfare of the flesh.

Yea, Paul had already gone up to the height of the third heaven, already learnt the secrets of Paradise, and yet being still subject to the assaults of the flesh, he groaned, saying:

But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (Rom. 7:23).

How then was it with the heart of this illustrious Preacher, saving that God had ‘shut up together’ heaven and hell, in that he had both already obtained the light of the interior vision, and yet continued to suffer darkness from the flesh?

Above himself he had seen what to seek after with joy, in himself he perceived what to bewail with fear.  The light of the heavenly land had already shed abroad its rays, yet the dimness of temptation embarrassed the soul.

Therefore he underwent hell together with heaven, in that assurance set him erect in his enlightenment, and lamentation laid him low in his temptation.

And it often happens that faith is now vigorous in the soul, and yet in some slight point it is wasted with uncertainty, so that both being well-assured, it lifts itself up from visible objects, and at the same time being unassured it disquiets itself in certain points.

For very often it lifts itself to seek after the things of eternity, and being driven by the incitements of thoughts that arise, it is set at strife with its very own self.

[…] Did not he experience that ‘earth and sea were shut up together’ in his breast, who, both hoping through faith and wavering through faithlessness, cried, Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief? (Mark 9:23).

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 17-18 (on Job 11:10) @ Lectionary Central (slightly adapted).

Gregory of Nyssa: The commandment of the Lord is exceedingly far-shining, declaring that good cleaves only unto God Friday, Jun 19 2015 

Gregory_of_NyssaThere is only one right path.

It is narrow and contracted.

It has no turnings either on the one side or the other.

No matter how we leave it, there is the same danger of straying hopelessly away.

This being so, the habit which many have got into must be as far as possible corrected.

I am speaking of those, who while they fight strenuously against the baser pleasures, yet still go on hunting for pleasure in the shape of worldly honour and positions which will gratify their love of power.

They act like some domestic who longed for liberty, but instead, of exerting himself to get away from slavery, proceeded only to change his masters, and thought liberty consisted in that change.

But all alike are slaves, even though they should not all go on being ruled by the same masters, as long as a dominion of any sort, with power to enforce it, is set over them.

There are others again who after a long battle against all the pleasures, yield themselves easily on another field, where feelings of an opposite kind come in.

And, in the intense exactitude of their lives, they fall a ready prey to melancholy and irritation, and to brooding over injuries, and to everything that is the direct opposite of pleasurable feelings; from which they are very reluctant to extricate themselves.

This is always happening, whenever any emotion, instead of virtuous reason, controls the course of a life.

For the commandment of the Lord is exceedingly far-shining, so as to “enlighten the eyes” even of “the simple” (Ps. 18:6-8), declaring that good cleaves only unto God.

But God is not pain any more than He is pleasure; He is not cowardice any more than boldness; He is not fear, nor anger, nor any other emotion which sways the untutored soul, but, as the Apostle says, He is Very Wisdom and Sanctification, Truth and Joy and Peace, and everything like that.

If He is such, how can anyone be said to cleave to Him, who is mastered by the very opposite? Is it not want of reason in any one to suppose that when he has striven successfully to escape the dominion of one particular passion, he will find virtue in its opposite?

[…] It matters not whether we miss virtue, or rather God Himself Who is the Sum of virtue, in this way, or in that.

[…] He therefore who watches over the life and the sanity of the soul will confine himself to the moderation of the truth; he will continue without touching either of those opposite states which run alongside virtue.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On Virginity, 16 (slightly adapted).

Nikolai Velimirovich: When the words of Holy Scripture are continually on our lips… Friday, May 8 2015 

Nikolai VelimirovichMay 8th is the feast of St Arsenios the Great

Glorious Arsenius, whom the world glorified,
Fleeing from glory, to himself he said:

“To men and to the world, consider yourself dead.
Neither wise nor foolish words, do not speak.
For a word, at times, I have repented;
For silence I have never repented.

If my heart, to God I do not bind,
To shake off the passionate life, I am not able.
If my thoughts glorify God only,
External passions will leave me.

Your time, fill with prayer and labor;
Sleep even less and labor all the more.
Arsenius the sinful, why do you stop?
Why to the wilderness did you come, I ask?

Not for the sake of idleness, but for the salvation of the soul;
Not for the sake of sleep, but for the sake of repentance.
Heal yourself quickly, and enliven the soul:
Lord have mercy! Forgive and have mercy!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he felt neither the power of the words he read nor gentleness in his heart.

To that the great saint replied to him: “My child, just read! I heard that when snake-charmers cast a spell upon the serpents, these sorcerers utter words which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents, hearing the words spoken, sense their power and become tamed.

An so it is with us, when the words of Holy Scripture are continually on our lips, although we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit.”

My child, just read! The Holy Spirit, Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance.

Likewise, the demons will hear and understand, and will flee from you.

That is: He to Whom you are calling for help will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): Prologue from Ohrid, May 8th.

Nikolai Velimirovich: When the Holy Spirit of God Enters Into Us the Kingdom of God has Arrived Thursday, Jun 12 2014 

Nikolai Velimirovich“We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

Brethren, the spirit of this world is the spirit of pride and cruelty and the Spirit of God is the Spirit of meekness and gentleness.

The apostle of God asserts that the followers of Christ did not receive the spirit of this world rather the Spirit “which is of God,”

i.e., who proceeds from God the Father as a sweet-smelling fragrance as from flowers and as a good fragrance pours out on the soul of man making it mighty, bright, peaceful, thankful and pleasant.

Men by nature are meek and gentle. St. Tertulain writes: “the soul of man by nature is Christian.” But, by the spirit of this world, it is irritable and enraged.

The spirit of this world made wolves out of lambs, while the Spirit Who is from God makes lambs out of wolves.

The apostle still adds that we received the Spirit of God “that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12).

Therefore, that we may know what is from God in us and what is not from God and that we may sense the sweetness of that which is from God and the bitterness from that which is not from God, rather from the spirit of this world.

As long as man is outside of his nature, beneath his nature, he considers bitterness as sweetness and sweetness as bitterness. But, when by the Spirit of God he returns to his true nature, then he considers sweet as sweetness and bitter as bitterness.

Who can return man to God? Who can heal man of poisonous sinful bitterness? Who can teach him by experience to distinguish true sweetness from bitterness? No one except the Spirit Who is from God.

Therefore brethren, let us pray that God grants us His Holy Spirit as He granted the Holy Spirit to His apostles and saints.

And when that Holy Spirit of God enters into us, the kingdom of God has arrived in which is all sweetness itself, only good, only light, only meekness and only gentleness.

O Holy Spirit, the Spirit of meekness and gentleness, come and abide in us.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): Prologue from Ohrid, May 21st.

Symeon the New Theologian: The Father is Light, the Son is Light, the Holy Spirit is Light Saturday, May 31 2014 

SYMEON-iconThe Father is light, the Son is light, the Holy Spirit is light.
Watch what you say, brother, watch lest you go astray!
For the Three are one light, one, not separated,
but united in three persons without confusion.

For God is wholly undivided by nature
and in essence He is truly beyond all essence.
He is not split in power, nor in form, nor in glory,
nor in appearance, for He is contemplated entirely as simple light.

In these the persons are one, the three hypostases are one.
For the Three are in the one, or rather the Three are one,
the Three are one power, the Three are one glory,
the Three are one nature, one essence, and one divinity.

And these are the one light that illuminates the world,
not the world, perish the thought, not this visible world
—for this visible world has not known Him, nor is it
able to know, nor can the friends of the world,
for the one who loves the world is an enemy of God,

but we call “the world” that which God has made human
according to his image and likeness,
because one is adorned with virtues, one rules terrestrial beings;

just as God has authority over the universe,
so also one reigns over the passions according to this image,
and subjugates demons, the craftsmen of evils,
and tramples underfoot the dragon, the primeval, the huge
dragon like a common sparrow. And how? Listen child!

This fallen prince immediately found himself in darkness
because he was deprived of the light; he is now in darkness
with all those who fell with him from heaven;
he reigns in it—certainly in the darkness I say—
over demons and humans who are held in the darkness.

Every soul who does not see the light of life shining
both in the day and night is punished by the prince of darkness:
wounded, subdued, dragged, and enchained,
and stabbed daily by the darts of pleasure.

Even if the soul seems to resist, even if she seems not to fall,
but still she always has an irreconcilable war with him
in much sweat, toil, trouble, and hardship.

But every soul who contemplates the divine light,
from whence the evil prince has fallen, despises the evil one,
and once enlightened by the unapproachable light itself,
then the soul tramples underfoot the prince of darkness like a leaf
fallen on the ground from a high tree.

For she is in darkness where he has power and authority,
but in the light he becomes an utterly dead corpse.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD): from Hymn 33.

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.

Dorotheus of Gaza: Preservation of conscience Friday, Apr 4 2014 

Dorotheos2Continued from here….

Let us strive to preserve our conscience while we are in this world, let us not allow it to refuse us in any matter.

Let us not trample upon it in any way, even in the smallest thing.

Know that from disdaining this small thing which is in essence nothing, we go on to disdain also a great thing.

[…] One may begin to say, “What does it matter if I say this word? What does it matter if I eat this thing? What does it matter if I look at this or that thing?”

From this “what does it matter about this or that?” one falls into a bad habit and begins to disdain what is great and important and to trample down one’s conscience, and thus becoming hardened in evil, one is in danger of coming to complete lack of feeling.

Wherefore guard yourselves, O brethren, from disdaining what is small, guard yourself from trampling upon it, looking down upon it as something small and unimportant.

It is not small, for through it a bad habit is formed. Let us pay heed to ourselves and be concerned for what is light while it is still light, so that it will not become heavy: for both virtues and sins begin from the small and go on to become great good and evil.

Therefore the Lord commands us to preserve our conscience and, as it were, He especially exhorts each of us, saying: “Look what you are doing, unfortunate one! Come to yourself, be reconciled with your adversary [i.e. your conscience] while you are in the way with him.”

[…] In relation to God, a man preserves his conscience if he does not disdain God through His commandments; and even in what people do not see, and in what no one demands of us, he preserves his conscience towards God in secret.

For example, one may have grown lazy in prayer, or a passionate thought has entered his heart, and he did not oppose this and did not restrain himself, but accepted it; or when one has seen his neighbor doing or saying something and, as it often the case, he judged him.

In short, everything that happens in secret, which no one knows except God and our conscience, we must preserve; and this is preservation of the conscience in relation to God.

And the preservation of the conscience in relation to one’s neighbor demands that we do nothing at all which, as far as we know, offends or tempts our neighbor by deed, word, appearance, or a glance.

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

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