Gregory of Sinai: Prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic activity of the Holy Spirit Friday, Jul 1 2016 

Gregory of SinaiThe energy of the Holy Spirit, which we have already mystically received in baptism, is realized in two ways.

First – to generalize – this gift is revealed, as St Mark tells us, through arduous and protracted practice of the commandments: to the degree to which we effectively practice the commandments its radiance is increasingly manifested in us.

Secondly, it is manifested to those under spiritual guidance through the continuous invocation of the Lord Jesus, repeated with conscious awareness, that is, through mindfulness of God.

In the first way, it is revealed more slowly, in the second more rapidly, if one diligently and persistently learns how to dig the ground and locate the gold.

Thus if we want to realize and know the truth and not to be led astray, let us seek to possess only the heart-engrafted energy in a way that is totally without shape or form, not trying to contemplate in our imagination what we take to be the figure or similitude of things holy or to see any colors or lights. For in the nature of things the spirit of delusion deceives the intellect through such spurious fantasies, especially at the early stages, in those who are still inexperienced.

On the contrary, let our aim be to make the energy of prayer alone active in our hearts, for it brings warmth and joy to the intellect, and sets the heart alight with an ineffable love for God and man. It is on account of this that humility and contrition flow richly from prayer.

For prayer in beginners is the unceasing noetic** activity of the Holy Spirit. To start with it rises like a fire of joy from the heart; in the end it is like light made fragrant by divine energy.

There are several signs that the energy of the Holy Spirit is beginning to be active in those who genuinely aspire for this to happen and are not just putting God to the test – for, according to the Wisdom of Solomon, it is found by those who do not put it to the test, and manifests itself to those who do not distrust it (cf. Wisd. 1:2).

In some it appears as awe arising in the heart, in others as a tremulous sense of jubilation, in others as joy, in others as joy mingled with awe, or as tremulousness mingled with joy, and sometimes it manifests itself as tears and awe. For the soul is joyous at God’s visitation and mercy, but at the same time is in awe and trepidation at His presence because it is guilty of so many sins.

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On the Signs of Grace and Delusion 3-4, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 259-260.

** noetic = relating to the nous. The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word nous: as used in this passage from Gregory 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).

Augustine of Hippo: This is not my prayer, but that of the whole Christ Wednesday, Feb 24 2016 

St Augustine of AfricaLord, I have cried to you, hear me.

This is a prayer we can all say.

This is not my prayer, but that of the whole Christ.

Rather, it is said in the name of his body. When Christ was on earth he prayed in his human nature, and prayed to the Father in the name of his body, and when he prayed drops of blood flowed from his whole body.

So it is written in the Gospel: Jesus prayed with earnest prayer, and sweated blood.

What is this blood streaming from his whole body but the martyrdom of the whole Church?

Lord, I have cried to you, hear me; listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you.

Did you imagine that crying was over when you said: I have cried to you? You have cried out, but do not as yet feel free from care.

If anguish is at an end, crying is at an end; but if the Church, the body of Christ, must suffer anguish until the end of time, it must not say only: I have cried to you, hear me; it must also say: Listen to the sound of my prayer, when I call upon you.

Let my prayer rise like incense in your sight; let the raising of my hands be an evening sacrifice.

This is generally understood of Christ, the head, as every Christian acknowledges.

When day was fading into evening, the Lord laid down his life on the cross, to take it up again; he did not lose his life against his will.

Here, too, we are symbolised. What part of him hung on the cross if not the part he had received from us? How could God the Father ever cast off and abandon his only Son, who is indeed one God with him?

Yet Christ, nailing our weakness to the cross (where, as the Apostle says: Our old nature was nailed to the cross with him), cried out with the very voice of humanity: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The evening sacrifice is then the passion of the Lord, the cross of the Lord, the oblation of the victim that brings salvation, the holocaust acceptable to God. In his resurrection he made this evening sacrifice a morning sacrifice.

Prayer offered in holiness from a faithful heart rises like incense from a holy altar. Nothing is more fragrant than the fragrance of the Lord. May all who believe share in this fragrance.

Therefore, our old nature in the words of the Apostle, was nailed to the cross with him, in order, as he says, to destroy our sinful body, so that we may be slaves to sin no longer.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): On Psalm 140:4-6 @ Universalis.

Isaac the Syrian: Prayer is a joy that gives place to thanksgivings Thursday, Jan 28 2016 

Isaac_the_SyrianPrayer is a joy that gives place to thanksgivings.

[…] This prayer that gives place to thanksgiving, in which a man does not pray nor act as in the other passionate prayers which he prayed, perceiving grace, consists therein that in the heart, which is filled with joy and ecstasy, frequently emotions of thanksgivings and gratitude stir themselves, in the silence of kneelings.

Then, on account of the inner ardour, which is set in motion by wonder at the understanding of God’s bounties, he will of a sudden raise up his voice and praise without being wearied, while the inner ardour gives place to thanksgivings also of the tongue; and so he will give utterance to his feelings long and wonderfully.

Whoever has experienced these things clearly, not dimly, and has noted them with intelligence, will understand when I say that it occurs without variation, for it has been experienced many times.

And furthermore such a man will leave idle things and be constantly with God, without a break, in constant prayer, fearing that he will be bereft of the current of its helping forces.

All these beautiful things are born from a man’s perceiving his own weakness. For from this, because of his longing for help, he turns to God with beseechings. And as he brings near his spirit unto God, God comes nigh unto him with His gifts.

And He does not take away from him His inspiration, because of his great humility. For as a widow unto the judge, he cries at all times: avenge me on my adversary. Therefore God, the merciful, necessarily will delay his petitions, that he have the better reason to approach unto Him.

And because of his need he will constantly remain at the fountain of help, while God grants some of his demands quickly, others not: He grants those concerning which He knows that they are necessary for life, the rest He delays.

And in some cases He withholds from him the ardour of his enemies, and in others He gives an opening to temptations, that this, as I have said, should be a cause for approaching unto God, and that he should become prudent by temptations.

And this is what is said in the scripture: The Lord left many peoples and He did not destroy them at once, nor did He give them into the hand of Joshua, in order to test Israel by them so that the generations of the children of Israel should learn war (cf. Judges 3:1-2).

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 8, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 72-73.

John Chrysostom: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” Monday, Dec 14 2015 

Chrysostom3Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice….

The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious;

but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God (Philippians 4:4-6).

“Blessed are they that mourn” and “woe unto them that laugh” (Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:25), says Christ.

How then does Paul say “rejoice in the Lord always”?

“Woe to them that laugh,” said Christ, the laughter of this world which arises from the things which are present.

He blessed also those that mourn, not simply for the loss of relatives, but those who are pricked at heart, who mourn their own faults, and take count of their own sins, or even those of others.

This joy is not contrary to that grief, but from that grief it too is born. For he who grieves for his own faults, and confesses them, rejoices. Moreover, it is possible to grieve for our own sins, and yet to rejoice in Christ.

Because…they were afflicted by their sufferings – “for to you it is given not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philip. 1:29) – therefore does he say “rejoice in the Lord.”

For this can but mean: “if you exhibit such a life that you may rejoice”. Or “when your communion with God is not hindered, rejoice”. Or else the word “in” may stand for “with” – as if he had said “with the Lord.”

“Always; again I will say, Rejoice.” These are the words of one who brings comfort; as, for example, he who is in God rejoices always. Although he be afflicted, whatever he may suffer, such a man always rejoices.

Hear what Luke says, that “they returned from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be scourged for His name” (Acts 5:41).

If scourging and bonds, which seem to be the most grievous of all things, bring forth joy, what else will be able to produce grief in us?

[…] Behold another consolation, a medicine which heals grief, and distress, and all that is painful. And what is this? Prayer, thanksgiving in all things.

And so He wills that our prayers should not simply be requests, but thanksgivings too for what we have. For how should he ask for future things, who is not thankful for the past? “But in everything by prayer and supplication.”

Wherefore we ought to give thanks for all things, even for those which seem to be grievous, for this is the part of the truly thankful man. In the other case the nature of the things demands it; but this springs from a grateful soul, and one earnestly affected toward God.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, 14, 4 (on Philippians 4:4-6); slightly adapted).

Basil the Great: That your life be made one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer… Thursday, Nov 26 2015 


Ought we to pray without ceasing?  Is it possible to obey such a command?

[…] Prayer is a petition for good addressed by the pious to God.  But we do not rigidly confine our petition to words.

Nor yet do we imagine that God requires to be reminded by speech.  He knows our needs even though we ask Him not.

What do I say then?  I say that we must not think to make our prayer complete by syllables.

The strength of prayer lies rather in the purpose of our soul and in deeds of virtue reaching every part and moment of our life.

“Whether ye eat,” it is said, “or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

As you take your seat at table, pray.  As you lift the loaf, offer thanks to the Giver.  When you sustain your bodily weakness with wine, remember Him Who supplies you with this gift, to make your heart glad and to comfort your infirmity.

Has your need for taking food passed away?  Let not the thought of your Benefactor pass away too.  As you are putting on your tunic, thank the Giver of it.

As you wrap your cloak about you, feel yet greater love to God, Who alike in summer and in winter has given us coverings convenient for us, at once to preserve our life, and to cover what is unseemly.

Is the day done?  Give thanks to Him Who has given us the sun for our daily work, and has provided for us a fire to light up the night, and to serve the rest of the needs of life.

Let night give the other occasions of prayer.  When you look up to heaven and gaze at the beauty of the stars, pray to the Lord of the visible world; pray to God the Arch-artificer of the universe, Who in wisdom has made them all.

When you see all nature sunk in sleep, then again worship Him Who gives us even against our wills release from the continuous strain of toil, and by a short refreshment restores us once again to the vigour of our strength.

[…] Let your slumbers be themselves experiences in piety; for it is only natural that our sleeping dreams should be for the most part echoes of the anxieties of the day.  As have been our conduct and pursuits, so will inevitably be our dreams.

Thus will you pray without ceasing, if you not only pray in words, but unite yourself to God through all the course of life so that your life be made one ceaseless and uninterrupted prayer.

Basil the Great (330-379): Panegyrical Homily 5 (on Julitta the Martyr) [slightly adapted], quoted in the introduction to St Basil’s homilies in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series II Volume 8.

Isaac the Syrian: And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him Tuesday, Oct 6 2015 

Isaac_the_SyrianBlessed is the man who knows his weakness.

This knowledge becomes for him the foundation and the beginning of his coming unto all good and beautiful things.

When a man knows and perceives that he really and in truth is weak, then he restrains his soul from profuseness which is dissipation of knowledge and he will augment the watchfulness of his soul.

Unless a man has been remiss in some small thing, and a slight negligence has appeared in him, and tempters have surrounded him either with temptations that arouse bodily affections or with temptations which stir the affectable power of the soul, he cannot perceive his own weakness.

Then, however, he recognizes the greatness of God’s help by comparing it with his own weakness.

Thus if he sees that his heart does not rest from fear…, he understands and knows that this whole impulse of his heart denotes some other thing which is lacking and which is very necessary to him, viz. that he needs other help.

For the heart testifies to this within, by the fear that moves in it, denoting the lack of something. And therefore he cannot remain in confidence. For the help of God is necessary for deliverance.

When he knows that he needs divine help, he will frequently pray. And by much beseeching the heart becomes humble, for there is no man who is needy and asking, without being humble. And God will not despise a broken and contrite heart!

Until the heart has become humble, it will not rest from distraction. Humility restrains the heart. And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him. And when mercy draws near, the heart will perceive help at once, because some confidence and force will also move in it.

When it perceives that divine help approach unto it and that He is its support and its helper, then the heart will be filled with faith at once.

Then it will see and understand that prayer is the port of help, the fountain of salvation, the treasure of confidence, the sheet-anchor amidst the storms, the light in the darkness, the stick of the weak, the shelter at the time of temptations, the medicine at the time of illness, the shield of protection in the battle, the sharp arrow against the enemies.

And because by prayer he has found the entrance unto all this good, he will delight in prayer of faith for ever more, while his heart exults in confidence, not blindly and with words only, as it had been till then.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 8, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 70-72.

Gregory the Great: “Then shalt thou lift up thy face without spot” Thursday, Sep 3 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistContinued from here….

On Job 11:13-15.

So that ‘the face may be lifted up in prayer without spot,’ before the seasons of prayer everything that can possibly be reproved in the act of prayer ought to be heedfully looked into.

And the mind, when it stays from prayer as well, should hasten to shew itself such as it desires to appear to the Judge in the very season of prayer.

For we often harbour some impure or forbidden thoughts in the mind, when we are disengaged from our prayers.

And when the mind has lifted itself up to the exercises of prayer, being made to recoil, it is subject to images of the things whereby it was of it own free will previously burdened whilst unemployed.

And the soul is now as it were without ability to lift up the face to God, in that, with the mind being blotted within, it blushes at the stains of polluted thought.

Oftentimes we are ready to busy ourselves with the concerns of the world, and when after such things we apply ourselves to the business of prayer, the mind cannot lift itself to heavenly things, in that the load of earthly solicitude has sunk it down below, and the face is not shewn pure in prayer, in that it is stained by the mire of grovelling imagination.

Sometimes we rid the heart of every encumbrance, and set ourselves against the forbidden motions thereof, even at such time as we are disengaged from prayer.

Yet because we ourselves commit sins but seldom, we are the more backward in letting go the offences of others, and in proportion as our mind the more anxiously dreads to sin, the more unsparingly it abhors the injuries done to itself by another.

Whence it is brought to pass that a man is found slow to grant pardon in the same degree that, by going on advancing, he has become heedful against the commission of sin.

And, as he fears himself to transgress against another, he claims to punish the more severely the transgression that is done against himself.

But what can be discovered worse than this spot of bitterness [doloris], which in the sight of the Judge does not stain charity, but kills it outright?

For every sin stains the life of the soul, but bitterness maintained against our neighbour slays it. For it is fixed in the soul like a sword, and the very hidden parts of the bowels are gored by the point thereof; and if it be not first drawn out of the pierced heart, no whit of divine aid is won in prayer.

For the medicines of health cannot be applied to the wounded limbs, unless the iron be first withdrawn from the wound.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 29-30 (on Job 11:13-15) @ Lectionary Central [slightly adapted].

Basil the Great: “Sing unto Him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise” Wednesday, Aug 12 2015 

St-Basil-the-Great[Following on from here….]

‘Sing to the Lord a new canticle’ (Psalm 32:3). That is, not in the antiquity of written word, but in the newness of the spirit serve God.

He who understands the law not in a corporeal sense, but who becomes acquainted with its spiritual meaning is the one who sings the new canticle.

For, the ancient aged testament has passed and the new renewed canticle of the teaching of the Lord has succeeded, which revives our youth like an eagle, when we destroy the exterior man and are renewed day by day.

But, he who ‘strains forward to what is before’ (Phil. 3:13) always becomes newer than he was formerly. Therefore, becoming always newer than he was, he sings a newer canticle to God.

But according to custom, that is said to be newer which is admirable or which has recently come into existence. If, then, you relate the wondrous manner and the whole surpassing nature of the Incarnation of the Lord, you will sing a newer and an unusual canticle;

and, if you go on through the regeneration and renewal of the whole world which had grown old under its sin, and proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection, you thus sing a canticle both new and recent.

‘Sing well unto him with a loud noise’ (Ps. 32:3). Hear the command. ‘Sing well’ with unwavering mind, with sincere affection. ‘Sing with a loud noise.’

Like certain brave soldiers, after the victory against the enemy, pour forth hymns to the Author of the victory. ‘Take courage’ it is said, ‘I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).

What man is capable of fighting against the evil one, unless, fleeing to the protection of the power of our Commander in chief, by our faith in Him we smite our enemy and shoot him with arrows? Therefore, ‘sing well with a loud noise.’

But, the loud noise is a certain inarticulate sound, when those who are fighting side by side in a war shout out in unison with each other. Sing, then, in harmony and in agreement and in union through charity.

Now, what should those say who are singing? ‘That the word of the Lord is Right’ (Ps. 32:4).

Therefore, he first summons the righteous to praise, since the Word of the Lord is righteous and is destined to be glorified, who ‘was in the beginning with God and was God’ (John 1:1).  The Father, then, is righteous; the Son is righteous; the Holy Spirit is righteous.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15 (on Psalm 32[33]), 2-3,  from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 230-231.

Basil the Great: “Praise the Lord with harp; sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings” Monday, Jul 27 2015 

St-Basil-the-Great[Following on from here….]

‘Praise becometh the upright’ (Psalm 32:1).

As a crooked foot does not fit into a straight sandal, so neither is the praise of God suited to perverted hearts.

[…] Let us earnestly endeavor, therefore, to flee every crooked and tortuous act, and let us keep our mind and the judgment of our soul as straight as a rule, in order that the praise of the Lord may be permitted to us since we are upright.

[…]  For, ‘the Lord our God is righteous, and his countenance hath beheld righteousness’ (Ps. 91:16; 10:18).

If two rulers are compared with each other, their straightness is in agreement with each other, but, if a distorted piece of wood is compared with a ruler, the crooked one will be found at variance with the straight.

Since, therefore, the praise of God is righteous, there is need of a righteous heart, in order that the praise may be fitting and adapted to it.

But, if ‘no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 10:3), how would you give praise, since you do not have the right spirit in your heart?

‘Give praise to the Lord on the harp; sing to him with the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings’ (Ps. 32:2).

First, it is necessary to praise the Lord on the harp; that is, to render harmoniously the actions of the body.

Since, indeed, we sinned in the body, ‘when we yielded our members as slaves of sin, unto lawlessness’ (Rom. 6:19), let us give praise with our body, using the same instrument for the destruction of sin.

Have you reviled? Bless. Have you defrauded? Make restitution. Have you been intoxicated? Fast. Have you made false pretensions? Be humble.

Have you been envious? Console. Have you murdered? Bear witness, or afflict your body with the equivalent of martyrdom through confession.

And then, after confession you are worthy to play for God on the ten-stringed psaltery.

For, it is necessary, first, to correct the actions of our body, so that we perform them harmoniously with the divine Word and thus mount up to the contemplation of things intellectual.

Perhaps, the mind, which seeks things above, is called a psaltery because the structure of this instrument has its resonance from above.

The works of the body, therefore, give praise to God as if from below; but the mysteries, which are proclaimed through the mind, have their origin from above, as if the mind was resonant through the Spirit.

He, therefore, who observes all the precepts and makes, as it were, harmony and symphony from them, he, I say, plays for God on a ten-stringed psaltery, because there are ten principal precepts, written according to the first teaching of the Law.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 15 (on Psalm 32[33]), 1-2,  from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 228-230.

John Cassian: These four kinds of supplication the Lord Himself by His own example vouchsafed to originate for us Thursday, Jul 23 2015 

Sf-IoanCasianContinued from here….

These four kinds of supplication the Lord Himself by His own example vouchsafed to originate for us, so that in this too He might fulfil that which was said of Him: “which Jesus began both to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1).

For He made use of the class of supplication when He said: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”;

or this which is chanted in His Person in the Psalm: “My God, My God, look upon Me, why hast Thou forsaken me” (Matt. 26:39; Ps. 21:2) and others like it.

It is prayer where He says: “I have magnified Thee upon the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do”;

and this: “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself that they also may be sanctified in the truth” (John 17:4, 19).

It is intercession when He says: “Father, those Whom Thou hast given me, I will that they also may be with Me that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me”;

or when He says: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (John 17:24; Luke 23:34).

It is thanksgiving when He says: “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight”;

or when He says: “Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me. But I knew that Thou hearest Me always” (Matt. 11:25-26; John 11:41-42).

But though our Lord made a distinction between these four kinds of prayers as to be offered separately and one by one according to the scheme which we know of, yet that they can all be embraced in a perfect prayer at one and the same time He showed by His own example in that prayer which at the close of S. John’s gospel we read that He offered up with such fulness.

[…] And the Apostle also in his Epistle to the Philippians has expressed the same meaning, by putting these four kinds of prayers in a slightly different order, and has shown that they ought sometimes to be offered together in the fervour of a single prayer, saying as follows:

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). And by this he wanted us especially to understand that in prayer and supplication thanksgiving ought to be mingled with our requests.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 9, 17.

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