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.

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.

Basil the Great: “Blessed is the Man that hath not Stood in the Way of Sinners” Thursday, Sep 5 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatBlessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1).

‘Blessed, therefore, is he who has not stood in the way of sinners’.

[…] While we men were in our first age, we were neither in sin nor in virtue (for the age was unsusceptible of either condition); but, when reason was perfected in us, then that happened which was written: ‘But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died’ (Rom. 7:9).

Wicked thoughts, which originate in our minds from the passions of the flesh, rise up.

In truth, if, when the command came, that is, the power of discernment of the good, the mind did not prevail over the baser thoughts but permitted its reason to be enslaved by the passions, sin revived, but the mind died, suffering death because of its transgressions.

Blessed, therefore, is he who did not continue in the way of sinners but passed quickly by better reasoning to a pious way of life.

For, there are two ways opposed to each other, the one wide and broad, the other narrow and close (cf. Matt. 7:13). And there are two guides, each attempting to turn the traveler to himself.

Now, the smooth and downward sloping way has a deceptive guide, a wicked demon, who drags his followers through pleasure to destruction, but the rough and steep way has a good angel, who leads his followers through the toils of virtue to a blessed end.

As long as each of us is a child, pursuing the pleasure of the moment, he has no care for the future; but, when he has become a man, after his judgment is perfected, he seems, as it were, to see his life divided for him between virtue and evil.

[…] Insofar as the future promises beautiful rewards, to that extent does the way of those saved offer the present toilsome works. On the other hand, the pleasant and undisciplined life does not hold out the expectation of later delights, but those already present.

So, every soul becomes dizzy and changes from one side to the other in its reasonings, choosing virtue when things eternal are in its thoughts, but, when it looks to the present, preferring pleasure.

[…] While, therefore, that which is truly good can be apprehended by the reason through faith (it has been banished far and the eye did not see it nor the ear hear it), yet, the sweetness of sin has pleasure ready and flowing through every sense.

Blessed is he who is not turned aside to his destruction through its incitements to pleasure, but eagerly awaits the hope of salvation through patient endurance, and in his choice of one of the two ways, does not go upon the way leading to the lower things.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 1 (on Psalm 1), 5, from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 159-161.

Ignatius Brianchaninov: The words of the gospels are spirit and life Wednesday, Jan 9 2013 

Ignatius_BrianchaninovThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).

Thus did the voice of the pre-eternal God the Father speak to people about the pre-eternal God the Son, when the Son, at the behest of the Father, through the action of the Spirit, became incarnate of the Virgin and wrought the salvation of perishing mankind.

Brothers! Let us show obedience to the Son of God, as God desires of us, that Divine good will might abide with us.

Perhaps someone might say, “I would like to obey the Son of God; but how can this be done, when two thousand years have passed since our Lord Jesus Christ dwelt on earth in the flesh and preached His all-holy teaching?”

It is very easy for us to be continually with Christ, to ceaselessly hear His sweet voice, and to nourish ourselves with His life-giving teaching; for the Lord Jesus Christ still abides with us.

He abides with us in His Holy Gospels, through the Holy Mysteries of the Church; He abides through His omnipresence and omnipotence—bountifully, as befits the boundless, all-perfect God.

That the Lord abides with us is plainly proved by souls freed from the captivity of sin, the bestowal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and wonders.

Those who wish to approach the Lord and unite with Him in blessed union forever should begin this sacred work with scrupulous study of God’s words; they should begin by studying the Gospels, where Christ can be found, and from which Christ speaks and acts.

The words of the Gospels are spirit, and they are life (Jn. 6:63). They turn a fleshly man into a spiritual man, and revitalize a soul deadened by sin and the cares of life.

They are spirit, and they are life—beware of trying to explain the great word of the Spirit with your reason, which crawls upon the earth.

Beware of attempts to explain words filled with awesome Divine power in ways that might seem simpler to your deadened soul, deadened heart, and deadened mind.

A word spoken by the Holy Spirit can only be explained through the Holy Spirit.

Those who wish to approach the Lord in order to hear His Divine teaching, to be enlivened and saved by Him—come and stand before the Lord with utmost reverence and holy fear, as do the bright Angels, His Cherubim and Seraphim.

Your humility will turn the earth upon which you stand into heaven. The Lord will speak to you from His Holy Gospels as to His beloved disciples!

May the holy fathers who expound the Holy Gospels through the gift of the Holy Spirit be your guides to an exact and unmistaken understanding of the Holy Gospels.

Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867; Russian Orthodox): Spiritual Instruction on the Feast of the Theophany translated by Nun Cornelia Rees @ Pravoslavie.

Richard of St Victor: Gathering the Wanderings of the Mind, and Fixing the Impulses of the Heart Monday, Oct 15 2012 

Let one who eagerly strives for contemplation of celestial things, who sighs for knowledge of divine things, learn to assemble the dispersed Israelites.

Let him endeavor to restrain the wanderings of the mind; let him be accustomed to remain in the innermost part of himself and to forget everything exterior.

Let him make a church, not only of desires but also of thoughts, in order that he may learn to love only true good and to think unceasingly of it alone: “In the churches bless God” (Ps. 67:27).

For in this twofold church, namely of thoughts and of desires, in this twofold concord of efforts and wills, Benjamin is carried away into the height, and the divinely inspired mind is raised to supernal things: “There is Benjamin a youth in ecstasy of mind” (Ps. 67:28).

Where do you think, except “in the churches”?  “In the churches bless God, the Lord of the fountains of Israel.  There is Benjamin a youth in ecstasy of mind” (Ps. 67:27-28).

Nevertheless each one must first make of his thoughts and desires a synagogue rather than a church.

You know well that synagogue means “congregation.”  Church means “convocation.”

It is one thing to drive some things together in one place without the will or against the will; it is another to run together spontaneously by themselves at the nod of the one who commands.

Insensible and brute beings can be congregated but they cannot be convoked.  Yet even a concourse of rational things themselves must occur spontaneously at a nod in order rightly to be called a convocation.

Thus you see how much difference there is between a convocation and a congregation, between church and synagogue.

Therefore if you perceive beforehand that your desires are becoming devoted to exterior delights and that your thoughts are being occupied with them incessantly, then you ought with great care to compel them to go within so that for a while you may at least make of them a synagogue.

As often as we gather the wanderings of the mind into a unity and fix all the impulses of the heart in one desire of eternity, what are we doing other than making a synagogue from that internal household?

But when that throng of our desires and thoughts, after being attracted by a taste of that internal sweetness, has already learned to run together spontaneously at the nod of reason and to remain fixed in the innermost depths, then it can certainly be judged worthy of the name of church.

Therefore let us learn to love only interior goods, let us learn to think often about them only, and without doubt we make churches such as we know that Benjamin loves.

Richard of St Victor (d. 1173): The Twelve Patriarchs, c. 84, translated by Grover A. Zinn, Paulist Press @ Lectionary Central.

Athanasius of Alexandria: Singing the Psalms, Healing the Passions, and Possessing the Mind of Christ Tuesday, Aug 23 2011 

The Book of Psalms has a certain grace of its own.

For in addition to the other things in which it enjoys fellowship with the other books of the Bible, it possesses this marvel – that it contains all the emotions of each soul and their various changes.

Thus, through hear­ing, it teaches us not only not to disregard passion, but also how to heal passion through speaking and acting.

There is also this astonishing thing in the Psalms. After the prophecies about the Saviour and the nations, he who recites the Psalms is uttering the rest as his own words, and each sings them as if they were written concerning him.

And it seems to me that these words become like a mirror to the person singing them, so that he might per­ceive himself and the emotions of his soul.

For in fact he who hears the cantor receives the song that is recited as being about him, and either, when he is convicted by his conscience, he will repent, or hearing of the hope that resides in God, and how this kind of grace exists for him, he exults and begins to give thanks to God.

Therefore, when someone sings the third psalm, recognising his own tribulations, he considers the words in the psalm to be his own.

And then when someone sings the fiftieth, he is speaking the proper words of his own repentance.

If the point needs to be put more forcefully, let us say that the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtue and the truths of faith, while the Book of Psalms presents the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.

[…] Just as the harmony that unites flutes effects a single sound, so also, seeing that different movements appear in the soul, reason intends man to be neither discordant in himself, nor to be at variance with himself.

Reason intends the soul possessing the mind of Christ to use this as a leader, and by it to be a master of its passions.

A man then becomes a stringed instrument and, devoting himself completely to the Spirit, obeys the mind of Christ, which acts like a plectrum in all his members and emotions, thus enabling him to serve the will of God.

The harmonious singing of the Psalms is a figure and type of such order and tranquillity.

For just as we discover the ideas of the soul and communicate them through the words we put forth, so also the Lord, wishing the melody of the words to be a symbol of the spiritual harmony in a soul, has ordered that the odes be chanted tunefully, and the Psalms recited with song.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Letter to Marcellinus 10-12, 14, 27-29; from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week of Ordinary Time, Year I.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Name of Christ Shares in Our Soul, Words and Life’s Activities so that Holiness may be Constantly Kept Thursday, Aug 11 2011 

A Christian has three characteristics: deed, word and thought. First among these is thought.

Reason is the beginning of every thought; next comes speech which reveals one’s mind by words. Action is third in order after thought and word, bringing thought to realization.

[…] It does us well to be carefully attentive so that our thoughts, words and deeds may participate in Christ’s lofty names.

Paul says that everything not proceeding from faith is sin (Rom 14.23); as a result, he clearly states that every word, deed or thought which does not look to Christ is contrary to him; whatever does not partake of light nor life shares in darkness or death.

If any word or thought according to Christ is contrary to the good, that which is manifested through these three elements becomes clear: whoever separates himself from Christ does not belong to him, whether in thought, deed or in speech.

[…] How, then, should the person worthy of Christ’s great name behave? What can he do except to always discern his thoughts, words and deeds, and to see whether or not they are of Christ or are alien to him?

Much skill is needed here for discernment. Anything effected, thought or said through passion has no association with Christ but bears the adversary’s mark; smearing the soul’s pearl with passion as if with mud, it corrupts the precious stone’s brightness.

But a state free from every passion looks to the author of detachment, Christ.

He who draws to himself thoughts as from a pure, incorruptible fountain will resemble the prototype as water drawn into a jar resembles water gushing from a fountain.

[…] In my judgment this is the perfection of the Christian life: the name of Christ…shares in our soul, words and life’s activities so that the holiness praised by Paul (1Thess 5.23) may be constantly kept in the entire body, mind and spirit with no admixture of evil.

If anyone says that the good is difficult to attain…, my response is that a person who does not lawfully strive in a contest cannot be crowned (1Tim 2.5)….

Without an opponent there is no crown, for victory against oneself is lacking if there is no weakness.

Hence, let us struggle against our nature’s mutability as though against an adversary; wrestling with our reason makes us victors not by casting it down but by not consenting to the fall.

[…] No one should lament his mutable nature; rather, by always being changed to what is better and by being transformed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3.18), let him so be changed.

[…] Perfection consists in never stopping our growth towards the good nor in circumscribing perfection.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On Perfection, translation originally published in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, vol. 29, 4 (Brookline, Mass., 1984), pp.349-79.

Bernard of Clairvaux: “Why So Downcast, My Soul? Why Do You Sigh Within Me?” Tuesday, Aug 2 2011 

(following on from here)

Who indeed can comprehend what an abundance of goodness is contained in that brief expression: “God will be all in all”?

Not to speak of the body, I discern in the soul three faculties, the reason, the will, the memory, and these three may be said to be identified with the soul itself.

Everyone who is guided by the Spirit realizes how greatly in the present life these three are lacking in integrity and perfection.

And what reason can there be for this, except that God is not yet “all in all”?

Hence it comes about that the reason very often falters in its judgments, the will is agitated by a fourfold perturbation and the memory confused by its endless forgetfulness.

Man, noble though he be, was unwillingly been subjected to this triple form of futility, but hope nonetheless was left to him.

For he who satisfies with good the desire of the soul will one day himself be for the reason, fullness of light, for the will, the fullness of peace, for the memory, eternity’s uninterrupted flow.

Truth! Love! Eternity! Oh blessed and beatifying Trinity!

To you the wretched trinity that I bear within me sends up its doleful yearnings because of the unhappiness of its exile.

Departing from you, in what errors, what pains, what fears it has involved itself!

[…] And still, why so downcast, my soul, why do you sigh within me?

Put your hope in God. I shall praise him yet, when error will have gone from the reason, pain from the will, and every trace of fear from the memory.

Then will come that state for which we hope, with its admirable serenity, its fullness of delight, its endless security.

The God who is truth is the source of the first of these gifts; the God who is love, of the second; the God who is all-powerful, of the third.

And so it will come to pass that God will be all in all, for the reason will receive unquenchable light, the will imperturbable peace, the memory an unfailing fountain from which it will draw eternally.

I wonder if it seems right to you that we should assign that first operation to the Son, the second to the Holy Spirit, the last to the Father.

[…] Consider too that the children of this world experience a corresponding threefold temptation from the allurements of the flesh, the glitter of life in the world, the self-fulfillment patterned on Satan.

These three include all the artifices by which the present life deceives its unhappy lovers, even as St John proclaimed: “All that is in the world is the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.”

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153): Sermons on the Song of Songs, 11, 5-6.

John of the Cross: The Dazzling Power of Desire Saturday, Jul 16 2011 

The soul that is clouded by the desires is darkened in the understanding, and allows neither the sun of natural reason nor that of the supernatural Wisdom of God to shine upon it and illumine it clearly.

[…] And, at this same time, when the soul is darkened in the understanding, it is benumbed also in the will, and the memory becomes dull and disordered in its due operation.

For, as these faculties in their operations depend upon the understanding, it is clear that, when the understanding is impeded, they will become disordered and troubled.

And thus David says: “My soul is sorely troubled”. Which is as much as to say, “disordered in its faculties.”

For, as we say, the understanding has no more capacity for receiving enlightenment from the wisdom of God than has the air, when it is dark, for receiving enlightenment from the sun.

Neither has the will any power to embrace God within itself in pure love, even as the mirror that is clouded with vapour has no power to reflect clearly within itself any visage.

And even less power has the memory, which is clouded by the darkness of desire, to take clearly upon itself the form of the image of God, just as the muddled water cannot show forth clearly the visage of one that looks at himself therein.

Desire blinds and darkens the soul; for desire, as such, is blind, since of itself it has no understanding in itself, the reason being to it always, as it were, a child leading a blind man.

And hence it comes to pass that, whensoever the soul is guided by its desire, it becomes blind; for this is as if one that sees were guided by one that sees not, which is, as it were, for both to be blind.

[…] And even so we may say that one who feeds upon desire is like a fish that is dazzled, upon which the light acts rather as darkness, preventing it from seeing the snares which the fishermen are preparing for it.

[…] And it is this that desire does to the soul, enkindling its concupiscence and dazzling its understanding so that it cannot see its light.

For the cause of its being thus dazzled is that when another light of a different kind is set before the eye, the visual faculty is attracted by that which is interposed so that it sees not the other.

And, as the desire is set so near to the soul as to be within the soul itself, the soul meets this first light and is attracted by it.

And thus it is unable to see the light of clear understanding, neither will see it until the dazzling power of desire is taken away from it.

John of the Cross (1542-1591): Ascent of Mount Carmel, 1, 8, 1-3.

Basil the Great: I Will Try to Fan into Flame the Spark of Divine Love that is Hidden Within You Wednesday, Jan 26 2011 

St-Basil-the-GreatLove of God is not something that can be taught.

We did not learn from someone else how to rejoice in light or want to live, or to love our parents or guardians.

It is the same – perhaps even more so – with our love for God: it does not come by another’s teaching.

As soon as the living creature (that is, man) comes to be, a power of reason is implanted in us like a seed, containing within it the ability and the need to love.

When the school of God’s law admits this power of reason, it cultivates it diligently, skilfully nurtures it, and with God’s help brings it to perfection.

For this reason, as by God’s gift, I find you with the zeal necessary to attain this end, and you on your part help me with your prayers.

I will try to fan into flame the spark of divine love that is hidden within you, as far as I am able through the power of the Holy Spirit.

First, let me say that we have already received from God the ability to fulfil all his commands.

We have then no reason to resent them, as if something beyond our capacity were being asked of us.

We have no reason either to be angry, as if we had to pay back more than we had received.

When we use this ability in a right and fitting way, we lead a life of virtue and holiness.

But if we misuse it, we fall into sin.

This is the definition of sin: the misuse of powers given us by God for doing good, a use contrary to God’s commands.

On the other hand, the virtue that God asks of us is the use of the same powers based on a good conscience in accordance with God’s command.

Since this is so, we can say the same about love.

Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence an innate power and ability to love.

[…] It is natural for us to want things that are good and pleasing to the eye, even though at first different things seem beautiful and good to different people.

[…] What, I ask, is more wonderful than the beauty of God? What thought is more pleasing and wonderful than God’s majesty?

What desire is as urgent and overpowering as the desire implanted by God in a soul that is completely purified of sin and cries out in its love: I am wounded by love?

The radiance of divine beauty is altogether beyond the power of words to describe.

Basil the Great (330-379): Detailed Rule for Monks (resp. 2,1: PG 31, 908-910), from the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the 1st week in Ordinary Time @ Crossroads Initiative.

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