Ambrose of Milan: The holy patriarch offered sacrifice in the secret recesses of his heart to the Trinity Monday, Oct 5 2015 

ambrose_of_milan‘Then he [Abraham] set out on his journey and on the third day came to a place which God had indicated to him’ (Gen. 22:4).

Abraham’s purpose needed the quality of continuity and perpetuity, for time is tripartite, taking in, as it does, the past, the present, and the future.

By this we are admonished that there should not be any trace of forgetfulness of the beneficence of God whether in the past, present, or future.

We should, rather, be steadfast in the recollection of His grace and in our compliance with His command.

Another reason for this reference to time lies in the fact that the person who performs a sacrifice ought to put his trust in the brilliant light of the Trinity.

For him whose sacrifice is grounded in faith has ever around him the light of day. For him there is no night.

So in Exodus Moses says: ‘We will go three days’ journey to sacrifice unto the Lord our God’ (2 Exod. 3:18).

Elsewhere, too, when God appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, we are told that ‘Abraham raised his eyes and saw three men standing at a distance from him.

As soon as he saw them he ran to the entrance of the tent door to meet them and bowed down to the earth and said: My Lord, if I have found favor with you’ (Gen. 18:2, 3).

He beholds three and one he adores. He offers three measures of fine flour (cf. Gen. 18:6).

Although God is immeasurable, He nevertheless holds the measure of all things, as it is written: ‘Who hath measured the waters in his hand and weighed the heavens with his palm and the bulk of the earth in the hollow of his hand? (Isa. 40:12).

The holy patriarch, therefore, offered sacrifice in the secret recesses of his heart to the Trinity made perfect in each of the Persons.

This is the spiritual meaning of the measures of fine flour. This is the measure of fine flour mentioned in the Gospel which was ground by the woman who ‘will be taken’. ‘One will be taken; the other will be left’ (Matt. 24:41).

The Church ‘will be taken’; the Synagogue ‘will be left’, or the man of good conscience will be taken and the man of bad conscience, left.

That you may know that Abraham believed in Christ, we read; ‘Abraham saw my day and was glad’ (John 8:56).

He who believes in Christ believes, too, in the Father, and who believes in the Father believes, too, in the Son and Holy Spirit.

There were three measures, therefore, and one substance of fine flour. This means that there was one sacrifice which was offered to the Blessed Trinity.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 8, 29-30, in St Ambrose: Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, tr. John J. Savage, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 1961, pp. 386-388.

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Dorotheus of Gaza: “This is the day of Resurrection! Let us offer ourselves as a sacrifice” Wednesday, May 14 2014 

Dorotheos2In antiquity the sons of Israel, on the feast-days or triumphs, offered to God gifts according to the Law, that is sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings, first-fruits and the like.

Therefore St. Gregory [Nazianzen] teaches us also (like them) to make celebration unto the Lord, as they did, and inspires us, saying, “The day of Resurrection,” in place of the “The day of the holy feast, the day of the Divine solemnity, the day of the Pascha of Christ.”

And what does the Pascha of Christ mean? The sons of Israel performed the Pascha, Passover when they departed from Egypt; and now Pascha, the celebration of which St. Gregory is encouraging us to keep, is performed by the soul which departs from the mental Egypt, that is, sin.

For when the soul passes over from sin to virtue, that is when it celebrates the Pascha of the Lord as Evagrius has said; the Pascha of the Lord is the passing over from evil to good.

And thus now today is the Pascha of the Lord, the Day of the Bright Festival, the Day of the Resurrection of Christ Who has crucified sin, Who has died for us and arisen.

Let us also offer to the Lord gifts, sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings–not of irrational animals, which Christ does not wish, for sacrifice and offering hast thou not desired. Whole burnt offerings and oblations for sin hast Thou not demanded (Ps. 39:9, 10). And Isaiah says, of what value to me is the abundance of your sacrifices? saith the Lord (Is. 1:11)….

The Lamb of God was killed for us, according to the words of the Apostle who said For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7).

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us –  for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:13, Deut. 21:23) –  to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:5); and so we also should offer Him a certain God-pleasing gift.

And what kind of gift or what kind of sacrifice is it that we should offer to Christ on the day of the Resurrection…? The same Saint [Gregory] instructs us again in this, for having said, “The day of Resurrection” he adds, “Let us offer ourselves.”

Thus also the Apostle says, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). And how should we offer our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice? By no longer fulfilling the will of our flesh and our thoughts (Eph. 2:3), but acting in the Spirit.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620):  Conference 21 – An Explanation of Certain Expressions of St Gregory the Theologian which are Sung together with the Troparia on Holy Pascha @ Pravoslavie.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anastasius of Sinai: Cry Out with the Priest who is Struggling for You Wednesday, Feb 26 2014 

Anastasios-of-SinaiSince the Priest is a mediator between God and man and offers sacrifice to God for the remission of the sins of the multitude, consider how he fortifies everyone in advance and bears witness, as if saying words such as these to the people:

Since you have established me, O my people, as a mediator before God on your behalf at this mystical Table, I implore you, be as zealous as I am.

Refrain from all worldly thoughts. Forsake every bodily care. It is time for fervent prayer, not for idle pursuits.

Hear what the Deacon exclaims to you, when he says: Let us stand well, let us stand with fear.

Let us be attentive to the holy Oblation, let us incline our necks, let us restrain our minds, let us hold our tongues, let us give wings to our minds, and let us ascend to Heaven.

Let us lift up our minds and hearts, let us raise the eye of our soul up to God, let us traverse Heaven, let us go past the Angels, let us go past the Cherubim, and let us run to the very Throne of the Master, let us grasp Christ’s immaculate feet themselves, let us weep, let us, as it were, compel Him to be compassionate, and let us give thanks in the holy, heavenly, and ethereal Sanctuary.

The Priest affirms these things to us when he says: Let us lift up our hearts. What do we then say in response to these words? We lift them up unto the Lord.

What are you saying? What are you doing? Our minds are distracted by corruptible and transient things, and they devote themselves to vanities, possessions, pleasures, and court cases.

And you say: I lift it [my heart] up unto the Lord? Make sure, I beseech you, that you have your heart elevated to the Lord, and not lowered to the devil.

What are you doing, O man? The Priest is offering the bloodless Sacrifice to the Master for your sake, and you view it with disdain?

The Priest is struggling for your sake. Standing before the Altar as if before a dread tribunal, he implores and urges that the Grace of the Holy Spirit might come down to you from on high, and you take no thought for your own salvation?

Do not carry on like this, I beg you. Abandon this evil and vain habit. Cry out with the Priest who is struggling for you, toil with him who prays for you.

Offer yourself for your salvation: The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (St. James 5:16). It will be effectual if you struggle together with the Priest and manifest the fruits of repentance.

Anastasius of Sinai (7th Century): A Homily on the Holy Eucharist and on Not Judging Others or Remembering Wrongs, PG 89, 825A-849C @ OCIC.

Gregory Palamas: “Two Men Went Up Into the Temple to Pray” Wednesday, Feb 12 2014 

Gregory_PalamasOn Luke 18:9-14 (the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee).

The Publican, as a publican, dwells in the depths of sin.

All he has in common with those who live virtuously is one short utterance, but he finds relief, is lifted up and rises above every evil.

He is numbered with the company of the righteous, justified by the impartial Judge Himself.

If the Pharisee is condemned by his speech, it is because, as a Pharisee, he thinks himself somebody, although he is not really righteous, and utters many arrogant words which provoke God’s anger with their every syllable.

Why does humility lead up to the heights of righteousness, whereas self-conceit leads down to the depths of sin?

Because anybody who thinks he is something great, even before God, is rightly abandoned by God, as one who thinks that he does not need His help.

Anybody who despises himself, on the other hand, and relies on mercy from above, wins God’s sympathy, help and grace. As it says, “The Lord resisteth the proud: but he giveth grace unto the lowly” (Prov. 3:34 LXX).

The Lord demonstrates this in a parable, saying. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican” (Luke 18:10).

Wanting to set clearly before us the gain that comes from humility and the loss from pride, he divided into two groups all who went to the Temple, or, rather, those who went up into the Temple, who are the ones who go there to pray.

This is the nature of prayer, it brings a man up from the earth into heaven and, rising above every heavenly name, height and honor, sets him before the God Who is over all (cf. Rom. 9:5).

The ancient Temple was set in a high place, on a hill above the city. Once when a deadly epidemic was destroying Jerusalem, David saw the Angel of Death on this hill, stretching out his sword against the city.

He went up there and built an altar to the Lord, on which he offered a sacrifice to God, and the destruction ceased (2 Sam. 24:15-25).

All these things are an image of the saving ascent of the spirit during holy prayer and of the forgiveness it brings – for these things all foreshadowed our salvation.

They can also be an image of this holy church of ours, which is indeed set in a high place, in another angelic country above the world, where the great, bloodless sacrifice, acceptable to God, is offered for the forgiveness of the whole world, the destruction of death and abundance of eternal life.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily on the Publican and the Pharisee, 2-4, from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009); full text @ Discerning Thoughts.

Athanasius of Alexandria: As Aaron Took His Robe, so the Word Took Earthly Flesh Monday, Dec 23 2013 

AthanasiusAaron was not born a high-priest….

He became so, not simply, nor as betokened by his ordinary garments, but putting over them the ephod, the breastplate, the robe, which the women wrought at God’s command.

And, going in them into the holy place, he offered the sacrifice for the people; and in them, as it were, mediated between the vision of God and the sacrifices of men.

Thus then the Lord also, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

But when the Father willed that ransoms should be paid for all and to all, grace should be given, then truly the Word, as Aaron his robe, so did He take earthly flesh, having Mary for the Mother of His Body as if virgin earth.

The Word did this so that, as a High Priest, having He as others an offering, He might offer Himself to the Father, and cleanse us all from sins in His own blood, and might rise from the dead.

For what happened of old was a shadow of this; and what the Saviour did on His coming, this Aaron shadowed out according to the Law.

[…] Aaron…did not change by putting on the high-priestly dress, but remaining the same was only robed, so that, had any one seen him offering, and had said, ‘Lo, Aaron has this day become high-priest,’ he had not implied that he then had been born man.

For Aaron was man even before he became high-priest, but that he had been made high-priest in his ministry, on putting on the garments made and prepared for the high-priesthood.

In the same way it is possible in the Lord’s instance also to understand aright, that He did not become other than Himself on taking the flesh, but, being the same as before, He was robed in it.

And the expressions ‘He became’ and ‘He was made,’ must not be understood as if the Word, considered as the Word, were made, but that the Word, being Framer of all, afterwards was made High Priest, by putting on a body which was originate and made, and such as He can offer for us; wherefore He is said to be made.

[…] As it is proper to the Word to have it said of Him, ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ so it is proper to man to ‘become’ and to be ‘made.’

Who then, on seeing the Lord as a man walking about, and yet appearing to be God from His works, would not have asked, Who made Him man? And who again, on such a question, would not have answered, that the Father made Him man, and sent Him to us as High Priest?

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Against the Arians, 2, 14, 7-8.

Charles Wesley: Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast Sunday, Oct 20 2013 

Charles_wesleySee Luke 14:16-24.

Come, sinners, to the gospel feast,
Let every soul be Jesu’s guest;
Ye need not one be left behind,
For God hath bidden all mankind.

Sent by my Lord, on you I call,
The invitation is to all:
Come, all the world; come, sinner, thou!
All things in Christ are ready now.

Come, all ye souls by sin opprest,
Ye restless wanderers after rest,
Ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind,
In Christ a hearty welcome find.

Come, and partake the gospel feast;
Be saved from sin; in Jesus rest;
O taste the goodness of your God,
And eat his flesh, and drink his blood!

Ye vagrant souls, on you I call;
(O that my voice could reach you all!)
Ye all may now be justified,
Ye all may live, for Christ hath died.

My message as from God receive,
Ye all may come to Christ, and live;
O let his love your hearts constrain,
Nor suffer him to die in vain!

His love is mighty to compel;
His conquering love consent to feel,
Yield to his love’s resistless power,
And fight against your God no more.

See him set forth before your eyes,
That precious, bleeding sacrifice!
His offered benefits embrace,
And freely now be saved by grace.

This is the time; no more delay!
This is the acceptable day,
Come in, this moment, at his call,
And live for him who died for all.

Charles Wesley (1701-1778; Church of England): Hymns, 2.

Elder Sophrony: Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany Saturday, Sep 21 2013 

SophronyWe Orthodox live Christ within the Divine Liturgy, or rather Christ lives within us during the Divine Liturgy.

The Divine Liturgy is a work of God. We say: “Time is a creation of the Lord”. Among other things it means now is the time for God to act.

Christ liturgizes, we live with Christ. The Divine Liturgy is the way we know God and the way God becomes known to us.

Christ celebrated the Divine Liturgy once and this passed into eternity.

His divinized human nature came to the Divine Liturgy. We know Christ specifically in the Divine Liturgy.

The Divine Liturgy we celebrate is the same Divine Liturgy which was done by Christ on Great Thursday in the Mystical Supper. The 14th through the 16th chapters of the Gospel according to John is one Divine Liturgy.

So in the Divine Liturgy we understand Holy Scripture. The early Church lived without a New Testament, but not without the Divine Liturgy. The first records, the written hymns, exist in the Divine Liturgy.

In the Divine Liturgy we live Christ and understand His word.

As Christ cleansed His Disciples with his word and said to them: “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3) and He washed the feet of His Disciples with water, during the Sacred Washing, so also in the first section of the Divine Liturgy He cleanses us that we might attend later His Table of love.

The purpose of the Divine Liturgy is to convey Christ to us. The Divine Liturgy teaches us an ethos, the ethos of humility. As Christ sacrificed Himself, so also should we sacrifice ourselves. The type of the Divine Liturgy is the type of impoverishment for us.

In the Divine Liturgy we try to be humbled, because we have the sense that there is the humble God. Every Divine Liturgy is a Theophany.

The Body of Christ appears. Every member of the Church is an icon of the Kingdom of God. After the Divine Liturgy we must continue to iconify the Kingdom of God, keeping His commandments.

The glory of Christ is to bear fruit in every member His fruit. This explains His word: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” (John 15:8).

Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): Translation by John Sanidopoulos @ Mystagogy from I Knew A Man In Christ: The Life and Times of Elder Sophrony, the Hesychast and Theologian (Οίδα άνθρωπον εν Χριστώ: Βίος και πολιτεία του Γέροντος Σωφρονίου του ησυχαστού και θεολόγου) by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou.

Hilary of Poitiers: The Triumph of Truth and the Perfect Sacrifice Wednesday, Sep 11 2013 

St_Hilary_of_Poitiers_cassienHe shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth. I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good. (Psalm 53[54]:5-6).

Destroy them by Thy truth. Truth confounds falsehood, and lying is destroyed by truth.

We have shewn that the whole of the foregoing prayer is the utterance of that human nature in which the Son of God was born; so here it is the voice of human nature calling upon God the Father to destroy His enemies in His truth.

What this truth is, stands beyond doubt; it is of course He Who said: I am the Life, the Way, the Truth (John 14:6).

And the enemies were destroyed by the truth when, for all their attempts to win Christ’s condemnation by false witness, they heard that He was risen from the dead and had to admit that He had resumed His glory in all the reality of Godhead.

[…] They condemned the Lord of Life to death, and paid no heed to God’s truth displayed in Him through His glorious works.

And thus the Truth of God destroyed them when He rose again to resume the majesty of His Father’s Glory, and gave proof of the truth of that perfect Divinity which He possessed.

[…] I will sacrifice unto Thee freely. The sacrifices of the Law, which consisted of whole burnt-offerings and oblations of goats and of bulls, did not involve an expression of free will, because the sentence of a curse was pronounced on all who broke the Law.

Whoever failed to sacrifice laid himself open to the curse. And it was always necessary to go through the whole sacrificial action because the addition of a curse to the commandment forbad any trifling with the obligation of offering.

It was from this curse that our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us, when, as the Apostle says: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made curse for us, for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:13).

Thus He offered Himself to the death of the accursed that He might break the curse of the Law, offering Himself voluntarily a victim to God the Father, in order that by means of a voluntary victim the curse which attended the discontinuance of the regular victim might be removed.

Now of this sacrifice mention is made in another passage of the Psalms: Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared for Me (Ps. 39/40:7); that is, by offering to God the Father, Who refused the legal sacrifices, the acceptable offering of the body which He received.

Of which offering the holy Apostle thus speaks: For this He did once for all when He offered Himself up (Heb. 7:27), securing complete salvation for the human race by the offering of this holy, perfect victim.

Hilary of Poitiers (c.300-368): Homily on Psalm 53 [54], 11;13.

Leo the Great: Christ Shared His Victory with Those in Whose Body He had Triumphed Monday, Jul 22 2013 

leo1As it cannot be denied that “the Word became flesh and dwelt in us” (John 1:14), so it cannot be denied that “God was in Christ , reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19).

But what reconciliation can there be, whereby God might look favourably on the human race, unless the mediator between God and man took up the cause of all?

And in what way could He properly fulfil His mediation, unless He who in the form of God was equal to the Father, were a sharer of our nature also in the form of a slave?

This was necessary so that the one new Man might effect a renewal of the old,  and the bond of death fastened on us by one man’s wrongdoing might be loosened by the death of the one Man who alone owed nothing to death.

For the pouring out of the blood of the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous was so powerful in its effect, and so rich a ransom, that, if the whole body of us prisoners only believed in their Redeemer, not one would be held in the tyrant’s bonds.

As the Apostle says, “where sin abounded, grace also did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). And since we, who were born under the imputation of sin, have received the power of a new birth unto righteousness, the gift of liberty has become stronger than the debt of slavery.

What hope then do they, who deny the reality of the human person in our Saviour’s body, leave for themselves in the efficacy of this mystery?  Let them say by what sacrifice they have been reconciled, by what blood-shedding brought back.

Who is He “who gave Himself for us an offering and a victim to God for a sweet smell” (Eph. 5:2); or what sacrifice was ever more hallowed than that which the true High priest placed upon the altar of the Cross by the immolation of His own flesh?

[…] One alone among the sons of men, our Lord Jesus Christ, stands out as One in whom all are crucified, all dead, all buried, all raised again.  Of them He Himself said “when I am lifted from the earth, I will draw all things unto Me” (John 12:32).

True faith also, that justifies the transgressors and makes them just, is drawn to Him who shared their human natures and wins salvation in Him, in whom alone man finds himself not guilty.

Thus true faith is free to glory in the power of Him who in the humiliation of our flesh engaged in conflict with the haughty foe, and shared His victory with those in whose body He had triumphed.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Letter 124, 3-4.

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