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).

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Ambrose of Milan: In applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, God makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain Thursday, Jun 18 2015 

ambrose_of_milan‘In addition she bore his brother Abel’ (Gen. 4:2).

[…] When…Abel is born in addition, Cain is eliminated.

This can be understood better if we examine the signification of their names.

Cain means ‘getting’ because he got everything for himself, Abel, on the other hand, did not, like his brother before him, refer everything to himself.

Devotedly and piously, he attributed everything to God, ascribing to his Creator everything that he had received from Him.

There are two schools of thought, therefore, totally in opposition one to the other, implied in the story of the two brothers.

One of these schools attributes to the mind itself the original creative source of all our thoughts, sensations, and emotions. In a word, it ascribes all our productions to man’s own mind.

The other school is that which recognizes God to be the Artificer and Creator of all things and submits everything to His guidance and direction.

Cain is a pattern for the first school and Abel of the second.

One living being gave birth to these two schools of thought. Hence, they are related as brothers because they come from one and the same womb.

At the same time, they are opposites and should be divided and separated, once they have been animated with the life of the spirit.

Those who are by nature contraries cannot abide for long in one and the same habitation.

Hence, Rebecca, when she gave birth to two individuals of dissimilar nature, the one good and the other evil, and when she felt them leap in her womb (Esau was the type of wickedness, Jacob the pattern of what is good), marveled at the reason for the discord which she perceived within her.

She appealed to God to make known the reason for her suffering and to grant a remedy. This was the response given to her prayer: ‘Two nations are in your womb; two peoples shall stem from your body’ (Gen. 25:23).

Interpreted spiritually, this can mean the same generation of good and evil, both of which emanate from the same source in the soul.

The former is likely to be the fruit of sound judgment whereby evil is repudiated and goodness is fostered and strengthened.

Prior to giving birth to what is good, that is to say, to giving complete reverence and deference owed to God Himself, the soul shows preference to its own creation.

When…the soul is generated with faith and trust in God, relief comes at the time of parturition.

Thus God, in applying the beneficial lesson of Abel to the soul of man, makes ineffective the impious lesson of Cain.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): Cain and Abel, book 1, chapter 1, 3-4, in St Ambrose: Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel, tr. John J. Savage, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 1961, pp. 360-361.

Seraphim of Sarov: The Spirit of God fills with joy whatever He touches Monday, May 18 2015 

Seraphim_SarovskyWhen the Spirit of God comes down to man and overshadows him with the fullness of His inspiration, then the human soul overflows with unspeakable joy, for the Spirit of God fills with joy whatever He touches.

This is that joy of which the Lord speaks in His Gospel: A woman when she is in travail has sorrow, because her hour is come; but when she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.

In the world you will be sorrowful; but when I see you again, your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you (Jn. 16:21-22).

Yet however comforting may be this joy which you now feel in your heart, it is nothing in comparison with that of which the Lord Himself by the mouth of His Apostle said that that joy eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love Him (I Cor. 2:9).

Foretastes of that joy are given to us now, and if they fill our souls with such sweetness, well-being and happiness, what shall we say of that joy which has been prepared in heaven for those who weep here on earth? And you, my son, have wept enough in your life on earth; yet see with what joy the Lord consoles you even in this life!

Now it is up to us, my son, to add labours to labours in order to go from strength to strength (Ps. 83:7), and to come to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13), so that the words of the Lord may be fulfilled in us: 

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall grow wings like eagles; and they shall run and not be weary (Is. 40:31); they will go from strength to strength, and the God of gods will appear to them in the Sion (Ps. 83:8) of realization and heavenly visions.

Only then will our present joy (which now visits us little and briefly) appear in all its fullness, and no one will take it from us, for we shall be filled to overflowing with inexplicable heavenly delights.

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Silouan the Athonite: The Lord loves us much, quickening all things by his Grace Monday, May 4 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteIt is a great good to give oneself up to the will of God.  Then the Lord alone is in the soul.

No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God’s love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God.

Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction.

But it rarely happens that the soul’s teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God’s will.

[…] O God of Mercy, Thou knowest our infirmity. I beseech Thee, grant me a humble spirit, for in Thy mercy Thou dost enable the humble soul to live according to Thy will.

[…] How are you to know if you are living according to the will of God?

Here is a sign:  if you are distressed over anything it means that you have not fully surrendered to God’s will, although it may seem to you that you live according to His will.

He who lives according to God’s will has no cares.  If he has need of something, he offers himself and the thing he wants to God, and if he does not receive it, he remains as tranquil as if he had got what he wanted.

The soul that is given over to the will of God fears nothing….  Whatever may come, ‘Such is God’s pleasure,’ she says.

If she falls sick she thinks, ‘This means that I need sickness, or God would not have sent it.’  And in this wise is peace preserved in soul and body.

The man who takes thought for his own welfare is unable to give himself up to God’s will, that his soul may have peace in God.

But the humble soul is devoted to God’s will, and lives before Him in awe and love; in awe, lest she grieve God in any way; in love, because the soul has come to know how the Lord loves us.

The best thing of all is to surrender to God’s will and bear affliction, having confidence in God. The Lord, seeing our affliction, will never give us too much to bear.

If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God.

The soul that is in all things devoted to the will of God rests quiet in Him, for she knows of experience and from the Holy Scriptures that the Lord loves us much and watches over our souls, quickening all things by His grace in peace and love.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): from St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos – The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Archimandrite Sophrony, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) @ Kandylaki.

Cyril of Jerusalem: The Descent of the Holy Spirit Wednesday, Jun 11 2014 

Cyril-of-JerusalemHe came down to clothe the Apostles with power, and to baptize them.

For the Lord says, ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence (Acts 1:5).

This grace was not in part, but His power was in full perfection.

For as he who plunges into the waters and is baptized is encompassed on all sides by the waters, so were they also baptized completely by the Holy Ghost.

The water however flows round the outside only, but the Spirit baptizes also the soul within, and that completely.

And wherefore wonderest thou?  Take an example from matter; poor indeed and common, yet useful for the simpler sort.

The fire passing in through the mass of the iron makes the whole of it fire, so that what was cold becomes burning and what was black is made bright.

If fire which is a body thus penetrates and works without hindrance in iron which is also a body, why wonder that the Holy Ghost enters into the very inmost recesses of the soul?

And lest men should be ignorant of the greatness of the mighty gift coming down to them, there sounded as it were a heavenly trumpet.

For suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind (Acts 2:2), signifying the presence of Him who was to grant power unto men to seize with violence the kingdom of God; that both their eyes might see the fiery tongues, and their ears hear the sound.  

And it filled all the house where they were sitting; for the house became the vessel of the spiritual water; as the disciples sat within, the whole house was filled.

Thus they were entirely baptized according to the promise, and invested soul and body with a divine garment of salvation.  

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.

They partook of fire, not of burning but of saving fire; of fire which consumes the thorns of sins, but gives lustre to the soul.

This is now coming upon you also, and that to strip away and consume your sins which are like thorns, and to brighten yet more that precious possession of your souls, and to give you grace; for He gave it then to the Apostles.

And He sat upon them in the form of fiery tongues, that they might crown themselves with new and spiritual diadems by fiery tongues upon their heads.  A fiery sword barred of old the gates of Paradise; a fiery tongue which brought salvation restored the gift.

Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313-386): Catechetical Lectures 17, 14-15.

John Paul II: The Holy Spirit Descends Into Our Hearts and Reproduces the Image of the Son Saturday, Jun 7 2014 

jp2In the Letter to the Galatians Paul speaks of the eternal design conceived by God in the depth of his trinitarian life.

It was accomplished in the “fullness of time” with the coming of the Son in the Incarnation to make us his adopted sons:

“God sent forth his Son, born of a woman…so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5).

According to the Apostle, the mission of the Holy Spirit is closely connected with the Son’s “mission” (missio) in the trinitarian economy.

He adds: “And because we are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal 4:6).

Here we touch the goal of the mystery expressed in Pentecost: the Holy Spirit descends “into our hearts” as the Spirit of the Son.

Precisely because he is the Spirit of the Son, he enables us to cry out to God together with Christ: “Abba, Father.”

This cry expresses the fact that not only are we called to be sons of God, “but we are so indeed,” as the Apostle John emphasizes in his First Letter (3:1).

Because of this gift, we truly share in the sonship proper to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This is the supernatural truth of our relationship with Christ, a truth that can be known only by those who “have known the Father” (cf. 1 Jn 2:13).

This knowledge is possible only by virtue of the Holy Spirit, through the witness which he gives from within to the human spirit. There, he is present as the principle of truth and life.

The Apostle Paul tells us: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:16-17).

“You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship whereby we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom 8:15).

The Spirit reproduces in man the image of the Son, thus establishing the intimate fraternal bond with Christ which leads us to “cry out with him, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Hence the Apostle writes that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Rom 8:14).

The Holy Spirit “breathes” in the hearts of believers as the Spirit of the Son, establishing in man the divine sonship in the likeness of Christ and in union with Christ.

The Holy Spirit forms the human spirit from within according to the divine exemplar which is Christ.

Thus, through the Spirit, the Christ known in the pages of the Gospel becomes the “life of the soul.”

In thinking, loving, judging, acting and even in feeling, man is conformed to Christ, and becomes “Christlike.”

John Paul II (1920-2005): General Audience, July 26th, 1989.

Nikolai Velimirovich: Thus Did The One Ascend To Heaven Who Held Heaven Within Himself Friday, May 30 2014 

Nikolai VelimirovichThus did the One ascend to Heaven Who held heaven within Himself.

He who carries hell within himself will end up in hell, but he who bears heaven within his soul will ascend to heaven.

And truly, no one can ascend to heaven other than those who have heaven within; and no one can end up in hell besides those who have hell within.

The familiar is drawn to what is familiar and unites with the familiar; but it rejects what is not familiar.

Matter submits to the spirit to the extent that the human soul is filled with the Divine Spirit; and the laws of nature are obedient to moral laws, which govern the world.

Because the Lord Jesus Christ is the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the perfection of moral law, to Him is subject all matter—the entire physical world, with all the laws of nature.

Any person, as a spirit, can be victorious in his life over a certain law of nature, with the help of another law of nature—that is, he can overcome it with his own spirit.

Christ, as the God-Man, could subject the laws of nature to Himself through the law of the Spirit, which is the supreme law of the created world.

However, this concept, just as any other spiritual concept, can be but partially explained by ordinary earthly conceptualizations and reasoning—and that only by examples and comparisons.

Spiritual things only become clear beyond a doubt when the spirit sees them and perceives them.

In order to see and feel the manifestations of the spiritual world, long and exhausting spiritual practice is needed, after which, by God’s grace, spiritual vision may be opened in a person; this vision allows him to see what seems unbelievable and impossible to ordinary mortals.

Nevertheless, a person must first believe those who have seen the unbelievable, and strengthen their faith from day to day, striving to see what is inaccessible to the common gaze.

Not in vain does the Lord say, Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn. 20:29).

[…]  But the day will come—and that day is not far off—when all the righteous mean and women who firmly believed in Him throughout their lives will see Him.

And around Him in the heavens will gather all those who were baptized on earth in His name—not only with water, but also with the Spirit and Fire.

And they will enter into His joy, which the Heavenly Father has prepared for all His chosen, and will inherit a joy that they have never known before.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): The Ascension of the Lord @ Pravoslavie.

Justin Popovich: The Word of God has a Wonder-Working and Life-Giving Effect Tuesday, May 27 2014 

JustinEvery word of God is full of God’s Truth, which sanctifies the soul for all eternity once it enters it.

Thus does the Saviour turn to His heavenly Father in prayer: “Father! Sanctify them with Thy Truth; Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

If you do not accept the word of Christ as the word of God, as the word of the Truth, then falsehood and the father of lies within you is rebelling against it.

In every word of the Saviour there is much that is supernatural and full of grace, and this is what sheds grace on the soul of man when the word of Christ visits it.

Therefore the Holy Apostle calls the whole structure of the house of salvation “the word of the grace of God” (Acts 20:32).

Like a living grace-filled power, the word of God has a wonder-working and life-giving effect on a man, so long as he hears it with faith and receives it with faith (1 Thess. 2:13).

Everything is defiled by sin, but everything is cleansed by the word of God and prayer – everything – all creation from man on down to a worm (1 Tim. 4:5).

By the Truth which it carries in itself and by the Power which it has in itself, the word of God is “sharper than any sword and pierces to the point of dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Nothing remains secret before it or for it.

Because every word of God contains the eternal Word of God – the Logos – it has the power to give birth and regenerate men. And when a man is born of the Word, he is born of the Truth.

For this reason St. James the Apostle writes to the Christians that God the Father has brought them forth “by the word of truth” (1:18); and St. Peter tells them that they “have been born anew…by the word of the living God, which abides forever” (1 Peter 1:23).

All the words of God, which God has spoken to men, come from the Eternal Word – the Logos, who is the Word of life and bestows Life eternal.

By living for the Word, a man brings himself from death to life. By filling himself with eternal life, a man becomes a conqueror of death and “a partaker of the Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and of his blessedness there shall be no end.

The main and most important point of all this is faith and feeling love towards Christ the Lord, because the mystery of every word of God is opened beneath the warmth of that feeling, just as the petals of a fragrant flower are opened beneath the warmth of the sun’s rays. Amen

Justin Popovich (1894-1979; Orthodox Church): How to Read the Bible and Why.

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.

 

Nektarios the Wonderworker: The image of those who hope in the God who saves Tuesday, May 13 2014 

St NektariosHow wonderful, how pleasing, how charming is the image of those who hope in the God Who saves

— in God the compassionate, the God of mercy, the good God Who loves mankind.

People who hope in God are truly blessed.

God is their constant helper and they fear no evil, even if others provoke them.

They hope in God and do good.

They have set their every hope on Him and they confess to Him with all their heart.

He is their boast, their God and they call upon Him day and night.

Their mouths direct praise to God; their lips are sweeter than honey and wax when they open them to sing to God; their tongue, full of grace, is moved to glorify God.

Their heart is eager to call upon Him, their mind ready to be elevated towards Him, their soul is committed to God and “His right hand has upheld them”.

“Their souls will boast in the Lord”. They ask and receive from God whatever their heart desires.

They ask and find whatever they seek. They knock and the gates of mercy are opened.

People who hope in God rest upon untroubled waters. And God grants them His rich mercy.

The right hand of God directs their paths and the finger of the Lord guides them on their way.

Those who hope in the Lord do not fail. Their hope never dies. God is their expectation, the furthermost desire of their hearts.

Their hearts sigh before Him all the day long: “Lord, do not delay, arise, hasten, come and remove my soul from every necessity, bring my soul out of prison.

“I will glorify you with my whole heart, Lord. Every word which proceeds from my mouth will be directed to you”.

Those who hope in the Lord bless the Most High, His Redeemer and also sanctify “His holy name”.

They hope, and cry to God from the depths of their hearts: “Lord, when shall I come and appear before Your face”.

Those who hope in the Lord will call upon the Lord and enter into His holy place, in order to see and rejoice in His wonders.

And the Lord will hear the voice of their supplication.

Nektarios of Aegina (Orthodox Church; 1846-1920): from Το γνώθι σαυτόν [To know yourself], Athos publications, pp.101-4 @ Pemptousia.

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