Pete of Damascus: The hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness Monday, May 30 2016 

peter_of_damascusWhenever a person even slightly learned reads the Scriptures or sings psalms he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another.

But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory. Yet there is no contradiction in the Holy Scriptures….

For some texts are confirmed by others, while some were written with reference to a particular time or a particular person.

[…] The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself.

Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St Antony the Great says.

For St Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one’s own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.

This is especially the case if a person does not approach the Scriptures through the door of humility but, as St John Chrysostom says, climbs up some other way, like a thief (cf John 10:1), and forces them to accord with his allegorizing.

[…] What kind of knowledge can result from adapting the meaning of the Scriptures to suit one’s own likes and from daring to alter their words? The true sage is he who regards the text as authoritative and discovers, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness.

The three great luminaries, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom, are outstanding examples of this: they base themselves either on the particular text they are considering or on some other passage of Scripture.

Thus no one can contradict them, for they do not adduce external support for what they say, so that it might be claimed that it was merely their own opinion, but refer directly to the text under discussion or to some other scriptural passage that sheds light on it.

And in this they are right; for what they understand and expound comes from the Holy Spirit, of whose inspiration they have been found worthy. No one, therefore, should do or mentally assent to anything if its integrity is in doubt and cannot be attested from Scripture.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 144-145.

Athanasius of Alexandria: The Word Became Lord of All to Hallow All by the Spirit Sunday, Feb 23 2014 

AthanasiusOn St Peter’s words in Acts 2:36:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ”.

The Son of God, being Himself the Word, is Lord of all.

We became subject from the first to the slavery of corruption and the curse of the Law.

Then, by degrees fashioning for ourselves things that were not, we served, as says the blessed Apostle, ‘them which by nature are no Gods’  (Gal. 4:8).

Ignorant of the true God, we preferred things that were not to the truth.

The ancient people when oppressed in Egypt groaned.

So also, we too had the Law ‘engrafted’  (James 1:21) in us, and according to the unutterable sighings (Rom. 8:26) of the Spirit made our intercession, ‘O Lord our God, take possession of us’ (Is. 26:13, LXX).

Then, as ‘He became for a house of refuge’ and a ‘God and defence,’ so also He became our Lord.

Nor did He then begin to be, but we began to have Him for our Lord.

God, being good and Father of the Lord, full of pity, and desiring to be known by all, makes His own Son put on Him a human body and become man, and be called Jesus.

This was so that, offering Himself in this body for all, He might deliver all from false worship and corruption, and might Himself in this way become Lord and King of all.

This it is what Peter means when he says ‘He has made Him Lord,’ and ‘has sent Christ.’

Peter is saying that, in making Him man (for to be made belongs to man), the Father did not simply make Him man.

Rather, He has made Him with a view to His being Lord of all men, and to His hallowing all through the Anointing.

For though the Word existing in the form of God took a servant’s form, yet the assumption of the flesh did not make a servant of the Word, who was by nature Lord.

It was  the emancipation of all humanity which takes place by the Word.

And by this assumption that very Word who was by nature Lord, and who was then made man, has by means of a servant’s form been made Lord of all and Christ in order to hallow all by the Spirit.

[…] Christ, being by nature Lord and King everlasting, does not become Lord more than He was at the time He is sent forth.

He does not then begin to be Lord and King, but what He is ever, that He then is made according to the flesh.

And, having redeemed all, He becomes thereby again Lord of quick and dead.

Athanasius of Alexandria (c.293-373): Against the Arians, 2, 15, 14 (adapted).

Nikolai Velimirovich: Eternity Came into Contact with Time, Heaven with Earth, the Spiritual with the Physical Monday, Dec 30 2013 

Nikolai VelimirovichJust as a mother bends down and leans over a tearstained baby in a crib, so does the descent of the Creator of men into this temporal and visible world correspond to His miraculous existence in eternity.

[…] “When Mary asked, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” the archangel of God answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

If anyone among you asks in amazement, how this is possible, God’s herald of glad tidings will answer him, just as he answered the Most Holy Virgin when he said: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (cf. Luke 1:28-37).

Instead of questioning and probing, silence and gladness are more fitting here – silence on account of the sublime mystery, and gladness on account of the almighty power of our God and Creator.

The Son of God and the Son of the Virgin – the One Begotten in heaven and Born on earth, existing in eternity and in time. This is your Messiah, O chosen people, and your Savior.

Begotten in eternity of the Father without a mother. Born in time of the Mother without a father. Whoever wishes to understand this completely, let him say whether he fully comprehends the grain of sand beneath his feet, or a leaf on a tree, or the stars in the firmament.

Has he understood the tiniest creature of God, which he tramples, or sees, or touches? […] This world is miraculous; the whole world breathes miracles. This world is mysterious; the whole world is censed with the incense of awesome and sublime mysteries.

How much more miraculous is the Creator of this world? At any point where eternity comes into contact with time, where heaven comes into contact with earth, a great light appears. And it is light which is incomprehensible to you, and not darkness.

The Holy Virgin in Nazareth was that blessed point, where eternity came into contact with time, where heaven came into contact with earth. And from that point a great light came forth, which began to shine over the entire world. It is light which is incomprehensible to you, blessed people, and not darkness.

[…] We know…that the Holy Spirit de­scended upon the Virgin Mary in Nazareth, and that the power of the Most High overshadowed her.

Thus eternity came into contact with time, heaven with earth, the spiritual with the physical, and the great Light appeared, which has illumined the world and you who are in the world.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): The Faith of the Chosen People, 5.

Ephrem the Syrian: “When I Arose, I could Discern Nothing for the Glory of the Light” Sunday, Aug 11 2013 

Mor_Ephrem_iconSaul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:4).

He who had conquered His persecutors in the world below, and ruled over the angels in the world above, spoke from above with humble voice.

[…] Our Lord spoke in humility from heaven, that in humility the heads of His church might speak.

And if any one should say, “Wherein did our Lord speak humbly with Paul? for lo! the eyes of Paul were grievously smitten”, let him know that it was not from our merciful Lord that this chastisement proceeded, who spoke those words in humility; but from the vehement light that vehemently shone forth there.

And this light did not strike Paul by way of retribution on account of his deeds, but on account of the vehemence of its rays it hurt him, as he also said:  When I arose, I could discern nothing for the glory of the light (Acts 22:11).

But if that light was glorious, O Paul, how did the glorious light become a blinding light to thee thyself?

The light was that which, according to its nature, illuminates above, but contrary to its nature, it shone forth below. When it illumined above, it was delightful; but when it shone forth below, it was blinding.  For the light was both grievous and pleasant.

It was grievous and violent towards the eyes of the flesh; and it was pleasant and lightful to those who are fire and spirit (Matthew 4:11).  For I saw a light from heaven that excelled the sun, and its light shone upon me (Acts 26:13).

So then mighty rays streamed forth without moderation, and were poured upon feeble eyes, which moderate rays refresh.  For, lo! the sun also in measure assists the eyes, but beyond measure and out of measure it injures the eyes.

[…]  For since Paul might have been injured by the vehemence of this sun to which he was accustomed, if he gazed upon it not according to custom, how much more should he be injured by the glory of that light to which his eyes never had been accustomed?

For behold, Daniel also (Daniel 10:5,6) was melted and poured out on every side before the glory of the angel, whose vehement brightness suddenly shone upon him!

And it was not because of the angel’s wrath that his human weakness was melted, just as it is not on account of the wrath or hostility of fire that wax is melted before it; but on account of the weakness of the wax it cannot keep firm and stand in presence of fire.

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Homily on Our Lord, 26-27.

Irenaeus of Lyons: The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the Restoration of the Image of God Thursday, Apr 26 2012 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonBy the hands of the Father, that is, by the Son and the Holy Spirit, man, and not merely a part of man, was made in the likeness of God.

Now the soul and the spirit are certainly a part of the man, but certainly not the man; for the perfect man consists in the commingling and the union of the soul receiving the spirit of the Father, and the admixture of that fleshly nature which was moulded after the image of God.

[…] When the spirit here blended with the soul is united to God’s handiwork, the man is rendered spiritual and perfect because of the outpouring of the Spirit, and this is he who was made in the image and likeness of God.

But if the Spirit be wanting to the soul, he who is such is indeed of an animal nature, and being left carnal, shall be an imperfect being, possessing indeed the image of God in his formation, but not receiving the similitude through the Spirit; and thus is this being imperfect.

[…] That flesh which has been moulded is not a perfect man in itself, but the body of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the soul itself, considered apart by itself, the man; but it is the soul of a man, and part of a man. Neither is the spirit a man, for it is called the spirit, and not a man; but the commingling and union of all these constitutes the perfect man.

And for this cause does the apostle, explaining himself, make it clear that the saved man is a complete man as well as a spiritual man; saying thus in the first Epistle to the Thessalonians: “Now the God of peace sanctify you perfect; and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved whole without complaint to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now what was his object in praying that these three — that is, soul, body, and spirit — might be preserved to the coming of the Lord, unless he was aware of the [future] reintegration and union of the three, and that they should be heirs of one and the same salvation? For this cause also he declares that those are “the perfect” who present unto the Lord the three component parts without offence.

Those, then, are the perfect who have had the Spirit of God remaining in them, and have preserved their souls and bodies blameless, holding fast the faith of God, that is, that faith which is directed towards God, and maintaining righteous dealings with respect to their neighbours.

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses, 5, 6, 1.

Seraphim of Sarov: At the Descent of the Holy Spirit We Must Remain in Complete Silence Sunday, Jul 11 2010 

Seraphim_SarovskyWhat then shall we say of the Lord Himself, the never-failing source of every blessing both heavenly and earthly?

Truly in prayer we are granted to converse with Him, our all-gracious and life-giving God and Savior Himself.

But even here we must pray only until God the Holy Spirit descends on us in measures of His heavenly grace known to Him.

And when He deigns to visit us, we must stop praying.

I will explain this point to you through an example.

[…] Imagine that you have invited me to pay you a visit, and at your invitation I come to have a talk with you. But you continue to invite me, saying: “Come in, please. Do come in!” Then I should be obliged to think: “What is the matter with him? Is he out of his mind?”

So it is with regard to our Lord God the Holy Spirit. That is why it is said: “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 45[46]:10).

That is, I will appear and will continue to appear to everyone who believes in Me and calls upon Me, and I will converse with him as once I conversed with Adam in Paradise, with Abraham and Jacob and other servants of Mine, with Moses and Job, and those like them.

Many explain that this stillness refers only to worldly matters; in other words, that during prayerful converse with God you must “be still” with regard to worldly affairs.

But I will tell you in the name of God that not only is it necessary to be dead to them at prayer, but when by the omnipotent power of faith and prayer our Lord God the Holy Spirit condescends to visit us, and comes to us in the plenitude of His unutterable goodness, we must be dead to prayer too.

The soul speaks and converses during prayer, but at the descent of the Holy Spirit we must remain in complete silence, in order to hear clearly and intelligibly all the words of eternal life which he will then deign to communicate.

Complete soberness of soul and spirit, and chaste purity of body is required at the same time. The same demands were made at Mount Horeb, when the Israelites were told not even to touch their wives for three days before the appearance of God on Mount Sinai.

For our God is a fire which consumes everything unclean, and no one who is defiled in body or spirit can enter into communion with Him.

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

John Cassian: The Conflict of Flesh and Spirit Sunday, Mar 14 2010 

This conflict too we read in the Apostle has for our good been placed in our members: “For the flesh lusteth against the spirit: and the spirit against the flesh. But these two are opposed to each other so that ye should not do what ye would” (Gal. 5:17).

You have here too a contest as it were implanted in our bodies, by the action and arrangement of the Lord.

For when a thing exists in everybody universally and without the slightest exception, what else can you think about it except that it belongs to the substance of human nature, since the fall of the first man, as it were naturally.

And when a thing is found to be congenital with everybody, and to grow with their growth, how can we help believing that it was implanted by the will of the Lord, not to injure them but to help them?

But the reason of this conflict, that is, of flesh and spirit, he tells us is this: “that ye should not do what ye would.”

And so, if we were to fulfil what God arranged that we should not fulfil (in other words, if we were able to do what we would), how could we help believing that it would be bad for us?

And this conflict implanted in us by the arrangement of the Creator is in a way useful to us, and calls and urges us on to a higher state.

And if it ceased, most surely there would ensue on the other hand a peace that is fraught with danger.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 4,7.

Leo the Great: “The Flesh Desires One Thing Against the Spirit, and the Spirit Another Thing Against the Flesh” Thursday, Feb 18 2010 

In order that we may be able to overcome all our enemies, let us seek divine aid by the observance of the heavenly bidding, knowing that we cannot otherwise prevail against our adversaries, unless we prevail against our own selves.

For we have many encounters with our own selves:  “the flesh desires one thing against the spirit, and the spirit another thing against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17; Rom. 6:12).

And in l.this disagreement, if the desires of the body be stronger, the mind will disgracefully lose its proper dignity, and it will be most disastrous for that to serve which ought to have ruled.

But if the mind, being subject to its Ruler, and delighting in gifts from above, shall have trampled under foot the allurements of earthly pleasure, and shall not have allowed sin to reign in its mortal body, reason will maintain a well-ordered supremacy, and its strongholds no strategy of spiritual wickednesses will cast down:  because man has then only true peace and true freedom when the flesh is ruled by the judgment of the mind, and the mind is directed by the will of God.

And although this state of preparedness, dearly-beloved, should always be maintained that our ever-watchful foes may be overcome by unceasing diligence, yet now it must be the more anxiously sought for and the more zealously cultivated when the designs of our subtle foes themselves are conducted with keener craft than ever.

For knowing that the most hallowed days of Lent are now at hand, in the keeping of which all past slothfulnesses are chastised, all negligences alerted for, they direct all the force of their spite on this one thing, that they who intend to celebrate the Lord’s holy Passover may be found unclean in some matter, and that cause of offence may arise where propitiation ought to have been obtained.

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 39,2.

Ephrem the Syrian: His Grace Is Abundant Without Limit Monday, Feb 15 2010 

Glory to Thee Who didst depart from one dwelling to take up thy abode in another!

That He might come and make us a dwelling-place for His Sender, the only-begotten departed from being with Deity and took up His abode in the Virgin; that by a common manner of birth, though only-begotten, He might become the brother of many.

And He departed from Sheol and took up His abode in the Kingdom; that He might seek out a path from Sheol which oppresses all, to the Kingdom which requites all.

For our Lord gave His resurrection as a pledge to mortals, that He would remove them from Sheol, which receives the departed without distinction, to the Kingdom which admits the invited with distinction; so that, from the plan which makes equal the bodies of all men within it, we may come to the plan which distinguishes the works of all men within it.

This is He Who descended to Sheol and ascended, that from the place which corrupts its sojourners, He might bring us to the place which nourishes with its blessings its dwellers; even those dwellers who, with the possessions, the fruits, and the flowers, of this world, that pass away, have crowned and adorned for themselves there, tabernacles that pass not away.

That Firstborn Who was begotten according to His nature, was born in another birth that was external to His nature; that we might know that after our natural birth we must have another birth which is outside our nature.

For He, since He was spiritual, until He came to the corporeal birth, could not be corporeal; in like manner also the corporeal, unless they are born in another birth, cannot be spiritual.

But the Son Whose generation is unsearchable, was born in another generation that may be searched out; that by the one we might learn that His Majesty is without limit, and by the other might be taught that His grace is without measure.

For great is His Majesty without measure, Whose first generation cannot be imagined in any of our thoughts.

And His grace is abundant without limit, Whose second birth is proclaimed by all mouths.

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Homily on Our Lord, 1.

Jordan of Saxony: Keep Living in the Heavens with Holy Desires Saturday, Jan 30 2010 

I believe that thou dost not know the German tongue, and no wonder since thou hast never been in German territory.

In this world there is no idiom used except that based on material things, for “he who is of the earth speaks of the earth”.

Do thou therefore, dearest, keep living in the heavens with holy desires, if thou wishest to learn its idiom in order to understand whenever thou shalt turn to a book written on spiritual subjects or to a preacher speaking on spiritual matters.

He who had never been in the realm of the angels would not understand them.

It is not unknown to thee that man is composed of two parts, a body and a soul. The body, as thou knowest, does not cease to satisfy its desires for corporal things lest it perish of hunger. But the soul is of greater value than the body.

Therefore deliver not up thy soul to thy body, dearest, but lift it up at times to the spiritual realm in order that it may obtain for itself a food that it does not find on earth, a food bought not with money but by holy desires.

Who would be so foolish as to die of hunger for lack of a food obtainable by desires alone? Say with the Prophet: “My eyes are always upon the Lord as the eyes of a poor man are upon the rich from whom with great desire he awaits an alms”.

From the flowers of the earth bees collect an earthly honey and, solicitous for their future they bring it when collected to their hive.

Thy spirit will die unless refreshed with spiritual honey, for I know that it is delicate and disdains to use coarse nourishment.

Do thou therefore, dearest, “send forth thy spirit” in order that it may gather the honey by which it lives.

In the gathering, however, let not all the honey be consumed but let some be stored in the recesses of the heart so that, if ever thy spirit tire of desiring, it may find at home within itself something by which it can be delighted.

And, dearest, when thou shalt find thyself blessed in such desires, be not unmindful of the poor man writing to thee.

Jordan of Saxony (c.1190-1237): Letter 1 to Diana of Andalo.

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