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.

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Gregory the Great: From Faith to Vision, from Belief to Contemplation Thursday, May 8 2014 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistI am the good shepherd. I know my own – by which I mean, I love them – and my own know me.

In plain words: those who love me are willing to follow me, for anyone who does not love the truth has not yet come to know it.

[…] Consequently, the Lord immediately adds: As the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.

Clearly he means that laying down his life for his sheep gives evidence of his knowledge of the Father and the Father’s knowledge of him.

In other words, by the love with which he dies for his sheep he shows how greatly he loves his Father.

Again he says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them; they follow me, and I give them eternal life.

Shortly before this he had declared: If anyone enters the sheepfold through me he shall be saved; he shall go freely in and out and shall find good pasture.

He will enter into a life of faith; from faith he will go out to vision, from belief to contemplation, and will graze in the good pastures of everlasting life.

So our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity.

These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens.

May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us.

To love thus is to be already on our way. No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast.

Anyone who is determined to reach his destination is not deterred by the roughness of the road that leads to it.

Nor must we allow the charm of success to seduce us, or we shall be like a foolish traveller who is so distracted by the pleasant meadows through which he is passing that he forgets where he is going.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Homily 14, 3-6 (from the Office of Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Easter) @ Crossroads Initiative.

Peter of Damascus: God’s Grace will Give Us Gentleness so that We Begin to Imitate Christ Tuesday, Apr 8 2014 

peter_of_damascusGod’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.

This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle” (Matt. 5:5).

Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honor or dishonor.

In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and that this life is a path leading to the future life.

We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.

For whatever God does is “wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen. 1:31), even if we are unaware of this. As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps. 25: 9. LXX) or, rather, how to exercise discrimination.

Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.

Unwittingly or wittingly we must have offended God, or a brother, or someone else, and now we are being given a chance to receive forgiveness for this. For through patient endurance we may be granted forgiveness for many sins.

Moreover, if we do not forgive others their debts, the Father will not forgive us our debts (cf Matt. 6:14). Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt. 6:14).

This, then, is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.

But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.

Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul. Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.

[…] God, being self-sufficient and giving to each what is to his profit, does indeed deserve our thanks, since He patiently suffers both the devil and the wickedness of men, and yet bestows His blessings upon those who repent both before and after they sin.

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. 94-96.

John Cassian: Dejection Monday, Apr 7 2014 

Sf-IoanCasianWe have to resist the pangs of gnawing dejection.

For if this, through separate attacks made at random, and by haphazard and casual changes, has secured an opportunity of gaining possession of our mind, it keeps us back at all times from all insight in divine contemplation, and utterly ruins and depresses the mind that has fallen away from its complete state of purity.

It does not allow it to say its prayers with its usual gladness of heart, nor permit it to rely on the comfort of reading the sacred writings, nor suffer it to be quiet and gentle with the brethren;

it makes it impatient and rough in all the duties of work and devotion: and, as all wholesome counsel is lost, and steadfastness of heart destroyed, it makes the feelings almost mad and drunk, and crushes and overwhelms them with penal despair.

Wherefore if we are anxious to exert ourselves lawfully in the struggle of our spiritual combat we ought with no less care to set about healing this malady also. For “as the moth injures the garment, and the worm the wood, so dejection the heart of man.”

With sufficient clearness and appropriateness has the Divine Spirit expressed the force of this dangerous and most injurious fault. For the garment that is moth-eaten has no longer any commercial value or good use to which it can be put; and in the same way the wood that is worm-eaten is no longer worth anything for ornamenting even an ordinary building, but is destined to be burnt in the fire.

So therefore the soul also which is a prey to the attacks of gnawing dejection will be useless for that priestly garment which, according to the prophecy of the holy David, the ointment of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven, first on Aaron’s beard, then on his skirts, is wont to assume: as it is said, “It is like the ointment upon the head which ran down upon Aaron’s beard, which ran down to the skirts of his clothing.”

Nor can it have anything to do with the building or ornamentation of that spiritual temple of which Paul as a wise master builder laid the foundations, saying, “Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you:” and what the beams of this are like the bride tells us in the Song of Songs: “Our rafters are of cypress: the beams of our houses are of cedar.”

And therefore those sorts of wood are chosen for the temple of God which are fragrant and not liable to rot, and which are not subject to decay from age nor to be worm-eaten.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Institutes 9, 1-3.

Isaac the Syrian: Trials and temptations Wednesday, Apr 2 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3Hardships for the sake of the good are loved as the good itself.

Nobody can acquire real renunciation save him that is determined in his mind to bear troubles with pleasure.

Nobody can bear trouble save him that believes that there is something more excellent than bodily consolation which he shall acquire in reward for trouble.

Everyone that has devoted himself to renunciation, will first perceive the love of trouble stir within himself; thereupon the thought of renouncing all worldly things will take shape in him.

Everyone who comes near unto trouble will at first be confirmed in faith; then he will come near unto trouble.

He that renounces worldly things without renouncing the senses, sight and hearing, he prepares twofold trouble for himself and he will find tribulation in a twofold measure.

Or rather: while he refrains from the use of things, he delights in them through the senses; and by the affections which they cause he experiences the same from them that he had to endure in reality before; because the recollection of their customs is not effaced from the mind.

If then imaginary representations existing in the mind alone can torture man, apart from the things corresponding to them in reality, what shall we say when the real things are close at hand?

[…] The hard temptations into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts.

If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift.

As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations.So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts.

Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.

What then? Temptation, then gifts ; or gifts and afterwards temptation? Temptation does not come if the soul has not received secretly greatness above its previous rank, as well as the spirit of adoption as sons.

We have a proof of it in the temptation of our Lord and of the Apostles; for they were not allowed to be tempted before they had received the Comforter. Those who partake of good have also to bear temptations.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 39, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck (slightly adapted).

Elder Sophrony: When We Choose Christ We are Carried Beyond Time and Space, Beyond the Reach of what is Termed “Tragedy” Friday, Mar 28 2014 

SophronyContinued from here….

In refusing to accept Christ as Eternal Man and, more importantly, as True God and our Saviour – whatever the form the refusal takes, and whatever the pretext – we lose the light of life eternal.

‘Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the founda­tion of the world’ (John 17.24).

There, in the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, must our mind dwell. We must hunger and thirst to enter into this wondrous Kingdom.

Then we shall overcome in ourselves the sin of refusing the Father’s love as revealed to us through the Son (cf. John 8.24).

When we choose Christ we are carried beyond time and space, beyond the reach of what is termed ‘tragedy’.

The moment the Holy Spirit grants us to know the hypostatic form of prayer we can begin to break the fetters that shackle us.

Emerging from the prison cell of selfish individualism into the wide expanse of life in the image of Christ, we perceive the nature of the personalism of the Gospel.

[…] It is a recognised fact that the ego is the weapon in the struggle for existence of the individual who refuses Christ’s call to open our hearts to total, universal love.

The persona, by contrast, is inconceivable without all-embracing love either in the Divine Being or in the human being.

Prolonged and far from easy ascetic effort can open our eyes to the love that Christ taught, and we can apprehend the whole world through ourselves, through our own sufferings and searchings.

We become like a world-wide radio receiver and can identify ourselves with the tragic element, not only in the lives of individual people but of the world at large, and we pray for the world as for our own selves.

In this kind of prayer the spirit beholds the depths of evil, the sombre result of having eaten of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’.

But it is not only evil that we see – we make con­tact, too, with Absolute Good, with God, Who translates our prayer into a vision of Uncreated Light.

The soul may then forget the world for whom she was praying, and cease to be aware of the body. The prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body.

The soul may return to this world. But the spirit of man, having experienced his resurrection and come near existentially to eternity, is even further persuaded that tragedy and death are the consequence of sin and that there is no other way to salvation than through Christ.

Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): from His Life Is Mine, London 1977, p. 37-40 @ Pemptousia.

John Chrysostom: St Joseph and the Flight into Egypt Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 

John_ChrysostomNow the angel having thus appeared, talks not with Mary, but with Joseph, and says… “Arise, and take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt” (Matthew 2:13).

And he mentions the cause of the flight: “For Herod,” he says, “will seek the young Child’s life.”

Joseph, when he had heard these things, was not offended, and did not say, “The thing is hard to understand; did you not say just now that He would save His people? and now He saves not even Himself, but we must fly, and go far from home, and be a long time away – the facts are contrary to the promise.”

Joseph does not say any of these things (for the man was faithful); neither is he curious about the time of his return; and this though the angel had put it indefinitely thus: “Be thou there until I tell thee.”

But nevertheless, not even at this did he shudder, but submits and obeys, undergoing all the trials with joy. And this because God, who is full of love to man, mingled pleasant things with these hardships.

This indeed is His way with regard to all the saints, making neither their dangers nor their refreshment continual, but weaving the life of all righteous men, out of both the one and the other.

This very thing He did here also. For consider, Joseph saw the Virgin with child. This cast him into agitation and the utmost trouble, for he was suspecting the damsel of adultery.

But straightway the angel was at hand to do away his suspicion, and remove his fears; and seeing the young child born, he reaped the greatest joy.

Again, no trifling danger succeeds this joy, the city being troubled, and the king in his madness seeking after Him that was born. But this trouble was again succeeded by another joy: the star, and the adoration of the wise men.

Again, after this pleasure, fear and danger: “For Herod,” saith he, “is seeking the young Child’s life,” and He must needs fly and withdraw Himself as any mortal might; the working of miracles not being seasonable as yet.

For if from His earliest infancy He had shown forth wonders, He would not have been accounted a Man. Because of this, let me add, neither is a temple framed at once; but a regular conception takes place, and a time of nine months, and pangs, and a delivery, and giving suck, and silence for so long a space, and He awaits the age proper to manhood; that by all means acceptance might be won for the mystery of His Economy.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Gospel According to St Matthew, 8, 4.

 

Elder Sophrony: Aware of the Breath of the Holy Spirit, the Christian is Assured of the Inevitable Victory of Light Sunday, Mar 9 2014 

SophronyContinued from here….

I was still a young man when the tragedy of historical events far outdid anything that I had read in books.

(I refer to the outbreak of the First World War, soon to be followed by the Revolution in Russia.)

My youthful hopes and dreams collapsed. But at the same time a new vision of the world and its meaning opened before me.

Side by side with devastation I contemplated rebirth. I saw that there was no tragedy in God.

Tragedy is to be found solely in the fortunes of the man whose gaze has not gone beyond the confines of this earth.

Christ Himself by no means typifies tragedy. Nor are His all-cosmic sufferings of a tragic nature.

And the Christian who has received the gift of the love of Christ, for all his awareness that it is not yet complete, escapes the nightmare of all-consuming death.

Christ’s love, during the whole time that He abode with us here, was acute suffering. ‘O faithless and perverse generation,’ He cried. ‘How long shall I suffer you?’ (Matt. 17.17).

He wept for Lazarus and his sisters (if. John 11.35). He grieved over the hard­heartedness of the Jews who slew the prophets (if. Matt. 23.37).

In Gethsemane his soul was ‘exceeding sorrowful, even unto death’ and ‘his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Matt. 26.38; Luke 22.44).

He lived the tragedy of all mankind; but in Himself there was no tragedy.

This is obvious from the words He spoke to His disciples perhaps only a short while before His redemptive prayer for all mankind in the Garden: ‘My peace I give unto you’ (John 14.27).

And a little further on: ‘I am not alone, because the Father is with me. These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16.32,33).

This is how it is with the Christian: for all his deep compassion, his tears and prayers for the world, there is none of the despair that destroys. Aware of the breath of the Holy Spirit, he is assured of the inevitable victory of Light.

The love of Christ, even in the most acute stress of suffering (which I would call the ‘hell of loving’), because it is eternal is free of passion.

Until we achieve supreme freedom from the passions on this earth suffering and pity may wear out the body but it will only be the body that dies. ‘Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul’ (Matt. 10.28).

Elder Sophrony (1896-1993; Orthodox): from His Life Is Mine, London 1977, p. 37-40 @ Pemptousia.

Isaac the Syrian: Passionate prayer and mourning of the heart Saturday, Mar 8 2014 

Isaac the Syrian 3Protect the sinner without doing him wrong. But strengthen his courage for life; then the mercy of the Lord will bear you.

Support with your word the weak and the distressed in spirit whenever you can; then the hand that bears the universe will support you.

Participate with those who are suffering in heart, in passionate prayer and mourning of the heart; then before your demand a fountain of grace will be opened.

Be strenuous in prayer at all time before God, with a heart full of chaste deliberations mingled with passion; then He will preserve your mind from impure thoughts, so that the way of God be not disordered in you.

Occupy your gaze with constant intercourse with intelligent recitation of the scriptures, lest, on account of idleness, the sight of foreign things defile your look.

Do not tempt your mind, for the sake of examination, by consideration of impure seductive thoughts, thinking that you  shall not he vanquished; even wise men have been perturbed in this place and deviated.

Do not take fire in your bosom….

Without severe bodily trouble, it is hard for the untrained youth to be bound under the yoke of saintliness.

The sign of the beginning of darkness of mind manifests itself in the soul by dejection, in the first place with regard to service and prayer. For it is not possible that the way in your soul towards error should be opened if you had not fallen in this point first.

Then, being bereft of God’s help — which otherwise affords a way unto Him — you will easily fall into the hands of the foes. And further, being without care for the matters of excellence, you will be carried towards the contrary things in every manner. Departing, from any side, is the beginning of approaching to the opposite one.

Let the service of excellence be firm in your soul; meditate on it and so on. Show your weakness before God at all times, lest strangers come to examine your strength while you are separated from your helper.

The service of the cross is a double one. And this is in accordance with its twofold nature which is divided into two parts: patience in face of bodily troubles, which is accomplished through the instrumentality of the anger of the soul; this is called practice; and the subtle intellectual service, in intercourse with God, constant prayer and so on, which is performed with the desiring part and called theory.

The one purifies the affectable part by the strength of zeal; the other clears the intellectual part by the influence of the love of the soul, which is the natural appetite.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Six Treatises on the Behaviour of Excellence, 1, 2, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 9-10 (slightly modified).

Nil Sorsky: Godly Sorrow Produces a Repentance that Leads to Salvation; Worldly Sorrow Produces Death Wednesday, Mar 5 2014 

Nil_SorskyWe have a great struggle to wage against the evil spirit of sorrow, which brings the soul into despair and perdition.

If the sorrow is occasioned by other people, we have to suffer it with joy, and pray for those who have saddened us, as I said before, bearing in mind that whatever befalls us does so with God’s sanction.

Whatever the Lord sends us, He does only for the benefit and salvation of our soul.

It may be that, in the beginning, it doesn’t seem to bring us any benefit, but later we’ll realize that what God has allowed us to go through has been better for us than what we ourselves would have wanted to happen.

So we shouldn’t think in human terms, but should believe with certainty that the unsleeping eye of God sees all things and that nothing happens without His will.

It’s from the wealth of His mercy that these situations and temptations happen to us, so that we can earn our heavenly reward through our patience.

Because without temptations, no-one has ever been crowned.

This is why we should offer glory to God for everything, because He is our Dispenser and Saviour, as Saint Isaac the Syrian says: “The mouth that glorifies God is acceptable to God, and grace dwells in the heart which thanks God from its depths”.

Besides, we should avoid complaints and judgements against those who’ve saddened us and should pray for them, as the same saint says: God puts up with all the weaknesses that people have, but those who continually censure other people won’t go without correction.

Though we must have the soul-saving sorrow over the sins we commit, with hope in our repentance to God and in the knowledge that there’s no sin which defeats God’s love for us, since He forgives everyone who repents sincerely and prays to Him.

This sorrow is linked to joy (joyful sadness) and kindles in people the desire for everything spiritual and gives them patience in their trials. “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death”, says Saint Paul (2 Cor. 7, 10).

So we should seek godly sorrow, because it brings internal repose, whereas the grief that proceeds from Satan should be expelled from our hearts, together with all the other passions, through prayer, the study of sacred texts and the receiving of Holy Communion.

Grief which is not from God and for the love of God is the cause of all evils, and, unless we free ourselves from it, despair will overcome us and our soul will be devoid of grace, overwhelmed with sloth and won’t even want to pray or read our sacred books.

Nil Sorsky (Russian Orthodox; c. 1433–1508): The Passions of Avarice, Anger, Sorrow and Sloth @ Pemptousia.

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