John Chrysostom: “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” Friday, May 20 2016 

Chrysostom3On John 5:6-8.

Great is the profit of the divine Scriptures, and all-sufficient is the aid which comes from them.

And Paul declared this when he said, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written aforetime for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world are come, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” ( Rom. 15:4, 1 Cor. 10:11).

For the divine oracles are a treasury of all manner of medicines, so that whether it be needful to quench pride, to lull desire to sleep, to tread under foot the love of money, to despise pain, to inspire confidence, to gain patience, from them one may find abundant resource.

For what man of those who struggle with long poverty or who are nailed to a grievous disease, will not, when he reads the passage before us, receive much comfort?

Since this man who had been paralytic for thirty and eight years, and who saw each year others delivered, and himself bound by his disease, not even so fell back and despaired, though in truth not merely despondency for the past, but also hopelessness for the future, was sufficient to overwhelm him.

Hear now what he says, and learn the greatness of his tragedy. For when Christ had said, “Wilt thou be made whole?” “Yea, Lord,” he says, “but I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool.” What can be more pitiable than these words? What more sad than these circumstances?

Do you see a heart crushed through long sickness? Do you see all violence subdued? He uttered no blasphemous word, nor such as we hear the many use in reverses, he cursed not his day, he was not angry at the question, nor did he say, “Are You come to make a mock and a jest of us, that You ask whether I desire to be made whole?”

But he replied gently, and with great mildness, “Yea, Lord”; yet he knew not who it was that asked him, nor that He would heal him, but still he mildly relates all the circumstances and asks nothing further, as though he were speaking to a physician, and desired merely to tell the story of his sufferings.

Perhaps he hoped that Christ might be so far useful to him as to put him into the water, and desired to attract Him by these words. What then does Jesus say? “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk”

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on St John’s Gospel, 37 (on John 5:6-8); [slightly adapted].

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Mark the Hermit: Accept present afflictions for the sake of future blessings Saturday, Mar 5 2016 

St Mark the AsceticMarch 5th is the feast of St Mark the Hermit (Mark the Ascetic).

He who tests all things and ‘holds fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:21) will in consequence refrain from all evil.

‘A patient man abounds in understanding’ (Prov. 14: 29); and so does he who listens to words of wisdom.

Without remembrance of God, there can be no true knowledge but only that which is false.

Deeper spiritual knowledge helps the hard-hearted man: for unless he has fear, he refuses to accept the labor of repentance.

Unquestioning acceptance of tradition is helpful for a gentle person, for then he will not try God’s patience or often fall into sin.

[…] Do not listen to talk about other people’s sins. For through such listening the form of these sins is imprinted on you.

When you delight in hearing evil talk, be angry with yourself and not with the speaker. For listening in a sinful way makes the messenger seem sinful.

[…] Accept present afflictions for the sake of future blessings; then you will never weaken in your struggle.

[…] All good things come from God providentially, and those who bring them are the servants of what is good.

Accept with equanimity the intermingling of good and evil, and then God will resolve all inequity.

It is the uneven quality of our thoughts that produces changes m our condition. For God assigns to our voluntary thoughts consequences which are appropriate but not necessarily of our choice.

[…] From a pleasure-loving heart arise unhealthy thoughts and words; and from the smoke of a fire we recognize the fuel.

Guard your mind, and you will not be harassed by temptations. But if you fail to guard it, accept patiently whatever trial comes.

Pray that temptation may not come to you; but when it comes, accept it as your due and not undeserved.

Reject all thoughts of greed, and you will be able to see the devil’s tricks.

He who says he knows all the devil’s tricks falls unknowingly into his trap.

The more the intellect withdraws from bodily cares, the more clearly it sees the craftiness of the enemy.

A man who is carried away by his thoughts is blinded by them; and while he can see the actual working of sin, he cannot see its causes.

It can happen that someone may in appearance be fulfilling a commandment but is in reality serving a passion, and through evil thoughts he destroys the goodness of the action.

When you first become involved in something evil, don’t say: ‘It will not overpower me.’ For to the extent that you are involved you have already been overpowered by it.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 145-149, 152-153, 156, 158-160, 161-170, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. I (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979), pp. 120-121.

Peter of Damascus: We ought all of us always to give thanks to God Friday, Nov 27 2015 

peter_of_damascusMen have four different attitudes towards sensible realities.

Some, like the demons, hate God’s works, and they commit evil deliberately.

Others, like the irrational animals, love these works because they are attractive, but their love is full of passion and they make no effort to acquire natural contemplation or to show gratitude.

Others, in a way that befits men, love God’s works in a natural manner, with spiritual knowledge and gratitude, and they use everything with self-control.

Finally, others, like the angels, love these works in a manner that is above and beyond nature, contemplating all things to the glory of God and making use of them only in so far as they are necessary for life, as St Paul puts it (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8).

We ought all of us always to give thanks to God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us.

The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures.

The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual.

These include wealth, so that one can perform acts of charity;

poverty, so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude;

authority, so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue;

obedience and service, so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul;

health, so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God;

sickness, so that one may earn the crown of patience;

spiritual knowledge and strength, so that one may acquire virtue;

weakness and ignorance, so that, turning one’s back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility;

unsought loss of goods and possessions, so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may be helped when incapable of shedding all one’s possessions or even of giving alms;

ease and prosperity, so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls;

trials and hardship, so that those who cannot eradicate their own will may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection.

All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body.

Better than them all, however, is the patient endurance of afflictions; and he who has been found worthy of this great gift should give thanks to God in that he has been all the more blessed.

For he has become an imitator of Christ, of His holy apostles, and of the martyrs and saints.

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. 171-172.

Macarius the Egyptian: The fire of the love of Christ Thursday, Oct 29 2015 

Macarius3God’s grace in man, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, which is vouchsafed to a faithful soul, proceeds with much contention, with much endurance and longsuffering, and temptations and trials, the man’s free will being tried by all manner of afflictions.

And when it does not grieve the Spirit in anything, but is agreeable to grace through all commandments, then it is permitted to obtain freedom from passions, and receives the fulfilment of the Spirit’s adoption, spoken of in a mystery, and of the spiritual riches, and of the intelligence which is not of this world, whereof true Christians are made partakers.

For this reason they are for all purposes superior to all the men of prudence, intelligence, and wisdom, who have the spirit of the world. For such an one judgeth all men (1 Cor. 2:15)…..

He knows each man, from whence he speaks, and where he stands, and what measures he is in; but not a man of those that have the spirit of the world is able to know and judge him, but only he that has the like heavenly Spirit of the Godhead knows his like, as the apostle says:

Comparing spiritual things with spiritual; but the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him: but he that is spiritual judgeth all men, yet he himself is judged by none (1 Cor. 2:13ff).

Such an one looks upon all things that the world holds glorious, its riches, its luxury, and all its enjoyments yea, and even its knowledge and all things belonging to this age, as loathsome and hateful.

As one that is possessed and burning with a fever loathes and rejects the sweetest food or drink that you offer him, because he burns with the fever and is vehemently exercised by it, so those who burn with the heavenly, sacred, solemn longing of the Spirit, and are smitten in soul with love of the love of God, and are vehemently exercised by the divine and heavenly fire which the Lord came to send upon the earth, and desire that it should speedily be kindled (Luke 12:49), and are aflame with the heavenly longing for Christ, these, as we said before, consider all the glorious and precious things of this age contemptible and hateful by reason of the fire of the love of Christ.

The love of Christ holds them fast and inflames them and burns them with a Godward disposition and with the heavenly good things of love; from which love nothing of all that are in heaven and earth and under the earth shall be able to separate them, as the apostle Paul testified, saying, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom. 8:35).

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 9, 7-9, trans. by A.J. Mason  [slightly adapted].

Irenaeus of Lyons: “Gladly therefore shall I rather glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” Tuesday, Oct 13 2015 

st-irenaeus-of-lyonWe learn by experience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature.

This is so that we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives.

Thus we should never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man.

[…] The Apostle Paul has…in the most lucid manner, pointed out that man has been delivered over to his own infirmity, lest, being uplifted, he might fall away from the truth.

Thus he says in the second Epistle to the Corinthians: And lest I should be lifted up by the sublimity of the revelations, there was given unto me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.

And upon this I besought the Lord three times, that it might depart from me. But he said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee; for strength is made perfect in weakness”.

Gladly therefore shall I rather glory in infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me (2 Cor. 12:7–9).

[…] Did the Lord wish, in that case, that His apostles should thus undergo buffeting, and that he should endure such infirmity?

Even so it was; the word says it. For strength is made perfect in weakness, rendering him a better man who by means of his infirmity becomes acquainted with the power of God.

For how could a man have learned that he is himself an infirm being, and mortal by nature, but that God is immortal and powerful, unless he had learned by experience what is in both?

For there is nothing evil in learning one’s infirmities by endurance; yea, rather, it has even the beneficial effect of preventing him from forming an undue opinion of his own nature.

But [man’s] being lifted up against God, and taking His glory to one’s self, rendering man ungrateful, has brought much evil upon him.

And thus, I say, man must learn both things by experience, that he may not be destitute of truth and love either towards himself or his Creator.

But the experience of both confers upon him the true knowledge as to God and man, and increases his love towards God. Now, where there exists an increase of love, there a greater glory is wrought out by the power of God for those who love Him.

Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd century AD – c. 202): Adversus Haereses 5,2,3 & 5,3,1 [slightly adapted].

Gregory the Great: “Thou shalt also forget thy misery, and no more remember it, as waters that pass away” Saturday, Oct 10 2015 

St-Gregory-the-DialogistThou shalt also forget thy misery, and no more remember it, as waters that pass away (Job 16:11).

The mind feels the ills of the present life the more severely, in proportion as it neglects to take account of the good that comes after.

And as it will not consider the rewards that are in store, it reckons all to be grievous that it undergoes.

And hence the blinded imagination murmurs against the stroke of the scourge, and that is taken for an immeasurable woe, which by the days flowing on in their course is daily being brought to an end.

But if a man once raise himself to things eternal, and fix the eye of the soul upon those objects which remain without undergoing change, he sees that here below all whatsoever runs to an end is almost nothing at all.

He is subject to the adversities of the present life, but he bethinks himself that all that passes away is as nought.

For the more vigorously he makes his way into the interior joys, he is the less sensible of pains without.

Whence Zophar, not being afraid with boldfaced hardihood to instruct one better than himself, exhorts to righteousness, and shews how little chastening appears in the eyes of the righteous man.

As if it were in plain words; ‘If thou hast a taste of the joy which remains within, all that gives pain without forthwith becomes light.’

Now he does well in likening the miseries of the present life to ‘waters that pass away,’ for passing calamity never overwhelms the mind of the elect with the force of a shock, yet it does tinge it with the touch of sorrow.

For it drops indeed with the bleeding of the wound, though it is not dashed from the certainty of its salvation.

But it often happens that not only stripes inflict bruises, but that in the mind of each one of the righteous the temptings of evil spirits come in force, so that he is grieved by the stroke without, and is in some sort chilled within by temptation.

Yet grace never forsakes him. The more severely grace smites us in the dealings of Providence, so much the more does it watch over us in pity.

For when it has begun to grow dark through temptation, the inward light kindles itself again.

Gregory the Great (c.540-604): Reflections (Moralia) on Job, 10, 32 (on Job 11:16) @ Lectionary Central [slightly adapted].

John Chrysostom: I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him do I call Wednesday, Aug 19 2015 

John_Chrysostom“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him renounce himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 14:24).

Peter said, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee;” and was told, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:22-23).

For Jesus was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke, but, willing also more abundantly to show both the extravagance of what Peter had said, and the benefit of His passion, He says “Thy word to me is: Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee.

“But my word to thee is: Not only is it hurtful to thee, and destructive, to hinder me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.”

Thus, lest they should think His suffering unworthy of Him…, He teaches them the gain thereof. Thus in John first, He says: “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24)….

He does not bring forward the statement that it is meet to die concerning Himself only, but concerning them also: “for so great is the profit thereof, that in your case also unwillingness to die is grievous, but to be ready for it, good.”

[…]  See how He also makes His discourse unexceptionable, not saying at all “whether you will, or no, you must suffer this” but “if any man will come after me.”

He says “I force not, I compel not, but each one I make lord of his own choice; wherefore also I say if any man will.

“For to good things do I call you, not to things evil, or burdensome; not to punishment and vengeance, that I should have to compel. Nay, the nature of the thing is alone sufficient to attract you.”

Speaking thus, He drew them unto Him the more. For he indeed that uses compulsion often turns men away, but he that leaves the hearer to choose attracts him more. For soothing is a mightier thing than force.

Wherefore even He Himself said, “If any man will.” “For great,” says He, “are the good things which I give you, and such as for men even to run to them of their own accord. For neither if one were giving gold, and offering a treasure, would he invite with force.

“And if that invitation be without compulsion, much more this, to the good things in the Heavens. Since if the nature of the thing persuade thee not to run, thou art not worthy to receive it at all, nor if thou shouldest receive it, wilt thou well know what thou hast received.”

Wherefore Christ compels not, but urges, sparing us. For since they seemed to be murmuring much, being secretly disturbed at the saying, He says “there is no need for disturbance or for trouble.

“If ye do not account what I have mentioned to be a cause of innumerable blessings, even when befalling yourselves, I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him do I call.”

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homilies on the Gospel According to St Matthew, 55 (on Matthew 16:24ff); slightly adapted.

Augustine of Hippo: We know not what to pray for as we ought in regard to tribulations Friday, Jun 5 2015 

St Augustine of AfricaWe know not what to pray for as we ought in regard to tribulations, which may do us good or harm;

and yet, because they are hard and painful, and against the natural feelings of our weak nature, we pray, with a desire which is common to mankind, that they may be removed from us.

But we ought to exercise such submission to the will of the Lord our God, that if He does not remove those vexations, we do not suppose ourselves to be neglected by Him, but rather, in patient endurance of evil, hope to be made partakers of greater good, for so His strength is perfected in our weakness.

God has sometimes in anger granted the request of impatient petitioners, as in mercy He denied it to the apostle [St Paul].

For we read what the Israelites [in the desert] asked, and in what manner they asked and obtained their request; but while their desire was granted, their impatience was severely corrected.

Again, He gave them, in answer to their request, a king according to their heart, as it is written, not according to His own heart.

He granted also what the devil asked, namely, that His servant [Job], who was to be proved, might be tempted. He granted also the request of unclean spirits, when they besought Him that their legion might be sent into the great herd of swine.

These things are written to prevent anyone from thinking too highly of himself if he has received an answer when he was urgently asking anything which it would be more advantageous for him not to receive, or to prevent him from being cast down and despairing of the divine compassion towards himself if he be not heard, when, perchance, he is asking something by the obtaining of which he might be more grievously afflicted, or might be by the corrupting influences of prosperity wholly destroyed.

In regard to such things, therefore, we know not what to pray for as we ought. Accordingly, if anything is ordered in a way contrary to our prayer, we ought, patiently bearing the disappointment, and in everything giving thanks to God, to entertain no doubt whatever that it was right that the will of God and not our will should be done.

For of this the Mediator has given us an example, inasmuch as, after He had said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” transforming the human will which was in Him through His incarnation, He immediately added, “Nevertheless, O Father, not as I will but as Thou wilt.”

Wherefore, not without reason are many made righteous by the obedience of One.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba, XIV, 26 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Silouan the Athonite: The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God Wednesday, May 27 2015 

Silouan the AthoniteNothing troubles the man who is given over to the will of God, be it illness, poverty or persecution.

He knows that the Lord in His mercy is solicitous for us. The Holy Spirit, whom the soul knows, is witness therefore.

But the proud and the self-willed do not want to surrender to God’s will because they like their own way, and that is harmful for the soul.

Abba Pimen said: ‘Our own will is like a wall of brass between us and God, preventing us from coming near to Him or contemplating His mercy.’

We must always pray the Lord for peace of soul that we may the more easily fulfil the Lord’s commandments; for the Lord loves those who strive to do His will, and thus they attain profound peace in God.

He who does the Lord’s will is content with all things, though he be poor or sick and suffering, because the grace of God gladdens his heart.

But the man who is discontent with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offence, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude towards God.

But if it be so with you, do not lose heart but try to trust firmly in the Lord and ask Him for a humble spirit; and, when the lowly spirit of God comes to you, you will then love Him and be at rest in spite of all tribulations.

The soul that has acquired humility is always mindful of God, and thinks to herself: ‘God has created me. He suffered for me. He forgives me my sins and comforts me. He feeds me and cares for me. Why then should I take thought for myself, and what is there to fear, even if death threaten me?’

The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God, for He said: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God.

But the Lord Himself guides with His grace those who are given over to God’s will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Whom they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified for ever.

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.

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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