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.

Macarius the Egyptian: God opens the locked doors of the heart and bestows on us the riches of heaven Monday, Oct 21 2013 

Macarius3One man maintains conflict and hardship and war against Satan. This man’s heart is contrite; he is in care and mourning and tears. Such a one has come to stand in two separate realms.

If, then, in this state of things he perseveres, the Lord is with him for the battle, and protects him; for he seeks in earnest, and knocks at the door till He opens to him.

Again, if you see here a good brother, it is grace which has established him.

But the man without foundation has no such fear of God. His heart is not contrite. He is in no fear, nor does he secure his heart and members, not to walk disorderly.

[…] There is then a difference between the man in conflict and hardship, and the man who does not know what battle is.

Even the seeds, when cast into the ground, undergo hardship with the frosts, with the winter, with the coldness of the air, and in due season the growth is quickened.

It sometimes happens that Satan talks in the heart, “See how many wrong things thou hast done! See how many follies thy soul is filled with, and thou art weighed down with sins, that thou canst not be saved.”

This he does, to reduce thee to despair, and to make thee think that thy repentance is not acceptable. For since by the transgression wickedness entered in, it talks with the soul every hour, like man with man.

Answer him then thou, “I have the testimonies of the Lord in writing, that say, I desire not the death of the sinner, but his repentance, and that he should turn from his wickedness and live.”

It was for this that He came down, to save sinners, to raise the dead, to quicken lost lives, to give light to those in darkness. In truth He came, and called us to the adoption of sons, to a holy city which is ever at peace, to the life that never dies, to glory incorruptible.

Only let us put a good finish to our beginning. Let us abide in poverty, in the condition of strangers, in suffering affliction, in petition to God, knocking importunately at the door.

Near as the body is to the soul, the Lord is nearer, to come and open the locked doors of the heart, and to bestow on us the riches of heaven.

He is good and kind to man, and His promises cannot lie, if only we continue seeking Him to the end. Glory be to the compassions of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost for ever. Amen.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 11,14-15, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

Ephrem the Syrian: Jesus the Merciful Physician Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

Mor_Ephrem_iconLuke 7:36-50 (Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman)

Matthew 26:6-13 (Jesus Anointed at Bethany)

Glory then be to Him the Invisible, who clothed Himself in invisibility, that sinners might he able to draw near to Him.

For our Lord did not repel the sinful woman as the Pharisee expected; inasmuch as He descended from the height which no man can reach unto, altogether in order that lowly publicans, like Zaccheus, might reach unto Him.

And the Nature which none can handle, clothed Itself in a body, altogether in order that all lips (Is. 6:7) might kiss His feet as the sinful woman did (Luke 7:36-50).

For the sacred soul was hidden within the veil of flesh, and so touched all unclean lips and sanctified them.

[…] His feet invited to tears; He was the good Physician, who came forth to go to the sinful woman who was seeking Him in her soul.

She then anointed the feet of our Lord, who anointed not His head—she who was trodden down in the dust by all.

For those Pharisees who justified themselves and despised all else, trod her down.  But He the Merciful, Whose pure body sanctified her uncleanness, had pity on her.

But Mary anointed the head of our Lord’s body (Matt. 26:7) as a token of the better part which she had chosen.  And Christ prophesied concerning that which her soul had chosen.

While Martha was cumbered with serving, Mary was hungering to be satisfied with spiritual things by Him Who also satisfies us with bodily things.  So Mary refreshed Him with precious ointment, as He had refreshed her with His exalted teaching.

Mary by the oil showed forth the mystery of His mortality, Who by His teaching mortified the concupiscence of her flesh.

Thus the sinful woman by the flood of her tears, in full assurance was rewarded with remission of sins from beside His feet; and she who had the issue of blood, stole healing from the hem of His garment.

But Mary received blessing openly from His mouth, as a reward of the service of her hands upon His head.  For she poured out on His head the precious ointment, and received from His mouth a wonderful promise.

This is the ointment which was sown above and yielded fruit below.  For she sowed it on His head and gathered its fruit from between His lips—She shall have a name and this memorial in every place where My Gospel shall be preached (Matt. 26: 13).

Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373): Homily on Our Lord, 46-47.

John Cassian: Delight in the law of God after the inner man Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

Sf-IoanCasianSometimes holy men feel that they are oppressed by the weight of earthly thoughts and fall away from their loftiness of mind.

They are led away against their will or rather without knowing it, into the law of sin and death, and…are kept back by actions which…which are good and right though earthly, from the vision of God.

Then they have something to groan over constantly to the Lord. They have something for which indeed to humble themselves, and in their contrition to profess themselves not in words only but in heart, sinners.

And for this, while they continually ask of the Lord’s grace pardon for everything that day by day they commit when overcome by the weakness of the flesh, they should shed without ceasing true tears of penitence.

For they see that, being involved even to the very end of their life in the very same troubles, with continual sorrow for which they are tried, they cannot even offer their prayers without harassing thoughts.

They know by experience that through the hindrance of the burden of the flesh they cannot by human strength reach the desired end, nor be united according to their heart’s desire with that chief and highest good, but that they are led away from the vision of it captive to worldly things.

Therefore they betake themselves to the grace of God, “Who justifieth the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5) and cry out with St Paul: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 7:24-25).

For they feel that they cannot perform the good that they would, but are ever falling into the evil which they would not, and which they hate, i.e., wandering thoughts and care for carnal things.

[…] And they “delight” indeed “in the law of God after the inner man,” which soars above all visible things and ever strives to be united to God alone.

But they “see another law in their members,” i.e., implanted in their natural human condition, which “resisting the law of their mind” (Rom. 7:22-23), brings their thoughts into captivity to the forcible law of sin, compelling them to forsake that chief good and submit to earthly notions.

These, though they may appear necessary and useful when they are taken up in the interests of some religious want, yet when they are set against that good which fascinates the gaze of all the saints, are seen by them to be bad and such as should be avoided, because by them in some way or other and for a short time they are drawn away from the joy of that perfect bliss.

John Cassian (c. 360-435): Conferences 23, 10-11.

John of Karpathos: You have barbarian cave-dwellers living within you Tuesday, Aug 27 2013 

johnkarpathosDo all in your power not to fall, for the strong athlete should not fall.

But if you do fall, get up again at once and continue the contest.

Even if you fall a thousand times because of the withdrawal of God’s grace, rise up again each time, and keep on doing so until the day of your death.

For it is written, ‘If a righteous man falls seven times’ — that is, repeatedly throughout his life — seven times shall he rise again’ (Prov. 24:16, LXX).

[…] It is more serious to lose hope than to sin.

The traitor Judas was a defeatist, inexperienced in spiritual warfare; as a result he was reduced to despair by the enemy’s onslaught, and he went and hanged himself.

Peter, on the other hand, was a firm rock: although brought down by a terrible fall, yet because of his experience in spiritual warfare he was not broken by despair, but leaping up he shed bitter tears from a contrite and humiliated heart.

And as soon as our enemy saw them, he recoiled as if his eyes had been burnt by searing flames, and he took to flight howling and lamenting.

[…] There was once a king of Israel who subdued cave-dwellers and other barbarian tribes by using the psalms and music of David.

You, too, have barbarian cave-dwellers living within you: the demons who have gained admittance to your senses and limbs, who torment and inflame your flesh.

Because of them lust is in your eyes when you look at things; as you listen or use your sense of smell, passion dominates you; you indulge in dirty talk; you are full of turmoil inwardly and outwardly, like the city of Babylon.

With great faith, then, and with ‘Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5:19), you too must destroy the cave-dwellers who work evil within you.

The Lord desires one man to be saved through another, and in the same way Satan strives to destroy one man through another. So do not spend your time with somebody who is sloppy, a mischief-maker, not guarding his tongue, lest you be sent with him into punishment.

It is hard enough for one who associates with a good man to attain salvation. If you do not watch yourself, but consort with people of evil character, you will be infected with their leprosy and destroyed.

How can anyone expect pity if he recklessly approaches a poisonous snake? You should avoid those who cannot control their tongue, who are quarrelsome and full of agitation inwardly or outwardly.

John of Karpathos (7th century): For the Encouragement of the Monks in India, 84-88, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, P. Sherrard, and K. Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (Faber and Faber, London & Boston: 1979 @ J B Burnett.

Archimandrite Zacharias: Any Thought Expressed in the Holy Scriptures Can Become a “Burning Coal” Sunday, Jun 16 2013 

elderzachariasAny thought expressed in the Holy Scriptures can become a ‘burning coal’ that will touch the heart as it touched the lips of Isaiah.

That is why we should always study the word of God and have it dwelling richly in our heart, as St. Paul says (cf. Col. 3:16).

It is easy for grace to ignite one of these thoughts at the time of prayer, and then we have one verse from the Scriptures to pray with for a long time. And the Holy Spirit prays with us because this particular word is given by him.

This single thought that brings tears and repentance may come from the Holy Scriptures, quickened by grace; it may come directly from God Himself, through prayer; it may come from the hymnology of the Church, from a word of an elder or a brother; it can come from anywhere.

God is constantly seeking our heart, and He can provoke it with whatever is at hand. We only have to be ready to ‘snatch’ it.

Prayer of self-condemnation is especially helpful. The prayers before Holy Communion are full of these thoughts of self-condemnation before the thrice-Holy God.

I think that if we read them carefully we would always receive great help; one day one sentence from those prayers will stay with us and work repentance, another day another one, and so on.

Prayer of self-condemnation helps a lot because it follows the path of Christ, which goes downward. He is the One Who first went down, and He then ‘ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men’ (Eph. 4:8).

For this reason Fr. Sophrony says that those who are led by the Holy Spirit never cease to blame themselves before God and this leads them downwards. But we must be careful, because not everybody can bear this.

Those who are healthy psychologically can do so and find great strength and consolation, but for those who are less strong, there is another way which involves giving thanks to God continuously and balancing the prayer by ending it with the words ‘although I am unworthy, O Lord’.

St. Maximus the Confessor says that true humility is to bear in mind that we have our being ‘on loan’ from God. We find humility if we thank God continuously for everything, if we thank Him for every single breath He gives us.

In one of the prayers before the Sacrament of Baptism, we say that God has spread out the air for us to breathe, and we find a similar idea in one of the prayers of the kneeling service at Pentecost.

Consequently if we thank God for everything and for every single breath of air that He gives us, we will maintain a humble spirit.

Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou): The Hidden Man of the Heart (Essex, Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist, 2007) @ Discerning Thoughts.

Macarius the Egyptian: Labouring to enter the heavenly Jerusalem Friday, Jun 14 2013 

Macarius3How should we be anything but serpents, we who are not found in obedience to God, but in the disobedience which came by the serpent?

How to bewail the calamity as it deserves, I cannot find.

How to cry aloud and weep to Him that is able to expel the error lodged within me, I do not know.

How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

How shall I lament for Jerusalem? How shall I flee from the grievous bondage of Pharaoh?

How am I to quit the foul place of sojourn? How can I deny the bitter tyranny? How can I get out of the land of Egypt?

How can I cross the Red Sea? how pass the great wilderness? how escape perishing from the bite of serpents? how conquer the aliens?

How shall I utterly destroy the heathen within me? How shall I receive the oracles of the law of God upon these tables of mine?

How shall I see the true pillar of light, and of the cloud proceeding from the Holy Ghost?

How shall I enjoy the manna of eternal delight? how drink the water from the life-giving rock? How am I to pass over Jordan, entering into the good land of promise?

How am I to see the Captain of the Lord’s host, whom Joshua the son of Nun, when he saw Him, immediately fell down and worshipped?

Unless I go through all this and destroy the heathen within me, I cannot go into the sanctuary of God and rest, nor become a partaker of the glory of the King.

Therefore labour to become a child of God without fault, and to enter into that rest, whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Christ.

Labour to be enrolled in the church in heaven with the firstborn that you may be found at the right hand of the majesty of the Most High. Labour to enter into the holy city, the Jerusalem that is at peace, that is above, above all, where also is Paradise.

You have no other way to be admitted to these wonderful and blessed types, unless you pour out tears day and night, like him who says Every night wash I my bed, and water my couch with my tears.

You know well that they that sow in tears shall reap in joy. The prophet says boldly Hold not Thy peace at my tears.

[…] For the tear that is really shed out of much affliction and anguish of heart in the knowledge of the truth, with burning of the inward parts, is indeed a food of the soul.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 25,6-8, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

Silouan the Athonite: Adam wept: “what hinders Him from dwelling in me?” Sunday, Mar 24 2013 

Silouan the AthoniteAdam knew great grief when he was banished from paradise, but when he saw his son Abel slain by Cain his brother, Adam’s grief was even heavier. His soul was heavy, and he lamented and thought:

Peoples and nations will descend from me, and multiply, and suffering will be their lot, and they will live in enmity and seek to slay one another.

And his sorrow stretched wide as the sea, and only the soul that has come to know the Lord and the magnitude of His love for us can understand.

I, too, have lost grace and call with Adam:

Be merciful unto me, O Lord! Bestow on me the spirit of humility and love.

 

O love of the Lord! He who has known Thee seeks Thee, tireless, day and night, crying with a loud voice:

I pine for Thee, O Lord, and seek Thee in tears.
How should I not seek Thee?
Thou didst give me to know Thee by the Holy Spirit,
And in her knowing of God my soul is drawn to seek Thee in tears.

 

Adam wept:

The desert cannot pleasure me; nor the high mountains, nor meadow nor forest, nor the singing of birds.
I have no pleasure in any thing.
My soul sorrows with a great sorrow:
I have grieved God.
And were the Lord to set me down in paradise again,
There, too, would I sorrow and weep – ‘O why did I grieve my beloved God?’

 

The soul of Adam fell sick when he was exiled from paradise, and many were the tears he shed in his distress. Likewise every soul that has known the Lord yearns for Him, and cries:

Where art Thou, O Lord? Where art Thou, my Light?
Why hast Thou hidden Thy face from me?
Long is it since my soul beheld Thee,
And she wearies after Thee and seeks Thee in tears.
Where is my Lord?
Why is it that my soul sees Him not?
What hinders Him from dwelling in me?
This hinders Him: Christ-like humility and love for my enemies art not in me.
God is love insaturable, love impossible to describe.

 

Adam walked the earth, weeping from his heart’s manifold ills, while the thoughts of his mind were on God; and when his body grew faint, and he could no longer shed tears, still his spirit burned with longing for God, for he could not forget paradise and the beauty thereof; but even more was it the power of His love which caused the soul of Adam to reach out towards God.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): Adam’s Lament (extract), from St. Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony @ Mystagogy.

Silouan the Athonite: Adam pined on earth, and wept bitterly, and was heartsick for God Wednesday, Mar 20 2013 

Silouan the AthoniteAdam, father of all mankind, in paradise knew the sweetness of the love of God; and so when for his sin he was driven forth from the garden of Eden, and was widowed of the love of God, he suffered grievously and lamented with a great moan.

And the whole desert rang with his lamentations, for his soul was racked as he thought, ’I have distressed my beloved God’.

He sorrowed less after paradise and the beauty thereof; for he sorrowed that he was bereft of the love of God, which insatiably, at every instant, draws the soul to Him.

In the same way the soul which has known God through the Holy Spirit, but has afterwards lost grace experiences the torment that Adam suffered.

There is an aching and a deep regret in the soul that has grieved the beloved Lord.

Adam pined on earth, and wept bitterly, and the earth was not pleasing to him. He was heartsick for God, and this was his cry:

My soul wearies for the Lord, 
and I seek Him in tears.
How should I not seek Him?
When I was with Him my soul was glad and at rest, 
and the enemy could not come nigh me;
But now the spirit of evil has gained power over me, 
harassing and oppressing my soul,
So that I weary for the Lord even unto death,
And my spirit strains to God, 
and there is naught on earth can make me glad,
Nor can my soul take comfort in any thing, 
but longs once more to see the Lord, 
that her hunger may be appeased.
 
I cannot forget Him for a single moment, 
and my soul languishes after Him,
and from the multitude of my afflictions I lift up my voice and cry:
‘Have mercy upon me, O God. Have mercy on Thy fallen creature.’

 

Thus did Adam lament, and the tears steamed down his face on to his beard, on to the ground beneath his feet, and the whole desert heard the sound of his moaning.

The beasts and the birds were hushed in grief; while Adam wept because peace and love were lost to all men on account of his sin.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): Adam’s Lament (extract), from St. Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony @ Mystagogy.

John of Kronstadt: Love calms and agreeably expands the heart and vivifies it Sunday, Dec 16 2012 

john_kronstadtOur soul is, so to say, a reflection of God’s countenance, and the brighter this reflection is, the clearer and calmer is the soul; and the less bright this reflection is, the darker, the more disturbed is the soul.

And as our soul is our heart it is necessary that every truth of God should be reflected in it through feeling, through gratitude, and that there should be no reflection in it of any lie.

Feel God’s love in the most pure mysteries, feel the truth of all prayers. Our heart is a mirror; as the objects of the outer world are reflected in an ordinary mirror, so ought the truth to be reflected with all exactitude in our hearts.

It is good, very good indeed, to be virtuous; the virtuous man is at peace himself, is pleasing to God and agreeable to other people.

The virtuous man involuntarily attracts everyone’s attention. Why is it so? Because fragrance involuntarily attracts attention and makes everyone wish to breathe it.

[…] Pay attention to his speech; from it there comes still greater fragrance: here you are as if face to face with his soul, and are enraptured with his sweet converse.

Love calms and agreeably expands the heart and vivifies it, whilst hatred painfully contracts and disturbs it.

Those who hate others torture and tyrannise over themselves; therefore they are the most foolish of the foolish ones.

[…] There are innumerable and various ways by means of which the Devil enters into our soul and removes it from God, pressing upon it with all his being, dark, hateful, and destroying.

[…]  Likewise there are innumerable and various ways for the Holy Ghost to enter it: the way of sincere faith, of true humility, of love to God and to our neighbour, and so on.

But, to our misfortune, the destroyer of men from time immemorial makes every effort to obstruct, by all possible means, all these ways for the Holy Ghost to enter the soul.

The most usual way to God for us sinners, who have strayed from Him into a far-away land, is the way of painful suffering and bitter tears.

Both the Holy Scriptures and actual experience testify that, in order to draw near to God, it is necessary for the sinner to suffer, weep, shed tears, and to amend his deceitful heart: “Draw nigh to God …. be afflicted, and mourn, and weep.”

Tears have power to cleanse the wickedness of our heart, and sufferings and affliction are necessary, because through suffering the sinful expansion of the heart is salutarily contracted, and when the heart is thus contracted, tears more easily flow.

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): My Life in Christ.

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