Nicodemus the Hagiorite: “And lead us not into temptation” Thursday, Feb 25 2016 

Nikodemos 1Our Lord directs us to ask our God and Father not to lead us into temptation.

The Prophet Isaiah, as representing God, says, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil” (Is. 45:7).

And the Prophet Amos says similarly, “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Am. 3:6).

Based on these words, many unlearned and insecure people fall into various thoughts concerning God: that God supposedly throws us into temptations.

For this reason, the Apostle James solved the problem for us, saying:

“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed” (Jas. 1:13-14).

[…] Temptations come to man in two kinds. One is the pleasurable kind, and therefore occurs with both our own will and the collaboration of the demons.

The other is the sorrowful and painful kind, which appears bitter to us, for it occurs without our will. The devil works on his own to bring about this kind.

Both of these kinds of temptations came upon the Hebrews. For because they willfully chose pleasurable temptation, using wealth, glory, and freedom for evil, they fell into idolatry.

For this reason God allowed the complete opposite to come upon them, namely, poverty, dishonor, exile, and the rest. With these evils He frightened them, in order that they might turn and repent.

The Prophets call the various forms of the chastisement of God wrongs and evil…, though in reality they are not evil, and this is because those things which bring pain and hardship to man are customarily called evil by him, since this is how he perceives them.

These things happen, not according to the original will of God, but according to the ensuing (that is, secondary) will of God, for the correction and good of man.

Our Lord, joining the first kind of temptation (that is, the pleasurable kind) with the second kind (that is, the bitter and oppressive kind) calls both of them by one name, “temptation,” because the free will of man is tempted and tested by them.

[…] The devil first attacks us with pleasurable temptation, for he knows that we fall into it easily. And if he finds our will obedient to his, he draws us away from the grace of God which protects us.

[…] If he does not find our will compliant, that is, if we do not fall to the pleasurable temptation, he still brings the second kind of temptation, hoping that through many sorrows he will be able to force us to carry out his evil intent.

Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1749-1809): Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer.

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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.

Dorotheus of Gaza: Preservation of conscience Friday, Apr 4 2014 

Dorotheos2Continued from here….

Let us strive to preserve our conscience while we are in this world, let us not allow it to refuse us in any matter.

Let us not trample upon it in any way, even in the smallest thing.

Know that from disdaining this small thing which is in essence nothing, we go on to disdain also a great thing.

[…] One may begin to say, “What does it matter if I say this word? What does it matter if I eat this thing? What does it matter if I look at this or that thing?”

From this “what does it matter about this or that?” one falls into a bad habit and begins to disdain what is great and important and to trample down one’s conscience, and thus becoming hardened in evil, one is in danger of coming to complete lack of feeling.

Wherefore guard yourselves, O brethren, from disdaining what is small, guard yourself from trampling upon it, looking down upon it as something small and unimportant.

It is not small, for through it a bad habit is formed. Let us pay heed to ourselves and be concerned for what is light while it is still light, so that it will not become heavy: for both virtues and sins begin from the small and go on to become great good and evil.

Therefore the Lord commands us to preserve our conscience and, as it were, He especially exhorts each of us, saying: “Look what you are doing, unfortunate one! Come to yourself, be reconciled with your adversary [i.e. your conscience] while you are in the way with him.”

[…] In relation to God, a man preserves his conscience if he does not disdain God through His commandments; and even in what people do not see, and in what no one demands of us, he preserves his conscience towards God in secret.

For example, one may have grown lazy in prayer, or a passionate thought has entered his heart, and he did not oppose this and did not restrain himself, but accepted it; or when one has seen his neighbor doing or saying something and, as it often the case, he judged him.

In short, everything that happens in secret, which no one knows except God and our conscience, we must preserve; and this is preservation of the conscience in relation to God.

And the preservation of the conscience in relation to one’s neighbor demands that we do nothing at all which, as far as we know, offends or tempts our neighbor by deed, word, appearance, or a glance.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620): Conference 3 – On the Conscience @ Pravoslavie.

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).

Gregory Palamas: Spiritual Circumcision of the Heart Tuesday, Apr 1 2014 

Gregory_PalamasEven when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind.

When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions.

This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of a cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside, and the whole cup will be clean (Matthew 23:25-26).

“Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labour is according to God’s will, and you will conquer the outward passions” (Abba Arsenios, Apophthegmata Pateron 9).

If the root is holy, so are the branches (John 15:5). If the yeast is holy, so is the dough (Galatians 5:9).

“Walk in the spirit”, says Paul, “and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Christ did not abolish the Jewish circumcision but fulfilled it. He Himself says, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5.17).

How did He do this? It was a seal, a sign and a symbolic way of teaching about cutting off evil thoughts in the heart….

The Jews…were reproached by the prophets for being uncircumcised in their hearts (cf.  Jeremiah 9:26; Romans 2:25).

Man looks at the outward person, but God regards the heart, and if it is full of foul or evil thoughts, that man deserved to have God turn away from him.

That is why the apostle exhorts us to pray without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

To teach us to strive for the spiritual circumcision of our hearts, the Lord pronounces the pure in heart and the poor in spirit blessed.

He stresses that the reward for this purity of heart is seeing God, and He promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (Matthew 5:8, 3). By the poor He means those who live frugally and in need.

But it is not only such people whom He calls blessed, but also those who are like them in spirit, those who, because of their inner humility of heart and their good purpose, have arranged their outward life accordingly.

He forbids not just murder but anger, and commands us to forgive from our hearts those who sin against us. Nor will He accept the gift we offer unless we are first reconciled with one another and let go of anger (Matthew 5:21-24).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent,  from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009).

Mark the Hermit: Sin is a blazing fire: the less fuel you give it, the faster it dies down Wednesday, Mar 5 2014 

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

When you sin, blame your thought, not your action.

For had your intellect not run ahead, your body would not have followed.

[…] He who secretly mingles his own wishes with spiritual counsel is an adulterer, as the Book of Proverbs indicates (cf. Prov. 6:32-33); and because of his stupidity he suffers pain and dishonor.

Just as water and fire cannot be combined, so self -justification and humility exclude one another.

He who seeks forgiveness of his sins loves humility, but if he condemns another he seals his own wickedness.

Do not leave unobliterated any fault, however small, for it may lead you on to greater sins.

If you wish to be saved, welcome words of truth, and never reject criticism uncritically.

[…] To accept words of truth is to accept the divine Word; for He says: ‘He that receives you receives me’ (Matt. 10:40).

[…] Those engaged in spiritual warfare practice self-control in everything, and do not desist until the Lord destroys all ‘seed from Babylon’ (Jer. 27:16. LXX).

[…] Sin is a blazing fire. The less fuel you give it, the faster it dies down: the more you feed it, the more it bums.

When elated by praise, be sure disgrace will follow; for it is said: ‘Whoever exalts himself will be abased’ (Luke 14:11).

When we have freed ourselves from every voluntary sin of the mind, we should then fight against the passions which result from prepossession.

Prepossession is the involuntary presence of former sins in the memory.

At the stage of active warfare we try to prevent it from developing into a passion; after victory it is repulsed while still but a provocation.

A provocation is an image-free stimulation in the heart.

Like a mountain-pass, the experienced take control of it ahead of the enemy.

Once our thoughts are accompanied by images we have already given them our assent; for a provocation does not involve us in guilt so long as it is not accompanied by images.

Some people flee away from these thoughts like ‘a brand plucked out of the fire’ (Zech. 3:2); but others dally with them, and so get burnt.

Do not say: ‘I don’t want it, but it happens.’ For even though you may not want the thing itself, yet you welcome what causes it.

He who seeks praise is involved in passion; he who laments afflictions is attached to sensual pleasure.

The thoughts of a self-indulgent man vacillate, as though on scales; sometimes he laments and weeps for his sins, and sometimes he fights and contradicts his neighbor, justifying his own sensual pleasures.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 119, 124-128, 130, 134, 136-144, 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. 118-120.

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.

Mark the Hermit: Love of Christ is tested by adversity Monday, Feb 3 2014 

St Mark the AsceticEvery thought has its weight and measure in God’s sight.

For it is possible to think about the same thing either passionately or objectively.

After fulfilling a commandment expect to be tempted: for love of Christ is tested by adversity.

Never belittle the significance of your thoughts, for not one escapes God’s notice.

[…] The enemy, understanding how the justice of the spiritual law is applied, seeks only the assent of our mind.

Having secured this, he will either oblige us to undergo the labors of repentance or, if we do not repent, will torment us with misfortunes beyond our control.

Sometimes he encourages us to resist these misfortunes so as to increase our torment, and then, at our death, he will point to this impatient resistance as proof of our lack of faith.

Many have fought in various ways against circumstances; but without prayer and repentance no one has escaped evil.

Evils reinforce each other; so do virtues, thus encouraging us to still greater efforts.

The devil belittles small sins; otherwise he cannot lead us into greater ones.

Praise from others engenders sinful desire, while their condemnation of vice, if not only heard but accepted, engenders self-restraint.

[…]  All vice is caused by self-esteem and sensual pleasure; you cannot overcome passion without hating them.

‘Avarice is the root of all evil’ (1 Tim. 6:10); but avarice is clearly a product of these two components.

The intellect is made blind by these three passions: avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure.

Scripture calls these three the daughters of the horseleech, dearly loved by their mother folly (cf. Prov. 30:15, LXX).

These three passions on their own dull spiritual knowledge and faith, the foster-brothers of our nature.

It is because of them that wrath, anger, war, murder and all other evils have such power over mankind.

We must hate avarice, self-esteem and sensual pleasure, as mothers of the vices and stepmothers of the virtues.

Because of them we are commanded not to love ‘the world’ and ‘the things that are in the world’ (1 John 2:15); not so that we should hate God’s creation through lack of discernment, but so that we should eliminate the occasions for these three passions.

‘The soldier going to war’, it is said, ‘does not entangle himself in the affairs of this world’ (2 Tim. 2:4).

For he who entangles himself with the passions while trying to overcome them is like a man who tries to put out a fire with straw.

Mark the Hermit (5th-6th c.): On The Spiritual Law, 87-89, 91-95, 99-107, 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. 116-117.

Augustine of Hippo: Praying in Words Tuesday, Jan 14 2014 

St Augustine of AfricaIn most cases prayer consists more in groaning than in speaking, in tears rather than in words.

But…words are necessary, that by them we may be assisted in considering and observing what we ask, not as means by which we expect that God is to be either informed or moved to compliance.

When, therefore, we say: “Hallowed be Thy name,” we admonish ourselves to desire that His name, which is always holy, may be also among men esteemed holy, that is to say, not despised; which is an advantage not to God, but to men.

When we say: “Thy kingdom come,” which shall certainly come whether we wish it or not, we do by these words stir up our own desires for that kingdom, that it may come to us, and that we may be found worthy to reign in it.

When we say: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray for ourselves that He would give us the grace of obedience, that His will may be done by us in the same way as it is done in heavenly places by His angels.

When we say: “Give us this day our daily bread,” the word “this day” signifies for the present time, in which we ask either for that competency of temporal blessings which I have spoken of before (“bread” being used to designate the whole of those blessings, because of its constituting so important a part of them),

or the sacrament of believers, which is in this present time necessary, but necessary in order to obtain the felicity not of the present time, but of eternity.

When we say: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” we remind ourselves both what we should ask, and what we should do in order that we may be worthy to receive what we ask.

When we say: “Lead us not into temptation,” we admonish ourselves to seek that we may not, through being deprived of God’s help, be either ensnared to consent or compelled to yield to temptation.

When we say: “Deliver us from evil,” we admonish ourselves to consider that we are not yet enjoying that good estate in which we shall experience no evil.

And this petition, which stands last in the Lord’s Prayer, is so comprehensive that a Christian, in whatsoever affliction he be placed, may in using it give utterance to his groans and find vent for his tears – may begin with this petition, go on with it, and with it conclude his prayer.

For it was necessary that by the use of these words the things which they signify should be kept before our memory.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Letter to Proba, X, 20 – XI, 21 @ Crossroads Initiative.

Dorotheus of Gaza: It is humility alone that may conduct us into the kingdom Friday, Nov 8 2013 

Dorotheos2One of the elders has said: “Before everything else humility of wisdom is needful for us, so that we may be ready to say to every word which we hear, forgive me; for by humility of wisdom all the arrows of the enemy and adversary are broken.”

[…] If without faith it is impossible to please God, and if by means of almsgiving and faith sins are cleansed, if by the fear of the Lord everyone is brought away from evil, and if the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and one who is laboring must be continent in everything, then why did the elder say before everything else that humility of wisdom is needful for us, setting aside everything else which is so needful?

The elder wishes to show us by this that neither the very fear of God, nor almsgiving, nor faith, nor continence, nor any other virtue can be perfected without the humility of wisdom.

This is why he says, “Before everything else, humility of wisdom is needful to us—so as to be ready to say to every word we hear forgive me; for by humility of wisdom are all the arrows of the adversary broken.”

And so you see, brethren, how great is the power of humility of wisdom; you see what force the word  forgive has.

But why is the devil called not only enemy, but also adversary? He is called enemy because he is the hater of mankind, the hater of good, and a slanderer; and he is called adversary because he strives to hinder every good deed.

If one should wish to pray, he opposes and hinders him by means of evil remembrances, by means of captivity of the mind and despondency.

If one wishes to give alms, he hinders by means of the love of money and stinginess. If one wishes to keep vigil, he hinders by means of laziness and carelessness, and in this way he opposes us in every deed when we wish to do something good.

This is why he is called not only enemy, but also adversary. But by humility of wisdom, all the weapons of the enemy and adversary are broken.

For in truth, great is humility of wisdom, and every one of the saints has travelled by this path; by labor they have made short their path, as the Psalmist says, Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins (Ps. 24:18); and I was brought low, and He saved me (Ps. 114:6).

And besides, it is humility alone that may conduct us into the Kingdom, as the elder Abba John has said—but only slowly.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620): Conference 2 – Concerning the Humility of Wisdom @ Pravoslavie.

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