John of Kronstadt: Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you… Thursday, Apr 21 2016 

john_kronstadtObserve the difference between the presence of the life-giving spirit and the presence of the spirit that deadens and destroys your soul.

When there are good thoughts in your soul you feel happy and at ease; when peace and joy are in your heart, then the spirit of good, the Holy Ghost, is within you;

whilst when evil thoughts or evil motions of the heart arise within you, you feel ill at ease and oppressed; when you are inwardly troubled, then the spirit of evil, the crafty spirit, is within you.

When the spirit of evil is in us, then, together with oppression of heart and disturbance, we generally feel a difficulty in drawing near to God in our heart, because the evil spirit binds our soul, and will not let it raise itself to God.

The evil spirit is a spirit of doubt, unbelief – of passions, oppression, grief and disturbance; whilst the spirit of good is one of undoubting faith, of virtue, of spiritual freedom and breadth – a spirit of peace and joy.

Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you, and when the spirit of evil, and, as often as possible, raise your grateful heart to the most Holy Spirit that gives you life and light, and flee with all your power from doubt, unbelief, and the passions through which the evil serpent, the thief and destroyer of our souls, creeps in.

Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them – hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depths of his heart cries unto God:

“Why hast Thou turned Thy face from me, Thou everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me…and has obscured all my soul….Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Thy commandments and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray Thee.”

[…] Not knowing the spirit that destroys, you will not know the Spirit that gives life. Only by means of direct contrasts of good and evil, of life and death, can we clearly know the one and the other: if you are not subjected to distresses and dangers of bodily or spiritual death, you will not truly know the Saviour, the Life-Giver, who delivers us from these distresses and from spiritual death.

Jesus Christ is the consolation, the joy, the life, the peace and the breadth of our hearts! Glory to God, the Most Wise and Most Gracious, that He allows the spirit of evil and death to tempt and torment us! Otherwise we should not have sufficiently appreciated and valued the comfort of grace, the comfort of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, the Life-Giving!

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): My Life in Christ, part 1, pp.37-38.

John of Kronstadt: Jesus Christ is the consolation, the joy, the life, the peace and the breadth of our hearts Monday, Oct 19 2015 

john_kronstadtObserve the difference between the presence of the life-giving spirit and the presence of the spirit that deadens and destroys your soul.

When there are good thoughts in your soul you feel happy and at ease;

when peace and joy are in your heart, then the spirit of good, the Holy Ghost, is within you;

whilst when evil thoughts or evil motions of the heart arise within you, you feel ill at ease and oppressed;

when you are inwardly troubled, then the spirit of evil, the crafty spirit, is within you.

When the spirit of evil is in us, then, together with oppression of heart and disturbance, we generally feel a difficulty in drawing near to God in our heart, because the evil spirit binds our soul, and will not let it raise itself to God.

The evil spirit is a spirit of doubt, unbelief–of passions, oppression, grief and disturbance; whilst the spirit of good is one of undoubting faith, of virtue, of spiritual freedom and breadth–a spirit of peace and joy.

Know by these tokens when the Spirit of God is within you, and when the spirit of evil, and, as often as possible, raise your grateful heart to the most Holy Spirit that gives you life and light, and flee with all your power from doubt, unbelief, and the passions through which the evil serpent, the thief and destroyer of our souls, creeps in.

Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them–hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depths of his heart cries unto God:

“Why hast Thou turned Thy face from me, Thou everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me…. Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Thy commandments and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray Thee.”

If you do not yourself experience the action of the wiles of the evil spirit, you will not know, and will not appreciate and value as you ought, the benefits bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit: not knowing the spirit that destroys, you will not know the Spirit that gives life.

Only by means of direct contrasts of good and evil, of life and death, can we clearly know the one and the other: if you are not subjected to distresses and dangers of bodily or spiritual death, you will not truly know the Saviour, the Life-Giver, who delivers us from these distresses and from spiritual death.

Jesus Christ is the consolation, the joy, the life, the peace and the breadth of our hearts!

John of Kronstadt (1829-1908; Russian Orthodox): My Life in Christ, part 1, pp.37-38.

Hesychios the Priest: Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart Thursday, Sep 24 2015 

HesychiosJust as it is impossible to cross the sea without a boat, so it is impossible to repulse the provocation of an evil thought without invoking Jesus Christ. Rebuttal bridles evil thoughts, but the invocation of Jesus Christ drives them from the heart.

[…] And if our intellect (Greek: ὁ νοῦς)** [see footnote] is experienced, well-trained and used to guarding itself, and to examining clearly and openly the seductive fantasies and deceits of the demons, it will instantly ‘quench the fiery darts of the devil’ (cf. Eph. 6:16), counter-attacking by means of its power of rebuttal and the Jesus Prayer.

It will not allow the impassioned fantasy to consort with it or allow our thoughts passionately to conform themselves to the fantasy, or to become intimate with it, or be distracted by it, or give assent to it.

If anything like this happens, then evil actions will follow as surely as night follows day.

If our intellect is inexperienced in the art of watchfulness it at once begins to entertain whatever impassioned fantasy appears in it, and plies it with illicit questions and responds to it illicitly. Then our own thoughts are conjoined to the demonic fantasy, which waxes and burgeons until it appears lovely and delectable to the welcoming and despoiled intellect.

The intellect then is deceived in much the same way as lambs when a stray dog comes into the field in which they happen to be: in their innocence they often run towards the dog as though it were their mother, and their only profit in coming near it is that they pick up something of its stench and foulness.

In the same way our thoughts run ignorantly after demonic fantasies that appear in our intellect and, as I said, the two join together and one can see them plotting to destroy the city of Troy like Agamemnon and Menelaus. For they plot together the course of action they must take in order to bring about, in practice and by means of the body, that purpose which the demons have persuaded them is sweet and delectable.

In this way sins are produced in the soul: and hence the need to bring out into the open what is in our hearts. The intellect, being good-natured and innocent, readily goes in pursuit of lawless fantasies: and it can be restrained only on condition that its intelligence, the ruler of the passions always bridles it and holds it back.

Contemplation and spiritual knowledge are indeed the guides and agents of the ascetic life; for when the mind is raised up by them it becomes indifferent to sensual pleasures and to other material attractions, regarding them as worthless.

Hesychios the Priest (?6th-9th century): On Watchfulness and Holiness chs 142-146,  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. 186-187.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Hesychios and by other Greek authors: INTELLECT (nous): the highest faculty in man, through which – provided it is purified – he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos). The intellect is the organ of contemplation, the ‘eye of the heart’ (Macarian Homilies).

Nikolai Velimirovich: When the words of Holy Scripture are continually on our lips… Friday, May 8 2015 

Nikolai VelimirovichMay 8th is the feast of St Arsenios the Great

Glorious Arsenius, whom the world glorified,
Fleeing from glory, to himself he said:

“To men and to the world, consider yourself dead.
Neither wise nor foolish words, do not speak.
For a word, at times, I have repented;
For silence I have never repented.

If my heart, to God I do not bind,
To shake off the passionate life, I am not able.
If my thoughts glorify God only,
External passions will leave me.

Your time, fill with prayer and labor;
Sleep even less and labor all the more.
Arsenius the sinful, why do you stop?
Why to the wilderness did you come, I ask?

Not for the sake of idleness, but for the salvation of the soul;
Not for the sake of sleep, but for the sake of repentance.
Heal yourself quickly, and enliven the soul:
Lord have mercy! Forgive and have mercy!”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

A monk complained to St. Arsenius that while reading Holy Scripture he felt neither the power of the words he read nor gentleness in his heart.

To that the great saint replied to him: “My child, just read! I heard that when snake-charmers cast a spell upon the serpents, these sorcerers utter words which they themselves do not understand, but the serpents, hearing the words spoken, sense their power and become tamed.

An so it is with us, when the words of Holy Scripture are continually on our lips, although we do not feel the power of the words, evil spirits tremble and flee for they are unable to endure the words of the Holy Spirit.”

My child, just read! The Holy Spirit, Who, through inspired men, wrote these divine words, will hear, will understand and will hasten to your assistance.

Likewise, the demons will hear and understand, and will flee from you.

That is: He to Whom you are calling for help will understand, and those whom you wish to drive away from yourself will understand. And both goals will be achieved.

Nikolai Velimirovich (1880-1956; Orthodox Church): Prologue from Ohrid, May 8th.

Dorotheus of Gaza: “This is the day of Resurrection! Let us offer ourselves as a sacrifice” Wednesday, May 14 2014 

Dorotheos2In antiquity the sons of Israel, on the feast-days or triumphs, offered to God gifts according to the Law, that is sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings, first-fruits and the like.

Therefore St. Gregory [Nazianzen] teaches us also (like them) to make celebration unto the Lord, as they did, and inspires us, saying, “The day of Resurrection,” in place of the “The day of the holy feast, the day of the Divine solemnity, the day of the Pascha of Christ.”

And what does the Pascha of Christ mean? The sons of Israel performed the Pascha, Passover when they departed from Egypt; and now Pascha, the celebration of which St. Gregory is encouraging us to keep, is performed by the soul which departs from the mental Egypt, that is, sin.

For when the soul passes over from sin to virtue, that is when it celebrates the Pascha of the Lord as Evagrius has said; the Pascha of the Lord is the passing over from evil to good.

And thus now today is the Pascha of the Lord, the Day of the Bright Festival, the Day of the Resurrection of Christ Who has crucified sin, Who has died for us and arisen.

Let us also offer to the Lord gifts, sacrifices, whole-burnt offerings–not of irrational animals, which Christ does not wish, for sacrifice and offering hast thou not desired. Whole burnt offerings and oblations for sin hast Thou not demanded (Ps. 39:9, 10). And Isaiah says, of what value to me is the abundance of your sacrifices? saith the Lord (Is. 1:11)….

The Lamb of God was killed for us, according to the words of the Apostle who said For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us (I Cor. 5:7).

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us –  for it is written, cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree (Gal. 3:13, Deut. 21:23) –  to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:5); and so we also should offer Him a certain God-pleasing gift.

And what kind of gift or what kind of sacrifice is it that we should offer to Christ on the day of the Resurrection…? The same Saint [Gregory] instructs us again in this, for having said, “The day of Resurrection” he adds, “Let us offer ourselves.”

Thus also the Apostle says, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). And how should we offer our bodies to God as a living and holy sacrifice? By no longer fulfilling the will of our flesh and our thoughts (Eph. 2:3), but acting in the Spirit.

Dorotheos of Gaza (505-565 or 620):  Conference 21 – An Explanation of Certain Expressions of St Gregory the Theologian which are Sung together with the Troparia on Holy Pascha @ Pravoslavie.

 

Theophylact of Ohrid: The Healing at the Pool of Bethesda Saturday, May 10 2014 

Theophylact_the_Bulgarian (1)On John 5:1-15.

Understand the sheep’s pool to represent the grace of Baptism, in which the Sheep sacrificed for us, the Lord Jesus, was washed when He was baptized for our sake.

This pool has five porches, symbolizing the four great virtues plus the divine contemplation of dogma which are revealed in Baptism.

Human nature, paralyzed in all its spiritual powers, lay sick for thirty-eight years.

It was not sound in its belief in the Holy Trinity (i.e. 3), nor did it have a sure belief in the eighth age (i.e. 8), that is, the general Resurrection and the Last Judgement.

This is why it could not find healing, for it did not have any man to put it into the pool.

That is to say, the Son of God, Who intended to heal through Baptism, had not yet been made man.

But when He was made man, then He healed our nature and commanded us to take up our bed, that is, lift up our body from the earth, making it light and free, not weighted down by flesh and earthly cares, and raising it from slothfulness so that it is able to walk, which means, active in doing good.

The troubling of the water in the pool suggests the stirring up the evil spirits lurking in the waters of Baptism, crushing and choking them by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

May we also obtain healing, for we are paralyzed and motionless in the doing of anything good; we also have no man, that is, no human and rational thought, which distinguishes us from the irrational beasts, to carry us into the pool of tears of repentance, in which the first who enters is healed.

He who procrastinates and puts off his repentance until later, and does not hurry to repent now, does not obtain healing. Hasten to be the first to enter this pool, lest death overtake you.

And there is an angel which troubles this pool of repentance. What angel is it? The Angel of Great Counsel of the Father, Christ the Saviour. (see Is. 9:6).

For unless the divine Word touches our heart and troubles it with thought of the torments of the age to come, this pool cannot become active and effective, and there is no healing for the paralyzed soul.

The pool of repentance may also fittingly be called a sheep’s pool; for in it are washed like sheep the inward parts and thoughts of the saints who are made ready to become a living sacrifice pleasing to God, making them innocent and guileless.

May we also obtain healing, and afterwards be found in God’s holy temple, no longer stained by unholy thoughts, lest a worse thing, the eternal torments, come unto us.

Theophylact of Ohrid (1055-1107): Explanation of the Gospel of St John, on John 5:1-15 @ Chrysostom Press.

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).

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).

Theophylact of Ohrid: The Prayer of the Pharisee Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

Theophylact_the_Bulgarian (1)On Luke 18:9-14 (the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee).

The Lord ceaselessly purges the passion of pride in many ways.

This passion, more than any other, disturbs our thoughts, and for this reason the Lord always and everywhere teaches on this subject.

Here He is purging the worst form of pride.

For there are many offshoots of self-love. Presumption, arrogance, and vainglory all stem from this root.

But the most destructive of all these kinds of self-love is pride, for pride is contempt of God.

When a man ascribes his accomplishments to himself, and not to God, this is nothing less than denial of God and opposition to Him.

Therefore, like enemy to enemy, the Lord opposes this passion which is opposed to Him, and through this parable He promises to heal it.

He directs this parable towards those who trust in themselves and who do not attribute everything to God, and who, as a result, despise others.

He shows that when righteousness—which is marvelous in every other respect and sets a man close to God—takes pride as its companion, it casts that man into the lowest depths and makes demonic what was God-like just a short time before.

The words of the Pharisee at first resemble the words of a grateful man. For he says, God, I thank Thee. But the words that follow are full of foolishness.

He does not say, “that Thou hast made me to depart from extortion and iniquities,” but Instead, “I thank Thee that I am not an extortioner or worker of iniquity.”

He attributes this accomplishment to himself, as something done by his own strength. How can a man who knows that what he has, he has received from God, compare other men to himself unfavorably and judge them?

Certainly, if a man believed that he had received as a gift good things that in truth belong to God, he would not despise other men.

He would instead consider himself just as naked as his fellow men in regards to virtue, except that by the mercy of God his nakedness has been covered with a donated garment.

The Pharisee is proud, ascribing his deeds to his own strength, and that is why he proceeds to condemn others.

By saying that the Pharisee stood, the Lord indicates his haughtiness and lack of humility. In the same way that a humble-minded man is likewise humble in his demeanor, this Pharisee by his bearing displays his pride.

Although it is also said of the publican that he stood, note what follows: he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, so that he was stooped in posture.

But the eyes of the Pharisee, together with his heart, were lifted up to heaven in boastful exaltation.

Theophylact of Ohrid (1055-1107): Explanation of the Gospel of St Luke, on Luke 18:10-14 (Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee) @ Chrysostom Press.

Silouan the Athonite: Lord will give you His Grace, and you will know Him through the Holy Spirit Tuesday, Feb 4 2014 

Silouan the AthoniteThe Lord is love; and He commanded us to love one another and to love our enemies.

And the Holy Spirit teaches us this love.

The soul that has not come to know the Holy Spirit does not understand how it is possible to love one’s enemies, and will not receive this commandment.

But in the Lord is pity for all men, and he who would be with the Lord must love his enemies.

How may we know whether the Lord loves us or no?

Here are tokens: If you battle firmly against sin the Lord loves you.

If you love your enemies you are even more beloved of God.

And if you lay down your life for others you are greatly beloved of the Lord, who Himself laid down His life for us.

The man who has known the Lord through the Holy Spirit becomes like unto the Lord, as St John the Divine said: ‘We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ And we shall behold his glory.

Many numbers of people, you say, are suffering every kind of adversity and from evil men.

But I entreat you: Humble yourself beneath the strong hand of God, and grace will be your teacher and you yourself will long to suffer for the sake of the love of the Lord.

That is what the Holy Spirit, whom we have come to know in the Church, will teach you.

But the man who cries out against evil men, who does not pray for them will never know the grace of God.

If you would know of the Lord’s love for us, hate sin and wrong thoughts, and day and night pray fervently.

The Lord will then give you His grace, and you will know Him through the Holy Spirit, and after death, when you enter into paradise, there too you will know the Lord through the Holy Spirit, as you knew Him on earth.

We do not need riches or learning in order to know the Lord: we must simply be obedient and sober, have a humble spirit and love our fellow-men.

The Lord will love a soul that does this, and of His own accord make Himself manifest to her and instruct her In love and humility, and give her all things necessary for her to find rest in God.

Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938; Eastern Orthodox): from St. Silouan, Wisdom From Mount Athos – The Writings of Staretz Silouan 1866-1938, by Sofronii (Archimandrite), trans. Rosemary Edmonds, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY 1974) pp. 19-23 @ Kandylaki.

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