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.

Basil the Great: “Give Heed to Thyself, Lest Perhaps a Wicked Thought Steal in Upon Thee” Friday, Jan 31 2014 

St-Basil-the-GreatIn the eastern calendar, January 30th was the Synaxis of The Three Hierarchs: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, & John Chrysostom.

“Give heed to thyself, lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee” (Deut. 15:9).

We men are easily prone to sins of thought.

Therefore, He who has formed each heart individually (Ps. 2:35:15), knowing that the impulse received from the intention constitutes the major element in sin, has ordained that purity in the ruling part of our soul be our primary concern.

That faculty by which we are especially prone to commit sin surely merits great care and vigilance.

As the more provident physicians offset physical weakness by precautionary measures taken in advance, so the Protector of us all and the true Physician of our souls takes possession first and with stronger garrisons of that part of the soul which He knows is most liable to sin.

[…] Beware, therefore, lest perhaps a wicked thought steal in upon thee.’ For, ‘he who looks upon a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matt. 5:28).

The actions of the body, therefore, are retarded by many impediments, but he who sins in his intention has committed a transgression that is accomplished with the swiftness of thought.

Where the lapse into sin is sudden, therefore, the power of swift protection has been granted us, ‘lest perhaps,’ as the Scripture declares, ‘a wicked thought steal in upon thee.’

And now, let us return to the theme of our discourse. ‘Give heed to thyself’ says the Scripture.

Every animal has been endowed by God, the Creator of all things, with an interior power of self-protection.

[…] In obeying this, precept, we become vigilant custodians of the resources God has bestowed on us, avoiding sin as the beasts shun noxious foods and following after justice as they seek for pasturage.

‘Give heed to thyself’ that you may be able to distinguish between the injurious and the salutary.

[…] It remains, therefore, to interpret the precept as referring to a mental action. ‘Give heed to thyself. that is, examine yourself from all angles. Keep the eye of your soul sleeplessly on guard, for ‘Thou art going in the midst of snares’ (Sir. 9:20).

Traps set by the enemy lie concealed everywhere. Look about you in all directions, therefore, ‘that you may be saved as a swallow from the traps and as a bird from the snare’ (Prov. 6:5).

The deer cannot be caught with traps because of the keenness of his vision…. A bird, if alert, easily flies out of the range of the huntsman’s snare.

See to it, then, that you are not more remiss than the animals in protecting yourself. Never let yourself be caught in the snares of the Devil and so become his prey, the captured plaything of his will (2 Tim. 2:26).

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily on the Words “Give Heed to Thyself”,  from Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, translated by Sr M Monica Wagner, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 9), pp. 432-434.

Macarius the Egyptian: The grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of Heaven on the tables of the heart Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

Macarius3January 19th is the feast of St Macarius the Egyptian (eastern calendar).

When the rich men of the earth have brought much fruit into their garners, they set to work again every day to get more, in order to have plenty, and not run short.

If they presume upon the wealth laid up in the garners, and take things easily and add no more, but use up what they have stored already, they soon sink into want and poverty.

So they have to labour and add, enlarging their intake, that they may not get behindhand.

In Christianity, to taste of the grace of God is like that. Taste, it says, and see how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 35:8).

This tasting is an effectual power of the Spirit in full certainty, ministering in the heart.

As many as are the sons of light, and of the ministry of the New Covenant in the Holy Ghost, these have nothing to learn from men; they are taught of God (1 Thess. 4:9).

Grace itself writes upon their hearts the laws of the Spirit.

They ought not therefore to rest their assurance only upon the scriptures that are written in ink; the grace of God writes the laws of the Spirit and the mysteries of heaven upon the tables of the heart as well (2 Cor. 3:2).

For the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism; and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it reigns over all the members and the thoughts.

For there, in the heart, is the mind, and all the faculties of the soul, and its expectation; therefore grace penetrates also to all the members of the body.

On the other hand, as many as are sons of darkness, sin reigns over their heart, and penetrates to all their members, for out of their hearts proceed evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19), and thus diffused puts the man in darkness.

Those who say that evil is not born and bred in man, may have no anxiety about tomorrow, nor any desire either.

For a certain length of time, evil ceases to cause trouble in them by suggesting some object of desire, so that a man will affirm on oath, “Such a passion no longer assails me.”

After a short while he is consumed with the desire, so that he is found guilty of perjury into the bargain.

As water runs through a pipe, so does sin through the heart and thoughts.

As many as will not have this notion, are refuted and mocked by sin itself, even if sin did not wish to triumph; for evil endeavours to escape notice and to be hidden in the mind of man.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 15, 20-21, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

John of Karpathos: Let the fire of your prayer burn always on the altar of your soul Tuesday, Oct 22 2013 

johnkarpathosSo as not to be deceived and carried away by the vain and empty things that the senses bring before us, we should listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah:

‘Come, my people, enter into your inner room’ — the shrine of your heart, which is closed to every conception derived from the sensible world, that image-free dwelling-place illumined by dispassion and the overshadowing of God’s grace;

‘shut your door’ — to all things visible;

‘hide yourself for a brief moment’ — the whole of man’s life is but a moment;

‘until the Lord’s anger has passed by’ (Isa.26:20 LXX); or, as the Psalms put it, ‘until iniquity has passed’ (Ps. 57:1).

This anger of the Lord and this iniquity may be caused by demons, passions and sins; as Isaiah says to God, ‘Behold, Thou art angry, for we have sinned’ (Isa.64:5).

A man escapes this anger by keeping his attention fixed continually within his heart during prayer, and by striving to remain within his inner sanctuary.

As it is written, ‘Draw wisdom into your innermost self’ (Job 28:18 LXX); ‘all the glory of the king’s daughter is within’ (Ps. 45:13 LXX).

Let us, then, continue to struggle until we enter the holy place of God, ‘the mountain of Thine inheritance, the dwelling, O Lord, which Thou hast made ready, the sanctuary which Thy hands have prepared’ (Exod. 15:17).

[…] Once you have realized that the Amorite within you is ‘as strong as an oak’, you should pray fervently to the Lord to dry up ‘his fruit from above’ — that is, your sinful actions, and ‘his roots from beneath’ — that is, your impure thoughts.

Ask the Lord in this way to ‘destroy the Amorite from before your face’ (Amos 2:9 LXX).

[…] When there is no wind blowing at sea, there are no waves; and when no demon dwells within us, our soul and body are not troubled by the passions.

If you always feel the warmth of prayer and divine grace you may apply to yourself the words of Scripture: you have ‘put on the armour of light’ (Rom. 13:12) and ‘your garments are warm’ (Job 37:17). But  your enemies are ‘clothed with shame’ (Ps. 109:29) and with the darkness of hell.

When recalling your sins, do not hesitate to beat your breast. With these blows you will dig into your hardened heart and discover within it the gold-mine of the publican (cf. Luke 18:13); and this hidden wealth will bring you great joy.

Let the fire of your prayer, ascending  upwards as you meditate on the oracles of the Spirit, burn always on the altar of your soul.

John of Karpathos (7th century): For the Encouragement of the Monks in India, 91, 93, 95-98, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, P. Sherrard, and K. Ware, The Philokalia, vol. 1 (Faber and Faber, London & Boston: 1979 @ J B Burnett.

John Henry Newman: The True Christian Pierces Through the Veil of This World and Sees the Next Wednesday, Oct 9 2013 

John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_MillaisContinued from here…

Afterwards, in the same Epistle [Galatians], he tells us first that nothing avails but faith working by love; but soon after, he calls this same availing principle a new creature: so that the new birth and a living faith are inseparable.

Never, indeed, must it be supposed, as we are indolently apt to suppose, that the gift of grace which we receive at baptism is a mere outward privilege, a mere outward pardon, in which the heart is not concerned;

or as if it were some mere mark put on the soul, distinguishing it indeed from souls unregenerate, as if by a colour or seal, but not connected with the thoughts, mind, and heart of a Christian.

This would be a gross and false view of the nature of God’s mercy given us in Christ. For the new birth of the Holy Spirit sets the soul in motion in a heavenly way: it gives us good thoughts and desires, enlightens and purifies us, and prompts us to seek God.

In a word (as I have said), it gives a spiritual life; it opens the eyes of our mind, so that we begin to see God in all things by faith, and hold continual intercourse with Him by prayer;

and if we cherish these gracious influences, we shall become holier and wiser and more heavenly, year by year, our hearts being ever in a course of change from darkness to light, from the ways and works of Satan to the perfection of Divine obedience.

These considerations may serve to impress upon our minds the meaning of the precept in the text, and others like it which are found in St. Paul’s Epistles. For instance, he enjoins the Ephesians to “pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.”

To the Philippians he says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God” (Eph. 6:18; Phil. 4:6). To the Colossians, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” To the Romans, “Continue instant in prayer” (Col. 4:2; Rom. 12:12).

Thus the true Christian pierces through the veil of this world and sees the next. He holds intercourse with it; he addresses God, as a child might address his parent, with as clear a view of Him, and with as unmixed a confidence in Him;

with deep reverence indeed, and godly fear and awe, but still with certainty and exactness: as St. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). with the prospect of judgment to come to sober him, and the assurance of present grace to cheer him.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. 7, 15: Mental Prayer.

John of Kronstadt: We must bring every word of the prayer down to our heart Sunday, Sep 29 2013 

john_kronstadtGod is an all-seeing Eye, a spiritual Sun, standing above the world, penetrating with His spiritual eyes into the thoughts and hearts of men, enlightening every creature.

Our soul is an eye from the Eye, sight from the Sight, light from the Light. But now, since our fall into sin, our eye, our soul, is diseased through sins.

Take the cataract off your eye, and you will see the spiritual Sun, the everlasting Eye, ten thousand times brighter than the material sun.

How often it happens in life that a man has one thing in his heart and another upon his lips, and wears two faces at one and the same time!

It is thus also during prayer, before God Himself, Who knows the secrets of the heart; a man also frequently wears two faces, saying one thing and having another in his heart and thoughts.

If, which happens still oftener, when saying a prayer, although he understands it and thinks about it, he does not sympathise in his heart with that which he is saying—being dead, and thus throwing the words to the air—then he deceives himself if he believes that he can please God by such a prayer.

This is strange, sinful duplicity! It is a bitter fruit and evidence of our fall into sin. It seems habitual to our heart to lie in prayer and in our intercourse with other men. The heart is a pillar of falsehood. “All men are liars” (Psalm cxvi:10).

The Christian must make use of every means in order to eradicate every falsehood from his heart, and to implant pure truth within it.

We must begin with prayer, as with a matter in which truth is indispensable before everything, in accordance with the Lord’s own words: “Worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Speak the truth from your heart (Psalm 15:2).

When we have learnt to speak the truth from our heart during prayer, we shall not allow ourselves to lie in our everyday life: sincere, true prayer, having cleansed our heart from falsehood, will protect it against falsehood in our relations with other men in worldly matters.

How can we teach ourselves to speak the truth from our heart during prayer? We must bring every word of the prayer down to our heart, lay it to heart, feel its truth in our heart, be convinced of all our need of that for which we ask God in prayer, or of the need of hearty gratitude for His great and innumerable benefits to us, and of most heartfelt praise for His great, most wise works in His creation.

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

John Henry Newman: David and Goliath Wednesday, Sep 25 2013 

John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_MillaisContinued from here…

And now, let us inquire who is our Goliath?

[…] The devil is our Goliath: we have to fight Satan, who…would to a certainty destroy us were not God with us; but praised be His Name, He is with us. “Greater is He that is with us, than he that is in the world.”

[…] When…Satan comes against you, recollect you are already dedicated, made over, to God; you are God’s property, you have no part with Satan and his works, you are servants to another, you are espoused to Christ.

When Satan comes against you, fear not, waver not; but pray to God, and He will help you.

Say to Satan with David, “Thou comest against me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield; but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of Hosts.”

Thou comest to me with temptation; thou wouldest allure me with the pleasures of sin for a season; thou wouldest kill me, nay, thou wouldest make me kill myself with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds…; but I know thee; thou art Satan, and I come unto thee in the name of the Living God, in the Name of Jesus Christ my Saviour.

That is a powerful name, which can put to flight many foes: Jesus is a name at which devils tremble. To speak it, is to scare away many a bad thought. I come against thee in His All-powerful, All-conquering Name.

David came on with a staff; my staff is the Cross—the Holy Cross on which Christ suffered, in which I glory, which is my salvation.

David chose five smooth stones out of the brook, and with them he smote the giant. We, too, have armour, not of this world, but of God; weapons which the world despises, but which are powerful in God.

David took not sword, spear, or shield; but he slew Goliath with a sling and a stone. Our weapons are as simple, as powerful. The Lord’s Prayer is one such weapon; when we are tempted to sin, let us turn away, kneel down seriously and solemnly, and say to God that prayer which the Lord taught us.

The Creed is another weapon, equally powerful, through God’s grace, equally contemptible in the eyes of the world. One or two holy texts, such as our Saviour used when He was tempted by the devil, is another weapon for our need.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is another such, and greater; holy, mysterious, life-giving, but equally simple. What is so simple as a little bread and a little wine? but, in the hands of the Spirit of God, it is the power of God unto salvation.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890): Parochial and Plain Sermons vol. 8, 4: The Call of David.

Basil the Great: “Blessed is the Man that hath not Stood in the Way of Sinners” Thursday, Sep 5 2013 

St-Basil-the-GreatBlessed is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners (Psalm 1:1).

‘Blessed, therefore, is he who has not stood in the way of sinners’.

[…] While we men were in our first age, we were neither in sin nor in virtue (for the age was unsusceptible of either condition); but, when reason was perfected in us, then that happened which was written: ‘But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died’ (Rom. 7:9).

Wicked thoughts, which originate in our minds from the passions of the flesh, rise up.

In truth, if, when the command came, that is, the power of discernment of the good, the mind did not prevail over the baser thoughts but permitted its reason to be enslaved by the passions, sin revived, but the mind died, suffering death because of its transgressions.

Blessed, therefore, is he who did not continue in the way of sinners but passed quickly by better reasoning to a pious way of life.

For, there are two ways opposed to each other, the one wide and broad, the other narrow and close (cf. Matt. 7:13). And there are two guides, each attempting to turn the traveler to himself.

Now, the smooth and downward sloping way has a deceptive guide, a wicked demon, who drags his followers through pleasure to destruction, but the rough and steep way has a good angel, who leads his followers through the toils of virtue to a blessed end.

As long as each of us is a child, pursuing the pleasure of the moment, he has no care for the future; but, when he has become a man, after his judgment is perfected, he seems, as it were, to see his life divided for him between virtue and evil.

[…] Insofar as the future promises beautiful rewards, to that extent does the way of those saved offer the present toilsome works. On the other hand, the pleasant and undisciplined life does not hold out the expectation of later delights, but those already present.

So, every soul becomes dizzy and changes from one side to the other in its reasonings, choosing virtue when things eternal are in its thoughts, but, when it looks to the present, preferring pleasure.

[…] While, therefore, that which is truly good can be apprehended by the reason through faith (it has been banished far and the eye did not see it nor the ear hear it), yet, the sweetness of sin has pleasure ready and flowing through every sense.

Blessed is he who is not turned aside to his destruction through its incitements to pleasure, but eagerly awaits the hope of salvation through patient endurance, and in his choice of one of the two ways, does not go upon the way leading to the lower things.

Basil the Great (330-379): Homily 1 (on Psalm 1), 5, from Saint Basil: Exegetic Homilies, translated by Agnes Clare Way, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 46), pp. 159-161.

Gregory of Sinai: Calling on the Name of Jesus Friday, Aug 30 2013 

Gregory of SinaiNo one can master the intellect [nous]** unless he himself is mastered by the Spirit.

For the intellect is uncontrollable, not because it is by nature ever-active, but because through our continual remissness it has been given over to distraction and has become used to that.

When we violated the commandments of Him who in baptism regenerates us we separated ourselves from God and lost our conscious awareness of Him and our union with Him.

Sundered from that union and estranged from God, the intellect is led captive everywhere; and it cannot regain its stability unless it submits to God and is stilled by Him, joyfully uniting with Him through unceasing and diligent prayer and through noetically confessing all our lapses to Him each day.

God immediately forgives everything to those who ask forgiveness in a spirit of humility and contrition and who ceaselessly invoke His holy name. As the Psalmist says, “Confess to the Lord and call upon His holy name” (Psalms 105:1).

Holding the breath also helps to stabilize the intellect, but only temporarily, for after a little it lapses into distraction again. But when prayer is activated, then it really does keep the intellect in its presence, and it gladdens it and frees it from captivity.

But it may sometimes happen that the intellect, rooted in the heart, is praying, yet the mind wanders and gives its attention to other things; for the mind is brought under control only in those who have been made perfect by the Holy Spirit and who have attained a state of total concentration upon Christ Jesus.

In the case of a beginner in the art of spiritual warfare, God alone can expel thoughts, for it is only those strong in such warfare who are in a position to wrestle with them and banish them. Yet even they do not achieve this by themselves, but they fight against them with God’s assistance, clothed in the armor of His grace.

So when thoughts invade you, in place of weapons call on the Lord Jesus frequently and persistently and then they will retreat; for they cannot bear the warmth produced in the heart by prayer and they flee as if scorched by fire.

St. John Climacus tells us, “Lash your enemies with the name of Jesus,” because God is a fire that cauterizes wickedness (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29). The Lord is prompt to help, and will speedily come to the defense of those who wholeheartedly call on Him day and night (Luke 18:7).

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On Prayer, Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 276-278.

**The translators of the Philokalia say the following about the word “intellect” as used in this passage from Gregory 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).

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.

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