Gregory of Nyssa: The commandment of the Lord is exceedingly far-shining, declaring that good cleaves only unto God Friday, Jun 19 2015 

Gregory_of_NyssaThere is only one right path.

It is narrow and contracted.

It has no turnings either on the one side or the other.

No matter how we leave it, there is the same danger of straying hopelessly away.

This being so, the habit which many have got into must be as far as possible corrected.

I am speaking of those, who while they fight strenuously against the baser pleasures, yet still go on hunting for pleasure in the shape of worldly honour and positions which will gratify their love of power.

They act like some domestic who longed for liberty, but instead, of exerting himself to get away from slavery, proceeded only to change his masters, and thought liberty consisted in that change.

But all alike are slaves, even though they should not all go on being ruled by the same masters, as long as a dominion of any sort, with power to enforce it, is set over them.

There are others again who after a long battle against all the pleasures, yield themselves easily on another field, where feelings of an opposite kind come in.

And, in the intense exactitude of their lives, they fall a ready prey to melancholy and irritation, and to brooding over injuries, and to everything that is the direct opposite of pleasurable feelings; from which they are very reluctant to extricate themselves.

This is always happening, whenever any emotion, instead of virtuous reason, controls the course of a life.

For the commandment of the Lord is exceedingly far-shining, so as to “enlighten the eyes” even of “the simple” (Ps. 18:6-8), declaring that good cleaves only unto God.

But God is not pain any more than He is pleasure; He is not cowardice any more than boldness; He is not fear, nor anger, nor any other emotion which sways the untutored soul, but, as the Apostle says, He is Very Wisdom and Sanctification, Truth and Joy and Peace, and everything like that.

If He is such, how can anyone be said to cleave to Him, who is mastered by the very opposite? Is it not want of reason in any one to suppose that when he has striven successfully to escape the dominion of one particular passion, he will find virtue in its opposite?

[…] It matters not whether we miss virtue, or rather God Himself Who is the Sum of virtue, in this way, or in that.

[…] He therefore who watches over the life and the sanity of the soul will confine himself to the moderation of the truth; he will continue without touching either of those opposite states which run alongside virtue.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): On Virginity, 16 (slightly adapted).

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.

Leo the Great: Charity Contains All Other Virtues and Covers a Multitude of Sins Thursday, Apr 3 2014 

leo1In the gospel of John the Lord says: In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.

In a letter of the same apostle we read: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God; he who does not love does not know God for God is love.

The faithful should therefore enter into themselves and make a true judgment on their attitudes of mind and heart.

If they find some store of love’s fruit in their hearts, they must not doubt God’s presence within them.

If they would increase their capacity to receive so great a guest, they should practice greater generosity in doing good, with persevering charity.

If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined.

Any time is the right time for works of charity, but these days of Lent provide a special encouragement.

Those who want to be present at the Lord’s Passover in holiness of mind and body should seek above all to win this grace, for charity contains all other virtues and covers a multitude of sins.

As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries, by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy.

In this way we shall give to those who have sinned against us what God in his goodness has already given to us.

Let us now extend to the poor and those afflicted in different ways a more open-handed generosity, so that God may be thanked through many voices and the relief of the needy supported by our fasting.

No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor.  Where he finds charity with its loving concern, there he recognizes the reflection of his own fatherly care.

In these acts of giving do not fear a lack of means.  A generous spirit is itself great wealth. There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed.

In all this activity there is present the hand of him who multiplies the bread by breaking it, and increases it by giving it away.The giver of alms should be free from anxiety and full of joy.  His gain will be greatest when he keeps back least for himself.

The holy apostle Paul tells us: He who provides seed for the sower will also provide bread for eating; he will provide you with more seed, and will increase the harvest of your goodness,

Leo the Great (c.400-461): Sermon 48, 3-5 (10th Lenten sermon) @ Crossroads Initiative.

John Climacus: The Forgetting of Wrongs is a Sign of True Repentance Monday, Mar 24 2014 

ClimacusThe holy virtues are like Jacob’s ladder, and the unholy vices are like the chains that fell from the chief Apostle Peter.

For the virtues, leading from one to another, bear him who chooses them up to Heaven; but the vices by their nature beget and stifle one another.

And as we have just heard senseless anger calling remembrance of wrongs its own offspring, it is appropriate that we should now say something about this.

Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sins, hatred of righteousness, ruin of virtues, poison of the soul, worm of the mind.

Remembrance of wrongs is shame of prayer, stopping of supplication, estrangement of love, a nail stuck in the soul.

Remembrance of wrongs is pleasureless feeling beloved in the sweetness of bitterness, continuous sin, unsleeping transgression, hourly malice.

This dark and hateful passion, I mean remembrance of wrongs, is one of those that are produced but have no offspring. That is why we do not intend to say much about it.

He who has put a stop to anger has also destroyed remembrance of wrongs; because childbirth continues only while the father is alive.

He who has obtained love has banished revenge; but he who nurses enmities stores up for himself endless sufferings.

A banquet of love dispels hatred, and sincere gifts soothe a soul. But an ill-regulated banquet is the mother of boldness, and through the window of love gluttony leaps in.

I have seen hatred break the bond of long-standing fornication, and afterwards remembrance of wrongs, in an amazing way, did not allow the severed union to be renewed. Wonderful sight—a demon curing a demon! But perhaps this is the work not of demons but of Divine Providence.

Remembrance of wrongs is far from strong natural love, but fornication easily comes near it, just as a hidden louse can sometimes be seen in a dove.

[…] Remembrance of wrongs is an interpreter of Scripture of the kind that adjusts the words of the Spirit to its own views. Let it be put to shame by the Prayer of Jesus.

[…] The remembrance of Jesus’ sufferings cures remembrance of wrongs which is mightily shamed by His forbearance.

Worms grow in a rotten tree, and malice finds a place in falsely meek and silent people. He who has cast it out has found forgiveness, but he who sticks to it is deprived of mercy.

[…] The forgetting of wrongs is a sign of true repentance. But he who dwells on them and thinks that he is repenting is like a man who thinks he is running while he is really asleep.

John Climacus (c.575-c.650): The Ladder of Divine Ascent, step 9 “on remembrance of wrongs”, 1-8, 10, 14-15, 17-15, 17, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) @ Prudence True.

Gregory Palamas: Love of God and Love of the World Sunday, Mar 16 2014 

Gregory_PalamasWhereas love for God is the source and starting point of every virtue, love for the world is the cause of all evil.

For that reason these two loves are at enmity with each another and destroy each other.

As the Lord’s brother declares: “Friendship of the world is enmity to God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4).

And John, whom Christ loved, says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, is not of the Father” (cf. 1 John 2: 15-16).

Let us take heed, brethren, lest by loving evil desires and being arrogant to one another, we fall away from our heavenly Father’s love. For these two evils include every passion which separates us from God.

The foundation, origin and cause of these two opposing roots, love for God and love for the world, is another pair of implacably opposed loves.

Love for the world springs from love for the body, since we love the world because of our body’s well-being. On the other hand, love for God comes from love for our spirit, our soul, for we love God on account of the comfort and good fortune our souls will have in the world to come.

The great Paul bears witness to the fact that these two attitudes are at enmity with each other by saying, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit”, meaning the soul, “and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5: 17).

[…] Because they yearn to attain to divine, unfading delight and are afraid of suffering in that fire, they break their ties with everything passionate, blameworthy and earthly, and strive to cleave to God through intense prayer.

[….] In this way they acquire love for God, and as they become more perfectly united with God through this love, they gain all the virtues as well. When God is at work in us, every kind of virtue becomes our own….

Those who truly act virtuously are aware of this, and do not pride themselves on any of their achievements, but humbly glorify God, the Fount of virtues, by Whom they are filled with the light that bestows goodness.

When the air is full of sunlight, the glory and radiance it displays are not its own but the sun’s. So those who are united with God through fulfilling His commandments are, according to Paul, the sweet savour of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15).

They have Christ’s fragrance, and proclaim the virtues of Him Who called them “out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 33 – Virtues and their Opposite Passions, 4-5, 7, from Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies (Mount Thabor Publishing, 2009), @ Kandylaki (fuller version)

Symeon the New Theologian: When I recalled the beauty of undefiled Love, its Light suddenly appeared in my heart Thursday, Feb 20 2014 

SYMEON-iconLet us therefore follow one and the same path, Christ’s commandments, which elevate us to heaven and to God.

Even though the word shows us many paths and many ways for people to reach the kingdom of heaven, these paths are not, in fact, many, but one, though they’re divided into many, according to each person’s ability and disposition.

While we may begin from many and varied works and actions, just as travelers depart from different places and many cities, the destination we are attempting to reach is the same: the kingdom of heaven.

The actions and ways of godly men must be understood as spiritual virtues.

Those who begin to walk in them must head towards one goal, just as those who come from various countries and places come together, as we have said, to one city, the kingdom of heaven, where, together, they will become worthy to reign with Christ and become subjects of one King, our God and Father.

By this city, which is one, not many, you should understand the holy and undivided trinity of virtues, faith, hope and love, especially that virtue which comes before the others but is also mentioned as the last, since it is the goal of all good things and greater than them all- love.

All faith comes from it and is built on its foundation; on it, hope is based. Without love nothing has ever taken shape, nor ever will Its names and actions are numerous. Even more so are its distinctive features; its properties are divine and innumerable.

Yet it is one in nature, wholly beyond the ken of angels or men or any other creatures, even those which are unknown to us. Reason cannot tell of it; its glory is inaccessible; its counsels unsearchable. It is eternal and beyond time, and beyond sight, though it may be perceived.

How many are the delights of this Holy Zion not made by human hand. Those who have begun to see it no longer take any pleasure in perceptible, earthly objects; they become indifferent to the glory of this world.

Permit me, for a short time, to address myself to this love, to fulfill my desire for it, insofar as I can. When I recalled the beauty of undefiled love, its light suddenly appeared in my heart.

I was ravished with its sweetness and lost my senses; I lost all perception of this life and forgot all the things of this world. But then – I don’t know how – it departed from me and left me to lament my weakness.

Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022 AD): In Praise of Those Who Have Love in Their Hearts @ 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.

Seraphim of Sarov: The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins and the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit Monday, Sep 23 2013 

Seraphim_SarovskyOn the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 15:1-13).

I think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God.

These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works.

By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they cared little whether they acquired the grace of God’s Spirit.

These ways of life, based merely on doing good, without carefully testing whether they bring the grace of the Spirit of God, are mentioned in the patristic books: “There is another way which is deemed good in the beginning, but ends at the bottom of hell.”

[…] The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, the oil, which the foolish virgins lacked.

They were called foolish just because they had forgotten the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which no one is or can be saved, for: “Through the Holy Spirit every soul is quickened and through purification is exalted and illumined by the Triune Unity in a Holy mystery.”

The oil in the lamps of the wise virgins could burn brightly for a long time. So these virgins, with their bright lamps were able to meet the Bridegroom, who came at midnight.

With Him, they could enter the bridal chamber of joy. But the foolish ones, though they went to market to buy more oil, when their lamps were going out, were unable to return in time, for the door was already shut.

The market is our life; the door of the bridal chamber, which was shut and barred the way to the Bridegroom is human death; the wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not the good deeds, but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through good deeds and which changes souls from one state to another

– such as, from a corruptible state to incorruptible state, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from darkness to light, from the stable of our being (where the passions are tied up like dumb animals and wild beasts) into a temple of the Divinity, the shining bridal chamber of eternal joy in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Creator, Redeemer and eternal Bridegroom of our souls.

How great is God’s compassion on our misery, that is to say, our inattention to His care for us, when God says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20), meaning by “door” the course of our life which has not yet been closed by death! Oh, how I wish…that in this life you may always be in the Spirit of God!

Seraphim of Sarov (Orthodox Church; 1759-1833): On the Acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

Gregory Palamas: God has Made the Whole of this Perceptible Universe a Mirror of Heaven Wednesday, Sep 18 2013 

Gregory_PalamasBefore creating us our Maker brought this whole universe into being from nothing for the sustenance of our bodily exist­ence.

But as for improving our conduct and guiding us toward virtue, what has the Lord in his love of goodness not done for us?

He has made the whole of this perceptible universe a kind of mirror of heaven, so that by spiritual contemplation of the world around us we may reach up to heavenly things as if by some wonderful ladder.

He has implanted in us the natural law, as an inflexible rule, an infallible judge and an unerring teacher: this is our conscience.

If we look deep within ourselves, then, we shall need no other teacher to show us what is good, and if we look outside ourselves we shall find the invisible God visible in the things he has made, as the Apostle says.

After providing a school of virtue in our own nature and in the created world, God gave us the angels to protect us, he raised up the Patriarchs and Prophets to guide us, he showed us signs and wonders to lead us to faith, and gave us the written Law as a supplement to the law of our rational soul and the teaching of the world around us.

Then at last, when we had scorned all this in our indolence – how different from his own continuing love and care for us! – he gave himself to us for our salvation.

He poured out the wealth of his divinity into our lowly condition; he took our nature and became a human being like us, and was with us as our teacher.

He teaches us the greatness of his love and proves it by word and deed, at the same time persuading those who obey him not to be hard-hearted, but to imitate his compassion.

Those who manage worldly affairs have a certain love for them, as do shepherds for their flocks and owners for their personal possessions, but this cannot be compared with the love of those who share the same flesh and blood, and especially the love of parents for their children.

Therefore, to make us realize how much he loves us, God called himself our Father; for our sake he became man, and then, through the grace of the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism, he caused us to be born anew.

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359): Homily 3 (PG 151:36); ; from the Monastic Office of Vigils for Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Year 1.

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.

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