Macarius the Egyptian: “He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit” Tuesday, Jan 19 2016 

Macarius3The mind that is never off the search of itself and the quest of the Lord avails to gain possession of its own soul – the soul that was in the perdition of the passions – by always bringing itself into captivity to the Lord with main force and earnestness, and by cleaving to Him only, as it is said, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5); that by means of such striving and longing and seeking the mind may attain to become with the Lord one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17) of the gift and grace of Christ.

[…] Lovely it is, when the soul, devoting herself wholly to the Lord, and cleaving to Him only, and dwelling mindfully in His commandments, and worthily honouring the Spirit of Christ which has come upon her and overshadowed her, is permitted to be one Spirit and one composition with Him, as the apostle says, He that is joined unto the Lord is one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17).

But if a man gives himself away to cares, or glory, or power, or human honours, and seeks after these things, and his soul is mixed up and enters into composition with earthly considerations, or is bound and held by anything belonging to this age, and if such a soul longs to transfer itself and escape and get away from the darkness of passions, in which it is held by the evil powers, it cannot do so, because it loves and does the will of darkness, and does not perfectly hate the practices of wickedness.

Let us therefore prepare ourselves to travel to the Lord with an undivided will and purpose, and to become followers of Christ, to accomplish whatever He wills, and to think upon His commandments to do them (Psalm 102/103:18). Let us sever ourselves altogether from the love of the world, and attach our souls to Him only, and keep in mind Him only as our business and care and quest.

If we have to be somewhat busied also in body, with the business laid upon us, and with obedience for God’s sake, let not the mind be parted from its love and quest and longing after the Lord; so that striving in such a mind, and journeying along the way of righteousness with an upright intention, and always taking heed to ourselves, we may obtain the promise of His Spirit, and may through grace be delivered from the perdition of the darkness of the passions, by which the soul is exercised, that we may be made meet for the eternal kingdom, and permitted to enjoy all eternity with Christ, glorifying the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever.

Macarius the Egyptian (c. 300-391) [attributed]: Spiritual Homily 9, 11-13, trans. by A.J. Mason DD.

Isaac the Syrian: And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him Tuesday, Oct 6 2015 

Isaac_the_SyrianBlessed is the man who knows his weakness.

This knowledge becomes for him the foundation and the beginning of his coming unto all good and beautiful things.

When a man knows and perceives that he really and in truth is weak, then he restrains his soul from profuseness which is dissipation of knowledge and he will augment the watchfulness of his soul.

Unless a man has been remiss in some small thing, and a slight negligence has appeared in him, and tempters have surrounded him either with temptations that arouse bodily affections or with temptations which stir the affectable power of the soul, he cannot perceive his own weakness.

Then, however, he recognizes the greatness of God’s help by comparing it with his own weakness.

Thus if he sees that his heart does not rest from fear…, he understands and knows that this whole impulse of his heart denotes some other thing which is lacking and which is very necessary to him, viz. that he needs other help.

For the heart testifies to this within, by the fear that moves in it, denoting the lack of something. And therefore he cannot remain in confidence. For the help of God is necessary for deliverance.

When he knows that he needs divine help, he will frequently pray. And by much beseeching the heart becomes humble, for there is no man who is needy and asking, without being humble. And God will not despise a broken and contrite heart!

Until the heart has become humble, it will not rest from distraction. Humility restrains the heart. And as soon as man has become humble, mercy will surround and envelop him. And when mercy draws near, the heart will perceive help at once, because some confidence and force will also move in it.

When it perceives that divine help approach unto it and that He is its support and its helper, then the heart will be filled with faith at once.

Then it will see and understand that prayer is the port of help, the fountain of salvation, the treasure of confidence, the sheet-anchor amidst the storms, the light in the darkness, the stick of the weak, the shelter at the time of temptations, the medicine at the time of illness, the shield of protection in the battle, the sharp arrow against the enemies.

And because by prayer he has found the entrance unto all this good, he will delight in prayer of faith for ever more, while his heart exults in confidence, not blindly and with words only, as it had been till then.

Isaac the Syrian (c. 630-c. 700): Mystic Treatises, 8, in Mystical Treatises of Isaac of Nineveh, trans. A.J. Wensinck, pp. 70-72.

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.

John Maximovitch: Have You Ever Observed the Life of the Heart? Thursday, Mar 14 2013 

Saint John Maximovich Tobolsk editedFocus on the Eternal.

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation.

Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they from God or from the spirit of evil?

Beware of temptations from this world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations that come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from the waning of Christian love.

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive thoughts and ideas.

This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse.

“It is usually called thinking,” writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, “But in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention.”

The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? Try it even for a short time and see what you find.

Something unpleasant happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity yourself;

you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up within you;

you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you on the social scale, and you begin to envy him;

you think of your talents and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud.

And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes.

For this reason one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying that “man’s heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are free from these serpents, the passions.”

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one’s inner life, i.e., the soul.

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away and turn them toward what is eternal.

Here you will find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for.

John Maximovitch (Orthodox Church; 1896-1966): Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus and taken from Orthodox America, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3. Sept – Oct. 1993 @ Kandylaki.

Bede the Venerable: Turbulent Thoughts During Prayer Thursday, Feb 28 2013 

icon_bede-(On Matthew 15:21-28 – the story of the Canaanite woman).

There are some who, upon entering a church, stretch out their psalm-singing or their prayer with many words, but because their heart is directed elsewhere, they do not even reflect upon what they are saying.

They pray, to be sure, with their mouths, but they deprive their mind, which is wandering outside, of all the fruit of their prayer.

The ancient enemy…is aware of the benefit of praying, and he envies human beings the gift of having their requests granted, so he sends upon those who are praying many kinds of frivolous thoughts, and sometimes too phantasms of things that shameful and harmful.

By these he can interfere with prayer in such a way that occasionally, when we are prostrated in prayer, we may endure great surges of thoughts which run every which way.

[…] We must take care to triumph over the acknowledged malice of the devil, clearing our mind, as far as we can, of every sort of cloud which the enemy rejoices in sprinkling about, and begging for the continuing protection of the benevolent Defender, who is able to grant to those entreating him, no matter how unworthy they are, both the grace of praying in a pure way, and that of having their requests granted completely.

It will help the purity of our prayer a great deal if in every place and time we restrain ourselves from forbidden acts, if we always check our hearing along with our speaking with regard to idle conversation, if we habituate ourselves to walking in the law of the Lord and scrutinizing his testimonies with all our heart (Psalm 118:1-2).

Whatever things we are accustomed to do, speak, or hear most often, these same things will necessarily return to our mind most often as though to their accustomed and proper place.

And just as pigs are accustomed to frequent marshy wallowing places, and doves to frequent clear flowing streams, so too impure thoughts disturb an unclean mind, and spiritual thoughts sanctify a chaste one.

If, after the example of the Caananite woman, we continue resolutely in our praying, and remain of fixed purpose, certainly the grace of our Maker will be with us to correct everything in us which is wrong, to sanctify everything unclean, and to make serene everything which is turbulent.

He is faithful and just, so that he will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from every iniquity, if with the attentive voice of our mind we cry out to him who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for all ages and ages.

The Venerable Bede (672/4-735): Homilies on the Gospels, 1:22 (Lent), “Homilies on the Gospels, Book One, Advent to Lent”, trans. Lawrence T. Martin and David Hurst OSB (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1991) @ Lectionary Central.

Hesychios the Priest: The Name of Jesus, repeated over and over in the heart as flashes of lightning… Tuesday, Nov 13 2012 

When in fear, trembling and unworthiness we are yet permitted to receive the divine, undefiled Mysteries of Christ, our King and our God, we should then display even greater watchfulness, strictness and guard over our hearts, so that the divine fire, the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, may consume our sins and stains, great and small.

For when that fire enters into us, it at once drives the evil spirits from our heart and remits the sins we have previously committed, leaving the intellect free from the turbulence of wicked thoughts.

And if after this, standing at the entrance to our heart, we keep strict watch over the intellect, when we ace again permitted to receive those Mysteries the divine body will illumine our intellect still more and make it shine like a star.

Forgetfulness can extinguish our guard over our intellect as water extinguishes fire; but the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer combined with strict watchfulness uproots it from our heart.

The Jesus Prayer requires watchfulness as a lantern requires a candle.

We should strive to preserve the precious gifts which preserve us from all evil, whether on the plane of the senses or on that of the intellect.

These gifts are the guarding of the intellect with the invocation of Jesus Christ, continuous insight into the heart’s depths, stillness of mind unbroken even by thoughts which appear to be good, and the capacity to be empty of all thought.

In this way the demons will not steal in undetected; and if we suffer pain through remaining centered in the heart, consolation is at hand.

The heart which is constantly guarded, and is not allowed to receive the forms, images and fantasies of the dark and evil spirits, is conditioned by nature to give birth from within itself to thoughts filled with light.

For just as coal engenders a flame, or a flame lights a candle, so will God, who from our baptism dwells in our heart, kindle our mind to contemplation when He finds it free from the winds of evil and protected by the guarding of the intellect.

The name of Jesus should be repeated over and over in the heart as flashes of lightning are repeated over and over in the sky before rain.

Hesychios the Priest (?6th-9th century): On Watchfulness and Holiness chs 101-105, 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. 179-180.

John Chrysostom: To Forgive not Merely with the Lips, but from the Heart Tuesday, Nov 13 2012 

God requires two things of us here: to condemn ourselves for our sins, and to forgive others.

And we are to do the former for the sake of the latter, that this may become easier (for he who considers his own sins is more indulgent to his fellow-servant).

And we are to forgive not merely with the lips, but from the heart.

Let us not then thrust the sword into ourselves by being revengeful.

For what grief has he who has grieved you inflicted upon you which is as bad as that which you will work unto yourself by keeping your anger in mind, and drawing upon yourself the sentence from God to condemn you?

If you are watchful, and keep yourself under control, the evil will come round upon his head, and it will be he that will suffer harm.

But if you should carry on being indignant and displeased, then you yourself will undergo the harm – not from him, but from yourself.

Say not then that he insulted you, and slandered you, and did unto you ills beyond number; for the more you say, so much the more do you declare him a benefactor.

For he has given you an opportunity to wash away your sins – so that the greater the injuries he has done you, so much more has he become for you a cause of a greater remission of sins.

For if we be willing, no one shall be able to injure us, but even our enemies shall benefit us in the greatest degree.

And why do I speak of men? For what can be more wicked than the devil? Yet nevertheless, even hence have we a great opportunity of approving ourselves, as the case of Job shows us.

But if even the devil has become a cause of obtaining crowns, why are you afraid of a man as an enemy?

See then how much you gain, bearing meekly the spiteful acts of your enemies.

First and greatest, you obtain deliverance from sins;

secondly, fortitude and patience;

thirdly, mildness and benevolence;

[…] fourthly, to be free from anger continually, to which nothing can be equal.

For of him that is free from anger, it is quite clear that he is delivered also from the despondency arising from anger, and will not spend his life on vain labours and sorrows.

For he that does not know how to hate, likewise does not know how to grieve, but will enjoy pleasure, and ten thousand blessings.

Accordingly, we punish ourselves by hating others, even as on the other hand we benefit ourselves by loving them.

John Chrysostom (c.347-407): Homily 61,5 on St Matthew’s Gospel.

Gregory of Sinai: When We Chasten Our Assailants with the Rod of Dauntless Psalmody, We Become Established in Prayer Saturday, Oct 20 2012 

Many who practice the commandments think they are following the spiritual path. But they have not yet reached the city, and in fact remain outside it.

For they travel foolishly, deviating unawares from the straight highway into side-roads, not realizing how close the vices are to the path of virtue.

For the true fulfillment of the commandments demands that we do neither too little nor too much but simply pursue a course acceptable to God and in accordance with His will.

Otherwise we labor in vain and do not make straight the paths of the Lord (cf. Isa.

40:3). For in everything we do we must be clear about the goal we are pursuing.

To be on the spiritual path means seeking the Lord in your heart through fulfilling the commandments.

For when you listen to John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight’ (Matt. 3:3), you must understand that he is referring to the commandments and their fulfillment both in the heart and in actions.

It is impossible to ‘make straight’ the path of the commandments and to act rightly unless your heart too is straight and upright.

When Scripture speaks of rod and staff (cf. Ps. 23:4), you should take these to signify in the prophetic sense judgment and providence, and in the moral sense psalmody and prayer.

For when we are chastened by the Lord with me rod of correction (cf 1 Cor. 11 :32), this is so that we may learn how to mend our ways.

And when we chasten our assailants with the rod of dauntless psalmody, we become established in prayer.

Since we thus wield the rod and the staff of spiritual action, let us not cease to chasten and be chastened until we are wholly in the hands of providence and escape judgment both now and hereafter.

The essence of the commandments is always to give precedence to the one that embraces them all: mindfulness of God, as stipulated in the phrase, ‘Always be mindful of the Lord your God’ (cf. Deut. 8:18).

Our failure or success in keeping the commandments depends on such mindfulness, for it is this that forgetfulness first destroys when it shrouds the commandments in darkness and strips us of every blessing.

Gregory of Sinai (1260s–1346): On Commandments and Doctrines, chs 14-17, 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. 214-216.

Symeon the Metaphrast: In Prayer the Saints Experience Communion in the Hidden Energy of God’s Holiness Saturday, Sep 22 2012 

The crown of every good endeavour and the highest of achievements is diligence in prayer.

Through this, God guiding us and lending a helping hand, we come to acquire the other virtues.

It is in prayer that the saints experience communion in the hidden energy of God’s holiness and inner union with it, and their intellect itself is brought through unutterable love into the presence of the Lord.

“Thou hast given gladness to my heart”, wrote the psalmist (Ps. 4:7); and the Lord Himself said that “the kingdom of heaven is within you” (cf Luke 17:21).

And what does the kingdom being within mean except that the heavenly gladness of the Spirit is clearly stamped on the virtuous soul?

For already in this life, through active communion in the Spirit, the virtuous soul receives a foretaste and a prelude of the delight, joy and spiritual gladness which the saints will enjoy in the eternal light of Christ’s kingdom.

This is something that St Paul also affirms: “He consoles us in our afflictions, so that we can console others in every affliction through the consolation with which we ourselves have been consoled by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

And passages in the Psalms likewise hint at this active gladness and consolation of the Spirit, such as: “My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God” (Ps. 84:2. LXX): and: “My soul will be filled with marrow and fatness” (Ps. 63:5).

[…] Not only does St Paul instruct us to pray without ceasing and to persist in prayer (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12), but so also does the Lord when He says that God will vindicate those who cry out to Him day and night (cf. Luke 18:7) and counsels us to “watch and pray” (Matt. 26 : 41). We must therefore pray always and not lose heart (cf. Luke 18:1).

To put things more succinctly: he who persists in prayer has to struggle greatly and exert himself  relentlessly if he is to overcome the many obstacles with which the devil tries to impede his diligence –

obstacles such as sleep, listlessness, physical torpor, distraction of thought, confusion of intellect, debility, and so on, not to mention afflictions, and also the attacks of the evil spirits that violently fight against us, opposing us and trying to prevent the soul from approaching God when it truly and ceaselessly seeks Him.

Symeon the Metaphrast (10th century?): Paraphrase of the Homilies St Makarios of Egypt, 1,18; 20. 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: 1979). 

Isaiah the Solitary: The Remembrance of God and Praying with Sweetness of Heart Friday, Aug 24 2012 

Our teacher Jesus Christ, out of pity for mankind and knowing the utter mercilessness of the demons, severely commands us: ‘Be ready at every hour, for you do not know when the thief will come; do not let him come and find you asleep’ (cf Matt. 24:42-43).

[…] Stand guard, then, over your heart and keep a watch on your senses; and if the remembrance of God dwells peaceably within you, you will catch the thieves when they try to deprive you of it.

When a man has an exact knowledge about the nature of thoughts, he recognizes those which are about to enter and defile him, troubling the intellect with distractions and making it lazy.

Those who recognize these evil thoughts for what they are remain undisturbed and continue in prayer to God.

[…] What…is meant by the worship of God?

It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, nor jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind.

For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity.

They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God: they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination.

As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge.

When the intellect rescues the soul’s senses from the desires of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion, the passions shamelessly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin; but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret.

He, seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions at once.

I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, so long as you are in the body.

[…] Up to his last breath [a man] cannot know what passion will attack him; so long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for His help and mercy.

Isaiah the Solitary (d. 489/491): On Guarding the Intellect, 12-15, 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). 

Note: The word intellect in the Philokalia translates the Greek nous, which the translators define as follows:

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’ (Makarian Homilies).

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