Nektarios the Wonderworker: We need to want to see in order to open our eyes to the brilliant, abundant light Friday, May 27 2016 

St NektariosA study of the history of the redemption of humankind reveals the Son of God, Who became a man in order to save all of us, treading the path to His voluntary passion, bearing the sin of the world, healing our wounds, fulfilling the great mystery of divine dispensation, reconciling us with God and yet in no way infringing our free will.

There you are! The gate of Paradise, which had been shut, was opened; the fiery sword which guarded the entrance was removed and the voice of the Lord invited excluded humanity to enter thereby into a place of peace and quiet. But we were left free to enter or not, as we choose.

[…] The prime agent in the work of our salvation is indeed the grace of God, because Christ the Saviour came as Light to those who were in the dark and shed the light of His Grace on those “dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death”.

He sought the lost sheep, called back those who had strayed, spoke secretly to people’s hearts and showed us the way to salvation. It’s the grace of God which perfects and saves, yet our own will should not be accounted of any less importance.

We should regard it as the outstanding gem in the crown of our salvation, since it’s the main lever that shifts our outlook that has been rendered inert by sin. This is what urges our footsteps to follow the Saviour, this is what strengthens our hearts to show self-denial, this is what bears the cross on the shoulder.

Because, although grace invites us, dispels the gloom and illumines the dark places, it’s possible  nevertheless, due to the carelessness and slothfulness, the contamination and spiritual idleness of the carnal view of life, for our free will to feign deafness, to close its eyes, to remain in darkness and to proceed in exactly the opposite direction: the one to perdition. In other words, our free will can act in total contradiction to what it actually wants.

So it’s necessary for us truly to want our salvation, to seek it. We have to want to hear, in order to hearken to the voice of  Him Who is calling us. We need to want to see in order to open our eyes to the brilliant, abundant light.

We have to want to move, to follow the Saviour, to refuse to be the people we once were, with our passions and desires, in order to take the cross upon our shoulders. We must follow the “strait and circumscribed road” so that we may pass through the narrow gate of Paradise.

Nektarios of Aegina (Orthodox Church; 1846-1920): Περί επιμελείας ψυχής, Athos editions, pp. 25ff @ Pemptousia.

Hilary of Poitiers: We achieve the perfection of happiness by unbroken and unwearied meditation in the Law Friday, Jun 26 2015 

St_Hilary_of_Poitiers_cassienBlessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

The Prophet, in portraying in the likeness of God the man that is perfect—one who may serve as a noble example of eternal happiness—points to the exercise by him of no commonplace virtues, and to the words, But his will hath been in the Law of the Lord, for the attainment of perfect happiness.

To refrain from what has gone before is useless unless his mind be set on what follows, But his will hath been in the Law of the Lord. The Prophet does not look for fear.

The majority of men are kept within the bounds of Law by fear; the few are brought under the Law by will: for it is the mark of fear not to dare to omit what it is afraid of, but of perfect piety to be ready to obey commands.

This is why that man is happy whose will, not whose fear, is in the Law of God. But then sometimes the will needs supplementing; and the mere desire for perfect happiness does not win it, unless performance wait upon intention.

The Psalm, you remember, goes on: And in His Law will he meditate day and night. The man achieves the perfection of happiness by unbroken and unwearied meditation in the Law.

Now it may be objected that this is impossible owing to the conditions of human infirmity, which require time for repose, for sleep, for food: so that our bodily circumstances preclude us from the hope of attaining happiness, inasmuch as we are distracted by the interruption of our bodily needs from our meditation by day and night.

Parallel to this passage are the words of the Apostle, Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). As though we were bound to set at naught our bodily requirements and to continue praying without any interruption!

Meditation in the Law, therefore, does not lie in reading its words, but in pious performance of its injunctions; not in a mere perusal of the books and writings, but in a practical meditation and exercise in their respective contents, and in a fulfilment of the Law by the works we do by night and day, as the Apostle says: Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

The way to secure uninterrupted prayer is for every devout man to make his life one long prayer by works acceptable to God and always done to His glory: thus a life lived according to the Law by night and day will in itself become a nightly and daily meditation in the Law.

Hilary of Poitiers (c.300-368): On the Psalms, Psalm 1, 11-12.

Augustine of Hippo: Almsgiving and Forgiveness Thursday, Apr 10 2014 

St Augustine of AfricaBe particularly mindful of the poor, so that what you take from yourself by living sparingly you may lay away in heavenly treasures.

Let the needy Christ receive that of which the fasting Christian deprives himself.

Let the self-restraint of the willing soul be the sustenance of the one in need.

Let the voluntary neediness of the one possessing an abundance become the necessary abundance of the one in need.

Let there be a merciful readiness to forgive in a conciliatory and humble soul. Let him who has done wrong seek pardon and let him who suffered the wrong give pardon, so that we may not be possessed by Satan who gloats over the disagreements of Christians.

For this is a very profitable way of giving alms, namely, to cancel the debt of one’s fellow servant so that one’s own debt may be cancelled by the Lord.

The heavenly Master commended both deeds as good when He said: ‘Forgive, and you shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given to you’ (Luke 6:37-38).

Recall how that servant, whose entire debt had been cancelled by his master, received a double punishment because he did not show to a fellow servant owing him a hundred denarii the same mercy which he had received in regard to his debt of 10,000 talents (cf. Matthew 18:26-35).

In this kind of good work, where good will is the sole requisite, there is no excuse possible. Someone may say: ‘I cannot fast without upsetting my stomach.’

He may even say: ‘I wish to give to the poor, but I do not have the means to do so,’ or ‘I have so little that I run the risk of being in need myself if I give to others.’

Even in these matters men sometimes make false excuses for themselves, because they do not find true ones.

Nevertheless, who is there who would say: ‘I did not pardon the one seeking forgiveness from me because ill health prevented me,’ or ‘because I had not a hand with which to embrace him’?

Forgive, that you may be forgiven (cf. Luke 6:37). Here there is no work of the body; no member of the body is lifted up to help a soul, so that what is asked may be granted.

All is done by the will; all is accomplished by the will. Act without anxiety; give without anxiety. You will experience no physical indisposition; you will have nothing less in your home.

Now in truth, my brethren, see what an evil it is that he who has been commanded to love even his enemy does not pardon a penitent brother.

Since this is so and since it is written in the Scriptures; ‘Do not let the sun go down upon your anger’ (Ephesians 4:26), consider my dear brethren, whether he ought to be called a Christian who, at least in these days, does not wish to put an end to enmities which he should never have indulged.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430): Homily 210, 10,  from Saint Augustine: Sermons on the Liturgical Seasons, Homilies, translated by Sister Mary Sarah Muldowney, Catholic University of America Press (The Fathers of the Church, vol. 38), pp. 107-8.

Theophylact of Ohrid: The Rebellion of the Prodigal Son Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

Theophylact_the_Bulgarian (1)On Luke 15:11-32 (the Parable of the Prodigal Son).

Of old, from the beginning, righteousness belonged to human nature, which is why the older son (born at the beginning) does not become estranged from the father.

But sin is an evil thing which was born later.

This is why it is the younger son who alienates himself from the father, for the latter-born son grew up together with sin which had insinuated itself into man at a later time.

The sinner is also called the younger son because the sinner is an innovator, a revolutionary, and a rebel, who defies his Father’s will. Father, give me the portion of the property (ousia) that falleth to me.

The essential property of man is his rational mind, his logos, always accompanied by his free will (autexousia), for all that is rational is inherently self-governing.

The Lord gives us logos for us to use, according to our free will, as our own essential property.

He gives to all alike, so that all alike are rational, and all alike are self-governing.

But some of us use this generous gift rationally, in accordance with logos, while others of us squander the divine gift.

Moreover, everything which the Lord has given us might be called our property, that is, the sky, the earth, the whole creation, the law and the prophets.

But the later sinful generation, the younger son, saw the sky and made it a god, and saw the earth and worshipped it, and did not want to walk in the way of God’s law, and did evil to the prophets.

On the other hand, the elder son, the righteous, used all these things for the glory of God.

Therefore, having given all an equal share of logos and self-determination, God permits us to make our way according to our own will and compels no one to serve Him who is unwilling.

If He had wanted to compel us, He would not have created us with logos and a free will.

But the younger son completely spent this inheritance. Why? Because he had gone into a far country.

When a man rebels against God and places himself far away from the fear of God, then he squanders all the divine gifts.

But when we are near to God, we do not do such deeds that merit our destruction. As it is written, I beheld the Lord ever before me, for He is at my right hand, that I might not be shaken (Ps. 15:8).

But when we are far from God and become rebellious, we both do, and suffer, the worst things, as it is written, Behold, they that remove themselves from Thee shall perish (Ps. 72:25).

Theophylact of Ohrid (1055-1107): Explanation of the Gospel of St Luke, on Luke 15:11-32 (Sunday of the Prodigal Son) @ Chrysostom Press.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Real Beauty and the Illusion of Beauty Friday, Jan 10 2014 

Gregory_of_NyssaJanuary 10th is the feast of St Gregory of Nyssa (OrthooxWiki here; Pope Benedixt XVI here and here; Georges Florovsky here).

Man was fashioned in imitation of the Divine nature, preserving his resemblance to the Deity as well in other excellences as in possession of freedom of the will, yet being of necessity of a nature subject to change.

For it was not possible that a being who derived his origin from an alteration should be altogether free from this liability.

For the passing from a state of non-existence into that of existence is a kind of alteration – when being that is by the exercise of Divine power takes the place of nonentity.

In the following special respect, too, alteration is necessarily observable in man.

For man was an imitation of the Divine nature, and unless some distinctive difference had been occasioned, the imitating subject would be entirely the same as that which it resembles.

In this instance, it is to be observed, there is a difference between that which “was made in the image” and its pattern; namely this:

that the one [God] is not subject to change, while the other [man] is (for, as has been described, it has come into existence through an alteration), and, being thus subject to alteration, does not always continue in its existing state.

For alteration is a kind of movement ever advancing from the present state to another; and there are two forms of this movement:

the first is ever towards what is good, and in this the advance has no check, because no goal of the course to be traversed can be reached;

the other is in the direction of the contrary, and of it this is the essence, that it has no subsistence.

As has been before stated, the contrary state to goodness conveys some such notion of opposition, as when we say, for instance, that that which is is logically opposed to that which is not, and that existence is so opposed to non-existence.

By reason of this impulse and movement of changeful alteration, it is not possible that the nature of the subject of this change should remain self-centred and unmoved, but there is always something towards which the will is tending.

The appetency for moral beauty naturally draws the will on to movement. But this beauty is in one instance genuinely beautiful in its nature, and in another instance it is not so, only blossoming with an illusive appearance of beauty.

And the criterion of these two kinds is the mind that dwells within us.

Under these circumstances it is a matter of risk whether we happen to choose the real beauty, or whether we are diverted from its choice by some deception arising from appearance, and thus drift away to the opposite.

Gregory of Nyssa (c 335 – after 394): The Great Catechism, 21 (adapted).

Francis de Sales: The Magnet of our Heart Must Continually Point to the Love of God Tuesday, Dec 17 2013 

Franz_von_SalesThe order of God’s Providence maintains a perpetual vicissitude in the material being of this world.

[…] No two days are ever exactly alike. Some are foggy, rainy, some dry or windy; and this endless variety greatly enhances the beauty of the universe.

And even so precisely is it with man (who, as ancient writers have said, is a miniature of the world), for he is never long in any one condition, and his life on earth flows by like the mighty waters, heaving and tossing with an endless variety of motion;

one  raising him on high with hope, another plunging him low in fear; now turning him to the right with rejoicing, then driving him to the left with sorrows; and no single day, no, not even one hour, is entirely the same as any other of his life.

All this is a very weighty warning, and teaches us to aim at an abiding and unchangeable evenness of mind amid so great an uncertainty of events; and, while all around is changing, we must seek to remain immoveable, ever looking to, reaching after and desiring our God.

Let the ship take what tack you will, let her course be eastward or westward, northern or southern, let any wind whatsoever fill her sails, but meanwhile her compass will never cease to point to its one unchanging lodestar.

Let all around us be overthrown, nay more, all within us; I mean let our soul be sad or glad, in bitterness or joy, at peace or troubled, dry and parched, or soft and fruitful, let the sun scorch, or the dew refresh it;

but all the while the magnet of our heart and mind, our superior will, which is our moral compass, must continually point to the Love of God our Creator, our Saviour, our only Sovereign Good.

“Whether we live, we live unto the Lord, or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore or die, we are the Lord’s. Who shall separate us from the Love of Christ?”

Nay, verily, nothing can ever separate us from that Love;—neither tribulation nor distress, neither death nor life, neither present suffering nor fear of ills to come; neither the deceits of evil spirits nor the heights of satisfaction, nor the depths of sorrow; neither tenderness nor desolation, shall be able to separate us from that Holy Love, whose foundation is in Christ Jesus.

Such a fixed resolution never to forsake God, or let go of His Precious Love, serves as ballast to our souls, and will keep them stedfast amid the endless changes and chances of this our natural life.

Francis de Sales (1567-1622): Introduction to the Devout Life, 4, 13.

Theophan the Recluse: Everything is Illumined by this Grace-Filled Awakening Monday, Dec 16 2013 

Theophan the RecluseContinued from here…

Sin first enveloped man in blindness, insensitivity and indolence.

At the moment of grace’s influence, this three-layered, crystallized millstone falls from his fettered soul.

The person now sees well all his ugliness within, and not only sees it, but also feels it.

[…] Notice how necessary this action of grace is on the path of freeing the soul from the reign of sin.

The goal of awakening grace and its power extricates man from the jaws of sin and places him on the point of indifference between good and evil.

The scales of our will, on which the will leans toward one side or the other, should now be evenly weighted.

But this cannot happen if the sinner is not given at least a foretaste of the sweetness of goodness.

If this were not given, then the sweetness of sin, as we pointed out before, would attract him more strongly to itself than to goodness; and the choice would fall to the former, as happens with those who have contrived to change their lives without grace-filled awakening.

For this is a general law: what you do not know you will not desire.

But when grace-filled awakening allows him to taste the sweetness of goodness, it attracts him to itself, as we said, consciously and perceptively.

The scales are even. Now complete freedom to act is in the person’s hands. In this manner, as in a flash of lightning, everything within and around the person is illuminated by this grace-filled awakening.

For one instant it introduces the heart to that state from which sin has been cast out, and places man into that chain of creation from which he voluntarily exiled himself through sin.

That is why this act of grace is always signified by a sudden fright and jolt, like the way the abrupt sound of the word “stop!” jolts a person walking quickly but lost in thought.

If you look at this state from a psychological point of view, it is nothing other than an awakening of spirit.

It is natural for our spirit to acknowledge Divinity, and the higher world or order of things, to raise man above everything sensual, and carry him away to the purely spiritual realm.

But in the sinful state our spirit loses its strength and commingles with psychological emotionality, and through it with sensuality to the point of practically disappearing into it.

Now through grace it is extricated from this and placed as if on a candle stand within our inner temple, and it sheds light upon everything dwelling within and is visible from within.

Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894; Russian Orthodox); Excerpts from The Path to Salvation @ Kandylaki.

Peter of Damascus: “I have Come to Do not My Own Will, but the Will of the Father Who Sent Me” Saturday, Dec 14 2013 

peter_of_damascusContinued from here…

Our Lord Himself said, ‘I have come to do, not My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me’ (cf. John 6:38), even though the will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, since they constitute a single inseparable nature.

But He said this on our account and with respect to the will of the flesh.

For if the flesh is not consumed and if a man is not wholly led by the Spirit of God, he will not do the will of God unless he is forced to.

But when the grace of the Spirit rules within him, then he no longer has a will of his own, but whatever he does is according to God’s will.

Then he is at peace. Men like that will be called sons of God (cf. Matt. 5:9), because they will the will of their Father, as did the Son of God who is also God.

Yet it is impossible to discover the will of God unless we keep the commandments, thereby cutting off all pleasure or personal will, and  unless we endure all the pain that this involves.

As has been said, pleasure and pain are born of folly, and they give rise to all evil. For the foolish man loves himself and cannot love his brother or God; he can neither refrain from pleasure or from the desires that give him satisfaction, nor can he endure pain.

Sometimes he gets what he wants, and then he is filled with pleasure and elation; sometimes he does not get it and, completely dominated by the pain which this engenders, he is cast down and dejected, experiencing a foretaste of hell.

From knowledge, or understanding, is born self-control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain.

And, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come.

Thus through self-control he practices the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God’s debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt.

For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt.

But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2:11).

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 84-85.

Peter of Damascus: “God did not Create Us for Wrath but for Salvation” Tuesday, Dec 3 2013 

peter_of_damascusBriefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him.

He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose.

Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen.

We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity.

Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin.

The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed.

For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result.

Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented.

We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of, to what is unwitting.

But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second.

Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.

If we so wish, however, God’s second gift of grace – repentance – can lead us back to our former beauty.

But if we fail to repent, inevitably we will depart with the unrepentant demons into agelong punishment, more by our own free choice than against our will.

Yet God did not create us for wrath but for salvation (cf 1 Thess. 5:9), so that we might enjoy His blessings; and we should therefore be thankful and grateful towards our Benefactor.

But our failure to get to know His gifts has made us indolent, and indolence has made us forgetful, with the result that ignorance lords it over us.

We have to make strenuous efforts when we first try to return to where we fell from. For we resent abandoning our own desires, and we think that we can carry out both God’s wishes and our own – which is impossible.

Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge  Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 3 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 83-84.

Teresa of Avila: We should Know and Abide with the Person with Whom we are Speaking Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 

SantaTeresaTurn your eyes upon yourself and look at yourself inwardly….

You will find your Master; He will not fail you: indeed, the less outward comfort you have, the greater the joy He will give you.

He is full of compassion and never fails those who are afflicted and out of favour if they trust in Him alone….

Either you believe this or you do not: if you do, as you should, why do you wear yourselves to death with worry?

[…] I should like to be able to explain the nature of this holy companionship with our great Companion, the Holiest of the holy, in which there is nothing to hinder the soul and her Spouse from remaining alone together, when the soul desires to enter within herself, to shut the door behind her so as to keep out all that is worldly and to dwell in that Paradise with her God.

I say “desires”, because you must understand that this is not a supernatural state but depends upon our volition, and that, by God’s favour, we can enter it of our own accord: for without it nothing can be accomplished and we have not the power to think a single good thought.

For this is not a silence of the faculties: it is a shutting-up of the faculties within itself by the soul. There are many ways in which we can gradually acquire this habit….

We must cast aside everything else, they say, in order to approach God inwardly and we must retire within ourselves even during our ordinary occupations.

If I can recall the companionship which I have within my soul for as much as a moment, that is of great utility. But as I am speaking only about the way to recite vocal prayers well, there is no need for me to say as much as this.

All I want is that we should know and abide with the Person with Whom we are speaking, and not turn our backs upon Him; for that, it seems to me, is what we are doing when we talk to God and yet think of all kinds of vanity.

The whole mischief comes from our not really grasping the fact that He is near us, and imagining Him far away—so far, that we shall have to go to Heaven in order to find Him.

How is it, Lord, that we do not look at Thy face, when it is so near us? We do not think people are listening to us when we are speaking to them unless we see them looking at us. And do we close our eyes so as not to see that Thou art looking at us?

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582): Way of Perfection, 29.

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