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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

“For let not the sun,” says he, “go down upon your wrath.”

Would you have your fill of anger? One hour, or two, or three, is enough for you; let not the sun depart, and leave you both at enmity. It was of God’s goodness that he rose: let him not depart, having shone on unworthy men. For if the Lord of His great goodness sent him, and has Himself forgiven you your sins, and yet you forgive not your neighbor, look, how great an evil is this!

And there is yet another besides this. The blessed Paul dreads the night, lest overtaking in solitude him that was wronged, still burning with anger, it should again kindle up the fire. For as long as there are many things in the daytime to banish it, you are free to indulge it; but as soon as ever the evening comes on, be reconciled, extinguish the evil while it is yet fresh; for should night overtake it, the morrow will not avail to extinguish the further evil which will have been collected in the night.

Nay, even though you should cut off the greater portion, and yet not be able to cut off the whole, it will again supply from what is left for the following night, to make the blaze more violent. And just as, should the sun be unable by the heat of the day to soften and disperse that part of the air which has been during the night condensed into cloud, it affords material for a tempest, night overtaking the remainder, and feeding it again with fresh vapors: so also is it in the case of anger.

– John Chrysostom, Ephesians, homily 14

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We are in the Paschal season – the time between Christ’s triumphant resurrection and Pentecost.  It is fitting to remember what occurred during this time among the apostles and the disciples of Christ.  My thanks to Handmaid Leah for posting this quote on her blog, Christ is in Our Midst!

“What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands—We proclaim now to you” (1 St. John 1:1).

Behold, such is the apostolic preaching! The apostles do not speak as worldly sages, nor like philosophers and even less as theoreticians who make suppositions about something in order to discover something. The apostles speak about things which they have not sought but which unexpectedly surrounded them; about the fact which they did not discover but, so to speak, unexpectedly found them and seized them. They did not occupy themselves with spiritual researches nor have they studied psychology, neither did they, much less, occupy themselves with spiritism. Their occupation was fishing – one totally experiential physical occupation. While they were fishing, the God-Man [Jesus] appeared to them and cautiously and slowly introduced them to a new vocation in the service of Himself. At first, they did not believe Him but they, still more cautiously and slowly with fear and hesitation and much wavering, came toward Him and recognized Him. Until the apostles saw Him many times with their own eyes and until they discussed Him many times among themselves and, until they felt Him with their own hands, their experienced fact is supernatural but their method of recognizing this fact is thoroughly sensory and positively learned. Not even one contemporary scholar would be able to use a more positive method to know Christ. The apostles saw not only one miracle but numerous miracles. They heard not only one lesson but many lessons which could not be contained in numerous books. They saw the resurrected Lord for forty days; they walked with Him, they conversed with Him, they ate with Him, and they touched Him. In a word: they personally and first handedly had thousands of wondrous facts by which they learned and confirmed one great fact, i.e., that Christ is the God-Man, the Son of the Living God, the Man-loving Savior of mankind and the All-Powerful Judge of the living and the dead.

O Resurrected Lord confirm us in the faith and ardor of Your Holy Apostles.

~St Nikolai Velimirovic

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With our continual “pursuit of happiness” in our American culture, we eventually begin to embrace the belief that our life should be free from pain, inconvenience or struggle.  Thus, we labor endlessly to remove anything that becomes a barrier to this realization.  But a sober look at the lives of the prophets, apostles, saints and the life of our Lord Himself will reveal a different reality.

John Chrysostom, in his homilies on Matthew, addresses this mix of hardships and joys as he considers Mary and Joseph’s flight into Egypt with the young Child:

…thenceforth the angel talks openly…take the young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt; and he mentions the cause of the flight: For Herod, says he, will seek the young Child’s life.

Joseph, when he had heard these things, was not offended, nether did he say, The thing is hard to understand: Did you not say just now, that He should save His people?’ and now He saves not even Himself: but we must fly, and go far from home, and be a long time away: the facts are contrary to the promise. Nay, none of these things does he say (for the man was faithful): neither is he curious about the time of his return; and this though the angel had put it indefinitely thus: Be there until I tell you. But nevertheless, not even at this did he shudder, but submits and obeys, undergoing all the trials with joy.

And this because God, who is full of love to man, did with these hardships mingle things pleasant also; which indeed is His way with regard to all the saints, making neither their dangers nor their refreshment continual, but weaving the life of all righteous men, out of both the one and the other. This very thing He did here also: for consider, Joseph saw the Virgin with child; this cast him into agitation and the utmost trouble, for he was suspecting the damsel of adultery. But straightway the angel was at hand to do away his suspicion, and remove his fears; and seeing the young child born, he reaped the greatest joy. Again, this joy no trifling danger succeeds, the city being troubled, and the king in his madness seeking after Him that was born. But this trouble was again succeeded by another joy; the star, and the adoration of the wise men. Again, after this pleasure, fear and danger; For Herod, says he, is seeking the young Child’s life, and He must needs fly and withdraw Himself as any mortal might: the working of miracles not being seasonable as yet. For if from His earliest infancy He had shown forth wonders, He would not have been accounted a Man.

Because of this, let me add, neither is a temple framed at once; but a regular conception takes place, and a time of nine months, and pangs, and a delivery, and giving suck, and silence for so long a space, and He awaits the age proper to manhood; that by all meansacceptance might be won for the mystery of His Economy.

– homily 8 on Matthew

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An excerpt from Archpriest Victor Potapov.

A Christian is called to leave everything and follow Christ in poverty of spirit, becoming free of the sinful desires of this world. According to the world of the Apostle John the Theologian:

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 lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doth the will of God abideth for ever (I John 2:15-17).

The holy Fathers of the Church wrote very much about humility, considering that a correct spiritual life needs this virtue more than all else. Saint Isaac the Syrian, for example, writes:

The truly righteous always think within themselves that they are unworthy of God; it is known that they are truly righteous by the fact that they consider themselves wretched and unworthy of God’s care, and they confess this secretly and openly and they grow wiser by this through the Holy Spirit – in order to remain in labor and straitness while they are still found in this life. (Christian Life According to the Philocalia)

Who can understand this? How can a man standing close to God consider himself to be sinful, unworthy of God’s care, the least of men? The answer we find in the life of the holy Abba Dorotheus:

I remember once we had a conversation about humility, and one of the notable citizens of the city was amazed on hearing our words that the nearer one draws to God, the more he sees himself to be a sinner, and he said: How can this be? And not understanding, he wished to find out what these words mean?

I said to him: O notable Citizen, tell me, how dost thou regard thyself in thine own city?

He answered: I regard myself as great and as first in the city.

I say to him: If thou shouldst go to Caesarea, how wouldst thou regard thyself there?

He answered: As the least of the grandees there.

And if, I say to him again: thou shouldst travel to Antioch, how wouldst thou regard thyself there?

There, he answered: I would consider myself as one of the common people.

And if, I say: thou shouldst go to Constantinople and approach the Emperor, how wouldst thou begin to regard thyself there?

And he answered: Almost as nothing.

Then I answered him: So it is also with the saints: the nearer they draw to God, the more they see themselves to be sinners.

An ancient patericon (a collection of short stories about strugglers for piety) says:sunlight

The clearer the water, the more noticeable are the smallest specks in it. When a ray of the sunlight falls on a room, it enables the eye to see myriad dust particles borne in the air, which, until the penetration of the ray, were not noticeable. So also with the human soul: The more purity in her, the more heavenly, divine light falls on her, and the more does the soul notice imperfections and sinful habits in herself.

The higher a man is morally, the more humble he is, and the more clear and constant is his consciousness of his sin.

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More from the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407)

the words of the Scriptures are our spiritual weapons; but if we know not how to fit those weapons and to arm our scholars rightly, they keep indeed their proper power, but cannot help those who receive them. For let us suppose there to be a strong corselet [a piece of armor to cover the trunk], and helm [helmet], and shield, and spear; and let one take this armor and put the corselet upon his feet, the helmet over his eyes instead of on his head, let him not put the shield before his breast, but perversely tie it to his legs: will he be able to gain any advantage from the armor? will he not rather be harmed? It is pknights armourlain to any one that he will. Yet not on account of the weakness of the weapons, but on account of the unskillfulness of the man who knows not how to use them well.

So with the Scriptures, if we confound their order; they will even so retain their proper force, yet will do us no good. Although I am always telling you this both in private and in public, I effect nothing, but see you all your time nailed to the things of this life, and not so much as dreaming of spiritual matters. Therefore our lives are careless, and we who strive for truth have but little power, and have become a laughing stock to Greeks and Jews and Heretics. Had you been careless in other matters, and exhibited in this place the same indifference as elsewhere, not even so could your doings have been defended; but now in matters of this life, every one of you, artisan and politician alike, is keener than a sword, while in necessary and spiritual things we are duller than any; making by-work business, and not deeming that which we ought to have esteemed more pressing than any business, to be by-work even.

Do you not know that the Scriptures were written not for the first of mankind alone, but for our sakes also? Do you not hear Paul say, that they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come; that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope? (1 Corinthians 10:11; Romans 15:4)

– Gospel of John, homily 30

1 Corinthians 10:11

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.

Romans 15:4

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

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More from the homilies of John Chrysostom (347-407)

Evangelical churches do not impart the same significance to John the Baptist (Forerunner) as does the Orthodox faith.  So, I was always puzzled by this seemingly radical statement by Jesus concerdeisis of pantocrator theotokos forerunnerning John:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.  – Luke 7:28

Obviously I was missing something pretty grand in the whole scheme of things for Christ to make such a claim about John.  Indeed, in the Orthodox church, where there is an icon of Christ, one often finds an icon of his mother, Mary (Theotokos) on His left and an icon of John the Baptist on His right. Through my reading of the early Church Fathers, I am learning more about the significance of John’s role in ushering in the salvation of the human race.  John Chrysostom offers a wonderful allegory to help explain one aspect of John’s incredible ministry.

…says the Evangelist [the Apostle John], “John stood, and says, Behold, the Lamb of God.” Christ utters no word, His messenger says all. So it is with a bridegroom. He says not for a while anything to the bride, but is there in silence, while some show him to the bride, and others give her into his hands; she merely appears, and he departs not having taken her himself, but when he has received her from another who gives her to him. And when he has received her thus given, he so disposes her, that she no more remembers those who betrothed her. So it was with Christ. He came to join to Himself the Church; He said nothing, but merely came. It was His friend, John, who put into His the bride’s right hand, when by his discourses he gave into His hand the souls of men. He having received them, afterwards so disposed them, that they departed no more to John who had committed them to Him.

And here we may remark, not this only, but something besides. As at a marriage the maiden goes not to the bridegroom, but he hastens to her, though he be a king’s son, and though he be about to espouse some poor and abject person, or even a servant, so it was here. Man’s nature did not go up, but contemptible and poor as it was, He came to it, and when the marriage had taken place, He suffered it no longer to tarry here, but having taken it to Himself, transported it to the house of His Father.

– Gospel of John, homily 18

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It is difficult at times to live in this world without making comparisons between our situation, oscalesur resources, our abilities, our accomplishments and those of other people.  We desperately want things to be “fair” – of course,  as we define fairness.  We cannot imagine that there could be any good, any advantage, any ultimate purpose achieved by inequality.  But life is different lived in the Kingdom of God.

When Abba Antony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, ‘Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men prosper and why are the just in need?’ He heard a voice answering him, ‘Antony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to know anything about them.’

– Saying of St. Antony the Great

John 21:20-23

Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?”

Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”

Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

Then this saying went out among the brethren that this disciple would not die.

Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?”

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