Another brother asked Abba Sisoes, “I have fallen, Abba; what shall I do?” The elder said to him, “Get up again.” The brother said, “I have gotten up again, but again have I fallen.” The elder said, “Get up again and again.” So the brother asked, “How many times?” The elder replied, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in that state in which he is found.”
Contemplate a little, if agreeable to you, the divine beneficence. The first man, when in Paradise, sported free, because he was the child of God; but when he succumbed to pleasure (for the serpent allegorically signifies pleasure crawling on its belly, earthly wickedness nourished for fuel to the flames), was as a child seduced by lusts, and grew old in disobedience; and by disobeying his Father, dishonoured God. Such was the influence of pleasure. Man, that had been free by reason of simplicity, was found fettered to sins.
The Lord then wished to release him from his bonds, and clothing Himself with flesh— O divine mystery!— vanquished the serpent, and enslaved the tyrant death; and, most marvellous of all, man that had been deceived by pleasure, and bound fast by corruption, had his hands unloosed, and was set free.
O mystic wonder! The Lord was laid low, and man rose up; and he that fell from Paradise receives as the reward of obedience something greater [than Paradise]— namely, heaven itself.
[St. Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen, Chapter XI]
This is the mark of Christianity: however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, “This is not fasting,” and in praying, “This is not prayer,” and in perseverance at prayer, “I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains “; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, “I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day.
[Abba Macarius the Great, Homily 26]
Make God your debtor, and then offer your prayers. Lend to Him, and then ask a return, and you shall receive it with usury. God wills this, and does not retract. If you ask with alms, He holds himself obliged. If you ask with alms, you lend and receive interest.
Yes, I beseech you! It is not for stretching out your hands you shall be heard! stretch forth your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor. If you stretch forth your hand to the hands of the poor, you have reached the very summit of heaven. For He who sits there receives your alms. But if you lift them up without a gift, you gain nothing.
[St. John Chrysostom, Homily I on Timothy]
[Tomorrow, the 16th day of Hatour in the Coptic calendar marks the beginning of the Blessed Fast of the Nativity. May God grant us an acceptable and fruitful fast before Him, to aid us in the salvation of our souls, and to the Glory of His Name.]
Fasting by itself is not a virtue. It is nothing at all. Without prayer, it becomes a bodily punishment that induces spiritual aridity and bad temper. The same is true of prayer; without fasting, it loses its power along with its fruits.
We may liken fasting to a burning coal and prayer to frankincense. Neither has value without the other, but together, the sweet savour of their incense fills the air.
Fasting calms the impulses of the flesh and quenches the fire of passion; it curbs the prattling of the tongue. Thus, it substantially prepares us for the work of prayer and the release of the spirit from slavery to the flesh. In this way, fasting allows the spirit to contemplate the truths of eternity and the age to come.
The following constitute spiritual meanings for fasting:
– Fasting is not a deprivation from certain kinds of food, but a voluntary abstinence from them.
– It does not humiliate the flesh, but refreshes the spirit.
– Nor does it fetter or imprison the senses; it releases them from all that hinders the contemplation of God.
– Fasting does not seek to repress the appetite for food. It renounces this appetite and, in renunciation, elevates it to relish the love of God.
– Fasting does not imply confinement or restriction, but aims at joy and magnanimity of heart.
[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life, Chapter 13]
The parable of the grain of mustard seed is a mystery, as the Fathers have said, and we are called to imitate its example. It is written, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a person took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of herbs and becomes a shrub, so that the birds of the sky come and make nests in it’s branches.” [Mt 13:31]
This, then, is the grain of mustard seed, and these are its virtues which we are called to imitate in every way. When it says, “it is the smallest of all seeds“, it is referring to humility, that we must be subjected to all people. Its growth signifies meekness and longsuffering. Its redness means purity, not having any stain in the flesh. Its sharp twigs are the hatred of the passions, for such hatred is bitter for those who still desire wordly things. Its sweetness, which is only activated when it is mashed or threshed, signifies endurance. Its thresher is stung in the eyes on account of its powerful affliction. It is used to pickle dead things in order that they do not stink. Let us understand this and do likewise, dipping in it the dead parts of our soul so that they are not exposed to stench or worms.
This is why the Lord Jesus became human, in order that we may be concerned with endeavouring to behave as he did, searching ourselves as best we can in accordance with his example, asking whether or not we are like that seed, its condition humility, its sweetness and bitterness and taste. His mercy will strengthen us according to his will, for his is the glory, of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.
[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetical Discourses, Discourse 11]
Someone asked Abba Isaiah, ‘What is repentance and what does “to flee from sin” mean?’
He replied, ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death (cf. Jr 21:8 and the Didache). The person who walks along one does not progress along the other. The person who walks along both is not yet reckoned for the kingdom, or for punishment. When such a person is dead, his judgement is in the hands of God, who also has mercy. Whoever wishes to enter the kingdom keeps watch over his actions because the kingdom puts an end to every sin. The enemies sow (cf. Mt 13:39) but their thoughts do not grow. If, through the Spirit, a person contemplates the loving kindness of the Godhead (cf. 1 P 2:3) the arrows of the enemy do not penetrate him (cf. Ep 6:16). He is, in effect, putting on the armour of virtues (cf. Ep 6:11), which guards against the enemy, taking care not to allow him to be troubled. If frees him in order that, in his contemplation, he may see, know and distinguish between the two ways, fleeing from one and embracing the other.”
[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetic Discourses, Discourse 21]