Three prayers – Abba Evagrius the Solitary

“First of all pray to be purified from your passions. Secondly, pray to be delivered from ignorance. Thirdly, pray to be freed from all temptation and abandonment.

[Abba Evagrius Ponticus, Chapters on Prayer]

Free yourself from passions – Abba Evagrius the Solitary

“A man in chains cannot run. Nor can the mind that is enslaved to passion see the place of spiritual prayer. It is dragged along and tossed by these passion-filled thoughts and cannot stand firm and tranquil.”

[Abba Evagrius Ponticus, Chapters on Prayer]

A virtuous life isn’t impossible but isn’t easy – St. Anthony the Great

One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life; but one should say that it is not easy. Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain. Those who are devout and whose intellect enjoys the love of God participate in the life of virtue; the ordinary intellect, however, is worldly and wavering, producing both good and evil thoughts, because it is changeful by nature and directed towards material things. But the intellect that enjoys the love of God punishes the evil which arises spontaneously because of man’s laziness.”

[St. Anthony the Great, Philokalia] 

Day 39/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 4) – St. Gregory the Theologian

Then comes the Sacred Night, the Anniversary of the confused darkness of the present life, into which the primæval darkness is dissolved, and all things come into life and rank and form, and that which was chaos is reduced to order. Then we flee from Egypt, that is from sullen persecuting sin; and from Pharaoh the unseen tyrant, and the bitter taskmasters, changing our quarters to the world above; and are delivered from the clay and the brickmaking, and from the husks and dangers of this fleshly condition, which for most men is only not overpowered by mere husklike calculations.

Then the Lamb is slain, and act and word are sealed with the Precious Blood; that is, habit and action, the sideposts of our doors; I mean, of course, of the movements of mind and opinion, which are rightly opened and closed by contemplation, since there is a limit even to thoughts. Then the last and gravest plague upon the persecutors, truly worthy of the night; and Egypt mourns the first-born of her own reasonings and actions which are also called in the Scripture the Seed of the Chaldeans (Judith 5:6) removed, and the children of Babylon dashed against the rocks and destroyed; and the whole air is full of the cry and clamour of the Egyptians; and then the Destroyer of them shall withdraw from us in reverence of the Unction. Then the removal of leaven; that is, of the old and sour wickedness, not of that which is quickening and makes bread; for seven days, a number which is of all the most mystical, and is co-ordinate with this present world, that we may not lay in provision of any Egyptian dough, or relic of Pharisaic or ungodly teaching.

Well, let them lament; we will feed on the Lamb toward evening — for Christ’s Passion was in the completion of the ages; because too He communicated His Disciples in the evening with His Sacrament, destroying the darkness of sin; and not sodden, but roast — that our word may have in it nothing that is unconsidered or watery, or easily made away with; but may be entirely consistent and solid, and free from all that is impure and from all vanity. And let us be aided by the good coals, (Isaiah 6:6) kindling and purifying our minds from Him That comes to send fire on the earth, (Luke 12:49) that shall destroy all evil habits, and to hasten its kindling. Whatsoever then there be, of solid and nourishing in the Word, shall be eaten with the inward parts and hidden things of the mind, and shall be consumed and given up to spiritual digestion; aye, from head to foot, that is, from the first contemplations of Godhead to the very last thoughts about the Incarnation.

Neither let us carry anything of it abroad, nor leave it till the morning; because most of our Mysteries may not be carried out to them that are outside, nor is there beyond this night any further purification; and procrastination is not creditable to those who have a share in the Word. For just as it is good and well-pleasing to God not to let anger last through the day, (Ephesians 4:26) but to get rid of it before sunset, whether you take this of time or in a mystical sense, for it is not safe for us that the Sun of Righteousness should go down upon our wrath; so too we ought not to let such Food remain all night, nor to put it off till tomorrow.

But whatever is of bony nature and not fit for food and hard for us even to understand, this must not be broken; that is, badly divined and misconceived (I need not say that in the history not a bone of Jesus was broken, even though His death was hastened by His crucifiers on account of the Sabbath); nor must it be stripped off and thrown away, lest that which is holy should be given to the dogs, (Matthew 7:6) that is, to the evil hearers of the Word; just as the glorious pearl of the Word is not to be cast before swine; but it shall be consumed with the fire with which the burnt offerings also are consumed, being refined and preserved by the Spirit That searches and knows all things, not destroyed in the waters, nor scattered abroad as the calf’s head which was hastily made by Israel was by Moses, (Exodus 32:20) for a reproach for their hardness of heart.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 38/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 3) – St. Gregory the Theologian

What more? The First Month is introduced, or rather the beginning of months, whether it was so among the Hebrews from the beginning, or was made so later on this account, and became the first in consequence of the Mystery; and the tenth of the Month, for this is the most complete number, of units the first perfect unit, and the parent of perfection. And it is kept until the fifth day, perhaps because the Victim, of Whom I am speaking, purifies the five senses, from which comes falling into sin, and around which the war rages, inasmuch as they are open to the incitements to sin.

And it was chosen, not only out of the lambs, but also out of the inferior species, which are placed on the left hand (Matthew 25:33) — the kids; because He is sacrificed not only for the righteous, but also for sinners; and perhaps even more for these, inasmuch as we have greater need of His mercy. And we need not be surprised that a lamb for a house should be required as the best course, but if that could not be, then one might be obtained by contributions (owing to poverty) for the houses of a family; because it is clearly best that each individual should suffice for his own perfecting, and should offer his own living sacrifice holy unto God Who called him, being consecrated at all times and in every respect. But if that cannot be, then that those who are akin in virtue and of like disposition should be made use of as helpers. For I think this provision means that we should communicate of the Sacrifice to those who are nearest, if there be need.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 37/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 2) – St. Gregory the Theologian

Thus then and for this cause the written Law came in, gathering us into Christ; and this is the account of the Sacrifices as I account for them. And that you may not be ignorant of the depth of His Wisdom and the riches of His unsearchable judgments, (Romans 11:33) He did not leave even these unhallowed altogether, or useless, or with nothing in them but mere blood. But that great, and if I may say so, in Its first nature unsacrificeable Victim, was intermingled with the Sacrifices of the Law, and was a purification, not for a part of the world, nor for a short time, but for the whole world and for all time.

For this reason a Lamb was chosen for its innocence, and its clothing of the original nakedness. For such is the Victim, That was offered for us, Who is both in Name and fact the Garment of incorruption. And He was a perfect Victim not only on account of His Godhead, than which nothing is more perfect; but also on account of that which He assumed having been anointed with Deity, and having become one with That which anointed It, and I am bold to say, made equal with God. A Male, because offered for Adam; or rather the Stronger for the strong, when the first Man had fallen under sin; and chiefly because there is in Him nothing feminine, nothing unmanly; but He burst from the bonds of the Virgin-Mother’s womb with much power, and a Male was brought forth by the Prophetess, (Isaiah 13:3) as Isaiah declares the good tidings.

And of a year old, because He is the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) setting out from heaven, and circumscribed by His visible Nature, and returning unto Himself. And The blessed crown of Goodness, — being on every side equal to Himself and alike; and not only this, but also as giving life to all the circle of the virtues, gently commingled and intermixed with each other, according to the Law of Love and Order. And Immaculate and guileless, as being the Healer of faults, and of the defects and taints that come from sin. For though He both took on Him our sins and bare our diseases, (Isaiah 53:4) yet He did not Himself suffer anything that needed healing. For He was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). For he that persecuted the Light that shines in darkness could not overtake Him.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 36/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The Old Testament sacrifices a symbol for Christ (Part 1) – St. Gregory the Theologian

H20751-L156389161But we, standing midway between those whose minds are utterly dense on the one side, and on the other those who are very contemplative and exalted, that we may neither remain quite idle and immovable, nor yet be more busy than we ought, and fall short of and be estranged from our purpose — for the former course is Jewish and very low, and the latter is only fit for the dream-soothsayer, and both alike are to be condemned — let us say our say upon these matters, so far as is within our reach, and not very absurd, or exposed to the ridicule of the multitude.

Our belief is that since it was needful that we, who had fallen in consequence of the original sin, and had been led away by pleasure, even as far as idolatry and unlawful bloodshed, should be recalled and raised up again to our original position through the tender mercy of God our Father, Who could not endure that such a noble work of His own hands as Man should be lost to Him; the method of our new creation, and of what should be done, was this:— that all violent remedies were disapproved, as not likely to persuade us, and as quite possibly tending to add to the plague, through our chronic pride; but that God disposed things to our restoration by a gentle and kindly method of cure. For a crooked sapling will not bear a sudden bending the other way, or violence from the hand that would straighten it, but will be more quickly broken than straightened; and a horse of a hot temper and above a certain age will not endure the tyranny of the bit without some coaxing and encouragement.

Therefore the Law is given to us as an assistance, like a boundary wall between God and idols, drawing us away from one and to the Other. And it concedes a little at first, that it may receive that which is greater. It concedes the Sacrifices for a time, that it may establish God in us, and then when the fitting time shall come may abolish the Sacrifices also; thus wisely changing our minds by gradual removals, and bringing us over to the Gospel when we have already been trained to a prompt obedience.

[St. Gregory Nazianzus, Oration 45]

Day 35.5/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Clothe our minds with pure garments – St. Athanasius the Apostolic

Now, however, that the devil, that tyrant against the whole world, is slain, we do not approach a temporal feast, my beloved, but an eternal and heavenly. Not in shadows do we shew it forth, but we come to it in truth. For they being filled with the flesh of a dumb lamb, accomplished the feast, and having anointed their door-posts with the blood, implored aid against the destroyer. But now we, eating of the Word of the Father, and having the lintels of our hearts sealed with the blood of the New Testament (Mat 26:28), acknowledge the grace given us from the Saviour, who said, ‘Behold, I have given unto you to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy’ (Luke 10:19). For no more does death reign; but instead of death henceforth is life, since our Lord said, ‘I am the life’ (Jn 14:6). so that everything is filled with joy and gladness; as it is written, ‘The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.’ For when death reigned, ‘sitting down by the rivers of Babylon, we wept’ (Ps 97:1, 137:1), and mourned, because we felt the bitterness of captivity; but now that death and the kingdom of the devil is abolished, everything is entirely filled with joy and gladness. And God is no longer known only in Judæa, but in all the earth, ‘their voice hath gone forth, and the knowledge of Him hath filled all the earth’ (Ps 26:1, 19:4).

What follows, my beloved, is obvious; that we should approach such a feast, not with filthy raiment, but having clothed our minds with pure garments. For we need in this to put on our Lord Jesus (cf Rom 13:14), that we may be able to celebrate the feast with Him. Now we are clothed with Him when we love virtue, and are enemies to wickedness, when we exercise ourselves in temperance and mortify lasciviousness, when we love righteousness before iniquity, when we honour sufficiency, and have strength of mind, when we do not forget the poor, but open our doors to all men, when we assist humble-mindedness, but hate pride.

[St. Athanasius of Alexandria, Festal Letter IV, 332 AD]

Day 34/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – In His life He might show our new life – St. Augustine

adam_reation_iconic emailThe Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the new life of believers in Jesus; and this is the mystery of His Passion and Resurrection, which you ought well to know and to carry out in act. For not without a cause did Life come to death. Not without a cause did the Fountain of life, whence we drink in order that we may live, drink His cup which He was not bound to drink. For death was not Christ’s due portion. As to the question whence death has come, let us look to our origin. Sin is death’s parent. Had there been no sin, no one would have died. The first man received God’s law, that is, God’s commandment, on condition, that if he kept it he should live, if he violated it he should die. By not believing that he would die, he did what caused him to die; and found that to have been true which the Giver of the law had affirmed. Thence came death, thence man became mortal, thence came labour, thence misery, thence the second death after the first, that is, after temporal death, death everlasting. This tradition of death, this law of destruction, binds every man who is born, except that one Man who became Man that man should not perish.

For He came bound by no law of death; therefore He is called in the Psalm, “Free among the dead;” whom in all purity a Virgin conceived; whom she as a Virgin bore, and remained a Virgin; who lived without sin, who did not die because of sin; sharing in our penalty, not in our offence. Death is the penalty of offence; our Lord Jesus Christ came to die, did not come to sin; by sharing in our penalty without our offence, He annulled both our offence and penalty. What penalty? That which was due to us after this life. So He was crucified, that on the Cross He might show the dying-out of our old man; and He rose, that in His own life He might show our new life.

[St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermon CCXXXI] 

Day 33/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Fear of His Judgement – St. Cyril of Alexandria

“Verily verily I say unto you, the hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the Voice of the Son of God; the hour again that is, when they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25)

“By the words then in the beginning, He means the time of the resurrection, wherein He teaches through the word of the Judge that they that sleep shall rise again to answer for their life in the world, that as I said before, devising the fear thence arising as a bridle, He might persuade them to live full excellently and wisely: by the closing words He shews that the due time of believing is now come, but also says that everlasting life will be the reward of obedience: all but declaring, Ye shall all come to judgement, sirs, that is at the time of the Resurrection, but if it seem bitter to you to be punished, and to undergo endless penalties at the hand of the offended Judge, suffer not the time of obedience to pass by, but laying hold of it while yet present, haste ye to attain to everlasting life.”

[St. Cyril the Pillar of Faith, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John]