On one occasion Abba Moses of Patara was engaged in a war against fornication, and he could not endure being in his cell, and he went and informed Abba Isidore of it; and the old man entreated him to return to his cell, but he would not agree. And having said, “Father I cannot bear it,” the old man took him up to the roof of his cell and said unto him, “Look to the west,” and when he looked he saw multitudes of devils with troubled and terrified aspects and they showed themselves in the forms of phantoms with fighting attitudes. Abba Isidore said to him, “Look to the east,” and when he looked he saw innumerable holy angels standing there, and they were in a state of great glory.
Then Abba Isidore said unto him, “Behold those who are in the west are those who are fighting with the holy ones; and those whom you have seen in the east are those who are sent by God to the help of the saints, for those who are with us are many.” And having seen these, Abba Moses took courage and returned to his cell without fear.
Whoever has tasted the sweetness of Christ will be diligently occupied in prayer, which, more than any labour, brings one near to God; for in prayer the mind is conmingled with God and becomes the image of its Maker and the recipient of his gifts and a fount of his mysteries.
Through prayer it opens the door to the treasuries of God and becomes his treasurer and the divider of his riches. Through prayer the mind is made worthy to behold the Glory of God an to abide in the majestic Cloud of Light, within the place of the spirits, in stupefaction and silence, void of impulses, in ecstasy, and wonderstruck at the beauty of the many-splendoured rays of light dawning upon it, stupefying the worlds at their sight, which are the life and delight of the spiritual beings, stilling their fiery impulses with their majestic beauty.
These are the unspeakable blessings bestowed on those who are engaged in prayer. Thereby they are called upon to be dwelling for God, and he will be their abode and their resting-place, void of all painful passions. For thereby the soul is united with Christ and thus it sees the glorious splendour of his majesty, and in his brilliance it sees the loveliness of its nature and it exults.
In the travail of prayer there blazes up in the soul the fire of Christ’s love, and the heart becomes frenzied with longing and sets all the members ablaze; it exults with love and loses control of itself. The world is obliterated from the heart as well as its impulses, and it awaits departure from it to be in God and to behold his face constantly for the delighting of its life.
[John of Dalyatha, Discourses of Mysticism, Discourse 21]
The transcendent gifts of the Christian life are manifold. Some are general, like the second birth, redemption for the forgiveness of sins, justification by grace, sanctification by the blood of Christ. Others are personal, like the gift of love, humility, piety, the glowing of spirit in constant intimacy with the Lord, and so forth. The strength and efficacy of all these gifts, however, can never be manifested except through prayer.
By prayer, the effect of Christ’s nature becomes manifest in us. By prayer, the power of his death and life appears in our works and behaviour. By prayer, the sweet savour of Christ is scented in our words and thoughts. It is even scented in our quietude and silence as well.
The work of Christ to redeem from sin, to save from sin, and to bring victory over evil can never appear except through a life of prayer. Neither can the living testimony of the new birth be brought about without such life. Without a life of prayer, all attempts to declare these divine actions in man’s nature become false, theoretical, and a product of the ego or self-will. In such a case, the old Adam remains as he is with his inclinations, passions and earthly nature.
We should then accept these facts about prayer and set our hearts to them. We should resolve firmly to apply them with all our strength, which will cost us much effort and sacrifice. But whatever the sacrifice or effort, we will surely attain to all the transcendent mysteries of Christ – such mysteries as were previously only a matter of hearing.
This can be realised only when prayer becomes our supreme concern, our main preoccupation, which outweighs all other cares; our duty, which challenges all other duties; our pleasure, which surpasses every other pleasure. We would then pray at all times, in all circumstances, in all places, in all conditions. We would pray in an insatiable hunger for constant contact with Christ. In all this we would be urged by his words, deeds, actions, and character – as he said, “Learn from me” (Mt 11.29).
[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]
[On this day, the 7th of Bashons in the Coptic calendar, the commemoration of the departure of St. Athanasius the Apostolic is celebrated. May the prayers of this great Father be with us.]
If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power. Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Saviour and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.
When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Saviour’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is He Himself Who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to His victory in His own disciples.
How can you think otherwise, when you see men naturally weak hastening to death, unafraid at the prospect of corruption, fearless of the descent into Hades, even indeed with eager soul provoking it, not shrinking from tortures, but preferring thus to rush on death for Christ’s sake, rather than to remain in this present life? If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even, thus welcoming death for the sake of Christ’s religion, how can you be so utterly silly and incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realize that Christ, to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross?
No one in his senses doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength. These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to end.
[St. Athanasius the Great, On the Incarnation]
My brother, concerning the thought of God which you asked me to write you about, I do not understand your request. If it concerns the constant remembrance of Him, I know that the thought of Him always arises in your heart for your delight and for the destruction of passions and thoughts. And if you are seeking instruction about gazing on Him, I am sure that your understanding has been enlightened by the vision of His glory and has gone beyond all need of indications.
But since we are in the world of variations, and now and then because of happenings, temptations, and acts of Providence to reprimand us, sometimes the remembrance of God is cut off from our heart, and our souls are deprived of His vision, and we forget to think about Him. So we have need of indications to bring us back to remembering God and gazing on Him. According to my weakness, I am setting down notes for persons weak like me, that by them they might grow strong in the glory of God mighty forevermore:
That heaven and earth and all that is in them are full of God; that He passes through all and that his Nature is stretched out through all the natures, like the sun in the air; many know this by hearing of it. Fewer know it from snatches in books, but only rarely is it known from the vision of purity: this purity which takes delight in blessings and not in senseless words.
Let a person look on the immensity of God which covers all and passes over all. This constant remembrance of Him is certainly a great thing: it destroys the passions, defeats the demons, enlightens the intellect, and purifies the heart. But better than this is that a person seek his Life within himself. All the worlds may be full of Life, but if he is empty of it, what profit from what is outside? And if he is full of Life, what harm can death do to him from the outside?
So then look at God within yourself, how God is light (1 Jn 1:5). For his Nature is a glorious, many-splendored light. He manifests the light of his Nature to those who love Him in all the worlds – that is, his glory, not his Nature. And he changes the image of those who see it, to the likeness of his glory. Look within and see Him in your being, united to you as fire to iron within the furnace, and as moisture in your body.
[John of Dalyatha, Letter 50]
Abba Macarius was asked, “How should one pray?” The old man said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.”
[Abba Macarius the Egyptian, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Whenever you find your course is in peace, without variations, be suspicious. For you are deviating from the divine ways trodden by the weary footsteps of the saints. The more you proceed on the way towards the city of the Kingdom and approach it’s neighbourhoods, this will be the sign: that you meet hard temptations. And the more you approach, the more you will find difficulties.
So, whenever the soul on its way perceives varying states which cause difficulty you must know that your soul has secretly been advanced to a higher state and that it has acquired a gift of increase in comparison with the degree it occupied before.
The hard temptation into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts. If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift. As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations. So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts. Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have laboured long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honour, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honours the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honour the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
[St. John Chrysostom, Paschal Homily]