Anger and slander – The Spiritual Elder

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You who desire for yourself purity whereby the Lord of all may be seen, do not slander nor listen to words of calumny concerning your brethren. If a quarrel is going on near you or if you hear angry words, stop up your words and flee, lest your soul perish. The soul of an irascible man is devoid of the mysteries of God, but any one who is innocent and peaceable is a fount of the mysteries of the New World. Indeed Heaven is already inside you if you are pure, and there you see angels rejoicing and their Lord with them and within them.

[John of Dalyatha, Discourse 3]

Abase yourself so that you never fall – Abba Poemen

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Abba Poemen used to say, “As the earth falls not, because it is fixed from below, even so he who abases himself shall never fall.”

[Abba Poemen, Apophthegmata Patrum]

Pure prayer – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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Prayer is a beseeching for, a caring for, a longing for something, either a liberation from the evil things here or [in the world] to come, or a desire for promised things, or a demand for something by which man wishes to be brought nearer to God. In these emotions are included all habits of prayer. But its being pure or not depends upon the following circumstances. 

If, when the spirit is prepared to offer one of the emotions we have enumerated, any foreign deliberation or distraction mingles itself with it, prayer is called non-pure, because it has brought upon the altar of the Lord an animal which it is not allowed [to offer], the altar which is an upright, intelligible heart. 

But when the spirit gives itself with longing to one of these emotions, in accordance to the necessity of the case, at the time of beseeching, and when on account of its alacrity the gaze of the emotion is directed by the eye of faith beyond the curtain of the heart, the entrances of the soul are closed thereby against the foreign deliberations which are called strangers, whom the law does not allow to enter the tabernacle. This is called the accepted offering of the heart and pure prayer. Its boundaries are to this point. What lies beyond cannot be called prayer.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, XXII]

Love to discipline yourself – Apophthegmata Patrum

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A brother asked an old man a question, saying, “What shall I do?” And the old man said unto him, “Go and learn to love putting restraint upon yourself in everything.” 

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

God is here, God is everywhere – Abba Bessarion

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[On this day, 25th Mesra, the Coptic Church commemorate the great ascetic father St. Bessarion, his blessings be with us.]

Abba Doulas, the disciple of Abba Bessarion said, ‘One day when we were walking beside the sea I was thirsty and I said to Abba Bessarion, “Father, I am very thirsty.” He said a prayer and said to me, “Drink some of the sea water.” The water proved sweet when I drank some. I even poured some into a leather bottle for fear of being thirsty later on. Seeing this, the old man asked me why I was taking some. I said to him, “Forgive me, it is for fear of being thirsty later on.” Then the old man said, “God is here, God is everywhere.” ‘

[Abba Bessarion, Apophthegmata Patrum]

Your name is ointment poured forth; Therefore the virgins love you – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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Your name is ointment poured forth; Therefore the virgins love you. (Song of Songs 1:3)

Therefore virgins love you. Spiritual life depends solely on love. Many people claim that faith, righteousness or godliness are the basis of a sound spiritual life. That is untrue. A sound spiritual life is based wholly on love. There is no other way, God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him (1 Jn 4:16). Spiritual life resolves around this verse, Therefore the virgins love you. No matter how hard one tries to expound or illustrate the many different aspects of righteousness or sanctity as they occur in the Bible, the few words, the virgins love you, are more powerful and poignant. 

They explain these aspects better because the verse here depicts the human soul as a virgin soul, hardly concerned with the material world, neglectful of the love of matter, oblivious of the self and completely unattached to and unmindful of the desires of the flesh. The soul’s main objective and ultimate desire is the love of God. So if you love the Lord, then you are a believer and you are on the right track. If you do not, then you still do not know Him, nor have you started your journey with Him. Love is the key. Even if you try your hardest to keep the commandments, obey the Lord, and give (your) body to be (1 Cor 13:3), without love, it profits you nothing. If you pray day and night without love, it leads you nowhere.

If you fast all the fasts of the year and you do not have love, it avails you nothing. If you read the Holy Gospel and even memorise it without love, it is of no use. If you preach day and night and you do not have love, you have, become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal, (1 Cor 13:1). The pivotal point of a sound spiritual life lies in the love of virgins. Your love for the Lord indicates that you are well on your way to the Lord’s path. If, however, you do not love the Lord, then you are still outside and away, in a far country (Luke 15:13).

God seeks love; He yearns for that love that springs from the hearts of virgins. It is inconceivable to try to win the Lord’s love when you are not completely devoted to His love. It is unthinkable to mix His love with the love of the world. This simply indicates that your soul is not a virgin. You are not consecrated and dedicated to Him. Rather, you are like the Samaritan woman who was married to five husbands: the world, the devil, carnal lusts, the desires of the flesh, the ego… etc. What makes the soul a virgin is the capacity to love the Lord from all the heart.

Two questions come to mind in this respect. The first question is, Do you have that “virgin” soul? And the second is, Do you love the Lord? The two questions are closely related; they are two faces of the same coin: if you love the Lord, you will have a virgin, pure and chaste soul. Conversely, if you have a pure, chaste and virgin soul, you will naturally love the Lord.  

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice-blessed memory, Have You Seen the One I Love?]

 

Be patient in your progress, it does not happen all at once – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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The blessings of the contemplative life do not burst in on our lives like a flash of lightning. They do not arrest our attention the moment we open our eyes to look for them. Rather, they permeate our lives imperceptibly. They are like the light of the rising sun. The first faint light of dawn penetrates the veil of darkness – slowly but surely. Although it is difficult to trace the inception of this light, it spreads until it pervades everything. It dispels the darkness before the sun rises into view.

In order to attain a fruitful life of prayer, we should not expect blessings to fall upon us suddenly. Rather, we should make our way through with slow but sure steps. We need a long, disciplines struggle. We need patience and constraint. It is enough to make progress however slow that progress may seem, or however pitch-black the world around us and around our faith may appear. Mere progress in the life of prayer and intimacy with God is a sure sign that we will reach our goal. It is proof positive that the light must appear, however long it may be hidden from us. Once it appears, the fruit of our laborious struggle and our faith and patience will materialise. When we constraint ourselves in our struggle, when we expend our sweat and tears, when we contend with our doubts and whispers – walking on in spite of the darkness that shrouds everything in us, our own eyes may not see in ourselves anything but weakness. The eyes of God, however, see precious and valuable signs of growth: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29); “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake.” (Heb 6:10)

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]

A lesson in judging others – Abba Moses the Black

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A certain brother committed an offence in Scete, the camp of the monks, and when a congregation was assembled ‎on this matter, they sent after Abba Moses, but he refused to come; then they sent the priest of the church to him, ‎saying, “Come, for all the people are expecting you,” and he rose up and came.

He took a basket with a hole in it ‎and filled it with sand, and carried it upon his shoulders, and those who went out to meet him said unto him, “What ‎does this mean, O father?” And he said to them, “The sands are my sins which are running down behind me and I ‎cannot see them, and, even, have come to this day to judge shortcomings which are not mine.” And when they heard ‎this they set free that brother and said nothing further to him.‎

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

The working tools of the soul – Abba Poemen

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Abba Poemen said, “Being on the alert, paying attention to oneself, and discretion – these three virtues are the working tools of the soul.”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

Heresy is separation from God – Abba Aghathon

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They used to say of Abba Aghathon that on hearing of his great discretion, some people went to him. Wanting to test him [to see] whether he would become angry they said to him, “Are you Aghathon? We hear that you are given to porneia and arrogant,” but he said, “Yes, that is so.”

They also said to him, “Are you Aghathon, the tattler and slanderer?” and he said, “I am.” Then again they said to him, “Are you Aghathon the heretic?” and he replied, “I am not a heretic,” and they begged him saying, “Tell us why you accepted when we said so many things about you, but you did not tolerate this description?”

He said to them, “I charge myself with the first [faults] because it is good for my soul; but to hear [oneself] called heretic – that is separation from God, and I do not wish to be separated from my God.” On hearing this they were amazed at his discretion, and went their way enlightened.

[Apophthegmata Patrum]