He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’
[Abba Anthony the Great, the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; (2 Corinthians 8:9) He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.
[St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 1]
Far be it from me that I should ever, among other chastisements, be thus reproached by Him Who is good, but walks contrary to me in fury (Leviticus 26:27-28) because of my own contrariness: “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew, and blight; without result. The sword from without (Deuteronomy 32:25) made you childless, yet have you not returned to Me, says the Lord.
May I not become the vine of the beloved, which after being planted and entrenched, and made sure with a fence and tower and every means which was possible, when it ran wild and bore thorns, was consequently despised, and had its tower broken down and its fence taken away, and was not pruned nor dug, but was devoured and laid waste and trodden down by all! (Isaiah 5:1)
This is what I feel I must say as to my fears, thus have I been pained by this blow, and this, I will further tell you, is my prayer. We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly, (Daniel 9:5) for we have forgotten Your commandments and walked after our own evil thought, (Isaiah 65:2) for we have behaved ourselves unworthily of the calling and gospel of Your Christ, and of His holy sufferings and humiliation for us; we have become a reproach to Your beloved, priest and people, we have erred together, we have all gone out of the way, we have together become unprofitable, there is none that does judgment and justice, no not one.
We have cut short Your mercies and kindness and the bowels and compassion of our God, by our wickedness and the perversity of our doings, in which we have turned away. You are good, but we have done amiss; You are long-suffering, but we are worthy of stripes; we acknowledge Your goodness, though we are without understanding, we have been scourged for but few of our faults; You are terrible, and who will resist You? the mountains will tremble before You; and who will strive against the might of Your arm? If You shut the heaven, who will open it? And if You let loose Your torrents, who will restrain them? It is a light thing in Your eyes to make poor and to make rich, to make alive and to kill, to strike and to heal, and Your will is perfect action.
You are angry, and we have sinned, (Isaiah 64:5) says one of old, making confession; and it is now time for me to say the opposite, We have sinned, and You are angry: therefore we have become a reproach to our neighbours. You turned Your face from us, and we were filled with dishonour. But stay, Lord, cease, Lord, forgive, Lord, do not deliver us up forever because of our iniquities, and do not let our chastisements be a warning for others, when we could learn wisdom from the trials of others. From whom? From the nations which do not know You, and kingdoms which have not been subject to Your power.
But we are Your people, O Lord, the rod of Your inheritance; therefore correct us, but in goodness and not in Your anger, lest You bring us to nothingness (Jeremiah 10:24) and contempt among all that dwell on the earth.
With these words I invoke mercy: and if it were possible to propitiate His wrath with whole burnt offerings or sacrifices, I would not even have spared these. You also imitate your trembling priest, you, my beloved children, sharers with me alike of the Divine correction and loving-kindness. Possess your souls in tears, and stay His wrath by amending your way of life. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, (Joel 2:15) as blessed Joel with us charges you: gather the elders, and the babes that suck the breasts, whose tender age wins our pity, and is specially worthy of the loving-kindness of God. I know also what he bids both me, the minister of God, and you, who have been thought worthy of the same honour, that we should enter His house in sackcloth and lament night and day between the porch and the altar, in piteous array, and with more piteous voices, crying aloud without ceasing on behalf of ourselves and the people, sparing nothing, either toil or word, which may propitiate God: saying Spare, O Lord, Your people, and give not Your heritage to reproach (Joel 2:17) and the rest of the prayer; surpassing the people in our sense of the affliction as much as in our rank, instructing them in our own persons in compunction and correction of wickedness, and in the consequent long-suffering of God, and cessation of the scourge.
Come then, all of you, my brethren, let us worship and fall down, and weep before the Lord our Maker; let us appoint a public mourning, in our various ages and families, let us raise the voice of supplication; and let this, instead of the cry which He hates, enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was angry. Who knows, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? (Joel 2:14) This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy. To the one He is forced by us, to the other He is inclined. And if He is forced to strike, surely He will refrain, according to His Nature.
Only let us have mercy on ourselves, and open a road for our Father’s righteous affections. Let us sow in tears, that we may reap in joy, let us show ourselves men of Nineveh, not of Sodom. Let us amend our wickedness, lest we be consumed with it; let us listen to the preaching of Jonah, lest we be overwhelmed by fire and brimstone, and if we have departed from Sodom let us escape to the mountain, let us flee to Zoar, let us enter it as the sun rises; let us not stay in all the plain, let us not look around us, lest we be frozen into a pillar of salt, a really immortal pillar, to accuse the soul which returns to wickedness.
[St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 16]
“Yesterday I was crucified with Him; today I am glorified with Him; yesterday I died with Him; today I am quickened with Him; yesterday I was buried with Him; today I rise with Him. But let us offer to Him Who suffered and rose again for us— you will think perhaps that I am going to say gold, or silver, or woven work or transparent and costly stones, the mere passing material of earth, that remains here below, and is for the most part always possessed by bad men, slaves of the world and of the Prince of the world. Let us offer ourselves, the possession most precious to God, and most fitting; let us give back to the Image what is made after the Image. Let us recognize our Dignity; let us honour our Archetype; let us know the power of the Mystery, and for what Christ died.”
[St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily on Pascha]
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.
Somebody asked Abba Anthony, “By observing which [precept] shall I be well pleasing to God?” The elder answered, “Observe what I am telling you: Always have God before your eyes wherever you go. Whatever you are doing, have the testimony from Holy Scripture to hand. Wherever you are living, do not be in a hurry to move away. Observe these three [precepts] and you will be saved.”
[Abba Anthony the Great, the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]
Whatever anyone may set out to do, if it is done with prayer the undertaking will prosper and he will be kept from sin, because there is nothing to oppose him and drag the soul into passion.
If, on the other hand, a man leaves God out and gives his attention to nothing but his business, then he is inevitably opposed to God, because he is separated from Him. For a person who does not unite himself to God through prayer is separated from God.
Therefore we must learn first of all that we ought always to pray and not to faint. For the effect of prayer is union with God, and if someone is with God, he is separated from the enemy.
Through prayer we guard our chastity, control our temper, and rid ourselves with vanity; it makes us forget injuries, overcomes envy, defeats injustice, and makes amends for sin. Through prayer we obtain physical well-being, a happy home, and a strong, well-ordered society. Prayer will make our nation powerful, will give us victory in war and security in peace; it reconciles enemies and preserves allies.
Prayer is the seal of virginity and a pledge of faithfulness in marriage; it shields the wayfarer, protects the sleeper, and gives courage to those who keep vigil. It obtains a good harvest for the farmer and a safe port for the sailor.
Prayer is your advocate in lawsuits. If you are in prison, it will obtain your release; it will refresh you when you are weary and comfort you when you are sorrowful. Prayer is the delight of the joyful as well as solace to the afflicted. It is the wedding crown of the spouses and the festive joy of a birthday no less than the shroud that enwraps us in death.
Prayer is intimacy with God and contemplation of the invisible. It satisfies our yearnings and makes us equal to the angels. Through it good prospers, evil is destroyed and sinners will be converted.
Prayer is the enjoyment of things present and the substance of the things to come. Prayer turned the whale into a home for Jonas, it brought Ezechias back to life from the very gates of death; it transformed the flames into a moist wind for the Three Children. Through prayers the Israelites triumphed over the Amalekites, and 185,000 Assyrians were slain one night by the invisible sword.
Past history furnishes us with thousands of other examples besides these which makes it clear that, of all the things valued in this life, nothing is more precious than prayer.
I wish we could already turn to prayer itself; but we would rather add a little to what has been said, and consider how many diverse good things we have received from Divine grace, for the gift of which we should make a return to our Benefactor by prayer and thanksgiving.
Now I think that, even if we spent our whole life in constant communion with God in prayer and thanskgiving, we should be as far from having made Him an adequate return as if we had not even begun to desire making the Giver of all good things such a return.
[St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Lord’s Prayer, The Beatitudes]
[On this day, the 26 Hatour in the Coptic Calendar, we commemorate St. Gregory of Nyssa, his blessings be with Amen.