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 30/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – The living word enables our resurrection – Fr. Matthew the Poor

St. John the Apostle writes:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us– that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 Jn 1:1-4)

Today is the day of the resurrection. I tell you that this fellowship to which St. John calls us, with the apostles, the Father, and His Son Jesus Christ that completed our joy, is the very same fellowship experienced by the apostles on the day that the resurrected Lord was revealed to them, and they “did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Lk 24:36-41). This is the same resurrection and is the same as that which St. Peter calls our new birth:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3-4).

St. Peter also offers us a transfer from the rebirth through the resurrection on a personal level to a re-birth. This takes place through the Word, “God’s living word,” because he considered it autonomous, alive with the power of eternal life, able to give life to whoever lives by it: “You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23).

It is amazing that both St. Peter and St. John both considered the living word to be “the seed of God.” It was the seed of eternal life if it inhabited the heart, due to its ability to offer eternal life. It offers the resurrection, in its divine nature that does not sin and cannot sin: “No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him, and he cannot sin for he is born of God” (1 Jn 3:9).

For that reason, he who is born of God lives in the resurrection in that he has overcome sinand death. Paul the Apostle therefore says to those who sin after having received the life of the resurrection: “We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6:6). “Let no sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey your passions” (Rom 6:12).

It is as if the man who obeys sin is trying to make sin once more take hold of his body that was crucified with Christ.”

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Christ is Risen Truly He has Risen]


Day 29.5/50 of Eastertide (Holy Fifty Days) – Body and soul will rise again – St. Justin Martyr


But, in truth, He has even called the flesh to the resurrection, and promises to it everlasting life. For where He promises to save man, there He gives the promise to the flesh. For what is man but the reasonable animal composed of body and soul? Is the soul by itself man? No; but the soul of man. Would the body be called man? No, but it is called the body of man. If, then, neither of these is by itself man, but that which is made up of the two together is called man, and God has called man to life and resurrection, He has called not a part, but the whole, which is the soul and the body. Since would it not be unquestionably absurd, if, while these two are in the same being and according to the same law, the one were saved and the other not? And if it be not impossible, as has already been proved, that the flesh be regenerated, what is the distinction on the ground of which the soul is saved and the body not? Do they make God a grudging God?

But He is good, and will have all to be saved. And by God and His proclamation, not only has your soul heard and believed on Jesus Christ, and with it the flesh, but both were washed, and both wrought righteousness. They make God, then ungrateful and unjust, if, while both believe in Him, He desires to save one and not the other. Well, they say, but the soul is incorruptible, being a part of God and inspired by Him, and therefore He desires to save what is peculiarly His own and akin to Himself; but the flesh is corruptible, and not from Him, as the soul is. Then what thanks are due to Him, and what manifestation of His power and goodness is it, if He purposed to save what is by nature saved and exists as a part of Himself? For it had its salvation from itself; so that in saving the soul, God does no great thing. For to be saved is its natural destiny, because it is a part of Himself, being His inspiration. But no thanks are due to one who saves what is his own; for this is to save himself. For he who saves a part himself, saves himself by his own means, lest he become defective in that part; and this is not the act of a good man. For not even when a man does good to his children and offspring, does one call him a good man; for even the most savage of the wild beasts do so, and indeed willingly endure death, if need be, for the sake of their cubs.

But if a man were to perform the same acts in behalf of his slaves, that man would justly be called good. Wherefore the Saviour also taught us to love our enemies, since, says He, what thank have you? So that He has shown us that it is a good work not only to love those that are begotten of Him, but also those that are without. And what He enjoins upon us, He Himself first of all does.

[St. Justin Martyr, On the Resurrection]