Prayer more than any labour, brings one near to God – The Spiritual Elder

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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]

Whenever you find your course at peace, without change, be suspicious – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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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]

Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free – St. John Chrysostom

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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]

O Lord who adorned the earth with flowers, they dressed You with a scarlet robe – Prayers of the Coptic Orthodox Church

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O you dwellers of Jerusalem, come and see. They crucified Jesus, the Son of David, on a cross. They dressed Him in a scarlet robe like the kings, and placed a crown of thorns on His head.

He adorned the heavens with the stars, created the earth and beautified it with flowers. They placed a reed in His right hand as a wise man and a teacher. They compelled a cross on Him as a conqueror.

The women who came to Jerusalem for the Passover wept and wailed when they saw Jesus. He looked at them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me. Rather, weep for yourselves because of the tribulation that will befall you. There will be days when you envy the barren who never gave birth, nursed or raised a child.They will ask the mountains to fall on them, and the hills to cover them. For if they do this when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?

When they came to the place called the skull, there they set the cross and crucified Him.

They crucified with Him two criminals, one on His right and one on His left, so that the prophesy of the prophet may be fulfilled.

The soldiers took His clothes and cast lots to divide His garments. They inscribed on the cross over His head, in Hebrew, Greek, and Roman, “This is the king of the Jews.” The people stood by, watching, and the rulers mocked Him saying, “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen one.” The soldiers also mocked Him saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save Yourself and come down off the cross.” One of the criminals railed at Him in front of everyone, saying, “If you are the Christ save Yourself and save us of this shame that we endure.”

The other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence and condemnation? We deserve this punishment but He is innocent and without blame.”

Then he said to Jesus, “Remember me, O Lord in Your Kingdom.” The Lord of Glory replied saying, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

There were women standing by the cross of our Saviour, His mother, His mother’s sister Mary Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother,” and from that hour the disciple took her to his own home as the Lord said.

And from the sixth hour to the ninth hour there was darkness on the whole earth.

O Lord who adorned the earth with flowers, they dressed You with a scarlet robe, and the skies with the stars, they put a crown of thorns on Your head.

You who have dominion over Heaven and Earth, they put a reed in Your hand. You who suspended the whole world with one word of Your mouth;

You were crucified on the cross. You were crucified for our sins and abolished the power of death by Your cross, O Ominpotent.

[Exposition of the Sixth Hour of Great Friday, Rite of the Coptic Orthodox Church]

Sit alone in the evening and search your soul – Abba Shenoute the Archimandrite

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Brethren, if we want to escape God’s punishment and find mercy in his eyes, let us sit every evening alone by ourselves and search our souls for what we presented to our guardian angel to offer before the Lord. Again, as the night goes by and a new day dawns and light prevails, let us search ourselves to know what we presented to our companion angel to offer to the Lord.

Let it be beyond doubt that everyone of us – male or female- young or old, who was baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit has been assigned to a designated angel until the day of his death to report to him everyday what his assigned individual has done by day or by night.

Not that God is unaware of what we have done. Heavens forbid. He is more knowledgeable about it. As it is written. the eyes of the Lord are watching all the time everywhere on those who commit evil and on those who do good. Rather the angels are servants installed by the Creator of the universe for those who will inherit salvation.

[Abba Shenoute the Archimandrite, First Hour of Monday of the Holy Pascha in the Coptic Orthodox Rite]

He seated Himself upon an ass, teaching us not to be lifted up by praises – St. Cyril the Pillar of Faith

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12, 13 On the morrow a great multitude that had come to the feast when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm-trees, and went forth to meet Him, and cried out, saying: Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the Name of the Lord.

The multitudes, being more obedient and yielding to the effect of the sign, went to meet the Christ, hymning Him as One Who had conquered death, and carrying palm branches. And they do not praise Him with ordinary language, but quote from the inspired Scripture that which was beautifully spoken with regard to Him; confessing that He was indeed King of Israel, Whom also they called specially their own King, accepting the lordship of the Christ. And the Son, they say, is Blessed: not because He Who blesseth all things and guards them from destruction, and Who is of the ineffable Essence of the Father, receives the blessing which comes from the Father; but because the blessing which is due to One Who is God and Lord by Nature is offered to Him from us, inasmuch as He came in the Name of the Lord. For all the saints did not come with the authority of lordship, but as trusted servants; This One, on the contrary, as Lord. Wherefore the prophetic language was quoted very suitably with regard to Him. For indeed some are called lords, who are not such by nature, but have the honourable name granted to them by favour. As also, to take another case, men are called “true,” when they abstain from falsehood: but this is not the thing to say with regard to Christ; for He is not called “Truth” for the reason that He does not speak falsely, but because He has that Nature which is altogether superior to falsehood.

14, 15 And Jesus, having found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh unto thee, sitting on an ass’s colt.

For when a great multitude were escorting Him like a body-guard and shouting His praises, with the most perfect self-restraint He seated Himself upon an ass, teaching us not to be lifted up by praises, and omitting no necessary thing. Matthew therefore related at greater length the circumstances concerning the ass; but John comes at once to the point of the affair that was most suited to the occasion, as it is his custom to do. And since, contrary to His usual habits, on this occasion only, Christ appears seated on an ass, we do not say that He so sat for the reason that it was a long distance to the city; for it was not more than fifteen furlongs off: nor because there was a multitude; for it is certain that on other occasions when He was found with a multitude He did not do this: but He does so, to indicate that He is about to make subject to Himself as a new people the unclean among the Gentiles, and to lead them up to the prerogative of righteousness, and to the Jerusalem above, of which the earthly is a type; into which this people being made clean shall enter with Christ, Who will be hymned by the guileless angels, of whom the babes are a type. And He calls the ass a colt, because the people of the Gentiles had been untrained to the piety which faith produces.

16 And His disciples understood not these things at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things unto Him.

At first therefore they were ignorant that these words had been written with regard to Him; but after the Resurrection, they did not continue to suffer from the Jewish blindness, but the knowledge of the Divine words was revealed to them through the Spirit. And then was the Christ glorified, when after being crucified He came to life again. And the Evangelist does not blush to mention the ignorance of the disciples, and again their knowledge, since his object was, to take no heed of respect for men, but to plead for the glory of the Spirit; and to show what sort of men the disciples were before the Resurrection, and what sort of men they became after the Resurrection. If therefore these disciples were ignorant, how much more were the other Jews. And after He was crucified, the veil was rent, in order that we may know that nothing any longer remains hidden and concealed from the faithful and godly. They were enlightened therefore with knowledge from the time of the Resurrection, when the Christ breathed into their face, and they became different from the rest of men. And to a still greater extent they were enlightened on the Day of Pentecost, when they were transformed into the power of the Holy Spirit Who came upon them.

17, 18 The multitude therefore that was with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb, and raised him from the dead, bare witness. For this cause also the multitude went and met Him, for that they heard that He had done this sign.

The gathering of the common people, having heard what had happened, were readily persuaded by those who bare witness that the Christ had raised Lazarus to life, and annulled the power of death, as the prophets said: for this cause also they went and met Him.

19  The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Do ye see how ye prevail nothing? Lo, the whole world is gone after Him.

This they say, finding fault with themselves, that they had not long ago put Jesus and Lazarus also to death, urging themselves to murder; being angry concerning the believing multitude, as though deprived of their special possessions – those which really belonged to God.

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

Thoughts of pride – Apophthegmata Patrum

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An old man said, “Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, if you love your enemies and are grieved at their sins, if you consider yourself as an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all.  Even then, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for this thought destroys everything.”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

The courtesan is the soul, the lovers are the passions and the lord is Christ – Abba John Colobos

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Abba John used to say, concerning the soul which wishes to repent: ‘There was in a city a courtesan who had many lovers. One of the governors approached her, saying, “Promise me you will be good, and I will marry you.” She promised his and he took her and brought her to his house. Her lovers seeking her again, said to one another, “That lord has taken her with him to his house, so if we go to his house and he learns of it, he will condemn us. But let us go to the back, and whistle to her. Then, when she recognizes the sound of the whistle she will come down to us; as for us, we shall be unassailable.” When she heard the whistle, the woman stopped her ears and withdrew to the inner  chamber and shut the doors.’ The old man said that this courtesan is our soul, that her lovers are the passions and other men; that the lord is Christ; that the inner chamber is the eternal dwelling; those who whistle are the evil demons, but the soul always takes refuge in the Lord.

[Abba John the Dwarf, Apophthegmata Patrum]

Does God receive the penitent? – Apophthegmata Patrum

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And old man was asked by a certain soldier if God received a penitent man.  And after heartening him with many words, he said to him at the last,  “Tell me, beloved, if your cloak were torn, would you throw it away?”  He said, “No, but I would patch it and wear it.”  The old man said to him, “If you would spare your garment, shall not God have mercy on His own image?”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

Your door is open, my Lord, and there is no one who enters – The Spiritual Elder

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O Christ, whose pure blood has paid the debt which our foolish will owed, open the eyes of our minds that we may know where we are proceeding. May your light, which like the sun enlightens the legions of your Holiness, bring me unto You. May your Spirit, my Lord, place me among them even here below and in the world of light. And may your Spirit teach me their language, so as to extol with them inaudible praise of You. Create me, my Lord, as a new creature resembling your beauty and may we forget and disregard our previous nature.

Glory to the abundance of your ineffable love! Your door is open, my Lord, and there is no one who enters. Your glory is manifest and there is no one who contemplates it. Your light shines in the pupils of the eyes and we do not want to see. Your right hand is stretched out to give and there is no one who takes. You entice with compliments and we do not obey. You frighten us with terrors mixed with tenderness and we do not flee to You.

O our good God, have pity on our wretchedness! Our sweet Creator, bind up our brokenness! Our Father full of mercy, You Yourself persuade and compel us and draw us near to You; because of ourselves we are unwilling to beseech You. Lead out our soul from the prison (Ps 141:7) in which we have imprisoned ourselves to your true light, even when we are not willing. May your power, my Lord, prevail over us and draw us from the drowning for which we are headed!

Remove, my Lord, from before our sight all the veils with which the view of our soul is obscured from seeing your true light. In this light let us always stand stripped without interruption, with unveiled faces, and let us persist in the desire and in the delight of its beauty, forever and ever, Amen.

[John of Dalyatha, Letter 5]