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Countless Contemplations

I haven’t lately had the time to write new posts. But I came across a passage in St. John Cassian’s Conferences (1.15) that I thought speaks pretty well for itself:

[Abba Moses said:] In many ways we come to contemplate God. We know him in worshipping his very being which we cannot fathom, the vision which is yet hidden, though it is promised, and for which we may hope. We know him in the majesty of his creation, in regarding his justice, in apprehending the help we receive for our daily lives. We contemplate him when we see what he has wrought with his saints in every generation: when we feel awe at the mighty power which rules creation, the unmeasurable knowledge of his eye which sees into the secrets of every heart; when we remember that he has counted the grains of sand upon the shore and the waves upon the sea and the raindrops, that he sees every day and hour through all the centuries past and future: when we remember his mercy unimaginable seeing countless sins committed every moment and yet bearing them with inexhaustible long-suffering; when we contemplate that he has called us by reason of no merit which he found in us but simply of his free grace: when we see so many opportunities of salvation offered to those whom he is going to adopt as his sons: how he caused us to be born in circumstances where we might from our cradles receive his grace and the knowledge of his law: how he is working to overcome the enemy in us, simply for the pleasure of his goodness, and is rewarding us with everlasting blessedness: and, finally, how for our salvation he was incarnate and made man, and has spread his wonderful mysteries among all nations. There are countless other contemplations of this kind, which arise in our perceptions in proportion to our holiness of life and our purity of heart and through which, if our eyes are clean, we see and grasp God. No man in whom anything of earthly passion remains can keep the vision continually. ‘Thou canst not see my face’ said the Lord. ‘For no man shall see me and live’—live to this world and its desires.”

What is Fasting?

Abba John the Short said: “If a king wants to take a city whose citizens are hostile, he first captures the food and water of the inhabitants of the city, and when they are starving subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is earnest in fasting and hunger, the enemies which trouble his soul will grow weak.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 4.19

Evagrios calls gluttony one of three “frontline demons.” Here Abba John the Short uses military imagery as well, except he highlights the proper countermeasure that we ought to take against this frontline enemy: fasting. View full article »

I don’t typically post links here to my other writing, but one today fits so well with the spirit of Everyday Asceticism that it could just as easily have appeared here anyway. At Humane Pursuits, I write,

The Benedictines have bequeathed to the world a twofold motto for daily life: ora et labora, pray and work. While some might presume that the ascetic life is about fleeing to a place of contemplation—and, to an extent, it is—they would be mistaken to believe that this flight from “the world” is also a flight from work. The Church fathers, East and West, have a long tradition that affirms the value of human labor. And their reflections on the subject contain depths of insight still relevant for those of us who live in “the world” today, such as how to find meaning in whatever work one may do.

I then focus on a saying from an anonymous old man from the Egyptian desert about how we ought to work not for that which is impermanent, but rather what is “little and lasting.” To find out more, head over to Human Pursuits and read the rest here.

Combatting Forgetfulness

An old man said: “Satan has three powers, which lead to all the sins. The first is forgetfulness, the second negligence, and the third concupiscence. If forgetfulness comes, it begets negligence: negligence is the mother of concupiscence: and by concupiscence a man falls. If the mind is serious, it repels forgetfulness, negligence does not come, concupiscence finds no entry— and so with help from Christ’s grace, he shall never fall.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 11.46

There are many sayings like these in the ascetic writings of the Church. One could list basic causes of all sin ad infinitum. The important thing to remember is that these sayings arise not (merely, I should say) from abstract theorizing but from practical experience. Thus, this is what this old man has found. As the matter at hand is a practical one, arguments are not necessary, only self-examination. Is his experience, your experience? If so, then his solution might be your solution as well. View full article »

Who Do You Say That I Am?

[T]he figure wherein ye now see me hanging is the representation of that man that first came unto birth. Ye therefore, my beloved, and ye that hear me and that shall hear, ought to cease from your former error and return back again. For it is right to mount upon the cross of Christ, who is the Word [Logos] stretched out, the one and only, of whom the Spirit saith: For what else is Christ, but the word, the sound of God? So that the word is the upright beam whereon I am crucified. And the sound is that which crosseth it, the nature of man. And the nail which holdeth the cross-tree unto the upright in the midst thereof is the conversion and repentance of man.

~ Acts of Peter, 38

Since I already wrote one reflection about St. Paul, and since we just celebrated their joint feast at the end of last month, I decided that I ought to write one about St. Peter as well. There is actually a lot that can be said about St. Peter. In addition to the account of his martyrdom (above), I’d like to single out one of the most View full article »

On Blind Bodyguards

Abba Poemen said: “As a bodyguard is always standing by to protect the Emperor, so the soul ought ever to be ready for the demon of lust.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.8

The fathers, even by many Christians today, are often derided for supposed sexual puritanism (no offense intended to any actual Puritans).

Personally, I’d rather have the fathers who erred on the side of celibacy than what many have today: clergy sexual abusers. Perhaps it has always been this bad—I hope not. View full article »

If [the Holy Spirit] takes possession of Fishermen, He makes them catch the whole world in the nets of Christ, taking them up in the meshes of the Word [Gk. Logos]. Look at Peter and Andrew and the Sons of Thunder, thundering the things of the Spirit. If of Publicans, He makes gain of them for discipleship, and makes them merchants of souls; witness Matthew, yesterday a Publican, today an Evangelist. If of zealous persecutors, He changes the current of their zeal, and makes them Pauls instead of Sauls, and as full of piety as He found them of wickedness.

~ St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 41: “On Pentecost,” 14

Ascension and Pentecost came and went, and I haven’t even reflected on either yet! Monday we will start the Apostles Fast that lasts until the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. It’s all too much to cover in one post, so I’ll try not to get carried away, but what I do have might serve as a little bridge between the two seasons. View full article »

Hell is ignorance, for both are dark; and perdition is forgetfulness, for both involve extinction.

~ St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, 62

I confessed in my last entry that I do not think often about hell, despite the fathers’ commendation of the practice. One way to remedy that is to reflect more here. St. Mark the Ascetic offers a radically different view than the common adage, “Ignorance is bliss.” Rather, he warns, “Hell is ignorance.” View full article »

Abba Evagrius said: … “Weep and lament for the judgement of sinners, bring to life the grief they suffer; be afraid that you are hurrying towards the same condemnation. Rejoice and exult at the good laid up for the righteous. Aim at enjoying the one, and being far from the other. Do not forget it, whether you are in your cell or abroad. Keep these memories in your mind and so cast out of it the sordid thoughts which harm you.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 3.3

A necessary corollary from the fact that all die, from a Christian perspective at least, is that all will face the judgment seat of Christ, who “will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead” (Nicene Creed). Indeed, while I have focused recently on the logic of asceticism, life—death—resurrection, it is important to remember that, in fact, there are two sorts of resurrection described in the Scriptures, the one to new life and the other to the “second death.” View full article »

After just writing a reflection on the practice of meditating on the final judgment and how we daily face the choice between rising to new life or the second death, through a glitch in WordPress the post was completely lost. And then I wrote a little post like this, which was promptly lost as well. Surely there is deep goodness and life beneath these daily deaths, if only I have eyes to see it. Blog posts, after all, are mortal and corruptible too. I’ll have to resurrect this one some other time.

Thank God, Christ is risen! Blog posts be damned.

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