O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.
~ Veni, Veni, Emmanuel
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (Latin: “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”) may be my favorite Advent hymn. It was originally written in Latin perhaps as early as the eighth century. The version most of us know in English comes from the mid-nineteenth century, a time when translations, however archaic at times, strove for beauty and in this case added even more to an already content-rich hymn. While I’m not certain what the nineteenth century translators would have thought, I have an idea what “the way that leads on high” might have meant in the eighth century, and I think this verse shines through in its insight into the Christian life. View full article »
Where, then, can anyone go or where can he flee to escape from him who embraces everything?
~ 1 Clement 28.4
Today we Orthodox Christians commemorate St. Clement of Rome, who knew the Apostles, wrote a letter (1 Clement) on behalf of the Church in Rome to the Church in Corinth, and was martyred for his faith by being bound to an anchor and cast into the sea. The anchor, because ancient anchors often had a sort of cross shape at the top, was an ancient Christian symbol, thus those who persecuted him and other Christians out of xenophobia, envy, and rivalry unwittingly honored him in his death. His epistle to the Corinthians is a beautiful exhortation to peace and unity in the face of envy and rivalry. In the passage above, he reminds his readers of something no Christian would deny, but many (myself included) forget in practice: God “embraces everything.” View full article »
When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, “Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child [is] pushing from within me to let him come out.”
So he took her off the donkey and said to her, “Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert.”
And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem.
~ Protevangelium of James, 17.3(10)-18.1(1)
Last Friday, Orthodox Christians like myself began the liturgical season of Advent (most Christians have a few more weeks to go). For the Orthodox, this season is comparable to Great Lent. We fast through the whole period, but it is a lighter fast until the last two weeks. Basically we eat fish instead of being totally vegan, but it is a wonderful season of spiritual reflection nonetheless. View full article »
Saint Syncletice also said: “If you are troubled by illness, do not be melancholy, even if you are so ill that you cannot stand to pray or use your voice to say psalms. We need these tribulations to destroy the desires of our body; in this they serve the same purpose as fasting and austerity. If your senses are dulled by illness, you do not need to fast. In the same way that a powerful medicine cures an illness, so illness itself is a medicine to cure passion.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 7.17
This is not an easy saying, but it is a very important one. So much so that I have reflected on it once before. The desert fathers (and mothers, as in this case) offer a different perspective on suffering than what the world teaches. St. Syncletice here teases out the implications of the saying of Christ: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). Sickness and suffering are little tastes of death. We can have a new, resurrected life but not without dying first. If we want new creation, we must first submit to the destruction of the old. View full article »
Just as human affection, when it abounds, overpowers those who love and causes them to be beside themselves, so God’s love for men emptied God.
~ St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, 6.3
St. Nicholas Cabasilas lived in the middle ages, which is later than I usually go for sayings to reflect on. However, this one struck me as too profound not to share. I have written before on how our love for Christ can take on a romantic quality—that overpowering eros that compels us to leave everything to follow Jesus. But according to St. Nicholas, that is only half the story, and the beauty of the other half outshines the former as the light of the sun outshines the moon and the stars: God loved us in this way first. View full article »
Sometimes stories are too long to reflect on very thoroughly, but very worth sharing. For those who wonder what to think/believe of such a fantastic story, I would recommend an earlier reflection of mine: “Hang Your Cloak Upon a Sunbeam.”
Of the angelic splendour of the light which Virgnous-a youth of good disposition, and afterwards made by God superior of this Church in which I, though unworthy, now serve-saw coming down upon St. Columba in the Church, on a winter’s night, when the brethren were at rest in their chambers. View full article »
Abba Antony said: “Fish die if they are long out of water. So monks who dally long outside their cell or with men of the world, lose their will to solitude. As a fish can only live in the sea, so we must run back to our cells. Perhaps, if we dallied outside, we might lose our inner guard.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 2.1
Abba Antony offers a wonderful analogy for those of us whose lives sometimes seem so full. Just as “[f]ish die if they are long out of water,” so “monks who dally long outside their cell or with men of the world, lose their will to solitude.” Now of course, as “men [and women] of the world,” we cannot and should not avoid human contact, but neither should we neglect solitude. The difference is one of degree, not of kind. None of us live in a monk’s cell, but all of us require an “inner guard” to keep our hearts from falling to temptation. View full article »
I don’t usually write purely informational posts, but I thought this little factoid I somehow only now discovered would be worth sharing: Western Asceticism, the volume from which I always quote the Sayings of the Desert Fathers as well as a few of the Conferences of Cassian, and which also includes the Rule of St. Benedict, is completely and totally free on archive.org. You can download it in all sorts of formats, including a clean and searchable pdf of the text. Pretty cool!
You can find Western Asceticism on archive.org here.
So great is the splendour of a virtuous life that a peaceful conscience and a calm innocence work out a happy life.
~ St. Ambrose of Milan, On the Duties of the Clergy, 2.1
Virtue, it would seem, is woefully undervalued today. I do not mean to say that there are too few virtuous people—only God knows the hearts of others after all, and by what it appears virtue still shines upon the hearts of many. Rather, if St. Ambrose is correct—and I think he is—a virtuous life is the key to happiness. Shouldn’t our whole society be organized with the purpose of teaching and obtaining virtue then? What else would be more befitting of “the pursuit of happiness?” View full article »
When Abba Arsenius was still at the palace, he prayed the Lord saying: “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” And a voice came to him: “Arsenius, run from men and you shall be saved.” He went to become a monk, and again prayed in the same words. And he heard a voice saying: “Arsenius, be solitary: be silent: be at rest. These are the roots of a life without sin.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 2.3
Abba Arsenius may not have been the Roman Emperor, but he worked “at the palace” and likely enjoyed a very high quality of life for his time. Yet he finds that material comforts are not enough, and he prays, “Lord, show me the way to salvation.” The answer: “run from men and you shall be saved,” for him this meant becoming a monk, a hermit even. However, solitude, silence, and rest are not the exclusive property of hermits, even if they have much more abundant supply. A “life without sin” may be hard to come by in the world, but its roots can still grow in that soil. View full article »