Archive for February, 2013

[Abba Isaac said:] The fourth kind, thanksgiving, is when the mind recollects what God has done or is doing, or looks forward to the good which he has prepared for those that love him, and so offers its gratitude in an indescribable transport of spirit. Sometimes it offers still deeper prayers of this sort; when the soul contemplates with singleness of heart the reward of the saints and so is moved in its happiness to pour forth a wordless thanksgiving.

~ Conferences of Cassian 9.14

I have already reflected on the relationship between thanksgiving and joy in the past, but since there is always more to say about every subject of the spiritual life, I will reflect on the subject yet again here. In fact, such reflection, attempts to describe “an indescribable transport of spirit,” is really the heart of true theology in the first place, I would argue. And so I pass here from the mystery of thanksgiving to an even greater, more ineffable mystery here, though not really as a true theologian in that sense, I hasten to add, but merely as one who has been inspired by many. Continue reading


[Abba Arsenius] said: “If we seek God, he will appear to us: if we hold him, he will stay with us.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 11.1

Taking a short break from my series on the four forms of prayer, I wanted to reflect on this simple and striking saying of Abba Arsenius. It is a wonderful reminder of the power of persistence. Continue reading

An old man said: “I never wanted a work to be useful to me while causing loss to my brother: for I have this hope, that what helps my brother will bring fruit to me.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 17.24

According to Abba Isaac, intercession is the third of four forms of prayer, after supplications and vows and before thanksgiving. Intercession corresponds to the affective state of longing, which differs, in ancient Christian terminology, from desire (epithemia) in its ends. Longing is a wish for what is holy and virtuous. Intercession, similarly, is a request on behalf of another for his/her good. While Christians do not seek the good of others purely out of self-interest well understood, nevertheless the saying of this old man is true that “what helps my brother will bring fruit to me.” Continue reading

Abba Antony said: “Now I do not fear God, but I love him: for love casteth out fear” [cf. 1 John 4:18]

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 17.1

St. Antony’s saying, like much ancient Christian wisdom, is both simple and profound. He does not operate, like some do today, under a defeatist mentality when it comes to the spiritual life. Many today, I know, repeat to themselves the destructive mantra: “I am a sinner, and that is never going to change in this life.” Such a perspective, I fear, portrays the Gospel as the worst good news anyone could ever hear. Continue reading

430px-David_(Kirillo-Belozersk)Syncletice of holy memory said: “Men endure sore travail and conflict when they are first converted to the Lord, but later they have joy unspeakable. They are like men trying to light a fire, the smoke gets into their eyes, their eyes begin to drop tears—but they succeed in what they want. It is written: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ [cf. Exodus 24:17; Deuteronomy 4:24, 9:3; Hebrews 12:29]: and so we must kindle the fire of God with tears and trouble.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 3.16

Continuing my series on the four forms of prayer, I come to supplication. As I mentioned in my first post, according to Abba Isaac, supplication is “particularly suitable to beginners, who are still smarting under the recollection of their sins.” In the course of exploring what supplication looks like, I would also like to examine contrition, since that is the affective state that corresponds to it. I find Amma Syncletice’s statement to be a helpful counterbalance to Abba Isaac. After all, spiritual wisdom is often aimed at the concrete. The principles apply in typical cases, not absolutely. In this case, I find a reciprocal relationship between contrition and supplication. Supplication is the appropriate response to contrition, Abba Isaac is correct, but it also helps to cultivate contrition in those to whom it does not come so easily. Continue reading