Now, it is certainly required that what is subject to change be in a sense always coming to birth. In mutable nature nothing can be observed which is always the same. Being born, in the sense of constantly experiencing change, does not come about as a result of external initiative, as is the case with the birth of the body, which takes place by chance. Such a [spiritual] birth occurs by choice. We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be … moulding ourselves to the teaching of virtue or vice.
~ St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 2.3
Birth is a common spiritual metaphor, but—at least in my own case—I do not think the depth of this metaphor is contemplated often enough. Continue reading
I recently came across this passage from St. Theophan the Recluse. The idea of everyday asceticism isn’t new: Continue reading
There are a few similar sayings from the desert fathers to the one below, but I think it might be the most expansive. In any case, I think it stands alone just fine—one could consider every post on this blog as commentary on this one saying. It is an epitome of the ascetic life. The part that sits with me the most right now is “in deep humility.” Those three words are profound enough for me. Continue reading
Two brothers went to a town to sell what they had made. In the town they separated, and one of them fell into fornication. Afterwards the other brother said: “Let us go back to our cell, brother.” But he replied: “I am not coming.” And the other asked him: “Why, brother?” And he replied: “Because when you left me, I met temptation, and was guilty of fornication.” The other, wanting to help him, said: “It happened also to me: after I left you, I also fell into fornication. Let us go together, and do penance with all our might, and God will pardon us sinners.” When they returned to their cell, they told the elders what had happened to them, and were instructed what penance they should do. But the one did penance not for himself, but for the other, as though he himself had sinned. God, seeing his earnestness and his charity, disclosed to one of the elders, a few days later, that he had forgiven the fornicator because of the charity of the brother who had not sinned. Truly, this was to lay down his soul for his brother.
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 5.27
Just a short reflection—a few notes, really—for this Forgiveness Sunday. Vespers tonight actually marks the start of Great Lent for Orthodox Christians like myself, but I am unable to go: my little son Brendan seems to have the flu. So I’m home with him (who is sleeping next to me on the couch) while Kelly goes to Church. Continue reading
[Abba Poemen] also said: “There is nothing greater in love than that a man should lay down his life for his neighbour. When a man hears a complaining word and struggles against himself, and does not himself begin to complain; when a man bears an injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a man lays down his life for his neighbour.”
Abba Poemen here comments on the words of Christ:
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:12-14)
What I like about this saying is that it helps to highlight what ought to be obvious. That is, I think when I read this in the past I thought of Christ’s death on the cross, where he literally lays down his life for his friends. And that is true, fundamental even. But Jesus is saying more than that. This is about more than sacrifice and martyrdom. Or, as Abba Poemen points out, it is about a different kind of martyrdom: love. Continue reading
Sometimes stories from the desert fathers are too long to reflect on here, but I still want to share them. There is a lot to like about this story. It also reflects some of the more severe austerity of monastics, but there is enough here, I think, for readers to apply to their own contexts. I especially like the characterization of despair (and, by implication, hope). I also like the brief comment about “the venerable fathers, many of whom had overcome the devil though they lived in towns”—which somewhat contradicts the sort of spiritual elitism some impute to the fathers. This old man, at least, knew that salvation was available even to those who live in the world, even if the path there is harder to find and slower to travel. Continue reading
Abba Evagrius said: “A wandering mind is strengthened by reading, and prayer. Passion is dampened down by hunger and work and solitude. Anger is repressed by psalmody, and long-suffering, and mercy. But all these should be at the proper times and in due measure. If they are used at the wrong times and to excess, they are useful for a short time. But what is only useful for a short time, is harmful in the long run.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 10.20
When one reads early Christian responses to Jewish practices like Kosher diet or Sabbath observance or circumcision, especially that of St. Paul, perhaps, one can get the impression that he contradicts himself. At some points, he says that so long as someone does these things with a good conscience, it is pleasing to God. At other times, he talks about how none of these things have any spiritual profit. I think this saying from Abba Evagrius gives us some insight into what that early Christian perspective really was about: prudence. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
[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 Continue reading
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.” Continue reading