According to Jim Forest,
No matter what season of the year it was, [St. Seraphim of Sarov] greeted visitors with the paschal salutation, “Christ is risen!” As another paschal gesture, he always wore a white robe.
Truly he is risen!
Pascha came early to my little family this year. That’s not a reference to the Eastern Church calendar either; by some liturgical accident East and West had the same date this year.
No, I say Pascha came early because our second son Aidan was born right at the start of Lent. Continue reading
An old man said: “Ask God to give you heartfelt grief and humility…. Control your tongue and belly, and drink no wine.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 1.22
This old man says a bit more (in particular about lust, judging, and arguments), but I want to focus on the connection between fasting and grief in particular. In fact, grief is the most common—though not the only—occasion for fasting mentioned in the Bible. In particular, I have three, Lenten theses. Continue reading
Abba John the Short said: “The gateway to God is humility. Our fathers endured much suffering and so entered the city of God with joy.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 15.22
Humility is often praised (perhaps paradoxically) in the most exalted ways by ancient Christians. But rightly so! I’ve heard that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” I’m not sure whether that is true, but humility, I know, is a “gateway to God.” It is a gateway virtue. I can see the public service announcement now: “Parents, have you talked to your children about humility?” If only, right? Humility, indeed, is so powerful in its apparent weakness that it can even turn suffering into great joy.
I am reminded of a saying of St. Anthony: “I saw the snares that the enemy spread out over the world, and I said groaning, ‘What can get through such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humiity.'” Continue reading
John the Less of the Thebaid, a disciple of Abba Ammonius, was said to have lived for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill, and sitting on a mat near him. But the old man was always cross with him; and although John worked a long time for him, he never said: “May it be well with you.” But when the old man was on his death-bed, in the presence of the elders of that place, he held John’s hand and said: “May it be well with you, may it be well with you.” And the old man commended John to the old men, saying: “This is an angel, not a man.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 16.4
John the Less (not to be confused with John the Short) lived, according to this story, “for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill.” And yet, not once did he hear from the old man, “May it be well with you.” I think that there are many in John’s situation in the world today—serving others thanklessly for years and years. Yet how many of us have eyes to see: “This is an angel, not a man [or woman].” How many of them know what saints they are? Continue reading
[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 Isaac said:] Whether the prayer is expressing repentance, or is pledging the heart in the confident trust of a pure conscience, or is expressing the intercessions which spring from a charitable heart, or is rendering thanks in the sight of the great and loving gifts of God—we have known prayers dart up like sparks from a fire. It is therefore clear that all men need to use all four kinds. The same person according to his diversity of affective states will use prayers of repentance or offering or intercession or thanksgiving.
The first kind seems particularly suitable to beginners, who are still smarting under the recollection of their sins. The second kind seems particularly suitable to people who have already attained a certain progress towards goodness. Intercession seems particularly suitable to people who are fulfilling the pledges of self-offering which they made, see the frailty of others, and are moved by charity to intercede for them. Thanksgiving seems particularly suitable for those who have torn out of their hearts the sins which pricked their conscience and are at last free from fear of falling again: and then, recollecting the generosity and the mercy of the Lord, past or present or future, are rapt away into that spark-like prayer which no mortal can understand or describe.
~ Conferences of Cassian, 9.15
I have written in the past about the destructive cycle of passions that so often leads to tragedy in our lives here. And I have reflected on this particular passage with regards to thanksgiving here. However, I would like to focus a little more closely on this passage and see the connection that Abba Isaac draws between different forms of prayer and virtuous passions that typically follow a particular order—how the way out of the vicious cycle of death is a virtuous progression of life. Continue reading
[Abba Isaac said:] Thanksgiving seems particularly suitable for those who have torn out of their hearts the sins which pricked their conscience and are at last free from fear of falling again: and then, recollecting the generosity and the mercy of the Lord, past or present or future, are rapt away into that spark-like prayer which no mortal can understand or describe.
~ Conferences of Cassian 9.15
Thanksgiving, in this case one of four types of prayer (perhaps I’ll write on that more general subject some other time), represents an exceptional thing. It is the proper response to true joy, that joy that comes from virtue, from tearing “sins which pricked [our] conscience” out of our hearts and being freed from the fear of falling in the same way again. It is the joy that comes when, through ascetic struggle and the grace of God, we make real progress in righteousness. Continue reading