Gaining forgiveness because of a brother’s love

Untitled document Two brothers went to market to sell the things they had made. The first fell into fornication as soon as he separated from his companion. He met his brother who said to him, 'My brother, let us go to our cell', but he replied, 'I am not going'. The other persisted, saying, 'My brother, why not?' He said, 'Because when you had left me, I fell into fornication.' His brother, wishing to win him over, said to him, 'The same thing happened to me, too, when you left me; come, let us go and do strict penance and God will forgive us.' They went to tell the old men what had happened to them, and the old men gave them commandments for doing penance. Then one of the brothers did penance for the other as though he had sinned himself. But God, seeing the affliction he was giving himself for love's sake, made known to one of the old men, after some days, that because of the great love of the brother who had not sinned, he had forgiven the one who had sinned. See what it is to give one's soul for one's brother

Contemplation on the 11th hour of the Eve of Great Friday (1)

The three denials

What difference does it make that the maid is the first to give Peter away? The men could have recognized him instead. Perhaps this happened so that we may see that the female gender also sinned by killing the Lord, so that His passion should also redeem womankind. A woman therefore was the first to receive the mystery of the Resurrection and to obey the commands (John 20:11-18), so that she abolished the old error of her sin.

How to Learn to Love the Lord

Last week the Holy Myrrh-bearers instructed us on love and today St. John the Theologian also instructs us concerning love. He loved the Lord more than anyone else and was loved by Him. Let us imprint in our minds this image of love, and let us begin to turn our feelings according to it and our attitude in relation to the Lord. How did St. John the Theologian attain such lofty love for the Lord and become a model of love for all of us? I think that he did this in the same way that people begin to love one another. They see the beauty and goodness of a person and become attracted to them with all their heart. In like manner St. John saw the beauty of the Lord and was attracted to Him. He sensed the Lord’s special love for him and likewise was inflamed with love for Him. He saw the great, wondrous, and fruitful works of the Lord and, moved by fervent piety, he became completely devoted to Him. He tasted the sweetness of love for Him and, immersed with his whole heart in this love, took rest in it. Here follows the path of assent in love for the Lord. Let us enter upon it, and in the end we will acquire it. Continue reading How to Learn to Love the Lord

Concerning corruption and destruction

The word corruption has two meanings. For it signifies all the human sufferings, such as hunger, thirst, weariness, the piercing with nails, death, that is, the separation of soul and body, and so forth. In this sense we say that our Lord’s body was subject to corruption.

For He voluntarily accepted all these things. But corruption means also the complete resolution of the body into its constituent elements, and its utter disappearance, which is spoken of by many preferably as destruction. The body of our Lord did not experience this form of corruption, as the prophet David says, For Thou will not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy one to see corruption.

Wherefore to say, with that foolish Julianus and Gaianus, that our Lord’s body was incorruptible, in the first sense of the word, before His resurrection is impious. For if it were incorruptible it was not really, but only apparently, of the same essence as ours, and what the Gospel tells us happened, viz. the hunger, the thirst, the nails, the wound in His side, the death, did not actually occur. But if they only apparently happened, then the mystery of the dispensation is an imposture and a sham, and He became man only in appearance, and not in actual fact, and we are saved only in appearance, and not in actual fact. But God forbid, and may those who so say have no part in the salvation. But we have obtained and shall obtain the true salvation. But in the second meaning of the word “corruption,” we confess that our Lord’s body is incorruptible, that is, indestructible, for such is the tradition of the inspired Fathers. Indeed, after the resurrection of our Saviour from the dead, we say that our Lord’s body is incorruptible even in the first sense of the word. For our Lord by His own body bestowed the gifts both of resurrection and  of subsequent incorruption even on our own body, He Himself having   become to us the firstfruits both of resurrection and incorruption, and of passionlessness. For as the divine Apostle says, This corruptible must put an incorruption.

CHAPTER XXVIII. Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Books III-IV by Saint John of Damascus
Taken from “The Early Church Fathers and Other Works” originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (LNPF II/IX, Schaff and Wace). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD. 

On Thomas Sunday (1)

Christ is Risen! O the marvel! the forbearance! the immeasurable meekness! The Untouched is felt; the Master is held by a servant, And He reveals His wounds to one of His inner circle. Seeing these wounds, the whole Creation was shaken at the time. Thomas, when he was considered worthy of such gifts, Lifted up a prayer to the One Who deemed him worthy, Saying, “Bear my rashness with patience, Have pity on my unworthiness and lighten the burden Of my lack of faith, so that I may sing and cry, `Thou art our Lord and God.’

On Truth and Love in the Writings

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, the beloved disciple of the Lord, is above all an example and a teacher of love. Love breathes through his gospel, lessons about love fill his epistles and his life serves as a striking example of love.

He expounded on all the mysteries of love – its source, its movement in deeds, and its culmination – and where it leads all that follow it, to the heights. In this subject of love St. John is especially well known, and no matter who would begin to muse, about love he would immediately bring to mind St. John as the model of love and turn to him as to a teacher of love. Continue reading On Truth and Love in the Writings

“How Many Times Have I Promised, Yet everytime I failed to keep My word….”

Grant forgiveness, O Lord, send also strength. Convert me, that I might live in sanctity, according to Thy holy will. Sanctify my heart that has become a den and dwelling-place of demons.

I am unworthy to ask forgiveness for myself, O Lord, for many times have I promised to repent and proved myself a liar by not fulfilling my promise. Thou hast picked me up many times already, but every time I freely chose to fall again.

Therefore I condemn myself and admit that I deserve all manner of punishment and torture. How many times hast Thou enlightened my darkened mind; yet every time I return again to base thoughts! My whole body trembles when I contemplate this; yet every time sinful sensuality reconquers me.

How shall I recount all the gifts of Thy grace, O Lord, that I the pitiful one have received? Yet I have reduced them all to nothing by my apathy — and I continue on in this manner. Thou has bestowed upon me thousands of gifts, yet miserable me, I offer in return things repulsive to Thee.

Yet Thou, O Lord, inasmuch as Thou containest a sea of longsuffering and an abyss of kindness, do not allow me to be felled as a fruitless fig tree; and do not let me be burned without having ripened on the field of life. Snatch me not away unprepared; seize not me who have not yet lit my lamp; take not away me who have no wedding garment; but, because Thou art good and the lover of mankind, have mercy on me. Give me time to repent, and place not my soul stripped naked before Thy terrible and unwavering throne as a pitiful spectacle of infamy.

If a righteous man can barely be saved, then where will I end up, I who am lawless and sinful? If the path that leads to life is strait and narrow, then how can I be vouchsafed such good things, I who live a life of luxury, indulging in my own pleasures and dissipation? But Thou, O Lord, my Saviour, Son of the true God, as Thou knowest and desirest it, by Thy grace alone, freely turn me away from the sin that abides in me and save me from ruin.

The text presented here is of the 120th 'Psalm' in St Ephraim's Spiritual Psalter. 

Life and teachings of Saint John the short

It was said of Abba John the Dwarf that he withdrew and lived in the desert at Scetis with an old man of Thebes. His abba, taking a piece of dry wood, planted it and said to him, “Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.” Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to life and bore fruit. The old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church saying to the brethren, “Take and eat the fruit of obedience.”

It was said of Abba John the Dwarf, that one day he said to his elder brother, “I should like to be free of all care, like the angels who do not work, but ceaselessly offer worship to God.” So he took off his cloak and went away into the desert. After a week he came back to his brother. When he knocked on the door, he heard his brother say, before he opened it, “Who are you?” He said, “I am John, your brother.” But he replied, “John has become an angel, and henceforth he is no longer among men.” Then the other begged him saying, “It is I.” However, his brother did not let him in, but left him there in distress until morning. Then, opening the door, he said to him, “You are a man and you must once again work in order to eat.” Then John made a prostration before him, saying, “Forgive me.” (NOTE: this story is, according to most sources, from Abba John’s youth when he was still living with his family)

Abba John the Dwarf said, “If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy’s city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh; if a man goes about fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak.”

Some old men were entertaining themselves at Scetis by having a meal together; amongst them was Abba John. A venerable priest got up to offer drink, but nobody accepted any from him, except John the Dwarf. They were surprised and said to him, “How is that you, the youngest, dared to let yourself be served by the priest?” Then he said to them, “When I get up to offer drink, I am glad when everyone accepts it, since I am receiving my reward; that is the reason, then, that I accepted it, so that he also might gain his reward and not be grieved by seeing that no one would accept anything from him.” When they heard this, they were all filled with wonder and edification at his discretion.

The brethren used to tell how the brethren were sitting one day at an agape* and one brother at table began to laugh. When he saw that, Abba John began to weep, saying, “What does this brother have in his heart, that he should laugh, when he ought to weep, because he is eating at an agape?”

Some brethren came one day to test him to see whether he would let his thoughts get dissipated and speak of the things of this world. They said to him, “We give thanks to God that this year there has been much rain and the palm trees have been able to drink, and their shoots have grown, and the brethren have found manual work.” Abba John said to them, “So it is when the Holy Spirit descends into the hearts of men; they are renewed and they put forth leaves in the fear of God.”

Abba John said, “I am like a man sitting under a great tree, who sees wild beasts and snakes coming against him in great numbers. When he cannot withstand them any longer, he runs to climb the tree and is saved. It is just the same with me; I sit in my cell and I am aware of evil thoughts coming against me, and when I have no more strength against them, I take refuge in God by prayer and I am saved from the enemy.”

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this: “I find myself in peace, without an enemy,” he said. The old man said to him, “Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.” So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, “Lord, give me strength for the fight.”

The old man also said this to a certain brother about the soul, which wishes to be converted, “There was in a city a courtesan who had many lovers. One of the governors approached her, saying, “Promise me you will be good, and I will marry you.” She promised this and he took her and brought her to his house. Her lovers, seeking her again, said to one another, “That lord has taken her with him to his house, so if we go to his house and he learns of it, he will condemn us. But let us go to the back, and whistle to her. Then, when she recognizes the sound of the whistle she will come down to us; as for us, we shall be unassailable.” When she heard the whistle, the woman stopped her ears and withdrew to the inner chamber and shut the doors.” The old man said that this courtesan is our soul, that her lovers are the passions and other men; that the lord is Christ; that the inner chamber is the eternal dwelling; those who whistle are the evil demons, but the soul always takes refuge in the Lord.

One day when Abba John was going up to Scetis with some other brothers, their guide lost his way for it was night time. So the brothers said to Abba John, “What shall we do, Abba, in order not to die wandering about, for the brother has lost the way?” The old man said to them, “If we speak to him, he will be filled with grief and shame. But look here, I will pretend to be ill and say I cannot walk any more; then we can stay here till the dawn.” This he did. The others said, “We will not go on either, but we will stay with you.” They sat there until the dawn, and in this way they did not upset the brother.

On Thomas Sunday (2)

Divine compassion brought it about in a wonderful way that when the doubting disciple touched the wounds in his Master’s body, he cured the wounds of our unbelief. Thomas’ unbelief was of more advantage to our faith than the faith of the believing disciples because when he was led back to faith by touching Jesus, our minds were relieved of all doubt and made firm in faith. And so after His resurrection Jesus allowed His disciples to doubt. But He did not desert him in his doubt. It is much the same as when before His birth He desired that Mary have a husband, who had not yet married her. The disciple who doubted and touched became a witness to the truth of the resurrection in just the same way as the husband of His mother had been the guardian of her perfect virginity.

God became man to redeem us

The Word of God, incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial, entered our world. Yet it was not as if he had been remote from it up to that time. For there is no part of the world that was ever without his presence; together with his Father, he continually filled all things and places.

Out of his loving-kindness for us he came to us, and we see this in the way he revealed himself openly to us. Taking pity on mankind’s weakness, and moved by our corruption, he could not stand aside and see death have the mastery over us; he did not want creation to perish and his Father’s work in fashioning man to be in vain. He therefore took to himself a body, no different from our own, for he did not wish simply to be in a body or only to be seen. Continue reading God became man to redeem us

Contemplation on the 6th hour of the Eve of Great Friday (3)

"My soul is very sorrowful" 

The Lord, to test the fidelity of the human nature He had taken on, truly felt sorrowful. However, lest the suffering in His soul be overwhelming, He began to feel sorrowful over the events taking place just before His suffering. For it is one thing to feel sorrowful and another thing to begin to feel sorrowful. But He felt sorrowful, not because He feared the suffering that lay ahead and because He had scolded Peter for his timidity but because of the most unfortunate Judas, the falling away of all the apostles, the rejection by the Jewish people, and the overturning of woeful Jerusalem. Jonah, too, became sad when the plant of ivy had withered, unwilling to have this booth disappear.

How to deal with the warefare which Lust arouses in us

There was an anchorite who had settled in the desert in the district of Antinoe and was progressing in virtue.  Many were edified by his words and deeds. The enemy was jealous of his goodness, as he is wont to be of all virtuous men, and under the guise of piety suggested the following thought to him, "you should not let yourself be served by another, but you ought to serve others; since you do not do that, at lease serve yourself.  So go and sell your baskets and buy whatsoever you need, then return at once to your anchoritic life without being a burden to anyone." This is what that deceiver jealous of his silent prayer, his attention to God, and the help many received from him, suggested. Truly, the enemy strove in all ways to take him captive.  Convinced by a thought wh ich he believed to bee good, he went down to his monastery, this anchorite whom at that time everyone admired.  He was really without experience of the great astuteness of the demon who was setting snares for him, although he was an anchorite, know and of repute.  After a long time, he met a woman and since he was weakened by his carelessness, he went to a desert place, accompanied by the enemy, and he sinned beside the river.  When he realized how the enemy was rejoicing at his fall, he began to despair of himself for having so greatly grieved the Spirit of God, the angels, and the holy Fathers, many of whom, even in the cities, had overcome the enemy.  Unable to think of anyone like himself, he was filled with sadness, not remembering that God grants strength those who firmly hope in him.  Because he could not see how his sin could be healed, he wanted to9 throw himself into the river and die there.  The great torment of his soul made his body ill, and if the God of mercy had not helped him, he would have died without repentance, to the great delight of the enemy.  Returning at last to his senses, he thought of trying to endure greater affliction in suffering.  So he returned to the monastery and closed his cell door, and he wept, as it behoves us to weep over a dead body, beseeching God.  By fasting and watching in affliction, his body grew weak, yet he did not feel he had done enough penance.  Brothers often came to see him for their spiritual benefit, and when they knocked on the door, he said he couldn not open to them.  "I have given my word", he said "to do penance seriously for a year." And he added, "Pray for me", not knowing how else to reply so as not to shock his listeners, for he was of great repute amongst themand considered as a great monk.  So he spent the whole year in severe penance. 

When the day of the Pasch came, on the night of the holy Resurrection, he took a new lamp and prepared it, putting in a new wick and covering it.  In the evening he began to pray, saying, "O merciful and compassionate God, you will that even the barbarians should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, I flee to you, Savior of souls.  Have pity on me, who to the delight of the enemy, have so grieved you, and who at present am dead through having obeyed the enemy.  Master, you have mercy on the godless, and those who are without mercy, and you have taught us to be merciful to others–have compassion on my weakness. For to you nothing is impossible.  My soul deserves hell.  Have pity on me, for yo u are gracious to your creatures, for on the day of the resurrection, you willed to awaken even the bodies which no longer have life.  Hear me, Lord, for my spirit and my unhappy soul fail me.  Even my body, which I have defiled, falls into decay, and I am no longer able to live because of my dread of you.  Instead of believing that my sin would be pardoned through penitence, I committed a double sin by my unfaithfulness. Revive me, for I am rushed, and command that this lamp maybe be kindled by your fire, that I may receive the assurance of your mercy, and know that in your mercy you have forgiven me.  I will keep your commandments all the days of my life which you grant me, and I will no more depart from your fear, but I will serve you faithfully, even better than before."

 Having uttered these words with many tears on the night of Resurrection, he got up to see if the was lamp was alight.  When he uncovered it and saw that it was not alight, he made a prostration again before the Lord and besought him, saying, "lord, I know there are difficulities in the way of my being crowned, for I have not watched my steps, thinking rather of the pleasures of the flesh than of the punishment of blasphermers.  Spare me, Lord, for once more I confess your goodness and my baseness before you, in the presence of all your angels and the saints; if it were not a matter for scandal, I would confess it also before men.  Accordingly, have mercy on me, that I may be able to teach mercy to others. Even so Lord revive me."  Having prayerd thus three times, he was heard.  Getting up, he found the lamp was burning brightly.  Filled with hope, he was strengthened by the joy of is heart and he rejoiced, wondering at the grace God had granted him in giving him his sign."  He remained thus, prolonging his confession, and the day dawned and he rejoiced in the Lord without remembering bodily food.  He preserved the light  of his lamp all the days of his life, pouring oil into it and feeding it for fear lest it should go out.  Thus the divine Spirit dwelt in him again, and he became a sign for all, humble in his witness to the Lord and his acknowledgement of him.  When he came to the point of delivering up his sould, this was revealed to him several days beforehand.

Pastoral care

He, therefore, who sets himself to act evilly and yet wishes others to be silent, is a witness against himself, for he wishes himself to be loved more than the truth, which he does not wish to be defended against himself. There is, of course, no man who so lives as not sometimes to sin, but he wishes truth to be loved more than himself, who wills to be spared by no one against the truth. Wherefore, Peter willingly accepted the rebuke of Paul; David willingly hearkened to the reproof of a subject. For good rulers who pay no regard to self-love, , take as a homage to their humility the free and sincere words of subjects. But in this regard the office of ruling must be tempered with such great art of moderation, that the minds of subjects, when demonstrating themselves capable of taking right views in some matters, are given freedom of expression, but freedom that does not issue into pride, otherwise, when liberty of speech is granted too generously, the humility of their own lives will be lost.

What am I doing wrong, concerning lusts?

A brother overcome by lust went to see a great old man and besought him, saying, 'Be so good as to pray for me, for I am overcome by lust.' And the old man prayed to God for him. A second time he went to the old man and said the same thing, and once more the old man did not omit to beseech God for him, saying, 'Lord, reveal to me the manner of life of this brother and whence comes this action of the devil, for I have already besought you and he has not found peace'. Then God revealed this to him about the brother: he saw him sitting with the spirit of lust beside him and an angel, sent to his aid, was standing beside him and becoming angry with him because he did not fall down before God but, taking pleasure in his thoughts, delivered up his spirit completely to the action of the devil. So the old man knew that the cause came from the brother, and he told him, 'It is you who are consenting to your thoughts.' Then he taught him how to resist thoughts, and the brother, restored by the old man's prayer and teaching, found rest.