His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco invites you to the celebration of Greek Letters Day to honor the feast of the Three Hierarchs and to award our Greek youth for participating in the 5th Annual Contest of Letters & Arts hosted by the Metropolis Hellenic Education and Culture Committee.
After the Saviour was born of the Virgin and circumcised on the eighth day according to the law, then, as Luke the evangelist says, “when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord” (Luke 2.22). He is circumcised according to the law, brought to Jerusalem according to the law, presented to the Lord as it is written in the law and a sacrifice is offered as the law demands.
Notice that the Creator and Lord of the law is completely obedient to the law. What does He achieve by this? He makes our nature obedient in all things to the Father, He completely heals us of its disobedience and transforms the curse on it into a blessing. As all human nature was in Adam, so it is in Christ. All who received their being from the earthly Adam have returned to the earth and been brought down, alas, to Hades. But, according to the Apostle, through the heavenly Adam we have all been called up to heaven and made worthy of its glory and grace. Secretly for the present, for it says “your life is hid with Christ in God”. But, “when Christ shall appear”, at His second manifestation and coming, “then shall ye all appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3.3). What does it mean by “all”? All those who have received the adoption of sons in Christ by the Spirit, and have proved by their deeds that they are His spiritual children.
Saint Gregory Palamas, from a sermon given on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord, in one of the years from 1347 to 1359, in Thessaloniki.
A great champion hath the whole world found thee to be when in grave perils; for thou dost put to flight the heathen, O victorious one. As thou didst humble Lyaeus’s arrogance and gavest boldness to Nestor in the stadium, thus, O holy Great Martyr Demetrios, do thou entreat Christ our God that we be granted great mercy.
Apolytikion of the Saint, Third Tone
Saint Demetrios was a Thessalonian, a most pious son of pious and noble parents, and a teacher of the Faith of Christ. When Emperor Maximian first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly. But when it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian, he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house. While the games were under way in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A certain friend of his, a barbarian who was a notable wrestler, Lyaeus by name, waxing haughty because of the height and strength of his body, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. All that fought with him were defeated. Seeing this, a certain youth named Nestor, an acquaintance of Demetrius’s, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the precious Cross, he presented himself in the stadium and said, “O God of Demetrius help me!” and straightway he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless upon the earth. Maximian was sorely grieved over this, and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he commanded straightway and Demetrius was pierced with lances while he was yet in the bath-house. As for Nestor, Maximian commanded that he be slain with his own sword.
Adapted from The Great Horologion published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Brethren and fathers,
How great is the condescension and the love of God toward men! Before the unutterable goodness of God I am struck with amazement, I am filled with wonder. So I cry out, “O wondrous miracle, power of God’s commandments, how they change those who practice and observe them!”
Once I had started out on the way and had in slight measure returned to my senses from the abyss of evil and darkness I was obsessed with feear as I was tormented by the evils within me. Yet it was really love and striving for goodness that contributed most to turn me toward it. But all that it accomplished was a flight from evil that impelled me toward the good. In the midst of these things there was this alone that held me back—my ingrained propensities and evil habits of sensuality. By the persistent practice of prayer, the meditation on God’s oracles, and the acquiring of good habits this fades away. As the sun gradually rises the darkness recedes and disappears. So as virtue shines, evil, like darkness, is driven away and is proved to be without substance, and from then on we shall always continue in goodness just as we have previously been evil. Through a little patience and a very slight effort of will, or, rather, by the help of the living God, we are re-created and renewed. We are cleansed in soul, body, and mind, and we become that which we really are, though we know it not because we are shrouded by passions, and in addition we receive gifts of which we are not worthy.
Even I, who am of all men most insignificant and useless, have received some of these gifts—how good it is thankfully to proclaim the blessings of God, who loves men!—by the grace of my Saviour Jesus Christ. By grace I have received grace, by doing well I have received His kindness, by fire I have been requited with fire, by flame with flame. As I ascended I was given other ascents, at the end of the ascent I was given light, and by the light an even clearer light. In the midst thereof a sun shone brightly and from it a ray shone forth that filled all things. The object of my thought remained beyond understanding, and in this state I remained while I wept most sweetly and marveled at the ineffable. The divine mind conversed with my own mind and taught me, saying, “Do you realize what My power has done to you out of love for men because of but a little faith and patience that strengthens your love? Behold, though you are subject to death, you have become immortal, and though you are ruled by corruption you find yourself above it. You live in the world and yet you are with Me; you are clothed with a body and yet you are not weighed down by any of the pleasures of the body. You are puny in appearance, yet you see intellectually. It is in very deed I Who have brought you into being out of nothing.”
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, from Discourse 17
Imagine a circle with its center and radii or rays going out from this center. The further these radii are from the center the more widely they are dispersed and separated from one another; and conversely, the closer they come to the center, the closer they are to one another.
Suppose now that this circle is the world, the very center of the circle is God, and the lines going from the center to the circumference or from the circumference to the center are the paths of men’s lives. Then here we see the same.
Insofar as the Saints move inward within the circle towards its center, wishing to come near to God, then, in the degree of their penetration, they come closer both to God and to one another; moreover, inasmuch as they come nearer to God, they come nearer to one another, and inasmuch as they come nearer to one another, they come nearer to God. It is the same with drawing away ….
Such is the property of love; inasmuch as we are outside and do not love God, so each is far from his neighbor. But if we love God, inasmuch as we come near to Him by love of Him, so we become united by love with our neighbors, and inasmuch as we become united by love with our neighbors, so we become united with God.
Saint Dorotheos of Gaza, Directions on Spiritual Training, 42
To do justice to the holy celebrations proclaimed for today, my friends, our words call for the sound of the trumpet, for the voice of the horn sounding out more loudly and echoing to the ends of the earth; yet I fear they must be borne by the weak instrument of our own voices. Still, the queen and mistress of the world cares little for honor, and may well accept our short, poor discourse, offered here in her service, as graciously as the long and splendid works of great orators. For she is moved by the prayers of those who have asked me to speak, since she values true goodness, after all, and looks only at our intentions.
But come, gather around me, everyone under heaven—all you hierarchs and priests, monks and people of the world, kings and rulers, men and women, young men and maidens, of all nations and tongues, of every race and every people—change your clothes for the robes of virtue, wrap yourselves in them as in “bright garments fringed with gold” [Psalm 44.13 LXX], and come with hearts rejoicing to celebrate the festival of the burial and the passing [into glory] of Mary, the Mother of the Lord. For she has gone away from here and draws near the eternal mountains, she who is the true Mount Sion, where God was pleased to dwell, as the Psalmist’s lyre sings [Psalm 131.14 LXX]. Today she who was heaven on earth is wrapped in a cloak of incorruptibility; she has moved to a better, more blessed dwelling-place. Today the spiritual moon, shining with the light of God, has come into heavenly conjunction with the “Sun of righteousness,” eclipsing her temporary home in this present life; rising anew in His home, she is radiant with the dignity of immortality. Today that ark of holiness, wrought with gold and divinely furnished, has been lifted up from her tabernacle on earth and is borne towards the Jersualem above, to unending rest; and David, the ancestor of God, poet as he is, strikes up a song for us and cries, “Virgins”—meaning souls—”will be led to the King”—to you, O God—”behind her” [Psalm 44.14 LXX].
Now the Mother of God shuts her material eyes, and opens her spiritual eyes towards us like great shining stars that will never set, to watch over us and to intercede before the face of God for the world’s protection. Now those lips, moved by God’s grace to articulate sounds, grow silent, but she opens her [spiritual] mouth to intercede eternally for all of her race. Now she lowers those bodily hands that once bore God, only to raise them, in incorruptible form, in prayer to the Lord on behalf of all creation. At this moment her natural form, radiant as the sun, is hidden; yet her light shines through her painted image, and she offers it to the people for the life-giving kiss of relative veneration, even if the heretics are unwilling. The holy dove has flown to her home above, yet she does not cease to protect those below; departing from her body, she is with us in spirit; gathered up to heaven, she banishes demons by her intercession with the Lord.
Long ago, death took charge of the world through our ancestor Eve; but now it has engaged in combat with her blessed daughter and been beaten away, conquered by the very source from whom it had received its power. Let the race of women rejoice, then, for it has received glory in place of shame! Let Eve be glad, for she is under a curse no more, having produced in Mary a child of blessing. Let the whole of creation jump for joy, drinking the mystical flood of incorruption from that virgin spring and putting an end to its mortal thirst. These are the things we celebrate today, this is the subject of our solemn song: Mary provides it for us—the root of Jesse who bore the flower Christ; the rod of Aaron with its sacred bud; the spiritual Paradise containing the tree of life; the meadow alive with the fragrance of virginity; the blooming vine, cultivated by God, which became the ripe grape flowing with life, the high, exalted cherubim-throne of the universal king; the home full of the glory of the Lord; the sacred veil of Christ; the bright land of sunrise. She has fallen asleep in peace and righteousness—fallen asleep, I say, but she is not dead! She has passed on from us, yet she does not cease to protect her people.
From the Encomium on the Dormition of Our Holy Lady, the Mother of God, by Saint Theodore the Studite
The Prophet Isaiah foretold in respect of the Gospel that “the Lord will give a concise word on the earth” [Isaiah 10.23 LXX]. A concise word is an utterance containing an abundance of meaning in a few phrases. So let us look again at the Gospel passage, which we examined earlier, and add what we left out, that we may take our fill of the incorruptible meaning stored up in it, and all receive divine inspiration.
“At that time Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and His face did shine as the sun” [Matthew 17.1-2; see also Mark 9.2-3]. “Behold, now is the acceptable time,” brethren, “now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6.2; see also Isaiah 49.8], a divine, new and eternal day, not measured in hours, never lengthening or shortening, uninterrupted by night. For us it is the day of the Sun of righeousness [Malachi 4.2], with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow nor turning [James 1.17]. That Sun, since the day when, by the good pleasure of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, He lovingly shone upon us and led us “out of darkness into His marvellous light” [1 Peter 2.9], continues without setting to shine upon us for ever.
As the Sun of Righteousness [Malachi 4.2] and truth, He does not consent to give light to, or be known perfectly by, those who cultivate lying and either extol injustice or demonstrate it in their deeds. But He shines upon those who act righteously and love truth, is believed by them, and delights them with His rays. Therefore the Scripture says, “Light has dawned for the righteous, and its companion, gladness” [see Psalme 97.11 LXX]. And the Psalmist and Prophet also sings to God, “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name” [Psalm 89.12], foretelling the joy that those who later saw that illumination would experience. Isaiah tells us “to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free” [Isaiah 58.6]. What then? “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health as shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee, and the glory of the Lord shall compass thee” [Isaiah 58.8 LXX]. Again he says, “If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke and the stretching forth of the hand, and murmuring speech, and if thou give bread to the hungry from thy heart, and satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as noonday” [Isaiah 58.9-10 LXX]. For that Sun makes other suns of those upon whom it brightly shines. “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” [Matthew 13.43].
Let us cast off, brethren, the works of darkness, and let us perform the works of light, that we may not only walk honestly, as in the day [Romans 13.12-13], but also become children of the day [1 Thessalonians 5.5]. And come, let us go up the mountain where Christ shone forth, that we may see what happened there. Or rather, if we become children worthy of that day, the Word of God Himself will take us up when the time comes. Now, I beseech you, strive to lift up the eyes of your understanding towards the light of the Gospel message, that you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12.2], and having acquired the divine brightness from above, be conformed to the likeness of the glory of the Lord [Romans 8.29], Whose face shone like the sun today on the mountain.
From a sermon by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, between the years 1347 and 1359.
The Father is light, the Son is light, the Holy Spirit is light.
Watch what you say, brother, watch lest you go astray!
For the Three are one light, one, not separated,
but united in three persons without confusion.
For God is wholly undivided by nature
and in essence He is truly beyond all essence.
He is not split in power, nor in form, nor in glory,
nor in appearance, for He is contemplated entirely as simple light.
In these the persons are one, the three hypostases are one.
For the Three are in the one, or rather the Three are one,
the Three are one power, the Three are one glory,
the Three are one nature, one essence, and one divinity.
And these are the one light that illuminates the world,
not the world, perish the thought, not this visible world
—for this visible world has not known Him, nor is it
able to know, nor can the friends of the world,
for the one who loves the world is an enemy of God,
but we call “the world” that which God has made human
according to his image and likeness,
because one is adorned with virtues, one rules terrestrial beings,
just as God has authority over the universe,
so also one reigns over the passions according to this image,
and subjugates demons, the craftsmen of evils,
and tramples underfoot the dragon, the primeval, the huge
dragon like a common sparrow. And how? Listen child!
This fallen prince immediately found himself in darkness
because he was deprived of the light; he is now in darkness
with all those who fell with him from heaven;
he reigns in it—certainly in the darkness I say—
over demons and humans who are held in the darkness.
Every soul who does not see the light of life shining
both in the day and night is punished by the prince of darkness:
wounded, subdued, dragged, and enchained,
and stabbed daily by the darts of pleasure.
Even if the soul seems to resist, even if she seems not to fall,
but still she always has an irreconcilable war with him
in much sweat, toil, trouble, and hardship.
But every soul who contemplates the divine light,
from whence the evil prince has fallen, despises the evil one,
and once enlightened by the unapproachable light itself,
then the soul tramples underfoot the prince of darkness like a leaf
fallen on the ground from a high tree.
For she is in darkness where he has power and authority,
but in the light he becomes an utterly dead corpse.
And when you hear the word of light, note what kind of light that I tell you of,
do not suppose that I mean the light of the sun!
For you also see in this light many human beings
sinning like me, terribly flogged,
falling, and foaming at midday,
and suffering invisibly from wicked spirits,
and while the sun shines, no more of it
is any help to those given over to the demons.
Therefore I do not speak to you of the light of the perceptible sun,
nor that of the day—far from it!—nor in any way of a lamp,
nor of the many stars, nor the light of the moon.
I certainly do not insinuate to you that the effulgence
of any other visible light has such energy.
For perceptible lights enlighten only perceptible eyes,
and they illuminate and provide only to see
perceptible things, but not rational things.
Therefore, all who see only perceptible things
are blind with respect to the rational eyes of the heart.
And so the rational eyes of the rational heart
ought to be illuminated by a rational light.
For if someone who has had the pupils of their body put out
is completely in the daark, not knowing where they are,
then how much more shall one be darkened who has
the eye of their soul blinded, and will they not be
almost dead in body, and in practice, and in spirit?
Then think precisely what sort of light I tell you of!
For I do not tell you of faith, I do not tell about
the practice of works, nor repentance, nor fasting by any means,
certainly not holy poverty, nor wisdom, nor knowledge,
not even teaching. For this light is none of these,
neither the light nor efflux of light do I mean,
nor external piety, nor a humble and
shabby appearance. For all these are practice
and fulfillment of the commandements, if they are perfected
and fulfilled well, as the Creator himself commands.
Tears are poured out in many ways
and they are either beneficial, or, more often, they do harm.
So tears of themselves are utterly unprofitable.
Keeping vigil certainly does not belong to monks alone,
but even the common people engage in works,
and weaving women, goldsmiths, and metal smiths
stay awake more than most monks,
and for this reason we say that none among
all of these virtuous practices is called the light.
And even if all these practices and virtues are brought together
without fail into one, still they are not the divine light.
For all human practices stand apart from the light,
and indeed when these practices are fulfilled by our own means
they are said to be light, according to us, for others
living in wickedness. These practices also lead others to good,
and what is darkness in me and what blinds me
becomes light for my neighbour and illuminates those who see.
And so that you will not suspect that I speak to you paradoxically,
listen and I shall tell you the solution of an enigmatic riddle.
Perhaps I fast on your account, so that I am seen to be fasting,
and this is an incentive in my eyes,
and this is certainly a beam stuck into the middle of my eyes,
and you are illuminated when you see me, if you do not condemn me,
rather if you blame yourself for gluttony.
For by this you are guided to self-control of the stomach,
and you learn to despise conspicuous wantonness.
Again I put on cheap and ragged clothes,
and wearing only one tunic in every circumstance, I suppose as I walk around
that I pursue glory and praise from all who see me,
and by them I am seen as another new apostle,
and this becomes for me the cause of all damage,
and certainly becomes darkness and a thick cloud in my soul.
But this illuminates and teaches the crowds that see me
to despise self-adornment, to despise also wealth,
and to cling to worthless and rough clothing,
which is also truly the garment of apostles.
And truly all the remaining practices of virtue
are practices outside the light, works without splendour.
For if all of them are brought together at one time, like I said,
and the virtuous practices become one,
if it is possible for them all to occur in one human being,
then they become like a lamp deprived of light.
For as we do not say that fire is coals alone,
nor again is the wood carchoal or flames,
so also neither all faith, nor works, nor practices,
nor fulfilling the commandments are worthily said to be
fire, flame, or divine light, for truly they are not.
But we say that they are able to receive the fire, and to approach the light,
and to be ignited by an unspeakable union,
this is the praise and the fame of virtues.
And on account of this all askesis and all practices
are accomplished by us so that we may share in
the divine light like a lamp, like one candle
the whole soul may cast her light before the unapproachable light.
Or rather, like a papyrus dipped into a candle
so a soul increasing in every virtue
is wholly ignited by the divine light, insofar as she will be able to see,
so will she contain as much light as she brings into her house,
and then the virtues are illuminated as they participate
in divine light, and they are called light,
or rather they are themselves light since they have been commingled with light.
And the light shines all around the soul herself and the body,
and truly shines on the one who first possessed it,
and then on all the rest who are in the darkness of life.
Enlighten us, O Christ, in the All-Holy Spirit,
and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven
with all your saints, now and unto the ages. Amen.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 33
After willingly suffering for our salvation, being buride and rising on the third day, He ascended into heaven and sat down on the right hand of the Father, whence He co-operated in the descent of the divine Spirit upon His disciples by sending down together with the Father the power from on high, as Both had promised (see Luke 24.49). Having sat down in the heavens, He seems to call to us from there, “If anyone wants to approach this glory, become a partaker of the kingdom of heaven, be called a son of God and find eternal life, inexpressible honour, pure joy and never-ending riches, let him heed My commandments and imitate as far as he can My own way of life. Let him follow My actions and teachings when I came into the world in the flesh to establish saving laws and offer Myself as a patter.” Truly the Saviour confirmed the gospel teaching by His deeds and miracles, and fulfilled it through His sufferings. He proved how beneficial it was for salvation by His resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, and now by the descent of the diviine Spirit upon His disciples, the event we celebrate today. After rising from the dead and appearing to His disciples, He said as He was taken up into heaven, “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endowed with power from on high” (Luke 24.49). “For ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (see Acts 1.8).
When the fiftieth day after the resurrection had come, the day we now commemorate, all the disciples were gathered together with one accord in the upper room, each also having gathered together his thoughts (for they were devoting themselves intently to prayer and hymns to God). “And suddenly”, says Luke the evangelist, “there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting” (Acts 2.1-11). This is the sound which the prophetess Hannah foretold when she received the promise concerning Samuel: “The Lord went up to heaven and thundered; and he shall give strength and exalt the horn of his anointed” (see 1 Samuel 2.10 LXX). Elijah’s vision also forewarned of this sound: “Behold the voice of a light breeze, and in it was the Lord” (see 1 Kings 19.12 LXX). This “voice of a light breeze” is the sound of breath. You might also find a reference to it in Christ’s gospel. According to John the theologian and evangelist, “In the last day, that great day of the feast”, that is to say Pentecost, “Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink…. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive” (John 7.37-39). Again, after His resurrection He breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20.22).
That cry of Christ prefigured this sound, and His breathing upon the disciples foretold the breath, which is now poured down abundantly from above and resounds with a great voice heard far and wide, summoning everything under heaven, pouring grace over all who approach with faith and filling them with it. It is forceful in that it is all-conquering, storms the ramparts of evil, and destroys all the enemy’s cities and strongholds. It brings low the proud and lifts up the humble in heart, binds what should not have been loosed, breaks the bonds of sins and undoes what is held fast. It filled the house where they were sitting, making it a spiritual font, and accomplishing the promise which the Saviour made them when He ascended, saying, “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1.5). Even the name which He gave them proved to be true, for through this noise from heaven the apostles actually became sons of Thunder (see Mark 3.17). “And there appeared unto them”, it says, “cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2.3-4).
Those miracles accomplished by the Lord in the flesh, which bore witness that He was God’s only-begotten Son in His own person, united with us in the last days, came to an end. On the other hand, those wonderd began which proclaimed the Holy Spirit as a divine person in His own right, that we might come to know and contemplate the great and venerable mystery of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit had been active before: it was He who spoke through the prophets and proclaimed things to come. Later He worked through the disciples to drive out demons and heal diseases. But now He was manifested to all in His own person through the tongues of fire, and by sitting enthroned as Lord upon each of Christ’s disciples, He made them instruments of His power.
Why did He appear in the form of tongues? It was to demonstrate that He shared the same nature as the Word of God, for there is no relationship closer than that between word and tongue. It was also because of teaching, since teaching Christ’s gospel needs a tongue full of grace. But why fiery tongues? Not just because the Spirit is consubstantial with the Father and the Son—and our God is fire (see Hebrews 12.29), a fire consuming wickedness—but also because of the twofold energy of the apostles’ preaching, which can bring both benefit and punishment. As it is the property of fire to illuminate and burn, so Christ’s teaching enlightens those who obey but finally hands over the disobedient to eternal fire and punishment. The text says, “tongues like fire” not “tongues of fire”, that no one might imagine it was ordinary physical fire, but that we might understand the manifestation of the Spirit using fire as an example. Why did the tongues appear to be divided among them? Because the Spirit is given by measure by the Father to all except Christ (John 3.34), who Himself came from above. He, even in the flesh, possessed the fullness of divine power and energy, whereas the grace of the Holy Spirit was only partially, not fully, contained within anyone else. Each one obtained different gifts, lest anyone should suppose the grace given to the saints by the Holy Spirit was theirs by nature.
The fact that the divine Spirit sat upon them is proof not just of His lordly dignity, but of His unity. He sat, it says, “upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2.3-4). For although divided in His various powers and energies, in each of His works the Holy Spirit is wholly present and active, undividedly divided, partaken of while remaining complete, like the sun’s ray. They spoke with other tongues, other languages, to people from every nation, as the Spirit gave them utterance. They became intruments of the divine Spirit, inspired and motivated according to His will and power.
Saint Gregoy Palamas, from a sermon given in Thessaloniki on Pentecost, one of the years from 1347 to 1359
The descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost does not indicate that It was previously absent from the earth and from people, but that, as we mentioned before, it operates in a different way. We can offer two points which interpret the descent of the Holy Spirit and Its different energy.
The first point is that on the day of Pentecost the Apostles understood that the Holy Spirit is a particular hypostasis and not a simple energy of God. The Holy Spirit, which appeared faintly in the Old Testament as a breath, as a sound, as the voice of a breeze, as an inspiration of the Prophets, is manifested at Pentecost “as a self-existing hypostasis”. Thus, when the events which manifested the hypostasis of the Son had been completed, there began the events which manifested the hypostasis of the Holy Spirit (St. Gregory Palamas).
The second point by which one can interpret the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit made the Disciples members of the Body of Christ and gave them the power to participate in Christ’s victory over death.
St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, interpreting the descent of the Holy Spirit, uses passages from St. Nicetas Stethatos and St. Basil the Great, according to which it descended not like a servant, but like a master and with authority. Just as the Son and Word of God became incarnate of His own will, voluntarily, so also the Holy Spirit of Its own will made the Apostles members of the Body of Christ. Moreover, the will of the Father is also the will of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and vice versa. The energy and will of the Triune God are common to them.
Freedom is used differently for God, the angels and men. God is said to possess freedom “preeminently, supremely and supraessentially”. God cannot be compared with human data. The angels possess freedom naturally, but they exercise it without hindrance, they want to use it directly, because they have nothing to prevent them from acting on it, for they are not hindered by the body or any other opposing force. Human beings are independent and have freedom, but their free will has been traumatised and it is not easy for them to carry out their desires. This is why desire and free will need to be strengthened by God. In the Old Testament it says that he who listens “receives favour from the Lord” (Proverbs 8.35). And the Apostle Paul writes: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his goog purpose” (Philippians 2.13).
This means that the Holy Spirit came down into the hearts of the Apostles and is working in men through their own will and not as servants. But men must respond to the energy of the Holy Spirit with their will, since God does not violate their freedom. However, desire and free will must be reinforced by God because in the fallen state man is enslaved, he is an attached being.
In general, when we speak of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, we cannot understand it as an incarnation, for only the Son and Word of God became incarnate, but as Its hypostatic manifestation in the world, which transformed the Disciples and changed them from mortal men to living members of the Body of Christ.
Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlahos) of Nafpaktos, The Feasts of the Lord, 320-322
The following are excerpts from a sermon given by Saint Gregory Palamas to a church congregation in Thessalonica on Great and Holy Saturday some year from 1347 to 1359
The pre-eternal, uncircumscribed and almighty Logos and omnipotent Son of God could clearly have saved man from mortality and servitude to the devil without Himself becoming man. He upholds all things by the word of His power and everything is subject to His divine authority (compare Hebrews 1.3). According to Job, He can do everything and nothing is impossible for Him (compare Job 42.2 LXX). The strength of a created being cannot withstand the power of the Creator, and nothing is more pwerful than the Almighty. But the incarnation of the Logos of God was the method of deliverance most in keeping with our nature and weakness, and most appropriate for Him who carried it out, for this method had justice on its side, and God does not act without justice. As the Psalmist and Prophet says, “God is righteous and loveth righteousness” (compare Psalm 11.7), “and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92.15). Man was justly abandoned by God in the beginning as he had first abandoned God. He had voluntarily approached the originator of evil, obeyed him when he treacherously advised the opposite of what God had commanded, and was justly given over to him. In this way, through the evil one’s envy and the good Lord’s just consent, death became twofold, for he brought about not just physical but also eternal death.
Christ clearly had to make immortal not only the human nature which existed in Him, but the human race, and to guide it towards participating in that true life which in due course procures eternal life for the body as well, just as the soul’s state of death in due course brought about the death of the body too. That this plan for salvation should be made manifest, and that Christ’s way of life should be put before us to emulate, was highly necessary and beneficial. At one time God appeared visibly before man and the good angels that they might imitate Him. Later, when we had cast ourselves down and fallen away from this vision, God came down to us from on high in His surpassing love for mankind, without in any way giving up His divinity, and by living among us set Himself before us as the pattern of the way back to life.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and love of God (compare Romans 11.33)! In His wisdom, power and love for mankind God knew how to transform incomparably for the better the falls resulting from our self-willed waywardness. If the Son of God had not come down from heaven we should have had no hope of going up to heaven. If He had not become incarnate, suffered in the flesh, risen and ascended for our sake, we should not have known God’s surpassing love for us. If He had not taken flesh and endured the passion while we were still ungodly, we should not have desisted from the pride which so often lifts us up and drags us down. Now that we have been exalted without contributing anything, we stay humble, and as we regard with understanding the greatness of God’s promise and benevolence we grow in humility, from which comes salvation.
A sacrifice was needed to reconcile the Father on high with us and to sanctify us, since we had been soiled by fellowship with the evil one. There had to be a sacrifice which both cleansed and was clean, and a purified, sinless priest. We needed a resurrection not just of our souls but of our bodies, and a resurrection for those to come after us. This liberation and resurrection, and also the ascension and the everlasting heavenly order, not only had to be bestowed upon us but also confirmed. And all this was necessary not just for those alive at the time and those to come, but also for people born since the beginning of time. In Hades there were far more of such people than there were people to be born later, and far more were to believe and be saved at once. I think that is why Christ came at the end of the ages. He had to preach the gospel to those in Hades (compare 1 Peter 3.19), to reveal His great plan for salvation to them and to give them complete freedom from the demons who held them captive, as well as sanctification and promises for the future. It was clearly necessary for Christ to descend into Hades, but all these things were done with justice, without which God does not act.
In addition to what we have mentioned, the deceiver had to be justly deceived and to lose the riches he had seized and deceitfully acquired. For evil had taken control through cunning, and the originator of evil continually boasted of this fact. The devil would not have ceased from boasting if he had been subdued by God’s sovereign power and not pulled down from his authority by justice and wisdom. Since everybody turns aside to evil in deed or word or thought, or in two or all of these, we defile the purity given by God to human nature, and need to be sanctified. Sanctification is accomplished by each person’s offering and sacrifice of firstfruits, but as the firstfruits have to be pure, we are not able to offer such a sacrifice to God. This is why Christ was revealed, who alone is undefiled and presented Himself as an offering and a sacrifice of firstfruits to the Father for our sake, that all we who look towards Him, believe in Him and attach ourselves to Him through obedience will appear through Him before the face of God, obtain forgiveness and be sanctified. The Lord referred to this in the Gospels, saying, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17.19). Not only did the offering have to be pure and sinless but so did the high priest who offered it. As the apostle says, “Such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7.26).
For such reasons as these the Logos of God was made flesh and dwelt among us, appearing on earth and living with men. He took upon Himself our human flesh, which was subject to suffering and death, even though it was completely pure, and He used it in His divine wisdom as a bait to hook the serpent, the originator of evil, through the Cross, and set free the whole human race which he had enslaved. When a tyrant falls, all those he tyrannized are liberated. This is what the Lord Himself said in the Gospels, that the strong man was bound and his goods spoiled (compare Matthew 12.29). His possessions were taken as spoil by Christ, and were set free, justified, filled with light and endowed with divine gifts. As David sings, “Thou hast ascended on high,” up on to the Cross, or, if you wish, up to heaven, “thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast given gifts to men” (Ephesians 4.8; compare Psalm 68.18).
Christ overturned the devil through suffering and His flesh which He offered as a sacrifice to God the Father, as a pure and altogether holy victim—how great is His gift!—and recnciled God to our human race. He underwent the passion according to the Father’s will and became for us, who were destroyed through disobedience and saved through obedience, an example of how obedient we should be. He showed that death was far more precious than the devil’s immortality, because it procured life that was truly immortal, life that will not be subject to the second and eternal death, but stays with Christ in the heavenly dwellings. When Christ had risen from the dead on the third day and had shown Himself alive to His disciples, He ascended into heaven. He remained immortal and bestowed on us, with complete assurance, resurrection, immortality and truly blessed, eternal, incorruptible life in heaven. By means of the one death and resurrection of His flesh, He healed our twofold death and freed us from our double captivity of soul and body.
The Lord has given us rebirth through divine baptism and sealed us with the grace of the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption (compare Ephesians 4.30), but He has allowed us still to have a body which is mortal and passible. Although He has cast out the teacher of evil from the treasure houses of our soul, yet He allows him to attack from without. This is so that anybody who has been renewed in accordance with the new covenant, that is to say, the gospel of Christ, who lives in good works and repentance, despises the delights of this life, endures suffering and is trained in the enemy’s assaults, can be made ready to receive immortality and the incorruptible good things to come in the new age.
May we too attain to this through the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sake was made man, suffered, was buried, rose from the dead, took our fallen human nature up to heaven and honoured it by sitting on the Father’s right hand. To our Lord Jesus Christ belong glory, honour, and worship, together with His Father without beginning and the all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
The translation from which these excerpts are taken is Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, published by Mount Thabor Publishing
The sermon below was delivered by St Gregory Palamas on Palm Sunday of a year between 1347 and 1359, in a church in the city of Thessalonike
“In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee,” said God through Isaiah (Isaiah 49.8). It is good today to speak these words of the apostle to your charity: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6.2). “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us work the works of light. Let us walk honestly as in the da” (Romans 13.12-13). The commemoration of Christ’s saving passion is at hand, and the new, great spiritual Passover, which is the reward for dispassion and the prelude of the world to come. Lazarus proclaims it in advance by coming back from the depths of Hades and rising from the dead on the fourth day just by the voice and command of God, who has power over life and death (John 11.1-45). By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, children and simple people sing praises in advance to the Redeemer from death, who brings souls up from Hades and gives souls and bodies eternal life.
“What man is he that desireth life and to see good days? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile: depart from evil and do good” (Psalm 34.12-14; compare 1 Peter 3.10-11). Evil means gluttony, drunkenness and dissolute living. Evil means love of money, being greedy for gain, and injustice. Evil means vainglory, arrogance and pride. Let everyone turn aside from such vices and do those things which are good. What are they? Self-control, fasting, chastity, righteousness, almsgiving, forbearance, love, humility. That by so doing we may worthily partake of the Lam of God who was sacrificed for our sake, and so receive the earnest of incorruption, and keep it as an assurance of the inheritance promised to us in heaven. Is it hard to do what is good, and are the virtues more difficult than the vices? That is certainly not how I see it. The drunken, self-indulgent person subjects himself because of this to more sufferings than someone who restrains himself; the licentious person suffers more than someone chaste; someone striving to become rich more than someone who lives in contentment with what he has; the person seeking to surround himself with glory than someone who passes life in obscurity. Since, however, the virtues seem more difficult to us because of our love of comfort, let us force ourselves. “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence,” it says, “and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11.12).
All of us, eminent and lowly, governors and governed, rich and poor, need diligence and attention to drive these evil passions away from our souls, and introduce the whole range of virtues in their stead. Farmers, shoemakers, builders, tailors, weavers, and in general all those who earn their living by their own effort and the work of their hands, provided they throw out of their souls the desire for riches, glory and pleasure, are truly blessed. These are the poor to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. It was on their account that the Lord said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5.3). The poor in spirit are those whose spirits, or souls, are free from boasting, love of glory and fondness for pleasure, and therefore either choose to be poor in external things as well or else courageously bear involuntary poverty. Those who are rich and comfortable, and enjoy fleeting glory, and in general all who long to be like them, will yield to more harmful passions and fall into other worse traps of the devil, which are more difficult to deal with. When someone becomes rich, he does not lay aside his desire for riches, but increases it, grasping at more than he did before. In the same way, pleasure lovers, power seekers, the dissolute and the debauched increase their desires rather than renouncing them. Rulers and eminent men increase their power so as to commit greater injustices and sin.
That is why it is difficult for a ruler to be saved or for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “How can ye believe,” it says, “which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5.44). But if any of you are well off, or eminent or rulers, do not be dismayed. You can, if you wish, seek the glory of God and exert force on yourselves to stop the impetus towards becoming worse, to practise great virtues and to drive away great evils, not just from yourselves, but from many other people, even against their will. Not only can you act honestly and chastely yourselves, but there are many ways in which you can prevent those who want to be unjust and licentious from doing so. Not only can you show yourselves obedient to Christ’s Gospel and His teachings, but you can also bring those who are minded to disobey into subjection to Christ’s Church and its leaders according to Christ. This you are able to do, not just by means of the power and authority allotted to you by God, but by becoming an example of all that is good to those below you. For subjects become like their rulers.
Everyone needs diligence, force and attention, but not to the same extent. Those exalted in honour, wealth and power, and those who concern themselves with words and the acquisition of wisdom by means of them, even if they wish to be saved, are in need of greater force and diligence, since they are less obedient by nature. Exactly this can be clearly seen in the reading from Christ’s Gospel yesterday and today. The miracle performed on Lazarus openly proved the one who did it to be God. But whereas the people were convinced and believed, the rulers at that time, that is to say, the scribes and Pharisees, were so far from being persuaded that they raged against Him even more, and resolved in their madness to hand Him over to death, although everything He had said and done plainly declared Him to be the Lord of life and death. No one can say that the fact that the Lord lifted up His eyes at that time and said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me,” was an obstacle to their regarding Him as equal to the Father, since He went on to say, “I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they might believ that thou hast sent me” (John 11.41-42). So that they might know He was God and came from the Father, and also that He did not work miracles in opposition to God, but in accordance with God’s purpose, He lifted up His eyes to God in front of everybody and spoke to Him in words which make it clear that He who was speaking on earth was equal to the heavenly Father on high. In the beginning when man was to be formed, there was a Counsel beforehand. So now also, in the case of Lazarus, when a man was to be formed anew, there was a Counsel first. When man was to be created the Father said to the Son, “Let us make man” (Genesis 1.26), the Son listened to the Father, and man was brought into being. Now, by contrast, the Father listened to the Son speaking, and Lazarus was brought to life.
Notice that the Father and the Son are of equal honour and have the same will. The words are in the form of a prayer for the sake of the crowd standing by, but they are not the words of prayer but of lordship and absolute authority. “Lazarus come forth” (John 11.43). And at one the man who had been dead four days stood before Him alive. Did this come about by the command of the life-givier or His prayer? He cried with a loud voice, again on account of the bystanders, since He could have raised him not only by using His normal voice, but just by His will alone. In the same way, He could have done it from afar and with the stone in place. But instead He came to the grave and spoke to those present, who took away the stone and smelt the stench. Then He cried with a loud voice. He raised him in this manner so that by means of their sight (for they saw Him standing at the grave), their sense of smell (for they were aware of the stench of the man four days dead), their sense of touch (for they used their own hands to take away the stone beforehand from the grave, and afterwards to loose the grave-clothes from his body and the napkin from his face), and their hearing (for the Lord’s voice reached the ears of all), they all might understand and believe that it was He who called everything from non-being into being, who upheld all things by the word of His power, and who in the beginning by His word alone made everything that exists out of nothing.
The simple people believed Him in every respect, and did not keep their faith quiet, but began to preach His divinity by deeds and words. After the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day, the Lord found an ass, and, when His disciples had made it ready, as the evangelist Matthew tells us (Matthew 21.1-11), He sat upon it and entered Jerusalem, as had been foretold in Zechariah’s prophecy: “Do not fear, O daughter of Zion: behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9.9; Matthew 21.5). The prophet shows by these words that this king in the prophecy is the only true king of Zion. “Your king,” he says, “does not arouse fear in those who see him. Nor is he an oppressor or an evildoer accompanied by shield-bearers and spearmen, trailing behind him a host of foot-soldiers and cavalry, passing his life in greed for gain, demanding taxes and tributes, and upleasant and harmful labours and services. By contrast, His banner is humility, poverty and lowliness, and He enters mounted upon an ass, without any human pretensions at all. He is the only righeous King who righteously saves. He is meek, and meekness is His distinctive work.” The Lord said of Himself, “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11.29).
So the King who had raised Lazarus from the dead entered Jerusalem sitting upon an ass. Everyone, children, men, old people, immediately spread their garments in the way. They took palm-branches, which are symbols of victory, and went to meet Him as the life-giver and victor over death. They fell at His feet and escorted Him in procession, singing together, not just outside but also inside the precincts of the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21.9). “Hosanna” is a song of praise directed to God, which means, “Save us.” The additional words “in the highest” show that He is not only praised on earth, nor only by men, but also by the heavenly angels on high.
The people not only sang His praises and called Him God, but they subsequently opposed the scribes and Pharisees’ evil purpose against God and their murderous allegations. For the latter were mad enough to say of Him, “This man is not of God, and since he doeth many miracles, if we let him thus alone and do not put him to death, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (compare John 9.16 and 11.47-48). But what did the people say? “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh” (Mark 11.9-10). By saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” they showed that He was from God the Father and that He came in the name of the Father. As the Lord said of Himself, “I came in the name of my Father” (compare John 5.43) and I proceeded forth and came from God” (John 8.42). On the other hand, by saying, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh,” they showed that this was the kingdom in which, according to prophecy, the Gentiles too, and indeed the Romans, were to believe. For this king was not just Israel’s hope, but also the expectation of the Gentiles, according to Jacob’s prophecy: “Binding his foal unto the vine,” where “foal” refers to the Jewish people who were subject to Him, “and his ass’s colt unto the branch of the vine” (Genesis 49.11). The branch of the vine is the Lord’s disciples, for the Lord said to them, “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15.5). By this branch, the Lord binds to Himself His “ass’s colt,” namely the New Israel of the Gentiles, who become sons of Abraham by grace. If, asked the people, this kingdom in which we have put our faith is the hope of the Gentiles too, why should we fear the Romans?
Those who were childlike in innocence but not in intelligence were inspired by the Holy Spirit to offer up to the Lord a faultlessly perfect hymn, and bore witness that, as God, He had brought Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. When the scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, “saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the Temple and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David, they were sore displeased and said unto the Lord, Hearest thou what they say?” (Matthew 21.15-16). In fact, it would have been more appropriate for the Lord to put the same question to them, “Can you not see, or hear or understand?” To refute those who were complaining that He tolerated songs of praise that were fitting for God alone, He replied, “Yes, I hear those who, invisibly enlightened by Myself, declare such things about me. But these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. Have you never read the prophecy that, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise’?” (Psalm 8.2; Matthew 21.16). This was another amazing fact, that simple, uneducated childred should speak perfectly of the divinity of God made man for our sake, and that their voices should take up the angelic hymn. At the Lord’s birth the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth” (Luke 21.4), and now at the time of His entry into Jerusalem the children offered up the same hymn, “Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest” (Mattew 21.29).
Let us all, young and old, rulers and subjects, be childlike in innocence, that God may empower us to make a public show of the trophies, and carry aloft the symbols of victory, not just of victory over the evil passions, but over visible and invisible enemies, and may we find the grace of the word to help in time of need (compare Hebrews 4.16). The young colt which the Lord deigned to ride for our sake prefigured, although it was only one, the Gentiles’ obedience to Him and we, governors and governed alike, are all Gentiles come from them.
In Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, nor Greek, nor Jew, but all, according to the holy apostle, are one (Galatians 3.28). In the same way, in Him there is neither ruler nor subject, but by His grace we are all one in faith in Him, and belong to one body, His Church, whose head He is. By the grace of the all-holy Spirit we ahve all drunk of the one Spirit, and have all received on e baptism. We all have one hope and one God, who is above all, and through all, and in us all (Ephesians 4.6). So let us love one another. Let us bear with one another, seeing that we are members one of another. As the Lord Himself said, the sign that we are His disciples is love. When He departed from this world, the fatherly inheritance He left us was love, and the last prayer He gave us when He ascended to His Father was about love for one another (John 13.33-35).
Let us strive to attain to this fatherly prayer and let us not lose the inheritance He left us nor the sign He gave us, lest we should also lose our sonship, our blessing and our discipleship. If that happens, we shall fall away from the promised hope and be shut out of the spiritual bridechamber. Before His saving passion, when the Lord entered the earthly Jerusalem, not just the people, but also the true rulers of the Gentiles, the Lord’s apostles, spread their garments in His way. In the same manner, let us all, rulers as well as subjects, lay down our natural garments before Him, by making our flesh and its impulses subject to the spirit, that we may be made worthy not only to see and worship Christ’s saving passion and holy resurrection, but to enjoy communion with Him. “For if,” says the apostle, “we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection” (Romans 6.5).
To which may we all attain by the grace and love towards mankind of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom belong all glory, honour and worship, together with His Father without beginning and the life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
There are certain parts of the sea which teem with huge beasts like sea monsters. Those who sail there hang bells from their ships, so that the creatures panic and flee at the sound. Many wild things far more horrible breed in the sea of our life: the evil passions and the even more evil demons who supervise them. God’s Church sails upon this sea like a ship, and instead of bells it has spiritual teachers to ward off the invisible beasts by the holy sound of their teaching. Prefiguring this, Aaron’s robe had sweet-sounding bells fastened to its edge, and it was decreed that when Aaron ministered their sound should be heard (Exodus 27.21-35).
Turning the literal into the spiritual to good effect, let our words ring out to you now spiritually, especially in this time of fasting when visible and invisible beasts make terrible attacks. The visible ones are gluttony, drunkenness, and the like. The ones that lie invisibly in wait are vainglory, pride, self-conceit and hypocrisy. The same sound puts such beasts to flight and safeguards those who practice fasting.
Fasting and self-indulgence are opposites, like life and death. Fasting is a commandment of life as old as human nature, for it was originally given by God to Adam in paradise (Genesis 2.16-17), as a guardiand of the life and grace engendered in him by God Himself. Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is a counsel of death for both soul and body, craftily given by the devil to Adam in paradise by means of Eve (Genesis 3.1-6), for banishment from life and estrangement from God-given divine grace. God did not make death, nor does He delight in the destruction of the living. Does anyone want to find life and grace in God and from God? Let him flee lethal self-indulgence and run towards fasting and prayer which make divine, that he may return to paradise rejoicing.
When Moses fasted forty days on the mountain he soared to the height of divine vision and received tablets of godliness (Exodus 34.28). Meanwhile the Hebrew people down below made themselves drunk, sank into ungodliness and cast an idol in the form of a calf, like the Egyptian god Apis (Exodus 32.1-8). If Moses had not stood before God, having made atonement earlier through the merciless killing of many of his people, God would not have spared them at all (Exodus 32.9-34.27). If we too need God’s mercy, let us not become drunk on wine or weigh ourselves down by eating our fill, for debauchery and ungodliness accompany such behaviour (Ephesians 5.18). Elijah also saw God, but he too was purified by fasting (1 Kings 19.8-12). Daniel attained to divine vision and saw one of the archangels, who granted him knowledge of things to come, but he had stayed without food for twenty whole days beforehand (Daniel 10.1-21). Another prophet was killed by a lion because he ate against God’s will (1 Kings 13.11-26). You all know about Esau, Isaac’s son, who, through gluttony, lost his father’s blessing as well as his other rights as the first born son (Genesis 25.25-34; 26.34-35; Hebrews 12.16). We should be afraid lest, by being intent on our stomachs, we fall away from the blessings and inheritance promised to us by our Father on high. You are also not ignorant of the three youths devoted to fasting (Daniel 1.11-15), who, without turning their feet or bodies, trampled on the furnace in Babylon which had been heated seven times more on their account (Daniel 3.16-27).
If we practise true fasting we shall trample here and now on the fire in our flesh and quench it, and in the time to come we shall pass unharmed through the furnace when each one’s work will be tried by fire (1 Corinthians 3.11-15). As for the Lord of the prophets, what can we say about Him? When He took flesh and became man for our sake, He taught us the way to defeat the devil by the fact that, while fasting, He was completely victorious over him when he stirred up every kind of temptation against Him. He also told His disciples, with reference to the deaf and dumb spirit, that “This demon comes forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9.29; Matthew 17.21).
Let us show you, brethren, what sort of fasting is true and pleasing to God. You should be aware that we do not commend physical fasting for its own sake, but because it brings about other, greater benefits for the soul. As the divine Paul says, “Bodily exercise profiteth a little” (1 Timothy 4.8). Speaking from experience, our God-bearing Fathers do not approve of fasting for days on end. They consider it more acceptable to eat once a day without satisfying your appetite. This is what they refer to as a moderate and resonable fasting, as the Scripture says as well: not to be led astray by a full stomach and the pleasure of eating, but to leave your food while still feeling hungry. The type and quantity of food should be appropriate to the strength and disposition of the eater’s body, to preserve his health as far as possible. If a weak person eats foods appropriate to his weakness in moderation, without supplementing the necessities with more satisfying extras, and if he seeks nourishment not enjoyment, something to drink not drunkenness, and moderate consumption not excess, self-indulgence and abuse, he will not be deprived of holiness.
This is the starting point of true fasting which is pleasing to God. But Christianst laid it down as a rule and held it in honour on account of its outcome, the purification of the sould. What good does it do to abstain from bodily food and to be defeated by fleshly ways of thinking and passions? What advantage is it to refrain from wine and be tormented by thirst, but to be drunk without wine—as it says in the Scriptures, “Woe unto them that are drunken, but not with wine” (Isaiah 51.21; 28.1 LXX; 29.9)—and for our souls to be stirred up with anger and ill-will? How dow we benefit by avoiding luxurious spreads, if our soul remains unhumbled, or by depriving our flesh of its fatness, without humbling our soul in fasting as David did? What good does it to us if we are free of the vapour given off by excessive food, but our mind is rendered useless by vain cares and thoughts and our prayers to God also become of no avail?
Fasting is beneficial when it is undertaken for quelling desire, humbling the soul, transforming hatred, extinguishing anger, erasing remembrance of wrongs, and for the purity of the understanding and the practice of prayer. If you are well off, let your surplus food be a consolation for the needy. When you fast like this you not only suffer with Christ and are dead with Him, but you are risen with Him and reign with Him for ever and ever. If through such a fast you have been planted together in the likeness of His death, you shall also share in His resurrection and inherit life in Him (Romans 6.5). Should the faster be tempted, he overcomes his tempter. Should he not be, he preserves the peace of his soul and body by bruising his body, according to Paul, and bringing it into subjection, for fear of being rejected (1 Corinthians 9.27). If Paul was afraid of this, how much more should we be? The faster brings his body into subjection and his soul is tried and tested. On the other hand, when someone fattens up his flesh, which is soon to perish, not eating to live, but rather living to eat, like animals we are preparing to slaughter, and supplements necessary foods with extras in order to make it fat and prosperous, either to rouse its evil desires or simply for sensual, bodily pleasure, obviously all he is doing is preparing more abundant food for the worms. David the prophet puts it well when he sings, “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down into the pit?” (Psalm 30.9).
When you are fasting and limiting your food, do not store up the surplus for the following day. The Lord made us rich through becoming poor, and you, by your voluntary hunger, should nourish those who are starving against their will. Then your fasting will be like a dove bearing an olive sprig which brings your soul the good tidings of deliverance from the flood (Genesis 8.11). “If you take away from the midst of thee”, says the great Isaiah, “the yoke, the putting forth of the finger and speaking vanity: and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity and thy darkness be as the noonday” (Isaiah 58.9-10). If you do not wish to give what is yours, at least keep away from what belongs to others and do not take possession of what is not yours, by unjustly seizing and keeping things, sometimes even from people poorer than yourselves. Otherwise you may rightly hear from the same prophet, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? saith the Lord, even if your bend thy neck as a ring, thy fast will not be acceptable, but loose the bands of wickedness, dissolve the ties of oppressive contracts, and tear up every unjust bond. Then shall they light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall compass thee” (Isaiah 58.5-8 LXX).
If you do not give even what you have in excess of your needs to the poor, at least to not acquire extra things at their expense. When Christ, the Master of all, dispatches those on His left into the fire and curses them, He does not condemn them for seizing what belongs to others, but for not sharing with those in need (Matthew 25.41-45). Extortioners and unjust men will not be resurrected to appear and be judged, but only for an immediate greater judgment and condemnation. Even here such people appear never to have stood before God with their whole souls. “They eat up my people”, it says, “as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord” (Psalm 14.4). That rich man whose ground brought forth plentifully (Luke 12.16-21), and that other one who was clothed in purple and fine linen (Luke 16.19-21) were justly condemned, not for wronging anyone, but for not sharing what was theirs. Treasures are common to all, as they come from the common storehouses of God’s creation. Anyone who appropriates what is common as his own is greedy, though not perhaps to the same extent as someone who openly takes possession of other people’s belongings. The first, as an evil servant, will, alas, undergo the terrible punishment of being cut off. The second will be submitted to things even more dreadful and terrifying. Neither will ever be able to escape these penalties, unless they receive the poor with hospitality, the one making good use of the things entrusted to him by God, the other distributing what he has accumulated by evil means.
The great Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, your ancestors in fact, says, “As touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselve are taught of God to love one another” (1 Thessalonians 4.9).
The Lord said to certain people, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8.39). We should be afraid lest we hear these words, not addressed to us now, but, perish the thought, pronounced on that terrible day, when kinship will be judged rather by similarity of deeds. On that day all those who have loved poverty in Christ, or at very least have loved the poor, all who have despised glory, eagerly desired self-control, not just listened to but put into action the divine decrees in the Gospels, wil, according to the prayer of the Father of us all by grace, be one in a way surpassing nature. “Grant them”, He says, “that they all may be one; as we are one” (John 17.21-22). On that day the all-discerning sword of the Spirit will divide a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and will make those whose ways are different strangers to one another (Matthew 10.34-37). If this happens here, how much more there, where the All-knowing declares to those who were not like Him in virtue, “I know you not” (Matthew 25.1-12; Luke 13.25-27). It seems that they did not possess the heavenly likeness, and were not merciful as our Father is merciful. They did not share their possessions with the needy, as He freely shared His good things with everyone. They were not kind to their neighbours, nor did they make those far away their neighbours through their good works. Because of this dissimilarity with Himself, He who is good neither knew them nor brought them into His dwelling. If He acts in this way, those who lived here according to His will and are going to reign with Him there, will presumably say the same to those related to them by blood who do not resemble them in virtue.
If someone says he is their brother, he will hear, alas, that no man can ransom his brother. If someone says he was their father, he will hear that God is the only father. And if someone says he is their child, he will hear the words, “If you were my child, you would imitate me, but as it is, you are the child of that father whose desires you accomplish. Away with you and dwell with him for ever. I do not know you. Everything that is God’s is mine, but you are not God’s. What was mine and yours has now gone. We hated it ever in that fading world, and so we became heirs of this kingdom.” The holy Fathers referred to “mine” and “yours” as cold words, and wherever they are found, the bond of love is absent and Christ has departed. Even in those days this passion of possessiveness produced love of self, love of money, hatred of one’s fellow man, and every kind of evl in those it had overcome, and it still disgraces them now.
Brethren, please let us be afraid of these truly dreadful evils. Let us organize our lives as it pleasing to God. Let us forgive that we may be forgiven, let us be merciful to those in need that we may receive mercy many time more abundantly. He who impoverished Himself to the uttermost for our sakes, Himself receives our alms, and in His munificence He will multiply the reward. We must either be poor as He was, and so live with Him, or share what we have with those who are poor for His sake, and so be saved through them. Let us acquire merciful hearts and give positive proof of brotherly love and of devotion towards the Father and Master of all. You will never find a more acceptable time to do this than these days of the fast. If you join almsgiving to fasting you will blot out every sin, venerate the saving passion with boldness, join in the rejoicing at Christ’s resurrection and gain eternal redemption.
May we all attain to this in Christ Himself our God, to whom belong all glory, honour and worship, with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
I have spoken often to your charity about fasting and prayer, especially during these holy days. But so far I have imparted nothing to your devout ears and souls about the gifts with which they honour those who love them, and the many benefits they bring about for those who make use of them. These matters are confirmed above all by the Lord’s words in today’s Gospel reading. So what are these gifts? They are great, probably the greatest of all. Among other things, they can bestow authority against evil spirits, to cast them out and drive them away, and to free those possessed from their cruelty. When the disciples, referring to the deaf and dumb spirit, told the Lord that they could not cast him out, the Lord told them, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17.21).
Perhaps that was why, when the Lord descended after His prayer on the mountain with its accompanying manifestation of divine light (Matthew 17.1-9, Mark 9.2-9, Luke 9.28-37, 2 Peter 1.16-18), He immediately came to the place where the man possessed by that demon was (Mark 9.14-17). He had taken His chosen disciples, it says, “and went up into a mountain to pray, and he did shine as the sun. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with him” (cf. Matthew 17.2-3 and Luke 9.28-30). These two men practised prayer and fasting more than anyone else, and their appearance while the Lord was praying shows the harmony and concord between fasting and prayer. In their talking with the Lord, it was as if fasting were talking to prayer. As we learn from Moses, the Lord told Cain that the voice of the blood of smitten Abel cried unto Him (Genesis 4.8-10). In the same way, all the parts and members of our body suffering hardship because of fasting cry unto the Lord and, joining their voice to the prayer of the faster, pray together with him. They make his prayer highly acceptable, and justify him for having voluntarily undergone the toil of fasting. So then, after having prayed and shone with the divine lifth, the Lord came down from the mountain and approached the crowd and His disciples, to whom the man with the demon had been brought. On the mountain He showed that the reward for fasting was not merely great but all-surpassing—for He revealed that their prize was divine radiance. Now that He had descended, He would prove that they also win power over demons.
Since it is customary on this Sunday of the fast to read about this miracle in church, let us start from the beginning and go through the whole of the Gospel passage which recounts it (Mark 9.17-31). When Jesus came to the disciples, and those with them, and asked what they were discussing, one of the multitude answered and said, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away” (Mark 9.17-18).
Why was he foaming at the mouth, gnashing his teeth and withering away? Of all the parts of the possessed man’s body, his brain suffers first and foremost, since the demon uses the spirit of the soul within the brain as a vehicle, and from there, as from a citadel, exercises power over the whole body. When the brain is afflicted, it emits a frothy, phlegm-like discharge to the nerves and muscles of the body, blocking up the outlets of the soul’s spirit. As a result, shock, convulsions and involuntary movements affect all the parts of the body capable of independent movement, especially the jaws, as they are nearest to the part originally afflicted. A lot of moisture is brought down into the mouth due to the size of its pores and its proximity to the brain. Since, because of the unruly movements of the body’s organs, it is impossible to breathe out in one long breath, and the breath is mixed up with the accumulation of moisture, those afflicted foam at the mouth. So the demon was foaming at the mouth and gnashing his teeth, clashing them together horribly and grinding them in a frenzy. The boy was withering away because of the demon’s extreme violence. The heat of the sun’s rays causes mist to form, but if this heat intensifies, it makes the mist disappear and disperses it completely. Similarly, the demon’s violence causes moisture to come from the internal organs, but if this violence intensifies, the body’s natural juices soon evaporate and the possessed person withers away.
The father of the man with the demon went on to tell the Lord that he had asked His disciples to cast him out, but they could not (Mark 9.18). Then the Lord, addressing not just the man but everyone, said, “O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?” (Mark 9.19). I think it likely that the Jews who were present at the time had used the disciples’ inability to cast out the demon as an excuse for a few blasphemous comments. They did not cease speaking blasphemy when miracles were performed, so what would they stop short of saying if they had an excuse? The Lord was aware of their murmuring and reproaches, and, from afar, proved them wrong and put them to shame, not just with hard-hitting words, but with both deeds and words full of love for mankind. He ordered that the possessed man be brought to Him, and they brought him. When the demon saw the Lord, he convulsed the man, who fell down and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. For He gave the demon leave to demonstrate his wickedness openly (Mark 9.19-20).
Then the Lord asked the boy’s father, “How long is it ago since this came unto Him?” (Mark 9.21). The Lord asked this question out of charity, to lead the man towards believing and supplication with faith, since he was so far from believing that he did not even plead for his son to be saved. He had not entreated the disciples at all either. “I spake,” it says, “to them that they should cast him out” (Mark 9.18). He had not fallen down at their feet or pleaded with them or besought them. Up until then he did not seem to have besought the Lord either. So the Lord left the boy lying wretchedly in front of Him, and addressed the father, asking how long he had been afflicted, and eliciting a request from him. He replied that he had him from childhood and that he had often cast him into fire and water to destroy him. Then he added, “But if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9.21-22).
You see how lacking in faith the man was. Anyone who says, “If thou canst”, makes it obvious that the does not believe you can. The Lord replied, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9.23). He did not say this because He was unaware of the man’s disbelief, but to lead him step by step towards faith and to show that his lack of faith was the cause of the disciples’ failure to cast out the demon. Observe carefully the evangelist’s words. He does not say that the Lord said to the boy’s father “If thou canst believe” just as He almost always demanded faith of those who asked for healing, but as the Master and Guardian of souls, He also strove to heal them through faith. When the boy’s father heard that healing would follow upon his own faith, he said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9.24). See what excellent moral progress he had made! He not only believe that the boy could be healed, but also that the Lord could overcome his own lack of faith, if He was willing. At these words, the people came running together and the Lord rebuked the unclean spirit, saying, “Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him” (Mark 9.25).
This demon seems to have been extraordinarily savage and defiant, as proved by the severity of the Lord’s rebuke and His command that he should not return. Apparently, if it had not been for this order, he might have gone back again after having been cast out. He had a strong hold over the man and was difficult to detach. He was deaf and dumb as the man’s nature was inadequate to minister to his excessive madness, and had been afflicted with almost total deprivation of the senses. “And the spirit cried,” it says, “and rent him sore, and came out of him: and the man was as one dead; insomuch as many said, he is dead” (Mark 9.26). The demon’s cry does not contradict the fact that he was dumb. Speech means sounds which convey a meaning, whereas a cry is an unintelligible sound. The demon was allowed to convulse the man so severely as to make him like a corpse, so that all his wickedness could be openly seen. Nevertheless the Lord took the man by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose, showing in this way what great energy was His. Taking him by the hand was a manifestation of created energy like our own. Raising him up completely unharmed, however, demonstrated uncreated, divine, life-creating energy.
When the disciples asked Him privately, “Why could not we cast him out”, He told them that this particular demon “can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9.28-29). Some people say this must be the afflicted person’s prayer and fasting, but it is not so. Anyone in whom an evil spirit is at work, especially one like this, is his tool and completely in his power. So how can he pray and fast for his own good?
It seems that this terrible demon was the demon of licentiousness. Sometimes it casts its victims into the fire—that is, into strange loves devoid of affection—and sometimes it plunges them into the water by means of gluttony and excessive indulgence in drinking and parties. The demon in such people is also deaf and dumb, because anyone who has let himself be persuaded by the suggestion of such a demon can hardly bear to hear or speak of sacred subjects. When someone who does not have this evil spirit dwelling within him, but has been carried along by his suggestions, stands up ready to repent—for he still has his freedom of action—he has need of prayer and fasting. Through fasting he curbs his body and checks its stirrings, while through prayer he puts out of action and lays to rest the soul’s former preferences and thoughts which arouse this passion, and he overcomes it, having repelled the satanic assault and violence by fasting and prayer. If, however, he not only acts on the demon’s suggestions, but has him dwelling within him, he no longer suffers like other men. Nor can he himself do anything towards being healed. If those who are free, especially those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, do on his behalf what he would himself if his mind were at liberty, this can make a great contribution towards casting out the demon (compare James 5.16 and Acts 12.15).
Driving away demons, however, is not required of us, and even if we were able to drive them away it would be of no advantage to us if we lived carelessly. “Many”, it says, “will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7.22-23). It is much more profitable to us to strive to banish the passions of fornication, anger, hatred and pride than to cast out demons. Being delivered from bodily sins is not enough, we must also cleanse the inner energy which dwells in our soul. For out of the hearts “proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness” (Mark 7.21) and so on—these are what motivate people. Also, “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matthew 5.28). Even when your body does nothing, sin can be active in your mind. When your soul inwardly repulses the evil one’s attack by means of prayer, attention, remembrance of death, godly sorrow and mourning, the body, too, takes its share of holiness, having acquired freedom from evil actions. This is what the Lord meant by saying that someone who cleans the outside of a cup has not cleansed it inside, but clean the inside, and the whole cup will be clean (Matthew 23.25-26). “Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labour is according to God’s will, and you will conquer the outward passions” (Abba Arsenios, Apophthegmata Pateron 9). If the root is holy, so are the branches (John 15.5). If the yeast is holy, so is the dough (Galatians 5.9). “Walk in the spirit”, says Paul, “and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5.16).
Christ did not abolish the Jewish circumcision but fulfilled it. He Himself says, “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5.17). How did He do this? It was a seal, a sign and a symbolic way of teaching about cutting off evil thoughts in the heart, something the Jews were not very zealous about. They were reproached by the prophets for being uncircumcised in their hearts (compare Jeremiah 9.26 and Romans 2.25), they were hated by Him who could look into hearts, and in the end they became outcasts. Man looks at the outward person, but God regards the heart, and if it is full of foul or evil thoughts, that man deserved to have God turn away from him. That is why the apostle exhorts us to pray without wrath and doubting (First Timothy 2.8).
To teach us to strive for the spiritual circumcision of our hearts, the Lord pronounces the pure in heart and the poor in spirit blessed. He stresses that the reward for this purity of heart is seeing God, and He promises the kingdom of heaven to the poor (Matthew 5.8, 3). By the poor He means those who live frugally and in need. But it is not only such people whom He calls blessed, but also those who are like them in spirit, those who, because of their inner humility of heart and their good purpose, have arranged their outward life accordingly. He forbids not just murder but anger, and commands us to forgive from our hearts those who sin against us. Nor will He accept the gift we offer unless we are first reconciled with one another and let go of anger (Matthew 5.21-24).
His teaching is the same in respect of the passion of fornication, since He declares that an idle look and the resultant desire in the heart is adultery (Matthew 5.27-28). Looking at the subject as a whole He says, “If the light that is in thee”, namely, the mind and the reason, “be darkness”, full of the unenlightened assaults of the rulers of darkness, “how much greater is that darkness”, of the body and the senses, which of themselves do not possess the noetic radiance that gives birth to both truth and dispassion? If the light within you is clear, unobscured by fleshly ways of thinking, your soul will be completely radiant, as though a lamp were illuminating you with its light (compare Matthew 6.22-23 and Luke 11.34). Such is the spiritual circumcision of the heart through which the Lord fulfilled the circumcision of the flesh according to the law, given to the Jews as a sign and a guide towards it (Romans 2.28-29). As they made no effort to acquire this spiritual circumcision, their own circumcision, as Paul says, “is made uncircumcision” (Romans 2.25), and they have been estranged from God who does not regard the person (Galatians 2.6, Matthew 22.16, Mark 12.14, Luke 20.21), that is, the outward signs of righteousness in the flesh, but looks into the heart, at the invisible movements of our thoughts within us.
Please may we too, brethren, be on our guard, and let us cleanse our heart from all defilement, lest we be drawn in the wrong direction with the condemned. If the law spoken by Moses “was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape if we neglect our own salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost” (Hebrews 2.2-4). Let us fear Him who examines hearts and minds. Let us appease the Lord of vengeance. Let us make ourselves the dwelling of peace, sanctification, and contrite prayer, without which no one will see God (Hebrews 12.14). Let us long with the full assurance of faith for that vision promised to the pure in heart, and may we do everything to attain it, for it is accompanied by eternal life, unfading goodness, inexhaustible riches, unchanging and unending delight, glory and kingdom.
May we all attain to these things in Christ, the King of the ages, to whom alone belong all glory, honour and worship, with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit unto endless ages. Amen.
A short account of the life of Abba John, abbot of the Holy Mount Sinai, surnamed the Scholastic, and truly one of the Saints.
Written by Daniel, monk of Raithu, a worthy and virtuous man.
I cannot say exactly and for certain in what memorable city that great man was born and brought up prior to his athletic and ascetic life. But what city now shelters and nourishes that amazing man with ambrosia, I do know. He now certainly dwells in the Heavenly Jerusalem of which the great Apostle Paul speaks, when he cries: ‘Our conversation is in Heaven.’ He is filled in a spiritual sense with goodness that never palls and he beholds the invisible beauty, receiving rewards worthy of his struggles and honours for his toils that were no toil—the Heavenly inheritance—and he is for ever united with those whose feet stand in uprightness. But how he, a man bearing flesh, took his place with the incorporeal beings, this I will now relate.
When he was sixteen years old in his natural age, this blessed man offered himself to Christ as a well-pleasing and acceptable sacrifice. He took up the monastic yoke in Mount Sinai, and, I think, by the visible nature of the place itself, he was impelled and guided towards the invisible God. And so, having cut out unbecoming freedom of speech by exile, that mother of spiritual children, and having taken to himself fair humility, at his very entry into this life he shot down with sure aim the deceivers, self-complacency and self-confidence, by bending his neck and entrusting himself to a superb director. For he had the good intention of crossing the dangerous sea unharmed under his guidance and of bringing himself to that state in which his soul had neither its own intelligence, nor its own will, but was completely stripped of its natural properties. But what is most amazing, for all his wide learning, he taught the conceit of human wisdom, which is so foreign to that Heavenly simplicity, humility. Then, when he was nineteen years of age he sent his tutor on in advance to the Heavenly King as an intercessor and defender, and, having armed himself with the prayers of this great man as with a strong weapon to the pulling down of strongholds, he himself also entered the arena of solitude. Having selected a solitary place for his struggle about half a mile from the monastery church called Thola, he spent forty years there in labours, burning and being ever consumed with the love and fire of divine love.
But who can tell and describe in words how he performed his labours there? And can it be openly told, since his every labour grew in secret? Yet from certain first fruits and hints, as it were, we may know of the most righteous life of this thrice-righteous man.
He ate everything that is allowed by the monastic vow, but he ate extremely little. By eating everything, as I think, he wisely crushed the horn of pride; and by the small quantity of what he ate, he humbled that mistress that ever desires more, crying to her amidst hunger: Peace, be still; and, by solitude and separation from human society, he quenched the flame of that furnace, so that in the end it was completely smothered with ashes and extinguished. Idolatry this courageous ascetic manfully avoided by compassion for others and lack of actual necessities. He raised up his soul from death and paralysis by goading it with the spur of the remembrance of death. By freeing himself from attachment or, perhaps, by his perception of immaterial thing, he loosed the fetters of sorrow. The tyranny of anger had previously been mortified within him by the sword of obedience. By keeping his body constantly enclosed, and by still more rarely allowing a word to pass from his lips, he mortified that leech, vainglory. But what kind of reward was obtained by this excellent initiate for the victory over the eighth passion? What was this supreme degree of purification, the beginning of which was made by this Besaleel of obedience, and which the Lord of the Heavenly Jerusalem perfected by visiting him with His presence, without which the devil and his horde cannot be cast down?
But where in the present weaving of our crown am I to put that fountain of his tears, which we see in so few? And the hidden place where those tears were shed is still known to the present day. It is an extremely small cave at the foot of a mountain, at a sufficient distance from his own and from every other cell to guard the hearing from vainglory, but it was made near to Heaven by shouts and cries, such as can be heard from those who are pierced through with swords or burned with hot iron or whose eyes are torn out. He partook of sleep only in such measure as to prevent his mind from being distracted. Before sleep, he prayed much and wrote books; this served as his sole means of subduing despondency. His whole life was unceasing prayer and unexampled love for God; for day and night he beheld Him as it were in a spotless mirror of chastity, and he could never, nor indeed were it possible that he should ever have enough of this vision.
One of those living the monastic life called Moses, spurred on by the holy father’s zeal, strongly desired to become his disciple, and to learn true wisdom from him. He got others to intercede for him, and at their request he obtained the blessed man’s consent and became his disciple. And so, once the holy father ordered Moses to bring some dung from a certain place for manuring and fertilizing vegetable beds. Moses went to the place indicated, and assiduously carried out the order. At the coming of the scorching heat, which, like that of a furnace, seared the place, for it was midday and the last month, Moses lay down in the shade of an enormous rock and slept. But God, the Friend of man, who does not wish to grieve His servants in any way, immediately protected Moses from impending danger. I will now tell you exactly what happened.
The great Father John was in his cell, immersed in himself and in God, and was rapt in a kind of very light sleep, when suddenly he saw some holy person who awoke him and rebuked him for sleeping and said to him: ‘John, how can you heedlessly sleep, when Moses is in danger?’ Rising at once from sleep, John armed himself with a prayer for his disciple. Afterwards, in the evening, he asked him when he returned: ‘Did any misfortune or unexpected thing happen to you?’ The disciple replied: ‘A colossal rock would have crushed me when I was sleeping beneath it at noon, only I had jumped aside from that place for it seemed to me as if you called me.’ And the truly humble John did not tell his disciple about the vision, but with secret cries and sighs of love thanked God.
The man of God was also a healer of invisible wounds. Once a monk called Isaac, violently oppressed by the demon of carnality and quite disheartened, went to that great John and told him of his warfare with wailing and tears. And that divine father, surprised at his faith and humility, said: ‘Let us stand, brother, and pray together.’ When the prayer was finished, the sufferer still lay with his face to the ground. God is already doing the will of His servant, in order to prove David’s word true. Struck with the rods of effectual prayer, the snake of the flesh was subdued and fled, and the invalid, seeing himself already well and no longer perturbed, was struck with wonder and sent up thanksgiving to God who glorified, and to His servant who was glorified.
Certain people, wounded with jealousy, called John talkative and garrulous. But he corrected them by actual deed and showed to all that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens all. And he kept silent for a whole year. Then his castigators were turned into suppliants, saying: ‘We have stopped up the ever-flowing fountain of profit, to the detriment of the common salvation of all.’ And this hater of disputes yielded to their requests, and resumed his former rule of life. Thus, everyone being astonished at his achievements in all things like some newly appeared Moses, they raised him by force to the duty of ruling the brethren. And his good disciples were not deceived when they placed this light on the lampstand of governance. He approached the mountain, he entered the innermost darkness and, mounting by spiritual steps, he received the divinely written law and divine vision; he opened his mouth for the word of God, and drew in the Spirit; then he poured forth a good word from the good treasure of his heart. And he attained the limits of the visible life, guiding these Israelites—the monks. Only in one thing was he unlike Moses, namely by his journey to the Jerusalem above, whereas Moses, I do not know why, did not reach even the Jerusalem below.
Very many bear witness as to his spiritual instructions, namely all those who were saved through him, or are even now still being saved. A supreme witness to this wise man’s wisdom and to the salvation granted by him is the new David. Another witness is our good pastor John. Being implored by the whole flock, this new God-seer of Sinai descended to us by thought from on high and offered us his divinely written tablets, which contain directions outwardly for the active life, and inwardly for the life of divine vision.
In a few words I have tried to include much, becasue brevity is praised even by rhetoricians.
The man who during his whole life loves the conversation of this yoke-mate fasting is a friend of chastity. Just as the satisfaction of the belly is the source of all evils, and as the slackness of sleep kindles tbe lust of fornication, so fasting, vigil, and wakefulness in God’s service by withstanding the sweetness of sleep through crucifying the body throughout the day and night, are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Fasting is the champion of every virtue, the beginning of the struggle, the crown of the abstinent, the beauty of virginity and sanctity, the resplendence of chastity, the commencement of the path of Christianity, the mother of prayer, the well-spring of sobriety and prudence, the teacher of stillness, and the precursor of all good works. Just as the enjoyment of light is coupled with healthy eyes, so desire for prayer accompanies fasting that is practised with discernment.
When a man begins to fast, he straightway yearns in his mind to enter into converse with God. For the body that fasts cannot endure to sleep upon its pallet all the night through. Fasting naturally incites wakefulness unto God, not only during the day, but also at night. For the empty body of a faster is not greatly wearied by the battle against sleep. And even if his senses are weakened, his mind is wakeful unto God in prayer. It is better for a man to desist from his liturgy because of weakness due to fasting, than because of sloth due to eating. When the seal of fasting is set upon a man’s lips, his thought reflects with compunction, his heart pours forth prayer, gloom lies upon his countenance, shameful thoughts are far removed from him, cheer cannot be detected in his eyes, and he is an enemy of lusts and vain conversations. No one has ever seen a discerning faster enslaved hy evil desires. Fasting with discernment is a spacious mansion for every good thing; but he who neglects fasting makes every good totter. For fasting was the commandment that was given to our nature in the beginning to protect it with respect to the tasting of food, and in this point the progenitor of our substance fell. There, however, where the first defeat was suffered, the ascetic strugglers make their beginning in the fear of God as they start to keep His laws.
And the Saviour also, when He manifested Himself to the world in the Jordan, began at this point. For after His baptism the Spirit led Him into the wilderness and He fasted for forty days and forty nights. Likewise all who set out to follow in His footsteps make the beginning of their struggle upon this foundation. For this is a weapon forged by God, and who shall escape blame if he neglects it? And if the Lawgiver Himself fasts, who among those who keep the law has no need of fasting? This is why the human race knew no victory before fasting, and the devil had never experienced defeat from our nature; but this weapon has made him powerless from the outset. Our Lord was the firstborn Leader of victory, so as to set the first crown of victory upon the head of our nature. When the devil, that foe and tyrant, sees a man bearing this weapon, he is straightway frightened and he recollects and considers that defeat which he suffered in the wilderness at the hands of the Saviour; at once his strength is shattered and the very sight of this weapon, given us by our Commander-in-chief, burns him. What weapon is more powerful and gives more boldness to the heart in the time of battle against the spirits of wickedness, than hunger endured for Christ’s sake? For the more the body toils and endures hardship when the phalanx of the demons encompasses a man, the more his heart is given succour by the power of confidence. He who has armed himself with the weapon of fasting is afire with zeal at all times. Elias the zealot also pursued the work of fasting when he was zealous for God’s law. Furthermore, fasting reminds the faster of the commandments of the Spirit and it is an intermediary between the old Law and the grace given us by Christ. He who is negligent with respect to fasting is slothful, heedless, and feeble in the other ascetical struggles as well and he manifests an inception and an evil token of slackness in his soul, thus giving his antagonist an opportunity for defeating him. It is evident that he who enters naked and unarmed into the struggle will retreat from it without gaining the victory; for his limbs were not shielded with the warmth of fasting’s hunger. Such is the nature of fasting, that whoever perseveres in it will possess an unshakeable mind, one ready to encounter and repel all the troublesome passions.
It is said concerning many of the martyrs, that when they foreknew, either by revelation or by information received from one of their friends, the day on which they were to receive the crown of martyrdom, they did not taste anything the preceding night, but from evening till morning they stood keeping vigil in prayer, glorifying God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual odes, and they looked forward to that hour with joy and exultation, waiting to meet the sword in their fast as ones prepared for the nuptials. Therefore let us also be vigilant, we who are called to an unseen martyrdom so as to receive the crowns of sanctification, so that we may never give our enemies a sign of denial with any member or part of our body.
St Isaac the Syrian, First Collection, from Homily 37.
In the Law, God laid down that the sons of Israel should each year give tithes of all they possessed, and if they did so they were blessed in all their works. The holy Apostles, knowing this to be for the help and advancement of our souls, resolved to fulfil it in a better and higher way, namely, for us to deliver up a tithe of the very days of our lives as if to consecrate them to God, so that we may be blessed in all our works, and each year to be unburdened of the whole year’s sins. They elected to consecrate out of the three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, seven weeks of fasting, and so they ordained; but our Fathers, in their time, thought it advisable to add another week, both to train and better prepare themselves to enter on the labor of fasting and to honor with their fasting the holy number of forty days which our Lord fasted. The eight weeks, subtracting Saturdays and Sundays, makes forty days, but we honor Holy Saturday with a fast because it is a very holy day and the only Saturday fast of the year.
The seven weeks, without Saturdays, gives thirty-five days, and if we finally add the half of the brilliant and light-giving night, this makes thirty-six and a half, which is exactly a tenth of three hundred and sixty-five. For thirty is the tenth of three hundred, six is the tenth of sixty, and the tenth of five is one half. Here then, are the thirty-six and a half days, the very tithing of the whole year as one might say, which the holy Apostles consecrated to penance for the cleansing of our sins of the whole year. Whoever, therefore, keeps careful guard over himself, as is fitting during these holy days, will be rewarded with blessings, brothers, even if it happens that, being a man, he has sinned either through weakness or carelessness. You see, God gave us these holy days so that by diligence in abstinence, in the spirit of humility and repentance, a man may be cleansed of the sins of the whole year and the soul relieved of its burden. Purified, he goes forward to the holy day of the Resurrection, and being made a new man through the change of heart induced by the fast, he can take his part in the Holy Mysteries and remain in spiritual joy and happiness, feasting with God the whole fifty days. Paschal time, as has been said, is the resurrection of the soul and the sign of this is that we do not kneel in church during the whole season up to Pentecost.
Everyone who wants to purify himself of the sins of the whole year during these days must first of all restrain himself from the pleasure of eating. For the pleasure of eating, as the Fathers say, caused all men’s evil. Likewise he must take care not to break the fast without great necessity or to look for pleasurable things to eat, or weigh himself down by eating and drinking until he is full.
There are two kinds of gluttony. There is the kind which concerns taste: a man does not want to eat a lot but he wants it to be appetizing. It follows that such a person eats the food that pleases him and is defeated by the pleasure of it. He keeps the food in his mouth, rolling it round and round, and has not the heart to swallow it because he enjoys the taste. This is called fastidiousness. Another man is concerned about satisfying himself. He doesn’t ask for fancy food nor does he care especially about whether the taste is nice or not, he only wants to eat and fill his stomach. This is gluttony. I will tell you how it gets its name: margainein means to rage furiously, to be mad; according to the profane, margos is the name given to the man who rages furiously or is mad. When this disease or mania for packing his belly full of food comes upon a man, therefore, it is called gastromargia, the madness of the stomach, whereas laimargia is the madness of the palate. These must be guarded against and abandoned seriously by the man who desires to be cleansed of his sins. They accord not with the needs of the body, but with its vicious inclinations, and if they are tolerated, they lead a man into sin. As is the case with legitimate marital union and fornication, the practice is the same but the object is different. In the one case, there is copulation in order to raise a family, in the other, to satisfy a desire for pleasure. The same is true with feeding: in one case it is a question of the body’s needs and in the other of eating for pleasure. The intention is what makes it a sin. A man eats to satisfy a need when he lays down how much he will take each day and, if what he has determined on overloads him, takes a little less, or if he is not overloaded and his body is weakened, adds a little. And so he estimates exactly his need and he bases his conclusion not on pleasure but on preserving the strength of his body. And what he takes he receives with prayer, deeming himself unworthy of that comfort and he is not on the look out to see if others, as is likely, because of special need or necessity are given special attention, lest he himself hankers for that comfort or think it a trivial thing for the soul to be at rest.
One day when I was in the monastery, I went to see one of the elders–and there were many great men among the elders there. I discovered that his disciple sat down to eat with him, and in private I said to the young man: You know, brother, these elders whom you see eating and taking a little recreation are like men who had deep purses and kept at work, always putting something into them until they filled them up. And after sealing them up they went on working some more and amassed another thousand crowns, so as to have something to draw on in time of need, and so they preserved what was sealed up in the purse. And so it is with these elders. They persevered in their labors, always storing up treasures for themselves, and after sealing up the treasure they worked a little more, and they hold these treasures in reserve for times of sickness and old age so they have something to draw on, and still preserve the treasures they have stored up. But we haven’t even a purse to draw on!
As I was saying, therefore, we ought, even if we take food out of necessity, to consider ourselves unworthy of any kind of special relief or even of monastic life itself–and not take food purely for pleasure, and in this way food will not bring our condemnation.
Enough about sobriety in eating. We must not only keep a sharp watch over our diet, but keep away from all other kinds of sin so that as our stomach keeps fast, so also may our tongue as we abstain from calumny, from deceit, from idle talk, from railing and anger and all other vices which arise from the tongue.
So also let our eyes keep fast. No looking for trivialities, no letting the eyes wander freely, no impudent lying in wait for people to talk to. The same with the hands and feet, to prevent them from doing anything evil. Fasting in this way, as Saint Basil says, is an acceptable fast and, leaving behind all the evil to which our senses are inclined, we may come to the holy day of the Resurrection, renewed and clean and worthy to share in the Holy Mysteries, as we have already said.
First we go out to meet our Lord and receive him with palms and olive branches and seat him on the colt and come with him into the Holy City. What does this mean, sitting on a colt? He is seated on a colt that he may convert the soul (which, as the Prophet says, has become irrational and is compared to senseless beasts) into an image of God, and subject it to his own divinity. What does it mean, going to meet him with palms and olive branches? When someone marches out to war against an adversary and returns victorious, all his own people go before him with palm branches to mark his victory. The palm-branch is the symbol of victory. Again, when one man is injured by another, he desires to approach an authority who can vindicate him. He carries an olive branch and calls out, asking to be heard and helped. The olive branch is the symbol of mercy. Therefore, we go out to meet our Master Christ with palms because he is victorious–for he conquered our enemy–and with olive branches–for we are asking his mercy. May we, by asking, conquer through him and be found carrying the emblems of his victory, not only the victory by which he won for us, but also the victory which we won also through him by the prayers of all the Saints. Amen.
The encouragement which the Fathers give in their divine writings and the help for repentance which is found in the writings of the apostles and the prophets must not be employed by us as an aid for sinning and for breaking the Lord’s inviolable decrees. For by the power of God these things were decreed from ancient times through the mouth of all the saints in all their writings and legislations in order to abolish sin. But the fact that repentance furnishes hope should not be taken by us as a means to rob ourselves of the feeling of fear, so that one might more freely and fearlessly commit sin. For behold how God in every wise preached fear in all the Scriptures and showed Himself to be a hater of sin. Why indeed was the generation of men in the days of Noe drowned in the deluge? Was it not because of their lasciviousness when they raved over the beauty of the daughters of Cain? At that time there was no avarice, no idolatry, no sorcery, no wars. Why were the cities of the Sodomites consumed by fire? Was it not because they gave their members over to lust and impurity, such that it dominated over all of them in every abominable and unnatural act, even as they willed? Was it not because of the fornication of one man that in one instant five and twenty thousand of the sons of Israel, the firstborn of God, fell and died? Why was the mighty man Samson rejected by God, he who was set apart and consecrated to God while still in the womb; whose birth was announced by an angel, like John, the son of Zacharias; who was granted great power and worked great wonders and who by the supernatural strength which God poured into his body smote a thousand men with a jawboen of an ass and became a saviour and judge unto Israel? Was it not because he defiled his holy members by union with a harlot? For this reason God departed from him and surrendered him to his enemies. And David, who was a man after God’s own heart, who because of his virtures was found worthy to generate from his seed the promise fo the Fathers, and to have Christ shine forth from himself for the salvation of all the world, was he not punished because of adultery with a woman, when he beheld her beauty with his eyes and was pierced in his soul by that arrow? For it was because of this that God raised up a war against him from within his own household, and he who came forth from his loins pursued him. These things befell him even after he had repented with many tears, such that he moistened his couch with his weeping, and after God had said to him through the prophet, “The Lord hath forgiven thy sin.”
I wish also to bring to mind certain men before David. For what reason did wrath and death come upon the house of the priest Eli, the righteous elder who was eminent for forty years in his priesthood? Was it not because of the iniquity of his sons? For neither did he sin, nor did thy with his assent, but it was because he did not have the zeal to demand from them the Lord’s vindication and he love dthem more than the statutes of the Lord. Lest anyone surmise that the Lord manifests His wrath only upon those who pass all the days of their life in iniquities, behold how for this unseemly sin He manifests His zeal against His genuine servants, against priests, judges, rulers, men consecrated to Him, to whom He entrusted the working of miracles, and He in no wise overlooks the transgressions of His statutes, as it is written in Ezekiel, “I said to the man whom I commanded to go into Jerusalem with an invisible sword: Begin at My sanctuary, and have no mercy upon the old man and the youth.” Thus he showed that His true servanct and friends are those who walk before Him in fear and reverence and do His will, since virtuous deeds and purity of conscience are things holy and beloved of God. But when men repudiate His paths, the Lord repudiates them, casts them away from His face, and takes from them His grace. For why was the sentence against Baltasar issued so swiftly and why did it strike him down, as it were, by the form of a hand? Was it not because he acted with audacity toward the untouchable vessels of offering which he seized from Jerusalem, drinking out of them, both he and his concubines? In the same manner, those who have consecrated their members to God, but are so audacious as to use them once more for worldly deeds, the same perish, being smitten by an invisible blow.
Therefore, let us not disregard the oracles and threats of God by reason of our confidence in repentance and the good courage given us by the divine Writings, and so to make Him wrothful by our wicked deeds and defile our members that have been consecrated once and for all for the service of God. For lo, we have consecrated ourselves to Him, as Elias, Elisseus, the sons of the prophets, and all the other saints and virgins, who worked great wonders and spoke to God face to face. And further, as all those who came after them: John the Virgin, the holy Peter, and the other heralds and preachers of the New Testament, who consecrated themselves to the Lord, from Whom they received the knowledge of mysteries—some from His very mouth, others through revelation—and who became intercessors between God and men and receptacles of His revelations, and preachers of the Kingdom to the whole world.
St Isaac the Syrian. First Collection: Homily Ten
There are two ways, one to life and one to death, but the difference between the two ways is great.
The way to life is this: First, you shall love God, who has created you; second, your neighbor as yourself. Whatever you do not want to happen to you, do not do to another.
This is the teaching that comes from these words:
Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what grace do you expect if you only love those who love you? Do not even the nations do that? As for you, love those who hate you, and you will not have any enemy.
Avoid the fleshly and bodily passions.
If anyone strikes ou on your right cheek, turn your other one to him too, and you will be perfect. If someone presses you into one mile of service, go along with him two. If someone takes your cloak, give him your tunic as well. If someone takes away from you what is yours, do not demand it back—since you cannot do so anyway. Give to everyone what he asks of you and do not ask for it back. For the Father wasnt people to give to everyone from the gifts that have been freely granted to them. Blessed is the person who gives according to the commandment, for he is guiltless. Woe to the person who takes. If someone takes something because he is in need, he is guiltless, but if he is not in need he shall have to give an account of why he took and for what purpose; if he is imprisoned he shall be interrogated about what he has done, and shall not go free until he has paid back the last penny. But then about this sort of thing it has also been said, Let your charitable gift sweat in your hands until you know to whom you are giving it.
The second commandment of the teaching:
You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not corrupt children. You shall not fornicate. You shall not steal. You shall not practice magic. You shall not mix poison. You shall not murder a child, whether by abortion of by killing it once it is born. You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbor. You shall not swear falsely. You shall not bear false witness. You shall not speak evil of anyone. You shall not harbor resentment. You shall not equivocate, either in what you think or in what you say, for equivocation is a mortal snare. Your word shall not be false or empty, but shall be fulfilled by deed. You shall not be given to greed, or robbery, or wickedness, or malice, or pride. You shall not plot evil against your neighbor. You shall not hate anyone. Some people, though, you shall call to task; for others you shall pray. Others you shall love more than yourself.
My child, flee from all evil and from everything like it. Do not be an angry person, for anger leads to murder; nor should you be a zealot or a quarrelsom or hot-tempered person, for from all of these flow murderous acts.
My child, do not be a person given to passion, because passion leads to forniction; nor should you be given to obscene speech or to bold gazes, for from all of these flow acts of adultery.
My child, do not practice augury, because this leads to idolatry; nor should you be an enchanter, or an astrologer, or a person who performs purificatory rituals; you should not even want to see such things, for from all of these idolatry is spawned.
My child, do not be a liar, because lying leads to theft; nor should you be given to avarice or to vainglory, from from all of these theft is spawned.
My child, do not be a grumbler, because this leads to blasphemy; nor should you be presumptuous or disposed to invent evil, from from all these blasphemies are spawned.
On the contrary, be mild tempered, since those who are mild tempered will inherit the earth. Be patient and merciful, without guile, tranquil and good, holding constantly in awe the words you have heard. You shall not exalt yourself or let yourself be arrogant. You shall not attach yourself to those who are highly placed but shall associate with those who are just and humble. Accept as good the experiences that come your way knowing that nothing happens without God.
My child, you shall be mindful day and night of the one who speaks to you the word of God. You shall honor him as the Lord, for at the source of the proclamation of Lordship, the Lord is there. You shall seek out the countenances of the holy persons every day to find support in their words.
You shall not cause division; instead, you shall reconcile those who quarrel. You shall judge justly. You shall not show partialit in calling people to task for their faults.
You shall not show doubt whether something will be or not.
Do not be the sort of person who holds out his hands to receive but draws them back when it comes to giving. If you have something through the work of your hands, you shall give it as redemption of your sins. You shall not hesitate to give, and when you give you shall not grumble, for you will know who the paymaster is who gives good wages. You shall not turn away anyone who is in need; on the contrary, you shall hold everything in common with your brother, and you shall not say that anything belongs only to you, for if you are partners in what is immortal, should you not be so all the more in things that perish?
You shall not withhold your hand from your son or your daughter, but shall teach them reverence for God from their youth. You shall not give a command in bitterness to your slave or your maid, those who hope in the same God as you, lest they stop revering the God who is over both you and them. For he comes not to call people according to their personal status but he come upon thoe whom the Spirit has prepared. As for you slaves, with respect and reverence you shall be subject to your masters as replicas of God.
You shall hate all wickedness and all that is not pleasing to the Lord. You shall not abandon the commandments of the Lord but shall keep what you have received, without adding or subtracting anything.
In the assembly you shall confess your faults, and you shall not approach with a bad conscience to make your prayer. This is the way to life.
And the way that leads to death is this.
Above all, it is evil and full of accursedness: acts of murder, adultery, passion, fornication, theft, idolatry, magic, mixing poisons, robbery, false witness, hypocrisy, duplicity, guile, pride, malice, willful stubbornness, avarice, obscene speech, jealousy, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, lack of the fear of God, people who persecute the good, who hate truth, who love falsehood, who do not know the merit of righteousness, who do not adhere to what is good or to just judgment, who watch not for the good, but for evil, who are far from mildness and patience, who love what is futile, who are out for recompense, who do not show mercy to a poor person, who are not distressed by the plight of the oppressed, who do not know him who made them, who are child murderers, who destroy what God has formed, who turn away from the needy person, who oppress the person who is distressed, who are defenders of the rich and unjust judges of the poor—people who are sinners in everything that they do.
Children, from all of this may you be preserved. See to it that no one leads you astray from this way of teaching, since the person who would do so teaches apart from God.
The Cross of Christ was mysteriously proclaimed in advance and foreshadowed from generations of old and no one was ever reconciled with God except by the power of the Cross. After our First Parents transgressed against God through the tree in paradise, sin came to life, but we died, submitting, even before physical death, to the death of the soul, its separation from God. After the transgression we lived in sin and according to the flesh. Sin “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8.7-8).
As the apostle says, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5.17). God, however, is Spirit, absolute Goodness and Virtue, and our own spirit is after His image and likeness, although sin has made it good for nothing. So how could anyone at all be spiritually renewed and reconciled with God, unless sin and life according to the flesh had been abolished? The Cross of Christ is this abolition of sin. One of our God-bearing Fathers was asked by an unbeliever if he really believed in Christ crucified. “Yes”, he replied, “I believe in Him who crucified sin.” God Himself has borne witness that there were many who were His friends before and after the law, when the Cross had not yet been revealed. David, the king and prophet, says, as if there were definitely friends of God in his day, “How precious also are thy friends unto me, O God!” (Psalm 139.17 LXX). I shall now show you, if you listen attentively for the love of God, how it was that people were called friends of God before the Cross.
Although the man of sin, the son of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2.3), by which I mean the Antichrist, has not yet come, the theologian whom Christ loved says, “Even now, Beloved, there is antichrist” (1 John 2.18). In the same way, the Cross existed in the time of our ancestors, even before it was accomplished. The great Paul teaches us absolutely clearly that Antichrist is among us, even though he has not yet come, saying, “His mystery doth already work in you” (2 Thessalonians 2.7). In exactly the same way Christ’s Cross was among our forefathers before it came into being, because its mystery was working in them.
Leaving aside Abel, Seth, Enos, Enoch, Noah, and all those up until Noah who were pleasing to God, and their contemporaries, I shall begin with Abraham, who was called the father of many nations, the Jews’ father after the flesh and ours by faith. As I am to start with this spiritual father of ours, his good beginning and God’s initial call to him, what were the first words God spoke to him? “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, unto a land that I will show thee” (Genesis 12.1). This utterance certainly bears within it the mystery of the Cross, for it is exactly what Paul says when he glories in the Cross: “The world is crucified unto me” (Galatians 6.14). When someone had fled his home country or the world without turning back, for him his country according to the flesh and the world have been put to death and ceased to exist, and this is the Cross.
God said to Abraham, before he had fled from his life with ungodly men, “Get thee out of thy country unto a land”, not, that I will give thee, but “that I will show thee” (Genesis 12.1), so that through this land another, spiritual land might be shown. What were God’s first words to Moses once he had fled from Egypt and ascended the mountain? “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet” (Exodus 3.5). This is another mystery of the Cross which follows appropriately upon the first. “You have come out of Egypt”, says God, “you have left the service of Pharaoh, and have despised the fact that you were called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. That world of evil servitude has been dissolved and ceased to exist, as far as you are concerned. Nevertheless you still need something more.” What can that be? “To take your shoes from off your feet, to lay aside the coats of skin (Genesis 3.21) with which sin clothed you and in which it is at work, separating you from the holy ground. Take these shoes from your feet”, which is to say, “do not live any longer according to the flesh and in sin, but let that life which is opposed to God be abolished and put to death. And let the way of thinking based on the flesh (Romans 8.6-7), and the law in your members warring against the law of your mind, and bringing you into captivity to the law of sin (Romans 7.23-8.2), no longer hold sway, nor be active, for it has been put to death by the power of this vision of God.” Surely this is the Cross. In the divine Paul’s words, the Cross is to have crucified “the flesh with the afflictions and lusts” (Galatians 5.24).
“Put off”, He says, “thy shoes from off thy feet” (Exodus 3.5). These words to Moses revealed that the earth was to be hallowed through the Cross after the manifestation of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ. At that time, as he looked at that great spectacle of the burning bush which seemed cool as the dew, Moses foresaw the coming of Christ, which was then in the future. The vision in God of the Cross is a mystery greater than that earlier mystery. The great Paul and our holy Fathers hint that there are two mysteries. For Paul not only says, “The world is crucified unto me”, but adds, “and I to the world” (Galatians 6.14). The Fathers, for their part, command us not to hasten to ascend the cross before the Cross, as though there were definitely two words of the Cross and two mysteries.
The first mystery of the Cross is flight from the world, and parting from our relatives according to the flesh, if they are a hindrance to piety and a devout life, and training our body, which Paul tells us is of some value (1 Timothy 4.8). In these ways the world and sin are crucified to us, once we have fled from them. According to the second mystery of the Cross, however, we are crucified to the world and the passions, once they have fled from us. It is not of course possible for them to leave us completely and not be at work in our thoughts, unless we attain to contemplation of God. When, through action, we approach contemplation and cultivate and cleanse our inner man, searching for the divine treasure which we ourselves have hidden, and considering the kingdom of God within us, then it is that we crucify ourselves to the world and the passions. Through meditation of this a certain warmth is born in our heart, which cleanses away evil thoughts like flies, instills spiritual peace and consolation in our soul, and bestows sanctification on our body. As the psalmist says, “My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned” (Psalm 39.3). One of our God-bearing Fathers taught us about this, saying, “Strive as hard as you can to ensure that your inner labour is according to God’s will, and you will conquer the outward passions.” The great Paul, urging us on in the same direction, says, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” (Galatians 5.16). Elsewhere he exhorts, “Stand therefore, having your loins firt about with truth” (Ephesians 6.14). For the contemplative part of the soul strengthens and supports the part concerned with desires, and chases away fleshly lusts. The great Peter tells us with absolute clarity what the references to the loins and the truth mean. “Wherefore”, he says, “gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1.13).
Since it is not possible for the evil passions and the world to leave us completely and not be at work in our thoughts, unless we attain to contemplation of God, inasmuch as such contemplation is also the mystery of the Cross, which crucifies those who are worthy of it to the world. That vision which Moses had of the burning bush not consumed by the fire, was also a mystery of the Cross, greater and more perfect than the mystery in the time of Abraham. Is is then the case that Moses was initiated into the more perfect mystery of the Cross, whereas Abraham was not? That would be unreasonable. In fact, Abraham was not initiated at the time when he was called, but afterwards he was, once, twice, and in fact many times, though we do not have enough time to relate everything now.
I shall remind you of Abraham’s most wonderful vision of God, when he clearly saw the one God in three persons, before He had been proclaimed to be such (Genesis 18.1-16). “The Lord appeared unto him by the oak of Mamre; and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him: and he ran to meet them.” He actually saw the one God who appeared to him as three. “God appeared unto him”, it says, “and, lo, three men.” Having run to meet the three men, however, he addressed them as one, saying, “My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away from thy servant.” The three then discourse with him as though they were one. “And he said unto Abraham, Where is Sarah thy wife? I will certainly return unto thee about this same time of year: and Sarah thy wife shall have a son.” As the aged Sarah laughed on hearing this, “the Lord said, Wherefore did Sarah laugh?” Notice that the one God is three hypostases, and the three hypostases are one Lord, for it says, “The Lord said”.
This is how the mystery of the Cross worked in Abraham. As for Isaac, he himself prefigured Him who was nailed to the Cross for, like Christ, he was obedient to his father unto death. The ram offered instead of him (Genesis 22.13) clearly foreshadowed the Lamb of God who was led to the slaughter for our sake. Even the thicket in which the ram was caught contained the mystery of the sign of the Cross, for it was called the thicket of “Sabek”, meaning the thicket of forgiveness (Genesis 22.13 LXX), just as the Cross was called the wood of salvation. In Isaac’s son, Jacob, the mystery and sign of the Cross were also at work, for he increased his flocks by means of wood and water (Genesis 30.37-43). The wood prefigured the wood of the Cross, an the water, holy baptism, which holds within it the mystery of the Cross. “We were baptized into Christ’s death”, says the apostle (Romans 6.3). Christ, too, increased His human flocks by means of wood and water, the Cross and baptism.
When Jacob bowed himself upon the end of his staff and blessed his grandchildren with his hand crossed (Genesis 48.9-20), he brought the sign of the Cross even more clearly to light. Because he was obedient to his forefathers from start to finish, he was beloved and blessed, even though Esau hated him for this. He bore every temptation with courage, and the mystery of the Cross was at work throughout his whole life. That is why God said, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9.13 and Malachi 1.2-3). Something similar, brethren, happens in our case. When someone obeys his earthly and spiritual fathers in accordance with the apostolic commandment saying, “Children, obey your parents” (Ephesians 6.1), he is loved by God as having become in this respect like His beloved Son (Matthew 3.17; 17.5; Mark 1.11; 9.7; Luke 3.22; 9.35; 2 Peter 1.17). But the disobedient son is hateful to God because he is a stranger to any resemblance to His beloved Son. Solomon the wise man makes it clear that this does not just apply to Jacob and Esau, but to everyone at all times. “An obedient son”, he says, “is unto life: but the disobedient is unto destruction” (Proverbs 13.1 LXX).
Surely Jacob, the son of obedience, attained to the greater mystery of the Cross, by which I mean the vision of God through which a person is more perfectly crucified to sin, dies to it and lives to virtue? He actually bears witness himself to his vision and his salvation. “For I have seen God”, he says, “face to face, and my soul is saved” (Genesis 32.30 LXX). Where are the people who still go along with the loathsome prattle of those heretics who have appeared in our day? Let them hear that Jacob saw God’s face, and not only did he not lose his life but, as he says himself, he was also saved, even though God said, “There shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33.20). Surely there cannot be two Gods, one whose face can be seen by the saints, the other whose face is above vision. Perish the impious thought! The face of God visible at the time of His manifestation to those who are worthy is His energy and grace. Whereas His face which is never seen is what is sometimes called the nature of God, and is beyond the scope of any manifestation or vision. As it is written, “No one hath stood in the substance and essence of the Lord” (Jeremiah 23.18 LXX), and either seen God’s nature or made it known. So contemplation in God and the sacred mystery of the Cross do not just drive away evil passions, and the devils who devise them, from the soul, but also heretical doctrines. They refute the advocates of such ideas, and thrust them outside the boundaries of Christ’s Holy Church, within which we have the privelege now to celebrate and declare the grace and energy of the Cross among our Fathers in the time before the Cross.
The mystery of the Cross was working in Abraham, whereas his son Isaac himself prefigured the one who was afterwards crucified. In the same way, the mystery of the Cross was at work throughout Jacob’s life, while Jacob’s son Joseph was himself a type and mystery of the divine and human Word who was later crucified. Joseph was led to the slaughter through jealousy, by his kinsmen according to the flesh, for whose sake his father sent him, just as was later the case with Christ. We should not be surprised, however, that Joseph was not murdered but sold. Isaac was not killed either. These men prefigured the truth that was to come, but were not themselves this truth. We can, however, discern in them the twofold mystery of Christ’s twofold nature. Their being led to the slaughterr foreshadowed the passion according to the flesh of Him who was the God-man, whereas the fact that they did not suffer foretold the impassible nature of His divinity. It was the same with regard to Jacob and Abraham. Although they were tempted, they were victorious, which is what the Scriptures clearly tell us about Christ. Of these four men who were renowned for their virtue and devoutness in the time before the law, two, Abraham and Jacob, had the mystery of the Cross at work in their lives, whereas the other two, Isaac and Joseph, themselves proclaimed the mystery of the Cross beforehand in a marvellous way.
But what about Moses, who was the first to receive the law from God and to share it with others? He was himself saved by means of wood and water before the law was given, when he was exposed to the Nile’s currents, hidden away in an ark (Exodus 2.3-10). And by means of wood and water he saved the people of Israel, revealing the Cross by the wood, holy baptism by water. Paul, who had looked upon the mysteries, says openly, “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud” (1 Corinthians 10.2). He also bears witness that, even before the events concerning the sea and his staff, Moses willingly endured Christ’s Cross, “Esteeming”, he says, “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Hebrews 11.26). For the Cross is the reproach of Christ from the standpoint of foolish men. As Paul himself says of Christ, “He endured the Cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12.2). Far in advance, Moses proclaimed in the clearest possible way the figure and form of the Cross and the salvation this sign would bring. For he stood his staff upright and stretched out his hands above it and, when he had formed himself into the shape of a cross upon his staff, this sight completely routed Amalek (Exodus 17.8-13). Again, by placing the serpent of brass sideways upon a standard, he publicly raised up the sign of the Cross and commanded the Jews who had been bitten by serpents to look upon it as a means of salvation, and so he healed the serpents’ bites (Numbers 21.4-9).
Time fails me to tell of Joshua and his fellow judges and prophets, or David and his successors who, by the working of the mystery of the Cross within them, dried up rivers (2 Kings 19.24; Isaiah 37.25), made the sun stand still (Joshua 10.13), razed the cities of the ungodly (Genesis 19.25; 2 Peter 2.6), became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight, escaped the edge of the sword, quenched the violence of fire, stopped the mouths of lions, put kings to shame (Hebrews 11.33-34; Judges 4.6; 13.24; Daniel 6.23; 3.23-25, 49-50), reduced captains of fifty to ashes (2 Kings 1.13), raised the dead (1 Kings 17.23; 2 Kings 4.36), made the heavens stand still with a word (2 Kings 20.10-11), then let them go, preventing the clouds from giving rain, then letting them do so. If Paul says that faith has done all these things (Hebrews 11.32-40), it is because faith is power unto salvation, and all things are possible for him who believes. Clearly the Cross has this same power for believers. “For the preaching of the Cross”, to quote Paul again, “is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18).
If we move on from all those who lived before or under the law, the Lord Himself, “for whom are all things, and by whom are all things” (Hebrews 2.10), said before the Cross, “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10.38). Notice that even before the Cross was fixed in the ground, it was the Cross which brought salvation. When the Lord spoke openly beforehand of His passion and death on the Cross, Peter could not bear to hear. Knowing the Lord’s power, he entreated Him, saying, “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matthew 16.22). The Lord reprimanded him because in this respect his thinking was human not divine. And “when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his soul shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his soul for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 9.34-35; Luke 9.23; Matthew 16.24-25).
He also invited the people together with his disciples, and then announced and proclaimed these great and marvellous throughts which are obviously from God not from men. This was to make it clear that such things were not demanded solely of his chosen disciples, but of everyone who believes in Him. To follow Christ means to live according to His Gospel and to give proof of every virtue and of true piety. The fact that anyone wishing to follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross means he must not spare himself when the moment comes, but be ready to die a dishonourable death for the sake of virtue and the truth of holy doctrines. Though it be a great and marvellous thing for someone to deny himself and surrender himself to extreme dishonour and death, it is not contrary to reason. When earthly kings go to war, they do not let people follow them who are not prepared to die for them. So it is not surprising that the King of heaven, who came to live on earth according to His promise, should seek such people as His followers in His attack upon the common enemy of the human race. Earthly kings can neither revive those killed in war, nor reward them fittingly for bearing the brunt of the battle. What could someone who is no longer alive receive from them? But in the Lord there is hope even for those who have died, if their death was in defence of what is sacred. To His followers who were daring in battle the Lord gives the reward of eternal life.
Whereas earthly kings require those who follow them to be prepared to die for them, the Lord gave Himself over to death for our sake and commands us to be ready to die not for His sake, but for ours. To make it clear that it is for our own sake, he adds, “For whosoever will save his soul shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his soul for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8.35). What does this mean, that anyone who wants to save it shall lose it, and anyone who loses it shall save it? Man is twofold, consisting of our outward man, the body, and our inward man, the soul. When our outward man gives himself over to death, he loses his soul, being separated from it. But when someone loses his soul for Christ and the Gospel, he clearly saves and gains it, because he has procured for it eternal life in heaven. In the resurrection he will recover it, and by means of it he will become, even in his body I say, just as heavenly and eternal as it is. Anyone, by contrast, who clings to life is not prepared to lose his soul in this way, because he loves this fleeting age and everything to do with it. He will inflict loss on his soul, depriving it of true life, and he will lose it, surrendering it along with himself, alas, to eternal punishment. The all-merciful Lord mourned for such people and indicated how great a disaster was theirs by saying, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8.36-37). For neither his glory nor any of the other deceptive honours and delights of this present age, chosen by him in preference to a death which brings salvation, will go down with him. How could any of these things be given in exchange for a human soul, which is worth more than the whole world?
Even if a man could gain the whole world, brethren, it would be of no benefit to him because he would have lost his own soul. In reality, each person can only acquire an infinitely small share of this world. What a disaster, then, if someone loses his soul in his efforts to acquire this tiny share, rather than choosing to take up the sign and word of the Cross and to follow the giver of life. Now both the sign which we reverence and the word concerning it are, in fact, the Cross.
As the word and the mystery came before the sign itself, we shall expound them to your charity first. Or rather, Paul expounded them before us, Paul who boasts in the Cross, determined not to know anything save the Lord Jesus, and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.2). What does he say? The Cross means crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5.24). Do you think he is referring only to the passions of sensual pleasure and gluttony? In that case he would not have written to the Corinthians, “Since there is among you strife and divisions are ye not carnal and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3.3). Consequently, anyone who loves glory or money, or simply wants to impose his own will in his eagerness to prevail, is carnal and walks as men, since such things are the source of divisions. As James, the Lord’s brother, says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not: ye fight and war” (James 4.1-2). Crucifying the flesh with its passions and longings means stopping all activity which is displeasing to God. Although our body may pull us down and exert pressure on us, we must still lift it up urgently to the height of the Cross. What am I trying to say? When the Lord was on earth He lived a life of poverty, and not just lived but preached poverty, saying, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14.33).
May none of you, brethren, be annoyed when you hear us announcing, in unadulterated form, the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, nor be vexed because you think these precepts are unattainable. Bear in mind, firtsly, that the kingdom of heaven is subject to violence, and the violent take it by force (Matthew 11.12). Listen to Peter, the leader of Christ’s apostles, who says, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2.21). Then you should consider the fact that when someone really learns how much he owes the Master, and is unable to repay in full, he modestly offers as much as he can and freely chooses to. As for the remaining debt, he humbles himself before the Lord and, attracting His compassion through his humility, he makes up for the shortfall. If someone observes his thought reaching out towards riches and wealth, he must realize that this fleshly thought separates him from Christ crucified within him.
How can you begin to take this thought up to the height of the Cross? Having put your hope in Christ who provides for all creation and nurtures it, keep away from all unjust gains, and do not be too attached even to honest income. Put it to good use and let the poor share in it as much as possible. It is the same with the commandment to deny the body and take up our cross. Although godly people who live according to His will have bodies, they are not too attached to them, but make use of their assistance when necessary. Should the be called upon to do so, they are ready to part with them. If you act in this way i n respect of the body’s attributes and needs, even if you can do nothing more, this is good and pleasing to God. Do you see the thought of fornication forcefully stirred up within? Be aware that you have not yet crucified yourself. How can this be done? Flee from looking inquisitively at women, from unseemly familiarity with them and inappropriate conversation. Reduce the fuel with feeds this passion by giving up excessive drinking, drunkenness, eating your fill and sleeping too much. To the renunciation of these evils add humblemindedness, and call upon God with a contrite heart for help against this passion. Then you too will say, “I have seen the wicked in great power and filled up like the cedars of Lebanon. I passed him by through self-control and, lo, he was not: I sought him in humble prayer, but his place could not be found in me” (Psalm 36.35-36 LXX).
Are you troubled by the thought of the love of glory? When you are in meetings or councils, bring to mind the Lord’s advice on this subject in the Gospels. Do not try to appear superior to other when you speak. Practise any virtues you have in secret, looking only to God and seen only by Him, “and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6.6). If, after cutting off the causes of every one of the passions, the thought of them still inwardly troubles you, do not be afraid. It will procure you crowns, since it annoys you but does not win you over, and is not active. It is a dead movement, conquered by your godly struggle.
Such is the word of the Cross (1 Corinthians 1.18). It was and is, therefore, a great and truly divine mystery, not only in the time of the prophets before it was accomplished, but also now after it has been fulfilled. Why is this so? On the face of it, anyone who lowers and humbles himself in all respects seems to be bringing dishonour on himself, anyone who flees carnal pleasures appears to be causing himself toil and grief, and anyone who gives away his possessions looks as though he is making himself poor. But by the power of God this poverty, grief and dishonour give birth to inexhaustible riches, inexpressible delight and eternal glory, both in this world and in the world to come. Paul ranks those who do not believe this, and prove their faith by their actions, with the lost, or with the Greeks. “We preach”, he says, “Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block”, because they do not believe in the saving passion, “and unto the Greeks foolishness”, as they value transitory things above all else because of their complete disbelief in God’s promises, “but unto them that are called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1.23).
This is the wisdom and power of God: to be victorious through weakness, exalted through humility, rich through poverty. Not only the word and the mystery of the Cross are divine and to be reverenced, but so also is its sign. For it is a holy, saving and venerable seal, able to hallow and perfect all the good, marvellous and indescribably things which God has done for the human race. It can take away the curse and condemnation, destroy corruption and death, bestow eternal life and blessing. It is the wood of salvation, the regal sceptre, the divine tropy of victory over visible and invisible enemies, even though the heretics’ followers are insanely displeased. They have not attained to the apostles’s prayer that “they might be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth” (Ephesians 3.18). They have not understood that the Lord’s Cross discloses the entire dispensation of His coming in the flesh, and contains within it the whole mystery of this dispensation. Extending in all directions, it embraces everything above, below, around and between. The heretics abhor the sign of the King of Glory (Psalm 24.7-10), putting forward an excuse, in accordance with which, if they were reasonable, they ought to reverence the Cross along with us. The Lord Himself, when He wa going to ascend the Cross, openly referred to it as His lifting up and His glory (John 3.14-15). And He announced that when He came again and manifested Himself, this sign of the Son of man would come with power and great glory (Matthew 24.30).
The heretics say that because Christ died nailed to the Cross, they cannot bear to see the form of the wood on which He was put to death. But where was the handwriting nailed which was drawn up against us because of our disobedience, when our forefather stretched out his hand to the tree? How was it taken out of the way and obliterated, enabling us to return to God’s blessing? Where did Christ despoil and drive completely away the principalities and powers of the evil spirits, which had taken a hold on our nature since the time of the tree of disobedience? Where did He triumph over them and put them to shame, so that we could be set free? Where was the middle wall of partition broken down and our enmity towards God abolished and put to death? By what means were we reconciled with God and how did we hear the Good News of peace with Him? Surely it was on the Cross anb by means of the Cross. Let those who doubt listen to what the apostle writes to the Ephesians, “For Christ is our peace, who hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and taht he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2.14-16). To the Colossians he writes, “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2.13-15).
Surely we should honour and use this divine trophy of the freedom of the whole human race. Its appearance alone puts the serpent, the originator of evil, to flight, triumphs over him and disgraces him, proclaiming him defeated and crushed. It glorifies and magnifies Christ, and displays His victory to the world. If it were really necessary to disregard the Cross because Christ suffered death on it, then His death too would be neither honourable nor salutary. So how can we have been baptized into His death, as the apostle tell us (Romans 6.3)? And how can we share in His resurrection, if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death (Romans 6.5)? On the other hand, if someone were to reverence the sign of the Cross without the Lord’s name written upon it, he could justy be accused of doing something incorrect. Since “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in the earth, and things under the earth” (Philippians 2.10), and the Cross bears this venerable name. How very foolish not to bow the knee at Christ’s Cross!
Inclining our hearts as well as bending our knees, come ,”let us worship”, with David the psalmist and prophet, “at the place where His feet stood” (Psalm 132.7 LXX), where His all-embracing hands were outspread and His life-giving body was stretched out for our sake. As we reverence and greet the Cross with faith, let us draw and keep the abundant sanctification flowing from it. Then, at the sublimely glorious future advent of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, as we see Him come in glory, we shall rejoice and skip for joy unceasingly, having attained to a place on His right hand and heard the promised joyful words and blessing, to the glory of the Son of God crucified in the flesh for us.
For to Him belongs all glory, together with His Father without beginning and the all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.