March 23

Ascetic practice is a good thing, but only when done with the right goal in mind. We ought to think of it not as the real task, but as a preparation for the real task; not as the fruit, but as the earth that can, with time, labor, and the help of God, bear trees from which the fruit will come–the fruit that is purity of intellect [the innermost depth of the heart] and union with God. To Him be glory throughout the ages. Amen.

~St Peter of Damaskos

Prayer requires the inseparable presence and cooperation of the attention. With attention, prayer becomes the inalienable property of the person praying; in the absence of attention, it is extraneous to the person praying. With attention, it bears abundant fruit; without attention, it produces thorns and thistles [thorns and thistles represent conceit and hypocrisy, self-delusion and formality].

The fruit of prayer consists in illumination of mind and compunction of heart, in the quickening of the soul with the life of the Spirit.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

March 22

Prayer is the daughter of the fulfillment of the Gospel commandments, and is at the same time the mother of all the virtues…it is impossible for a person to turn with all his thought, with all his strength, and with all his being toward God, except by the action of prayer…regularity, progress, and proficiency in prayer are opposed by our corrupt nature and by the fallen angels who strive their utmost to keep us in their slavery, in the fallen state of aversion from God which is common to men and fallen angels.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

March 21

[Solomon] himself describes how God has sent subtle temptations to the sons of men, so that they might be distracted by vain things (Ecclesiastes 1:13) and thus prevented from turning towards what is even worse. All this is clear from the very nature of things. For if, when there are thousands of distractions, some still find opportunity to commit sins, how much more would this be the case if our lives were without distractions?

In such circumstances, it is better for us to be superficially distracted, and so prevented from devoting ourselves to holy things and holy thoughts, rather than for us to do many other things which are in fact worse.

~St Peter of Damaskos

March 20

Through humility in your dealings with your neighbor, and through love for your neighbor, hardness and callousness is expelled from the heart. It is rolled away like a heavy rock from the entrance to a tomb, and the heart revives for spiritual relations with God for which it has been hitherto dead.

A new vista opens to the gaze of the mind: the multitudinous wounds of sin with which the whole of fallen nature is riddled. It begins to confess its wretched state to God and implore Him for mercy. The heart assists the mind with mourning and compunction. This is the beginning of true prayer.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

March 19

Love for our neighbor is preceded and accompanied by humility in our human relationships. Hatred toward our neighbor is preceded by condemnation and criticism of him, detraction and disparagement, slander and backbiting, scorn for him; in other words, by pride.

…[constantly] remember Christ’s words: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” [do not] stop to consider whether [your] neighbor deserves [your] respect or not; [pay] no attention to his numerous and obvious defects.

[Let your attention be] taken up with seeing that you do not somehow fail to realize that your neighbor is the image of God, and that Christ accepts what we do to our neighbor as if it were done to Him.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

March 18

The Lord said: ‘He who endures patiently to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 10:22). Patient endurance is the consolidation of all the virtues, because without it not one of them can subsist. For whoever turns back is not ‘fit for the kingdom of heaven’ (Luke 9:62)….Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions….

He, then, who knows what is to his benefit should struggle to acquire this virtue before anything else, according to St Basil the Great. St Basil advises us not to fight against all the passions at once, since if we are unsuccessful we might turn back and no longer be fit for the kingdom of heaven. Rather we should fight the passions one at a time, and start by patiently enduring whatever befalls us. This is right; for the person who lacks patient endurance will never be able to stand fast.

…in spiritual warfare it is impossible to find a place anywhere in creation in which a battle is not being waged. In the desert there are wild beasts and demons and other malefic and terrifying things; in places of solitude and stillness there are demons, trials and temptations; in the midst of human company there are demons and men who try one and tempt one. There is no place anywhere where one is unmolested; and, because of this, without patient endurance it is impossible to find peace.

~St Peter of Damaskos

March 17

[Patient] endurance is like an unshakeable rock in the winds and waves of life. However the tempest batters him, the patient man remains steadfast and does not turn back; and when he finds relief and joy, he is not carried away by self-glory: he is always the same, whether things are hard or easy, and for this reason he is proof against the snares of the enemy.

When storms beset him, he endures them with joy, awaiting their end; and when the heavens smile on him, he expects temptation–until his last breath, as St Antony has said.

Such a person knows that nothing in life is unchangeable, and that all things pass. Thus he is not troubled or anxious about any of them, but leaves all things in the hands of God, for He has us in His care (1 Peter 5:7); and to Him belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages. Amen.

~St Peter of Damaskos