April 14

In this world there are many different kinds of knowledge; their variety is as great as that of the Arts and Sciences. But while all of them are either completely useless, or are of advantage only with regard to the needs of this present life, yet there in none of them which does not have its own peculiar method and system of learning it, whereby it may be attained by those wishing to acquire it….how much more does the study and practice of our religion demand a proper order and plan, the religion that leads us to the contemplation of hidden and invisible mysteries, and aims not at present gain, but at eternal rewards.

The knowledge thereof is twofold; first the practical, which consists in amendment of living and extirpation of vices; and second, the theoretical, which is occupied with contemplation of divine truths, and the perception of all that is most sacred….the practical can indeed be possessed without the theoretical but without the practical the theoretical can never be grasped at all.

…he who does not free himself from the condition of sin strives in vain to reach the vision of God. “For the Holy Spirit of discipline will flee from the deceitful, and will withdraw Himself from thoughts that are without understanding, and He shall not abide where iniquity cometh in” (Wisdom of Solomon 1:4-5).

~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Nesteros)

A Pernicious Gravity

What force is this that holds me to my sin?

What hidden power draws me down?

It is invisible, malevolent and constant;

it doesn’t sleep.

We who are given to trudge this earth,

are mired, and filled by this same stuff,

which caught our fathers in its grip,

and caused the first one poisoned by its sweetness,

to fall from his lofty heights—

I am as likely to free myself from its grasp,

as I might bend over, unclasp my feet from the ground,

rise up from the earth, and float into the clouds—

Few things might humble me so deeply,

as the recognition of how ineffective I am,

at resisting my own pride—

It is a pernicious gravity.

But for the fact that you do not see me as I am,

but only imagine me to be as I should be;

because I have been taught and learned to wear,

false clothing which hides this shame—

Were it not for this, my humiliation would be fulfilled,

you would see and then, perhaps, I would have hope,

cast as well into the earth and made to eat dust,

no longer able to pretend, but exposed,

and finally, with no means to hide, no choice but to repent—

then, possibly, freed from this pernicious gravity.

And were a greater one than I to come,

with power greater than this body of sin,

with force and grace exceeding this body’s gravity—

then my soul and spirit could take flight,

by force of love this pride would be thrown off,

and I would be revealed in likeness to my maker—

as I was made to be;

no longer bound by a pernicious gravity.

 

~FS

April 12

If someone seeks for success and pleasure, comfort and glory in this world, then he loves the wisdom of this world. But if someone struggles for what is contrary to these things–if he suffers, practices self-control, and endures all kinds of affliction and disgrace for the sake of the kingdom of heaven–then he loves the wisdom of God. The first longs to attain material benefits, secular learning and secular power, and often suffers on this account; but the second shares the sufferings of Christ. Thus the first places all his hopes in the things of this world, desiring to possess them even though they are transitory and hard to come by; while the second is hidden from ‘the eyes of the foolish’, as Holy Scripture puts it, but is clearly revealed in the world to come, when everything hidden is disclosed.

…the intention of divine Scripture is to speak of things that can save the soul, and to reveal to us the mysteries it contains in itself, as well as the inner principles of created beings, that is, the purpose for which each thing was created. In this way it aims to illumine our intellect with the love of God, and to enable it to perceive His greatness and His inexpressible wisdom and providence, as they are revealed in His care for His creation. Such knowledge makes us afraid of breaking His commandments and conscious of our own weakness and ignorance. This in its turn makes us humble and teaches us to love God and not to despise His commandments, as do those who lack effective knowledge of Him.

…the aim of the teachers of secular wisdom is different, for each is eager to defeat the other and to appear wiser; hence they do not discover Christ, nor do those who emulate them, in spite of all their efforts. For, as St John Klimakos says, God reveals Himself, not in response to our exertions, but in response to the humility and simplicity that come through faith, that is, through the contemplation of the Scriptures and of created beings. On this account the Lord said, ‘How can you have faith when you receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?’ (John 5:44). This is that great faith which makes it possible for us to put all our cares into the hands of God. The apostle calls it the foundation (Hebrews 6:1), St John Klimakos, the mother of stillness, and St Isaac, the faith of contemplation and the gateway of the mysteries. He who possesses this faith is completely free from worry and anxiety, as were all the saints.

~St Peter of Damaskos

Salt Marsh at First Light

Several ducks huddling,

paddling,

upon the shallow water.

 

Mudflats encroaching,

and rivulets flowing,

the sea is receding now.

 

Platoons of cats lining its margins,

crouching,

hiding within the reeds;

 

(their presence,

betrayed,

by their tails held high).

 

Will they pounce?

 

And send the ducks flying,

up,

into the glowing sky—

 

early morning sunlight,

reflecting,

from their white undersides.

 

The cats watching raptly, joyously;

their tails swishing briskly,

in the breeze.

 

~FS

A Hopeful Servant’s Prayer

Dear Lord—

 

Teach me to love You with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength.

Teach me to love my neighbor more than I love myself.

Teach me to love my wife as I love my own body.

And teach me to take up my cross and follow You.

 

Cleanse me Lord of all self-love—

 

Cleanse my heart of all self-love,

cleanse my mind of all self-love,

cleanse my soul of all self-love,

and cleanse my body of all self-love.

 

Free me from all that binds me so that I may love You, Lord, with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul and all my strength—

 

Focus my heart in love for You, Lord.

Focus my mind in love for You,

focus my soul in love for You,

and focus my body in love for You.

 

Enable me to love my neighbor more than I love myself,

enable me to love my wife as I love my own body,

and enable me to take up my cross and follow You.

 

So fill my will with desire to do only Your will,

that I am only able to love You with all my heart,

all my mind, all my soul and all my strength.

 

So I am unable to love my neighbor less than I love myself,

so I am unable to love my wife less than I love my own body—

because You have taught me, cleansed me, freed me and focused me upon Your cross;

 

and by my cross, transform me into a good and faithful servant whom You love.

 

~FS

April 10

The acknowledgment of oneself as deserving of temporal and eternal punishments precedes the knowledge of the Savior and leads to the knowledge of the Savior, as we see from the example of the robber who inherited Paradise. Perhaps you will say that the robber was a flagrant criminal, and therefore confession was easy for him, but how is a person who has committed no crime to make a confession of that sort?

We reply that the other robber who was crucified beside the Lord was also a flagrant criminal, but he did not acknowledge his sinfulness, because awareness of sin is a result of love and humility, while unawareness is a result of pride and hardness of heart.

God’s saints were constantly aware that they were sinners, in spite of the obvious spiritual gifts with which they were so lavishly endowed. On the other hand, the greatest evildoers and criminals have always justified themselves. While drowning in crime, they never stopped proclaiming their virtue.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

April 9

It must needs be, as the Apostle reminds us, that a man either ‘renewed in the spirit of his mind’ (Ephesians 4:23), progresses day by day, ‘ever stretching forward to those things which are before’, or, if he be neglectful, the result will follow that he will go backwards and become daily worse and worse.

…the human mind cannot remain constant in one and the same state…of necessity, something is ever either being added…or taken away, and there will never be such perfection found in any creature that it will be wholly free from the danger of change.

…therefore we must with unflagging zeal and care give ourselves to the pursuit of virtue, and constantly occupy ourselves in its practice, lest at any time progress may cease, and regress immediately take its place.

…so then there is no virtue that can be possessed by man without possibility of change, but in order that he may constantly keep it when he has acquired it, he must guard it with the same carefulness and application wherewith it was first gained.

~St John Cassian  (Conference with Abbot Theodore)