How are we to be saved? – Abba Anthony the Great

[Today is the feast day of the Holy Abba Anthony, the first Christian monk.

“We have not lived your life, nor practised your ways, so remember us in your prayers, Peniot Abba Antonious”]

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The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”

[Abba Anthony the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]

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How long will you be negligent? – Abba Pachomius the Great

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You too my son, how long will you be negligent? What is the limit of your negligence? As it was last year, so it is this year; as it was yesterday, so it is today. As long as you are negligent, there will be no progress for you.

Be watchful, lift up your heart, because you will have to stand before the judgement seat of God and give an accounting for what you have done both in private and in public (Rm 14:10).

[St. Pachomius, The Instructions of St. Pachomius]

Be patient in your progress, it does not happen all at once – Fr. Matta El-Meskeen

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The blessings of the contemplative life do not burst in on our lives like a flash of lightning. They do not arrest our attention the moment we open our eyes to look for them. Rather, they permeate our lives imperceptibly. They are like the light of the rising sun. The first faint light of dawn penetrates the veil of darkness – slowly but surely. Although it is difficult to trace the inception of this light, it spreads until it pervades everything. It dispels the darkness before the sun rises into view.

In order to attain a fruitful life of prayer, we should not expect blessings to fall upon us suddenly. Rather, we should make our way through with slow but sure steps. We need a long, disciplines struggle. We need patience and constraint. It is enough to make progress however slow that progress may seem, or however pitch-black the world around us and around our faith may appear. Mere progress in the life of prayer and intimacy with God is a sure sign that we will reach our goal. It is proof positive that the light must appear, however long it may be hidden from us. Once it appears, the fruit of our laborious struggle and our faith and patience will materialise. When we constraint ourselves in our struggle, when we expend our sweat and tears, when we contend with our doubts and whispers – walking on in spite of the darkness that shrouds everything in us, our own eyes may not see in ourselves anything but weakness. The eyes of God, however, see precious and valuable signs of growth: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29); “For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for His sake.” (Heb 6:10)

[Fr. Matta El-Meskeen, Orthodox Prayer Life]

Seek refuge in prayer – Abba John Colobos

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

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

Behold now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation – St. John Chrysostom

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We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says:

“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” (Is 49:8)

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 2:6)

For, “Behold,” he saith, “now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Let us therefore not let slip the favorable opportunity but display a zeal worthy of the grace. For therefore is it that we also press forward, knowing both the shortness and the suitableness of the time.

Wherefore also he said; “And working together we intreat also. Working together” with you; `for we work together with you, rather than with God for Whom we are ambassadors. For He is in need of nothing, but the salvation all passeth over to you.’ But if it is even with God that he speaks of working together, he repudiates not even this [interpretation]; for he says in another place, “we are God’s fellow-workers:” (1 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 9) in this way, sixth he, to save men. Again, “We entreat also.” For he indeed, when beseeching, doth not barely beseech, but sets forth these His just claims; namely, that He gave His Son, the Righteous One that did not so much as know sin, and made Him to be sin for us sinners, that we might become righteous: which claims having, and being God, He displayed such goodness. But what we beseech is that ye would receive the benefit and not reject the gift. Be persuaded therefore by us, and “receive not the grace in vain.” For lest they should think that this of itself is “reconciliation,” believing on Him that calleth; he adds these words, requiting that earnestness which respects the life. For, for one who hath been freed from sins and made a friend to wallow in the former things, is to return again unto enmity, and to” receive the grace in vain,” in respect of the life. For from “the grace” we reap no benefit towards salvation, if we live impurely; nay, we are even harmed, having this greater aggravation even of our sins, in that after such knowledge and such a gift we have gone back to our former vices.

This however he does not mention as yet: that he may not make his work harsh, but says only that we reap no benefit. Then he also reminds of a prophecy, urging and compelling them to bestir themselves in order to lay hold of their own salvation.”For,” saith he, “He saith,”At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, “And in a day of salvation did I succor thee:”behold, now is the acceptable time: behold, now is the day of salvation.””The acceptable time.” What is this? That of the Gift, that of the Grace, when it is appointed not that an account should be required of our sins nor penalty exacted; but besides being delivered, that we should also enjoy ten thousand goods, righteousness, sanctification, and and all the rest.

For how much toil would it have behoved us to undergo in order to obtain this “time!” But, behold, without our toiling at all it hath come, bringing remission of all that was before. Wherefore also He calls it “acceptable,” because He both accepted those that had transgressed in ten thousand things, and not acceded merely, but advanced them to the highest honor; just as when a monarch arrives, it is a time not for judgment, but for grace and pardon. Wherefore also He calleth it acceptable. Whilst then we are yet in the lists, whilst we are at work in the vineyard, whilst the eleventh hour is left [us], let us draw nigh and show forth life; for it is also easy. For he that striveth for the mastery at such a time, when so great a gift hath been shed forth, when so great grace, will early obtain the prizes. For in the case of monarchs here brow also, at the time of their festivals, and when they appear in the dress of Consuls, he who bringeth a small offering receiveth large gifts; but on the days in which they sit in judgment, much strictness, much sifting is requisite.

Let us too therefore strivefor the mastery in the time of this gift. It is a day of grace, of grace divine; wherefore with ease even we shall obtain the crown. For if when laden with so great evils He both received and delivered us: when delivered from all and contributing our part, shall He not rather accept us?

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily XII on 2 Corinthians]