Thankfulness in humility – Abba Arsenius the Great

Once at Scetis Abba Arsenius was ill and he was without even a scrap of linen.  As he had nothing with which to buy any, he received some through another’s charity and he said, ‘I give you thanks, Lord, for having considered me worthy to receive this charity in your name.’

[Abba Arsenius,  Apophthegmata Patrum]

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Excerpt from Gospel of the Day – Matthew 25:31-46, the 3rd of Nesi – St. John Chrysostom

 

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Of what honor, of what blessedness are these words? And He said not, Take, but, Inherit, as one’s own, as your Father’s, as yours, as due to you from the first. For, before you were, says He, these things had been prepared, and made ready for you, forasmuch as I knew you would be such as you are.

And in return for what do they receive such things? For the covering of a roof, for a garment, for bread, for cold water, for visiting, for going into the prison. For indeed in every case it is for what is needed; and sometimes not even for that. For surely, as I have said, the sick and he that is in bonds seeks not for this only, but the one to be loosed, the other to be delivered from his infirmity. But He, being gracious, requires only what is within our power, or rather even less than what is within our power, leaving to us to exert our generosity in doing more.

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily 79 on the Gospel of St. Matthew]

Excerpt from Gospel of the Day – John 16:20-33, the 24th of Mesra – St. John Chrysostom

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Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you. (Jn 16: 20-22)

Verse 20: “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice;”

Because by reason of their (the disciples) not desiring His death, they quickly ran into the belief that He would not die, and then when they heard that He would die, cast about, not knowing what that “little” meant, He says, “You shall weep and lament.”

“but your sorrow will be turned into joy.”

Then having shown that after grief comes joy, and that grief brings forth joy, and that grief is short, but the pleasure endless, He passes to a common example; and what says He?

Verse 21: “A woman, when she is in labour, has sorrow”

And He has used a comparison which the Prophets also use continually, likening despondencies to the exceeding pains of childbirth. But what He says is of this kind: “Labour pains shall lay hold on you, but the pang of childbirth is the cause of joy”; both confirming His words relative to the Resurrection, and showing that the departing hence is like passing from the womb into the light of day.

As though He had said, “Marvel not that I bring you to your advantage through such sorrow, since even a mother to become a mother, passes in like manner through pain.” Here also He implies something mystical, that He has loosened the labour pangs of death, and caused a new man to be born of them, And He said not, that the pain shall pass away only, but, “she does not even remember it,” so great is the joy which succeeds; so also shall it be with the Saints.

And yet the woman does not rejoice because “a man has come into the world,” but because a son has been born to her; since, had this been the case, nothing would have stopped the barren from rejoicing over another who bears a child. Why then did He say this? Because He introduced this example for this purpose only, to show that sorrow is for a season, but joy lasting: and to show that (death) is a translation unto life; and to show the great profit of their pangs.

He said not, “a child has been born,” but, “A man.” For to my mind He here allludes to His own Resurrection, and that He should be born not unto that death which bore the birth-pang, but unto the Kingdom. Therefore He said not, “a child has been born unto her,” but, “A man has been born into the world.

 [St. John Chrysostom, Homily 79 on the Gospel of St. John]

How to vanquish devils, purify the heart and make perfect love – Abba Arsenius and Abba Macarius

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The brethren said, “Abba Arsenius said unto one of the brethren, ‘Lead the ascetic life with all the strength that you have, and the hidden labour which is within, and which is performed for God’s sake, shall vanquish your external passions’; to what does he give the name of passions?”

The old man said, “In this case, Abba Arsenius call the labours of the body ‘passions,’ because they constrain those who toil, and make them feel pain, even as Abba Macarius said, “Constrain your soul with pains and labours of every kind in ascetic excellence.” And this is what Abba Arsenius said to that brother, “Labour with all your might in the work of righteousness, and toil with the labours of the mind more than with all the various kinds of work of the body. For the labours of the body only incite and gratify the passions of the body, but the labours of the mind, that is to say, the thought which is in God, and prayer without ceasing, and the suppression of the thought(s) with humility liberate a man from all the passions, and they vanquish devils, and purify the heart, and make perfect love, and make him worthy of the revelations of the spirit.'”

[Abba Arsenius and Abba Macarius, Apophthegmata Patrum]

Do you know how much fasting defends us? – St. John Chrysostom

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Do you want to know how much fasting adorns human beings; how much she defends and secures us from danger? I beg of you, think of the blessed and marvelous race of the monastics. In other words, they took flight from the tumult in their midst and they ran quickly to the peaks of the mountains; they erected their huts in the solitude of the desert as if they pitched them in a sheltered harbour; and they took fasting as a companion and joint communicant throughout their entire lives. This is why she made them angels from men; not only them, but as many as she finds in the cities that submit to her, she elevates to the same height of the wisdom of God.

Likewise Moses and Elijah, the pillars of the prophets in the Old Testament – although they were brilliant and great from their other virtues and courageous in approaching God and conversing with Him, as much as is humanly possible – fled for refuge to fasting, and with her power they approached Him.

For this reason, God, when in the beginning he created man, He immediately brought him over to and deposited him in the hands of fasting; and he entrusted his salvation to her as if to a loving mother and an excellent teacher. Because the command: “Of every tree which is in the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, of it you shall not eat” (Gen 2.16) was one kind of fasting. If fasting was imperative in paradise, much more so was it outside of paradise. If the medicine was useful before the wound, much more so was it after the wound. If the weapon was necessary for us before the rising of the war of the passions and the tremendous battle with the demons, much more so will the defense of fasting be indispensable. If Adam had heard the voice (Gen 2.16), he would not have heard the second one, which said: “You are earth, and to earth you shall return” (Gen 3.20). However since he disobeyed that voice, death, anxieties, toils, faintheartedness, and a life that is altogether more burdensome than death came upon the human race; this is why thorns and thistles came about, this is the reason for the labours and pains and a life weary with toil.

[St. John Chrysostom, On Fasting and the Prophet Jonah, [the Prophet] Daniel and the Three Youths]

He did not deal with us according to our sins – Augustine of Hippo

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“He did not deal with us according to our sins, Nor reward us according to our transgressions; For according to the height of heaven from earth, So the Lord reigns in mercy over those who fear Him.” (Psalm 102:10-11)

Thanks unto God, because He has granted this. We have not received what we were deserving of: “He did not dealt with us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our transgressions. For according to the height of heaven from earth, So the Lord reigns on mercy over those who fear Him.”

Observe the heaven: everywhere on every side it covers the earth, nor is there any part of the earth not covered by the heaven. Men sin beneath heaven: they do all evil deeds beneath the heaven; yet they are covered by the heaven. From it is light for the eyes, from it air, from it breath, from it rain upon the earth for the sake of its fruits, from heaven all mercy. Take away the aid of heaven from the earth: it will fail at once. As then the protection of heaven abides upon the earth, so does the Lord’s protection abide upon them that fear Him. You fear God, His protection is above you.

But perhaps you are scourged, and think that God has forsaken you. God has forsaken you if the protection of heaven has forsaken the earth.

[Augustine of Hippo, Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm CIII]

I will finish one more small piece of work, and then I will eat – Apophthegmata Patrum

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A certain brother came to Abba Arsenius, and said unto him, “My thoughts vex me, and say ‘You cannot fast, and you are not able to labour, therefore visit the sick, which is a great commandment.” Then Abba Arsenius, after the manner of one who was well acquainted with the war of the devils, said unto him, “Eat, drink, sleep and toil not, but on no account go out of your cell”; for the old man knew that dwelling constantly in the cell induces all the habits of the solitary life.

And when the brother had done these things for three days he became weary of idleness, and finding a few palm leaves on the ground, he took them and began to split them up, and on the following day he dipped them in water and began to work (i.e. to weave baskets); and when he felt hungry he said, “I will finish one more small piece of work, and then I will eat.” And when he was reading in the Book, he said, “I will sing a few Psalms and say a few prayers, and then I shall eat without compunction.”

Thus little by little, by the agency of God, he advanced in the ascetic life until he reached the first rank, and received the power to resist the thoughts and vanquish them.

[Apophthegmata Patrum]