Blessed Nativity Fast – St. Athanasius of Alexandria

You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again, and then the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God. He, the Image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that He might renew mankind made after Himself, and seek out His lost sheep, even as He says in the Gospel: “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

[St. Athanasius the Apostolic, On the Incarnation of the Word]

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You cannot escape shame except by shame – John Climacus

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Do not be deceived, son and obedient servant of the Lord, by the spirit of conceit, so that you  confess your own sins to your master as if they were another person’s. You cannot escape shame except by shame. It is often the habit of the demons to persuade us either not to confess, or to do so as if we  were confessing another person’s sins, or to lay the blame for our sin on others. Lay bare, lay bare your  wound to the physician and, without being ashamed, say: ‘It is my wound, Father, it is my plague, caused by my own negligence, and not by anything else. No one is to blame for this, no man, no spirit, no body, nothing but my own carelessness.’

[John of the Ladder, The Ladder Divine Ascent]

He came down that we may be exalted – St. Gregory the Theologian

Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; (2 Corinthians 8:9) He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours.

[St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 1]

Rise daily – John Climacus

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Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

[John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent]

Let us have mercy on ourselves – St. Gregory the Theologian

 

Far be it from me that I should ever, among other chastisements, be thus reproached by Him Who is good, but walks contrary to me in fury (Leviticus 26:27-28) because of my own contrariness: “I have smitten you with blasting and mildew, and blight; without result. The sword from without (Deuteronomy 32:25) made you childless, yet have you not returned to Me, says the Lord.

May I not become the vine of the beloved, which after being planted and entrenched, and made sure with a fence and tower and every means which was possible, when it ran wild and bore thorns, was consequently despised, and had its tower broken down and its fence taken away, and was not pruned nor dug, but was devoured and laid waste and trodden down by all! (Isaiah 5:1)

This is what I feel I must say as to my fears, thus have I been pained by this blow, and this, I will further tell you, is my prayer. We have sinned, we have done amiss, and have dealt wickedly, (Daniel 9:5) for we have forgotten Your commandments and walked after our own evil thought, (Isaiah 65:2)  for we have behaved ourselves unworthily of the calling and gospel of Your Christ, and of His holy sufferings and humiliation for us; we have become a reproach to Your beloved, priest and people, we have erred together, we have all gone out of the way, we have together become unprofitable, there is none that does judgment and justice, no not one.

We have cut short Your mercies and kindness and the bowels and compassion of our God, by our wickedness and the perversity of our doings, in which we have turned away. You are good, but we have done amiss; You are long-suffering, but we are worthy of stripes; we acknowledge Your goodness, though we are without understanding, we have been scourged for but few of our faults; You are terrible, and who will resist You? the mountains will tremble before You; and who will strive against the might of Your arm? If You shut the heaven, who will open it? And if You let loose Your torrents, who will restrain them? It is a light thing in Your eyes to make poor and to make rich, to make alive and to kill, to strike and to heal, and Your will is perfect action.

You are angry, and we have sinned, (Isaiah 64:5)  says one of old, making confession; and it is now time for me to say the opposite, We have sinned, and You are angry: therefore we have become a reproach to our neighbours. You turned Your face from us, and we were filled with dishonour. But stay, Lord, cease, Lord, forgive, Lord, do not deliver us up forever because of our iniquities, and do not let our chastisements be a warning for others, when we could learn wisdom from the trials of others. From whom? From the nations which do not know You, and kingdoms which have not been subject to Your power.

But we are Your people, O Lord, the rod of Your inheritance; therefore correct us, but in goodness and not in Your anger, lest You bring us to nothingness (Jeremiah 10:24) and contempt among all that dwell on the earth.

With these words I invoke mercy: and if it were possible to propitiate His wrath with whole burnt offerings or sacrifices, I would not even have spared these. You also imitate your trembling priest, you, my beloved children, sharers with me alike of the Divine correction and loving-kindness. Possess your souls in tears, and stay His wrath by amending your way of life. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, (Joel 2:15) as blessed Joel with us charges you: gather the elders, and the babes that suck the breasts, whose tender age wins our pity, and is specially worthy of the loving-kindness of God. I know also what he bids both me, the minister of God, and you, who have been thought worthy of the same honour, that we should enter His house in sackcloth and lament night and day between the porch and the altar, in piteous array, and with more piteous voices, crying aloud without ceasing on behalf of ourselves and the people, sparing nothing, either toil or word, which may propitiate God: saying Spare, O Lord, Your people, and give not Your heritage to reproach (Joel 2:17)  and the rest of the prayer; surpassing the people in our sense of the affliction as much as in our rank, instructing them in our own persons in compunction and correction of wickedness, and in the consequent long-suffering of God, and cessation of the scourge.

Come then, all of you, my brethren, let us worship and fall down, and weep before the Lord our Maker; let us appoint a public mourning, in our various ages and families, let us raise the voice of supplication; and let this, instead of the cry which He hates, enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was angry. Who knows, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him? (Joel 2:14)  This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy. To the one He is forced by us, to the other He is inclined. And if He is forced to strike, surely He will refrain, according to His Nature.

Only let us have mercy on ourselves, and open a road for our Father’s righteous affections. Let us sow in tears, that we may reap in joy, let us show ourselves men of Nineveh, not of Sodom. Let us amend our wickedness, lest we be consumed with it; let us listen to the preaching of Jonah, lest we be overwhelmed by fire and brimstone, and if we have departed from Sodom let us escape to the mountain, let us flee to Zoar, let us enter it as the sun rises; let us not stay in all the plain, let us not look around us, lest we be frozen into a pillar of salt, a really immortal pillar, to accuse the soul which returns to wickedness.

[St. Gregory the Theologian,  Oration 16]

Excerpt from Gospel of the Day – Ask of the Father in my Name – John 16:20-33, 14th of Hathor – St. Cyril the Pillar of Faith

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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 labor, 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.

“And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:20-24)

He says that His holy disciples will increase in wisdom and knowledge when they should be clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:29) according to the Scripture, and with their minds illumined by the torchlight of the Spirit should be able to conceive all wisdom, even though they asked no question of Him Who was no longer present with them in the flesh. The Saviour does not indeed say this because they will have no more need of light from Him, but because when they had received His own Spirit, and had Him indwelling in their hearts, they would have in their minds no lack of every good thing, and would be fulfilled with the most perfect knowledge. And by perfect knowledge we mean that which is correct and incapable of error, and which cannot endure to think or say any evil thing, and which has a right belief concerning the Holy and Consubstantial Trinity.

For if we see now in a mirror darkly, and we know in part (1 Cor 13) still while we wander not astray from the doctrines of the truth but adhere to the spirit of the holy and inspired writings, the knowledge that we have is not imperfect, a knowledge which no man can acquire save by the light of the Holy Spirit given unto him. Hereby he exhorts the disciples to pray for spiritual graces, and at the same time gives them this encouragement – that what they ask they will not fail to obtain; adding the comforting assurance of the word “verily” to His promise that if they will go to the Father’s throne and make any request, they will receive it of Him, He Himself acting as Mediator and leading them into the Father’s Presence.

For this is the meaning of the words in my Name; for we cannot draw near unto God the Father save by the Son alone. For through Him we have obtained access in One Spirit unto the Father (Eph 2:18), according to the Scripture. Therefore also He says: I am the Door: I am the Way: no one comes unto the Father but by Me (John 14:6). For inasmuch as the Son is also God, together with the Father He conveys good gifts to the Saints, and associates Himself with Him in granting us the portion of the blessed. Moreover, the inspired Paul most evidently confirms our belief herein by writing these words: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And in right of His titles, Mediator, High Priest, and Advocate, He conveys to the Father prayers on our behalf, for He gives us all boldness to address the Father.

In the Name then of Our Saviour Christ we must make our requests, for so will the Father most readily grant them, and will give to those that ask good gifts, that we may take them and rejoice therein. So being fulfilled with spiritual graces, and enriched with the grant of knowledge from Him through the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, we shall gain a very easy triumph over every strange and abominable lust; and thus being active in good works, and attaining to the practice of every virtue with fervent zeal, and strengthened with everything whatsoever that makes for sanctification, we rejoice with exceeding joy at the prospect of the reward that awaits us; and, dismissing the despondency that springs from an evil conscience, we have our hearts enriched with the joy that is in Christ. This did not enter into the life of the men of old time; they never practiced this manner of prayer, for they knew it not. But now is it ordained for us by Christ, at the appropriate season, when the time of the accomplishment of our redemption was fulfilled, and the perfect fruition of all good was gained for us by Him. For just as the Law accomplished nothing, and as righteousness according to the Law was incomplete, so also was the mode of prayer inculcated thereby.

 [St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, Book XI]

Oh that you would enter my heart and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills and embrace You – Augustine of Hippo

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Oh! that I might repose in You! Oh! that You would enter into my heart, and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace You, my sole good! What are You to me? In Your pity, teach me to utter it. Or what am I to You that You demand my love, and, if I give it not, are angry with me, and threaten me with grievous woes? Is it then a slight woe to love You not? Oh! for Your mercies’ sake, tell me, O Lord my God, what You are to me. Say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. So speak, that I may hear. Behold, Lord, my heart is before You; open it’s ears, and say unto my soul, I am Your salvation. After this voice let me haste, and take hold of You. Hide not Your face from me. Let me die—lest I die—only let me see Your face.

Narrow is the mansion of my soul; You enlarge it, that You may enter in. It is ruinous; You repair it. It has that within which must offend Your eyes; I confess and know it. But who shall cleanse it? or to whom should I cry, except You? Lord, cleanse me from my secret faults, and spare Your servant from the power of the enemy. I believe, and therefore do I speak. Lord, You know. Have I not confessed against myself my transgressions unto You, and You, my God, have forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I contend not in judgment with You, who are the truth; I fear to deceive myself; lest my iniquity lie unto itself. Therefore I contend not in judgment with You; for if You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall abide it?

[Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, Chapter 5]