When you fall down before God in prayer, become in your thought like an ant, like a creeping thing of the earth, like a leech, and like a tiny lisping child. Do not say anything before him with knowledge, but with a child’s manner of thought, draw near God and walk before him, that you may be counted worthy of that paternal providence that fathers have for their small children.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]
“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 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]
Let us consider, beloved, how the Master continually calls our attention to the future resurrection, the first fruits of which He has made the Lord Jesus Christ by raising Him from the dead. Let us consider, beloved, the kind of resurrection that occurs at regular intervals. Day and night give us examples of resurrection. The night sleeps, the day rises; the day departs, the night comes on. Let us take the crops. The sowing – how and in what manner does it take place? The sower goes out and puts each of the seeds into the soil: when they fall on the soil, they are dry and bare, and decay. But once they have decayed, the Master’s wondrous Providence makes them rise, and each one increases and brings forth multiple fruit.
[St. Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians]
On the Nativity of Christ who is God
The power that is in his works he hath shown unto his people. When the new covenant was about to begin, it was preceded by wonders which signified the joy that was to happen to the World. For by a miracle the affliction of barrenness was removed, and trembling age was made young, and a plant sprang up from an unfruitful field; in order that this might be believed by all men, that a virgin also should conceive and bear without seed God the Word, who was to become incarnate from her, and to become a babe for our salvation in the greatness of bis mercy and of his grace toward us.
Who shall declare the Lord’s wonders? What mind or speech or hearing is there that is equal to the ineffable sea of mercifulness? The Only one, who before all the ages was born in divine fashion and without a body from the Only one, the Word of the Father, he was born alone from a mother alone in flesh and in bodily fashion; who by his birth did not destroy this mother’s virginity and so showed her to be the God-bearer, since neither was he himself changed when he willed it and became man. «the depth of the riches and of the wisdom of God!» The womb of a woman which was condemned to bear children in pains, This became a spring of immortality; which conceived and bore Emmanuel without seed, and by its incorruptible delivery loosened the bond of our race: whom let us all praise, and let us say, «Incomprehensible Lord of all, praise be to you!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say. O! the wonderful and divine pangs of tho God-bearer and Virgin Mary, through which conception and virginity were brought together, and the couch of copulation did not precede the marvellous birth, nor yet did the birth break the stamps and seals of virginity. He who was born of the Father in a divine manner and without passion, the same was also born of the Virgin in a fleshly manner without passion, being one out of two, Godhead and manhood. Him the Magi also worship; and by means of offerings they silently proclaimed him to be God: for they offered him frankincense as a god; and gold as a king; and myrrh, which is a symbol of the life-giving mortality which on our behalf he took upon him and endured of his own will, who is the only merciful one.
He bowed the heavens and came down. The Son and Word of God, who filleth all things, but is not himself confined and contained by all things, «bowed the heavens and came down» in his mercy to us on earth, and was contained without being confined in a virgin’s womb in a manner inexpressible. Having become incarnate from her without variation, he is born according to the laws of conception; and by an innovation he overcame the laws of nature: for he was conceived as a babe by a miracle, and fulfilled the time of nine months conception; but by his birth he did not burst the bond and the closed seals of bis mother’s virginity. Ask not how: for, if he is Emmanuel who was born, his birth is incomprehensible, and the manner of such a miracle is past finding out. Being led therefore by the star of light to go up to heaven with the eyes of our mind, let us all with the Magi bless and worship him as Maker of heaven and of earth, offering praise to his great mercy and his grace toward us.
The Lord shall feed me and I shall want nothing. The Shepherd of the heavenly spiritual hosts and Maker of all creation, suprasensual and perceived by the senses, having become incarnate without variation of the Holy Spirit and of the God-bearer Mary and become man, was born as a little child in Bethlehem of Judah, which means ‘house of bread’: and the shepherds, having been enlightened as to this by the divine glorv, which shone from heaven, and having seen the army of angels and the company of spiritual beings, and heard them chanting and singing a hymn of praise, searched and sought eagerly and said to one another, «Let us go and make our way to Bethlehem»; and, as in a figure, they by this foreshadowed the shepherds and priests of the church, who set themselves constantly to seek the heavenly bread, and «the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world» and is mysteriously sacrificed upon his altar every day according to the riches of his great mercy.
Say unto God, ‘How terrible are thy works’. No couch of intercourse with a man cleft and broke the seal of virginity, nor was mortal seed placed in the pure uncorrupt womb; but Christ, the heavenly ear, sprang forth by a miracle from the Holy Spirit and from the Godbearer, showing also that his birth was free from phantasy, and that he is God of God, even when «he took of the seed of Abraham» without variation; in order that the Only one, who is the eternal Word, might be by dispensation «the first-born among many brethren»; since it pleased him in all things save sin only to be made like unto us, whom he was about to release from the bonds of death and destruction by his pure blood, as the only good and merciful one.
God hath spoken in his Holy One. Isaiah, when he learned beforehand the mystery of the seedless birth from the God-bearer Mary, feil into astonishment and great wonder, and cried with a loud voice and said, «Behold! a virgin shall conceive and bear»: and, when he had considered him that was born and known that he is the eternal Son of the Father, and that the same became incarnate without variation as a habe in his mercy, the child that is born to us now and not to him, proclaimed and said in prophecy, «A child has been born unto us, a son has also been given unto us», whom also his very name showed to be a messenger of a great purpose and a wonderful counsellor and mighty God. How then is she not the Godbearer, who bare the mighty God, you unbelievers, uninstructed, and foolish? whom also acknowledge with us, worshipping and saying, «Praise be to you!»
The kings of Tharshish and of the isles shall bring presents to him. The birth of Emmanuel in the flesh from the Virgin Mary was not preceded by the exercise of copulation, but only by the descent of the Holy Spirit; and this God-befitting miracle is confirmed by the closed seal of virginity which is preserved even after the birth. But, before you look at and regard the mother’s womb, and call him a babe who is borne and enclosed in bis mother’s arms, the Magi draw near, and bid and urge you to look at the star, and consider in your heart God the Word who descended and came from heaven, and to confess the same to be earthly and heavenly: whom also let us bless and worship and praise as God the Saviour of all and the merciful.
To thee have I lifted up mine eyes, the dweller in the heavens. In the wish to see with the eyes of my mind the depth of the mystery of the Humanization, I both stretch my intellect and apply it to all sides; and, being little enlightened, I restrain my sight and pass from speculation, since I am overcome by the incomprehensible light of the miracles. He who in the beginning is the Word of God and the Father without ceasing to be God was wholiy contained without being confined in the womb of Mary the Virgin the God-bearer. Not by stirring up hosts of heavenly beings did he this, but silently and in a manner inexpressible; and, having been hypostatically united to holy flesh with an intelligent soul, he became perfect man without variation. Of this David sang beforehand when he prophesied and cried, «He shall come down like rain upon a fleece». This John also was inspired moreover to write in his Gospel-teaching when he proclaimed and said, «The Word became flesh and dwelt among us». This Gabriel announced to the Virgin when he said, a hail to thee, thou that art highly favoured! The Lord is with thee, blessed among women». Him let us also praise and confess, inasmuch as he is the Saviour of our race, Christ, God over all.
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion. That God the Word in a manner inexpressible as he willed it «bowed the heavens and came down to us, and of the Holy Spirit and of the very essence of the most blessed Virgin without variation and without all sin became incarnate and became perfectly man by his grace let us all confess like Paul the teacher of mysteries, who wrote in his teaching and said to the peoples, «But, when the fulness of time was come, God sent his Son and he was born of a woman». For the conception and the true birth with the swaddling-clothes bear witness to the truth of the Incarnation; while to the descent without a body from on high witness is borne by the Star which appeared to the Magi; and that he is God the frankincense also that is offered to him as to a god proclaims; while the gold that was offered him which was placed before his feet as a king bears witness to his power over all; and the saving Passion which he endured on our behalf in the flesh and the annihilation of corruption by the life-giving burial were prefigured hy the sweet smell of myrrh. In virtue of them all therefore let us bless and worship him who even in his very exinanition is shown to be full, asking of him forgiveness of sins and his great mercy.
[St. Severus of Antioch – Credit to Fr. Peter Farrington of the London School of Orthodox Christian Studies, http://www.lsocs.co.uk]
This Nativity night bestowed peace on the whole world;
So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One – Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One – Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy – Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will – Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace – Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake;
So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask;
So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers;
Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity,
In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Nativity Sermon]
Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: ‘We have wives and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness; and be content with what your own wives can give you. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’
[John of the Ladder, The Ladder of Divine Ascent]