Abba Benjamin said, “Walk the royal road and count the miles, and you will not be tired.”
“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]
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]
As a handful of sand thrown into the ocean, so are the sins of all flesh as compared with the mind of God. Just as a strongly flowing fountain is not blocked up by a handful of earth, so the compassion of the Creator is not overcome by the wickedness of His creatures.
[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, 51]
Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50)
All you people, clap your hands, and praise God with the voice of thanksgiving.’ And what is the cause of the festival? It is that the Saviour has newly constructed for us a way of salvation, untrodden by them of old time. For the law, which the all-wise Moses ordained, was for the reproof of sin, and the condemnation of offences: but it justified absolutely no one. For the very wise Paul writes, Whoever rejected the law of Moses, was put to death without mercy at the mouth of two or three witnesses (Heb 10:28). But our Lord Jesus Christ, having removed the curse of the law, and proved the commandment which condemns to be powerless and inoperative, became our merciful High Priest, according to the words of the blessed Paul. For He justifies the wicked by faith, and sets free those held captive by their sins.
And this He proclaimed to us by one of the holy prophets, saying, In those days, and at that time, says the Lord, they shall seek for the sin of Israel, and there shall be none: and for the sin of Judah, and you shall not find it: for I will be merciful to those that have been left in the land, says the Lord (Jer 50:20). But lo! the fulfilment of the promise came to pass for us at the time of His Incarnation, as we are assured by the message of the holy Gospels. For he was invited by one of the Pharisees, and being kind and loving unto man, and willing that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4), He consented, and granted the favour to him who requested it. And having entered, He reclined at table: and immediately there entered a woman defiled with filthy lewdness: who, like one scarcely roused from wine and intoxication, and made sensible of the guilt of her transgressions, offered supplication unto Christ, as able to cleanse her, and deliver her from all fault, and free her from her former sins, as not remembering iniquities (Heb 10:17). And this she did, washing His feet with tears, and anointing them with ointment, and wiping them with her hair. Thus a woman, who before had been lewd, and guilty of sensuality, a sin difficult to wash away, missed not the path of salvation; for she fled for refuge to Him Who knows how to save, and is able to raise from the depths of impurity.
She did not then fail in her purpose. But the foolish Pharisee, the blessed Evangelist tells us, was offended, and said within himself, if this were a prophet, He would have known who and of what sort the woman is that touches Him, that she is a sinner. The Pharisee therefore was boastful, and utterly without understanding. For it was instead his duty to regulate his own life, and earnestly adorn it by all virtuous pursuits; and not to pass sentence upon the sick, and condemn others. But we affirm of him, that having been brought up in the customs of the law, he gave too wide an influence to its institutions, and required the Legislator Himself to be subject to the commandments of Moses. For the law commanded the holy to keep apart from the impure: and God also blamed those whose lot it was to be the chiefs of the congregation of the Jews, for their unwillingness in this respect. For so He spoke by one of the holy prophets: they make no distinction between the holy and the profane (Eze 22:26). But Christ arose for us, not to subject our state to the curses that are by the law, but to redeem those subject to sin by a mercy superior to the law. For the law was instituted because of transgressions, as Scripture declares, that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God, because by the works of the law no flesh is justified (Rom 3:19). For there was no one so far advanced in virtue, spiritual virtue I mean, as to be able to fulfil all that had been commanded, and that blamelessly. But the grace that is by Christ justifies, because, doing away with the condemnation of the law, it frees us by means of faith.
That proud and foolish Pharisee therefore did not even deem Jesus to have attained to the measure of a prophet: but He made the woman’s tears an opportunity for clearly instructing him in the mystery. For He taught the Pharisee, and all who were assembled there, that the Word being God, came into the world in our likeness, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved by Him (Jn 3:17). He came that He might forgive the debtors much and little, and show mercy upon small and great, that there might be no one whatsoever who did not participate in His goodness. And as a pledge and plain example of His grace, He freed that unchaste woman from her many iniquities by saying, Your sins are forgiven you. Worthy indeed of God is a declaration such as this! It is a word joined with supreme authority. For since the law condemned those that were in sin, who, I ask, was able to declare things above the law, except Him only Who ordained it? Immediately therefore He both set the woman free, and directed the attention of that Pharisee, and those who were dining with him, to more excellent things: for they learned that the Word being God, was not as one of the prophets, but rather far beyond the measure of humanity, even though He became man. And one may say to him who invited Him, You were trained, O Pharisee, in the sacred Scriptures; you know I suppose of course the commands given by most wise Moses: you have examined the words of the holy prophets: Who then is This That walking in a path contrary to the sacred commands, has delivered from guilt? Who That has pronounced them free who have boldly broken the things ordained? Recognise therefore by the facts themselves One superior to the prophets and the law: remember that one of the holy prophets proclaimed these things in old time of Him, and said, “They shall be in wonder at our God, and shall be afraid of You. Who is a God like You, That forgives the transgressions, and passes over the iniquities of the remnant of His inheritance, nor retains His anger unto the end, because He wills mercy?” (Mic 7:18).
Those therefore who were at dinner with the Pharisee, were astonished and wondered at seeing Christ the Saviour of all possessed of such godlike supremacy, and using expressions above the right of man. For they said, Who is This That forgives sins also? Do you want me to tell you Who He is? He Who is in the bosom of God the Father, and was begotten of Him by nature: by Whom every thing was brought into being: Who possesses supreme sovereignty, and is worshipped by every thing in heaven and in earth. He submitted Himself to our estate, and became our High Priest, in order that He might present us unto God, pure and clean, having put off the ill savour of sin, and having Him instead in us as a sweet savour. For, as most wise Paul writes, We are a sweet savour of Christ unto God (2 Cor 2:15). This is He Who spoke by the voice of the prophet Ezekiel, And I will be to you a God, and I will save you from all your uncleannesses (Eze 36:29). See therefore, that the actual accomplishment agreed with what had before been promised by the holy prophets. Acknowledge Him as God – Him so gentle and loving to men. Seize upon the way of salvation: flee from the law that kills: accept the faith which is above the law. For it is written, The word kills even the law: but the spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6), which is the spiritual purification that is in Christ. Satan had bound the inhabitants of earth with the cords of sin: Christ has loosed them; He has made us free, has abolished the tyranny of sin, has driven away the accuser of our infirmities; and the Scripture is fulfilled, that all iniquity shall stop its mouth (Ps 107:42), for it is God who justifies: Who is he that condemns? (Rom 8:33-4). This the divine Psalmist also prayed might be accomplished, when addressing Christ the Saviour of all. Let sinners perish from off the earth: and the wicked, so that they may not be found (Ps 104:35). For truly we must not say of one clothed with the Spirit, that he curses those who are infirm and sinful – for it is not fitting for the saints to curse any – but rather that he prays this of God. For before the coming of the Saviour we all were in sin: there was no one who acknowledged Him Who by nature and verily is God. There was no one doing good, no not one; but they all had turned aside together, and become reprobate (Rom 3:12). But because the Only-begotten submitted Himself to emptiness, and became flesh, and was made man, sinners have perished, and exist no longer. For the dwellers upon earth have been justified by faith, have washed away the pollution of sin by holy baptism, have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, have sprung out of the hand of the enemy; and having bidden as it were the hosts of devils to depart, dwell under the yoke of Christ.
Christ’s gifts therefore raise men to a hope long looked for, and to a most dear joy. The woman who was guilty of many impurities, and deserving of blame for most disgraceful deeds, was justified, that we also may have confidence that Christ certainly will have mercy upon us, when He sees us hastening to Him, and endeavouring to escape from the pitfalls of wickedness. Let us too stand before Him: let us shed the tears of repentance: let us anoint Him with ointment: for the tears of him that repents are a sweet savour to God. Call him to mind who said, Awake, they who are drunken with wine: weep and howl all they who drink wine to drunkenness (Joel 1:5). For Satan intoxicates the heart, and agitates the mind by wicked pleasure, leading men clown to the pollutions of sensuality. But while there is time, let us awake; and as most wise Paul says, Let us not be constantly engaged in revels and drunkenness, nor in chambering and wantonness; but rather let us work what is good: for we are not of the night, nor of darkness, but children of light and of the day. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and clothe ourselves with the works of light (Rom 13:13). Do not be troubled when you meditate upon the greatness of your old sins: but rather know, that still greater is the grace that justifies the sinner, and absolves the wicked.
Faith then in Christ is found to be the pledge to us of these great blessings: for it is the way that leads to life: that bids us go to the mansions that are above: that raises us to the inheritance of the saints: that makes us members of the kingdom of Christ: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father be praise and dominion with the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever, Amen.
[St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Sermon XL]