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]

Our life and death is with our neighbour – Abba Anthony the Great

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He also said, ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.’

[Abba Anthony the Great, the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]

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]

I too am a sinner – Abba Bessarion

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[On this day, 25th Mesra, the Coptic Church commemorates the great ascetic father St. Bessarion, his blessings be with us.]

A brother who had sinned was turned out of church by the priest. Abba Bessarion got up and left with him saying: “I too am a sinner.”

[Abba Bessarion, Apophthegmata Patrum]

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]