Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church – St. John Chrysostom

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Do not be ashamed to enter again into the Church. Be ashamed when you sin. Do not be ashamed when you repent. Pay attention to what the devil did to you. These are two things: sin and repentance. Sin is a wound; repentance is a medicine. Just as there are for the body wounds and medicines, so for the soul are sins and repentance. However, sin has the shame and repentance possesses the courage.

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily VIII, On Repentance and Almsgiving]

How are we to be saved? – Abba Anthony the Great

[Today is the feast day of the Holy Abba Anthony, the first Christian monk.

“We have not lived your life, nor practised your ways, so remember us in your prayers, Peniot Abba Antonious”]

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The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”

[Abba Anthony the Father of Monks, Apophthegmata Patrum]

Behold now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation – St. John Chrysostom

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We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says:

“In an acceptable time I have heard you,
And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” (Is 49:8)

Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 2:6)

For, “Behold,” he saith, “now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Let us therefore not let slip the favorable opportunity but display a zeal worthy of the grace. For therefore is it that we also press forward, knowing both the shortness and the suitableness of the time.

Wherefore also he said; “And working together we intreat also. Working together” with you; `for we work together with you, rather than with God for Whom we are ambassadors. For He is in need of nothing, but the salvation all passeth over to you.’ But if it is even with God that he speaks of working together, he repudiates not even this [interpretation]; for he says in another place, “we are God’s fellow-workers:” (1 Corinthians chapter 3, verse 9) in this way, sixth he, to save men. Again, “We entreat also.” For he indeed, when beseeching, doth not barely beseech, but sets forth these His just claims; namely, that He gave His Son, the Righteous One that did not so much as know sin, and made Him to be sin for us sinners, that we might become righteous: which claims having, and being God, He displayed such goodness. But what we beseech is that ye would receive the benefit and not reject the gift. Be persuaded therefore by us, and “receive not the grace in vain.” For lest they should think that this of itself is “reconciliation,” believing on Him that calleth; he adds these words, requiting that earnestness which respects the life. For, for one who hath been freed from sins and made a friend to wallow in the former things, is to return again unto enmity, and to” receive the grace in vain,” in respect of the life. For from “the grace” we reap no benefit towards salvation, if we live impurely; nay, we are even harmed, having this greater aggravation even of our sins, in that after such knowledge and such a gift we have gone back to our former vices.

This however he does not mention as yet: that he may not make his work harsh, but says only that we reap no benefit. Then he also reminds of a prophecy, urging and compelling them to bestir themselves in order to lay hold of their own salvation.”For,” saith he, “He saith,”At an acceptable time I hearkened unto thee, “And in a day of salvation did I succor thee:”behold, now is the acceptable time: behold, now is the day of salvation.””The acceptable time.” What is this? That of the Gift, that of the Grace, when it is appointed not that an account should be required of our sins nor penalty exacted; but besides being delivered, that we should also enjoy ten thousand goods, righteousness, sanctification, and and all the rest.

For how much toil would it have behoved us to undergo in order to obtain this “time!” But, behold, without our toiling at all it hath come, bringing remission of all that was before. Wherefore also He calls it “acceptable,” because He both accepted those that had transgressed in ten thousand things, and not acceded merely, but advanced them to the highest honor; just as when a monarch arrives, it is a time not for judgment, but for grace and pardon. Wherefore also He calleth it acceptable. Whilst then we are yet in the lists, whilst we are at work in the vineyard, whilst the eleventh hour is left [us], let us draw nigh and show forth life; for it is also easy. For he that striveth for the mastery at such a time, when so great a gift hath been shed forth, when so great grace, will early obtain the prizes. For in the case of monarchs here brow also, at the time of their festivals, and when they appear in the dress of Consuls, he who bringeth a small offering receiveth large gifts; but on the days in which they sit in judgment, much strictness, much sifting is requisite.

Let us too therefore strivefor the mastery in the time of this gift. It is a day of grace, of grace divine; wherefore with ease even we shall obtain the crown. For if when laden with so great evils He both received and delivered us: when delivered from all and contributing our part, shall He not rather accept us?

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily XII on 2 Corinthians]

Be crucified, but do not crucify others – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others. Be crucified, but do not crucify others. Be slandered, but do not slander others. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity. Suffer with the sick. Be afflicted with sinners. Exult with those who repent. Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone. Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

[Mar Isaac, Ascetical Homilies]

This is the great work of man – Abba Anthony the Great

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“Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]

I sleep but my heart is awake – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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“I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! He
knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove,
my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night.”
[Song of Songs 5:2]

The virgin of the Song of Songs sees herself as asleep. She remains without a spiritual outlook. There is no passion. There is no vigilance. There is no vitality. There is no activity. However, she affirms it to be acceptable. I sleep, but my heart is awake (Song 5:2), I have something encouraging since my heart is awake. Although I sleep, I am keenly sensitive to the voice of my Beloved. Indeed, I am asleep, but I still can hear the voice of my Beloved knocking and saying, Open for me, my sister, my love (Song 5:2). These are great words. Although I sleep, I can hear His voice. This is not death, only slumber. The Lord told them, the child is not dead, but sleeping (Mark 5:39). She still has the breath of life in her. It may be that the life in her is concealed and veiled, but there is still life in her. She still has life and that life will definitely bring forth fruit.

The trees do not produce fruits all year long. Yet, we do not cut it down and throw it into the fire. The tree still has life. Ploughing around it and enriching it with fertilizers may help it bring forth fruits later. I sleep, but my heart is awake.

I sleep, but my heart is awake. It is counter productive to focus on the negatives and admonish and reproach sleep. It would be wonderful, however, if the heart that is awake is beaming gleefully and vivaciously with hope. We should not lose sight of the fact that had God relinquished hope in the state of the Church when it is lukewarm, lacking in zeal and ardor, or had He given up hope in ever awakening our hearts, we would have all perished. Rather, time and again, the Lord has consoled, sustained and encouraged us that even though our bodies are asleep and the flesh is weak, our hearts are awake and the spirit is willing. It is these alert hearts that the Lord seeks and desires.

One may be asleep like wasteland: The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. However, there is something positive, nonetheless. The spirit of God (is) hovering over the face of the waters (Gen 1:2). Something beautiful is bound to come out of it.

Micah the prophet seems to reiterate the same theme. Do not rejoice over me, O sin, for even if I fall, I will rise up again (cf. Micah 7:8). This is an affirmation, an assertion, that even though one may commit a sin or make a mistake, one will not wallow in the dirt but will brace oneself and rise up again. We have that same conviction that after every Golgotha, there is a resurrection. Therefore, despite my apparent frailty and weakness while being nailed to the cross, in a short while I will resurrect in great glory.

There are positive aspects in everyone’s life. Some people, however, give up and resign themselves to despondency and despair. Some people can only see futility, uselessness and hopelessness when they confront difficulties and challenges. Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days (John 11:39).

The Lord, on the other hand, ascertains that this is not true. He sees life in Lazarus. If you would believe, you would see the glory of God, (1 John 1:40). God confirms that the person who is thought of as dead, even with a stench, and has been in that condition for a long time will rise up again. He has a heart that is awake, and the minute the Lord utters the words Lazarus, come forth he will rise, come out of the grave and see the Light.

There is hope. There is hope for everyone. No one can shut the door of hope to anyone regardless of their condition. Even if the human spirit is without form, and void; and darkness is on the face of deep, even if it has developed a stench for lying in the grave for four days, and even if she is asleep. The important thing is that the heart is awake.

[H.H. Pope Shenouda III of thrice blessed memory, 117th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, “Have You Seen The One I Love”]

[Extract from Pimonakhos Vol. 3 Issue 4 produced by St. Shenouda’s the Archimandrite Coptic Orthodox Monastery, Sydney Australia]

Make your spiritual life your primary, not secondary goal – Apophthegmata Patrum

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In his youth Abba John the Eunuch questioned an old man, “How have you been able to carry out the work of God in peace? For we cannot do it, even with our labour.” The old man said, “We were able to do it, because we considered the work of God to be primary, and bodily needs to be subsidiary; but you hold bodily necessities to be primary and the work of God to be secondary; that is why you labour, and that is why the Saviour said to the disciples, “Seek you first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

[Apophthegmata Patrum]