Abba Benjamin said, “Walk the royal road and count the miles, and you will not be tired.”
You who have begun this course, in which the shining ones are all running, do not shrink back at the beginning when your intellect strives to penetrate within you but cannot, so you turn backwards and flee for relief in distraction outside of yourself. Those that are against you know that through asceticism you defy their knowledge, frustrate their devices and check their pride. You have begun, and they are pouring forth into your unpractised mind hardship, depression, gloominess, darkness and suffocation of soul, until they make the mystical fountain of all mysteries loathsome in your eyes.
Yet if you persevere in afflictions at your heart’s door and endure when you fix your gaze, even if there is no rest or repose, only adversity, you will call upon the Mercy of him who said: Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Mat 5.8), as long as you do not regard your labour in vain. He gives light to the blind: the sun of joys rises within you and draws you upwards in release of everything. And who will draw away from him? Not the angels, when it is better that you should be with their Lord within yourself than with them in Heaven.
Here I have set down before those who are weak like myself, now standing outside the mystical door of light, how they should seek it. He who seeks diligently shall find, but he who is negligent will continue blindly in darkness, in that he separates himself from the Light, the Life and the Truth, which is Christ; to whom be praise from all, and grace to him from all be prolonged in the directing of those who love him. Amen.
[John of Dalyatha, Discourse 17]
[On this day, the Church commemorates the departure of the great Abba Poemen, a shining star of the wilderness. This Father is the most heavily quoted in the Apophthegmata, his intercessions be with us all].
Some old men came to Abba Poemen and said to him, “When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis (services), shall we rouse them so they will be watchful?” He said to them, “For my part when I see a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.”
[Abba Poemen, Apophthegmata Patrum]
O You who wept and shed tears of sorrow over Lazarus, receive my bitter tears; may my passions be allayed by Your Passion; may my wounds be healed by Your wounds, my blood be blended with Your Blood, and the lifegiving fragrance of Your Holy Body be mingled with my body. May the bitter drink that was given to You by your enemies soothe my soul, which has been made to drink wormwood by the evil one. May Your Body, which was stretched out on the tree, expand my mind to You, which has been shrunk by the demons. May Your head bent on the cross lift up my head, which has been buffeted by impure men. May Your pure hands, which were transfixed with nails by unbelievers, draw me up to You from the abyss of evil, as your mouth has promised. May Your face, which has received the shameful spitting of accursed men, cleanse my face, which has become odious through it’s sins. May Your soul, with you did commit to the Your Father on the cross, bring me to You by Your grace.
I have no tears of supplication, Lord; I have no contrite heart for seeking You; I have not the repentance and compunction that turns sons back to their inheritance; my intellect is darkened through the things of this world and has not the strength to lift its gaze towards You with moaning; my heart has grown cold through a multitude of evils and cannot become warm through tears of love. O Christ, treasure of all goodly things, grant me perfect repentance and an aching heart that comes out in love to seek You. Without You I am a stranger to everything; grant me, O Good One, Your Grace. May the Father who begot You, from his bosom where You were concealed from eternity, renew in me the features of Your likeness.
Though I have forsaken You, do not forsake me; though I have abandoned You and gone away from You, come out to seek me and restore me to Your fold; add me to the dear lambs of Your flock, and feed me with them in the pasture of Your Holy Mysteries, whose source is a pure heart wherein is seen the light of your revelations; that is the repose of the toilers who labour to that end through sufferings and torment of every kind. Our Saviour, may we all be counted worthy of it through Your gracious loving-kindness.
[John of Dalyatha, Discourse 4]
A brother asked Abba Poemen, saying, “For what purpose were spoken the words, ‘Take no thought for the morrow?’ (Mat 6:34) The old man said unto him, “For the man who is under temptation, and is in affliction; for it is not right that such a man should take thought for the morrow, or should say, ‘How long shall I have to endure this temptation’, but he should think upon patient endurance, saying: ‘It is today, and the temptation will not remain thus for a long time.'”
[Abba Poemen, Apophthegmata Patrum]
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them.
Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (Jn 10:1-16)
Here He declares Himself to be Master even as the Father, if so be that He is the Shepherd, and the sheep are His. See how He speaks in a more lofty tone in His parables, where the sense is concealed; and gives no open handle to the listeners? What then does this hireling? He “sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and the wolf comes, and scatters them.” This those false teachers did, but He the contrary. For when He was taken, He said, “Let these go their way, that the saying might be fulfilled” (c. 18:8, 9), that not one of them was lost. Here also we may suspect a spiritual wolf to be intended; for neither did Christ allow him to go and seize the sheep. But he is not a wolf only, but a lion also.“Because our adversary the devil,” It says, “walks about as a roaring lion.” (1 Peter 5:8) He is also a serpent, and a dragon; for, “Tread you on serpents and scorpions.” (Luke 10:19)
Therefore, I beseech you, let us remain pasturing beneath this Shepherd; and we shall remain, if we obey Him, if we hear His voice, if we follow not a stranger. And what is His voice? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the merciful.” (Matthew 5:3, 8, 7) If we do so, we shall remain beneath the Shepherd, and the wolf will not be able to come in; or if he come against us, he will do so to his own hurt.
For we have a Shepherd who so loves us, that He gave even His life for us. When therefore He is both powerful and loves us, what is there to hinder us from being saved? Nothing, unless we ourselves revolt from Him. And how can we revolt? Hear Him saying, “You cannot serve two masters, God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) If then we serve God, we shall not submit to the tyranny of money. And truly a bitterer thing than any tyranny is the desire of riches; for it brings no pleasure, but cares, and envyings, and plottings, and hatred, and false accusations, and ten thousand impediments to virtue, indolence, wantonness, greediness, drunkenness, which make even freemen slaves, no, worse than slaves bought with money, slaves not to men, but even to the most grievous of the passions, and maladies of the soul.
Such a one dares many things displeasing to God and men, dreading lest any should remove from him this dominion. O bitter slavery, and devlish tyranny! For this is the most grievous thing of all, that when entangled in such evils we are pleased and hug our chain, and dwelling in a prison house full of darkness, refuse to come forth to the light, but rivet evil upon ourselves, and rejoice in our malady. So that we cannot be freed, but are in a worse state than those that work the mines, enduring labours and affliction, but not enjoying the fruit. And what is in truth worse than all, if any one desire to free us from this bitter captivity, we do not suffer it, but are even vexed and displeased, being in this respect in no better case than madmen, or rather in a much more miserable state than any such, inasmuch as we are not even willing to be delivered from our madness.
What? was it for this, O man, that you were brought into the world? Was it for this that you were made a man, that you might work in these mines, and gather gold? Not for this did God create you in His Image, but that you might please Him, that you might obtain the things to come, that you might join the choir of Angels. Why now do you banish yourself from such a relationship, and thrust yourself into the extreme of dishonour and meanness?
He who came by the same birth pangs with thee, (the spiritual birth pangs I mean,) is perishing with hunger, and you art bursting with fullness: your brother goes about with naked body, but you provide garments even for your garments, heaping up all this clothing for the worms. How much better would it have been to put them on the bodies of the poor; so would they have remained undestroyed, would have freed you from all care, and have won for you the life to come. If you do not wish them to be moth-eaten, give them to the poor, these are they who know how to shake these garments well.
The Body of Christ is more precious and more secure than a chest, for not only does It keep the garments safe, not only does It preserve them unconsumed, but even renders them brighter. Oftentimes the chest taken with the garments causes you the utmost loss, but this place of safety not even death can harm. With It we need neither doors nor bolts, nor wakeful servants, nor any other such security, for our possessions are free from all treacherous attacks, and are laid up under guard, as we may suppose things laid up in heaven would be; for to all wickedness that place is inaccessible.
These thing we cease not continually to say to you, and you hearing are not persuaded. The reason is, that we are of a soul which is mean, gaping upon the earth, groveling on the ground. Or rather, God forbid that I should condemn you all of wickedness, as though all were incurably diseased. For even if those who are drunk with riches stop their ears against my words, yet they who live in poverty will be able to look clearly to what I say. “But what,” says some one, “has, this to do with the poor? for they have no gold, or any such garments.” No, but they have bread and cold water, but they have two pennies, and feet to visit the sick, but they have a tongue and speech to comfort the bedridden, but they have house and shelter to make the stranger their inmate. We demand not from the poor such and such a number of talents of gold, these we ask from the rich. But if a man be poor, and come to the doors of others, our Lord is not ashamed to receive even a penny, but will say that He has received more from the giver, than from those who cast in much.
How many of those who now stand here would desire to have been born at that time, when Christ went about the earth in the flesh, to have talked and sat at meat with Him? Lo, this may be done now, we may invite Him more than then to a meal, and feast with Him, and that to greater profit. For of those who then feasted with Him many even perished, as Judas and others like him; but every one of those who invite Him to their houses now, and share with Him table and roof, shall enjoy a great blessing. “Come,” it says, “you blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the
world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me food: I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in; sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came unto Me.” (Matthew 25:34-36)
That then we may hear these words, let us clothe the naked, let us bring in the stranger, feed the hungry, give the thirsty drink, let us visit the sick, and look upon him that is in prison, that we may have boldness and obtain remission of our sins, and share those good things which transcend both speech and thought. Which may we all obtain, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory and the might forever. Amen.
[St. John Chrysostom, Homily 59 on the Gospel of St. John]
You who desire for yourself purity whereby the Lord of all may be seen, do not slander nor listen to words of calumny concerning your brethren. If a quarrel is going on near you or if you hear angry words, stop up your words and flee, lest your soul perish. The soul of an irascible man is devoid of the mysteries of God, but any one who is innocent and peaceable is a fount of the mysteries of the New World. Indeed Heaven is already inside you if you are pure, and there you see angels rejoicing and their Lord with them and within them.
[John of Dalyatha, Discourse 3]