86 years I have served him – St. Polycarp of Smyrna

And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, “Have respect to your old age”,  and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], “Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.”

But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists”. Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ”; Polycarp declared, “Eighty six years I have served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”

[The Martyrdom of Polycarp] 

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Plough to sow spiritual seed – St. Ambrose of Milan

For repentance must be taken in hand not only anxiously, but also quickly, lest perchance that father of the house in the Gospel who planted a fig-tree in his vineyard should come and seek fruit on it, and finding none, say to the vine-dresser: “Cut it down, why does it cumber the ground?” (Luke 13:7). And unless the vine-dresser should intercede and say: “Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it and dung it, and if it bear fruit— well; but if not let it be cut down” (Luke 13:8-9 3).

Let us then dung this field which we possess, and imitate those hard-working farmers, who are not ashamed to satiate the land with rich dung and to scatter the grimy ashes over the field, that they may gather more abundant crops.

And the Apostle teaches us how to dung it, saying: “I count all things but dung, that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:8) and he, through evil report and good report, attained to pleasing Christ. For he had read that Abraham, when confessing himself to be but dust and ashes, (Genesis 18:27) in his deep humility found favour with God. He had read how Job, sitting among the ashes, (Job 2:8) regained all that he had lost (Job 42:10). He had heard in the utterance of David, how God “raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the dunghill.”

Let us then not be ashamed to confess our sins unto the Lord. Shame indeed there is when each makes known his sins, but that shame, as it were, ploughs his land, removes the ever-recurring brambles, prunes the thorns, and gives life to the fruits which he believed were dead. Follow him who, by diligently ploughing his field, sought for eternal fruit: “Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we endure, being defamed we entreat, we are made as the offscouring of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).

If you plough after this fashion you will sow spiritual seed. Plough that you may get rid of sin and gain fruit. He ploughed so as to destroy in himself the last tendency to persecution. What more could Christ give to lead us on to the pursuit of perfection, than to convert and then give us for a teacher one who was a persecutor.

[St. Ambrose of Milan, Concerning Repentance, Book II) 

Offer to Christ the labour of your youth – John of the Ladder

Offer to Christ the labours of your youth, and in your old age you will rejoice in the wealth of dispassion. What is gathered in youth nourishes and comforts those who are tired out in old age.

In our youth let us labour ardently and let us run vigilantly, for the hour of death is unknown. We have very evil and dangerous, cunning, unscrupulous foes, who hold fire in their hands and try to burn the temple of God with the flame that is in it. These foes are strong; they never sleep; they are incorporeal and invisible.

Let no one when he is young listen to his enemies, the demons, when they say to him: ‘Do not wear out your flesh lest you make it sick and weak.’ For you will scarcely find anyone, especially in the present generation, who is determined to mortify his flesh, although he might deprive himself of many pleasant dishes. The aim of this demon is to make the very outset of our spiritual life lax and negligent, and then make the end correspond to the beginning.

[John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent]

The boast of the Cross – St. John Chrysostom

[On this day the Coptic Orthodox Church celebrates the Glorious Feast of the Cross: may the Lord’s victory on the cross be a strength and reminder to us all this day.]

But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Truly this symbol is thought despicable; but it is so in the world’s reckoning, and among men; in Heaven and among the faithful it is the highest glory. Poverty too is despicable, but it is our boast; and to be cheaply thought of by the public is a matter of laughter to them, but we are elated by it. So too is the Cross our boast. He does not say, I boast not, nor, I will not boast, but, Far be it from me that I should, as if he abominated it as absurd, and invoked the aid of God in order to his success therein.

And what is the boast of the Cross? That Christ for my sake took on Him the form of a slave, and bore His sufferings for me the slave, the enemy, the unfeeling one; yea He so loved me as to give Himself up to a curse for me. What can be comparable to this! If servants who only receive praise from their masters, to whom they are akin by nature, are elated thereby, how must we not boast when the Master who is very God is not ashamed of the Cross which was endured for us.

Let us then not be ashamed of His unspeakable tenderness; He was not ashamed of being crucified for your sake, and will you be ashamed to confess His infinite solicitude? It is as if a prisoner who had not been ashamed of his King, should, after that King had come to the prison and himself loosed the chains, become ashamed of him on that account. Yet this would be the height of madness, for this very fact would be a special ground for boasting.

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily 6 on Galatians]

Thankfulness in humility – Abba Arsenius the Great

Once at Scetis Abba Arsenius was ill and he was without even a scrap of linen.  As he had nothing with which to buy any, he received some through another’s charity and he said, ‘I give you thanks, Lord, for having considered me worthy to receive this charity in your name.’

[Abba Arsenius,  Apophthegmata Patrum]

By night on my bed I sought the one I love – H.H. Pope Shenouda III

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“By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him but I did not find him.  ‘I will rise now,’ I said, ‘and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.’ I sought him, but I did not find him. The watchmen who go about the city found me; I said, ‘Have you seen the one I love?’ Scarcely had I passed by them, when I found the one I love. I held him and would not let him go. “

(Song of Songs 3:1-4)

These verses indicate that even though this human soul is being slothful, sinful, and lazily wasting time in bed rather than prayers, the love of the Lord is manifest nonetheless. Despite the distance, there is love. The many shortcomings, misdeeds, and faults do not extinguish this love. Love exists. This is a surety. As St. Paul the Apostle says, “for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:8). So even though I may love the Lord from the depths of my heart, I may oftentimes commit sins because of my inherent weaknesses or addiction to certain habits, not because love is nonexistent.

O Lord  there are obstacles that prevent me from coming closer to You. But You O Lord know that I love You. It is true that I am asleep, but I love You. It is true that I err and commit sins, yet I still love You. Even though I do not do the things that reflect this love to You, yet love exists. 

Do you know to what we can liken this? It is similar to a deed that has in it all the various elements of life. However, in order for this seed to give forth fruit and blossom with life, certain conditions ought to exist. Life exists in this seed, albeit dormant. There is life but proper conditions must be present in order for life to spring forth.

I am similar to this weed. My love for you O Lord is dormant like a seed waiting for the right moment and the propitious circumstances; the fertile soul, the right nutrition, and a wise farmer for care for it. I will be able to bring forth fruit once You bestow Your grace upon me. Then I will bring forth leaves, branches, flowers, fruits and everything.

By night on my bed I sought the one I love. I sought Him in the dark of night. Zacchaeus, the tax collector, also sought God at night in bed, in sheer darkness. He did not resign his job to seek the Lord. Rather, he sought the Lord while he was still in the midst of darkness as a tax collector. The thief on the right also called Jesus at night and on his bed. St. Augustine also sought the Lord in the midst of the darkness of the night and on his bed. St. Moses the Black, St. Pellagia, St. Mary the Egyptian; all sought the Lord in the pitch dark of the night, in the midst of the darkness of sin.

These people sought the Lord and found Him. However, this virgin did not. There are those who lead a life of sin and still seek the Lord. They do not wait until they become pure and sanctified. On the contrary, they seek the Lord to become pure and sanctified. Rather than trying to become sanctified in order to seek the Lord, they seek the Lord in the condition in which they are in, in order for the Lord to help them become pure, holy, and sanctified. They do not wait until they have the spiritual zeal and are active in worship; rather they seek the Lord while they are still slothful and lazy so that the Lord may rid them of this laziness and grant them this sought-after spiritual zeal and fervour.

I am seeking the Lord while I am I’m bed, lazy and slothful. I seek You while I am lazy so that You may wake me up. I see You while I am in bed to help me get out of it. I seek You in the midst of my sins so that You may rid me of my sins; and I seek You now that I am distant and far so that You may draw me closer to You. There is a desire, a willingness, but the path is yet untrodden, novel and new. As of yet, I have not started the race. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.

Also the prodigal son sought the Lord while he was on his bed, in a far off country amongst the swine. What profound darkness! What an unfathomable pit! He said, “I will rise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). This is the condition in which the Lord wants you to come to Him: in dirt, in filth, just the way you are.

Some people may opt to wait until they can attain a pure state and then pray. However, we urge such people to start to pray while they are still lost, lacking in understanding, lukewarm and lacking in spiritual zeal. Even when your thoughts are uncontrollable, you should pray. We urge you to pray and God will grant you the means to purity and cleanliness. Pray while you are in the night and on your bed. By night on my bed I sought the one I love.

[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”]

Rise above your trials – St. Basil the Great

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I have, therefore, determined to address your excellency in writing, to remind you that these afflictions are not sent by the Lord, Who rules us, to the servants of God to no purpose, but as a test of the genuineness of our love to the divine Creator.

Just as athletes win crowns by their struggles in the arena, so are Christians brought to perfection by the trial of their temptations, if only we learn to accept what is sent us by the Lord with becoming patience, with all thanksgiving. All things are ordained by the Lord’s love. We must not accept anything that befalls us as grievous, even if, for the present, it affects our weakness.

We are ignorant, perhaps, of the reasons why each thing that happens to us is sent to us as a blessing by the Lord but we ought to be convinced that all that happens to us is for our good, either for the reward of our patience, or for the soul which we have received, lest, by lingering too long in this life, it be filled with the wickedness to be found in this world. If the hope of Christians is limited to this life, it might rightly have been reckoned a bitter lot to be prematurely parted from the body; but if, to them that love God, the sundering of the soul from these bodily fetters is the beginning of our real life, why do we grieve like them which have no hope? (1 Thessalonians 4:12).

Be comforted then, and do not fall under your troubles, but show that you are superior to them and can rise above them.

[St. Basil the Great, Letter 101]