On the great and manifest day of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was spoken on Meat Sunday.
Brethren and fathers, it is a universal law on this day for those who live in the world to stop eating meat and one may see among them great competition in meat-eating and wine-bibbing, and even spectacles of outrageous pastimes which it is shameful to speak about. It is necessary to participate with moderation and to give thanks to the Lord for what we have and to make worthy preparation for the banquet before us; while they possessed by the wiles of the devil do the opposite, demonstrating that they have accepted one rather than the other. Why have I mentioned these things? So that we humble monks may not direct our thoughts in that direction, nor desire their desire, which is not worthy of desire, but rather of misery; let us rather turn to consider the Gospel we are going to listen to, thinking, while the canon is being chanted, about the great and manifest day of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when the judge will stand the sheep on his right but the goats on his left. And to those on the right he will utter that blessed and most longed for invitation, Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; while to those on the left he will utter that most unwelcome and piteous sentence, Depart from me, accursed, into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels. These words are full of dread, fear and alarm; they should make us, and them, as we reflect fall down and weep and make God merciful to us, before he has come to test those who listen. But although they are thus, let us, I beg, hear and heed the message of the Gospel, striving keenly to serve the Lord with fear and trembling, removing all wickedness from the soul, introducing instead all knowledge of good works, compassionate pity, goodness, humility, meekness, longsuffering, and whatever else is good and estimable, that when we have led lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ we may become heirs of the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom belong glory and might with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On being confident
and courageous in the present persecution.
Brethren and fathers, the question for us to discuss to-day should be self-mastery, because the holy Lent is at our doors. However the common talk does not allow us to do this, as our thought and our talk is preoccupied with something else. For I have already told you in the previous instruction that the Emperor is commanding things against us, and now, so they say, is making threats against us through Nikomedes. If we were to meet them in a manner fitting God, he would not endure at all, but do what occurred to him. What more is to be said then? That to be persecuted again is to be crowned again; and that where sufferings are multiplied, there too the consolations of the Holy Spirit are multiplied; for the Apostle says, For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering, and our hope for you is sure; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation and salvation, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. See how by these words he showed that we are partakers with one another in sufferings and in consolations, as being one body and one spirit, as we have also been called in one hope of our calling. So then, brethren, let us not fall, let us not lose heart, but let us all stand together, as good soldiers of Christ, bearing our arms, not physical ones, but ones empowered by God, for the destruction of strongholds, that is to say: prudence, courage, temperance and justice; and with them fulfilling that which was said by God, When they persecute you in one city, flee to another. And as we depart there, let us not worry what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or how we shall be clothed. For he himself has said, I shall not leave you, or desert you. So that there too he would be opening a door for us and helping us in all ways. Do we not rejoice then, having such promises? Are we not leaping for joy that we are the Lord's disciples. Thus they persecuted the holy apostles also, to whom the Lord said, Blessed are you, when they revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake; rejoice and leap for joy on that day. So the present situation is one for joy and gladness; for it is for us the cause of inexpressible joy and eternal life and the kingdom which has no end. Do not go into the way of the nations, he says, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. This is to be understood of the heretics; then let us not enter their churches, nor their houses; but where the son of peace is, the seed of true religion, there let us stay, and there let us pass our time, as in times past. Let us guard ourselves from those who counterfeit the truth, from those who call themselves guides and are not guides, but deceivers who both deceive and are deceived, mislead and are misled, whose condemnation is deserved. Let us guard the faith unswerving and our way of life intact, not maltreating the one by the other, but being safe and perfect on either hand. The subject of the confession is about the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore one who does not confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is portrayed in picture is one who does not confess that he appeared in flesh; for it is the same to appear in flesh and to be portrayed in picture. One who does not worship his holy image, does not worship the Lord; for the prototype is revealed and worshipped in the image, and the image in the prototype of each person that is depicted. And if the Iconoclasts say that they worship, they lie; for they profess, he says, to know God, but by their deeds they deny him. We then worship Christ and his image, we worship the Mother of God and her image, the saints and their images. And this is the apostolic teaching, which we have received from our holy fathers; and this is the deposit which I entrust to you to guard unharmed and unperverted. For the rest pray for our humble selves, that on opening our mouth the Lord may give us utterance, to answer according to reason; and that we may not be ashamed of our expectation and that we may without condemnation accomplish with you the contest now proposed and that we may all reach the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On self-mastery and prayer; spoken on the Friday of Cheese Week.
Brethren and fathers, I often call your way of life blessed, not by way of flattery but truth; nor do I wish to call those in the world unhappy, but I aim to make you more fervent. Since too you know the sort of things that take place in the world, drinking bouts and drunkenness, revels and intoxication, shouts and caperings, and all the other things, whose condemnation is deserved, as it is written, which are the results of the activity of the evil one. But our manner of life is not like this. But what is it? Night and day we praise the Lord according to the legislation which has been handed down to us by our holy fathers. Psalmody succeeds psalmody, reading reading, prayer prayer. Government of thoughts in accord with the mind, in the heart meditation of divine words, timely stillness, fitting speech. We serve one another, we keep close to one another, everything is ordered with stability and measure, and if there is need for some bodily consolation at the feast, that is not discordant; for hear what the Lord says to Judas, What you are doing, do quickly. Not one of those at table knew why he said this to him. For some thought that, because Judas held the purse, Jesus was telling him, Buy what we need for the feast, or that he should give something to the poor. Do you see that among them the consideration both of the feast and of the poor was a matter for concern? Which we also, lowly as we are, as you see, try to achieve. But blessed is God, who has granted us to be admitted to such a way of life, not because of any works of justice that we have done, for we have done nothing good upon earth, but according to his mercy the call is freely given. So then each one of us is a debtor, to say always with a contrite heart, Who am I, O Lord, my Lord, and what the house of my father, that you have loved me? And such is ours; while rarely are such things found in the world. Because day succeeds night with the care of this age, the deception of wealth, with the other concerns, so that a person is unable to draw breath. People bring trouble on each other, they wrangle with one another, Adultery and theft and cursing and lying have been poured out upon the earth, to speak like the Prophet, and all those other things which it is not easy to detail. With all this in mind the blessed Chrysostom has already said, The majority of the world is hardly to be saved. It is a fearful word, but nevertheless it is true. For this reason one must grieve and be sad for one who is truly conscious that he is under this sentence. For are we not all one anothers brothers? Are we not of one blood? Are we not of the same dust? Is not someone who sees a beast of burden being carried over a precipice seized with pity? How much more then for brothers and fellow believers. Hence the blessed Apostle wept for the enemies of the Cross of Christ, praying with unremitting grief of heart. Hence the Prophet Jeremy lamented over Israel and left behind various lamentations in writing. Hence the great Moses cried to God, If you will forgive them their sin, forgive; if not, wipe me out of your book of life. And indeed each of the saints had the same sympathy and made entreaty for the others. Should not we then, if want to walk in their footsteps, not simply have in view what concerns ourselves, but also pray on behalf of the world, having mercy and pity for those who are living in the distraction of life, those who are in the grip of heresies, those who have been led away into error, those in the darkness of paganism, in brief all mankind, according to what we have been commanded by the Apostle to make supplications and prayers. For thus we shall profit ourselves before the rest, being filled with compunction and cleansed of passionate habits; and delivered from which may we be granted to reach eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On fasting; and that
the true fast of the obedient and the subject is the cutting off of ones will.
Brethren and Fathers, our good God who gives us life and brings us from year to year, has brought us also with love for mankind to this present time of fasting, in which each of the eager, as their choice directs, enters the contest; one devoting himself to self-mastery, eating only every two or three days, another to vigil, keeping vigil for so long or so long, another spending even longer in prostrations, and others in other ascetic actions. Quite simply during these holy days it is possible to see great zeal and attention. But the true subject behaves with obedience not at any particular time, but keeps up the struggle always. What is the struggle? Not to walk according to ones own will, but to let oneself be ruled by the disposition of the superior. This is better than the other works of zeal and is a crown of martyrdom; except that for you there is also change of diet, multiplication of prostrations and increase of psalmody are in accord with the established tradition from of old. And so I ask, let us welcome gladly the gift of the fast, not making ourselves miserable, as we are taught, but let us advance with cheerfulness of heart, innocent, not slandering, not angry, not evil, not envying; rather peaceable towards each other, and loving, fair, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits; breathing in seasonable stillness, since hubbub is damaging in a community; speaking suitable words, since too unreasonable stillness is profitless; yet above all unsleepingly keeping watch over our thoughts, not opening the door to the passions, not giving place to the devil. If the spirit of the powerful one, it says, rise up against you, do not let it find your place. So that the enemy has power to suggest, but in no way to enter. We are lords of ourselves; let us not open our door to the devil; rather let us keep guard over our soul as a bride of Christ, not set about with tumult, unwounded by the arrows of the thoughts; for thus we are able to become a dwelling of God in Spirit. Thus we may be made worthy to hear, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Quite simply, Whatever is true, whatever noble, whatever just, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if there is anything virtuous, if there is anything praiseworthy, to speak like the Apostle, do it; and the God of peace will be with you all, in Christ Jesus, our Lord, to whom be the glory and the might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On fasting and
dispassion; spoken at the beginning of the fast.
Brethren and fathers, the season of Lent, when compared to the whole year, may be likened to a storm-free harbour, in which all who are sailing together enjoy a spiritual calm. For the present season is one of salvation not for monks and nuns only, but also for lay people, for great and small, for rulers and ruled, for emperors and priests, for every race and for every age. For cities and villages reduce their hubbub and bustle, while psalmody and hymns, prayers and entreaties take their place, by which our good God is propitiated and so guides our spirits to peace and pardons our offences, if, with a sincere heart, we will only fall down before him with fear and trembling and weep before him, promising improvement for the future. But let the leaders of the churches speak of what is suitable to lay people, for just as those who run in the stadium need the vocal support of their fellow contestants, so fasters need the encouragement of their teachers. But I, since I have been placed at your head, honoured brethren, will also talk to you briefly. Fasting then is a renewal of the soul, for the holy Apostle says, Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward is being renewed day by day. And if it is being renewed, clearly it is being made beautiful according to its original beauty; made beautiful in itself it is being drawn lovingly to the one who said, I and the Father will come and make our dwelling with him. If then such is the grace of fasting, that it makes us into a dwelling place of God, we must welcome it, brethren, gladly, not grieving at the plainness of the diet, for we know that the Lord, though he is able to nourish lavishly, made a banquet for thousands in the wilderness from bread and water. Also because what is unusual, with enthusiasm becomes acceptable and painless. Fasting is not defined by foods alone, but by every abstinence from evil, as our godly fathers have explained. And so, I beg you, let us abstain from despondency, idleness, sluggishness, jealousy, strife, maliciousness, self-indulgence, self-reliance; let us abstain from destructive desire which the many-shaped serpent lays before us when we are fasting. Let us listen to the one who says, The fruit which slew me was beautiful to behold and fair to eat. And observe: he says beautiful to behold, not beautiful by nature. For just as if someone taking a pomegranate decked out with a scarlet rind should find it rotten, in the same way pleasure feigns untold sweetness, but when it is plucked it is found more bitter than gall, or rather, than a sharpened two-edged sword which devours the soul it has captured. This is what our forefather Adam suffered when he was tricked by the serpent; for when he touched the forbidden food, he found death instead of life. This too is what all they have suffered who from then until now have been similarly deceived by the dragon. For just as he, who is darkness, transforms himself into an angel of light, so he knows how to transform bad into good, bitter into sweet, dark into light, ugly into beautiful, deadly into life-giving; and so the all-evil one does not cease to lead the world astray at every opportunity. But let us at least, brethren, not be led astray by his manifold deceptions, nor suffer the fate of the birds who greedily approach what seems to be food and fall into the hunters trap. Let us rather look on the outer coverings of evil as dung and when with the mind we have looked on evil in its nakedness we shall flee from it at once. In addition let us welcome the times of psalmody, be enthusiastic for hymnody, attentive to the readings, making prostrations according to the given measure at each hour; working with our own hands, because working is good and because one who does not work is not judged worthy of eating. Let us bear one anothers burdens, for one is weak and another strong, making use of food and drink and the other necessities with moderation, so that there is no provoking to jealousy among evil people, but zeal in goodness. In everything be good to one another, compassionate, reasonable, obedient, full of mercy and good fruits, and the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and thoughts. And now, may you be found worthy without condemnation to reach the supreme day of the Resurrection, but in the age to come at the resurrection of the dead to gain the kingdom of heaven in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be the glory and the might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On decorating our
incorruptible house through the assumption of the virtues.
Brethren and fathers, people in the world when they erect a luxurious house give themselves no rest at night and at the end of the day they toil and plan, labouring until they have achieved their object; and such is the longing that fills them that their mind is wholly occupied in this and in considering how the roof may be well-covered, how the floor, adorned with many different marbles with every other form of elegance, will offer lovers of fine sights the most pleasing appearance. But if someone were to wish to tear them away from that care, they would be most distressed, as though they were being seriously wronged. But we, when we are building not a corruptible house but an incorruptible, not one made out of stones and wood but one skilfully constructed from spiritual graces, how can we be idle and come far below these others in zeal? How should this not be the greatest of wrongs? That other house harbours people who love the flesh and when it has passed through many masters it will be pulled down and deserted. The other knows that it welcomes the Holy Spirit, since we are a temple of the living God and the Spirit of God dwells in us, as the divine Apostle says. Moreover with those who depart from things here it leaves too and abides in heaven intact and eternal. What is the material of this building? The assumption of the virtues. Take first, if you will, as a foundation stone, the fear of God, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Next understanding, courage, sobriety, justice; and so with one attached firmly to the other and fitted together with the bond of love it will grow into a holy temple of the Lord, as it is written. Let us be building this temple, brethren, at every moment, and let us not fail to adorn it with the beauty of the virtues, so that we may have the Holy Spirit for its inhabitant, so that by the pleasantness of our life we may turn the attention of angels and men to ourselves. But since one of the virtues is self-mastery, and we are more closely concerned about this one, let us give glory to God that we have arrived at the one stadium for it. Your faces have been changed from what they were before, but they shine with a fair change: the pallor that comes from self-mastery; your mouths have become embittered, filled with the bile of eating late, [The only reference in the lexica for this word is the Greek Ephrem, where Lampe translates eating slowly, but the meaning here is surely eating late, that is after Vespers in the late afternoon, when the only meal is eaten on fast days] but your spirits have been sweetened, flying on wings of hope. And these things are opposed to one another, and by mastering the one the other has become weak; so that we may rejoice for we are sided with the stronger. Perhaps some one will say that to eat every day is a failure of perfection. Not at all! Otherwise our Lord would not have ordered us to ask each day for our daily bread; the prophet Elias would not have been nourished each day in the desert by a raven; Paul, who dwelt in the desert before the godly Antony, would have received bread from God every day; Antony the Great preferred as almost necessary eating daily to a fast of above a day or for a week. And this is how it seems to me; for since our body is physically exhausted through its toil for the whole day, like a racing colt, and needs its rest, so necessarily the creator of our nature has arranged for it to be strengthened by its daily nourishment so that it might run well for the future, but not be exhausted and fading, which what they suffer who drag out their fast over two, three and five days. Nor would they be able to prostrate more frequently, not to join more lustily in psalmody, nor to accomplish their other services easily, unless something truly extraordinary happens. And so daily nourishment is not simply for the imperfect, but very much for the perfect by the traditional definition and canon. And thank goodness these things have been laid down by the fathers. And may you be granted again and again both health of body and strength of spirit to serve the living and true God and to await the last day, in which may you shine out like the sun as heirs of the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
On not being
stretched beyond our power in our works of zeal for God
Brethren and fathers, since every beginning is difficult, the first fruits of the fast corresponding to the change of diet and of works of zeal produce a certain difficulty and roughness; but with persistence and practice it is soothed and softened; this is why it is written, No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of justice to those who have been trained by it. And so let us too, who have been allowed to traverse the first week of the fast, become more enthusiastic for the future through experience, knowing that enthusiasm strengthens both soul and body, making what is heavy light and what is difficult easy. The opposite is true: idleness makes what is light heavy and what is easy difficult. However let us not strive beyond our power in our works of zeal, but with our spiritual father keep a watch over our bodily health also. For what use is there in walking too hard from the start and falling down more quickly, rather than attentively keeping in view the extent of the dwelling. But since the day with exertion is accustomed to produce despondency, let us sustain the soul with good pursuits and spiritual thoughts, not with those of a worldly sort, in which are emptiness, confusion, wretchedness and bitterness, but in ones in which are sweetness and joy. I remembered God, it says, and I was glad. Our mind then should be on God, on heavenly sights, on the beauties of Paradise, on the everlasting dwellings, on the regime there, where the souls of the just and of sinners are now, on how the appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will be, in which, according to the sacred saying, the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up; then how each soul is going to take again its yoke-fellow the body, what a gathering that will be of every human from Adam to the final consummation, how great and fearful and more dazzling than the rays of the sun will be the face of Christ, what his voice that we shall hear, and last, what will be the final state of the just who are admitted into the kingdom of heaven and of the sinners who are sent away to eternal punishments. These, brethren, are the things that we should be caring about and thinking about, with which we should be occupied, since we live out of the world, and since we have our home in heaven and our lives have nothing in common with those who live according to the world; with these it is possible to be moved to compunction, to weep and to be enlightened, both to lead a life of peace here and to have hope of attaining the eternal good things to come, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and might, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always and to the ages of ages. Amen.
All texts and
translations on this page are copyright to
This page was last updated on 03 November 2008