Isaac the Syrian on Repentance  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hat-tip to the Glory to God for All Things site.

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 Be crucified, but do not crucify others.

Be slandered, but do not slander others.

Exult with those who repent.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion:  remorse.  But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

Repentance is given us as grace after grace, for repentance is a second regeneration by God.  That of which we have received an earnest by baptism, we receive as a gift by means of repentance.  Repentance is the door of mercy, opened to those who seek it.  By this door we enter into the mercy of God, and apart from this entrance we shall not find mercy.

God's recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection.


Gregory of Nyssa  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Gregory of Nyssa (ca335-395) was the brother of Basil the Great and the friend of Gregory Nazianzus.  Collectively, they are known as the Cappadocians, after the region in Anatolia where they spent most of their lives.  Gregory of Nyssa had a strongly philosophical bent--he was especially influenced by Plotinus--and he aimed to engage his theology with the best philosophical thought of his day.  He played a key role in formulating the late fourth-century theological understanding of the Trinity, which remains foundational for orthodox theology.  He is commemorated by the Episcopal Church on March 9.  Below is an excerpt from his treatise on the Lord's Prayer.  Along with other quotes by Gregory, it can be found here

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"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God".  Who are these?  Those who imitate the Divine love of others, who show forth in their own life the character of the Divine energy.  The Lord and Giver of good things completely annihilates anything that is without affinity and foreign to goodness.  This work he ordains also for you, namely to cast out hatred and abolish war, to exterminate envy and banish strife, to take away hypocrisy and extinguish from within resentment of injuries smoldering in the heart.  Instead, you ought to introduce whatever is contrary to the things that have been removed.
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St Gregory of Narek  

Posted by Joe Rawls

This week Pope Francis declared St Gregory of Narek--or Grigor Narekatsi, as he is known in Armenian--a Doctor of the Church.  Gregory lived between 951-1003 and spent his entire life in the town of Narek, located near Lake Van in what is now eastern Turkey.  He was born into a clerical family (his father was an archbishop) and he soon entered the local monastery.  He wrote poetry of a strongly mystical nature and is considered one of the major figures in Armenian literature.  The sample excerpted below is from the Book of Lamentations, written about 977.  The translation is by Thomas J Samuelian, and the on-line version is available here.

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Prayer 1

The voice of a sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries,
I offer up to you, O Seer of Secrets,
placing the fruits of my wavering mind
as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul
to be delivered to you in the censer of my will.

Compassionate Lord, breathe in
this offering and look more favorably on it
than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice
offered with rich smoke.  Please find
this simple string of words acceptable.
Do not turn in disdain.

May this unsolicited gift reach you,
this sacrifice of words
from the deep mystery-filled chamber
of my feelings, consumed in flames
fueled by whatever grace I may have within me.

Thomas Merton on Hesychastic Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today marks the centennial of Thomas Merton's birth.  Although he died in 1968, his influence remains significant today, and extends far beyond the bounds of the Roman Catholic Church.  A Trappist monk, his spiritual interests likewise extended far beyond the bounds of Western monasticism.  He was particularly engaged with the hesychastic tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy.  As novice master of Gethsemani he was charged with teaching the young monks about asceticism and mystical theology.  He did not exclude the Christian East from his syllabus. 

A sample of this can be found in Merton and Hesychasm, Bernadette Dieker  and Jonathan Montaldo, eds, Louisville, Kentucky, Fons Vitae, 2003.  The chapter is "Love for God and Mutual Charity:  Thomas Merton's Lectures on Hesychasm to the Novices at the Abbey of Gethsemani", transcribed and edited by Bernadette Dieker.  The quote below, found on pp 471-472, deals with the recitation of the Jesus Prayer to drive away distracting thoughts.

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The idea is first finding your heart, getting completely centered inside where the struggle is going on, and then in your heart socking this stuff with the most powerful thing that you've got, which is the Name of Jesus.  So you take the Jesus Prayer and you get this in the center of your heart and everything that comes up, WHAM!  And you really don't fool around, you hit it.  And you hit it out loud to begin with.  You're in a cell, you're by yourself, you're not in the Church, and you learn this prayer by saying it with your lips, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  Then you say that about 5,000 times.  You keep saying it...You really work at this thing.  It becomes a full time project, and you keep it up until you or the thought gives up.  It's "either/or."  Now of course this is a bit drastic.  I don't think this is what most people need to do, but it's good to recognize that this is a basic approach that some people have.  Obviously there are simpler ways of doing it, but this is the way these fellows do it.

Then, after saying it with your lips, you learn that you don't have to say it out loud, you can just whisper it, and then it gets a lot quieter and you begin to calm down quite a bit.  Of course, this is over a period of time.  Then it becomes mental, and you think of it purely in your mind.  You don't say any words anymore, and then it gets down into your heart.  Mind, Heart, see.  And when it gets into your heart, it's a question that the mind and the heart have to be one.  This is the key to the whole thing.  A very complex idea, it's a very deep idea, actually.  A deep psychological idea of uniting your mind and your heart.  This is the key to the whole thing.  It takes an awful lot of understanding, and a great deal of work, uniting the mind and the heart.  What do they mean by that?  Well, that requires quite a lot of discussion.  The real fruit of the thing is when the prayer becomes completely spiritual--this follows pretty much the old Greek pattern of words, concepts, and then beyond concepts.  This is the way that they go at this thing, and I think that it's very interesting.  We'll come across this all the way down--there's the whole tradition, all through Russian spirituality which keeps coming back to this, and this is one of the big things in the nineteenth century.  This is one of the sources of nineteenth century Russian mysticism.  I think if we keep the idea of serious interior asceticism centered on this idea of a prayer of the heart which is effective in socking these things, but don't try to do it in the wrong way.  Just keep in your memory that there is such a method, but that you can't do it just by wanting to.  But it's something that is worth considering and you might look into it in the future as something that may have something to it.  I'll say at least that much.

Hilary of Poitiers on Faith  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Hilary (ca 300-368) was born in southwestern Gaul.  His parents were pagan and gave him what must have been an excellent classical education, to judge by the good Latin style of his later writings.  He also knew Greek, learned in part during his exile in the eastern part of the empire.  He was baptized, along with his wife and daughter, at a relatively mature age, and was elected bishop by the inhabitants of Poitiers only a few years later.  He quickly became embroiled in a theological dispute with adherents of Arianism, which was still vigorous despite its condemnation by the Council of Nicea.  Hilary fell afoul of the emperor Constantius, who was somewhat "soft" on the heresy, and was exiled to Phrygia in Asia Minor for several years.  After his return to Poitiers he completed De Trinitate, his major work, and mentored the great monastic Martin of Tours. 

Edward C Sellner, in Finding the Monk Within (HiddenSpring, 2008, pp 64-66) has some good insights into Hilary's approach to the Christian faith.

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All of his works...were composed with the strong conviction that God was not only one being, but three persons...God, and those who are created in God's image, Hilary believes, are thus called to community, to participate and build in their own lives communities that reflect the God in whose image they have been made...

A second conviction...is his intense love of and loyalty to Jesus Christ.  For Hilary, the Son of God was truly God not in name and metaphor only, but in the fullest sense and deepest reality.  This personal relationship with Christ, in fact, is his primary motive for the writings on faith that he does.  It is his reading and study of the sacred texts of scripture that inform his theology and the explanations he gives to justify belief in the power and equality of the Trinity.  Ultimately his love of Christ relies not solely on intellect and intellectual arguments, but upon his intuitive senses, his heart...

Hilary also learned from the Eastern fathers during his exile that to be a theologian was, above all, to be a person of prayer.  They had taught him that all theology begins and ends in prayer.  With this awareness, it was natural for him to conclude that "God cannot be known except by devotion".  As he writes in his book on the Trinity, "What presumption to suppose that words can adequately describe God's nature, when thought is often too deep for words, and His nature transcends even the conceptions of thought...We must believe, must apprehend, must worship, and such acts of devotion must stand in lieu of definition."  For Hilary, what he learned from the Eastern fathers was the ancient Christian principle, lex orandi, lex credendi" (the law of worship is the law of belief); in other words, how a person or community worships reveals what an individual or a community believes.  Thus his understanding of faith is linked intrinsically with a life of prayer, one that includes the reading of scripture, yes, but also public worship and personal prayer...

A fourth element of his theology also reflects the teachings of the Eastern father...when Hilary says, "What presumption to suppose that words can adequately describe God's nature."  Eastern theologians had taught him this apophatic theology:  based upon the presupposition that words or dogmatic definitions cannot fully explain the profound mystery of God.  Here Hilary anticipates the theology of later Eastern Orthodox Christians, the sixth-century writer Pseudo-Dionysius, and a number of medieval mystics, including the fourteenth-century anonymous English author  of the Cloud of Unknowing and the sixteenth-century Spanish poet, John of the Cross (1542-1591).  Hilary states in his book on the Trinity that the very "purpose" of faith, what it proclaims, is that it cannot fully "comprehend that for which it is seeking".  Anything that is said is merely an attempt to wrap words around a mystery that is beyond verbal or intellectual explanation.

Christmas Proclamation  

Posted by Joe Rawls

An ancient custom in the Roman liturgy is the solemn proclamation, or Kalenda, of the Nativity at the start of the Christmas Eve Mass.  A translation of the text as chanted in the video (made in St Peter's Basilica in 2012) appears below.

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  In the twenty-fifth day of the month of December,

In the year five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;

In the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven from the flood;

In the year two thousand and fifty-one from the birth of Abraham;

In the year one thousand five hundred and ten from the going forth of the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses;

In the year one thousand and thirty-two from the anointing of David as king;

In the fifty-sixth week according to the prophecy of Daniel;

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;

In the year seven hundred and fifty-two from the foundation of the city of Rome;

In the forty-second year of the reign of the Emperor Octavian Augustus;

In the sixth age of the world, while the whole earth was at peace--

JESUS CHRIST  eternal God and the Son of the eternal Father, willing to consecrate the world by His gracious coming, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit, and the nine months of His conception being now accomplished, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary and made flesh.

The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the flesh.


On the Night of the Nativity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

St Ephraim the Syrian (306 to ca 373), with over 400 hymns and poems attributed to him, is one of Christianity's most prolific hymnodists.  Written originally in Syriac, they were translated into Greek at an early stage, and thence became widely known throughout the church.  Typical is "On the Night of the Nativity", reproduced below.  Hat-tip to the Orthodox Christian Network website.

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Pure is the present night, in which the Pure One appeared, Who came to purify us!  Let our hearing be pure, and the sight of our eyes chaste, and the feeling of the heart holy, and the speech of the mouth sincere!

The present night is the night of reconciliation; therefore, let no one be wroth against his brother and offend him!

This night gave peace to the whole world, and so, let no one threaten.  This is the night of the Meek One; let no one be cruel!

This is the night of the Humble One; let no one be proud!

Now is the day of joy; let us not take revenge for offenses!  Now is the day of good will; let us not be harsh.  On this day of tranquility, let us not become agitated by anger!

Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous exalt himself over sinners!

Today the Most Rich One became poor for our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table!

Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg!

The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness!

Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead!