St John Chrysostom’s Sermon on the Nativity According to the Flesh of the Christ

I behold a new and wondrous mystery! My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing!
The Archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise!
The Seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side the Sun of Justice.

And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, he had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is, is Born; and He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His Incarnation has he departed from the Godhead.

And behold,
Kings have come, that they might adore the heavenly King of glory;
Soldiers, that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;
Women, that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child-birth into joy;
Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin, beholding with joy, that He Who is the Giver of milk, Who has decreed that the fountains of the breast pour forth in ready streams, receives from a Virgin Mother the food of infancy;
Infants, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouth of infants and sucklings, He might perfect praise;
Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;
Men, to Him Who became man, that He might heal the miseries of His servants;
Shepherds, to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;
Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisedech;
Servants, to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our servitude with the reward of freedom;
Fishermen, to Him Who from amongst fishermen chose catchers of men;
Publicans, to Him Who from amongst them named a chosen Evangelist;
Sinful women, to Him Who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God Who taketh away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice. I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival. But I take my part, not plucking the harp, not shaking the Thyrsian staff, not with the music of pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ. For this is all my hope, this my life, this my salvation, this my pipe, my harp. And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels, sing: Glory to God in the Highest; and with the shepherds: and on earth peace to men of good will.

St John Chrysostom, The Nativity Sermon

Noetic Battles Revisited

In a previous post, I cited some ancient Christian teaching regarding the mind and the spiritual battle waged in the arena of thoughts. I want to return to the topic again, this time with some personal reflections.

The past three months in particular have been a rather specific engagement with the notion of spiritual warfare of the mind. Life itself, of course, for the Christian is a matter of continuous warfare, as St. Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12. And that warfare begins first in the mind. As Jesus himself notes, the sin that one does begins first with the thought of it, the dwelling on it in one’s mind (Matthew 5:28). This is why the Christian must be so very careful what he puts in front of his eyes: on the TV, books and magazines, movies; and what he listens to with his ears: talk radio, conversations and music. For what his mind is engaged with will be what he does with his mouth, his hands and his feet.

But not only must the Christian guard what goes into his eyes and ears and into this thoughts, he must also guard to what thoughts he pays attention. Memories of past sins which come to his attention, or thoughts which do not give place for God’s love and providence. The dwelling, for example, on depressive thoughts is for some a most difficult battle. (Here, of course, I am speaking strictly of thoughts of hopelessness and depression. I do not touch on the biochemical component to depression which requires a different sort of therapy.)

As Solomon exhorts (emphasis mine):

My son, give head to my word and incline your ear to my words, that your fountains may not fail you; guard them in your heart; for they are life to those who find them and healing for all their flesh. Keep your heart with all watchfulness, for from these words are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:19-22 SAAS)

Or, in the more familiar King James rendering:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

This spiritual warfare of the mind is absolutely crucial if one is going to live a mature Christian life. Nearly the entire first volume of the English translation of the Philokalia is about nepsis or watchfulness of thoughts, the guarding of one’s heart.

As Father Anthony Coniaris writes:

Logismoi, thoughts, come to us from both God and from Satan. The church fathers tell us that the best way to discern whether the thoughts come from God or from Satan is to remember that the thoughts that come from God generate peace and joy, whiile the logismoi that come from Satan cause anxiety and turmoil.

Mother Maria said once that she thought she had only one appearance of Christs in her life. It was when she was particularly depressed one day. Christ appeared to her and said, “Maria, take it easy. Relax. It ain’t what you think.” Thoughts that come from Satan cause much turmoil. Then Jesus comes sand says, “Relax. It ain’t what Satan made you think.” Satan will almost always present the worst case scenario. (Confronting and Controlling Thoughts, p. 41)

One of the problems with depressive thoughts is not simply the depths of sadness and paralysis that comes upon one, but that it diminishes one’s faith in God and his loving Providence. I can speak from personal experience here: when one posits the worst case scenario one misses the fingerprints of God that are all over one’s day to day living. A loved one will encourage one to make some connections. Those connections will open new resources and renewed ties. Suddenly what had felt as though the horizon had shrunk to the four walls of one’s room, now stretches that horizon to the immeasurable limits of the Kansas prairie. What had felt impossible to face and a foregone conclusion, now opens up many avenues of response and the realistic hopes of pragmatic and favorable ends. When the present strictures had felt confining and diminishing, now suddenly it seems an exercise, a discipline, the moments before the victory (even if that victory may not be precisely how one imagines it).

This deliverance from such thoughts is always supernatural, but it is usually a synergy. That is to say, one practices watchfulness and does not let such depressive thoughts take hold in one’s mind and heart. But it is also the case that the deliverance is always divine. And that is especially the case when such warfare feels beyond one’s capability. The rescue and relief can be as sudden as the joy on morning’s awakening, when one’s heart is filled with divine songs.

The wonderful thing about such deliverance is the seemingly limitless possibilities. All doors seem open, all bridges remain unburned, but too there are many clear pathways to the future. Even if some of them are painful, they are, too, bittersweet. The years the locust have eaten will be restored, the blessings of Job will come, that which was lost will be restored. And even if that restoration is with new goods and different ends, the joy will be as strong and real.

It is when one is free of the control of one’s thoughts, when one disciplines all thoughts by the remembrance of the God in whom we live and move and have our being, the God who sees all our moments, our sins and virtues, and with all he is works to draw us to himself if only we will be drawn, then one will see clearly. Then one can face whatever task is required, however impossible it seems, and know that the Resurrection follows the Cross.

Glory to God for all things.

St John Chyrsostom on Ephesians 5 (On Marriage)

Sts Joachim and Anna with the Most Blessed Theotokos
Sts Joachim and Anna with the Most Blessed Theotokos

Some excerpts:

And indeed from the beginning, God appears to have made special provision for this union; and discoursing of the twain as one, He said thus, “Male and female created He them” (Gen. i. 27.) . . . For there is no relationship between man and man so close as that between man and wife, if they be joined together as they should be. . . . For indeed, in very deed, this love is more despotic than any despotism: for others indeed may be strong, but this passion is not only strong, but unfading. For there is a certain love deeply seated in our nature, which imperceptibly to ourselves knits together these bodies of ours. Thus even from the very beginning woman sprang from man, and afterwards from man and woman sprang both man and woman.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church.” Thou hast heard how great the submission; thou hast extolled and marvelled at Paul, how, like an admirable and spiritual man, he welds together our whole life. Thou didst well. But now hear what he also requires at thy hands; for again he employs the same example. “Husbands,” saith he, “love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church.” . . . Take then thyself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for thee to give thy life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever,—refuse it not. Though thou shouldest undergo all this, yet wilt thou not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom thou art already knit . . . .
Seek thou for beauty of soul. Imitate the Bridegroom of the Church. . . . Let us wipe off the “spot” that is within, let us smooth the “wrinkles” that are within, let us do away the “blemishes” that are on the soul. Such is the beauty God requires.

Continue reading “St John Chyrsostom on Ephesians 5 (On Marriage)”

On God’s Providence

Question. My thought suggests to me that my material resources are tight and that i cannot feed myself or my household, and this causes me sorrow. What does this mean?

Response by Abba John

This sorrow is human; if we had hope in God, He would provide for us as he wants. “Therefore, cast your concern upon the Lord” (I Pet. 5.7), and he is able to take care of you and your own without sorrow and affliction. Say to him: ” Your will be done” (Mt. 6.10 and 26.42), and he will not allow you to grieve or be afflicted. May the Lord have mercy upon you and protect you with his right hand. Amen.- Letters from the Desert: Barsanuphius and John

From: Mind in the Heart

Sts Barsanuphius and John on Blogs, Message Boards and the Internet

One who is firm in faith, if he will speak and contend with heretics or unbelievers, will never be disturbed, because he has within himself Jesus, the Source of peace and stillness. And such a one, after contending peacefully, can with love bring many heretics and unbelievers to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ. Wherefore, O brother, since the judging of other subjects is above your measure, then keep to the royal path, I say, the faith of the 318 Holy Fathers [of the First Ecumenical Council] in which you were baptized: it includes within itself precisely everything for those who understand completely . . . . From now on do not be concerned over subjects which are not assigned to you, for the Lord has taken all cares away from you . . . . Pray for me, O brother, that it may not be said of me: Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? (Rom. 2:21).

–Answer 58 in Guidance Twoard Spiritual Life 2e, tr. by Father Seraphim Rose (St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood 2002)

Noetic Battles

A few days before my birthday in 2005, I purchased and received Anthony M. Coniaris, Confronting and Controlling Thoughts According to the Fathers of the Philokalia (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing 2004). It was a providential purchase. For this is a matter about which I am much concerned presently. I may offer some thoughts on it in a subsequent post. But for now, I just want to post an extended quote.

The church fathers, who spent their lives resisting the devil’s onslaughts (logismoi) have a deep understanding of how Satan attacks us through the mind. They list the following four stages of how Satan attacks us through logismoi:

1. The mind receives a suggestion or stimulation, which is another word for temptation. This is called prosbole in Greek. It is like Satan knocking on the door. If the mind is vigilant, attentive, it will notice the provocation and will close the door on temptation, or, as some church fathers say, “If the devil knocks on the door of your mind, send Jesus to the door.” By this they mean the Jesus Prayer. There is no sin involved in this first stage. Even Jesus was tempted.

2. If we do not close the door, the soul will enter into dialogue with the suggestion/temptation as Eve did with the serpent. The fathers warn us about the great danger of dialoguing with Satan, since he is far wiser than we are with countless years of experience in seducing victims. This second step is called syndiasmos or dialogue. Yet even in this second stage of tempation there is no accountability, since no sin has been commited. It is a conversation, albeit dangerous, between Satan and the soul.

3. There is a union or coupling with the thought in which the mind consents to the temptation (logismoi) and begins to dwell on it. The decision has been made. This is called synkatathesis, or consent. It is the begin of sin. It is the stage Jesus referred to when He said that if you look upon a woman lustfully and covet her in your heart, it is as if you have already committed adultery.

Yet we are still in the third stage of consent. No action has taken place. It is still possible by God’s grace to be liberated from this stage of consent. . . .

4. The fourth and last stage in the process of sin is the stage of captivity. Here we fall so completely under the power of temptation that we are no longer free to resist it. It becomes a passion, an obsession, an addiction. We become its captive. We are imprisoned by it.

St. Hesychios describes this process of temptation as follows in the Philokalia:

The provocation comes first, then our coupling with it, or the mingling of our thoughts with those of the wicked demons. Third comes our assent to the provocation, with both sets of intermingling thoughts contriving how to commit sin in practice. Fourth comes the concrete action–that is, the sin itself. If, however, the intellect is attentive and watchful, and at once repulses the provocation by counter-attacking and gainsaying it and invoking the Lord Jesus, its consequences remain inoperative; for the devil, being a bodiless intellect, can deceive our souls only by means of fantasies and thoughts. . . .

Intellect is invisibly interlocked in battle with intellect, the demonic intellect with our own. So from the depths of our heart we must at each instan[ce] call on Christ to drive the demonic intellect away from us and in His compassion give us the victory. . . .

How can we best resist the logismoi or evil thoughts that attack us? Every day we need to make a decision as to which thoughts we will allow to enter our minds. We need to screen them carefully and with great discernment: What we read, what we watch on TV; what movie we see; what company we keep. We need to “take every thuoght captive to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). The mind of Christ can, through the Holy Spirit, control our thoughts, our intents, and our actions, if we submit to Him daily. . . .

Because God’s help is ever just a prayer away from us, St. Philotheos of Sinai was able to say,

Be extremely strict in guarding your intellect. When you perceive an evil thought, rebut it and immediately call upon Christ to defend you; and while you are still speaking, Jesus in His gentle love will say: “Behold, I am by your side ready to help you.”

For a great audio account of the above, listen to Mother Melania in her Illumined Heart interview.

Sofie Is Wiser Than She Knows and Than I At First Recognized

Hmmm. Maybe it really is the case that while Daddy has Jesus in his heart, Sofie and Delaina have Baby Jesus in their hearts:

For He came to save all through means of Himself—all, I say, who through Him are born again to God—infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.

–St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, II.22.4

[We’ll leave aside his controversial comment that Jesus became an old man.–cdh]