The sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers are not linear. Nor are they merely rational statements about “cause and effect” or anything of that sort. They are more. They are articulations of the Way, Truth, and Life. As such, they offer rationality a radical invitation, promise, and mandate: “Abide in me and I will take you where you cannot go on your own but yearn to go.” (At least I think that is what they do. But then, I am a fellow struggler [not an expert] who is learning as he journeys. Perhaps, just like you.)
 “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a bushel, but on a stand, that those who enter may see the light.  Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.  If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.”  While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table.  The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner.  And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of extortion and wickedness.  You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?  But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.  “But woe to you Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.  Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places.  Woe to you! for you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it.”
“Woe to you! You impose on people burdens hard to carry”
A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest ; Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying : “I too am a sinner” …
A brother at Scetis committed a fault. A council was called to which Abba Moses was invited, but he refused to go to it. Then the priest sent someone to say to him: “Come, for everyone is waiting for you.” So he got up and went along with a basket that had holes in it, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. The others came out to meet him and said to him: “What is this, Father?” The old man said to them: “My sins run out behind me and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the sins of another.” When they heard that they said no more to the brother but forgave him.
Abba Joseph questioned Abba Poemen saying: “Tell me how to become a monk.” The old man said: “If you want to find peace here below and in the world to come, say at all times: Who am I? And judge no one.”
A brother questioned Abba Poemen saying: “If I see my brother committing a sin, is it right to conceal it?” The old man said to him: “At the very moment when we hide our brother’s fault, God hides our own. And at the moment we reveal our brother’s fault, God reveals ours too.”
Excerpted from The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection (Cistercian Studies), Chapter 9
“Teach us to pray”
“We need words to help us recollect ourselves and see what we are asking for; not to make us suppose that the Lord must be given information or swayed by words. So when we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” we are counselling ourselves to desire that his name, which is always holy, may be held holy also among men; that is, that it may not be treated with contempt: and this for the benefit not of God but of men. When we say, “Thy kingdom come,” which will certainly come whether we wish it or not, we arouse our desire for that kingdom, that it may come for us, and that we may be worthy to reign therein. When we say, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking him for obedience for ourselves, that his will may be done in us as it is done in heaven by his angels…
When we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we are advising ourselves both as to what we should ask for, and what we should do to be worthy to receive it… When we say, “Deliver us from evil,” we bring ourselves to reflect that we are not yet in that happy state where we shall suffer no evil. This last petition in the Lord’s prayer has such a wide scope that a Christian may in any trouble express his pain by it, pour forth his tears, begin from it, linger over it, and end his prayer at this point.
It is necessary by these words to impress the realities themselves on our memory. For whatever other words we may say… if we are praying in the right way, we say nothing that has not already a place in the Lord’s prayer.”
Saint Augustine (354-430), Letter 130, to Proba on prayer, 11-12 (trans. cf Breviary, Tuesday of the 29th week)
“The principal thing is to walk before God, or under God’s eye, aware that God is looking at you, searching your soul and your heart, seeing all that is there. This awareness is the most powerful lever in the mechanism of the inner spiritual life.” -St. Theophanes the Recluse
“The earthly life of Christ in its entirety, from His appearance in the world to His ‘departure’ upon the cross, constitutes the path of his kenosis. The crucifixion, which is the pinnacle of self-emptying, makes manifest the extreme humility of God. The archetype of ‘Jesus Christ, and Him crucified’ constitutes the core of St. Paul’s ‘gospel’ and his principle concern as he equips and consolidates the faithful [cf. 1 Cor. 2: 2; Gal. 3: 1]. He calls the faithful to keep this model before their eyes and to walk the same path. Whoever wants to be raised up to the sphere where Christ lives must beforehand follow Him on this path of humility and self-denying descent [see Eph. 4: 9-10].
Christ’s kenosis is the beginning and the condition of any spiritual ascent. It is offered to the faithful as a path of true life, which conquers death and brings to life in them ‘the fulness of the divine image’. Only ‘by the gift of the Holy Spirit’ can the faithful, as members of the Church, ‘know existentially, by actual experience’, this mystery of Christ’s kenosis.
Life lived in kenotic love, as revealed by the only-begotten Son of God, was given to man in the form of an injunction that we love God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves [cf. Matt. 22: 37-40]… The commandment of the Heavenly Father was fulfilled by Christ in His kenosis. The kenosis of man, in its turn, is expressed above all by the keeping of the double commandment of love towards God and one’s neighbour. But it is impossible for man in his fallen state to fulfil adequately the divine and ‘exceedingly broad’ [Ps. 118/ 119: 96] commandment of the Lord. His mind and heart must be healed in order to become capable of rising to the height of the divine injunctions. Precisely for this reason man’s proper response to God’s call is repentance, which all the commandments entail, and through which man is healed.”
– Excerpted from Christ, Our Way and Our Life, by Archimandrite Zacharias, published by Saint Tikhon’s Monastery Press.
People ask me why I chose the name “Upward Call” for this ministry. The saints have consistently spoken of the Christian life, as a journey, a pilgrimage. What is more, they speak of it as an “ascent” — a journey upward (glorification) by going downward (humility). The way up is down. Another way, it seems to me, of speaking of the “eye of the needle.” The faithful struggle that can, if we say yet another “Gethsemane yes”, inform the meaning and significance of any and all struggles we may face.
Jesus goes “up” to Jerusalem to be “lifted up” and “descend” into the grave to be “raised up.” There it is again — paradox.
The gospel for today and the reflection on it by St. Augustine is a good example of the witness of the New Testament and the saints regarding the upward call. The life of ascent.
 When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him;  but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?”  But he turned and rebuked them.  And they went on to another village. Luke 9.51-56
The weight of our fragility makes us bend towards realities here below; the fire of your love, O Lord, raises us up and bears us towards realities above. We rise there by means of our heart’s impetus, singing the songs of ascent. We burn with your fire, the fire of your goodness, for it is this that transports us.
Where is it that you thus cause us to rise? To the peace of the heavenly Jerusalem. “I rejoiced when I heard them say: Let us go to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122,1). Nothing will bring us to it except the desire to remain there for ever. While we are in the body, we journey towards you. Here below we have no abiding city; we are constantly seeking our home in the city to come (Heb 13,14). May your grace guide me, O Lord, into the depths of my heart, there to sing of your love, my King and my God… And as I remember that heavenly Jerusalem my heart will rise up towards it: to Jerusalem my true homeland, Jerusalem my mother (Gal 4,26). You are its King, its light, its defender, its protector, its pastor; you are its unquenchable joy; your goodness is the source of all its inexpressible blessings… – you, my God and my divine mercy. Saint Augustine (354-430), Meditations, ch.18
And, of course, the passage that resonates in my deepest heart:
 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith;  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3.7-16
Lord, grant me the grace to say my upward/downward “yes” today.
From who or what do we draw our strength to meet the challenges of everyday life? What do we use as the paradigm for the meaning of what is occurring and our right response and/or participation?
Jesus testifies and the apostles amplify the testimony that it was His passion and death – His cross.
If that is the case then it should be our testimony too. Not a testimony that “gets us saved” but one that informs how we live every moment of every day; and how we respond to every event and situation. It is a testimony that is characteristic of our “journey of salvation.” It is a permanent testimony not just one that gets us started in the Christian life and is then filed away. No. The Christian life is the cross-shaped life. At first it is perhaps vaguely cross-shaped. How and why is this so? Well, as I understand it, every event and circumstance, no matter how pleasant is considered and participated in by us in a cross-shaped manner.
That last statement should touch something of the wrong-headed impression we have of the cross and taking it up. We, at least I am, tempted to continue to think of it in grime ways, as an unfortunate necessity. We think that cross-shaped events are ones that have gone wrong and become cross-shaped.
Well, there you have it. It is this presupposition that robs us of the joy of the cross, albeit a painful joy. It is this presupposition St. Paul opposes and rejects on so many occasions in his letters.
So, as we grow/mature into the likeness of Christ the shape becomes more and more defined – permanently. We GLORY in the cross, not from a distance. We glory in the cross by having our life become a living cross by the grace of God.
In the Divine Liturgy, the priest articulates the many facets of God’s saving work. The cross is one of them. Here is the prayer.
May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our true God, a good, loving, and merciful God, have mercy upon us and save us, through the intercessions of His most pure and holy Mother; the power of the precious and life-giving Cross; the protection of the honorable, bodiless powers of heaven; the supplications of the honorable, glorious, prophet, and forerunner John the Baptist; the holy, glorious, and praiseworthy apostles; the holy, glorious, and triumphant martyrs; our holy and God-bearing Father (name); the holy and righteous ancestors of God, Joachim and Anna; Saint (of the day) whose memory we commemorate today, and all the saints. May the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His mercy come upon you through His divine grace and love now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.
Please understand that I in no way can proclaim my own life to stand up to this test. I struggle on, “press on” by the grace of God, to become victorious over all the passions that war against the desire to become the living cross by grace. The living testimony of the victorious power of self-giving love. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.
Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas says:
Some people draw glory from their knowledge, but the apostle Paul finds supreme knowledge in the cross. “No, he says, I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ crucified” (1Cor 2,2). Is not the cross the fulfilment of the whole law and art of living well? To those who glory in their own power, Paul can answer that he draws matchless power from the cross: “The language of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1,18). Do you draw glory from the freedom you have gained? Paul draws his from the cross: “Our old self was crucified with him… that we might no longer be in slavery to sin” (Rm 6.6).
Yet others draw their glory from being chosen as members of some famous group or other; but as for us, through Christ’s cross we are invited to the congregation of heaven. “Reconciling all things, whether those on earth or those in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1.20). And finally, some people glory in the insignia of victory bestowed on the victorious, but the cross is the triumphal standard of Christ’s victory over demons: “He destroyed Principalities and Powers, making a public spectacle of them, leading them away in his triumphal procession” (Col 2,15)…
What is it that the apostle Paul wants to glory in above all else ? In that which can unite him to Christ. What he desires is to be with Christ. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), “Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians, Chapter 6”
Here is reprint on suffering from the sayings of the saints that was originally posted at Enlarging the Heart. I recommend this blog site. It is a wonderful treasury of the sayings of saints.
Just as sick people need surgery and cautery to recover the health they have lost, so we need trials, and toils of repentance, and fear of death and punishment, so that we may regain our former health of soul and shake off the sickness which our folly has induced.
The more the Physician of our souls bestows upon us voluntary and involuntary suffering, the more we should thank Him for His compassion and accept the suffering joyfully.
For it is to help us that He increases our tribulation, both through the sufferings we willingly embrace in our repentance and through the trials and punishments not subject to our will.
In this way, if we voluntarily accept affliction, we will be freed from our sickness and from the punishments to come, and perhaps even from present punishments as well.
Even if we are not grateful, our Physician in His grace will still heal us, although by means of chastisement and manifold trials. But if we cling to our disease and persist in it, we will deservedly bring upon ourselves age-long punishment.
[...] We do not all receive blessings in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is, His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like.
And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his lightless condition.
For God made both the sun and man’s eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.
[...] Greater practice is rewarded by greater knowledge; and from the understanding thus acquired we gain control of the passions and learn how to endure our sufferings patiently.
Sufferings produce devotion to God and a recognition of His gifts and our faults. These give birth to gratitude, and gratitude inculcates the fear of God which leads us to the keeping of the commandments, to inward grief, gentleness and humility.
These three virtues produce discrimination, which…makes it possible for the intellect…to foresee coming faults and to forestall them through its experience and recollection of what has happened in the past. In this way it can protect itself against stealthy attacks.
Peter of Damascus (?12th Century): A Treasury of Divine Knowledge Text from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (trans. and eds.) The Philokalia: The Complete Text, vol. 4 (Faber & Faber, London & Boston: 1979ff), pp. 77-78.