Know Mercy, Show Mercy

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.)

Luke 11.33-44
[33] “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. [34] 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. [35] Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. [36] 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.” [37] While he was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him; so he went in and sat at table. [38] The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. [39] 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. [40] You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? [41] But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. [42] “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. [43] Woe to you Pharisees! for you love the best seat in the synagogues and salutations in the market places. [44] 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

Re-Minded of What Is Essential

“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)

Upward Call – The Way Up is Down

“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.