Wisdom from the Holy Fathers
Wise sayings from some of the Fathers
O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again, but our imitation was but a figure, while our salvation is in reality. Christ was actually crucified, and actually buried, and truly rose again; and all these things have been vouchsafed to us, that we, by imitation communicating in His sufferings, might gain salvation in reality. O surpassing loving-kindness! Christ received the nails in His undefiled hands and feet, and endured anguish; while to me without suffering or toil, by the fellowship of His pain He vouchsafed salvation.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Christian Sacraments.
Repentance is the renewal of baptism. Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort. Repentance is self-condemning reflection, and carefree self-care. Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness.
St. John Climacus
Those who seek humility should bear in mind the three following things: that they are the worst of sinners, that they are the most despicable of all creatures since their state is an unnatural one, and that they are even more pitiable than the demons, since they are slaves to the demons. You will also profit if you say this to yourself: how do I know what or how many other people’s sins are, or whether they are greater than or equal to my own? In our ignorance you and I , my soul, are worse than all men, we are dust and ashes under their feet. How can I not regard myself as more despicable than all other creatures, for they act in accordance with the nature they have been given, while I, owing to my innumerable sins, am in a state contrary to nature.
St. Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia, Vol. IV.
He, therefore, who sets himself to act evilly and yet wishes others to be silent, is a witness against himself, for he wishes himself to be loved more than the truth, which he does not wish to be defended against himself. There is, of course, no man who so lives as not sometimes to sin, but he wishes truth to be loved more than himself, who wills to be spared by no one against the truth. Wherefore, Peter willingly accepted the rebuke of Paul; David willingly hearkened to the reproof of a subject. For good rulers who pay no regard to self-love, , take as a homage to their humility the free and sincere words of subjects. But in this regard the office of ruling must be tempered with such great art of moderation, that the minds of subjects, when demonstrating themselves capable of taking right views in some matters, are given freedom of _expression, but freedom that does not issue into pride, otherwise, when liberty of speech is granted too generously, the humility of their own lives will be lost.
St. Gregory The Great, Pastoral Care
The Lord of all gave to His apostles the power of the gospel, and by them we also have learned the truth, that is, the teaching of the Son of God – as the Lord said to them, `He who hears you hears Me, and he who despises you despises Me, and Him Who sent Me’ [Lk.10:16]. For we learned the plan of our salvation from no other than from those through whom the gospel came to us. The first preached it abroad, and then later by the will of God handed it down to us in Scriptures, to be the foundation and pillar of our faith. For it is not right to say that they preached before they had come to perfect knowledge, as some dare to say, boasting that they are the correctors of the apostles. For after our Lord had risen from the dead, and they were clothed with the power from on high when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they were filled with all things and had perfect knowledge. They went out to the ends of the earth, preaching the good things that come to us from God, and proclaiming peace from heaven to all men, all and each of them equally being in possession of the gospel of God.
St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies, III
The Lord’s Day is a mystery of the knowledge of the truth that is not received by flesh and blood, and it transcends speculations. In this age there is no eighth day, nor is there a true Sabbath. For he who said that `God rested on the seventh day,’ signified the rest [of our nature] from the course of this life, since the grave is also of a bodily nature and belongs to this world. Six days are accomplished in the husbandry of life by means of keeping the commandments; the seventh is spent entirely in the grave; and the eighth is the departure from it.
St. Isaac of Syria, The Ascetical Homilies.I
When a man walks in the fear of God he knows no fear, even if he were to be surrounded by wicked men. He has the fear of God within him and wears the invincible armor of faith. This makes him strong and able to take on anything, even things which seem difficult or impossible to most people. Such a man is like a giant surrounded by monkeys, or a roaring lion among dogs and foxes. He goes forward trusting in the Lord and the constancy of his will to strike and paralyze his foes. He wields the blazing club of the Word in wisdom.
St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters
When we lay bare the hidden meaning of the history, scripture is seen to teach that the birth which distresses the tyrant is the beginning of the virtuous life. I am speaking of the kind of birth in which free will serves as the midwife, delivering the child amid great pain. For no one causes grief to his antagonist unless he exhibits in himself those marks which give proof of his victory over the other.
St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses.
The wicked one, on the watch, carried me off as booty as I lazily slept.
He led my mind into error; he plundered my spirit and snatched away
The wealth of Thy grace, this arch robber.
So raise me up, as I am fallen, and summon me, Saviour,
Thou who dost will that all men be saved.
Kontakia of St. Romanos, A Prayer.
The roof of any house stands upon the foundations and the rest of the structure. The foundations themselves are laid in order to carry the roof. This is both useful and necessary, for the roof cannot stand without the foundations and the foundations are absolutely useless without the roof – no help to any living creature. In the same way the grace of God is preserved by the practice of the commandments, and the observance of these commandments is laid down like foundations through the gift of God. The grace of the Spirit cannot remain with us without the practice of the commandments, but the practice of the commandments is of no help or advantage to us without the grace of God.
St. Symeon the New Theologian
I shall speak first about control of the stomach, the opposite to gluttony, and about how to fast and what and how much to eat. I shall say nothing on my own account, but only what I have received from the Holy Fathers. They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard and measure for eating, because not everyone has the same strength; age, illness or delicacy of body create differences. But they have given us all a single goal: to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies… A clear rule for self-control handed down by the Fathers is this: stop eating while still hungry and do not continue until you are satisfied.
St. John Cassian
In Christianity truth is not a philosophical concept nor is it a theory, a teaching, or a system, but rather, it is the living theanthropic hypostasis – the historical Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Before Christ men could only conjecture about the Truth since they did not possess it. With Christ as the incarnate divine Logos the eternally complete divine Truth enters into the world. For this reason the Gospel says: "Truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
St. Justin Popovich
Let us charge into the good fight with joy and love without being afraid of our enemies. Though unseen themselves, they can look at the face of our soul, and if they see it altered by fear, they take up arms against us all the more fiercely. For the cunning creatures have observed that we are scared. So let us take up arms against them courageously. No one will fight with a resolute fighter.
St. John Climacus
God is a fire that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. Hence, if we feel in our hearts the cold which comes from the devil – for the devil is cold – let us call on the Lord. He will come to warm our hearts with perfect love, not only for Him but also for our neighbor, "Remember, O my soul, the terrible and frightful wonder: that your Creator for your sake became Man, and deigned to suffer for the sake of your salvation. His angels tremble, the Cherubim are terrified, the Seraphim are in fear, and all the heavenly powers ceaselessly give praise; and you, unfortunate soul, remain in laziness. At least from this time forth arise and do not put off, my beloved soul, holy repentence, contrition of heart and penance for your sins."
St. Paisius Velichkovsky
This is the mark of Christianity–however much a man toils, and however many righteousnesses he performs, to feel that he has done nothing, and in fasting to say, "This is not fasting," and in praying, "This is not prayer," and in perseverance at prayer, "I have shown no perseverance; I am only just beginning to practice and to take pains"; and even if he is righteous before God, he should say, "I am not righteous, not I; I do not take pains, but only make a beginning every day."
St. Macarius the Great
Be strong in Me; and you, too, Andrew; just as you were the first to find Me, you were found by me; so find the one who has wandered;
Do not forget your first skill; from it I shall educate you for this new art. Formerly, naked into the deep sea, now naked into life;
Formerly, hunting with a fishing-rod, now taught to fish with the cross;
Formerly, you used a worm as bait; now I order you to hunt with My flesh.
I alone know what is in the heart.
Kontakia of St. Romanos, On the Mission of the Apostles.
Why do you trouble yourself in a house that is not your own? Let the sight of a dead man be a teacher for you concerning your departure from hence.
St. Isaac the Syrian
Beguiling and deceptive is the life of the world, fruitless its labor, perilous its delight, poor its riches, delusive its honors, inconstant, insignificant; and woe to those who hope in its seeming goods: because of this many die without repentance. Blessed and mos blessed are those who depart from the world and its desires.
Faith and love which are gifts of the Holy Spirit are such great and powerful means that a person who has them can easily, and with joy and consolation, go the way Jesus Christ went. Besides this, the Holy Spirit gives man the power to resist the delusions of the world so that although he makes use of earthly good, yet he uses them as a temporary visitor, without attaching his heart to them. But a man who has not got the Holy Spirit, despite all his learning and prudence, is always more or less a slave and worshipper of the world.
St. Innocent of Irkutsk, Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The demons are sleepless and immaterial, death is at hand, and I am weak. Lord, help me; do not let Thy creature perish, for Thou carest for me in my misery.
St. Peter of Damascus
You cannot destroy the passions on your own, but ask God, and He will destroy them, if this is profitable for you.
St. Anatoly of Optina
The soul that really loves God and Christ, though it may do ten thousand righteousnesses, esteems itself as having wrought nothing, by reason of its insatiable aspiration after God. Though it should exhaust the body with fastings, with watchings, its attitude towards the virtues is as if it had not yet even begun to labour for them.
St. Macarius the Great
Souls that love truth and God, that long with much hope and faith to put on Christ completely, do not need so much to be put in re membrance by others, nor do they endure, even for a while, to be deprived of the heavenly desire and of passionate affection to the Lord; but being wholly and entirely nailed to the cross of Christ, they perceive in themselves day by day a sense of spiritual advance towards the spiritual Bridegroom.
St. Macarius the Great
An old man was asked, ‘How can I find God?’ He said, ‘In fasting, in watching, in labours, in devotion, and, above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility.’
The hour of death will come upon us, it will come, and we shall not escape it. May the prince of this world and of the air (cf. John 14:30; Eph. 2:2) find our misdeeds few and petty when he comes, so that he will not have good grounds for convicting us. Otherwise we shall weep in vain. ‘For that servant who knew his lord’s will and did not do it as a servant, shall be beaten with many stripes’ (cf. Luke 12:47).
St. Hesychius the Priest
Do not seek the perfection of the law in human virtues, for it is not found perfect in them. Its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.
St. Mark the Ascetic
Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly, the angel who guards you will honour your patience.
St. John of the Ladder
Behold, this is the true and the Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won.
St. Martin of Braga
We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that "the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place." But we should believe this especially without any doubt when we are assisting at the Work of God. To that end let us be mindful always of the Prophet’s words, "Serve the Lord in fear" and again, "Sing praises wisely" and "In the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to Thee." Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves in the sight of the Godhead and of His Angels, and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.
Humility is the only thing we need; one can still fall having virtues other than humility — but with humility one does not fall.
Elder Herman of Mt. Athos