Recently in Desert Fathers Category

Listening to Tradition, Thursday, January 15, 2009


ALL the arts and sciences, said he, have some goal or mark; and end or aim of their own, on which the diligent pursuer of each art has his eye, and so endures all sorts of toils and dangers and losses, cheerfully and with equanimity, e.g., the farmer, shunning neither at one time the scorching heat of the sun, nor at another the frost and cold, cleaves the earth unweariedly, and again and again subjects the clods of his field to his ploughshare, while he keeps before him his goal; viz., by diligent labour to break it up small like fine sand, and to clear it of all briers, and free it from all weeds, as he believes that in no other way can he gain his ultimate end, which is to secure a good harvest, and a large crop; on which he can either live himself free from care, or can increase his possessions. Again, when his barn is well stocked he is quite ready to empty it, and with incessant labour to commit the seed to the crumbling furrow, thinking nothing of the present lessening of his stores in view of the future harvest. Those men too who are engaged in mercantile pursuits, have no dread of the uncertainties and chances of the ocean, and fear no risks, while an eager hope urges them forward to their aim of gain. Moreover those who are inflamed with the ambition of military life, while they look forward to their aim of honours and power take no notice of danger and destruction in their wanderings, and are not crushed by present losses and wars, while they are eager to obtain the end of some honour held out to them. And our profession too has its own goal and end, for which we undergo all sorts of toils not merely without weariness but actually with delight; on account of which the want of food in fasting is no trial to us, the weariness of our vigils becomes a delight; reading and constant meditation on the Scriptures does not pall upon us; and further incessant toil, and self-denial, and the privation of all things, and the horrors also of this vast desert have no terrors for us. And doubtless for this it was that you yourselves despised the love of kinsfolk, and scorned your fatherland, and the delights of this world, and passed through so many countries, in order that you might come to us, plain and simple folk as we are, living in this wretched state in the desert. Wherefore, said he, answer and tell me what is the goal and end, which incite you to endure all these things so cheerfully.


AND when he insisted on eliciting an opinion from us on this question, we replied that we endured all this for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.


John Cassian, Conferences

Listening to Tradition, Friday, January 9, 2009


The evil one cannot comprehend the joy we receive from the spiritual life; for this reason he is jealous of us, he envies us and sets traps for us, and we become grieved and fall. We must struggle, because without struggles we do not obtain virtues. 

Elder Ieronymos of Aegina 

Listening to Tradition, Sunday, December 28, 2008


"Christian athletes who compete according to the rules . . . and desire to be crowned by the Lord should, by all means, fight to destroy the very fierce beast of pride.  For it destroys every virtue.  They must know that as long as pride remains in their hearts, they will never be free from evil, and will even lose any good qualities they seem to have by pride's influence.  For no tower of righteousness (so to speak) can possibly be raised in our souls unless the foundation of true humility is first laid in our hearts.  Being laid securely, it can bear the weight of perfection and love thrust on us in such a way that we can show true humility to others from the very bottom of our heart."


St. John Cassian, The Institutes

Listening to Tradition, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

For now is the time to labour for the Lord, for salvation is found in the day of affliction: for it is written: 'In your patience gain ye your souls' (Luke 21:19) 

Abba Isidore of Skete 

Listening to Tradition, Thursday, October 30, 2008


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 

Listening to Tradition, Thursday, October 16, 2008


From the Desert Fathers


The soul has followed Moses and the cloud, both of these serving as guides for those who would advance in virtue; Moses here represents the commandments of the Law; and the cloud that leads the way, its spiritual meaning. The soul has been purified by crossing the Sea; it has removed from itself and destroyed the enemy army. It has tasted of the waters of Marah, that is, of life deprived of all sinful pleasure; and this at first had seemed bitter and unpleasant to the taste but offered a sensation of sweetness to those who accepted the wood. Next it enjoyed the beauty of the palm trees of the gospel and the springs; it filled itself with the living water, that is, the rock. It took within itself the bread of heaven. It overwhelmed the foreign host - a victory due to the extended arms of the Lawgiver, which thus foreshadowed the mystery of the Cross. Only then can the soul go on to the contemplation of transcendent Being. 

St. Gregory of Nyssa 

On Fasting from St John Cassian


It’s easy to think of the great saints of the Church as some sort of spiritual super-heroes. However, in doing so, we risk forgetting that they struggled with many of the same problems we do today. After all, they were human, just as we are. But, as this quote from St. John Cassian shows, the thing that made them great is they approached spiritual matters with plain common sense.

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.

Not many of us enjoy fasting, and not all can do it well; I know, I’m one of them. Yet, the discipline of fasting is not a practice that involves making huge sacrifices once or twice a year, say at Lent or during Advent. St. John is telling us that is not the case. What he does say is that we should do what we can do. More importantly, though, he says we should do it always. He is really saying we should exercise the virtue of prudence, even when we fast. His advice is simply to avoid over eating.

I think this is advice that can be applied across the board; remember the old saying about “too much of a good thing. . . .” Too much food, too much drink, too much fasting, in fact, too much of anything, is the problem the saint tries to avoid. Just exercise common sense in all things; becoming a saint does not meaning doing great things that no one else can do; I think St. John would say it means doing the little things well.

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