HUMILITY AND LOVE BY ST. THEOPHAN

Take up the sword of humility and meekness, hold it always in your hand, and mercilessly cut off the head of our chief foe.” This incredible man of God, St. Theophan the Recluse (+1891), passed on many wonderful writings for us. Here are just a few on Humility and Love. Each section is worth pausing and thinking more fully about.

St. Theophan

WHERE HUMILITY AND LOVE ARE ABSENT, EVERYTHING SPIRITUAL IS ABSENT

You say that you have no humility or love. So long as these are absent, everything spiritual is absent. What is spiritual is born when they are born and grows as they grow. They are the same for the soul as mastery of the flesh is for the body. Humility is acquired by acts of humility, love by acts of love.

THE MEASURE OF HUMILITY

Keep both eyes open. This is the measure of humility: if a man is humble he never thinks that he has been treated worse than he deserves. He stands so low in his estimation that no one, however hard they try, can think more poorly of him than he thinks himself. This is the whole secret of the matter.

DEFECTS OF CHARACTER

The Lord sometimes leaves in us some defects of character in order that we should learn humility. For without them we would immediately soar above the clouds in our own estimation and would place our throne there. And therein lies perdition.

THE PATH TO HUMILITY — OBEDIENCE

There is no need for me to repeat to you that the invincible weapon against all our enemies is humility. It is not easily acquired. We can think ourselves humble without having a trace of true humility. And we cannot make ourselves humble merely by thinking about it. The best, or rather, the only sure way to humility is by obedience and the surrender of our own will. Without this it is possible to develop a satanic pride in ourselves, while being humble in words and in bodily postures. I beg you to pay attention to this point and, in all fear, examine the order of your life. Does it include obedience and surrender of your will? Out of all the things you do, how many are done contrary to your own will, your own ideas and reflections? Do you do anything unwillingly, simply because you are ordered, through sheer obedience? Please examine it all thoroughly and tell me. If there is nothing of this type of obedience, the kind of life you lead will not bring you to humility. No matter how much you may humble yourself in thought, without deeds leading to self-abasement humility will not come. So you must think carefully how to arrange for this.

CONCEIT AND CENSORIOUSNESS

Humbling oneself is not yet humility, but only the desire and search for humility. May the Lord help you acquire this virtue. There is a spirit of illusion which in some unknown way deceives the soul by its guile. It so confuses our thoughts that the soul thinks itself humble, whereas inwardly it conceals an arrogant and conceited opinion of its own worth. So we have to go on looking carefully into our heart. External relationships which lead us to humility are the best means here.

You have been somewhat negligent. The fear of God left you, and soon after that attention left you too, and you fell into the habit of censuring people. You say that you have sinned inwardly, and this is true. Repent quickly and beg God’s forgiveness. Such a fault as that brings its own retribution: the fault is inward, and so is the punishment. We can condemn others not only in words but also with an inner movement of the heart. If the soul, when thinking of someone, criticizes them adversely, then it has already condemned them.

TAKING OFFENCE, AND TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK

You say that you are offended. To be offended at lack of attention is to consider oneself worthy of attention, and consequently to set a high value upon oneself in the heart; in other words, to have a heart swollen with pride. Is this good? Is it not our duty to endure wrongful accusation? Certainly it is. How then shall we start practicing this duty? After all, when we are commanded to endure, we have to endure every unpleasantness without exception, and endure gladly, without losing our inward peace. The Lord told us, when smitten on one cheek, to turn the other also, but we are so sensitive that if a fly so much as brushes us with its wing in passing we are immediately up in arms. Tell me, are you prepared to obey this commandment of the Lord about being smitten on the cheek? You will probably say, Yes, you are prepared. Yet the instance you describe in your letter is precisely an occasion where this commandment applies. Being smitten on the cheek should not be taken literally. We should understand by it any action of our neighbor in which, it seems to us, we did not receive due attention and respect — any action by which we feel degraded, and our honor, as people call it, wounded. Every deed of this kind, however trivial — a look, an expression — is a blow on the cheek. Not only should we endure it, but we should also be ready for some greater degradation which would correspond to turning the other cheek. What happened in your case was a very light slap on one cheek. And what did you do? Did you turn the other? No; so far from turning it, you retaliated. For you have already retaliated; you have made the other person feel that you are somebody, as though saying, “Keep your hands off me!” But what are we good for, you and I, if we do this? And how can we be regarded as disciples of Christ if we do not obey His commandments? What you should have done is to consider: do I deserve any attention? If you had had this feeling of unworthiness in your heart you would not have taken offense.

TAKE UP THE SWORD OF HUMILITY

Spiritual unrest and passions harm the blood and effectively damage our health. Fasting and a general abstinence in our daily life are the best way to preserve our health sound and vigorous.

Prayer introduces the human spirit into God’s realm where the rock of life dwells; and the body also, led by the spirit, partakes of that life. A contrite spirit, feelings of repentance, and tears — these do not diminish our physical strength but add to it, for they bring the soul to a state of comfort.

You wish that contrition and tears would never leave you, but you had better wish that the spirit of deep humility should always reign in you. This brings tears and contrition, and it also prevents us from being puffed up with pride at having them. For the enemy manages to introduce poison even through such things as these.

There is also spiritual hypocrisy which may accompany contrition. True contrition does not interfere with pure spiritual joy, but can exist in harmony with it, concealed behind it.

And what of self-appreciation? Take up the sword of humility and meekness, hold it always in your hand, and mercilessly cut off the head of our chief foe.

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St. Cyprian of Carthage: On Jealousy and Envy (Part 3)

I do hope you have benefited from this 3 part series as St. Cyprian wraps up his teaching on jealousy and envy. He gives us encouragement to persevere in our spiritual struggles. “Let us be always busied in spiritual actions that so often as the enemy approaches, however often he may try to come near, he may find the breast closed and armed against him.” He guides us toward the ultimate healing of our minds and hearts: “Your thoughts and deeds shall be directed from above, when you consider those things which are divine and righteous, as it is written: Let the heart of a man consider righteous things, that his steps may be directed by the Lord.” Let us listen to his closing words…

St. Cyprian of Carthage

  1. Thus also the Apostle Paul, when he was urging the merits of peace and charity, and when he was strongly asserting and teaching that neither faith nor alms, nor even the passion itself of the confessor and the martyr, would avail him, unless he kept the requirements of charity entire and inviolate, added, and said: Charity, is magnanimous, charity is kind, charity envies not; 1 Corinthians 13:4 teaching, doubtless, and showing that whoever is magnanimous, and kind, and averse from jealousy and rancor, such a one can maintain charity. Moreover, in another place, when he was advising that the man who has already become filled with the Holy Spirit, and a son of God by heavenly birth, should observe nothing but spiritual and divine things, he lays it down, and says: And I indeed, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, not with meat: for you were not able hitherto; moreover, neither now are you able. For you are yet worldly: for whereas there are still among you jealousy, and contention, and strife, are you not carnal, and walk as men? 1 Corinthians 3:1-3
  1. Vices and carnal sins must be trampled down, beloved brethren, and the corrupting plague of the earthly body must be trodden under foot with spiritual vigor, lest, while we are turned back again to the conversation of the old man, we be entangled in deadly snares, even as the apostle, with foresight and wholesomeness, forewarned us of this very thing, and said: Therefore, brethren, let us not live after the flesh; for if you live after the flesh, you shall begin to die; but if you, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God they are the sons of God. Romans 8:12-14 If we are the sons of God, if we are already beginning to be His temples, if, having received the Holy Spirit, we are living holily and spiritually, if we have raised our eyes from earth to heaven, if we have lifted our hearts, filled with God and Christ, to things above and divine, let us do nothing but what is worthy of God and Christ, even as the apostle arouses and exhorts us, saying: If you be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; occupy your minds with things that are above, not with things which are upon the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. But when Christ, who is your life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 Let us, then, who in baptism have both died and been buried in respect of the carnal sins of the old man, who have risen again with Christ in the heavenly regeneration, both think upon and do the things which are Christ’s, even as the same apostle again teaches and counsels, saying: The first man is of the dust of the earth; the second man is from heaven. As we have borne the image of him who is of the earth, let us also bear the image of Him who is from heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 But we cannot bear the heavenly image, unless in that condition wherein we have already begun to be, we show forth the likeness of Christ.
  2. For this is to change what you had been, and to begin to be what you were not, that the divine birth might shine forth in you, that the godly discipline might respond to God, the Father, that in the honor and praise of living, God may be glorified in man; as He Himself exhorts, and warns, and promises to those who glorify Him a reward in their turn, saying, Them that glorify me I will glorify, and he who despises me shall be despised. 1 Samuel 2:30 For which glorification the Lord, forming and preparing us, and the Son of God instilling the likeness of God the Father, says in His Gospel: You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them which persecute you; that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven, who makes His sun to rise on the good and on the evil, and sends rain upon the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:43-45 If it is a source of joy and glory to men to have children like to themselves— and it is more agreeable to have begotten an offspring then when the remaining progeny responds to the parent with like lineaments— how much greater is the gladness in God the Father, when any one is so spiritually born that in his acts and praises the divine eminence of race is announced! What a palm of righteousness is it, what a crown to be such a one as that the Lord should not say of you, I have begotten and brought up children, but they have despised me! Isaiah 1:2 Let Christ rather applaud you, and invite you to the reward, saying, Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom which is prepared for you from the beginning of the world. Matthew 25:34
  3. The mind must be strengthened, beloved brethren, by these meditations. By exercises of this kind it must be confirmed against all the darts of the devil. Let there be the divine reading in the hands, the Lord’s thoughts in the mind; let constant prayer never cease at all; let saving labor persevere. Let us be always busied in spiritual actions that so often as the enemy approaches, however often he may try to come near, he may find the breast closed and armed against him. For a Christian man’s crown is not only that which is received in the time of persecution: peace also has its crowns, wherewith the victors, from a varied and manifold engagement, are crowned, when their adversary is prostrated and subdued. To have overcome lust is the palm of continence. To have resisted against anger, against injury, is the crown of patience. It is a triumph over avarice to despise money. It is the praise of faith, by trust in the future, to suffer the adversity of the world. And he who is not haughty in prosperity, obtains glory for his humility; and he who is disposed to the mercifulness of cherishing the poor, obtains the retribution of a heavenly treasure; and he who knows not to be jealous, and who with one heart and in meekness loves his brethren, is honored with the recompense of love and peace. In this course of virtues we daily run; to these palms and crowns of justice we attain without intermission of time.
  1. To these rewards that you also may come who had been possessed with jealousy and rancor, cast away all that malice wherewith you were before held fast, and be reformed to the way of eternal life in the footsteps of salvation. Tear out from your breast thorns and thistles, that the Lord’s seed may enrich you with a fertile produce, that the divine and spiritual cornfield may abound to a fruitful harvest. Cast out the poison of gall, cast out the virus of discords. Let the mind which the malice of the serpent had infected be purged; let all bitterness which had settled within be softened by the sweetness of Christ. If you take both meat and drink from the sacrament of the cross, let the wood which at Mara availed in a figure for sweetening the taste, avail to you in in reality for soothing your softened breast; and you shall not strive for a medicine for your increasing health. Be cured by that whereby you had been wounded. Love those whom you previously had hated; favor those whom you envied with unjust disparagement. Imitate good men, if you are able to follow them; but it you are not able to follow them, at least rejoice with them, and congratulate those who are better than you. Make yourself a sharer with them in united love; make yourself their associate in the alliance of charity and the bond of brotherhood. Your debts shall be remitted to you when you yourself shall have forgiven. Your sacrifices shall be received when you shall come in peace to God. Your thoughts and deeds shall be directed from above, when you consider those things which are divine and righteous, as it is written: Let the heart of a man consider righteous things, that his steps may be directed by the Lord.
  2. And you have many things to consider. Think of paradise, whither Cain does not enter, who by jealousy slew his brother. Think of the heavenly kingdom, to which the Lord does not admit any but those who are of one heart and mind. Consider that those alone can be called sons of God who are peacemakers, who in heavenly birth and by the divine law are made one, and respond to the likeness of God the Father and of Christ. Consider that we are standing under the eyes of God, that we are pursuing the course of our conversation and our life, with God Himself looking on and judging, that we may then at length be able to attain to the result of beholding Him, if we now delight Him who sees us, by our actions, if we show ourselves worthy of His favor and indulgence; if we, who are always to please Him in His kingdom, previously please Him in the world.

QUOTES ON THE CROSS FROM GREAT MEN OF GOD IN THE PAST

Today is a great Feast Day in the Holy Orthodox Church: The Elevation of the Cross. Here are some wonderful quotes for all of us to think on during these days ahead.

Cross

  1. God does not create a cross for man. No matter how heavy a cross a man may carry in life, it is still just wood, from which man himself made, and it always grows from the soil of his heart. Ambrose of Optina
  2. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). And just exactly as all who were bitten by the serpents looked upon the bronze serpent which was suspended and were healed, thus also every Christian who believes in our Christ and has recourse to His life-bearing wounds… is cured of the bites of the spiritual serpent of sin and by this most holy nourishment is made to live unto the renewal of a new creation, that is, new life in harmony with His life-giving commandments. Elder Ephraim “Counsels from the Holy Mountain”
  3. The Cross, is wood which lifts us up and makes us great … The Cross uprooted us from the depths of evil and elevated us to the summit of virtue. St John Chrysostom
  4. The holy Fathers relate a story that when the thief of the Gospel came to the gates of the Kingdom, the Archangel with the flaming sword wanted to chase him away, but he showed him the Cross. Immediately the fire-bearing Archangel himself withdrew and permitted the thief to enter.  Understand here not the wooden cross.  But which?  The Cross in which the chief Apostle Paul boasts and concerning which he writes, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus’ (Gal. 6:17).     Anatoly of Optina
  5. As you contemplate the sticks that Isaac was laid upon, reflect on the cross. As you look on the fire, meditate on the love. Look too on the sheep hanged by its two horns on the plant that is called ‘Sabek’.  Look too on Christ, the Lamb of God, hanged by his two hands upon a Cross.  The plant called Sabek means ‘forgiveness’, for it saved from slaughter the old man’s child.  It foreshadows the cross that forgives the world its sins and grants it life.  The ram hanging on the Sabek plant mystically redeemed Isaac alone. While the Lamb of God hanging on the cross delivered the world from Death and Hell.   St Ephrem the Syrian
  6. But we are able to see Christ’s inexpressible love for man not only from the cross itself but also from the words which He spoke while upon the cross. At the very time when He was nailed and they were mocking Him, deriding Him and spitting upon Him, He said: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34)… At the same time that they were saying, “If You are the Son of God save Yourself,” He was accomplishing everything necessary to save these same ones who were reproaching Him. …He did forgive them, if they wished to repent, because if He had not forgiven them this sin, Paul would not have become an apostle;’ if He had not forgiven them this sin, the three thousand and the five thousand, and the many other thousands, would not have immediately believed. John Chrysostom
  7. 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. Hesychius the Priest
  1. Of course, it would be easier to get to paradise with a full stomach, all snuggled up in a soft feather-bed, but what is required is to carry one’s cross along the way, for the kingdom of God is not attained by enduring one or two troubles, but many! Elder Anthony of Optina
  2. The knowledge of the Cross is concealed in the sufferings of the Cross. Gregory the Great
  3. The one who knows God will follow the Lord’s footsteps, bearing the cross of the Savior. It is said, “The world is crucified to him and he to the world.” The Lord says, “He who loses his life will save it.” We can “lose our lives” in one of two ways. First, we can risk our lives just as the Lord did for us.  Secondly, we can separate our lives from the customary things of this world.  Bearing the cross means to separate our souls from the delights and pleasures of this life. If you do this, you will find your life again – resting in the hope of what is to come. Dying to ourselves means being content with the necessities of life. When we want more that these necessities it is easy to sin. Clement of Alexandria
  4. What does it mean to take up your cross? It means the willing acceptance, at the hand of Providence, of every means of healing, bitter though it may be, that is offered. Do great catastrophes fall on you?  Be obedient to God’s will, as Noah was.  Is sacrifice demanded of you? Give yourself into God’s hands with the same faith as Abram had when he went to sacrifice his son. Is your property ruined?  Do your children die suddenly? Suffer it all with patience, cleaving to God in your heart, as Job did. Do your friends forsake you, and you find yourself surrounded by enemies?  Bear it all without grumbling, and with faith that God’s help is at hand, as the apostles did.  Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

 

St. Cyprian of Carthage: On Jealousy and Envy (Part 2)

In part 2 of this marvelous teaching, St. Cyprian continues to enlighten us on what impact jealously and envy can actually have on us:  “Why do you rush into the darkness of jealousy? Why do you enfold yourself in the cloud of malice? Why do you quench all the light of peace and charity in the blindness of envy? Why do you return to the devil, which you had renounced? Why do you stand like Cain? For that he who is jealous of his brother, and has him in hatred, is bound by the guilt of homicide.” 

St. Cyprian of Carthage

  1. But what a gnawing worm of the soul is it, what a plague-spot of our thoughts, what a rust of the heart, to be jealous of another, either in respect of his virtue or of his happiness; that is, to hate in him either his own deserving or the divine benefits— to turn the advantages of others into one’s own mischief— to be tormented by the prosperity of illustrious men— to make other people’s glory one’s own penalty, and, as it were, to apply a sort of executioner to one’s own breast, to bring the tormentors to one’s own thoughts and feelings, that they may tear us with intestine pangs, and may smite the secret recesses of the heart with the hoof of malevolence. To such, no food is joyous, no drink can be cheerful. They are ever sighing, and groaning, and grieving; and since envy is never put off by the envious, the possessed heart is rent without intermission day and night. Other ills have their limit; and whatever wrong is done, is bounded by the completion of the crime. In the adulterer the offence ceases when the violation is perpetrated; in the case of the robber, the crime is at rest when the homicide is committed; and the possession of the booty puts an end to the rapacity of the thief; and the completed deception places a limit to the wrong of the cheat. Jealousy has no limit; it is an evil continually enduring, and a sin without end. In proportion as he who is envied has the advantage of a greater success, in that proportion the envious man burns with the fires of jealousy to an increased heat.
  2. Hence the threatening countenance, the lowering aspect, pallor in the face, trembling on the lips, gnashing of the teeth, mad words, unbridled revilings, a hand prompt for the violence of slaughter; even if for the time deprived of a sword, yet armed with the hatred of an infuriate mind. And accordingly the Holy Spirit says in the Psalms: Be not jealous against him who walks prosperously in his way. And again: The wicked shall observe the righteous, and shall gnash upon him with his teeth. But God shall laugh at him; for He sees that his day is coming. The blessed Apostle Paul designates and points out these when he says, the poison of asps is under their lips, and their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery is in their ways, who have not known the way of peace; neither is the fear of God before their eyes.
  1. The mischief is much more trifling, and the danger less, when the limbs are wounded with a sword. The cure is easy where the wound is manifest; and when the medicament is applied, the sore that is seen is quickly brought to health. The wounds of jealousy are hidden and secret. They do not admit the remedy of a healing cure, since they have shut themselves in blind suffering within the lurking-places of the conscience. Whoever you are that are envious and malignant, observe how crafty, mischievous, and hateful you are to those whom you hate. Yet you are the enemy of no one’s well-being more than your own. Whoever he is whom you persecute with jealousy, can evade and escape you. You cannot escape yourself. Wherever you may be, your adversary is with you; your enemy is always in your own breast; your mischief is shut up within; you are tied and bound with the links of chains from which you cannot extricate yourself; you are captive under the tyranny of jealousy; nor will any consolations help you. It is a persistent evil to persecute a man who belongs to the grace of God. It is a calamity without remedy to hate the happy.
  2. And therefore, beloved brethren, the Lord, taking thought for this risk, that none should fall into the snare of death through jealousy of his brother, when His disciples asked Him which among them should be the greatest, said, Whosoever shall be least among you all, the same shall be great. He cut off all envy by His reply. He plucked out and tore away every cause and matter of gnawing envy. A disciple of Christ must not be jealous, must not be envious. With us there can be no contest for exaltation; from humility we grow to the highest attainments; we have learned in what way we may be pleasing. And finally, the Apostle Paul, instructing and warning, that we who, illuminated by the light of Christ, have escaped from the darkness of the conversation of night, should walk in the deeds and works of light, writes and says, The night has passed over, and the day is approaching: let us therefore cast away the works of darkness, and let us put upon us the armor of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in lusts and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. Romans 13:12-13 If the darkness has departed from your breast, if the night is scattered therefrom, if the gloom is chased away, if the brightness of day has illuminated your senses, if you have begun to be a man of light, do those things which are Christ’s, because Christ is the Light and the Day.
  3. Why do you rush into the darkness of jealousy? Why do you enfold yourself in the cloud of malice? Why do you quench all the light of peace and charity in the blindness of envy? Why do you return to the devil, which you had renounced? Why do you stand like Cain? For that he who is jealous of his brother, and has him in hatred, is bound by the guilt of homicide, the Apostle John declares in his epistle, saying, whosoever hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has life abiding in him. And again: He that says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now, and walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes, because that darkness has blinded his eyes.1 John 2:9-11 Whosoever hates, says he, his brother, walks in darkness, and knows not whither he goes. For he goes unconsciously to Gehenna, in ignorance and blindness; he is hurrying into punishment, departing, that is, from the light of Christ, who warns and says, I am the light of the world. He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12 But he follows Christ who stands in His precepts, who walks in the way of His teaching, who follows His footsteps and His ways, who imitates that which Christ both did and taught; in accordance with what Peter also exhorts and warns, saying, Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps.1 Peter 2:21

12. We ought to remember by what name Christ calls His people, by what title He names His flock. He calls them sheep that their Christian innocence may be like that of sheep; He calls them lambs, that their simplicity of mind may imitate the simple nature of lambs. Why does the wolf lurk under the garb of sheep? Why does he who falsely asserts himself to be a Christian, dishonor the flock of Christ? To put on the name of Christ, and not to go in the way of Christ, what else is it but a mockery of the divine name, but a desertion of the way of salvation; since He Himself teaches and says that he shall come unto life who keeps His commandments, and that he is wise who hears and does His words; that he, moreover, is called the greatest doctor in the kingdom of heaven who thus does and teaches; that, then, will be of advantage to the preacher what has been well and usefully preached, if what is uttered by his mouth is fulfilled by deeds following? But what did the Lord more frequently instill into His disciples, what did He more charge to be guarded and observed among His saving counsels and heavenly precepts, than that with the same love wherewith He Himself loved the disciples, we also should love one another? And in what manner does he keep either the peace or the love of the Lord, who, when jealousy intrudes, can neither be peaceable nor loving?