Lesson

Sixth Week of the Great Fast

 

Gleanings from the Fathers on Reading

 

The eternal dogmatic truths, the divine dogmas, are the subject of the faith, and the faith is an exercise of man, and therefore, the human mind. All of the evangelical virtues of the exercise and of the grace, with faith first, are the heavenly bread of the eternal life, with which man nourishes, makes worthy, sanctifies, perfects himself, and is restored in his God-likeness. Life within the Church, through grace, inevitably becomes the source of knowledge, through grace, of the eternal dogmatic truths. Living them as the content of his life, man comes nearer to the authority, the Truth, and the saving power. Just as the Lord has said: "If any man will do his will", (namely, of God the Father, "he shall know the doctrine", for the dogmas, if they are derived "from God." (John 7:17)  -- St. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ.

 

The first and unique effect of the divine gift of genuine spiritual knowledge is to produce within us by faith the resurrection of God. Faith needs to be accompanied by the right ordering of our will and purpose - that is to say, by discrimination - which makes it possible for us bravely to withstand the spate of trials and temptations, sought or unsought. Thus faith, rightfully expressing itself through the fulfillment of the commandments, is the first resurrection within us of the God whom we have slain through our ignorance.  -- St. Maximos the Confessor(Second Century of Various Texts no. 70)

 

There is a knowledge that precedes faith, and there is a knowledge born of faith. Knowledge that precedes faith is natural knowledge; and that which is born of faith is spiritual knowledge. What is natural knowledge? Knowledge is natural that discerns good from evil, and this is also called natural discernment, by which we know to discern good from evil naturally, without being taught. God has implanted this in rational nature, and with teaching it receives growth and assistance; there is no one who does not have it. -- Spiritual Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian

 

Attention is the first teacher of truth and consequently absolutely necessary. Attention rouses the soul to study itself and its longings, to learn their true character and repulse those that are unholy. Attention is the guardian angel of the intellect, always counseling it this : be attentive. Attention awakens the soul, rouses it from sleep... Attention examines every thought, every desire, every memory. Thoughts, desires, and memories are engendered by various causes, and often appear masked and with splendid garb, in order to deceive the inattentive intellect and enter into the soul and dominate it. Only attention can reveal their hidden form. Often their dissimulation is so perfect that the discernment of their true nature is very difficult and requires the greatest attention. One must remember the saving words of the Lord: "Be wakeful and pray that ye enter not into temptation." He who is wakeful does not enter into temptation, because he is vigilant and attentive. "Modern Orthodox Saints, St. Nectarios of Aegina", Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Belmont, Massachusetts., 1981., pp. 154-187

 

Batiushka said regarding condemnation and criticism of other’s faults and sins: “You need to pay such close attention to your own internal life, that you not focus on what is happening around you. Then you will not condemn.” Counsels of the Venerable Elder St. Amvrossy of Optina

 

Have you realized that the world and worldly cares do not hinder in fulfilling God's commandments, when there is zeal and attention? That silence and retirement from the world are useless, if laziness and negligence prevail?" St. Simeon the New Theologian (On Faith, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart ; Faber and Faber pg. 147)

 

Those who live without paying attention to themselves will never be made worthy to be visited by grace. Advice from the Holy Elder St. Leo (Nagolkin) of Optina

 

What is meant by those who sing with their "heart to the Lord?" It means: undertake this work with attention, for those who are inattentive sing in vain, pronouncing only words, while their heart wanders elsewhere. -- St. John Chrysostom

 

Strive to pay more attention to yourself and not analyze the affairs, actions and appeals made to you by others. If you find no love in them, it is because you yourself have no love within you. Advice from the Holy Elder St. Leo (Nagolkin) of Optina

 

No Christian believing rightly in God should ever be off his guard. He should always be on the look-out for temptation, so that when it comes he will not be surprised or distrubed, but will gladly endure the toil and affliction it causes, and so will understand what he is saying when he chants with the prophet: 'Prove me, O Lord, and try me' (Ps. 26:2 LXX). For the prophet did not say, 'Thy correction has destroyed me,' but, 'it has unheld me to the end' (Ps. 18:35 LXX) Ilias the Presbyter, Philokalia, Vol. 3

 

...adorn your thinking power with a constant attention to God, prayer and knowledge of divine truths; the desiring power - with total self-denial and renunciation of all self-indulgence; the excitable power - with love. If you do this, then, I assure you, the light of your mind will never be dimmed and wrong thoughts will never find place in you. Lorenzo Scupoli (Unseen Warfare)

 

Always have attention, prayer and study to be cultivated and elevated. REF:Elder Amphilochios of Patmos +1970

 

... Tell me, who of you that stand here, if he were required, could repeat one Psalm, or any other portion of the divine Scriptures? There is not one.

  And it is not this only that is the grievous thing, but that while ye are become so backward with respect to things spiritual, yet in regard of what belongs to Satan ye are more vehement than fire. Thus should any one be minded to ask of you songs of devils and impure effeminate melodies, he will find many that know these perfectly, and repeat them with much pleasure. St John Chrysostom, Gospel According To St. Matthew, Homily 2

 

... reading and spiritual knowledge are good, but only when they lead to greater humility... St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 169

 

A wandering mind is made stable by reading, vigil and prayer. Flaming lust is extinguished by hunger, labor and solitude. Stirrings of anger are calmed by psalmody, magnanimity and mercifulness. All this has its effect when used at its proper time and in due measure. Everything untimely or without proper measure is short-lived; and short-lived things and more harmful than useful. Abba Evagrius the Monk(Texts on Active Life no. 6)

 

An Athonite ascetic used to say: In attempting to control one's mind, which is very difficult to do because of temptations, it is very helpful to study the patristic writings, especially if this study is done before prayer. It is particularly helpful to read from the Gerontikon. Reading even a few lines from these fathers of the Theban and Nitrian deserts elevates the mind so that it is primed for prayer. It is as if these holy monks are right beside you, these ascetics who struggled with all the cares, problems, and questions which concern every monk. An Athonite Gerontikon

 

   Appropriate to yourself the thoughts and the spirit of the Holy Fathers by reading their writings. The Holy Fathers attained the goal: salvation. And you will attain this goal by the natural course of things. As one who is of one thought and one soul with the Holy Fathers, you will be saved.

   Heaven received into its blessed bosom the Holy Fathers. By this it has borne witness that the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the Holy Fathers are well-pleasing to it. The Holy Fathers set forth their thoughts, their heart, the image of their activity in their writings. This means: what a true guidance to heaven, which is borne witness to by heaven itself, are the writings of the Fathers. Blessed Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, "On Reading the Holy Fathers,", "Living Orthodoxy" (Vol. XVII, No. 2, March-April 1995), St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, Tennessee, 37095

 

Do not consider it sufficient for yourself to read the Gospel alone, without the reading of the Holy Fathers! This is a proud, dangerous thought. Better, let the Holy Fathers lead you to the Gospel, as their beloved child who has received his preparatory upbringing and education by means of their writings. Blessed Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, "On Reading the Holy Fathers,", "Living Orthodoxy" (Vol. XVII, No. 2, March-April 1995), St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, Tennessee, 37095

 

Do not read either too fast, or too lazily or carelessly, but with reverence, attention and intelligence. Invigorated by reading that profits the soul, the mind acquires strength and prays firmly. St. Gregory of Sinai (On Silence and Prayer no. 11)

 

Do not say...that one or two books is sufficient for instructing the soul. After all, even the bee collects honey not from one or two flowers only, but from many. Thus also he who reads the books of the Holy Fathers is instructed by one in faith or in right thinking, by another in silence and prayer, by another in obedience and humility and patience, by another in self-reproach and in love for God and neighbor; and, to speak briefly, from many books of the Holy Fathers a man is instructed in life according to the Gospel. St. Paisius Velichkovsky

 

Having read Holy Scripture very carefully, you should also read the holy Fathers who interpret the Scriptures. You will receive no less delight from reading the Fathers than you do from the Scriptures. The Fathers develop the hidden meanings in Scripture and with their own writings help us to understand what we did not before. Because of that philosophic axiom that all men by nature seek knowledge, we must say that great delight follows naturally when we learn about hidden and unknown matters. This is why there will be ineffable joy and gladness that will come to your soul from the interpretations and the words of the holy Fathers. You too will be shouting, ad did David, those enthusiastic words in the Psalms. St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

 

I am not," you will say, "one of the monks, but I have both a wife and children, and the care of a household." Why, this is what hath ruined all, your supposing that the reading of the divine Scriptures appertains to those only, when ye need it much more than they. For they that dwell in the world,(2) and each day receive wounds, these have most need of medicines. So that it is far worse than not reading, to account the thing even "superfluous:" for these are the words of diabolical invention. Hear ye not Paul saying, "that all these things are written for our admonition"?(3)* St John Chrysostom, Gospel According To St. Matthew, Homily 2

 

I visited this Cosmas at the Lavra of Pharon (in the Sinai) and stayed there for ten years. Whilst he was speaking to me about the salvation of the soul, we came across an opinion of St. Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria. The elder said to me, "When you come across a saying of Athanasius the Great, if you have no paper, write it on your clothing" -- so great was the appetite of this elder for our holy fathers and teachers. John Moschus, Leimonarion (the Spiritual Meadow) 40 St. Athanasius of Alexandria, commemorated 18 January

 

If you are suffering for your faith in Christ, the Lives of the Saints will console you and encourage you and make you bold and give you wings, and your torments will be changed into joy. If you are in any sort of temptation, the Lives of the Saints will help you overcome it both now and forever. If you are in danger from the invisible enemies of salvation, the Lives of the Saints will arm you with the 'whole armor of God' and you will crush them all now and forever and throughout your whole life. If you are in the midst of visible enemies and persecutors of the Church of Christ, the Lives of the Saints will give you the courage and strength of a confessor, and you will fearlessly confess the one true God and Lord in all worlds - Jesus Christ - and you will boldly stand up for the truth of His Gospel unto death, unto every death, and you will feel stronger than all deaths, and much more so than all the visible enemies of Christ; and being tortured for Christ you will shout for joy, feeling with all your being that your life is in heaven, hidden with Christ in God, wholly above all deaths. Father Justin Popovich, from Introduction to the Lives of the Saints, in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ

 

If you read continually spiritual books with eagerness and diligence, know that this continuous eagerness and diligence will open up your mind and will make it receptive to spiritual meanings. And what you did not succeed in understanding the first time you will easily understand when you read it two or three times. For God, seeing your continuous diligence, will illumine your mind to understand even what is difficult. St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, Modern Orthodox Saints, Vol. 3

 

It is absolutely necessary that reading correspond to [your] way of life. Otherwise, while you may be filled with ideas of the saints, you will find yourself unable to act upon them, will be aroused to fruitless activity in imagination and desire only, while the acts of piety consistent with your way of life slip through your fingers. Moreover, you will become an empty dreamer. Your thoughts, constantly at odds with what is happening around you, will give rise in your heart to doubt, bringing uncertainty to your behavior, and become burdensome, detrimental both to yourself and to those close to you. St. Ignatius Brianchaninov

 

Just as a pauper, seeing the royal treasures, all the more acknowledges his own poverty; so also the spirit, reading the accounts of the great deeds of the Holy Fathers, involuntarily is all the more humbled in its way of thought. St. John of the Ladder (6th Century)

 

Let each personally choose for himself the reading from the Fathers which corresponds to his way of life. Let the hermit read the Fathers who wrote about the solitary life; let the monk who lives in the cenobitic life read the Fathers who wrote instructions for cenobitic monks; let the Christian who lives in the world read the Holy Fathers who pronounced their teachings for all Christianity in general. Let everyone, in whatsoever calling he be, draw forth abundant instruction in the writings of the Fathers. Blessed Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, "On Reading the Holy Fathers,", "Living Orthodoxy" (Vol. XVII, No. 2, March-April 1995), St. John of Kronstadt Press, Liberty, Tennessee, 37095

 

Occupy yourself with reading with a calm spirit, so that your mind may be constantly raised up to contemplation of the wondrous acts of God, lifted, as it were, by some hand outstretched to it. "Reflections on the Eight Thoughts", Abba Evagrius, "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 113 - 114

 

Pray that you may be granted the grace to read the Fathers with the right understanding, the grace to live up to the standards they put before you, and the grace to clearly see your own frailty. You will not long be left wanting and waiting. God will give you help. Elder Macarius of Optina (19th Century)

 

Reading enlightens the mind considerably, and helps it concentrate. For those are the Holy Spirit's words and they attune those who attend to them. Let what you read lead you to action, for you are a doer. Putting these words into practice makes further reading superfluous. Seek to be enlightened by the words of salvation through your labors, and not merely from books. Until you receive spiritual power, do not study works of an allegorical nature because they are dark words, and they darken the weak. St. John Climacus, "The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step27: On Holy Stillness of Body and Soul

 

Spiritual reading, vigils and prayer bring the straying intellect to stability. -- Evagrios the Solitary

 

The Holy Scripture is the domain of Wisdom, Word and Spirit, of God in the Trinity: in it He clearly manifests Himself: 'The Words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,' (St. John 6:63) said the Lord. The writings of the Holy Fathers are again the expression of the Mind, Word and Spirit of the Holy Trinity, in which the spirit of the higher class (spiritually speaking) of mankind has largely participated; the writings of ordinary worldly men are the expression of the fallen spirit of men, with all their sinful attachments, habits and passions. In Holy Scriptures we see God face to face, and ourselves as we are. Man, know thy self through them, and walk always as in the presence of God. St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ: Part 1)

 

The fathers ... kept the commandments; their successors wrote them down; but we have placed their books on the shelves. And even if we want to read them, we do not have the application to understand what is said and to put it into practice; we read them either as something incidental, or because we think that by reading them we are doing something great, thus growing full of pride. We do not realize that we incur greater condemnation if we do not put into practice what we read ... St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 169)

 

The purpose of spiritual reading is to keep the intellect from distraction and restlessness, for this is the first step towards salvation. Solomon says that the enemy 'hates the sound of steadfastness' (Prov. 11:15 LXX), while the wandering of the mind is the first step towards sinning. St. Peter of Damascus (Book 1:A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 155)

 

The reading of Scriptures is a great means of security against sinning. Ignorance of Scripture is a great cliff, a deep abyss. It gives birth to heresies and introduces a corrupt way of life. Even one parable can help the soul to have contrition for a sin, to find a little rest from the concerns of the world. Reading Scripture each day will accomplish some great and noble good in us. St. John Chrysostom

 

Whenever you become absent-minded, choose spiritual reading over prayer, for reading is the source of pure prayer. -- St. Isaac of Syria

 

Whilst reading or listening to sacred works, honor heartily in those who wrote them the image of God the Word, or God the Word Himself, speaking through them. Remember always, whilst reading books of spiritual or worldly contents, that man is God's image and that this image of God is in the thought, word and spirit through which he speaks. Accustom yourself always to look upon every man with deep respect, as upon the image of God, but especially when he speaks, and above all when he speaks of God. St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ: Part 1, Holy Trinity Monastery pg. 76)

 

You follow the events of the external world, reading secular compositions, magazines and newspapers. Do not lose sight of your internal world, your soul; it is both nearer and dearer to you [than is the external world]. From henceforth, read the Holy Gospels and the writings of the Holy Fathers ever more often; it is sinful for a Christian not to read Divinely-inspired works. St. John of Kronstadt

 

Beware of reading the doctrines of heretics for they, more than anything else, can equip the spirit of blasphemy against you. St Isaac of Syria

 

One must on no account give children books with corrupt concepts; their minds will thus be preserved whole, in holy and divine healthiness. REF:St Theophan the Recluse, "The Path to Salvation" p 57

 

Complete salvation depends not on the faith of the heart alone, but also upon confessing it, for the Lord said, `Whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in Heaven' (Mt. 10:33). Also, the divine Apostle teaches: `For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Rom. 10:10). If, then, God and the divine Prophets and Apostles command that the mystery of faith be confessed in words and with the tongue, and this mystery of faith brings salvation to the whole world, then people must not be forced to keep silence with regard to confession, lest the salvation of people be hindered.  -- St. Maximus the Confessor (in the Life).

 

To have faith in Christ means more than simply despising the delights of this life. It means we should bear all our daily trials that may bring us sorrow, distress, or unhappiness, and bear them patiently for as long as God wishes and until He comes to visit us. For it is said: `I waited on the Lord and He came to me.'  -- St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Practical and Theological Chapters.