Wisdom, Let us Attend!

    Almost all who have written upon the subject of wisdom have more or less, in proportion to their several abilities, extolled virtue in their writings. Such men must one obey, and must try to realize their words in his life. For he, who by his works exemplifies the wisdom which with others is a matter of theory alone, 'breathes; all others flutter about like shadows.' I think it is as if a painter should represent some marvel of manly beauty, and the subject should actually be such a man as the artist pictures on the canvas. To praise virtue in public with brilliant words and with long drawn out speeches, while in private preferring pleasures to temperance, and self-interest to justice, finds an analogy on the stage, for the players frequently appear as kings and rulers, though they are neither, nor perhaps even genuinely free men. A musician would hardly put up with a lyre which was out of tune, nor a choregus with a chorus not singing in perfect harmony. But every man is divided against himself who does not make his life conform to his words, but who says with Euripides, 'The mouth indeed hath sworn, but the heart knows no oath.' Such a man will seek the appearance of virtue rather than the reality. But to seem to be good when one is not so, is, if we are to respect the opinion of Plato at all, the very height of injustice.

St. Basil the Great: Address to Young Men on the Right use of Greek Literature

    No one can love God consciously in his heart unless he has first feared Him with all his heart. Through the action of fear the soul is purified and, as it were, made malleable and so it becomes awakened to the action of love. No one, however, can come to fear God completely in the way described, unless he first transcends all worldly cares; for when the intellect reaches a state of deep stillness and detachment, then the fear of God begins to trouble it, purifying it with full perception from all gross and cloddish density, and thereby bringing it to a great love for God's goodness. Thus the fear which characterizes those who are still being purified is accompanied by a moderate measure of love. But perfect love is found in those who have already been purified and in whom there is no longer any fear, for 'perfect love casts out fear' (I John 4: 18). Fear and love are found together only in the righteous who achieve virtue through the energy of the Holy Spirit in them. For this reason Holy Scripture says in one place: 'O fear the Lord, all ye who are His saints' (Ps. 34: 9), and in another: 'O love the Lord, all ye who are His saints' (Ps. 3 I: 23). From this we see clearly that the righteous, who are still in the process of being purified, are characterized both by fear and by a moderate measure of love; perfect love, on the other hand, is found only in those who have already been purified and in whom there is no longer any thought of fear, but rather a constant burning and binding of the soul to God through the energy of the Holy Spirit. As it is written, 'My soul is bound to Thee: Thy right hand has upheld me' (Ps. 63: 8. LXX).

    If wounds in the body have been neglected and left unattended, they do not react to medicine when the doctors apply it to them; but if they have first been cleansed, then they respond to the action of the medicine and so are quickly healed. In the same way, if the soul is neglected and wholly covered with the leprosy of self-indulgence, it cannot experience the fear of God, however persistently it is warned of the terror and power of God's judgment. When, however, through great attentiveness the soul begins to be purified, it also begins to experience the fear of God as a life-giving medicine which, through the reproaches it arouses in the conscience, burns the soul in the fire of dispassion. After this the soul is gradually cleansed until it is completely purified; its love increases as its fear diminishes, until it attains perfect love, in which there is no fear but only the complete dispassion which is energized by the glory of God. So let us rejoice endlessly in our fear of God and in the love which is the fulfilling of the law of perfection in Christ (cf. Rom. 13: 10).

St. Diadochos of Photiki: On Spiritual Knowledge
    A man who loves the Lord with unflagging resolve once said to me: 'Because I desired conscious knowledge of divine love, God granted me a full and active experience of such love. I felt its energy so strongly that my soul longed with an inexpressible joy and love to leave the body and go to the Lord, and to become in a sense unaware of this transient form of life.' Once a man has experienced this love, he does not become angry however much he is insulted and harmed - for one pursuing the spiritual life still suffers such things - but he remains united in love to the soul of the man who has insulted or harmed him. His anger is kindled only against, those who injure the poor or who, as the Scripture says, 'speak iniquity against God' (Ps. 75:5 LXX), or follow other forms of wickedness. Whoever loves God far more than himself, or rather no longer loves himself but only God, no longer vindicates his own honour; for his sole wish is that the divine righteousness, which has accorded him eternal honour, should alone be held in honour. This he no longer wishes in a half-hearted way, but with the force of an attitude established in him through his deep experience of the love of God. We should know, moreover, that a person energized by God to such love rises, at that moment, even above faith, since by reason of his great love he now senses consciously in his heart the One whom he previously honoured by faith. The holy Apostle expresses this clearly when he says: 'Now there are three things that endure: faith, hope, love; but the greatest of them is love' (I Cor. 13:13). For, as have said, he who holds God in all the richness of love transcends at that moment his own faith, since he is wholly rapt in divine longing.

St Diadochos of Photiki: On Spiritual Knowledge
    Man stands at the crossroads between righteousness and sin, and chooses whichever path he wishes. But after that the path which he as chosen to follow, and the guides assigned to it, whether angels and saints or demons and sinners, will lead him to the end of it, even if he has no wish to go there. The good guides lead him toward God and the kingdom of heaven, the evil guides toward the devil and agelong punishment. But nothing and no one is to blame for his destruction except his own free will. For God is the God of salvation, bestowing on us, along with being and well-being, the knowledge and strength that we cannot have without the grace of God. Not even the devil can destroy a man, compelling him to choose wrongly, or reducing him to impotence or enforced ignorance, or anything else: he can only suggest evil to him.
    Thus he who acts rightly should ascribe the grace of so doing to God, for along with our being He has given us everything else. But the person who has opted for the path of evil, and actually commits evil, should blame only himself, for no one can force him to commit it, since God created him with free will. Hence he will merit God's praise when he chooses the path of goodness; for he does so, not from any necessity of his nature, as is the case with animals and inanimate things that participate passively in goodness, but as befits a being that God has honoured with the gift of intelligence. We ourselves deliberately and wilfully choose to do evil, being coached in it by its discoverer. God, who is good beyond goodness, does not force us, lest being forced and still disobeying we should be even more culpable. Nor does He take from us the freedom that in His goodness He has bestowed upon us.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
    Humility is born of spiritual knowledge, and such knowledge is born of trials and temptations. To the person who knows himself is given knowledge of all things, and he who subjects himself to God brings every material thought under his control; and then all things are subject to him, for he is completely humble. According to St Basil and St Gregory, he who knows himself - who knows, that is to say, that he stands midway between nobility and baseness, in that he has a soul capable of spiritual knowledge and a mortal, earthly body - never exults or despairs. Rather, with a feeling of shame before his noetic soul he rejects everything shameful and, knowing his weakness, he shrinks from all sense of elation.
    Thus he who knows his own weakness as a result of the many temptations and trials that he undergoes through the passions of soul and body, understands the measureless power of God and how He redeems the humble who cry out to Him through persistent prayer from the depths of their hearts. For such a person prayer becomes a delight. He knows that without God he can do nothing (cf. John 15 : 5), and in his fear lest he fall he strives to cleave to God and is amazed as he considers how God has rescued him from so many temptations and passions. He gives thanks to his Saviour, and to his thanksgiving he adds humility and love; and he does not dare to judge anyone, knowing that as God has helped him, so He can help all men when He wishes, as St Maximos says. He knows, too, that if a person realizes his weakness he may be able to fight and conquer many passions; for in such a case God swiftly comes to his assistance, lest his soul be utterly destroyed. And for many other reasons as well the person who recognizes his own weakness does not fall. No one can attain this recognition unless he first suffers many temptations of soul and body, and gains experience by enduring them patiently and so overcoming them with God's strength.

St. Peter of Damascus:  A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
    All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (cf. 2 Tim. 3 : 16), and no one can thwart someone who wishes to be saved. Only God who made us has power over us, and He is ready to help and protect from every temptation those who cry out to Him and want to do His holy will. Without Him we can do nothing (cf. John I5 : 5): we cannot even suffer evil against our will unless God permits it in order to chastise us and save our souls. But the evil that we commit ourselves is our own responsibility and arises from our own laziness with the help of the demons. On the other hand, all knowledge, strength and virtue are the grace of God, as are all other things. And through grace He has given all men the power to become sons of God (cf. John 1 : 12) by keeping the divine commandments. Or, rather, these commandments keep us, and are the grace of God, since without His grace we cannot keep them. We have nothing to offer Him except our faith, our resolution and, in brief, all the true dogmas that we hold with firm faith through the teaching we have heard (cf. Rom. 10: 17). With all this in mind, let us set to work undistractedly, as though beginning lessons at school, and in this way carefully learn about the seven forms of discipline to which we have referred.

St. Peter of Damascus: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
    If artists who make statues and paint portraits of kings are held in high esteem, will not God bless ten thousand times more those who reveal and beautify His royal image? – for man is the image of God.  When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving – all attributes of God, to be generous, to love their neighbor, to regard this present age as nothing, we install virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them.  This, then, is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgement seat? … Let us be greatly concerned for our wives and our children, and for ourselves as well. The good God Himself will bring this work to perfection, so that all of us may be counted worthy of the blessings He has promised.

St. John Chrysostom
    If you guard your tongue, my brother, God will give you the gift of compunction of heart so that you may see your soul, and thereby you will enter into spiritual joy. But if your tongue defeats you – believe me in what I say to you – you will never be able of escape from darkness.
    If you do not have a pure heart, at least have a pure mouth.

St. Isaac the Syrian
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