Feast of St Athanasius of Mount Athos
ST MAXIMUS the Confessor (d. 662) opens this week with a meditation on the following words from St Gregory the Theologian’s oration On Love for the Poor: “I show my body consideration as a coworker, but have no means of fleeing its rebellion, or of not falling away from God, being weighed down by its bonds dragging me down or binding me to the earth.” Maximus notes that in these words, Gregory “holds a dialogue with humanity as a whole, knowing that whoever longs for salvation devotes himself to a life of either practice or contemplation—for without virtue and knowledge no one has ever been able to attain salvation.” At the conclusion of this passage, Maximus tells us “that the person devoted to contemplation . . . is ‘dragged down’ when he grows lax concerning the vision of God.” St Maximus the Confesor asks: Are you devoted to contemplation? Read the full passage.
In his Letter to Nicholas, St Mark the Monk (fifth century) echoes St Athanasius in his opening reflection on the incarnation: “He took upon Himself, becoming what we are so that we might become what He is (cf. On the Incarnation 54.3).” He continues in a similar vein: “‘The Word became flesh’ (Jn. 1.4) so that flesh might become Word.” The incarnation, according to Mark, makes a new humanity in the image and likeness of God and reaches the full measure of perfect love. And according to St John the Theologian, “Love is God, and the person who abides in love abides in God” (1 Jn. 4.16). St Mark the Monk asks: Are you abiding in love? Read the full passage.
What does it mean for us to become what He is? St Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) tells us that Christ, “raising in Himself fallen man, raising Him above to the highest heaven, to the right hand of the glory of the Father, as God had promised by the prophets, saying, ‘I will raise up the fallen tabernacle of David’ (Amos 9.11; Acts 15.16), that is, the flesh descended from David: and our Lord Jesus Christ truly accomplished this, gloriously achieving our salvation, that He might truly raise us up, saving us for the Father.” In other words, in Christ our humanity ascends to life. St Irenaeus of Lyons asks: Have you ascended to life? Read the full passage.
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There is a price to ascend to life in Christ. As Maximus noted, no one attains salvation without devoting oneself to either practice or contemplation, to the work of either Martha or Mary. St Isaac of Syria (d. 700) tells us that if we want to obey Christ by renouncing the world and being pure of the world, then we must know what the term ‘world’ means. He defines it as the general term for passions, which are: “love of riches, amassing of possessions; the fattening of the body, from which proceeds carnal desire; love of honors, which is the source of envy; administration of government; pride and pomp of power; elegance; popularity, which is the cause of ill-will; fear for the body.” Isaac concludes: “See in which of these you are alive and then you will know to what degree you are alive to the world and how much you are dead to it. When you have learned what the world is, you will learn . . . about our wallowing in it or being free of it.” St Isaac of Syria asks: Are you dead to the world? Read the full passage.
Being dead to the world requires work. And works. But St Mark the Monk (fifth century) wants to make sure we know our works do not make us righteous. According to Mark, “We who have received baptism offer good works, not by way of repayment, but to preserve the purity given to us.” He continues, “Every good work which we perform through our own natural powers causes us to refrain from the corresponding sin; but without grace it cannot contribute to our sanctification.” Then he illustrates how “every virtue . . . is nothing other than refraining from sin.” St Mark the Monk asks: Are you refraining from sin? Read the full passage.
In his famous work, The Life in Christ, St Nicholas Cabasilas (d. 1391) proclaimed man’s true life to be in Christ. According to St Nicholas, “He is the one who feeds and is Himself the Food; it is He who provides the Bread of life and who is Himself what He provides. He is life for those who live, the sweet odor to those who breathe, the garment for those who would be clothed. Indeed, He is the One who enables us to walk; He Himself is the way (Jn. 14.6), and in addition He is the lodging on the way and its destination. We are members, He is the head. When we must struggle, He struggles on our side. For those who are champions in the contest He is the awarder of the prizes; when we are the victors He is the crown of victory. . . . He draws us to Himself and unites us to Himself only.” St Nicholas Cabasilas asks: Are you united to Christ? Read the full passage.
Erin Doom is the founder and director of Eighth Day Institute. He lives in Wichita, KS with his wife Christiane and their four children, Caleb Michael, Hannah Elizabeth, Elijah Blaise, and Esther Ruth.