Rod of the Root of Jesse

Saint Ambrose (339-397), Bishop of Milan, concurs with this image, writing: “The root is the household of the Jews, the rod is Mary, the Flower of Mary is Christ. She is rightly called a rod, for she is of royal lineage, of the house and family of David. Her flower is Christ, Who destroyed the stench of worldly pollution and poured out the fragrance of eternal life. As He Himself said. ‘l am a flower of the plain, a lily of the valleys'” (Song 2:1).

The Life of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, Holy Apostles Convent, Colorado, USA, 1989, pp. 157-158

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Mindfulness of Death

Vivid mindfulness of death embraces many virtues. It begets grief; it promotes the exercise of self-control in all things; it is a reminder of hell; it is the mother of prayer and tears; it induces guarding of the heart and detachment from material things; it is a source of attentiveness and discrimination. These in their turn produce the twofold fear of God.

In addition, the purging of impassioned thoughts from the heart embraces many of the Lord’s commandments. The harsh hour-by-hour struggle in which so many athletes of Christ are engaged has as its aim precisely this purging of the heart.

St. Philotheos of Sinai Forty Texts on Watchfulness, Philokalia, V3.30.

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He has scattered the proud

He hath shewed strength with His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. (Luke 1:51)

The arm enigmatically signifies the Word that was born of her: and by the proud, Mary means the wicked demons who with their prince fell through pride: and the Greek sages, who refused to receive the folly, as it seemed, of what was preached: and the Jews who would not believe, and were scattered for their unworthy imaginations about the Word of God. And by the mighty she means the Scribes and Pharisees, who sought the chief seats. It is nearer the sense, however, to refer it to the wicked demons: for these, when openly claiming mastery over the world, the Lord by His coining scattered, and transferred those whom they had made captive unto His own dominion. For all those things came to pass according to her prophecy, that

He hath put down riders from their thrones, and exalted the humble. (Luke 1:52)

Great used to be the haughtiness of these demons whom He scattered, and of the devil, and of the Greek sages, as I said, and of the Pharisees and Scribes. But He put them down, and exalted those who had humbled themselves under their mighty hand, “having given them authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy:” and made the plots against us of these haughty-minded beings of none effect. The Jews, moreover, once gloried in their empire, but were stripped of it for their unbelief; whereas the Gentiles. who were obscure and of no note, were for their faith’s sake exalted.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily 1, p. 47

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Learn with sincerity

(Hypothesis XVIII – It is necessary for one who wishes to be saved to seek the company of virtuous people and, as a thing much beneficial, to question them with exceeding desire and flaming zeal, so as to learn from them all those things which are essential for the salvation of the soul.)

1. Abba Palladios said: “The soul which conducts itself in a way must either learn with sincerity what it does not know or must teach with clarity whatever it has learned. If it does not desire to do either of these two things, then it is possessed by madness; for the beginning of apostasy is found in the absence of instructive words and in lack of a desire for instruction, since the soul which loves God is always hungry for the word of God.”

The Evergetinos, The First Book, p. 134

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Ten Thousand Monks

VII.xliii.1. A brother sought help from the holy Abba Serapion, who had charge of ten thousand  monks.

“A certain group of the brothers have chosen me to be prior,” he said. “Tell me, how do you go on about being in charge?”

“For me, to be in charge is perhaps a burden,” he said. “For our Lord Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel, ‘If you love me keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). And when the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, he said, ‘If anyone wishes to become great among you he shall be your minister, and whoever wants to be chief shall be the servant of all.’ (Mark.10:43). The apostle Peter has this warning for pastors, ‘Feed the flock of God which is given to you, providing for them not by force but voluntarily, and not for the sake of filthy lucre. Be an example to the flock, and when the prince of shepherds shall appear you will receive an imperishable crown of glory’ (1 Peter 5:2). Practice what you preach in such a way that you don’t just give them commands, but show them by your example what to do. Don’t have favourites but be a shepherd to all, for our Saviour said, ‘Blessed is he who rules over his family and gives them meat in due season’ (Matthew 24:45).

De Vitis Patrum, Book 7, chapter 43.

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Future Life

Now, just as when the night is ending the day begins to shine with before the sun fully rises, the darkness somehow mingling with the light, before the darkness of night completely fades and is overcome the light of the coming day so exactly are things in this world.
The end of this world is being mingled with the dawn of the future life, so that certain obscure things of this world are made known by reason of their intermingling with spiritual things. For this reason precisely, we are learning about things of that other world. Certainly, however, we do not know all of those things of the other world, or know them clearly, but see them only dimly, as though our minds were illuminated in some way—in the same way that we perceive objects of the material world just prior to the rise of the sun.

St. Gregory the Dialogist, The Evergetinos, Book 1, p. 91

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The company of holy men

3. Abba Palladios said: More than a well-lighted window, a man must seek after the company of holy men, so that he can see his heart, as if reading a clearly written book, and thus come to perceive the idleness in his way of life by contrast with their lives.
For many are the traits of virtuous men which bear witness to the purity of their souls—such as the subtle look that a Godly way of life imprints on the face, the style of dress, the simplicity of character, humility in discourse, the absence of an inquisitive tone in their words, the prudence of their expressions, the piety of their manner. All of these things benefit greatly those who attend to them and engrave on their souls the immutable archetypes of Virtues.

The Evergetinos, The First Book, p. 135

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By the way side

The Sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and was trampled upon, and the birds of heaven devoured it. Luke 8:4

 And as to the cause of the seed on the pathways being snatched away, we see in a moment that it is the hardness of the ground. A pathway always is hard and untilled, because it is exposed to every one’s feet, nor is any seed admitted into it, but lies rather upon the surface, ready for any birds that will to snatch it away. All those therefore, whose mind is hard and unyielding, and so to speak, pressed together, do not “receive the divine seed: for the divine and sacred admonition finds no entrance into them, nor do they accept the words that would produce in them the fear of God, and by means of which they could bring forth as fruits the glories of virtue. They have made themselves a beaten and trampled pathway for unclean demons, yea, and for Satan himself, such as never can bear holy fruit. Let those therefore awake, whose heart is sterile and unfruitful: open your mind, receive the sacred seed, be like productive and well-tilled soil, bring forth unto God the fruits that will raise you to an incorruptible life: guard your mind, shut the entrance against the thief, drive away from your hearts the flocks of birds, in order that the seed may abide with you; that ye may be ground luxuriant in corn, and very fertile, and rich abundantly in bringing forth fruit.

 St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke, Homily XLI.

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 VII.xxxviii.1. A brother asked Antony what he should do about his sins, and he replied, “If you want to be liberated from your sins it is weeping and wailing that will effect that liberation. If you want your virtues to be strengthened it is in floods of tears that that strengthening will come. Think of the example of Hezekiah that the prophet Isaiah tells us of. Through his tears he not only regained his sanity, but the power of the Lord, watered by his weeping, promised him fifteen extra years of life (Isaiah 38:5) and brought death to a hundred and eighty-five thousands of the enemy who were attacking him (Isaiah 37:36). Through his tears the Apostle Peter was forgiven by the Lord for his denials. Mary who washed the feet of the Lord with her tears was found worthy to hear that she had chosen the better part (Luke 10.42). So it is that the holy fear of the Lord endures for ever and ever.”

 De Vitis Patrum, Book 7, chapter 38.

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Remembering evil

VII.xxxvii.4. Abba Macarius said, “If we go on remembering the evil things that people have done to us we thereby banish the memory of virtuous things. But if we reflect upon the evils sent against us by the demons we should be able to remain calm, knowing that God in the beginning created all things good – the devil merely sows evil things on top of them. And see what havoc he has caused.

It is a fault in a monk if when suffering injury from others he is not the first to attempt a charitable reconciliation with a pure heart. The Shunamite woman would not have been worthy to accept the prophet Elias into her house if she had been in dispute with anyone. Now the Shunamite stands for the soul, Elijah for the Holy Spirit, so if the soul is not pure it is not worthy to receive the Holy Spirit. Unrestrained anger blinds the eyes of the heart and drives prayer out of the soul.

 De Vitis Patrum, Book 7, chapter 37.

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