Tag Archives: Holy Fathers

C.S. Lewis on Reading the Church Fathers (Excerpt from the Preface to On the Incarnation)

CS LewisIt is an anomaly for Orthodox Church Quotes to post material that is not from an elder, saint, or church father, but C.S. Lewis writes so succinctly about the need to read the original sources in the Preface to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great. Therefore, it seems fitting to include an excerpt from that writing here as one of the purposes of this site is to create an interest in reading the original writings of the Church Fathers. 

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There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light.

— C.S. Lewis, Excerpt from the Preface to On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius the Great (Popular Patristics Series Edition)

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St. John Cassian: The thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation . . .

Icon of St. John CassianThe thief who received the kingdom of heaven, though not as the reward of virtue, is a true witness to the fact that salvation is ours through the grace and mercy of God.

All of our holy fathers knew this and all with one accord teach that perfection in holiness can be achieved only through humility.

Humility, in its turn, can be achieved only through faith, fear of God, gentleness and the shedding of all possessions.

It is by means of these that we attain perfect love, through the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory through all the ages. Amen.

+ St. John Cassian,  The Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. 1), “On the Eight Vices: On Pride”

St. Mark of Ephesus: . . . for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church.

Icon of St. Mark of Ephesus“Concerning the Patriarch I shall say this, lest it should perhaps occur to him to show me a certain respect at the burial of this my humble body, or to send to my grave any of his hierarchs or clergy or in general any of those in communion with him in order to take part in prayer or to join the priests invited to it from amongst us, thinking that at some time, or perhaps secretly, I had allowed communion with him. And lest my silence give occasion to those who do not know my views well and fully to suspect some kind of conciliation, I hereby state and testify before the many worthy men here present that I do not desire, in any manner and absolutely, and do not accept communion with him or with those who are with him, not in this life nor after my death, just as (I accept) neither the Union nor Latin dogmas, which he and his adherents have accepted, and for the enforcement of which he has occupied this presiding place, with the aim of overturning the true dogmas of the Church.

I am absolutely convinced that the farther I stand from him and those like him, the nearer I am to God and all the saints, and to the degree that I separate myself from them am in union with the Truth and with the Holy Fathers, the Theologians of the Church; and I am likewise convinced that those who count themselves with them stand far away from the Truth and from the blessed Teachers of the Church.

And for this reason I say: just as in the course of my whole life I was separated from them, so at the time of my departure, yea and after my death, I turn away from intercourse and communion with them and vow and command that none (of them) shall approach either my burial or my grave, and likewise anyone else from our side, with the aim of attempting to join and concelebrate in our Divine services; for this would be to mix what cannot be mixed. But it befits them to be absolutely separated from us until such time as God shall grant correction and peace to His Church.”

+ St. Mark of Ephesus, as quoted in The Orthodox Word, June-July, 1967, pp. 103ff,

Elder Thaddeus: All of us sin constantly. We slip and fall. In reality, we fall into a trap . . .

Photo of Elder Thaddeus“All of us sin constantly. We slip and fall. In reality, we fall into a trap set by the demons.

The Holy Fathers and the Saints always tell us, ‘It is important to get up immediately after a fall and to keep on walking toward God’. Even if we fall a hundred times a day, it does not matter; we must get up and go on walking toward God without looking back.

What has happened has happened – it is in the past. Just keep on going, all the while asking for help from God.”

+ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine our Lives

St. John of Kronstadt: . . . These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord and in the future life. . . .

Icon of All SaintsWhen your faith in the Lord, either during your life and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of quitting this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, and from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones:

St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the Prophetess, and others; the Apostles, prelates, venerable Fathers, martyrs, the disinterested, the righteous, and all the saints.

See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and of the life eternal, and strive to imitate them.

These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable to strengthen the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord and in the future life.

Those Christian communions who do not venerate the saints and do not call upon them in prayer lose much in piety and in Christian hope. They deprive themselves of the great strengthening of their faith by the examples of men like unto themselves.Book St John Kronstadt My Life in Christ

+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ [paperback]  or  [hardback]

St. Irenaeus of Lyons: One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. . . .

Icon of St. Irenaeus of Lyon“One should not seek among others the truth that can be easily gotten from the Church. For in her, as in a rich treasury, the apostles have placed all that pertains to truth, so that everyone can drink this beverage of life. She is the door of life.”

+ St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, III.4

St. Mark of Ephesus: ‘But if,’ they say, ‘we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas . . .

Icon of St. Mark of Ephesus“‘But if,’ they say, ‘we had devised some middle ground between the dogmas (of the Papists and the Orthodox), then thanks to this we would have united with them and accomplished our business superbly, without at all having been forced to say anything except what corresponds to custom and has been handed down (by the Fathers).’ This is precisely the means by which many, from of old, have been deceived and persuaded to follow those who have led them off the steep precipice of impiety; believing that there is some middle ground between the two teachings that can reconcile obvious contradictions, they have been exposed to peril.”

+ St. Mark of Ephesus, “Encyclical Letter, July 1440
From Orthodox Word , March-April-May, 1967

Letter available here (slightly different translation)

St. John of Damascus: We do not change the boundaries marked out by our Fathers. . . .

Icon of St. John of Damascus“We do not change the boundaries marked out by our Fathers. We keep the Tradition we have received. If we begin to lay down the Law of the Church even in the smallest things, the whole edifice will fall to the ground in no short time.”

+ St. John of Damascus

 

St. Nicodemos: Having read Holy Scripture very carefully, you should also read the holy Fathers . . .

Icon of St. Nikodemus of Mt. Athos“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, as did David, those enthusiastic words in the Psalms.”

+ St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel

St. John of Damascus: Wherefore, brethren, let us plant ourselves upon the rock of faith and the Tradition of the Church . . .

Icon of St. John of Damascus“Wherefore, brethren, let us plant ourselves upon the rock of faith and the Tradition of the Church, removing not the landmarks set by our holy fathers, nor giving room to those who are anxious to introduce novelties and to undermine the structure of God’s holy ecumenical and apostolic Church. For if everyone were allowed a free hand, little by little the entire Body of the Church would be destroyed.”

+ St. John of Damascus

Quoted by St. Justin Popovich in The Attributes of the Church
Originally published in Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1981), pp. 28-33

St. Justin Popovich: The principal Tradition, the transcendent Tradition, of the Orthodox Church is the living God-man Christ . . .

Icon of St. Justin Popovich“The principal Tradition, the transcendent Tradition, of the Orthodox Church is the living God-man Christ, entire in the theanthropic Body of the Church of which He is the immortal, eternal Head. This is not merely the message, but the transcendent message of the holy apostles and the holy fathers. They know Christ crucified, Christ resurrected, Christ ascended. They all, by their integral lives and teachings, with a single soul and a single voice, confess that Christ the God-man is wholly in His Church, as in His Body. Each of the holy fathers could rightly repeat with St. Maximus the Confessor: ‘In no wise am I expounding my own opinion, but that which I have been taught by the fathers, without changing aught in their teaching.'”

+ St. Justin Popovich, The Attributes of the Church

Originally published in Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1981), pp. 28-33

St. Photios the Great: . . .the least departure from Tradition can lead to a scorning of every dogma of our Faith. . . .

Icon of St. Photios the GreatThe first error of the Westerners was to compel the faithful to fast on Saturdays. (I mention this seemingly small point because the least departure from Tradition can lead to a scorning of every dogma of our Faith.) Next, they convinced the faithful to despise the marriage of priests, thereby sowing in their souls the seeds of the Manichean heresy. Likewise, they persuaded them that all who had been chrismated by priests had to be anointed again by bishops. In this way, they hoped to show that Chrismation by priests had no value, thereby ridiculing this divine and supernatural Christian Mystery. From whence comes this law forbidding priests to anoint with Holy Chrism? From what lawgiver, Apostle, Father, or Synod? For, if a priest cannot chrismate the newly-baptised, then surely neither can he baptize. Or, how can a priest consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord in the Divine Liturgy if, at the same time, he cannot chrismate with Holy Chrism? If this grace then, is taken from the priests, the episcopal rank is diminished, for the bishop stands at the head of the choir of priests. But the impious Westerners did not stop their lawlessness even here.

They attempted by their false opinions and distorted words to ruin the holy and sacred Nicene Symbol of Faith — which by both synodal and universal decisions possesses invincible power — by adding to it that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, as the Symbol declares, but from the Son also. Until now, no one has ever heard even a heretic pronounce such a teaching. What Christian can accept the introduction of two sources into the Holy Trinity; that is, that the Father is one source of the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that the Son is another source of the Holy Spirit, thereby transforming the monarchy of the Holy Trinity into a dual divinity?

+ St. Photios the Great, Except from The Encyclical Letter of Saint Photius (867)

St. Justin Popovich: . . . Hence, a division, a splitting up of the Church is ontologically and essentially impossible.

Icon of St. Justin Popovich“Like the holy apostles, the holy fathers and the teachers of the Church confess the unity and uniqueness of the Orthodox Church with the divine wisdom of the cherubim and the zeal of the seraphim. Understandable, therefore, is the fiery zeal which animated the holy fathers of the Church in all cases of division and falling away and the stern attitude toward heresies and schisms. In that regard, the holy ecumenical and holy local councils are preeminently important. According to their spirit and attitude, wise in those things pertaining to Christ, the Church is not only one but also unique. Just as the Lord Christ cannot have several bodies, so He cannot have several Churches. According to her theanthropic nature, the Church is one and unique, just as Christ the God-man is one and unique.

Hence, a division, a splitting up of the Church is ontologically and essentially impossible.”

+ St. Justin Popovich,  The Attributes of the Church

Originally published in Orthodox Life, vol. 31, no. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1981), pp. 28-33

St. Gregory of Palamas: Let us flee from those who reject patristic interpretations . . .

Icon of St. Gregory of Palamas“Let us flee from those who reject patristic interpretations and attempt by themselves to deduce the complete opposite. While pretending to concern themselves with the literal sense of the passage, they reject its godly meaning. We should run away from them more than we would from a snake, for when a snake bites it kills the body temporarily, separating it from the immortal soul, but when these evil men get their teeth into a soul, they separate it from God, which is eternal death for that soul. Let us escape as far as we can from such people, and take refuge with those who teach piety and salvation in accordance with the traditions of the Fathers.”

+ St. Gregory of Palamas, Homily 34, On the Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus

St. Mark of Ephesus: I am convinced that the further I depart him [the Patriarch] and from those like him [the Latin-minded] . . .

Icon of St. Mark of EphesusI am convinced that the further I depart from him [the Patriarch] and from those like him [the Latin-minded], the closer do I draw near God and all the faithful and the holy Fathers; and the more I am separated from them, by so much more am I united to the truth and the holy Fathers.

+ St. Mark of Ephesus, PG 160:536

Elder Paisios: . . . This is how the Fathers maintained Tradition.

Photo of Elder Paisus of Mount AthosWhen there is a respect for small things, there will be an even greater respect towards the bigger things. When there is no respect for small things, then neither will there be for the bigger ones. This is how the Fathers maintained Tradition.

+ Elder Paisios

St. John of Damascus: If any one preach to you something contrary to what the holy catholic Church has received . . .

Icon of St. John of DamascusListen to me, people of all nations, men, women, and children, all of you who bear the Christian name: If any one preach to you something contrary to what the holy catholic Church has received from the holy apostles and fathers and councils, and has kept down to the present day, do not heed him. Do not receive the serpent’s counsel, as Eve did, to whom it was death. If an angel or an emperor teaches you anything contrary to what you have received, shut your ears.

+ St. John of Damascus, Apologia of St. John Damascene Against Those Who Decry Holy Images

Elder Paisios On Common Prayers: . . . Is it proper to mix trash with gold? So much struggle was waged to distil the dogma. . . .)

Photo of Elder Paisus of Mount AthosToday unfortunately, the European courtesy has come in and they try to show themselves as being nice. They wish to show superiority and finally they end up worshiping the two horned devil. “One religion, they tell you, should exist” and they level out everything. Some also come to me and tell me “All of us who believe in Christ should create one religion.” “Now it is as if you are telling me, I told them, about gold and copper, so many carats gold and that much copper, that was separated, to gather them and make them one again. Is it correct to mix them again? Ask a jeweler. Is it proper to mix trash with gold? So much struggle was waged to distil the dogma.”

The Holy Fathers must have known something for prohibiting the relationships with the heretics. Today they say: “we should pray together not only with a heretics but also with the Buddhist and with the fire worshiper and the demon worshiper. The Orthodox must also be present in common prayers and in their conferences. It is a presence.” What presence? They resolve everything with logic and justify the unjustifiable. The European mind believes that also the spiritual matters can also come into the Common Market. Some of the Orthodox who are shallow and wish to make a promotion, “a mission,” they arrange conferences with the heterodox to cause a sensation, believing this way that they promote Orthodoxy, by becoming so to speak “Hungarian goulash” with the false believers. Then the super-zealots take hold of the other end; they also blaspheme against the Mysteries of the New-calendarists, etc. and deeply scandalize the souls who have piety and Orthodox sensitivity.

On the other hand, the heterodox come to conferences, act like teachers, take whatever good spiritual thing they find from the Orthodox, they process it, they give it their own colour and mark and they present it as a prototype. And the strange contemporary world becomes touched by such strange things and is spiritually destroyed. The Lord though at the appropriate time will present the Marks, the Eugenikos and the Gregorys Palamas who will assemble all our deeply scandalized brothers, to confess the Orthodox faith and strengthen the traditions of the Church and give great joy to our Mother, the Church.”

+ Elder Paisios

From the Book: “With anguish and love for the contemporary man.”
Publication: Holy Hysichastirion of Evangelist John the Theologian by Souroti, Thessaloniki.
Original Link

Elder Paisios: [Monophysites] do not say that they did not understand the Holy Fathers but that the Holy Fathers did not understand them

Photo of Elder Paisus of Mount Athos“[Monophysites] do not say that they did not understand the Holy Fathers but that the Holy Fathers did not understand them. Namely, as if they are right and were misunderstood . . . So many Holy Fathers who had divine illumination and were their contemporaries, did not understand them but misunderstood them, and here we come so many centuries later to correct the Holy Fathers? Why don’t they even consider the miracle of Saint Euphimia?  Is it possible that even she had misunderstood the book of the heretics?”

+ Elder Paisios of Mount Athos,  Life of Elder Paisios the Agiorite by Hieromonk Isaac, Holy Mountain 2004, p. 690-691

St. Porphyrios: The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, . . .

Icon of St. Porphyrios“Our religion is perfectly and profoundly conceived. What is simple is also what is most precious. Accordingly, in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the signing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer.

Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things.”

— St. Porphyrios, Wounded by Love

St. Ambrose: A Reply to One Well Disposed Towards the Latin Church

Icon of St. Ambrose of OptinaIn vain do some of the Orthodox marvel at the current propaganda of the Roman Church, at the feigned selflessness and activity of her missionaries and at the zeal of the Latin sisters of mercy, and incorrectly ascribe to the Latin Church such importance, as if by her apostasy from the Orthodox Church, the latter remained longer such, and has the necessity to seek unification with the former. On rigorous examination, this opinion proves to be false; and the energetic Latin activity not only does not evoke surprise, but, on the contrary, arouses deep sorrow in the hearts of right-thinking people, who understand the truth.

The Eastern Orthodox Church, from apostolic times until now, observes unchanged and unblemished by innovations both the Gospel and Apostolic teachings, as well as the Tradition of the Holy Fathers and resolutions of the Ecumenical Councils, at which God-bearing men, having gathered from throughout the entire world, in a conciliar manner composed the divine Symbol of the Orthodox Faith [the Creed], and having proclaimed it aloud to the whole universe, in all respects perfect and complete, forbade on pain of terrible punishments any addition to it, any abridging, alteration, or rearrangement of even one iota of it. The Roman Church departed long ago into heresy and innovation. As far back as Basil the Great, certain bishops of Rome were condemned by him in his letter to Eusebius of Samosata, ‘They do not know and do not wish to know the truth; they argue with those who proclaim the truth to them, and assert their heresy.’

— St. Ambrose of Optina, “A Reply to One Well Disposed Towards the Latin Church: Regarding the unjust glory of the papists in the imaginary dignity of their Church”

Click here to read St. Ambrose’s letter in its entirety

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Implore God with prayers and tears . . .

Icon of St. Symeon the New Theologian“Implore God with prayers and tears to send you a guide who is dispassionate and holy. But you yourself should also study the divine writings – especially the works of the fathers that deal with the practice of the virtues – so that you can compare the teachings of your master with them; for thus you will see and observe them as in a mirror. Take to heart and keep in mind those of his teachings that agree with the divine writings, but separate out and reject those that are false and incongruent. Otherwise you will be led astray. For in these days there are all too many deceivers and false prophets. ”

+ St. Symeon the New Theologian, Practical and Theological Texts, Text 33

St. Symeon the New Theologian: Those of whom I speak and whom . . .

Picture of St. Symeon the New Theologian“Those of whom I speak and whom I call heretics are those who say that there is no one in our times and in our midst who is able to keep the Gospel commandments and become like the holy Fathers…Now those who say that this is impossible have not fallen into one particular heresy, but rather into all of them, if I may say so, since this one surpasses and covers them all in impiety and abundance of blasphemy. One who makes this claim subverts all the divine Scriptures. I think (that by making this claim) such a person states that the Holy Gospel is now recited in vain, that the writings of Basil the Great and of our other priests and holy Fathers are irrelevant or have even been frivolously written. If, then, it is impossible for us to carry out in action and observe without fail all the things that God says, and all that the saints, after first practicing them have left in writing for our instruction, why did they at that time trouble to write them down and why do we read them in Church? Those who make these claims shut up the heaven that Christ opened for us, and cut off the way to it that he inaugurated for us. God who is above all, stands, as it were, at the gate of heaven and peers out of it so that the faithful see him, and through his Holy Gospel cries out and says, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Mt. 11:28). But these opponents of God or, rather, antichrists say, ‘It is impossible, impossible.’”

–St. Symeon the New Theologian