02 February 2006

Patristic Quote for the Day

At the risk of Fr. Alms' censure, another EASTERN father, but one that Chemnitz relied on extensively:

Every action of Christ and all His working of miracles were truly very great and divine and wonderful, but of all things the most wonderful is His honorable cross. For by nothing else except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ has death been brought low, the sin of our first parent destroyed, hell plundered, resurrection bestowed, the power given us to despise the things of this world and even death itself, the road back to the former blessedness made smooth, the gates of paradise opened, our nature seated at the right hand of God, and we made children and heirs of God. By the cross all things have been set aright! – John of Damascus, The Christian Faith, Book IV: Chapter 11


Paul Gregory Alms said...

No censure here ... just gentle jabbing :)

John of Damascus is cool. The Eastern Fathers are wonderful, of course. I was not aware of the piece you mention often by Mark the Ascetic (On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works) Is it available on line?

Greg Alms

William Weedon said...

Fr. Alms,

I was just joshing you. "On those who think they are made righteous" is a FABULOUS work. It is not available on line that I know of, but it is found in volume one of the Philokalia. Another line: "Christ gives the grace of sonship through the cross." It's just a fascinating work.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Alms,

I can get you a copy of it. Can I, in turn, get a copy of your recent Higher Things article?

Deacon Gregory Hogg

Anonymous said...

An Excerpt from "On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six Texts"

By St. Mark the Ascetic

1. In the texts which follow, the beliefs of those in error will be refuted by those whose faith is well founded and who know the truth.

2. Wishing to show that to fulfil every commandment is a duty, whereas sonship is a gift given to men through His own Blood, the Lord said: 'When you have done all that is commanded you, say: "We are useless servants: we have only done what was our duty"' (Luke 17:10). Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for works, but a gift of grace prepared by the Master for his faithful servants.

3. A slave does not demand his freedom as a reward; but he gives satisfaction as one who is in debt, and he receives freedom as a gift.

4. 'Christ died on account of our sins in accordance with the Scriptures' (I Cor. 15:3); and to those who serve Him well He gives freedom. 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' He says, 'you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many: enter into the joy of your Lord' (Matt. 25: 21).

5. He who relies on theoretical knowledge alone is not yet a faithful servant: a faithful servant is one who expresses his faith in things Christ through obedience to His commandments.

6. He who honours the Lord does what the Lord bids. When he sins or is disobedient, he patiently accepts what comes as something he deserves.

7. If you love true knowledge, devote yourself to the ascetic life; for mere theoretical, knowledge puffs a man up (cf. I Cor. 8:1).

. . .

11. Those who, because of the rigour of their own ascetic practice, despise the less zealous, think that they are made righteous by physical works. But we are even more foolish if we rely on theoretical knowledge and disparage the ignorant.

12. Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.

13. Often our knowledge becomes darkened because we fail to put things into practice. For when we have totally neglected to practise something, our memory of it will gradually disappear. [For the preceding two instructions cf. James 1:22-24]

14. For this reason Scripture urges us to acquire the knowledge of God, so that through our works we may serve Him rightly.

15. When we fulfil the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.

16. If we want to do something but cannot, then before God, who knows our hearts, it is as if we have done it. This is true whether the intended action is good or bad.

17. The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body can do neither good nor evil without the intellect. This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act.

18. Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the Kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken.

19. A master is under no obligation to reward his slaves; on the other hand, those who do not serve him well are not given their freedom.

20. If 'Christ died on our account in accordance with the Scriptures' (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. I5: 3), and we do not 'live for ourselves', but 'for Him who died and rose' on our account (2 Cor. 5:15), it is clear that we are debtors to Christ to serve Him till our death. How then can we regard sonship as something which is our due?

21. Christ is Master by virtue of His own essence and Master by virtue of His incarnate life. For He creates man from nothing, and through His own Blood redeems him when dead in sin; and to those who believe in Him He has given His grace.

22. When Scripture says 'He will reward every man according to his works' (Matt. 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom. On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer.

2 3. We who have received baptism offer good works, not by way of repayment, but to preserve the purity given to us.

24. 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.

From The Philokalia, vol. 1 (London: Faber & Faber, 1979), pp. 125-127.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the entirety of "On Those who Think They Are
Made Righteous by Works":


I have also appended two versions of the sparse "Life" that has come down to us concerning St. Mark the Ascetic. Lastly, their is a short account of his life together with another work of his, the "Epistle to the Monk Nicholas: Fighting the Passions".


Saint Mark the Ascetic was born in Athens during the fifth century, and became a monk in the Nitrian desert (Lower Egypt). From his youth his fondest pursuit was the reading of Holy Scripture. It is said that he knew the whole Bible by heart.

Nine of his thirty discourses have come down to us. Three of them are in Volume I of the English PHILOKALIA. The Byzantines had such a high regard for his writings that they said, "Sell everything and buy Mark."

He was noted for his gentleness and purity of soul. He was known as "the Ascetic" because of his abstinence. He lived for ninety years as a solitary, then surrendered his soul to God when he was one hundred and twenty years old.


Our venerable and God-bearing father Mark the Ascetic was born in Athens in the fifth century, and lived in the Egyptian desert as a monk. His feast day is commemorated on March 5.

St. Mark was an ascetic and miracle-worker, sometimes known as Mark the Faster. In his 40th year he was tonsured a monk by his teacher, St. John Chrysostom. Mark then spent 60 more years in the wilderness of Nitria (a desert in Lower Egypt) in fasting and prayer, and in writing many spiritual works concerning the salvation of souls. He knew all the Holy Scriptures by heart. He was very merciful and kind, and wept much for the misfortunes that had befallen all of God's creation.

On one occasion, when weeping over a hyena's blind whelp, he prayed to God and the whelp received its sight. In thanksgiving the mother hyena brought him a sheepskin. The saint forbade the hyena in the future to kill any more sheep belonging to poor people. He received Communion at the hands of angels. His homilies concerned such topics as the spiritual law, repentance, sobriety, and are ranked among the preeminent literature of the Church. These works were praised by the Patriarch Photius the Great himself.


Although very little is actually known about [St. Mark's] life, he remains one of the best-known Egyptian Fathers. St. Palladius, who wrote the most famous collection of Patristic sayings, "Paradise of the Fathers," met St. Mark, but recorded little of his life. It is known that he lived for over a hundred years, knew several of the successors of St. Anthony the Great personally, and may have even met the great Desert saint as well. He died at the beginning of the fifth century. As demonstrated in today's text, St. Mark the Ascetic had profound knowledge of the mysteries of the spiritual life. We know he wrote much more than is available today, as many of his treasured texts are lost to history.

by St. Mark the Ascetic

Beloved Son Nicholas . . . .

A man must, above all, strive after knowledge and reason, if he wants to take up his cross and follow Christ, constantly examining his thoughts, taking every care to gain salvation and adhering to God with all his strength. He should also question other servants of God, who are of the same mind and soul and who are doing the same work, in order to know how and where to direct his steps and not walk in the dark without a bright lamp. For a self-reliant man, walking without the knowledge and guidance of the Gospels, often stumbles and falls into many pitfalls and nets of the evil one, frequently goes astray and is subject to many calamities, not knowing where he will arrive in the end. Many have gone through great feats of self- mortification and endured much labor and seat for the sake of God; but their self-will, lack of good judgment and the fact that they did not deem it necessary to seek salutary advice from their brethren, made these labors useless and vain.

If you wish, my son, to acquire and possess within yourself your own lamp of mental light and spiritual knowledge, that you may walk without stumbling in the deepest night of this age and have your steps ordered by the Lord (Psalms 118:133), according to the words of the Prophet, you must greatly desire the path of the Gospels, that is, to practise the most perfect Gospel commandments with ardent faith and become a participant in the passion of Christ through desire and prayer; then I will show you a wonderful method to achieve this, consisting of an inner state of the spirit, which demands no physical work or effort, but the most painful labor of the soul, mastery of the mind (over all things within) and attentive thought, together with the fear and love of God. By this state you can easily turn to flight enemy hordes, as did the blessed David who, having slain one alien giant with faith and trust in God, by this very fact put to flight the hordes of the enemies with their peoples.

I speak of the three strong and powerful alien giants, on whom are founded all the hostile forces of the mental Holophernes. If they are cast down and slain, all the forces of the evil spirits will be finally defeated. These three giants of the evil one, who seem to be strong, are "ignorance," mother of all ills, "forgetfulness," her sister, aider and abettor, and "laziness" (indifference) which out of darkness weaves a dusky garment and cloak in the soul. This latter strengthens and affirms the former two, gives them substance and makes evil take firm root in a negligent soul and become an essential part of it. For through indifference (laziness), forgetfulness and ignorance the props of all other passions grow and strengthen. Since they mutually help one another and cannot exist independently of one another, they (in their totality) are powerful forces of the enemy and chief generals of the evil one. With their help the hordes of evil spirits fashion their snares in the soul and succeed in carrying out their plans.

If you wish to gain victory over passions and easily put to flight the hordes of mental aliens, collect yourself inwardly with God's help by prayer and, descending into the depths of your heart, find there those three strong giants of the devil -- I mean forgetfulness, indifference or laziness, and ignorance, the food on which all other passions feed and act, live and grow strong in self-indulgent hearts and unpunished souls. With strict attention to yourself and a sober mind, and with help from above, you will certainly find these evil passions, unknown and not even suspected by others, yet more pernicious than the rest; you will find them by the weapons of righteousness which are their contrary. These weapons are memory of the good, the source of all blessings, enlightened knowledge, by which a soul kept in sobriety chases away the darkness of ignorance, and a lively zeal, which rouses the soul and leads it to salvation. Thereupon, armed with these weapons of virtue, accompanied by every prayer and supplication, you will manfully and valiantly conquer (completely chase away) these three giants of mental aliens by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is to say, with the help of an excellent godly memory always reflecting on "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise" (Philippians 4:8), you will chase away wicked forgetfulness; by enlightened heavenly knowledge you will destroy the pernicious darkness of ignorance; and by a lively zeal, ready for every good action, you will drive away godless indifference (laziness), through which evil becomes firmly rooted in the soul. You acquire these virtues not merely by your own will alone, but by the power of God and with the help of the Holy Spirit, with much attention and prayer. Having thus acquired them you will be able, through them, to free yourself from the said three strong giants of the evil one. When through the power of active grace there is formed and carefully preserved in the soul a (tripartite) alliance of true knowledge, memory of the words of God and righteous zeal, then every trace of forgetfulness, ignorance and indifference will vanish from the soul. They will be resolved into nothing, and at last there will reign in the soul the grace of Christ Jesus, our Lord, to Whom be power and glory for ever and ever, Amen.

From E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, trans., "Early Fathers from the Philokalia," (London: Faber & Faber, 1981), pp. 60 - 62.

Anonymous said...

And I thought that those *Eastern Christians* were supposed to be rank synergists! You know, not relying completely on Christ's work, but on their own, to receive God's mercy. What else might we Westerners (especially Lutherans) have to rethink as we learn from Eastern Fathers such as these? Hmmm!