Prayer is…

…the refuge of help, a source of salvation, a treasury of assurance, a haven that rescues from the tempest, a light to those who are in darkness, a staff of the infirm, a shelter in time of temptations, a medicine at the height of sickness, a shield of deliverance in war, an arrow sharpened against the face of the enemies, to speak simply: the entire multitude of these good things is found to have its entrance through prayer.

St. Isaac the Syrian. Ascetical Treatise 8 (68), as quoted by Hilarion Alfeyev, The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian (Cistercian Publications, 2000), p. 144

St. Neilos the Ascetic on True Maturity

Let us leave behind worldly things and raise ourselves towards the soul’s true good. How long shall we continue with trivial playthings? Will we never assume a manly spirit? We are more feeble than tiny children, and unlike them we make no progress towards greater things. When they grow up, they abandon their games, readily relinquishing their attachment to the things they played with — nuts, knucklebones, balls and so on. They are attached to these and prize them so long as their understanding is immature; but when they grow up and become men, they drop such things and devote their full attention to the affairs of adult life. We, however, have remained children, enchanted by what really deserves mockery and derision. Abandoning all effort to attain higher things and to develop an adult intelligence, we are seduced by worldly amusements, making ourselves a laughing-stock to those who judge things at their true value. It is disgraceful for a grown man to be seen sitting and drawing pictures in the dust to amuse children; and it is equally disgraceful — indeed much more so — for those whose professed aim is the enjoyment of eternal blessings to be seen grovelling in the dust of worldly things, shaming their vocation by incongruous behavior.

Probably the reason why we act like this is because we never think about anything superior to the visible objects around us. We do not appreciate how much better the blessings of the spiritual world are than the tawdry attractions of this present world, which dazzle us with their specious glory and draw all our desire to them. In the absence of what is better, what is worse will take its place and be held in honor. If only we had a deeper understanding of the realities of the divine world, we would not be taken in by the attractions of this world.

Let us begin, then, to withdraw from the things of this world. Let us despise possessions and money and all that swamps and drowns our intelligence. Let us cast overboard our cargo, so that our ship may float more buoyantly. Hard-pressed by the storm, let us jettison the greater part of our equipment; then our helmsman — the intellect, together with its thoughts — will be saved. Those who travel by sea, when overtaken by a storm, do not worry about their merchandise but throw it into the waters with their own hands, considering their property less important than their life. Why, then, do we not follow their example, and for the sake of the higher life despise whatever drags our soul down to the depths? Why is fear of God less powerful than fear of the sea? In their desire not to be deprived of this transitory life, they judge the loss of their goods no great disaster; but we, who claim to be seeking eternal life, do not look with detachment on even the most insignificant object, but prefer to perish with the cargo rather than be saved without it.

From the Philokalia, vol 1, pp 242-3

St. Ephrem the Syrian on Psalm 1

Psalm 1: Beatitudes

Blessed is he who has in the Lord become completely free of all earthly things in this troublesome life, and who has loved the one good and merciful God.

Blessed is he who has become a doer of good works and, like a fruitful field, brings forth a great abundance of the fruits of life in the Lord.

Blessed is he who stands at prayer in service to God and, like the heavenly angels, at all times has pure thoughts and does not allow the evil one to approach him, that he may not enslave his soul and lead it away from God the Savior.

Blessed is he who loves sanctity (purity) like light, and has not defiled his body before the Lord with the shameful acts of the evil one.

Blessed is he who always retains in himself remembrance of God, for such a person on earth is like a heavenly angel, constantly celebrating the Lord with fear and love.

Blessed is he who loves repentance, which saves all sinners, and does not delight in sin, that he might not appear ungrateful before God our Savior.

Blessed is he who, like a courageous warrior defending heavenly treasures, preserves his soul and body without reproach in the Lord.

Blessed is he who, like the heavenly angels, has pure thoughts, and who with his lips sings praises to the One who has authority over all that breathes.

Blessed is he who has become like unto the seraphim and the cherubim and is never slothful in spiritual service, who ceaselessly glorifies the Lord.

Lactantius on Theodicy

I am well aware of the response that can be made from the other side: why does that one and only God of yours, that great God, lord of all things and master of all people as you call him, permit such things to happen and not either avenge or protect his worshippers? Why are people who don’t worship him rich, powerful and happy, in power as magistrates and kings, holding those very worshippers of his in subjection to their own dominion and might? This too must have its explanation, so that no confusion remains. First, this is the reason why worship of God is thought to be ineffective: people are led astray by the way the immediate goods of this earth look, which are quite irrelevant to care of the soul. Because they see the just are without these things and the unjust amply provided, they conclude that worsihpping God is futile as they can’t see those goods in it, and they think too that worship of gods is sound, since their worshippers enjoy wealth, position and kingship. But people of that persuasion are not looking deeply enough into the point of human existence, which is totally spiritual, not physical. All they can see is the visible: the body, that is. Now the body, in being available to sight and touch, is weak, fragile and mortal. All its goods are things of desire and admiration—wealth, position and power, for instance—because they bring a physical gratification, and for that reason are as perishable as the body itself. Since the soul, in which alone man has his being, is not susceptible to sight, so neither can its goods be seen, and they have their being in virtue alone; for that reason the soul is bound to be as stable, consistent and lasting a thing as virtue itself is, and the good of the spirit has its being in virtue.

Divine Institutes, Book 5, 21.7-11

Abba Joseph of Panephysis

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’

Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’