Return to Eden

36. He also said, ‘Obedience with abstinence gives men power over wild beasts.’

~ St. Anthony the Great

from The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

Continue reading “Return to Eden”

Canticle of brother sun

Most-high, all-powerful, good Lord,
yours are the praises, glory, honor and every blessing,
to you alone are they to be referred,
and no human is worthy to name you.

Be praised, Lord my God, because of all your creatures,
and especially on account of honorable brother Sun,
who makes the day and illumines us by night;
he is handsome and radiant and of great splendor,
and he bears your seal, Lord.

My Lord be praised on account of sister Moon and the stars,
whom he created clear and beautiful in the sky.

My Lord be praised because of brother Wind,
air, cloud, serenity and on account of all the seasons,
through which he serves food for all creatures.

My Lord be praised on account of sister Water,
who is very useful, humble, precious and pure.

My Lord be praised because of brother Fire,
he shines through any night;
he is roseate, golden, invincible and ardent.

My Lord be praised on account of our mother Earth,
who sustains and nourishes us
and produces various fruits
and flowers and herbs of many colors.

Be praised, my Lord, because of those, who for your love have forgiven offenses,
and have patiently sustained tribulation and infirmity.
They are happy, who endure in peace,
for they will receive a crown from you, O most high.

Be praised, my Lord, on account of our sister Death,
whom no one living can evade.

Woe to them, who die in mortal sin!
They are happy, who in the hour of their death find themselves
conformed to your most holy will,
for the second death will not harm them.

Praise and bless my Lord, gratify
and serve Him, all creatures, with great humility!

::In the year of our Lord 1223::

Attributed to Francis of Assisi.

Latin text from BIBLIOTHECA AUGUSTANA.

English Translation by Scott D. Hendricks, May 26th, 2007.

My Favorite Verses from Sirach

In college I took a course entitled “Inter-Testamental Literature” at Indiana Wesleyan University, where I happily read the Wisdom of Jesus Ben-Sirach. The Book of Sirach reads much like Proverbs, except that it has a heavier Greek Wisdom Tradition influence, and so I find it to be more intriguing, introspective, as well as practical. On September 29, 2007* I took the time to type out all of my favorite verses from that book of Scripture (if I recall it was a course assignment) and here I am reposting that record. All verses are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, per its Gratis Use Policy. If you find them interesting I would sincerely encourage you to pick up the book and delve in yourself.

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6:6 Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisors be one in a thousand.

6:36 If you see an intelligent person, rise up early to visit him; let your foot wear out his doorstep.

7:14 Do not babble in the assembly of the elders, and do not repeat yourself when you pray.

7:15 Do not hate hard labor or farm work, which was created by the Most High.

7:17 (Hebrew) Humble yourself to the utmost, for the expectation of mortals is worms.
7:17 (Greek) Humble yourself to the utmost, for the punishment of the ungodly is fire and worms.

8:7 Do not rejoice over anyone’s death; remember that we must all die.

9:8 Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman, and do not gaze at beauty belonging to another; many have been seduced by a woman’s beauty, and by it passion is kindled like a fire.

9:10 Do not abandon old friends, for new ones cannot equal them. A new friend is like new wine; when it has aged, you can drink it with pleasure.

10:4 The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time.

10:9 How can dust and ashes be proud? Even in life the human body decays.

10:12 The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker.

10:18 Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

11:7 Do not find fault before you investigate; examine first, and then criticize.

11:8 Do not answer before you listen, and do not interrupt when another is speaking.

11:9 Do not argue about a matter that does not concern you, and do not sit with sinners when they judge a case.

11:10 My child, do not busy yourself with many matters; if you multiply activities, you will not be held blameless.

11:14 Good things and bad, life and death, poverty and wealth, come from the Lord.

11:20 Stand by your agreement and attend to it, and grow old in your work.

11:29 Do not invite everyone into your home, for many are the tricks of the crafty.

11:34 Receive strangers into your home and they will stir up trouble for you, and will make you a stranger to your own family.

13:1 Whoever touches pitch gets dirty, and whoever associates with a proud person becomes like him.

15:17 Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.

19:24 Better are the God-fearing who lack understanding than the highly intelligent who transgress the law.

19:29 A person is known by his appearance, and a sensible person is known when first met, face to face.

19:30 A person’s attire and hearty laughter, and the way he walks, show what he is.

20:8 Whoever talks too much is detested, and whoever pretends to authority is hated.

20:13 The wise make themselves beloved by only a few words, but the courtesies of fools are wasted.

20:18 A slip on the pavement is better than a slip of the tongue.

20:30-31 Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure, of what value is either? Better are those who hide their folly than those who hide their wisdom.

21:26 The mind of fools is in their mouth, but the mouth of the wise is in their mind.

22:14-15 What is heavier than lead? And what is its name except “Fool”? Sand, salt, and a piece of iron are easier to bear than a stupid person.

27:2 As a stake is driven firmly into a fissure between two stones, so sin is wedged in between selling and buying.

27:11 The conversation of the godly is always wise, but the fool changes like the moon.

28:2 Forgive your neighbor the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.

28:7 Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults.

28:22 [The tongue] has no power over the godly; they will not be burned in its flame.

28:24-25 As you fence in your property with thorns, as you lock up your silver and gold, so make balances and scales for your words, so make a door and a bolt for your mouth.

29:8-10 Nevertheless, be patient with someone in humble circumstances, and do not keep him waiting for your alms. Help the poor for the commandment’s sake, and in their need do not send them away empty-handed. Lose your silver for the sake of a brother or friend, and do not let it rust under a stone and be lost.

30:9-10 Pamper a child, and he will terrorize you; play with him, and he will grieve you. Do not laugh with him, or you will have sorrow with him, and in the end you will gnash your teeth.
30:11-13 Give him no freedom in his youth, and do not ignore his errors. Bow down his neck in his youth, and beat his sides while he is young, or else he will become stubborn and disobey you, and you will have sorrow of soul from him. Discipline your son and make his yoke heavy, so that you may not be offended by his shamelessness.

[I suppose that vv.11-13 make use of an analogy to oxen: “errors=wanderings”, “bow down his neck”, “beat his sides . . . or he will become stubborn”, “make his yoke heavy”.]

30:14-17 Better off poor, healthy, and fit than rich and afflicted in body. Health and fitness are better than gold, and a robust body than countless riches. There is no wealth better than health of body, and no gladness above joy of heart. Death is better than a life of misery, and eternal sleep than chronic sickness.

30:21-24 Do not give yourself over to sorrow, and do not distress yourself deliberately. A joyful heart is life itself, and rejoicing lengthens one’s life span. Indulge yourself and take comfort, and remove sorrow far from you, for sorrow has destroyed many, and no advantage ever comes from it. Jealousy and anger shorten life, and anxiety brings on premature old age.

31:5 One who loves gold will not be justified; one who pursues money will be led astray by it.

31:19-30 How ample a little is for a well-disciplined person! He does not breathe heavily when in bed. Healthy sleep depends on moderate eating; he rises early, and feels fit. The distress of sleeplessness and of nausea and colic are with the glutton. If you are overstuffed with food, get up to vomit, and you will have relief. Listen to me, my child, and do not disregard me, and in the end you will appreciate my words. In everything you do be moderate, and no sickness will overtake you. People bless the one who is liberal with food, and their testimony to his generosity is trustworthy. The city complains of the one who is stingy with food, and their testimony to his stinginess is accurate.

Do not try to prove your strength by wine-drinking, for wine has destroyed many. As the furnace tests the work of the smith, so wine tests the hearts when the insolent quarrel. Wine is very life to human beings if taken in moderation. What is life to one who is without wine? It has been created to make people happy. Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul. Wine drunk to excess leads to bitterness of spirit, to quarrels and stumbling. Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his own hurt, reducing his strength and adding wounds.

32:7 [At dinner . . .] Speak, you who are young, if you are obliged to, but no more than twice, and only if asked. Be brief; say much in few words; be as one who knows and can still hold his tongue. Among the great do not act as their equal; and when another is speaking, do not babble.

32:10 Lightning travels ahead of the thunder, and approval goes before one who is modest.

32:11 Leave in good time and do not be the last; go home quickly and do not linger.

32:18 A sensible person will not overlook a thoughtful suggestion; an insolent and proud person will not be deterred by fear.

33:5 The heart of a fool is like a cart wheel, and his thoughts like a turning axle.

33:10-13 All human beings come from the ground, and humankind was created out of the dust. In the fullness of his knowledge the Lord distinguished them and appointed their different ways. Some he blessed and exalted, and some he made holy and brought near to himself; but some he cursed and brought low, and turned them out of their place. Like clay in the hand of the potter, to be molded as he pleases, so all are in the hand of their Maker, to be given whatever he decides.

36:28 If kindness and humility mark her speech, her husband is more fortunate than other men.

37:13-15 And heed the counsel of your own heart, for no one is more faithful to you than it is. For our own mind sometimes keeps us better informed than seven sentinels sitting high on a watchtower. But above all pray to the Most High that he may direct your way in truth.

37:27-28 My child, test yourself while you live; see what is bad for you and do not give in to it. For not everything is good for everyone, and no one enjoys everything.

37:29 Do not be greedy for every delicacy, and do not eat without restraint . . .

38:15 He who sins against his Maker, will be defiant toward the physician.

38:24 The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity for leisure; only the one who has little business can become wise. [Nota bene: Hence Augustine’s discussion of the importance of the opportunity for holy leisure.]

39:17 No one can say, ‘What is this?’ or ‘Why is that?’ – for at the appointed time all such questions will be answered.

39:33-34 All the works of the Lord are good, and he will supply every need in its time. No one can say, “This is not as good as that,” for everything proves good in its appointed time.

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*This is a repost from my old blog.

On Love & Defining Sin

Love never ends, says the Apostle; so we can be sure that it is eternal. It is the energizing force of heaven; it is God himself. Now God has no beginning, and so neither does love, since God is love. But inasmuch as God has no beginning and no end, even so love is the source, middle, and eternal goal of all existence.

Love is not only an all-pervasive energy, it is also ordered by Christ as the greatest commandment, and St. Paul says love is the fulfillment – or accomplishment – of the law. It is the whole point of the law. So we see that love not only pervades time and eternity; it is also our moral purpose.

Of course love has a subject (a lover) and an object (a beloved). True love is both a generous attitude and a gift that is given to someone. When we love things more than people, or creation more than God, we may say our love is false or misguided. So true love properly values God above all, and humans more than material goods. God is the ultimate object of our love, and likewise other humans and their well-being are the proper objects of love.

It is entirely possible, and indeed commonplace for us humans to cherish, dwell on and love lesser things before the greater things. Sin and suffering consist in misuse, or in the disordering of creation. The proper order of God’s creation has been upset through the fall. God is above man, man above creation. So God is loved and worshiped above all, then man is loved, then creation is loved and cared for by God through man. When this order is upset by angels or humans, this is when you have sin or misguided, blameworthy passion.

‘Passion’ comes from the Greek word that means suffering or illness, and can refer to an illness of soul or body. I am particularly fond of how St. Maximus the Confessor uses this word. He says, “A blameworthy passion is a movement of the soul contrary to nature” – in other words, outside of the purpose for which the soul was created. Likewise, he says “The blameworthy passion of love engrosses the mind in material things. The praiseworthy passion of love binds it even to divine things.” Maximus articulates the proper direction of our capacity to love, not unlike St. Augustine’s concept of “rightly ordered love.” Augustine basically asserts that sin is not the opposite of virtue, but the unfortunate disorganizing of our loves into misplaced priorities.

This can be a helpful corrective to a view of sin which locates the attention upon violation of commandments. Indeed, it is true that God gave us commandments for our benefit, and the church fathers would have us see the commandments as a real gift from God completely and utterly conducive and correlative to our original nature. In other words, when God commanded that the first man and woman not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it was completely in accord or agreement with their natural dependence upon God and his Word to have faith in his commandment. St. Theophan the Recluse says obedience to the commandments of God places the natural faculties of humans in complete accordance with the original purpose and design with which we were created by God. It was when the crafty serpent challenged the Word of God in the mind of the humans, “Did God really say . . . ?” that they cast doubt upon their memory of God’s commandment. St. Thalassios the Libyan locates the beginning of vice within forgetfulness and ignorance, and this is what we see in the beginning of Genesis, from when the humans doubt the command of God, then disobey, and then are cast out of the garden of Eden to work the soil. After that, with their descendants upon the earth we are told that forgetfulness of God after the first few generations prevails along with lawlessness.

So sin is not only disordered love, a living outside of God’s commandments for which we were created, but it is also forgetfulness of God. I would also like to point out another primary meaning of the word sin – in Greek hamartia – to “miss the mark”. St. Nikodimos of Athos says, “Sin means failure, because it causes the one who commits it to fail to achieve the purpose for which he was created by God.” And we know from St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians that we are to “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” In Orthodoxy sin is not so much seen as a violation of a rule, or a transgression, though it is certainly that, but as failure to become what we were created to become in the first place, which divine image Christ has come to restore in us.

So what sort of hope ought this engender within us? Let me proffer a few suggestions:

  1. If sin is misdirected love, or disordered love, loving things at the wrong time, essentially idolatry, it means that we merely need to re-organize our priorities, perhaps. We ought to turn to Christ and ask him to help us redeem the time, and focus on loving God and our neighbor, more than stuff.
  2. As regards commandments, we ought to remember that a commandment is a word of God, and Jesus is the original, ultimate and final Word of God. Christ revealed the true way of fulfilling the law. Perhaps we ought to look again at the words of Christ, and endeavor to fulfill his commands, by his mercy, trusting in his Grace, with the understanding that to do the commandments is to inhabit the Word of God, and to participate in it.
  3. As we remember God and Christ’s commandments, we will hopefully move from forgetfulness of God to the remembrance of God. The Jesus Prayer can also help, to remember the Name of Jesus. As we do this, we hope with God’s help and grace through the sacraments through the church to slowly become what we were created to be – human, lowly, dignified creatures in communion with the loving Creator Trinity who made us.