My favorite author is Fyodor Dostoevsky (aside from Saint Athanasius and the authors of the Bible). I highly recommend that you read, at minimum, two of his novels: The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment (note: the two links are FREE Kindle downloads, and Kindle apps are available for free on computers and phones! You have no excuses!) In these two books you find amazing theological themes of sin, grace, justice, mercy, salvation, etc. Reading Dostoevsky is truly a spiritual exercise for me and I wish I could devote more of my time to reading his works. In the Brothers K, Father Zossima is the character who gives many words of Orthodox wisdom — especially to Alyosha, one of the Brothers who is told to live the life of a monk in the world by taking a wife. I wish Dostoevsky had survived long enough to finish the sequel to this book so that he could explain the latter part of Alyosha’s life! However, Fyodor’s time came to an end on February 9th, 1881. I wish to share an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov (p.293). In this quote, Father Zossima teaches us on the necessity of prayer, I hope that it brings you hope and encourages you to pray:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 4, 1906. Who was Deitrich Bonhoeffer? Was he a spy? a martyr? a theologian? a musician? a genius? a pastor? This list could keep going, but would never end. Not even Bonhoeffer could answer the question of who he was. This is a poem which he wrote, I pray that it helps you understand Bonhoeffer, and yourself, to a fuller extent.
“Who am I?”
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
like a Squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
freely and friendly and clearly,
as though it were mine to command.
These are the prayerful words of Isaac the Syrian, recognized as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church and celebrated on January 28th. The first selection is a prayer and the second is more of a poem.
O my Hope, pour into my heart the inebriation that consists in the hope of you. O Jesus Christ, the resurrection and light of all worlds, place upon my soul’s head the crown of knowledge of you; open before me all of a sudden the door of mercies, cause the rays of your grace to shine out in my heart.
January 27th is one of the feast days for John Chrysostom (347-407), so I thought we could honor this day by reading part of a wonderful sermon he wrote: No One Can Harass the Man Who Does Not Harm Himself. (As a side note: every sermon written by Chrysostom is wonderful! He was called Golden Mouthed after all!)
Thus in no case will any one be able to injure a man who does not choose to injure himself: but if a man is not willing to be temperate, and to aid himself from his own resources no one will ever be able to profit him. Therefore also that wonderful history of the Holy Scriptures, as in some lofty, large, and broad picture, has portrayed the lives of the men of old time, extending the narrative from Adam to the coming of Christ: and it exhibits to you both those who are upset, and those who are crowned with victory in the contest, in order that it may instruct you by means of all examples that no one will be able to injure one who is not injured by himself, even if all the world were to kindle a fierce war against him. For it is not stress of circumstances, nor variation of seasons, nor insults of men in power, nor intrigues besetting you like snow storms, nor a crowd of calamities, nor a promiscuous collection of all the ills to which mankind is subject, which can disturb even slightly the man who is brave, and temperate, and watchful; just as on the contrary the indolent and supine man who is his own betrayer cannot be made better, even with the aid of innumerable ministrations.
Gregory of Nazianzus hardly needs an introduction. He is a Saint, Church Father and the Church Doctor of the Theologians. He, along with Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, helped formulate many Church doctrines, especially concerning the Trinity. He was the first person to coin the term perichoresis, which is essentially a description of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing together in love throughout eternity. Today (Jan 25) he is honored by the Church, and I have selected an excerpt from Oration 29.20, It is truly on of my favorite descriptions of Jesus:
As man he was baptized, but he absolved sins as God; he needed no purifying rites himself – his purpose was to hollow water. As man he was put to the test, but as God he came through victorious – yes, bids us be of good cheer, because he has conquered the world. He hungered – yet he fed thousands. He is indeed “living, heavenly bread.” He thirsted – yet he exclaimed: “Whoever thirst, let him come to me and drink.” Indeed he promised that believers would become fountains. He was tired – yet he is the “rest” of the weary and the burdened. He was overcome by heavy sleep – yet he goes lightly over the sea, rebukes winds, and relieves the drowning Peter. He pays tax – yet he uses a fish to do it; indeed he is emperor over those who demand the tax. He is called a “Samaritan, demonically possessed” – but he rescues the man who came down from Jerusalem and fell among thieves. Yes, he is recognized by demons, drives out demons, drowns deep a legion of spirits, and sees the prince of demons falling like lightning. He is stoned, yet not hit; he prays, yet he hears prayer. He weeps, yet he puts an end to weeping. He asks where Lazarus is laid – he was man; yet he raises Lazarus – he was God. He is sold, and cheap was the price – thirty pieces of silver; yet he buys back the world at the mighty cost of his own blood. A sheep, he is led to slaughter – yet he shepherds Israel and now the whole world as well. A lamb, he is dumb – yet he is “Word,” proclaimed by “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” He is weakened, wounded – yet he cures every disease and every weakness. He is brought up to the tree and nailed to it – yet by the tree of life he restores us. Yes, he saves even a thief crucified with him; he wraps all the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink, gall to eat – and who is he? Why, one who turned water into wine, who took away the taste of bitterness, who is all sweetness and desire. He surrenders his life, yet he has power to take it again. Yes, the veil is rent, for things of heaven are being revealed, rocks split, and dead men have an earlier awakening. He dies, but he vivifies and by death destroys death. He is buried, yet he rises again. He goes down to Hades, yet he leads souls up, ascends to Heaven, and will come to judge quick and dead, and to probe discussions like these. If the first set of expressions starts you going astray, the second set takes your error away.