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daily devotions from the early church
By James Stuart Bell, Patrick J. Kelly
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 James Stuart Bell
All rights reserved.
LOVE UNITES US
Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. (1 Peter 3:8)
If Christ is with me, what should I fear? The waves and the sea and the anger of powerful people might be rising against me, but they are no scarier than a spider's web. Had you not detained me here, I would have left today to face those things at home. For I always say, "Lord, your will be done," not what this or that person wants me to do, but what God wants me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never breaks. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.
Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For my body may die, but my soul will live on and be mindful of my people.
You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my mothers, my brothers, my sisters, my sons, my daughters, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. What the rays of the sun give me does not compare to what I get from your love. The sun's light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.
THE TRANSFIGURATION IS OUR VICTORY
There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. (Matthew 17:2)
The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples and to prevent the humiliation of his passion from disrupting the faith of those who witnessed it—even though it was a hidden glory.
A second reason is to allow the whole body of Christ to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of the church look forward to a share in that glory that first blazed out in Christ their head.
The Lord himself had spoken of this when he foretold the splendor of his coming: "Then the just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:43). Saint Paul the Apostle bore witness to this same truth when he said, "I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared to the future glory that is to be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). In another place he says, "You are dead, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory" (Col. 3:3–4).
No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. Christ has taken on himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.
Leo the Great
JOY IN YOUR BLESSINGS
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24–25)
Lord, shed the brilliant light of your wisdom upon our darkened souls, so that we may be enlightened and serve you with renewed purity. Sunrise marks the hour for men and women to begin their toil, but prepare a dwelling in our souls for the day that will never end. Help us to know the resurrection life and let nothing distract us from the delights you offer.
Teach us to find our joy in your blessings! Lord, we have your memorial inside of us, received at your spiritual table; let us have its full reality, when all things will be made new.
You give us a hint of the goodness you have prepared for us when we observe your Spirit working inside of us to make our souls beautiful.
Savior, your crucifixion marked the end of your mortal life; teach us to crucify ourselves and make way for our life in the Spirit. Use your resurrection to make our spirits great, and show us our new selves in the mirror of the sacraments.
Lord, bless our souls with the spiritual vision of you, and our bodies with your warmth and sweetness. The mortality lurking in our bodies spreads corruption through us; cleanse this corruption with the healing waters of your love. Help us come to our true city and see it now in a vision, like Moses on the mountaintop.
Ephrem the Syrian
LET US NOT OFFEND GOD
The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord that sheds light on one's inmost being. (Proverbs 20:27)
We must remember how near God is and that no thought of ours nor any conversation we hold is hidden from him. It is therefore right not to turn our backs and flee from God's will. We should prefer to offend stupid and foolish people, puffed up and taking pride in their boastful speech, than offend God.
Let us revere the Lord Jesus, whose blood was shed for us. Let us respect those in authority and honor the elders. Let us train the young in the fear of God. Let us lead our wives toward all that is good. Let them show that they are lovers of chastity by their conduct; let them reveal a pure and sincere disposition by their gentleness; let them manifest the control they have over their tongues by their silence; let them love all who have a holy fear of God equally, without prejudice.
Your children must also become disciples of Christ. They must learn how effective humility is before God, what chaste love can accomplish with God, and how good and noble is the fear of God, for it brings salvation to all who live holy lives with a pure heart. The Spirit in us is the searcher of our thoughts and the counselor of our hearts.
The Father is merciful in all he does and full of generosity; he is loving to those who fear him. He gives his graces with gentleness to those who approach him with undivided hearts. We should remove all our duplicity and distrustfulness in response to his excellent and honoring gifts.
Clement of Rome
PRAY AS HE TAUGHT US
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20–21)
Christ has already foretold that the hour was coming when "true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). And he has fulfilled this promise, in that we have received the Spirit, and the truth given to us by his own holiness, so that we may worship in spirit and truth using the prayer he has taught us.
What prayer could be more in the spirit than the one given to us by Christ, who sent the Holy Spirit upon us? What prayer could be more in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of Christ, who is truth himself? To pray contrary to the way the Son has taught us is ignorant and sinful. He spoke of this command when he said, "You reject the command of God, to set up your own tradition" (Mark 7:9).
So let us pray as God our master has taught us. When we approach the Father with the words his Son has given us, and let him hear the prayer of Christ repeated with our own voices, we recite a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of his Son. Let the Son, who lives in our hearts, be spoken from our lips. He is our advocate before the Father; when we ask for forgiveness for our sins, why not use the words given to us by our advocate? He tells us: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give you" (John 16:23). What could be a more effective prayer than the words of Christ's own prayer?
Cyprian of Carthage
DO NOT DELAY YOUR MERCY
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Not even sleep should interrupt you in your duty of mercy. Do not say, "Come back and I will give you something tomorrow" (Prov. 3:28). There should be no delay between your intention and your good deed. Generosity is the one thing that cannot be delayed.
"Share your bread with the hungry, and bring the needy and the homeless into your house" (Isa. 58:7) with a joyful and eager heart. "He who does acts of mercy should do so with cheerfulness" (Rom. 12:8). The grace of a good deed is doubled when it is done with promptness and speed. Giving spitefully or against one's will is distasteful and far from praiseworthy. When we perform an act of kindness we should rejoice and not be sad about it.
If you think that I am right, then let us visit Christ whenever we can; let us care for him, feed him, clothe him, welcome him, and honor him; not only at a meal, as some have done; or by anointing him, as Mary did; or only by lending him a tomb, like Joseph of Arimathea; or by arranging for his burial, like Nicodemus, who loved Christ halfheartedly; or by giving him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, like the Magi did before all these others. The Lord of all asks for mercy, not sacrifice (Matt. 9:13), and mercy is greater than myriads of fattened lambs. So let us show him mercy in the persons of the poor and those who today are lying on the ground, so that when we leave this world they might receive us into everlasting dwelling places, into Christ our Lord himself, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Gregory of Nazianzus
FORGIVENESS AND HOLINESS
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)
Dear friends, at every moment "the earth is full of the mercy of God" (Ps. 119:64), and nature itself is a lesson for all the faithful in the worship of God. The heavens and the sea and all that is in them bear witness to the goodness and omnipotence of their Creator, and the marvelous beauty of the elements' obedience to him warrants an expression of gratitude from the intelligent creation.
But with the return of that season marked out in a special way by the mystery of our redemption, and of the days that lead up to the Easter feast, we are summoned more urgently to prepare ourselves by a purification of spirit.
The special note of the Easter feast is this: the whole church rejoices in the forgiveness of sins. It rejoices in the forgiveness not only of those who believe for the first time and are baptized, but also of those who are already numbered among God's adopted children.
Initially, men and women are made new by the rebirth of baptism. Yet we still require a daily renewal to repair the shortcomings of our mortal nature, and despite whatever progress has been made everyone must continue to grow in holiness. All must therefore strive to ensure that on the day of redemption none may be found in the sins of their former lives.
Leo the Great
Excerpted from Awakening Faith by James Stuart Bell, Patrick J. Kelly. Copyright © 2013 James Stuart Bell. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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