Friday, March 5, 2010

Brief life and selected quotes from St. Mark the Ascetic

St. Mark the Ascetic - Commemorated on March 5th (

Brief life of the Saint
"Saint Mark the Ascetic lived in the fifth century and according to Nicephorus Callistus was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom's. Besides his blameless life of asceticism, Saint Mark was distinguished for his writings, some of which are preserved in Volume One of the Philokalia. His writings were held in such great esteem that in old times there was a saying, "Sell all that thou hast, and buy Mark."

Excerpt from his “Epistle to Monk Nicholas”
“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.”

On God’s care for people, faith in God, prayer
“Every good comes providentially from God. However, it quietly leaves those who are ungrateful, unfeeling and idle.”

“Every person baptized into the Orthodox faith mysteriously receives total grace. His feelings are confirmed in her (feeling her effects) through the measure of his fulfillment of the commandments.”

“He who voluntarily does not accept labors as good works (in their defense) will be punished with involuntary far more burdensome ones.”

“A person praying physically and not yet having spiritual intellect, can be likened to the blind individual who cried out (to Christ): "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

On striving toward righteousness, essentiality of self-denial, patience and fortitude
“He who accepts denigration and dishonor for the sake of truth, walks in the path of the Apostles, having taken up the cross and just as though being bound with shackles. However, he who does not do this but undertakes to follow his heart is seduced by his mind and falls into temptation and the devil’s snares.”

“If Christ died for us and we "should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:15), — then clearly, we are obliged to serve Him till our death. How can we regard sonship (to God) as a due reward?”
“During the departure of the soul, a sensual heart (seeking everything pleasurable) becomes its dungeon and shackles, while an industrious heart (inconveniencing itself for God’s sake), is an open door into another life.”
On sinful habits, sorrows, temptations, humility
“The devil presents minor sins as insignificant in our eyes, because otherwise he would not be able lead us into major ones.”

“He, who overindulged in requisite physical pleasures, will pay for this excess a hundred times over in a variety of torments.”

“Having fulfilled a commandment, expect temptations; because love toward Christ is tested by difficulties.”

“Do not seek perfection (of the Law) in human virtues, because there is no perfection in them: its perfection is secreted in Christ’s cross.”

“The lips of a humble individual speak the truth, while those that contradict them are like the servant that struck Christ on the cheek.”

“Do not attempt to solve dark and entangled deeds through the means of an argument, but through prayer and unshakeable hope.”

“Know beforehand that when you notice that your idea promises public acclaim, it undoubtedly is preparing you for humiliation.”

“If you want your sins to be absolved by Christ, then don’t speak out before people about any virtue that you may have, because God will treat our sins the same way we treat our virtues.”
On spiritual peace and judiciousness
“Peace (spiritual) is the liberation from passions, which is impossible to discover without the counteraction of the Holy Spirit.”

“He who is meek in God is the wisest of the wise, and he who has a humble heart is the strongest of the strong inasmuch as they carry Christ’s yoke sensibly.”

On love for your neighbor
“It is better to say a well-intentioned prayer for your neighbor than to accuse him in all types of sin.”

“Do not aspire to hear about the deceitfulness of strangers, because the features of those deceptions will also be engraved in us.”

“The listener of evil news sometimes becomes the bearer of them.”

On the gift of teaching
“What is said in general to the many, is usually beneficial to all: with that, direction will be given by every individual conscience.”

“If from the first word a person will not listen to you, do not compel him to do so with an argument; it is better to draw to yourself that benefit, which the other rejected — because your goodness is more beneficial to you than his reformation.”

“A person speaking rightly must himself thank God for being given from Him that about which he speaks, because truth is not the work of the speaker but that of an active God.”
Other miscellaneous quotes
“A humble and spiritually active man, when he reads the Holy Scriptures, will refer everything to himself and not to another.”

“Think and you will see that the mystery of devotion in the chosen ones of God was realized through repentance.”

“We who have been granted the bath of eternal life do good works not for the sake of reward, but to preserve the purity which was given us.”

“Every affliction tests our will, showing whether it is inclined to good or evil. This is why an unforseen affliction is called a test, because it enables a man to test his hidden desires.”

“Think nothing and do nothing without a purpose directed to God…”

“He who does something good and expects a reward is serving not God but his own will.”

“As virtues are usually born from painfull afflictions and ignominy - so are sins from vanity and indulgences.”

“...Every tribulation reveals the state of our will.”

St. Mark the Ascetic (Icons courtesy of used with permission)

Troparion of St Mark the Ascetic - Tone 3
Thy soul was divinely illumined, O Mark; thou didst shine as a bright light in the world and put to flight its darkness. Thou didst persuade all to seek their lost treasure even the grace of the Holy Spirit. Entreat Him to grant us His great mercy.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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