March 5, 2014

Saint Mark the Ascetic as a Model for our Lives

St. Mark the Ascetic (Feast Day - March 5)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Mark the Ascetic lived in the fifth century and was a disciple of Saint John Chrysostom, according to Nikephoros Kallistos. He was also a contemporary of Saints Nilus the Ascetic and Isidore of Pelusium. As indicated by his epithet "Ascetic", given to him by the Church, he was a great ascetic. Because he was diligent and studious, he acquired great spiritual wealth, which he distributes to all those who study his words, "educating all and concisely benefitting".

Nikephoros Kallistos cites thirty discourses of the Saint, which, unfortunately, have not survived. Eight other discourses, however, have survived. The three most important ones are "On the Spiritual Law", "On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works" and "Epistle to Nicholas the Monk", which are included in the first volume of the Philokalia of the Sacred Neptics. The writings of the venerable Mark the Ascetic are also mentioned by Peter of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, Gregory of Sinai and many others, who urge us to read them.

Our Church honors the memory of the venerable Mark the Ascetic, and simultaneously sets forth and proclaims his ascetic struggles and his miracles, on March 5th.

We will now cite a few passages from the discourses of the Saint, which are always relevant, instructive and beneficial.

- "Just as it is impossible for water and fire to co-exist, so exactly opposite to each other are justification and humility."

In other words, whoever wishes to learn true humility must stop justifying themselves. Even if one thinks they are right, if they take upon themselves all the responsibility without uttering the slightest excuse, they will benefit in many ways, since in this way humility is practiced, and God will bless them and justify them at the proper time.

- "I have seen unlearned men who were truly humble, and they became wiser than the wise."

Saint Mark says that he met simple people who were truly humble, and stresses that they became wiser than the wise. And this is natural because God gives His Grace to the humble, filling them with true wisdom and through this know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, as well as the depths of the human heart. The words of Christ are known, which He addressed to His Father and His Disciples, who became wise when the Holy Spirit descended upon them, though they were simple men and uneducated: "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children" (Matt. 11:25).

- "Whatever we do without prayer and without good hope turns out afterwards to be harmful and imperfect."

There are people who have the good habit to pray before starting any work they want to accomplish, because they truly love God and place their hope in Him. In this way, each work is blessed by God and is beneficial and perfect. Otherwise, it proves to be harmful and imperfect.

- "When a man wants to do evil, and he first prays with the intellect out of habit, then he is prevented by economy, and afterwards offers many thanks."

When a person acquires the good habit of prayer before every work he plans to undertake, then even if he wants to do something evil, if he first prays according to his habit, then according to divine economy he will be prevented by God from doing it. When he realizes what God guarded him from, then he thanks and glorifies Him with all of his heart.

When a man is open to God, through prayer, then he entitles God to intervene and protect him. Otherwise God does not intervene, because He respects the freedom of man and never breaches it.

Prayer before every work, great or small, is a source of blessing, but also contributes greatly to avoid a lot of unpleasant events, to correct serious errors, and towards the victory and domination over the passions, thus glorifying the name of the Triune God.

- "It is better to pray with good will for our neighbor, rather than to rebuke him for every sin."

We have accustomed ourselves, unfortunately, to condemn others with great ease and rebuke them for their every sin. In this way, however, neither those who sin are benefitted, nor ourselves, since we are cold with others and lose the peace of our souls. That which the venerable Mark indicates for us to do for others when they sin is that we pray a lot for them. In this way we are both benefitted.

- "It is good to help enquirers with words; but it is better to co-operate with them through prayer and the practice of virtue. For he who through these offers himself to God, helps his neighbor through helping himself."

It is good to teach someone the truths of the faith if they seek to be taught and bring benefit through words, of course if one is able to do so. It is better, however, to help them with your prayer and virtue. They who offer, with their prayer and virtue, themselves to God, will help others, having first benefitted themselves.

Words beneficial when accompanied by prayer and example. For this reason those who serve the people of God, before each homily and admonition, it is desirable first that they illuminate the audience with their bright example, and to "bathe" them with their prayers. Then their words will impact the hearts and be regenerative and beneficial.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΣ ΜΑΡΚΟΣ Ο ΑΣΚΗΤΗΣ", March 2008. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.