Today, the Carthusians honour all those of their Order who are now heavenly intercessors, residents of Paradise – the Saints and the Blessed. At Matins, the monks had proclaimed to them a very familiar teaching of our Lord from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. This was followed by an excerpt from what is considered a spiritual masterpiece in Syrian spirituality titled: ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by the seventh-century writer and martyr, Sahdona. Here are both the Gospel from Saint Matthew and the excerpt from Sahdona’s masterpiece.
From the Gospel of Matthew, 6:5-6, 16-21
Since the disciples had gathered around Jesus on the mountain, He told them: ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in synagogues and at the street corners to be seen by men. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward. But when you shall pray, enter into your chamber, and having shut the door, pray to your Father in secret, and your Father Who sees in secret will repay you. And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father Who is in secret: and your Father Who sees in secret, will repay you. Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through, and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through, nor steal. For where your treasure is, there is your heart also’.
From ‘Le Livre de la Perfection’ by Sahdona
To all those who care about their salvation, Christ our hope and our God, has taught us in the Gospel to distance ourselves from the world, waiting for God alone, devoting ourselves to prayer and spiritual contemplation. By His words and His example He has shown that no place is more suitable for both prayer and being fixed on God than a place of solitude, away from traffic and favorable to recollection.
There, in fact, the body quiets itself, because the excitements of the external senses are extinguished while at the same time the soul is no longer agitated by internal impulses. As the worldly tumult subsides, it brightens the spirit; the mind becomes liberated from dark earthly concerns: in short, man emerges purified and freed from all physical and spiritual pollution. The discerning eye of his inner light shines and it is good to know himself, to improve and guide his behavior on the clear path of justice. Under these conditions, the man is rushed into the spiritual heights, he stands before the Lord and perceives something glorious, and feels extremely blessed by the Lord Who created him.
He dwells in God alone due to holy purity of life, and God constantly abides in him, waiting to envelop him with the great remembrance of His own manifestation, to burst from the body and impulses man’s thoughts, until the last day, entering into the clouds of heaven, where his covered face will be uncovered and radiant.
Blessed devotion! Your wonders have manifested themselves since the beginning with Adam, our ancestor, and have grown through all generations and achieved miracles for us. These marvelous effects shine in those wonderful beings who are men of truth, who have been able to contemplate its significance. They have taken flight far away from the world and its distractions in order to quiet themselves, body and soul, withdrawing to the desert; by these means they strive for total peace which is rendered to them, the incredible recollection, infused by the Lord supernaturally.
Our Lord, mighty, victorious and holy, source of all holiness, courage and victory, and Who has not disregarded the toil of fasting! Who among us carnal beings can ignore or dismiss You, weak and sinful as we are, continually stuck in the mud of passions?
No one would dare to say that the adverse passions of the flesh have ever been able to touch the Lord's Body, the Receptacle of perfection, the magnificent Temple of the Divine. Yet, although He did not have the slightest need, the Lord Jesus did not renounce the laborious practice of fasting; in order to better teach the great virtue and holiness that He confers on those who observe it.
Just as He was baptized to teach us in our turn to receive baptism and follow His example, thus He fasted to teach us to fast in His likeness. Every baptized person should feel compelled to fight against evil, as did our Lord, and so to be attached to the weapons of fasting even though we have received the fullness of the Spirit.
We fast according to the will of God, sincerely and wholeheartedly, without altering our fasting obligations to the criteria of Satan. This would occur if fasting hypocritically, being seen by others, in order to please men and receive the reward of vain praise from the people; we would thus be excluded from the divine reward, just as our Lord warned about the Pharisees, blinded, discouraging imitation: When you fast -- He said -- do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Verily I say unto you, they have received their reward.
Behold, rendered wholly perfect by fasting from all evil, hungry and thirsty for the spirit of felicity that comes from God, we will be able to escape the threat of misery and famine in the last days reserved for those who shall be satisfied on earth. We will merit instead the blessing of contentment that Christ Jesus has promised to the hungry in these terms: Blessed are those who hunger, they shall be satisfied.