St.Mark the Ascetic: To Those Who Think to Be Justified by Deeds


Today we will study some of the many writings of St. Mark the Ascetic, one of the most famous Egyptian Desert Fathers.  Little is known of the circumstances of his life, but we do know that Palladius knew him personally, that he lived to be over a hundred years old, and that he died at the beginning of the fifth century.  St. Mark studied the Scriptures from his youth so much that he eventually learned both the Old and New Testaments by heart.  He reached a very high degree of spiritual perfection in his life, teaching and writing extensively.  Unfortunately, only a few of his writings have survived to this day.

Today we will look at excerpts from “To Those Who Think to be Justified by Deeds,” in which St. Mark explains the relationship between faith and deeds and that deeds alone are not enough for salvation.

BEGIN: Wishing to show that, although every commandment is obligatory, none the less it is by His blood that sonship is granted to men, the Lord says: “When you have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10).  Thus the kingdom of heaven is not a reward for deeds, but a gift of the Lord prepared for faithful servants.

— “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3), and He grants freedom to those who serve Him well.  For He says: “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:23).

— He is not yet a faithful servant who bases himself on bare knowledge alone; a faithful servant is he who professes his faith by obedience to Christ, Who gave the commandments.

— He who reveres the Lord does what is commanded, and if he commits some sin or disobeys Him, endures whatever he has to suffer for this as being his desert.

— If you love knowledge, love also work, for bare knowledge puffs a man up.

— Knowledge without corresponding practice is still insecure, even if it is true.  All is made firm by practice.

— He who wants to do something and cannot is, in the eyes of God who sees our hearts, as though he has done it.  This should be understood as being so in relation to good and evil alike.

— Some think they believe rightly, while not practicing the commandments; others, while practicing them, expect the kingdom as a just reward.  Both sin against truth.

— 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 good deed we perform by our own natural powers, although it removes us further from the (evil deed) opposed to it, cannot make us holy without grace.

— The abstinent withdraws from gluttony, the uncovetous from covetousness, the silent from wordiness, the pure from attachment to sensory pleasures, the chaste from fornication, he who is content with what he has from love of money, the meek from agitation (anger), the humble from vanity, the obedient from objection, he who is honest with himself from hypocrisy; equally, he who prays withdraws from despair, the willing pauper from acquisitiveness, he who professes his faith from denying it, the martyr from idolatry – so you see that each virtue, performed even unto death, is nothing but withdrawal from sin; and withdrawal from sin is a natural action, not an action which could be rewarded by the kingdom.

— When the mind forgets the purpose of piety, then visible works of virtue become useless.

— He who does good and seeks a reward works not for God but for his own desire.

— Some say that we can do nothing good until we actively receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.  This is not true.

— To him who has been baptized into Christ grace has been mysteriously given already.  But it acts in proportion to his fulfillment of commandments.  Although this grace never ceases to help us in secret, it lies in our power to do or not to do good according to our own will.

— In the first place, it fittingly arouses conscience, through which even evil-doers have been accepted by God when they repented.

— Again, it may be concealed in the advice of a brother.  Sometimes it follows thought during reading and teaches its truth to the mind by means of a natural deduction (from that thought).  Thus, if we do not bury this talent bestowed upon us on these and similar occasions, we shall in truth enter into the joy of the Lord.

— If you will keep in mind that, according to the Scriptures, the Lord’s “judgments are in all the earth” (Psalms 104:7), then every event will teach you knowledge of God.

— If, according to the scriptures, the cause of all that is involuntary lies in what is voluntary, no one is a man’s greater enemy than himself.

— If you wish to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth, always urge yourself to rise above sensory things and to cling with hope to God alone.  Thus compelling yourself to turn inwards, you will meet principalities and powers, which wage war against you by suggestions in thoughts.  If you overcome them by prayer and remain in good hope, you will receive Divine grace, which will free you from the wrath to come.  END

from “Early Fathers From the Philokalia,” trans. by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 86 – 90.