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Quotations on Justification from Saint Mark The Ascetic, part 1

St. Mark was an early fifth century monk also known as Mark the Monk or Mark the Hermit.  The following quotations are taken from his writing entitled “On Those who Think that They are Made Righteous by Works: Two Hundred and Twenty-Six Texts” in The PhilokaliaVolume One, compiled by St. Nikodimos and St. Makarios, translated and edited by G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1983).  The numbers that follow the quotations do not indicate page numbers but paragraph numbers.

One of the interesting things to note about St. Mark’s writing on this subject is his unwillingness to teach easy-believism, yet his equal unwillingness to teach that God gives us heaven or hell based merely on an examination of our external works.  St. Mark teaches that Christ will judge each man “according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith” in Christ (§22).  Whether we get into heaven or are condemned to hell, Mark teaches, depends on whether our works were done with faith in Christ.  This is a little different from the typical evangelical way of speaking about salvation.  This means it is based on works (in some sense), yet it is ultimately based on faith.  Could this early Father of the church be teaching something compatible with evangelical doctrine?  Let the reader decide for herself. And let her also feel free to leave her answer in the comment thread. 🙂

Those who, because of the rigour of their own ascetic practice, despise the less zealous, think that they are made righteous by physical works.  But we are even more foolish if we rely on theoretical knowledge and disparage the ignorant.  Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works.  For everything is established by being put into practice (§11-12).

When we fulfil the commandments in our outward actions, we receive from the Lord what is appropriate; but any real benefit we gain depends on our inward intention.  If we want to do something but cannot, then before God, who knows our hearts, it is as if we have done it.  This is true whether the intended action is good or bad.  The intellect does many good and bad things without the body, whereas the body can do neither good nor evil without the intellect.  This is because the law of freedom applies to what happens before we act. (§15-17).

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they posses true faith.  Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them.  Both are mistaken. A master is under no obligation to reward his slaves; on the other hand, those who do not serve him well are not given their freedom. (§18).

When the Scripture says “He will reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27), do not imagine that works in themselves merit either hell or the kingdom.  On the contrary, Christ rewards each man according to whether his works are done with faith or without faith in Himself; and He is not a dealer bound by contract, but God our Creator and Redeemer. (§22).



  1. I always appreciate St. Mark the Wrestler. Sections 18 and 22 you quoted are some of my favorite texts of his.

    Very glad you are examining the Philokalia, but it’s best to wade in the shallow ends first, I’m told.

    BTW, the Preachers Institute (not my own website) has been doing a good job of posting old sermons/writings of the Fathers, etc.

    However, a more recent article you will find interesting on your examination of Justification, though not a direct look at the doctrine, is found here:

    Check it out. I believe you will find it enlightening!

  2. Occidental,

    I am still reading (very carefully) and meditating upon the words of St. Mark the Ascetic. This is the first work of his I have read. It is, however, very edifying and insightful. I hope to post more quotations from him.

    I don’t know the difference between “shallow” and “deep” waters in the Philokalia.

    I also hope soon to read some of the letters of Photius.

    Thanks so much for the link! I will definitely check it out!


  3. Occidental gazing Oriental says:

    St. Mark is easily accessible and therefore might be one of the shallower writings, although by no means shallow in thought. But my point is that those very familiar with the Philokalia say don’t read it until you are spiritually prepared, lest it do damage to you. It is advised that one start by reading The Sayings of the Desert Fathers – see the Benedicta Ward translation. These are easier to digest for tender spirits, much like milk is easier for an infant to eat, or consider that toddlers don’t eat spicy food or strong drink.

    Just some sound advice received from those more mature than myself.

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