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We picked up this evening about midway through Saint Isaac’s Homily 25. St. Isaac has been speaking about the beauty of the solitary way of life and the constant called to intimacy with God. In the sections considered this evening Isaac warns of the pitfalls solitaries often experience. As one is separated from the false self and the ego diminished one experiences the full vision of the poverty of their sin and the darkness it brings.  The self is left to walk in the darkness of faith to rely only on the mercy of God. The temptation is to shrink back from this intimacy and knowledge of God or to seek worldly and sensible consolations. Worse yet one might fall into despair having been stripped of all worldly consolations but not seeking rest in God. This is by far the most pitiable state of man.

Isaac presents this all as a prelude to calling us to live out our lives in Expectation of the promise of life and eternal love that come to us through Christ. To seek the Kingdom above all things and to desire the things of the Kingdom frees us from the net of despair and fosters an invincible form of long suffering. Come what may one lives in and through hope.

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How do we foster stillness and unceasing prayer in our lives?  St. Isaac counsels us in Homily 19 to always keep our eye - the eye of the heart - fixed on God. This means not only fostering a virtuous life but also avoiding that which would pull us away from this aim. We must seek to free ourselves from obsessive concerns with the things of the world and from falling lockstep into its frenetic pace. Don't multiply the occupations of your life for in this you may very well be pushing God away.  The spiritual life cannot be a part time occupation. It must be our life. God cannot be pushed to the margins nor can we neglect the grace he offers and its sweetness without quickly losing it.  Meaningless chatter and the noise of dissipated converse destroys stillness as frost destroys new buds on the tree. A divided heart obscures the vision of God and his love.  The ego and pride-driven self-interest draws us down into darkness. Only a humble and contrite heart is lifted up and exalted to share in the life of God. 
 
Have we lost a clear sense of our identity in Christ?  Has the faith been so obscured that we no longer invest ourselves in it but simply take what measure we desire? 
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In this section of the 4th Homily Isaac warns: "Do not take it upon yourself to teach others while still in ill health; rather consider yourself ignorant and always a novice - preferring humility, holiness and purity to all things. Guard against becoming mere vendors of words and arm yourself with the weapons of tears, fasting and the study of scripture and the Fathers.

 

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St. Isaac continues to lay the foundations for the discipline of virtue which include in particular the purification of the passions and the avoidance of distractions.  He emphasizes reading as an ascetical discipline - especially the reading of scripture.  Such reading helps free the mind and imagination from worldly things and the more one immerses himself in the wonder of God's love, the more the thoughts are prevented from running to the body's nature.  If the heart is not occupied with study, it cannot endure the continuous assault of thoughts.

Inconstancy of mind and heart is overcome through fear and shame - a recognition of our mortality and the repentance from sin that flows from it.  This is the foundation of one's spiritual journey and the quickest path to the kingdom.  

We must remember that not every person will be wakened to wonder by what is said in the scriptures and the great power it contains within it.  Faith more than reason must guide that study and illuminate that word and purity must clear one's vision. "A word concerning virtue has need of a heart unbusied with the earth and converse."

It becomes clear that simplicity of life and clarity of purpose and desire are necessary for those seeking the kingdom.  Our faith cannot be an auxiliary construction or something to which we lesser energies.  Nor can we compartmentalize our faith.  The path to holiness must be tread with firm purpose and with the full self invested.
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We continued to follow Abba Theonas' discussion with Germanus and Cassian on Theoria and the obstacles to lasting contemplation.  Theonas drives home the experience of wretchedness of the holy individual who is pulled away from contemplation of God by distraction and the weakness of the fleshly mind.  We "Fall" from contemplation and if we had a true sense of the loss that that is to us we too would experience deep compunction.  Yet, it is the action of constantly turning back to God that brings the holy soul the immediate outpouring of God's grace.  The anguished longing and desire of the soul is met by the immediate desire of God for renewed union.  

The group sought to understand this through the place where we all experience the deepest intimacy with God - the Mass.  In a world that fosters distraction and celebrates noise, it is easy for us to lose a kind of "custody of the eyes" - or custody of the Nous (the eye of the heart) that keeps us focused on the gift of love that is being offered to us and the sacrifice through which it has been made possible.  Only one who has tasted the sweetness of God's loves can understand the "Wretchedness" that St. Paul speaks of and the desire to be delivered from this body of death.  The deeper the love, the greater the pain at losing sight of the Beloved!
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 Stillness may be equated to peace of soul; the absence of spiritual warfare and the presence of calm. We beginners in the spiritual life cannot imagine what it would be like to be totally unaffected by the disquietude of the world; it is beyond our ability to comprehend never being tempted to speak in haste and never experiencing the movements of anger in our hearts. The beginner must be content with experiencing moments of this peace. He must strive to win this peace, by overcoming all the passions which seek to overthrow it. 

 
It is only when we begin to center our thoughts on the spiritual world within by pushing far from us the noise of the external world that we notice how little peace is found there. The first notice of this peacelessness is often enough to drive many back to the diversions of the world. For some, the existential pain of their passionate soul is too great to bear and they choose to run away rather than stay and face it. For those who choose to stay, the experience of the true state of their souls is a necessary lesson. We first learn the presence of our soul by its pain rather than its peace. As we continue in our spiritual lives, it is this pain which will always direct us back to the concerns of the soul when we begin to stray.

As we set a priority on peace, we will begin to notice more and more the things in our lives that rob us of peace. We will begin to find the noise of this world to be a hindrance rather than a help. We will notice how much of our time is spent following distractions. We will begin to change our lifestyle on the basis of what produces peace in our souls. We will inevitably be led to a love of quiet and solitude.

However, an important thing to note is that this is a gradual process. St. John is very quick to point out the dangers of embracing too much "stillness" before we are spiritually ready: "The man who is foul-tempered and conceited, hypocritical and a nurse of grievances, ought never to enter the life of solitude, for fear that he should gain nothing but the loss of his sanity."

Above all, then, we must remember that the path to internal peace is not an easy one. Therefore, we must set ourselves for a long struggle. We will not achieve the state of constant peace in a day. Perhaps it is enough for us today not to have allowed anger to enter our soul; perhaps it is enough for us to have refrained from that idle word which stirs up passion; perhaps it is enough for us to have refrained from viewing those things which would have aroused our sexual passions. Each day we add virtue to virtue. Each day we embrace the struggle. Each day we repent of our failures. Each day we continue the struggle. In this way, although we may never be completely successful, we will never stop trying. And God who grants the prize, will consider our struggles to be victory and will grant us His peace for eternity.
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Nature of Struggle with attacks on Nous; Obedience and Remembrance of God; Hating Sin; Unceasing Prayer; Watchfulness and Prayer Linked together; Beginnings of Watchfulness - Temperance in Food and Drink, the Rejection of Different Thoughts, Peace of Heart; Purifying Fire of Holy Communion; Revealing of False Self

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Definition of the Nous; Man as Triune Image of God - nous, word, spirit; Three powers of the soul; Creative factor of every aspect of civilization; difference in object from other methods of meditation; Fall of Nous of Man before and after Christ; Nous as vigilant gate keep of soul

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