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We began Homily 4 where St Isaac introduces us to the importance of Renunciation and the fruit it produces in the soul. We are to wean ourselves from the things of the world in our search for the divine.

Fleeing the ease of this age and freely embracing the suffering and humiliations we begin to understand and live in accord with the standard of the Cross. The mercy we show toward others is to be the mercy of Christ - nothing less.

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After a brief introduction to St. Isaac and his times, we began reading and reflecting upon his first homily on "Renunciation and Monasticism." In the Syriac, the first six homilies form a unit with one title "On the Discipline of Virtue" - hence the opening sentence of this homily - "The fear of God is the beginning of virtue, and it is said to be the offspring of faith." 

This first homily seems to sow the seeds of many of the principal themes that will be developed throughout the book.  

Virtue is sown in silence.  As Christians we must seek to collect our thoughts and prevent them from wandering into distraction.  Faith frees us from the preoccupation with the self and heals us of the malady of isolation; it allows us to transcend the self in order to see God and neighbor and so love them. It is allows us to see that every moment is freighted with destiny because every moment is an opportunity to love.

To foster the development of such faith we must avoid the inconstancy that often arises in our hearts and instead remain in the silence and immersed in the study of the scriptures.  We must embrace the kind of poverty that leaves us unencumbered and so free to direct our energies to the study of the Word.  In doing so we build the entire edifice of the spiritual life.  In other words, the city must become our desert; although living in the world we remained removed from the unnecessary affairs of the world so as to protect our imaginations and allow the passions to abate.  

The soul must become drunk with faith - constantly under the influence of love.  Thus inebriated with the spirit we will find the courage to tread beneath our feet all that prevents the growth of the discipline of virtue.

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We will be looking at these two steps together because they represent opposite sides of the same coin. Step 16 describes the spiritual illness, while Step 17 prescribes the spiritual cure. The words of Jesus fittingly introduce their theme: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). There is very little which reveals the state of our hearts more clearly than our attitude towards our possessions and the way we use them. It is easy to say we are living for heaven. The way that we use our money demonstrates the veracity of our claim. Are we living for the kingdom or do the things of this world predominate and consume us?

The cure for avarice is poverty. For the monk this poverty is absolute. The true monk owns nothing, having forsaken it all in his pursuit of God. For those of us who live in the world, this poverty is approximate. We have obligations ("mouths to feed, bodies to clothe, shelter to obtain") and we must fulfill these obligations. Poverty is best approximated in our position by striving to reduce the amount of our obligations. What we should be aiming for is the simple life, not deprivation. Severe deprivation can be as distracting as financial prosperity. The words of scripture reveal the royal way: "Give me neither poverty nor riches - - feed me with the food allotted to me, lest I be full and deny you, and say, `Who is the Lord?' Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God" (Prov. 30:8,9).
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