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In homilies 26 and 27 we find ourselves walking along a very difficult path to traverse. St. Isaac begins to develop for us an outline of the order of creation; emphasizing in particular the order of Angels. While at times the language and ideas seem very confusing, St. Isaac’s purpose is eminently practical. He wishes to show us that we are not living the spiritual life in isolation. He is intent on showing us that “humans and angels ultimately constitute one hierarchy, that of rational created beings, in which humans have angels as guides and teachers. Indeed one of the most interesting remarks in Isaac‘s writings is that human nature cannot have inner growth or illumination without the guidance given by angels. Illumination does not come by itself and impersonally but through intercession. The main function of angels in relation to man consists of guidance, spiritual illumination and teaching in order to achieve inner growth.”  
 
We engage in our spiritual labors with great zeal understanding this support and pursue purity of heart in order that our vision of Angels and what they reveal grows ever clearer. Likewise we engage in Divine Liturgy, exercising our faith and humbling the body with great labor, in order that the will might not be driven by blind compulsion but by grace. Only in this way do we overcome the inconstancy and unevenness of a will enslaved to sin. 
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Tonight’s discussion of Homily 24 and the first part of Homily 25 had a simple beauty about it.  St. Isaac was succinct in expressing his thoughts but captured the essence, first, of the nature of Divine Providence and God’s action in the events of our lives. God is a Pilot who can take unexpected occurrences and shape them for us as spiritual incentive, as purifying trials, as training in virtue, and for clarifying the consequences of both good and evil. 
 
When one lives a life of virtue and purity and couples it with repentant prayer, the character of those occurrences change - they strengthen and make steadfast the good man. 
 
All of this teaches us not to cling to the things of the world (that passes away so quickly) or to seek the esteem of men. We learn through these occurrences to shun vainglory and cherish humility. 
 
In Homily 25 Isaac likewise beautifully shows us the value of guarding one’s time of silence while also fostering freedom to respond as fully as possible to God’s call to deeper intimacy and solitude. We must always protect that space and freedom for each other - we must always assist others in the pursuit of God and their desire for intimacy with Him.
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With the concluding section of Homily 23, we reach the apex of St. Isaac’s thought on what he describes as pure prayer and what is “beyond prayer”. Prayer always involves the movement toward God, seeking him out and desiring Him, offering up supplication and pleas for his mercy. Pure prayer takes places when the law of God is embraced and fulfilled and when no thought or distraction commingles within the soul completely directed toward God. 
 
Prayer always acts as the seed planted and what is beyond prayer, divine vision, is the harvesting of the sheaves. Theoria, knowledge, or noetic vision is an operation of the Spirit who guides the soul. Our senses and their operations become superfluous and the soul becomes like unto the Godhead by an incomprehensible union and is illumined by a ray of sublime Light. The understanding gazes in ecstasy at incomprehensible things that lie beyond this mortal world. This is the “unknowing” that has been called higher than knowledge; a walking in the darkness of faith where one comes to know God as He is in Himself. 
 
Discussion also ensued regarding the struggles of the Western mind to grasp the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Fathers; the moralizing and legalizing of the spiritual life and virtue versus deification. 
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In the final pages of Homily 21, St. Isaac labors vigorously to help us understand that aim and end of the solitary life and one focused on stillness. The call to such a life is rare but it acts as a icon for the Church of “choosing the better part”; of a life that seeks what endures unto eternity. It presents us with a vision of the wonder and mystery that we are destined to share in all of its fullness in God. The solitary keeps his eyes focused upon Christ alone - forsaking even the admonition of the Gospel to love and serve others, as those in the world do, but instead pursuing the purity of heart and prayer that prepares the soul for theoria. Eventually all things are consummated in Christ, and all virtue and works of love are perfected and completed in God.  
 
The stillness of the solitary is silence to all things - to remain in the silence that allows God to speak a word equal to Himself - to walk in the darkness of faith that allows a soul to encounter God as He is in Himself. 
 
Do we desire God above all things?  Do we seek to make his love the measure of our life?  Do we make eternity the aim and goal that we pursue whatever our station and vocation may be?
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Tonight was a wonderful journey with St. Isaac as he visited with one exemplar after another of the solitary life; describing along the way the particular virtues they possessed, how they prayed and the lessons they taught. 
 
The solitary life is unique in the value it gives to the pursuit of stillness and unceasing prayer or as St Isaac often describes it - the Angelic life or Celestial husbandry. The solitary like those in other vocations must cling to their identity and the path that God has called them to walk. They must avoid the temptation to look aside to other things or practices that though clearly admirable do not fulfill the aim of their vocation. In this they become models of fidelity for us all.
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Homily 20 focuses on St. Isaac's teaching on the "sweet works of Night Vigil."  That may sound somewhat amusing to modern ears. Night is typically seen as a time for well earned rest from one's daily labors. Yet for the Fathers night was the preferred time for prayer. Time and sleep are now to be seen in light of the coming of Christ at the Incarnation and our waiting for His second Coming. We watch now day and night in a spirit of sobriety for his coming.
 
Therefore, Isaac tells us there is no greater practice. To occupy oneself with God in vigil lifts the mind in quick flight as if it were on wings. If the mind is kept from dissipation during the day great gifts will be bestowed upon a soul and it will begin to look upon God with the eyes of Cherubim - adoring Him without ceasing and with a pure gaze.  
 
This cannot, Isaac warns, be practiced in a vacuum. Stretching out ones hands out to God throughout the night, with the hardship of prolonged psalmody and standing will not produce fruit outside of the context of days spent in the sober pursuit of Him as well.  If we allow ourselves to be filled with distraction during the day then we have no idea why we toil.
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Tonight we came to the conclusion of Homily 17 of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Isaac continues to discuss the Chaste life and how to protect it. He instructs us to keep our inner life a private affair. We must not reveal what is most intimate and our relationship with God or our vulnerabilities. We must never put ourselves or God to the test nor must we retaliate when we are condemned by others. Gluttony must be avoided at all costs and we must avoid rich foods so as not to weigh ourselves down. Silence is to be guarded as most valuable and in this we should avoid talkativeness and flee theological discussions. We must occupy ourselves with one thing alone – our relationship with Christ. 
 
In Homily 18 St. Isaac begins to speak to us about the stages of the spiritual life. In particular he focuses upon the violence we must do to ourselves in order to transform the passions - fasting, reading, vigils, prostrations.  Such must be embraced to stoke the fires of devotion and compunction which give way to tears that cleanse the heart. We must keep our focus on these disciplines and not hurry indiscriminately towards the higher forms of prayer. To do so would be to subject ourselves to potential delusion.
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We continued reading the 17th Homily of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on establishing a "Rule" of life for beginners in light of Hesychasm and Philokalic Spirituality as a whole. Isaac shows how every aspect of our life must be transformed by the grace of God. With a holy genius, he reveals the healing of soul that must take place. Every interaction with others, every emotion, can be a means of seduction and so must be considered with radical honesty. We must possess a willingness to reflect upon things such as laughter, the familiar and lingering gaze upon another, and encounters with the opposite sex from the perspective of their impact upon the spiritual life and the vulnerability that arises out of our sin. This is never a solitary pursuit. A solidarity exists between each of us and thus a responsibility for one another's salvation.

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In Homily 17, St. Isaac begins to lay out a "Rule of Life" for those seeking to live chastely and in a way pleasing to God. Chiefly this means showing restraint and wisdom in regard to every aspect of life: sight, speech, attire, food, alcohol, etc. Thus, discretion is put forward as the most important of all the virtues - the ability to discern between good and evil. Purity of heart and purity in action is essential; as is setting aside all egoism. Indiscriminate familiarity in relations with others must be avoided and a proper respect for boundaries in relationships and in daily interactions is essential. This is not fastidiousness but rather an acknowledgment of the power of the senses, desires, appetites - indeed all that is human. All must be purified and transformed by the grace of God. 

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Last night we reflected upon Homily 16 of St. Issac the Syrian. It is a beautiful exhortation to let go of our attachment to the world and the things of the world, to let go of the security and false hope they promise. Isaac encourages us to cling only to Christ who is our salvation and source of healing. The path to healing and joy is repentance. The sacrifice we may make in renouncing the world pale in comparison to both the immediate and ultimate end such renunciation promises - purity of heart and deification. Even the deep sorrow of compunction and the tears shed over our sins, carry within them the joy of renewed intimacy with God.

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