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Tonight we read homily 44 of St. Isaac the Syrian on Stillness. Isaac speaks of the value of stillness and the unwillingness an anchorite should have to sacrifice it. No dishonor or honor should lead a monk away from the silence. No natural bond or act of charity should tempt the one called by God to it to free himself from the charge. God alone can ask for such absolute love and commitment. The monk embraces the solitude not for himself or because of any whim or natural inclination but rather to obey God’s call him to serve the church in such a fashion.  He does not despise association with men but rather loves stillness because God set it before him as the path to salvation. 
 
Such a writing calls us all to reflect upon our lives and the depth of our commitment to God. It confronts us with the gospel and it’s truth in an unvarnished fashion. It is nothing less than unsettling and one must listen with faith. If we do not find it disturbing, then we have to ask ourselves if we have ever heard the gospel in its fullness. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, God wants our hearts completely and absolute fidelity.
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Tonight we were able to read homily 43 in its entirety. St. Isaac describes the various modes of discipline in the spiritual life - the purification of the body and senses, the purification of the soul (which is freedom from secret passions) and finally the purification of the mind or the nous which comes from God‘s revelation of himself to us and raising us up to Divine visions.  The third mode draws us into what he describes as hypostatic Theoria, where an individual begins to experience the limpid purity of his primordial nature as one created for God and union with God. In this experience one becomes awestruck with wonder at God; tasting what will be experienced in all of its fullness in existence after the resurrection.  Such a state carries with it no sorrow or attachment to the things of the world. If we only knew the depths of God’s blessings we would long to experience that intimate union with him now and always.   
 
We must remind ourselves that Christian mysticism is distinctive and unique.  It comes about not through altering the consciousness through asceticism or meditation but through God’s revelation of Himself and raising us up by His grace as a prelude to beholding Him with mediation unto the ages of ages.
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Tonight we concluded Homily number 42 of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on the trials and afflictions that come both to the humble and the proud. Saint Isaac makes the distinction between the two and the fruit that each produces. Afflictions in those who are humble produce the fruit of patience. Whereas afflictions in those who are proud awaken the need for repentance. In many ways it is a deeply challenging Homily; so much so that St. Isaac feels compelled to say at the end “do not be angry with me that I tell you the truth. You have never sought out humility with your whole soul.”  Our tendency is to look at affliction, temptations and trials in a punitive fashion; Whereas the Fathers seek to help us understand the medicinal and healing nature of such things and to see in them the promise of joy and ultimately deification.

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We began reading Saint Isaac’s 42nd homily this evening. He presents us with the challenging topic of affliction in the spiritual life. It is such affliction that perfects virtue within us and make us cling to the things of the kingdom rather than bodily comforts. We are to love affliction as much as we love the virtue that it produces within us.  
 
In light of this we cannot be sometime ascetics - setting aside certain material goods but clinging to sensory experiences through hearing and sight that only once again enliven the passions.  Solitude and simplicity must be embraced with vigilance  for they silence the thoughts, provide strength for endurance, and teach us patience. 
 
Isaac offers us the practical advice of who to choose as a guide and who to seek for counsel. It must be one who has experiential knowledge of all that we have been speaking about - one who knows intimately the path of affliction.   
 
Finally we must learn not to fear temptations. They are part and parcel of the spiritual battle and evidence of growth. Worldly peace is a danger for one seeking the Kingdom.
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Tonight we read Saint Isaac’s homily 41. It is a rich explication of the workings of the human mind and heart. St. Isaac shows us how it is that we are drawn into sin. He makes it clear that our natural appetites and desires are not the source of sin but rather our tendency toward excess and the weakness of our will. When the appetites are well ordered there is peace within the human person. But when we give ourselves over to negligence, conceit or slothfulness the passions are enlivened and then we are drawn into sinful behavior. St. Isaac directs us in the last part of the homily to the experience of tribulation and affliction. The wisdom of the fathers is that affliction awakens us to our poverty and our need for God’s grace and healing. God will allow us to experience affliction in order to humble us and draw us back to himself. It is through such affliction that repentance is often born.

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Tonight we concluded Homily 40. Saint Isaac speaks to us of the tactics of the enemy to pull us away from unceasing prayer and to lead us into every form of negligence and laxity. The enemy watches for all the ways that we are slothful and inattentive to the small things of daily life that open us up to sin.   
 
Wisdom is found in the man who is ever watchful and who sees nothing of his day to day life as insignificant. He labors for God in every way, not preferring the comforts of this world but willing to sacrifice all to know the sweet repose of living in the Lord’s love.   With courage of heart he seeks to do the will of God with exactness so as to sharpen his conscience. In this he possesses confidence towards God and becomes bold in His ways.  True virtue is found in living in Christ and seeking the purity of heart that allows us to be free of the passions and filled with desire for the kingdom.
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We continued our discussion of Homily 40 and St Isaac’s teaching on the practice of regular fasting. Without fasting and abstinence we are easily delivered up to the warfare of the passions. Infidelity to this practice and lack of rules regarding eating and times for meals have made us spiritually weak. Modern man suffers from intemperance and we cannot seem to suffer hunger even for the briefest time. Thus we have become slaves of our passions. The enemy can see our negligence and can easily vanquish us by hunger. Discussion ensued about the contemporary lack of Asceticism in this regard and the encouragement to eat without discretion from every quarter. 
 
Isaac warns us that our beginning in the spiritual life is important. We must not despise small matters. If we do, we give the enemy ground to wage war with us in great matters. The wise fight with discretion and are attentive to small struggles. Such attentiveness reveals to the enemy that we are not to be trifled with and that we will respond at the first signs of attack. 
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We began Homily 40 and it has proven like so many before it to be challenging and beautiful. St. Issac captures not only the foundational and essential elements of the spiritual life but presents us with an ever so honest presentation of the consequences of negligence. St. Isaac teaches us that stability of place fosters a kind of internal stability and stillness of mind. To leave the stillness and the watchfulness it affords opens our imagination and memories back up to the passions that had been once healed. 
 
Fasting humbles the mind and body to make them more docile and placid to the workings of grace. Fasting involves the whole self in the spiritual life in order that life itself can become Liturgy - that is worship of God. To let go of perpetual fasting is to make ourselves swine - our belly and passions become insatiable and we begin to consume what is unfit for human being created in the imagine and likeness of God. The unconscious bears witness to this as fantasies emerge in dreams and the body responds by emitting the concrete manifestation of those fantasies enacted. 
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St Isaac led us through a wonderful study of the methods the devil uses to war against those who seek to live for God and walk by the narrow way. 
 
The devil will wait patiently for some who begin the spiritual life zealously; not because he fears them but rather because he holds them in contempt. He waits until their zeal cools and they grow lax and overconfident. He allows them to dig their own pit of perdition for their souls through wandering thoughts. 
 
With the courageous and strong, the devil seeks to drive a wedge between them and their guardian angel. Craftily the devil convinces them that their victories come through their own strength and force. The devil imitates the guardian angel and convinces them to follow dreams as if true in order to lead them astray. 
 
Finally the devil will actively present the warrior with fantasies masking the truth and thus deluding their mind. He leads them to ponder shameful thoughts. He will even present them with actual physical temptations once thought to be overcome. 
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Beginning with Homily 38 and moving into Homily 39, St. Isaac treats of the struggle with sin and temptation and the methods of the devil. The starting point is not to fear temptation. Such fear reveals an avoidance of hardship and lack of zeal for the Lord. We are not promised happiness or peace in this world but affliction. Thus we are to enter the spiritual battle with strong resolve - a willingness to sacrifice all for love of God and virtue. The devil will urge us to ease our labors but we are to be unrelenting in the fight. 
 
The devil begins by observing our weapons and watching for a weak and infirm will. He will the let loose with full force upon us in order to shake our resolve and to overcome us with fear. God often allows us to feel the full brunt of these temptations if only to reveal our doubt and coldness.  We must confront the devil with fearlessness and ardor.  Anything less makes us tempters and mockers of God. He did not create us simply to enter and leave this world but made us for eternity. This is the lens through which we must view our lives. 
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