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Tonight‘s group was challenging as always. Saint Isaac begins to draw us into the heart of the gospel and the embrace of the cross. We must be willing he tells us to endure afflictions. We cannot draw near to Christ crucified without them or grow in righteousness.  There is no static position in the spiritual life. Truly speaking there is no spiritual life but only life in Christ and a single hearted pursuit of the Kingdom. The world beguiles us; constantly trying to pull us away from the narrow path; ensnaring even great ascetics. We must keep before our eyes the brevity of life and come to love the Lord and our souls so much that we also come to hate sin.  Furthermore, we must study the scriptures to rouse ourselves to faith and increase our fervor.  This alone gives rise to greater faith and desire for God. 

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We picked up this evening with Homilies 36 and 37. Once again Isaac speaks to us of the importance of the Ascetical life and how it is the foundation of our sanctification. The ordering of the passions through tears, prayer and solitude are key as is humility. What Isaac seeks most of all in these Homilies though is to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and His desire to draw us into His life. Isaac wants us to see how this love permeates all things and in seeing it he wants to stir our desire for God. This Life and Love are greater than all things worldly and so we should freely and without fear be willing to sacrifice all for it.

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At tonight’s group we read two exquisite homilies from Saint Isaac the Syrian: Homilies 34 and 35. Both speak to us about the essential Ascetical nature of Christianity and the fruit of the Ascetical life. The ordering of the passions, the bearing of affliction, the study of the Scriptures and the Fathers, all create within the heart a yearning and desire for God. In this pursuit, humility is the key virtue, the mother of virtues, that fosters in the soul an ever increasing love for God and joy. This Joy, Isaac tells us, is perceived by the world as a holy madness. At group’s end, however, we are left simply to echo the sentiment of Isaac - “May God grant us also to attain to such derangement.”

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Tonight‘s discussion of homilies 32 and 33 focused upon Saint Isaac’s teaching that we should not approach the life of faith as if it were simply self improvement. We must beware of seeking our joys in the things of this world or reducing God to something manageable and controllable rather than an all enveloping mystery. The poverty that we experience in our moral life and psychologically and emotionally simply at times has to be in endured. We are drawn in to the perfection of God by grace. We do not make ourselves perfect. More often than not we are humbled by our weaknesses until we rest solely upon the grace of God.
 
We continue to struggle of course,  but we must avoid extremes in behavior - excesses in satisfying our appetites or too great a rigor that leads to despondency.  Our life is Christ and often our greatest struggle as human beings is to let go of the illusion that lasting joy can be found in any other place.
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We began our discussion of Homily 32 which places before us a stark truth - these are times of martyrdom. We must die to self and sin in order to live for God.  If we are not subject to God’s will, we are subject to the will of His adversary. This reality does not allow us to feign ignorance; for if the senses remain unchecked the passions will be inflamed and we will make ourselves indentured servants. 
 
Therefore we must not only humble ourselves in the confession of our iniquities but seek to uproot their cause; and for this we need to have hatred for sin. If we do not recognize and experience the malodor of sin eventually we will learn to put it on as if it were a beautiful fragrance. 
 
St. Isaac tell us that every hardship is followed by rest and every rest by hardship. In this we must understand that our life consists of continual repentance - a turning from sin toward God. No matter what level of “perfection” one may attain in this world such repentance is never complete until our passing from this world and having be purified to participate in the perfection that belongs to Christ. 
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The group began by continuing to reflect upon the final paragraphs of Homily 30 wherein St Isaac emphasizes the uniqueness of man, in particular our corporeal nature and our reason and free will. It is this reality the shapes our spiritual struggle. We need to understand our strengths and limitations. 
 
In Homily 31 Isaac moves on to discuss the importance of vigilance in the moment - not looking to the past or to others but struggling today with what we are faced. We must valiantly engage in the battle and bear the recompense for our sin in a spirit of hope and joy. We are not to blame others for our sorrows but see them as rooted in our sin and as opportunities for virtue and healing. 
 
Finally at the beginning of Homily 32 Isaac introduces us to the fiercest of struggles - learning to abhor sin with our whole heart and the resistance that we face in this task. Only through this can we then develop a true love for virtue. This struggle is the unseen martyrdom of the spiritual life - the bloodless martyrdom that we experience daily.
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In this session we picked up with two Homilies, 29 & 30, that presented us with two straightforward but stark truths. In regards to nature and our struggles in this world the only true Sabbath is the grave. While alive we produce the sweat of unceasing prayer and toil for righteousness. This toiling has been shaped for us by Christ. It is no longer the toiling of Adam which produces thorns and thistles but that of Christ which is the life of grace and producing the fruit of repentance. The Eighth day, the true Sabbath is to be found only after this life and in the Kingdom. 
 
In Homily 30, Isaac tells us that God doesn’t not deal with us or love us in a uniform fashion but in accord with our spiritual needs - both in joy and sorrow. God’s compassion is not sentimental but is so set on our healing and salvation that it permits us to undergo trials that are medicinal in nature. God enters into and is radically present to us in both joy and sorrow and we should not fear the latter. 
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Tonight we finished homily 28. It was also the conclusion of St Isaac‘s angelology.  The impact of his thought on our experience of the life of faith is beyond measure. We engage in the spiritual life not in isolation but rather part of the divine economy is that we are drawn into the mysteries of faith through mediation. The keenness of vision and the light give to angels is for us a means of being drawn ever forward in our love for God and the pursuit of holiness. 
 
Likewise demons are present among us to incite to evil. Yet while possessing that keenness of vision they lack the light. Those who fall under their influence are drawn into darkness. 
 
There comes a time, however, when such mediation is abolished - when we shall gaze upon God face to face and He alone shall draw us ever deeper into the mystery and eternity of his love. 
 
It is love alone that is eternal. To turn away from it therefore is it’s own punishment and is described by St. Issac as bitter regret.
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Tonight we completed Homily 27 and began Homily 28. Both have as their main concern, “Theoria”, or contemplation. St Isaac continues to stress the place and importance of Angels in our spiritual lives. They perceive the truths and mysteries of God and creation, including our spiritual state. Their main purpose is to teach and guide us in accord with the light of truth and God’s providence. 
 
As human beings we know certain limitations in our reception of truth and capacity for Theoria. There is an inconstancy and unevenness in our response to God and so our confidence must also be tempered always in this world by fear of judgment. We must never cease to strive for vigilance. 
 
Demons however only draw close to destroy us and not to profit us. While they share the keen vision of Angels they lack light and know only darkness. They can’t but lead us along the path of destruction. Less powerful than Angels, for this reason they still can influence us and deceive us through presenting a phantom of the truth.
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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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