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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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In tonight’s conclusion of Homily 37, St. Isaac set before us the end that the hesychast seeks and meditates upon - the life of the Kingdom and the vision of God. The hesychast who lives a life of exacting purity and chastity prays without ceasing and eventually becomes the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit prays within him always - whether asleep or awake or occupied with work. He is taken captive by the love of God in such a way that prolonged prayer is no longer necessary. Fidelity to the commandments is the foundation for this experience and the setting aside of sin and the passions. 
 
In this perfection the monk has no illusions about the source of his prayer or virtues. All is grace.  Life becomes Liturgy- a sacrifice of praise and the abiding attitude one of gratitude.  Nothing is feared - not suffering or death - because the hesychast is one with He who is Life.
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We continued our discussion of Homily 37 and began with St. Isaac’s distinction between revelations and visions. Visions are concrete appearances of the incorporeal world such as angels and saints and are consolation for those who have embraced the anchoritic life in particular. Stripped of all worldly attachments God strengthens and encourages such individuals for the ascetic life. Revelations however come to the perfect and pure of heart and give insights into eschatological future states.  The intellect (Nous) is engaged and participated in the Kingdom. It is an inward mystical experience. 
 
The fathers, including Isaac, make these distinctions because of the dangers of prelest or delusion. Purity of heart is essential. A man must be free from outside modes of knowledge and embrace a kind of primordial simplicity and guilelessness.  
 
It is in this profound childlike and humble state that God can raise one up to experience his love and life. Such purity comes through spiritual mourning and compunction. Humbled by the truth He raises us up.  This is not raw emotionalism but rather a life wholly directed toward God and desiring Him. Such weeping purifies memory and imagination so that nothing holds a person back from God.
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We returned to homily 37 tonight where St Isaac instructs us on the meaning and value of tears. They both cleanse us from our sins and are an expression of our compunction. Furthermore they anoint us and transform our countenance as we enter into greater intimacy with God and are transformed by his Grace. 
 
Life transformed by God’s grace through such tears manifests to the world the resurrection that we experience now in Christ. We are to cast off the old man and live as those who seek Christ alone. Essential to this is fostering a life of stillness where we can mortify the senses in order to be more attentive to God. 
 
To one whose conscience is clear and pure God will often provide visions or revelations. Sometimes he offers these simply to console one struggling in the spiritual life, in particular those living in the desert as anchorites. Having stripped themselves of all earthly consolation, God in his providence supports and nourishes them by manifesting to them the truth through these two means. 
 
Discussion ensued regarding the experience of those in the world. While perhaps not experiencing the visions that are intrinsic to the solitary life, we are still called to foster stillness and seek intimacy with God as does the monk. To live our lives seeking God in all we do and having our lives shaped by this reality.
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We continued this evening with our reading of St. Isaac’s 37th Homily and his discussion of the essential practices of fasting and vigil that are the foundation of the spiritual life. Through this fasting we begin to experience the “warmth” of our hunger for God and the unshakable peace of prayer. It is also here that we move toward stillness of the thoughts and the passions and so are prepared for the purification of heart that God alone brings about. 
 
Isaac also emphasizes the importance of solitude in achieving and maintaining this purity of heart. We can’t throw ourselves into the chaos and disorder of the world and expect to thrive. Rather we must guard our hearts vigilantly. 
 
Discussion ensued about Isaac’s thought that this is the true mode of freedom and that we should choose fidelity to God’s law and the salvation it promises over the law of the world which is rooted in the flesh. Life in this world is brief and we must be mindful of the dust to which we shall return and the judgement we shall undergo. 
 
Final thoughts centered on the state of cultural collapse in the West and the reduction of Christianity for many to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a similitude of faith but not life in Christ or the deification that we are called to by grace.
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