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“Love silence above all things”, St. Isaac tells us. However, this is not a mere pious expression but rather one of the deepest truths of human existence. Silence is the place of encounter with God that reveals to us His beauty and our poverty at the same time. Tonight Isaac showed us the path to this Holy Silence. Its starting point is our willingness to force ourselves to remain in it and to pray that God shows some part of what is born of it. It is a discipline that offers us a taste of divine sweetness but also leads to a flood of tears that arises out of the pain of our sin and our perception of the beauty of God that amazes the soul. This silence fosters an internal stillness that begins to transform the mind and the heart. The deeper that one enters into it the more one comes to reflect the divine. Isaac speaks of the holy Elder Arsenius, who having achieved a level of perfect silence, merely through his countenance gladdened the hearts of those who encountered him without ever speaking a word. This encounter inflamed within them the desire for God and the desire for the ascetical life.

Continuing our reading of Homily 64, a great deal of our attention was directed to how Isaac addresses discerning whether thoughts are from God or from the evil one. We must be ever vigilant, never falling into the snares that the devil sets for us. 
 
Yet some thoughts require deep prayer, night and day, and intense vigils. We can quickly fall into delusion as we imagine ourselves as seeing things clearly and judging things clearly. We must learn rather to humble ourselves before God who alone knows the workings of the human heart. Our consciences must be formed by His grace and our love for Him must lead us to embrace a rigorous ascetical life. Every thought must be taken captive and brought before Christ for His blessing or judgment. This is how much we must love the Lord.

We continued our discussion tonight of homily 64. The group only considered two paragraphs over the course of the hour. But the discussion was eminently practical. Isaac challenges us to look at many things that we take for granted and asks us whether or not these things lead us to God or to be mindful of God. Do we understand the value of silence and prolonged silence? What does sleep mean for us and how do we enter it - prayerfully or distractedly? What do we do when we cannot sleep, do we turn our minds and our hearts to God, do we pray or do we distract ourselves with other things, like television or simply our own thoughts. Have we ever thought about breaking the night to pray? Isaac along with the other Fathers show us how this experience of praying at night allows us to be more wakeful during the day, in the sense of being vigilant about our thoughts and mindful of God.

We continued our journey with Isaac tonight discussing homily 64. While the subject matter seems varied, it is clearly connected in Isaac’s mind. All of these aspects of the spiritual and ascetical life must be understood in order that we might find “right order” in our lives that contributes to stillness and vigilance in the spiritual battle. 
 
This is exactly what Isaac is introducing us to - the reality of the spiritual battle that involves the whole person.  The mind and emotions must be engaged by the richness of the psalms to stir our zeal. Sorrow and compunction must constantly lead us back to God after we have fallen. Anger must be directed toward every temptation so as to strike it down before it takes hold of us. 
 
The cravings of the belly must be met with fasting and self restraint. Such restraint lays the foundation for the struggle with lust. Sleep must be moderated in order to foster a taste for the sweetness of prayer.
Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 64. Isaac begins to open up our understanding of prayer through discussing the practical elements of it. The more he shows us the more we begin to understand that prayer is to be something that is guided and directed by God. It is not simply an activity that we engage in according to our own judgment and will. It must be a radical response to the love of God and the direction of the Spirit. All that we do should make us more attentive to where God is leading us or where we must go in order to foster silence and stillness within wherein we can hear God speak His word to us. Again, prayer involves the response of the whole self. We are to be attentive to our bodily postures, kneeling, prostration, etc. We are to allow ourselves to linger in the state that God has brought us to, whether it is silence or the tears of compunction. We are to struggle to bring ourselves out of distraction by nourishing ourselves upon reading in such a way that it restores our attentiveness. What we read must not be allowed to dissipate us. Rather it must foster within our hearts the purification of the conscience and the concentration of thoughts. Finally, discussions that we have with others must be rooted in the desire for the same end. Conversation must be had with those who have experiential knowledge of He who is the truth and have Him as the object of their heart’s longing.
Tonight we continued our discussion of homily 64. It is rich in every way. Every sentence could be reflected upon for hours and once again Isaac does not waste a single word. The spiritual life involves allowing ourselves to be drawn by love and to love the things that draw us to God. We are to love humility, to love chastity, and to love contrition. All of these things free us from the impediments to experiencing the fullness of the life of God, free us from those things that prevent us from entering into the Paschal mystery and being transformed by it. Silence itself is to be treasured because in silence we allow God to speak a word that is equal to Himself. Silence illuminates like the sun, it removes ignorance and most important of all that unites us to God.

We continued our reading of homily 64 where Isaac draws us ever more deeply into the heart of the spiritual life. He begins by emphasizing the fact that what God does within the human heart and the transformation that He brings about is far greater than anything that we might do in our own eyes or in the eyes of the world. To receive life from God is greater than our capacity to give or support life or edify others. Humility raises us up to acknowledge the truth about God and ourselves. In this sense humility provides something greater than any worldly knowledge we might possess. Furthermore, the humble heart and humble body allows one to draw close to God and to experience His peace. The more distant we become from God, the more agitated we become and begin to experience an internal disintegration. It is for this reason that Isaac tells us that we must love humility and not love the things that we seek to adorn ourselves with in the world. What could be more valuable than possessing the love and the mercy of God? What could be more valuable than adorning ourselves with virtue? This virtue, however, he warns us must not be the kind of posturing that we foster in the world that allows us to embrace a condescending spirit towards others. Such a virtue betrays a sickly conscience. We must always and forever see things through the eyes of God.

Tonight we began reading Homily 64. It is 25 pages long and through it Isaac presents us with a vision of the ascetical life and the essential elements of it. He begins this evening where Jesus began in his own preaching - with repentance. Repentance, Isaac tells, us is the mother of life. In itself this is a striking statement and one that would be worthy of long consideration. Repentance is not just sorrow over a particular act but rather a way of life. With every aspect of our being we are to turn toward God, ordering all of our senses and desires and appetites towards him. We are to simplify the thoughts in order that we might gaze upon Him in a undistracted way. Through this gaze we come to experience a divine wisdom, love, and peace. Grace enlivens compunction within the heart and the living water of tears cleanses and purifies in order  that we might gaze upon God with clarity and love. Isaac teaches us that mortification brings life; that dying to self and sin allows us to experience He who is our love and our destiny.

Tonight we completed homily 63. Isaac begins to speak of us of the necessity of setting aside all possessions and possessiveness; of setting aside all thoughts and distractions in order that stillness might reign within the heart, where we might remove ourselves from the web of the passions. All of this is meant to allow us to hold on to nothing but rather to cling to God. We are to be turned toward the Lord completely. 
 
Prayer requires a long continuance and perseverance. Seclusion or solitude is necessary in order that the love for God might grow and develop and that we might come to see with the greater clarity the causes for loving God. From prayer, the love of God is born and so it becomes the most important thing for us as human beings. We are to become prayer as it were. This means developing a hatred for the world; that is, a true understanding of what disordered love does to us and what it cost. Only when we do this will we become truly attached to God and the blessings that he offers. We must “be-in-love” in the truest sense of the phrase. We must live our lives seeking God and his love as the pearl of great price.
Tonight we concluded homily 62. Saint Isaac as always with great beauty and sometimes with a poetic touch speaks to us of the importance of vigilance and diligence in the spiritual life. We must come to desire the Lord above all things; having death as the only limit of that desire. We must work until the harvest time; that is, until we come to the grave. We must never become lax in our spiritual disciplines, knowing the vulnerabilities that we have if we turn from the grace of God. Prayer is our greatest work - the pearl of great price and we must do all in our power to foster the solitude and silence that is needed for intimacy with God. We must hate our old life and the bondage of our sin in order that we might come to truly love the freedom of life in God. While we are still in this world there is time for repentance - time to turn from our sins and fill our lives with virtue and love.
 
Homily 63 speaks to us of how we rise from the grossness of the flesh, becoming ever more limpid in our response to God and refined by the action of His grace. With purity of mind and heart we must let go of all thoughts and distractions to become worthy of the revelation of his love. We must hold on to nothing - willing to forsake all for Him.

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