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Tonight we began homily 57. Isaac starts by telling us “Blessed is he who lives a vigilant life in this world”!  Vigilance is one of the central teachings of the fathers and it behooves us to ask ourselves what it looks like in modern times. What does it mean to be vigilant in age so filled with distraction, noise and temptation?  Once again Isaac tells us that there is no Sabbath for us in this world, no day of rest when it comes to seeking the Lord and living a life of virtue. We cannot be under the illusion that we can outwit the demons who never rest. We must live in hope and and hope alone. He who is virtuous must place his trust in God not himself. The one deep in sin though can hope that God in His mercy will come to his aid and lift him up in his poverty.  He need only turn toward God with a repentant heart. 
 
Isaac quickly moves the discussion toward the absolute importance of humility. He tells us “the man who has a foretaste and in truth receives the recompense of good things is superior to him who possesses the work of virtue.” Virtue is the mother of mourning and mourning leads to humility. We must never attribute virtue to ourselves but only to God. It is He who lifts us up like a child to gaze upon us face-to-face. But we must allow Him to lift us. We must acknowledge that He raises us out of our sin.
Tonight we completed the homily 56. It was both challenging and beautiful. Every word of Isaac strikes to the heart and each example raises us up in our understanding not only of his teaching but of what it is to be a human being. Isaac began tonight, once again, by speaking to us of the profound resistance we have as human beings to embracing the strength God has given us in will and intellect to grow in virtue. We convince ourselves of our weakness and so all that is good seems impossible. Isaac shows us that even the pagan philosophers were capable through their will and intellect of pursuing the truth heroically and even being willing to die for that truth. 
 
This should strike the Christian to the heart, knowing that we have received the fullness of the truth in Christ along with every grace and blessing to live a godly life.  We must in every way let the love of Christ compel us and embrace every discipline that will foster virtue and purity of heart and so draw us closer to him.

Tonight we continued reading homily 56. Isaac begins to guide us through a reflection on the nature of affliction and how it leads to the perfection of virtue and love. This is something that is often very difficult even for Christians to embrace. The cross always remains a stumbling block for those of the world and, in so far as it is a stumbling block for us, we are not fully alive in Christ. We cannot live in an unholy alliance with the world. Christ alone must be our joy and all idols must be set aside, most especially our own ego. Isaac uses the example of the natural virtue of philosophers. Even through discipline of their intellect and will they could achieve a high level of heroism and virtue. As Christians we must understand that we cannot rationalize our sin as being due to weakness of will or tell ourselves that we are not capable of living the life of the gospel. Naturally God has created us for Himself and now he has given us the grace to share in a godly life. He has called us to deification.

Tonight we concluded homily 55. Isaac discusses the nature divine fear, which is not fear of God but rather fear of losing what is most precious - our virtue.  Such fear makes us vigilant and prayerful. 
 
At the beginning of Homily 56 Isaac addresses how God makes use of involuntary afflictions to heal us and strengthen us. Like a surgeon, the Divine Physician delicately and with great mercy operates corresponding to the severity of the illness.
Tonight we concluded homily 54 and began reading homily 55. Isaac finishes homily 54 by telling us of the intimate link between fasting and silence. To engage in meaningless conversation or distractions can make us dissipated and lose our attention and ability to remember God. It can also weaken us in our spiritual practices. By simplifying our lives and removing unnecessary busyness and by fostering solitude, our experience of prayer and intimacy with God can deepen. Likewise, the practice of praying at night and for extended periods of time can enrich our prayer on a daily basis. We must let go of the time constraints that we place upon ourselves and let God guide and direct us; let him determine how long and when he wants to draw us to himself. 
 
Homily 55 begins by focusing on zeal. Do we enter into the spiritual life and spiritual battle with a desire for God and for virtue? Do we engage in that spiritual battle as those who trust in the grace of God and the strength that he gives us? Or do we give way to a kind of unmanly fear or what Isaac calls set satanic fear that is rooted more in our sense of what the battle will cost us or things that we are unwilling to let go of for the sake of what is good.
We continued this evening with homily 54. Isaac confronts us with a simple question somewhat indirectly – how deep is our faith and confidence in God‘s providence and the power of his grace? Do we remain engaged in the spiritual battle with hope in Him and trust that we are surrounded by the Angels and the Saints? Do we remain joyful in tribulations knowing that God makes all things work for the good of those who love him?
 
In this world we will experience tribulation and hardship. We must prepare ourselves through prayer and our ascetical life to endure to the end.  Such endurance in the face of hardship and temptation often will require that we wait decades to experience the fruit and the joy of the kingdom.  Isaac tells us that when we embrace tribulation and affliction we participate in the redemptive love of Christ and begin to experience His own secret treasures.  
 
Isaac concludes by giving us a beautiful example of an elderly monk encouraging a novice to hold fast. He reveals to him how he began to taste the very sweetness of the kingdom and the unceasing worship of angelic beings. “Behold, the labor of many years, and what limitless rest it bore!”
Tonight we continued our discussion of homily 54. Isaac begins to explain to us the importance of tears in the spiritual life as a reflection of true repentance and as a fruit of repentance. Through rumination on our sin and through meditation upon the reality of the brevity of our life we come to mourn what has been lost through sin and begin to find that our only hope is in what Christ can offer. It is the vision of this that fills the soul with joy. 
 
Isaac then shows us that the solitary life and the vocation of the solitary reveals that we cannot neglect the interior life. We are not mere secular humanists, but our strength is in the Lord and our capacity to love comes only through his grace. 
 
Finally Isaac calls us to hold fast and to have courage in the spiritual battle, for God is our guardian and protector. Without his grace all things would be ravaged by the evils and consequences of sin. We must not let affliction strip us of hope but hold fast to our faith in what the cross shows us; that in self-emptying love we experience now our destiny and dignity in Christ. Even if we were to lose all sense of security in this world, our hope is invincible if we are immersed in the love of the Lord.
We continued this evening with three very rich paragraphs from homily 54. St. Isaac begins by speaking about how we should approach psalmody. We read and pray with the Scriptures, not simply as those borrowing the words of another, but as those who’ve sought to open their minds and their hearts to God and have prepared the rich earth of their hearts to receive the seed of His  Word. 
 
Isaac then discusses the struggle with despondency. Whenever we turn away from God, we begin to experience a kind of existential depression and sadness. We cannot ignore He who is Meaning and Life and expect not to feel a void within us.
 
And finally, Isaac warns us about the struggle with our own thoughts. They are too many for us to handle and the demons are relentless and have the experience of thousands of years on how to manipulate. Therefore we must turn the mind and the heart to God in unceasing prayer, recognizing our poverty and need for His grace.
We picked up this evening with homily 54. Isaac begins by discussing the impact of memories and recollections on both virtue and vice. Meditation upon virtue helps to transform the imagination. Likewise meditating upon the lives of the Saints and the vision of them that comes through contemplation sets one’s heart to pursue God with a greater zeal. 
 
We must be aware of the fact that both angels and demons can manifest themselves to us; either to draw us on onward in the pursuit of virtue or to lead us into error or fear. Thus, we must learn to discern what is appropriate to meditate upon. When love is rooted in God, the well-spring of living water is unfailing.  It for this reason that Isaac warns us not to become mechanical in our approach to prayer. We must trust in God’s providential love especially in the act of prayer - never calculating or controlling things.  A good sign of this is peace and freedom in mind and heart. Confusion and turmoil come from the evil one.
Tonight we continued following Isaac’s explication of the nature of faith in Homilies 52 and 53; how it brings us to a knowledge of God that transcends the senses and all worldly knowledge that comes through the intellect. He writes,  “all the saints who have been found worthy to attain to this spiritual discipline, which is awestruck wonder of God, pass their lives by the power of faith in the delight of that discipline which is above nature.”  The Comforter shows us the power that dwells within us at every moment and consumes with fire every part of the soul. Thus we are led into all truth - to comprehend God as He is in Himself. Faith then illuminates all things and leads the soul to stretch forth her thoughts and long for that which the eyes of the body see not. 
 
We come to experience the certainty of faith that is not merely a confession of dogmatic beliefs but rather the union established with Christ through baptism and through obedience to His commandments. When we learn to be constantly alert and foster within true contrition, we come to walk the path trodden by the saints and to taste the peace of the kingdom.

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