October 20, 2016
St. Isaac continues to lay the foundations for the discipline of virtue which include in particular the purification of the passions and the avoidance of distractions. He emphasizes reading as an ascetical discipline - especially the reading of scripture. Such reading helps free the mind and imagination from worldly things and the more one immerses himself in the wonder of God's love, the more the thoughts are prevented from running to the body's nature. If the heart is not occupied with study, it cannot endure the continuous assault of thoughts.
Inconstancy of mind and heart is overcome through fear and shame - a recognition of our mortality and the repentance from sin that flows from it. This is the foundation of one's spiritual journey and the quickest path to the kingdom.
We must remember that not every person will be wakened to wonder by what is said in the scriptures and the great power it contains within it. Faith more than reason must guide that study and illuminate that word and purity must clear one's vision. "A word concerning virtue has need of a heart unbusied with the earth and converse."
It becomes clear that simplicity of life and clarity of purpose and desire are necessary for those seeking the kingdom. Our faith cannot be an auxiliary construction or something to which we lesser energies. Nor can we compartmentalize our faith. The path to holiness must be tread with firm purpose and with the full self invested.
October 13, 2016
St. Isaac begins by encouraging us to become drunk with faith in God; to be so immersed in our relationship with Him that we are constantly under the influence of His grace. Only in this way will the malady of the senses and the passions that arise out of them be healed. It is this understanding of Christian Asceticism that must be regained. Instead of seeking distraction and entertainment in our lives, we must seek solitude and silence; to purify the heart in order to be drawn into the Mystery and Wonder of God.
When God's grace is abundant within us we easily scorn the fear of death and are willing to endure the greatest tribulations. In fact, Isaac tells us, such trials are necessary for the perfecting of faith and lead us to rely more and more upon the providence of God. Without this trust, a person is continually waylaid by his fears of the world around him and the unknown.
Fear of God, the offspring of faith, and obedience to the commandments is the only means to avoiding distractions. As human beings we are constantly in a state of receptivity through our senses and unless we turn away from the senses we will gradually be driven away from our delight in God. A conscious choice must be made to simplify our lives in order to provide them with the solitude that is need for prayer and study. Without such intent we will be driven back to the inveterate habits of licentiousness.
October 6, 2016
After a brief introduction to St. Isaac and his times, we began reading and reflecting upon his first homily on "Renunciation and Monasticism." In the Syriac, the first six homilies form a unit with one title "On the Discipline of Virtue" - hence the opening sentence of this homily - "The fear of God is the beginning of virtue, and it is said to be the offspring of faith."
This first homily seems to sow the seeds of many of the principal themes that will be developed throughout the book.
Virtue is sown in silence. As Christians we must seek to collect our thoughts and prevent them from wandering into distraction. Faith frees us from the preoccupation with the self and heals us of the malady of isolation; it allows us to transcend the self in order to see God and neighbor and so love them. It is allows us to see that every moment is freighted with destiny because every moment is an opportunity to love.
To foster the development of such faith we must avoid the inconstancy that often arises in our hearts and instead remain in the silence and immersed in the study of the scriptures. We must embrace the kind of poverty that leaves us unencumbered and so free to direct our energies to the study of the Word. In doing so we build the entire edifice of the spiritual life. In other words, the city must become our desert; although living in the world we remained removed from the unnecessary affairs of the world so as to protect our imaginations and allow the passions to abate.
The soul must become drunk with faith - constantly under the influence of love. Thus inebriated with the spirit we will find the courage to tread beneath our feet all that prevents the growth of the discipline of virtue.