November 24, 2016
The impact of sloth on the soul is often neglected and its significance minimized. St. Isaac the Syrian warns that without harsh tribulations of the flesh it is difficult for the untrained youth to be held under the yoke of sanctification. We must be willing to take upon ourselves the cross of the pursuit of virtue before sharing in its glory. Whenever the soul becomes heedless of the labors of virtue, he is inevitably drawn to what is opposed to them and thus becomes deprived of God's help and so subject to alien spirits. Every man who before training in the afflications of the cross completely and pursues the sweetness and glory of the cross out of sloth and for its own sweetness, has wrath come upon him. He lacks the proper wedding garment - the healing of the infirmity of his thoughts by patient endurance of the labor that belongs to the shame of the cross. A man whose mind is polluted with the passions of dishonor and rushes to imagine with his mind and ascend to the divine vision, is put to silence by divine punishment. "And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’"
Theoria is rooted in virtue and becomes the receptacle and house of the knowledge of God. It is in the body that we must pursue virtue and so we must engage in the rigors of asceticism. We are not angels but rather fallen human beings who must purify the eye of the heart for the perception of the divine mysteries.
St. Isaac then begins to clarify the understanding of the word world. The world is collective noun applied to all the passions. Great care must be given in separating oneself from the world and with humility we must understand that depeneding on our state we may not perceive all the passions that hold us in their grip.
November 17, 2016
Where is spiritual joy to be found? What does it mean to be a lover of virtue? How does one show mercy to those who have fallen? Where does sloth begin? These are the fundamental questions St. Isaac the Syrian begins to address in Homily Two.
In a few rather difficult paragraphs we are instructed not to become overly focused on the experience of the Kingdom and what it will be like. While it might be something that in some measure can be known noetically, it is not like our experiences in this life. Our focus should rather be on the pursuit of virtue and purifying the nous. The good things of heaven are incomprehensible and we must not let thinking about them become a distraction for us.
St. Isaac then moves on to clarify something about the attitude that we must have as we seek to grow in virtue and overcome vice. We must come to see that often hidden within valiant struggle is still the desire for the vice. The sign that one is a lover of virtue is expressed through the willingness to endure all manner of evil and suffering to maintain it with joy! The pure heart remains unconfused and unmoved by the "flattery of tantalizing pleasures." Sin must no longer have any attraction for us. Isaac also adds that if we lose the ability or free will to sin due to certain circumstances, i.e., illness, we will not come to know the true joy of repentance. Absence of sin does not mean the presence of virtue. All of this is a challenge to halfhearted approach to the spiritual life.
When faced with another's sin, we must seek to cover their shame and support them in their repentance so long as we don't place ourselves in jeopardy in the process. We must not voluntarily make trial of our minds but engaging sin directly with lewd reflections that can tempt us.
The practice of virtue for the young is always accompanied by affliction in order to be kept them under the yoke of sanctification. When prayer and religious services are neglected then sloth has already taken hold. And the moment one turns from God's help, he easily falls into the hands of his adversaries.
November 10, 2016
The thread that connects the thoughts of St. Isaac the Syrian's second homily is thankfulness to God. How we receive the gifts of God has great significance. One need only think of the story of the ten lepers in the Gospel. Only one returns to give thanks to the Giver for the healing he received. Lack of thanksgiving is akin to dishonesty, St. Isaac states. It shows that one does not grasp the true worth of what one has received and so not worthy themselves of receiving something greater. With the eyes of faith, one must grasp the generosity of the healer, even if the cure is painful. To fail to acknowledge such goodness or generosity or to resist the gift only increase the torment of the affliction. If we receive what the Lord gives us with true gratitude - whether painful or consoling - He will not fail to pour greater graces upon us for our salvation. Lacking such an understanding of things, God's gifts seem small in one's eyes - thus making one a "fool".
In our times of trial and failure we are to remind ourselves of times when we were filled with zeal for the Lord so as to stir our souls in to flame once more and awaken them from their slumber. Likewise we are to remember the falls of the mighty in the spiritual life, so as to encourage us when we have fallen that we might arise with confidence in the Lord.
Why spend so much energy pursuing the things of this world that turn to ash when the Kingdom of God is within you? Be a persecutor of yourself and do not pamper the body. Drive the enemy before you. Be peaceful and do everything you can to maintain your peace. Avoid everything that may distract or agitate and so hinder communion with God. Be diligent in seeking the treasure of the Kingdom that lies within you.
November 3, 2016
Once again St. Isaac's words stir the heart to hope and the desire for God. As a homily it offers with surprising brevity a clear and rich explication of the spiritual life. He begins by calling us to humbly follow the spiritual path common to all men. God's grace can work when and as it will in a person's life, but we should strive to walk the known paths that lead to virtue. The more one grows in virtue the more the soul's insatiable desire for virtue seizes hold. Discussion ensued about perhaps how uncommon an experience that is today. Do we experience a growing and insatiable desire for virtue within our souls?
Perfection is the standard for Christians in the spiritual life. Union with God means sharing in His virtues and embodying them in our lives. For example, the whole sum of the deeds of mercy immediately brings a soul into communion with the unity of the glory of the Godhead's splendor.
The truth of this is manifest in speech: That which comes from righteous activity is a treasury of hope, but wisdom not based on righteous activity is a deposit of disgrace. Words arising out of experience transform the listener.
Isaac concludes by reminding us that all good things come through God and are wrought in us in secret through baptism and faith. Any virtue we possess comes through these mediators and through them we have been called by our Lord Jesus Christ to His good labors.