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Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-seven Part II and Letter Thirty-eight Part I

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-seven Part II and Letter Thirty-eight Part I

December 31, 2020

We picked up this evening with letter 37.  St. Theophan begins by reminding Anastasia that she does not want to belong to the category of one who is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm; having no real desire to please God and no desire for salvation. He doesn’t know if she falls into that category but it is possible that she is simply following along with everyone else in the group; doing what they do. However, she is called to something far greater; She is to do all things in good conscience and it (conscience) is to become for her a kind of new garment. If she seeks to please God and to do his will in all things she will begin to experience something of the peace of the kingdom. Before this happens, however, Anastasia must see and feel the depravity of life outside of God. She must acknowledge the many ways that she has lived her life vainly, letting time simply pass by. Out of this alone will emerge a contrite heart that fosters a deep repentance and desire for the life of God. “Do not let your life pass in vain,” he tells her. “Embrace this path now!” 

St. Theophan begins letter 38 by calling Anastasia to consciously renew the vows that were made at her baptism.  She simply needs to begin gradually and to do what she is able to do, trusting in the grace and love of God. She must do this, however, with a firm resolve and a belief in the depths of God‘s love. If she does this, all will be well.

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part IV

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part IV

December 29, 2020

Tonight we came to the conclusion of homily 75. Saint Isaac continued to explain to us the blessings of Night Vigils. They give light to the thinking; having purified the mind and the heart through limiting sleep, one begins to discern the things of the kingdom through prolonged prayer and watchfulness. The Light shines upon the mind and one begins to perceive that which is Divine. 

To help us understand this Isaac gives us a number of examples of those who are exemplars of holiness and lifetime practitioners of night vigils. In them we see not only the discipline that is needed but also the fruit of the practice; unyielding fortitude to produces transfiguration of the body. The Fathers came to acknowledge this as a sweet labor.

However, Isaac does not want us to have any illusions about the practice or its difficulties. One must ask oneself honestly if there is a desire not only to practice Vigils, but to foster constant stillness and a willingness to endure the afflictions that these practices bring. Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices to live a holy and undistracted life? Without this desire, the attempt to practice Vigils would be foolhardy.

St. Isaac closes with a comforting word as one who understands the weakness and the fragility of human nature. We may struggle throughout our whole life to engage in the practice of stillness. But we will undoubtedly experience losses and gains, victories and defeats.  In all of this we must never lose patience and, most importantly, we must not lose our joy in the Lord and our trust in His grace.

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-seven Part I

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-seven Part I

December 24, 2020

In Letter 37, St. Theophan begins to feed Anastasia with solid food. He draws her from simply resolving to amend her life to yearning to act in accord with and in harmony with the will of God. It is this that she must be most diligent in seeking in her life. Anastasia must begin to examine her life in light of this general rule: everything she does should be done in accord with his divine will and for the sake of pleasing God. The person who does this, he tells her, even though they might have no talent, no riches, no special ability, will come to experience the joy of the kingdom and know themselves as seen by God as pleasing in His eyes. There is no greater gift. Most of the world, however, lives carelessly. People’s acts are done haphazardly - they act not because they desire to do the will of God but rather because they are drawn along by the ways of the world. The majority of the people in this world are driven by the spirit of lukewarmness. They have nothing against God but they have no deliberate desire to please him either. They are not egoists but yet they preserve their own self interest at every turn, avoiding every self-sacrifice. They are not blatantly vain, but they have no objection to amusing themselves in worldly matters. They want to be seen as part of the world and sharing in its delights rather than seeking to see God.

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Text of chat during the group:

00:55:37 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Eastern Canon law often legislates the bare minimum, but in the UGCC, spiritually the general goal for everyone is: all Wednesdays and Fridays of the year are fasting days except for when a feast of the Lord or of the Theotokos occurs on that day; Four penitential seasons: the Great Fast (aka Lent), dairyless and meatless at least forty days before Pascha, (abstaining from meat seven days earlier actually), the St Philip's Fast, forty days before Christmas, Sts Peter and Paul Fast (aka Apostles' Fast) from the Second Monday after Pentecost until June 29, and the Savior's Fast (aka Dormition Fast) from August 1-14.  Granted there is no fasting even on Wednesdays and Fridays between Pascha and Ascension Thursday and between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4.  Byzantines also never fast, although we do abstain, on Saturdays and Sundays even during the penitential seasons.

00:56:09 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: UGCC = Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church

01:00:49 Eric Williams: Orthodoxy/Byzantine Catholicism: Hard disciplines, mercifully taught ;)

01:01:19 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: yes....

01:10:02 Eric Williams: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

01:19:54 Mary McLeod: Thank you, Merry Christmas!

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part III

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part III

December 22, 2020

Homily 75 continues to be St. Isaac‘s most exceptional and powerful reflection. He speaks about the oft neglected practice of night vigils. This, he tells us, is the most powerful form of prayer, more powerful than praying during the daytime. Isaac tells us that this is not because there is something magical about praying at night. He is not fostering a kind of superstition here. He is quite simply telling us the praying at night offers a person the opportunity to come before God without any distraction or impediment; humbling the mind and body by disciplining oneself through fasting not only from food but also from sleep. Unencumbered, the soul searches for God with an urgent longing. Having nothing weighing it down, it swiftly runs to the Beloved and seeks to remain in His embrace unceasingly. It is for this reason that the devil envies vigils above other all other forms of prayer. For, Isaac tells us, even when it is practiced poorly and in an undisciplined fashion, God produces great fruit in the soul.

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-five Part I

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Thirty-five Part I

December 17, 2020

Tonight we began with letter 35. St. Theophan begins to discuss with Anastasia the importance of identifying one’s inner disposition; whether one is focused on God and pursuing the life of virtue or driven by one’s passions or certain kinds depravity. It becomes very important to identify clearly the primary passion and those intertwined with it. It is the strongest one that we must overcome first in order to weaken all the others. Strike it down and one gains a great measure of freedom. We need also to identify that to which we are most dedicated and the one to whom we are most dedicated in this life. Are we driven by the spirit of our own ego and satisfying its needs or have we set aside the ego in order to live for God alone? Theophan like so many of the Fathers before him emphasizes the desire for God. It is this that  drives us on to engage in the spiritual battle and to be willing to make all the necessary sacrifices.

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part II

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily 75 Part II

December 15, 2020

We continued our discussion of homily 75. Isaac draws us into the beauty of the practice of vigils. He speaks to us of the freedom from despondency and the onrush of joy the monks who immerse themselves in prayer at night experience. With the mind and heart filled with the things of God and of His word, no foreign thought has room to enter. All they know is God and they speak to him in the secrecy of their heart.

Isaac makes it clear that there is great room for variation, depending upon the monk and the strength of his constitution and will. Adjustments might have to be made, he acknowledges, but one always seeks to keep his mind and heart fixed upon God or upon the example of the saints who lived in this discipline in all of its fullness.

Isaac then begins to lay out for us how it is that these monks were able to sustain themselves in such a life; not only the discipline of it but how they could maintain themselves physically and emotionally in such isolation. As always, Isaac‘s writing is beautiful; no matter what he touches upon, it speaks directly to the heart.

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