September 19, 2019
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.
September 12, 2019
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.
August 22, 2019
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.
June 6, 2019
Our discussion began this evening with homily 58. Here Isaac speaks to us of the importance of willing the good. We must learn to seek virtue with all of our heart. In order to do this we must understand, however, that we will need God’s help and grace and we must support it all with unceasing prayer. Likewise, we must ask ourselves the important question: “is it pleasing to God?”; and in the end we must be willing to say “Thy will be done”. The good is discerned by much prayer, watchfulness of heart, tears and compunction and again ultimately God’s grace. This alone protects us from pride and seeking to embrace whatever desire falls into our hearts.
Homily 59 begins by telling us that we cannot have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. Our every concern must be with loving God and doing his will. So often we succumb to the illusion that we need material things in order to support our identity as well as our life. But Isaac reminds us that if we seek the kingdom before all things, God will provide. He will give us what is necessary. We must not simply work for worldly rewards. If we become overly attached to material things in this world God at time to allow us to experience trials in order that we might see where our faith really lies.
March 29, 2018
We returned to homily 37 tonight where St Isaac instructs us on the meaning and value of tears. They both cleanse us from our sins and are an expression of our compunction. Furthermore they anoint us and transform our countenance as we enter into greater intimacy with God and are transformed by his Grace.
Life transformed by God’s grace through such tears manifests to the world the resurrection that we experience now in Christ. We are to cast off the old man and live as those who seek Christ alone. Essential to this is fostering a life of stillness where we can mortify the senses in order to be more attentive to God.
To one whose conscience is clear and pure God will often provide visions or revelations. Sometimes he offers these simply to console one struggling in the spiritual life, in particular those living in the desert as anchorites. Having stripped themselves of all earthly consolation, God in his providence supports and nourishes them by manifesting to them the truth through these two means.
Discussion ensued regarding the experience of those in the world. While perhaps not experiencing the visions that are intrinsic to the solitary life, we are still called to foster stillness and seek intimacy with God as does the monk. To live our lives seeking God in all we do and having our lives shaped by this reality.
September 14, 2017
Tonight we came to the conclusion of Homily 17 of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Isaac continues to discuss the Chaste life and how to protect it. He instructs us to keep our inner life a private affair. We must not reveal what is most intimate and our relationship with God or our vulnerabilities. We must never put ourselves or God to the test nor must we retaliate when we are condemned by others. Gluttony must be avoided at all costs and we must avoid rich foods so as not to weigh ourselves down. Silence is to be guarded as most valuable and in this we should avoid talkativeness and flee theological discussions. We must occupy ourselves with one thing alone – our relationship with Christ.
In Homily 18 St. Isaac begins to speak to us about the stages of the spiritual life. In particular he focuses upon the violence we must do to ourselves in order to transform the passions - fasting, reading, vigils, prostrations. Such must be embraced to stoke the fires of devotion and compunction which give way to tears that cleanse the heart. We must keep our focus on these disciplines and not hurry indiscriminately towards the higher forms of prayer. To do so would be to subject ourselves to potential delusion.
August 24, 2017
Last night we reflected upon Homily 16 of St. Issac the Syrian. It is a beautiful exhortation to let go of our attachment to the world and the things of the world, to let go of the security and false hope they promise. Isaac encourages us to cling only to Christ who is our salvation and source of healing. The path to healing and joy is repentance. The sacrifice we may make in renouncing the world pale in comparison to both the immediate and ultimate end such renunciation promises - purity of heart and deification. Even the deep sorrow of compunction and the tears shed over our sins, carry within them the joy of renewed intimacy with God.
May 4, 2017
St. Isaac presents us with the identity of the monk and his defining characteristics. Discussion ensued about interiorized monasticism and our embrace of the call to sanctity. Holiness, the control of the passions and unceasing prayer are meant not only for the monk but for all.
Like the monk we are called to love chastity and to pursue it through nourishing ourselves upon the writings of the scriptures and the Fathers and through prolonged prayer. We must immerse ourselves deeply in the love and mercy of God in order that the deep wounds we bear may be healed.
Our life is found not in the things of this world but in God. We are strangers to the city and citizens of the Kingdom. Our detachment must be such that we fear not the loss of our reputation but endure all dishonor quietly in order to defuse hatred and anger.
Bearing such affliction purifies and solidifies the particular virtues within us as gold is purified in the fire.
July 14, 2016
We continued to follow Abba Theonas' discussion with Germanus and Cassian on Theoria and the obstacles to lasting contemplation. Theonas drives home the experience of wretchedness of the holy individual who is pulled away from contemplation of God by distraction and the weakness of the fleshly mind. We "Fall" from contemplation and if we had a true sense of the loss that that is to us we too would experience deep compunction. Yet, it is the action of constantly turning back to God that brings the holy soul the immediate outpouring of God's grace. The anguished longing and desire of the soul is met by the immediate desire of God for renewed union.
The group sought to understand this through the place where we all experience the deepest intimacy with God - the Mass. In a world that fosters distraction and celebrates noise, it is easy for us to lose a kind of "custody of the eyes" - or custody of the Nous (the eye of the heart) that keeps us focused on the gift of love that is being offered to us and the sacrifice through which it has been made possible. Only one who has tasted the sweetness of God's loves can understand the "Wretchedness" that St. Paul speaks of and the desire to be delivered from this body of death. The deeper the love, the greater the pain at losing sight of the Beloved!
July 7, 2016
Few penetrate the meaning of the Fall (although we all experience its effects) as the desert Fathers or capture what it means to live according to the law of Grace. One has to taste something of the experience of purity of heart, contemplation, and the peace of Christ, to grasp fully what Abba Theonas is speaking about in this conference. How many of us would experience true compunction and the tears of repentance over being distracted from God and our thoughts of God? We are trained from an early age not to seek and value above all things that constant state of communion with God but rather encouraged to pursue one distraction after another or to direct our greatest energies to fleshly concerns. In light of this it is easy to understand the ubiquitous experience of anxiety that touches every human being. We know not only separation from God because of our sin but a profound inner division. When St. Paul said: "The good that I want I do not do, but the evil that I hate, this I do", he was not referring to the struggle with base passions (which in reality we do not hate but most often desire) but rather of the condition of one who has achieved purity of heart and so mourns at how often he is pulled from gazing upon the divine brilliance and focused instead upon something much less. To live fully in accord with the law of grace, to know the invincible peace of the Kingdom, is the reality that has been made possible for us through the blood of Christ. Yet it is the reality the eludes our grasps because we do not seek it from the hand of the Lord but rather to construct it ourselves and in accord with the measure of our minds.