October 17, 2019
Tonight‘s reading of homily 64 was something of a labor of love. Following Isaac’s train of thought was more difficult simply because language fails and more often than not the capacity to grasp the reality spoken of is limited for so many of us. Isaac began to speak of the ineffable hope and joy that belongs to one who has embraced the path of repentance and the renunciation of the things of this world. He begins to describe for us the fulfillment of all desires the frees one from anxiety about this world and the future. To turn from the passions, to be completely focused upon Christ, to see the world through the lens of his promises fills the heart with an indescribable joy. The ascetical life, the battle with demons, the inevitable reality of death, leave no trace of fear within the soul.
April 4, 2019
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.
June 14, 2018
Tonight we concluded Homily 40. Saint Isaac speaks to us of the tactics of the enemy to pull us away from unceasing prayer and to lead us into every form of negligence and laxity. The enemy watches for all the ways that we are slothful and inattentive to the small things of daily life that open us up to sin.
Wisdom is found in the man who is ever watchful and who sees nothing of his day to day life as insignificant. He labors for God in every way, not preferring the comforts of this world but willing to sacrifice all to know the sweet repose of living in the Lord’s love. With courage of heart he seeks to do the will of God with exactness so as to sharpen his conscience. In this he possesses confidence towards God and becomes bold in His ways. True virtue is found in living in Christ and seeking the purity of heart that allows us to be free of the passions and filled with desire for the kingdom.
April 26, 2018
St Isaac led us through a wonderful study of the methods the devil uses to war against those who seek to live for God and walk by the narrow way.
The devil will wait patiently for some who begin the spiritual life zealously; not because he fears them but rather because he holds them in contempt. He waits until their zeal cools and they grow lax and overconfident. He allows them to dig their own pit of perdition for their souls through wandering thoughts.
With the courageous and strong, the devil seeks to drive a wedge between them and their guardian angel. Craftily the devil convinces them that their victories come through their own strength and force. The devil imitates the guardian angel and convinces them to follow dreams as if true in order to lead them astray.
Finally the devil will actively present the warrior with fantasies masking the truth and thus deluding their mind. He leads them to ponder shameful thoughts. He will even present them with actual physical temptations once thought to be overcome.
April 19, 2018
Beginning with Homily 38 and moving into Homily 39, St. Isaac treats of the struggle with sin and temptation and the methods of the devil. The starting point is not to fear temptation. Such fear reveals an avoidance of hardship and lack of zeal for the Lord. We are not promised happiness or peace in this world but affliction. Thus we are to enter the spiritual battle with strong resolve - a willingness to sacrifice all for love of God and virtue. The devil will urge us to ease our labors but we are to be unrelenting in the fight.
The devil begins by observing our weapons and watching for a weak and infirm will. He will the let loose with full force upon us in order to shake our resolve and to overcome us with fear. God often allows us to feel the full brunt of these temptations if only to reveal our doubt and coldness. We must confront the devil with fearlessness and ardor. Anything less makes us tempters and mockers of God. He did not create us simply to enter and leave this world but made us for eternity. This is the lens through which we must view our lives.
December 21, 2017
Tonight we finished homily 28. It was also the conclusion of St Isaac‘s angelology. The impact of his thought on our experience of the life of faith is beyond measure. We engage in the spiritual life not in isolation but rather part of the divine economy is that we are drawn into the mysteries of faith through mediation. The keenness of vision and the light give to angels is for us a means of being drawn ever forward in our love for God and the pursuit of holiness.
Likewise demons are present among us to incite to evil. Yet while possessing that keenness of vision they lack the light. Those who fall under their influence are drawn into darkness.
There comes a time, however, when such mediation is abolished - when we shall gaze upon God face to face and He alone shall draw us ever deeper into the mystery and eternity of his love.
It is love alone that is eternal. To turn away from it therefore is it’s own punishment and is described by St. Issac as bitter regret.
December 14, 2017
Tonight we completed Homily 27 and began Homily 28. Both have as their main concern, “Theoria”, or contemplation. St Isaac continues to stress the place and importance of Angels in our spiritual lives. They perceive the truths and mysteries of God and creation, including our spiritual state. Their main purpose is to teach and guide us in accord with the light of truth and God’s providence.
As human beings we know certain limitations in our reception of truth and capacity for Theoria. There is an inconstancy and unevenness in our response to God and so our confidence must also be tempered always in this world by fear of judgment. We must never cease to strive for vigilance.
Demons however only draw close to destroy us and not to profit us. While they share the keen vision of Angels they lack light and know only darkness. They can’t but lead us along the path of destruction. Less powerful than Angels, for this reason they still can influence us and deceive us through presenting a phantom of the truth.
November 13, 2014
After a brief hiatus due to illness, the group picked up with the final few pages of Conference Eight which was Abba Serenus' response to Germanus' questions as to whether demons could have had intercourse with the daughters of men and whether the devil had a father, given the words of Jn 8:44 "he is a liar and the father of it." Serenus responds to the first be asserting that a spiritual being could not have had carnal relations with a corporeal being. He explain the account in Gn 6:2, instead, in terms of the reprehensible intermarriages between the offspring of Seth and that of Cain. When they mingled with the wicked daughters of Cain, Seth's sons "abandoned that true discipline of natural philosophy which was handed down to them by their forebears and which that first man, who was at once immersed in the study of all natural things, was able to grasp clearly and to pass on in unambiguous fashion to this descendants. In particular, the group focused on a brief digression on how the law forbidding intermarriages such as these would have applied, since it was promulgated after the event. The old man points out that the holy ones of the OT had a natural and spontaneous knowledge of the law.
In response to Germanus's second question, Serenus says that God himself was the devil's father, for God created him. This issue, though perhaps not as pertinent in our day, was of great interest in Cassian's time. It had already been raised by heretics, who asserted that the devil was the offspring of a being other than God.
The group then moved on to Conference Nine which takes up the topic of prayer: the end of every monk (and of every Christan) and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer. This constant prayer, Cassian teaches, requires in turn perfection of heart and the the virtues that go with it.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about establishing such a clarity about the aims of the spiritual life and establishing not only the discipline but the simplicity of life that would foster such goals. The pursuit of such simplicity would set a Christian apart in a culture that values and exalts busyness.
October 24, 2014
The group picked up with Abba Serenus' exposition of the nature and characteristics of demons - the fact that they occupy the airy void between heaven and earth, their hideous appearance, their mutual adversity (which is the result of their having befriended mutually opposed nations on earth), their titles, functions and hierarchy, and their assignment to individual human beings, such that each human being has a personal demon as well as a personal angel. It is fortunate that human beings cannot ordinarily see them, for otherwise they would either be horrified by their aspect or seek to imitate them in their wickedness. Finally , as aggressive as demons may be against humans, they may also obey them in one of two instances, either when rendered submissive by human holiness or when soothed by the sacrifices and incantations of the wicked.
October 16, 2014
The group took up Cassian’s eighth conference – listening once again to the wise counsel of Abba Serenus. This conference treats of demons in themselves and their origins. In particular, the question is raised: “Were they created by God, in all their variety, specifically to wage war against humankind?”
Serenus begins with some lengthy preliminaries about the interpretation of Scripture and about the possibility of understanding it both historically and allegorically. From there, he proceeds to affirm the goodness of everything that God created and hence those angelic beings that were created before the foundation of the visible world and that eventually fell came to be called demons. As far as their variety is concerned, the demons either maintained in hell the hierarchy that they originally had in heaven or imitated those ranks after the fall. Lucifer fell “a first time by pride, for which he deserved to be called a serpent, and a second fall followed as a result of envy.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the eternality of God and His foreknowledge of the Fall of angels.