November 3, 2020
Once again we are presented with a beauty untold; that is, until recently when it has become accessible to us in the writings of St. Isaac.
We started this evening with Homily 73. Isaac, in a very brief and focused manner, speaks to us about the reason for embracing the exile of the desert. In doing so, one avoids close proximity to those things that could be a source of temptation and sin. Even being around worldly things can arouse the turbulence of warfare against a soul and allow her to voluntarily be led away into captivity even though no warfare has assaulted her from without. In other words, by living in a world that has become comfortable with sin we can find ourselves with dulled consciences. We may no longer live with a heightened sense of vigilance but give the evil one the advantage of seeing every manner of drawing us away from God. The poverty of the desert, the exile from the things of this world, extricated the monks from transgressions; it freed them from the passions. In a sense, it gave them the ability to run without impediment, to gird their loins and to seek the Lord without hesitation and without condition or limit.
Moving on to homily 74, Isaac gives us a more studied approach of how we deal with hidden thoughts and the actions and behaviors that can help us. We must begin with the study of the afterlife. We must acknowledge the fact that our life in this world is very brief. Having done so we find within ourselves courage and freedom from fear, every danger, and our impending death; for death we know only brings us closer to God. Such a vision of life helps us to patiently endure afflictions. Of course there is always the temptation put before us to return to our fears, to place ourselves once more in the shackles that once bound us. Cowardice can overcome our minds and we can begin to focus upon the body and its health. We become prey to the fear of losing all that the world can offer us. As always, Isaac’s writing is penetrating and it holds up an image of the desire for God that we might not recognize in ourselves. To read Isaac is to be humbled.
September 1, 2016
As we draw close to the end of the Conferences, the final pages follow Germanus and Cassian as they engage Abba Abraham on the theme of Mortification. Even after lengthy discussion, the two young monks continue to express their desire to return to their homeland to live there under the care of their relatives and in turn to attend to their spiritual needs. With great patience, Abraham confutes the laziness of his two young friends and the lukewarmness into which they have fallen. They must know, he tells them, that "in the world to come you will be joined in the fate of those with whom you partook in this life of either gain or loss, or joy or sorrow." Inevitably Cassian and Germanus will get tied into the earthly affairs and fate of those around them. They will be drawn into the drama of their relatives lives - good or bad it does not matter. Also, he warns them that in allowing others to do too much in support of them, they will lose formation that the hardship of the desert itself provides. Rather, in all things they should prefer deprivation and poverty. Such charity and care belongs to the weak alone. As those who have chosen the solitary life, they have foregone access to such generous resources as a matter of course. They should prefer the sands rough with natural bitterness and regions wasted by floods of salt water - regions, that is, that only allow them to live day to day and in reliance upon divine providence and the labor of their hands. Those who have an undisciplined heart and fall into distraction of mind because of it, lose whatever they seem to have acquired by the conversion of others put their profits in a bag of holes. Leaving the desert will deprive them of their own betterment and bring them most likely to ruination.
Their pathology is rooted in the reasonable part of the soul. They think somehow that they have the strength and constitution that matches the desert monks and that they no longer need their instruction. The only cure for this sickness is humility. Their souls have been hurt by their believing not only that they have already attained the heights of perfection but even that they are able to teach others. They have been seized by this errant conceit because of the swelling of vainglory that can only to be cut off immediately through humble contrition.
August 25, 2016
Abba Abraham continues to engage Germanus and Cassian about their desire to return home to be near their relatives. He warns them that the promise of being taken care of by others will draw them away from the particular hardship and asceticism necessary to live the life of true solitude and to remain focused upon God alone. Freedom to study and pray unimpeded is not the extent of the solitary life. It is also not to be drawn into the affairs of others, good or bad, but rather to remain within one's cell and to limit one's thoughts to God. Acedia, or a kind of listlessness will draw them out from the solitude especially when the environment and the freedom to engage others are there as a temptation. The Egyptian monks have already built up a strong constitution in avoiding this vice and the pathless environment of the desert makes it unattractive to relatives and the curious alike. One must learn to trust solely in the providence of God to provide for their needs and to satisfy the desires of their hearts. Having chosen the solitary life the must see themselves as dead to the world and to all but God.