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Tonight we concluded homily 71 and began homily 72. Once again Isaac serves us solid food. He presents us with an image of humility and faith perhaps unlike anything that we have ever considered before and calls us not to allow it to become a dead letter but rather something that raises us up to the fullness of life and love.  Can we let go of our worldly knowledge, our natural knowledge that comes through the senses and is shaped by the intellect and rather allow ourselves to comprehend what God reveals through and in faith?  For it means allowing ourselves to become fools in the eyes of the world, to become like children, like infants, unable to communicate clearly but able to receive the love and protection that the Father offers us. 
 
In this we are called to be like Christ himself, who in all things says “Thy will be done.”  Can we entrust ourselves so radically to the providence of God that we lose all fear and anxiety and become aware of Him and Him alone – trusting that we are in His care and allow, as Isaac says, “Grace to hold us in the palm of her hand”?  
 
Unless we live in this radical humility and faith we will have no inkling of the essence of God. But we will know instead is the distorted image of our own minds and imagination. Are we willing to receive the paltry alms that such a limited faith offers?  Do we truly desire and ling for the Heavenly Bridegroom? Do we desire God as He is in Himself?

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This evening we continued our reading of homily 71. St. Isaac continues to define for us the essential virtues that lead us to the end of our course. Tonight, however, he not only describes for us and defines for us the nature of prayer and of humility as virtues, but he lays out for us the specific Asceticism of prayer and humility; how we exercise ourselves in faith to set God above all things - most of all above our egos. There’s an absolute quality to this response to God that Isaac puts before us. We have to have both feet within the kingdom, otherwise it is like we are unequally yoked in regards to our desires. We cannot desire God and the things of this world. To do so, even in the most subtle of ways, is to diminish our love for God and fall onto a path of mediocrity. God would have us completely and desires to be the object of the full desire of our hearts.

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Tonight we continued reading Homily 65. St. Isaac begins to speak about how one prepares oneself to enter into the life of stillness. One must investigate well what one is considering and the discipline necessary to live such a life. One cannot simply seek the name of solitary.  Rather, a person must engage in the long work of preparing the mind and the heart to embrace the discipline of stillness. One must have a clear aim and fix one’s gaze upon God completely otherwise despondency will overcome them when faced with trials.
 
The solitary focuses upon God entirely in the stillness to the point of no longer being engaged in the battle and warfare with the passions. In perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs ever written St. Isaac captures for us the nature of the contemplative experience of God and the fruit of stillness.  He speaks of the wonder of the life of stillness and its fruits like no other ascetic writer and his words become an exhortation that reaches to the depths of the heart and creates a longing for God.

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“Love silence above all things”, St. Isaac tells us. However, this is not a mere pious expression but rather one of the deepest truths of human existence. Silence is the place of encounter with God that reveals to us His beauty and our poverty at the same time. Tonight Isaac showed us the path to this Holy Silence. Its starting point is our willingness to force ourselves to remain in it and to pray that God shows some part of what is born of it. It is a discipline that offers us a taste of divine sweetness but also leads to a flood of tears that arises out of the pain of our sin and our perception of the beauty of God that amazes the soul. This silence fosters an internal stillness that begins to transform the mind and the heart. The deeper that one enters into it the more one comes to reflect the divine. Isaac speaks of the holy Elder Arsenius, who having achieved a level of perfect silence, merely through his countenance gladdened the hearts of those who encountered him without ever speaking a word. This encounter inflamed within them the desire for God and the desire for the ascetical life.

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Tonight we read the conclusion of homily 60 and all of homily 61. These few pages were some of the most beautiful that we have encountered. Isaac captures for us not only the meaning and purpose of afflictions, trials, and temptations but reveals to us the presence of the love of God within them. We never suffer in isolation and anything that we endure is permeated by the grace of God. To understand and see this clearly only increases a person’s desire for God as well as their willingness to embrace the cross as it comes to them without fear or anxiety.

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Continuing with homily number 48, Saint Isaac speaks to us of the essential place of asceticism in the spiritual life. We must seek in every way to allow the passions to be transformed by the grace of God and through discipline of mind and body. Only in this way will we be able to experience something of the lasting joy and peace of God and the Kingdom. Through our senses we are in a constant state of communion with and receptivity to the world around us. Yet our sin makes us vulnerable and our vision of the things of the world become distorted. Conscience becomes malformed and so good appears to be evil and evil appears to be good. Only by being dead to life in this world, that is, dead to our attachment to the things of this world and our own desires can we be free to desire and love God. Ease and idleness are the very destruction of the soul and, St. Isaac tells us, injure the soul more than demons. Through our negligence we open the door for temptations to freely enter and so we darken the soul. 

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Tonight we read homily 44 of St. Isaac the Syrian on Stillness. Isaac speaks of the value of stillness and the unwillingness an anchorite should have to sacrifice it. No dishonor or honor should lead a monk away from the silence. No natural bond or act of charity should tempt the one called by God to it to free himself from the charge. God alone can ask for such absolute love and commitment. The monk embraces the solitude not for himself or because of any whim or natural inclination but rather to obey God’s call him to serve the church in such a fashion.  He does not despise association with men but rather loves stillness because God set it before him as the path to salvation. 
 
Such a writing calls us all to reflect upon our lives and the depth of our commitment to God. It confronts us with the gospel and it’s truth in an unvarnished fashion. It is nothing less than unsettling and one must listen with faith. If we do not find it disturbing, then we have to ask ourselves if we have ever heard the gospel in its fullness. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, God wants our hearts completely and absolute fidelity.

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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.

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We began our discussion of St Isaac’s 37th Homily with his teaching about the importance of separating ourselves from the things of the world so as to make the ascetical struggle easier.  The struggle is easier when the sources of temptation are at a distance. We must in fact flee from those things that cause warfare and not associate with that which fights against us. The stillness and purity that is gained through asceticism must not be thoughtlessly thrown away; For even the memory or imagination of certain things can bring us harm. Thus we must guard against becoming overconfident so as not to trample our consciences. Various examples of this were discussed. 
 
St. Isaac then moved on to consider what is the beginning of the spiritual war and where does one start the fight. Fasting and Vigils are the signs of our hatred for sin and desire for God. They are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Day and night they lead us to God - humbling the mind and body and making us ever watchful and discerning. Discussion ensued about what this means for those living in the world and how it they are to be fostered. 

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Tonight‘s group was challenging as always. Saint Isaac begins to draw us into the heart of the gospel and the embrace of the cross. We must be willing he tells us to endure afflictions. We cannot draw near to Christ crucified without them or grow in righteousness.  There is no static position in the spiritual life. Truly speaking there is no spiritual life but only life in Christ and a single hearted pursuit of the Kingdom. The world beguiles us; constantly trying to pull us away from the narrow path; ensnaring even great ascetics. We must keep before our eyes the brevity of life and come to love the Lord and our souls so much that we also come to hate sin.  Furthermore, we must study the scriptures to rouse ourselves to faith and increase our fervor.  This alone gives rise to greater faith and desire for God. 

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