We picked up again this week with homily 66. Saint Isaac presents us with perhaps the most formative part of his book. While this might seem to be an overstatement, St. Isaac speaks with such clarity about the key aspect of the eastern Fathers’ understanding of the human person - the nous - the organ of spiritual perception. St. Isaac lays out with striking clarity not only the nature of the nous but how it is to be formed and purified. Only through the ascetical life and the ordering of the appetites and the passions toward God is the nous, the eye of the heart, purified in such a way that it allows for true discernment. Aided by grace, our capacity to perceive the truth the God increases as well as our capacity to embrace it. Isaac is very quick to warn us that this spiritual perception involves the whole person. It is not simply a philosophical or intellectual perception of truth, a mental vision. It is asceticism aided by grace that allows us to contemplate the truth and so develop a greater awareness of God. This awareness of God gives birth then to love and love is strengthened and emboldened by prayer.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Sixty-five Part IV and Homily Sixty-six Part I
Tonight we continued our reading of Homily 51. We picked up with Isaac’s list of observations showing us the nature of discernment and how important it is in our relationships with others and for our engagement of the world around us. Things often are not what they seem and so the gift of discernment is of great value in the eyes of the Fathers. It allows us to see how we often rationalize certain worldly behaviors, how we domesticate the gospel, and how we constantly seek to place boundaries around and limits to our understanding of love and mercy. The characteristic and distinctive element of Isaac‘s writings is his perception of the nature of God‘s mercy and what that means for the Christian way of life. At one and the same time he compels us and challenges us to rise above are limited understanding and to walk by faith and also reveals to us the height and the depth of God‘s love for us. Each of us stands in a unique relationship with God of intimacy and of unbonded love and Mercy. No one can provide us with faith and love; only we as individuals can pursue that relationship. As one western Saint put it - you are either a whole saint or no saint it all. We cannot approach God‘s love and mercy with half measures.
We continued reading the 17th Homily of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on establishing a "Rule" of life for beginners in light of Hesychasm and Philokalic Spirituality as a whole. Isaac shows how every aspect of our life must be transformed by the grace of God. With a holy genius, he reveals the healing of soul that must take place. Every interaction with others, every emotion, can be a means of seduction and so must be considered with radical honesty. We must possess a willingness to reflect upon things such as laughter, the familiar and lingering gaze upon another, and encounters with the opposite sex from the perspective of their impact upon the spiritual life and the vulnerability that arises out of our sin. This is never a solitary pursuit. A solidarity exists between each of us and thus a responsibility for one another's salvation.
In Homily 17, St. Isaac begins to lay out a "Rule of Life" for those seeking to live chastely and in a way pleasing to God. Chiefly this means showing restraint and wisdom in regard to every aspect of life: sight, speech, attire, food, alcohol, etc. Thus, discretion is put forward as the most important of all the virtues - the ability to discern between good and evil. Purity of heart and purity in action is essential; as is setting aside all egoism. Indiscriminate familiarity in relations with others must be avoided and a proper respect for boundaries in relationships and in daily interactions is essential. This is not fastidiousness but rather an acknowledgment of the power of the senses, desires, appetites - indeed all that is human. All must be purified and transformed by the grace of God.
Conferences of St. John Cassian - Conference Twenty On the End of Repentance and on the Mark of Reparation Part III
We come to the conclusion of Conference 20 on repentance and reparation and consider the depth of the desert Fathers understanding of the human person. Abba Pinufius sets off carnal sins from the others as those that one would not want to recall as a means of uprooting the disposition to them. Such sins, touching upon our natural appetites and desires carry within them the danger of drawing us back into them if we allow them to return to memory and imagination. Pinufius is not treating such natural appetites as evils but rather respecting their power and importance to our identity as human beings. For such reasons they are not to be treated casually or lightly in the spiritual battle. We must instead turn our minds to heavenly things - the desire for God and the virtues.
Cassian and Germanus find themselves struggling, as it were, with a seemingly no win situation. No matter what decision they make they will experience loss on a spiritual level. They had made a rash promise when coming to Egypt. They had promised their superiors that they would return quickly. However, they have found that simply hearing the teachings of the elders was insufficient; they must live the discipline of the desert for a much longer period of time in order to have their hearts formed and purged of the slackness that lies within. To return now would not only make it impossible for them to communicate the wisdom of the desert fully but also place them both in jeopardy on a spiritual level. Once have let the inspiration to pursue the perfection of the desert monasticism pass they would experience enormous spiritual loss. However, to remain now would be to set aside a promise they had made to their superiors. Abba Joseph seeks to guide them through this situation realizing that they had acted rashly and without discernment. One must never promise anything quickly. The question now, however, is where can the inevitable damage they will experience be made more tolerable and compensated for by the remedy of reparation. They must humbly assume the damage caused by their sin but remain along the path where their lack of discernment and purity of heart will be addressed in order that they same mistake not be made again. What hospital do you go to depending on your infirmity? Where will the deepest and most lasting healing take place?