Philokalia Ministries
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Seventy-three and Homily Seventy-four Part I

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Seventy-three and Homily Seventy-four Part I

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.

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Seven On Mourning

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Seven On Mourning

June 27, 2013


In this step John discusses the source of tears and what they do for the soul.  Not only are they a gift of God which purifies our hearts and drains away our passions, but true tears produce joy within the heart.  Mourning gives way to the consolation of being forgiven by and reconciled with God.

At the heart of our mourning, then, is love for God.  We weep because we long for God and the love that He alone can provide.  According to John, this makes it one of the most important and essential of virtues.

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Three and Four

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Three and Four

May 9, 2013

On Exile:detachment from relations and absolute value of commitment to Christ; the necessity of humility and avoiding corrupting influence of demons and those of bad character; Dreams and the dangers of deception through literal interpretation.

On Obedience: renunciation of self-will and self-direction

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Two and Three

Ladder of Divine Ascent - Step Two and Three

May 2, 2013

Applying St. John's Teaching to Daily Life in the World


John does not hide the difficulty of the struggle ahead for those who have entered the religious life, and provides little hope for an easier way to progress in virtue.  To give oneself up to God requires a stripping of oneself of all possible attachments, concerns, anxieties, possessions, and even certain loves and friendships.  In short, one must strip oneself of anything and everything and live solely for God.  Only in doing this, John states, can one be truly able to pray as the psalmist, "I will cling close to you" (Ps 62:9).

There are many things, John calls them demons, which try to attack a monk after he has renounced the world.  In convincing a monk that he is no better off for the renunciation, the monk either returns to the world, or falls through his grief into despair.

The grief, John tells us, comes from the love of things left behind in the world and, therefore, a monk must be diligent in guarding his heart.  Once beginning the difficult journey on the narrow way, John states, it is easy to fall again onto the broad highway that leads to destruction.  When the thoughts of the world threaten to overwhelm, the best weapon is prayer.


With this third step, John concludes the first section of his treatise describing renunciation and the break with the world which is a prerequisite to the spiritual journey of the monk.  As with the two previous steps, exile involves the painful stripping away of  worldly attachments - renouncing all for God.  Exile means leaving all that one finds familiar.  For those in the religious life, it means separation from relations.

John is quick to point out that this does not mean hatred of family, but the recognition that even what is good can be used to draw one away from God.  Once a person has renounced the world and entered the monastic life, the strength of his feelings for his family can draw him away from his commitment.

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