Philokalia Ministries
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part III

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part III

February 7, 2019
We continued our discussion tonight of homily 52 where St. Isaac again tells us that knowledge is perfected by faith and acquires the power to ascend on high, to perceive that which is higher than every perception and to see the radiance of God that is incomprehensible to the mind and knowledge of created things. It gives us a foretaste of things to come and reveals the future perfection. 
 
The works of virtue lead us to faith. But even they are only steps by which the soul ascends to the more lofty height of faith.  The way of life proper to faith is more exalted than all things in this world - even that of virtue. 
 
Lengthy discussion ensued about the struggles in this world to pursue genuine faith – how we often settle for something far less than what God offers. We seek security in the world more than intimacy with God. Unceasing prayer and the means to such prayer are often neglected or unknown.  Often we seek to shape our spiritual life according to our own judgment rather than according to the mind of God.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part II

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part II

January 24, 2019
Tonight we continued reading homily number 52. St Isaac begins to unpack for us the difference between worldly knowledge and the knowledge that comes through faith. Faith always transcends the world and lifts us up above the limits of nature. In many ways faith shakes knowledge to its foundations. With the eyes of faith we see that nothing is impossible and that even if we were stripped of everything in this world we still possess all. Those who cling to worldly knowledge are always filled with the kind of anxiety, seeking ways to protect themselves from reality or to protect what they possess. They seek to use every way and means to assure themselves of what it is that they see.
 
But faith is never vanquished by anything. What can human knowledge offer in the face of open conflict or war, in particular war against invisible beings? Faith offers us unspeakable wealth - the very riches of the kingdom itself.  To turn away from faith is to fall into destitution, to freely return to a place of slavery. So often we cast aside the pearl of great price, sharing in the Sonship of Christ for the limited things of this world.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part I

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-two Part I

January 3, 2019

Tonight we began a new homily, Homily 52, where St. Isaac expounds upon the various degrees of knowledge and in particular the distinction between earthly knowledge and faith. He leads us down a path that is often difficult for people in their sin to understand - that knowledge and faith are opposed. Now this may seem rather extreme. But what St  Isaac is trying to teach us is that earthly knowledge is always going to be confined by the very real limits of our intellect and understanding. It often arises out of and gives birth to anxiety; for earthly knowledge must always seek to control the realities that we face as human beings, to try to manipulate nature. Yet at the same time we know very well that we can never free ourselves from what frightens us the most; death, sickness and tragedy. We feel driven to work toward greater efficiency and authority over creation, but can never reach that end. Faith alone open our minds to the experience of God and His eternal love and compassion. It opens us up to the possibility of that which is not confined by the limits of this world. At the same time we are filled with the confidence in the providential love behind this that we are freed from fear and anxiety.

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-one Part IV

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-one Part IV

November 30, 2018

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.

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-one Part II

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Fifty-one Part II

November 15, 2018
Tonight we continued our journey with St. Isaac through homily 51. Isaac continues his reflection upon living the life of mercy and challenging our view of justice as those who been redeemed by the blood of Christ. In the eyes of God our sin is like a handful of sand cast into an ocean of divine Mercy. Likewise we must view one another with the same generosity of spirit, always viewing sin and evil actions as a sickness driven and shaped by the evil one. We must never lose sight of the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God even in the face of incontrovertible moral failure. We must realize that our sin distorts our view of the truth and inflames our anger to the point of retribution. Our anger no longer simply informs us of the presence of injustice it makes us want to take the judgment of God into our own hands - to embrace once again the original sin of seeking to make ourselves gods. 
 
Isaac sets out the virtues of humility and chastity as shaping the heart and making us a tabernacle for the Divine Trinity. Fear and joy both draw us toward God. Joy excels however and creates exuberance in the soul and fashions an open and irrepressible heart. 
 
Isaac does not fail to warn us of the pitfalls along the way. We must be circumspect and watchful even in those relationships of greatest love. We must desire to protect and foster the virtue of the other as much as our own. 
 
Our reflection shows us that Isaac will not allow us to domesticate the gospel and shape it with our almost infinite capacity for rationalization. Divine revelation turns our perception of reality and all that is human on its head. The revolutionary nature of the Gospel strikes the heart with full force.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Forty-six Part II and Homily Forty-seven Part I

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Forty-six Part II and Homily Forty-seven Part I

August 13, 2018
Tonight we concluded Homily 46. St.  Isaac again expresses the centrality of the holy Eucharist in giving us the strength to live and love as Christ desires. It is through the love that we receive at his hand that we are transformed. In Christ, the sinful, the sick and the hopeless find the desire for holiness, healing and trust in the promise of the Kingdom. 
 
In Homily 47 St Isaac begins to discuss the distinction between natural and spiritual knowledge. We have all been gifted with the capacity to discern between good and evil. This natural knowledge, pursued and fostered, prepares us to receive the gift of faith and so the knowledge of God. If neglected however we will find ourselves impoverished, less than what we are to be as human beings; more like animals than those who have been made sons and daughters of God. We must live in a constant state of repentance, allowing it to draw us back to God and to the full measure of our humanity. Only then can we be raised up to share in the fullness of the life of God and experience the hope of eternity.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Thirty-nine Part II

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Thirty-nine Part II

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. 
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily One Part II

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily One Part II

October 13, 2016

St. Isaac begins by encouraging us to become drunk with faith in God; to be so immersed in our relationship with Him that we are constantly under the influence of His grace.  Only in this way will the malady of the senses and the passions that arise out of them be healed.  It is this understanding of Christian Asceticism that must be regained.  Instead of seeking distraction and entertainment in our lives, we must seek solitude and silence; to purify the heart in order to be drawn into the Mystery and Wonder of God. 

When God's grace is abundant within us we easily scorn the fear of death and are willing to endure the greatest tribulations.  In fact, Isaac tells us, such trials are necessary for the perfecting of faith and lead us to rely more and more upon the providence of God.  Without this trust, a person is continually waylaid by his fears of the world around him and the unknown.  

Fear of God, the offspring of faith, and obedience to the commandments is the only means to avoiding distractions.  As human beings we are constantly in a state of receptivity through our senses and unless we turn away from the senses we will gradually be driven away from our delight in God.  A conscious choice must be made to simplify our lives in order to provide them with the solitude that is need for prayer and study.  Without such intent we will be driven back to the inveterate habits of licentiousness.
The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily One Part I

The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily One Part I

October 6, 2016

After a brief introduction to St. Isaac and his times, we began reading and reflecting upon his first homily on "Renunciation and Monasticism." In the Syriac, the first six homilies form a unit with one title "On the Discipline of Virtue" - hence the opening sentence of this homily - "The fear of God is the beginning of virtue, and it is said to be the offspring of faith." 

This first homily seems to sow the seeds of many of the principal themes that will be developed throughout the book.  

Virtue is sown in silence.  As Christians we must seek to collect our thoughts and prevent them from wandering into distraction.  Faith frees us from the preoccupation with the self and heals us of the malady of isolation; it allows us to transcend the self in order to see God and neighbor and so love them. It is allows us to see that every moment is freighted with destiny because every moment is an opportunity to love.

To foster the development of such faith we must avoid the inconstancy that often arises in our hearts and instead remain in the silence and immersed in the study of the scriptures.  We must embrace the kind of poverty that leaves us unencumbered and so free to direct our energies to the study of the Word.  In doing so we build the entire edifice of the spiritual life.  In other words, the city must become our desert; although living in the world we remained removed from the unnecessary affairs of the world so as to protect our imaginations and allow the passions to abate.  

The soul must become drunk with faith - constantly under the influence of love.  Thus inebriated with the spirit we will find the courage to tread beneath our feet all that prevents the growth of the discipline of virtue.

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