December 22, 2020
Homily 75 continues to be St. Isaac‘s most exceptional and powerful reflection. He speaks about the oft neglected practice of night vigils. This, he tells us, is the most powerful form of prayer, more powerful than praying during the daytime. Isaac tells us that this is not because there is something magical about praying at night. He is not fostering a kind of superstition here. He is quite simply telling us the praying at night offers a person the opportunity to come before God without any distraction or impediment; humbling the mind and body by disciplining oneself through fasting not only from food but also from sleep. Unencumbered, the soul searches for God with an urgent longing. Having nothing weighing it down, it swiftly runs to the Beloved and seeks to remain in His embrace unceasingly. It is for this reason that the devil envies vigils above other all other forms of prayer. For, Isaac tells us, even when it is practiced poorly and in an undisciplined fashion, God produces great fruit in the soul.
January 2, 2020
Tonight we concluded homily 66. Isaac focuses on the virtue of chastity and its beauty. It is to be prized and fostered through the gift of fasting. We must not give ourselves over to eating to the point of satiety. Rather our discipline must be regular and constant. We must humble the mind and the body so that our desire is ordered and directed toward God. At times it’s hard for us to understand such a longing for virtue and the willingness to go to such great lengths to attain it.
This is the revolution that Isaac calls for – to be completely directed toward God in everything that we do. Asceticism is essential and the relational aspect of it is equally if not more important. Our whole being must be directed toward God - in order that habit and grace may work together to lift us towards God and away from sin swiftly and, as Isaac would say, violently. Our hatred of sin and our love for virtue begin to work together in such a fashion that when we see a movement of the body and its appetites, there is a complete and absolute response that draws us to the Beloved.
Asceticism is essential for the life of the Christian and for the Church as a whole. Its breakdown over time has distorted the vision of what it is to be a Christian and what it is to be transformed into Christ by grace.
December 2, 2019
Tonight we concluded Homily 65. Isaac closes his discussion on the value of silence and the work that surrounds it and allows it to develop and bear fruit. Chief among these is fasting and stillness. External stillness fosters internal stillness and fasting humbles the mind and body and order that prayer may deepen and the mind and the heart become more open to God. The group spoke great deal about fostering a culture that supports the renewal of fasting. Saint Isaac closes the homily by holding up the joy that comes to the individual by living in this holy silence. It is the joy the kingdom itself and that comes through seeing and participating in the mysteries of God.
Homily 66 is Isaac‘s attempt to open up for us an understanding of eastern anthropology and how it shapes the spiritual tradition. Chief among the things that he speaks about is the nous, or the eye of the heart and how it must be purified through asceticism. The passions must be overcome in order that the dullness of the vision of the nous, which is the faculty of spiritual perception, might be overcome. There is no discernment outside of purity of heart. True theology can only be done by one who is experiential knowledge of God and has spent years in prayer, stillness and ascetical practice.
April 26, 2019
Tonight we concluded homily 54 and began reading homily 55. Isaac finishes homily 54 by telling us of the intimate link between fasting and silence. To engage in meaningless conversation or distractions can make us dissipated and lose our attention and ability to remember God. It can also weaken us in our spiritual practices. By simplifying our lives and removing unnecessary busyness and by fostering solitude, our experience of prayer and intimacy with God can deepen. Likewise, the practice of praying at night and for extended periods of time can enrich our prayer on a daily basis. We must let go of the time constraints that we place upon ourselves and let God guide and direct us; let him determine how long and when he wants to draw us to himself.
Homily 55 begins by focusing on zeal. Do we enter into the spiritual life and spiritual battle with a desire for God and for virtue? Do we engage in that spiritual battle as those who trust in the grace of God and the strength that he gives us? Or do we give way to a kind of unmanly fear or what Isaac calls set satanic fear that is rooted more in our sense of what the battle will cost us or things that we are unwilling to let go of for the sake of what is good.
March 15, 2019
We continued our consideration of homily 52 where St Isaac describes for us the various degrees of knowledge. Tonight he discussed the second degree of knowledge. The person begins to turn away from the merely sensual and by the love of the soul begins to turn toward God through the ascetical life, i.e., the practices of fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the Scriptures, and the battle with the passions. The Holy Spirit perfects this work and this action and so lays the foundation for greater purity of heart and opens up a path to the reception of faith.
The third third degree of knowledge that St. Isaac describes refines what has been acquired through the action of the spirit and the ascetical life: the soul stretches towards God and through the gift of faith comes to experience and taste the hidden mysteries of the kingdom and the depths of the unfathomable sea of God’s love.
June 7, 2018
We continued our discussion of Homily 40 and St Isaac’s teaching on the practice of regular fasting. Without fasting and abstinence we are easily delivered up to the warfare of the passions. Infidelity to this practice and lack of rules regarding eating and times for meals have made us spiritually weak. Modern man suffers from intemperance and we cannot seem to suffer hunger even for the briefest time. Thus we have become slaves of our passions. The enemy can see our negligence and can easily vanquish us by hunger. Discussion ensued about the contemporary lack of Asceticism in this regard and the encouragement to eat without discretion from every quarter.
Isaac warns us that our beginning in the spiritual life is important. We must not despise small matters. If we do, we give the enemy ground to wage war with us in great matters. The wise fight with discretion and are attentive to small struggles. Such attentiveness reveals to the enemy that we are not to be trifled with and that we will respond at the first signs of attack.
May 10, 2018
We began Homily 40 and it has proven like so many before it to be challenging and beautiful. St. Issac captures not only the foundational and essential elements of the spiritual life but presents us with an ever so honest presentation of the consequences of negligence. St. Isaac teaches us that stability of place fosters a kind of internal stability and stillness of mind. To leave the stillness and the watchfulness it affords opens our imagination and memories back up to the passions that had been once healed.
Fasting humbles the mind and body to make them more docile and placid to the workings of grace. Fasting involves the whole self in the spiritual life in order that life itself can become Liturgy - that is worship of God. To let go of perpetual fasting is to make ourselves swine - our belly and passions become insatiable and we begin to consume what is unfit for human being created in the imagine and likeness of God. The unconscious bears witness to this as fantasies emerge in dreams and the body responds by emitting the concrete manifestation of those fantasies enacted.
March 15, 2018
We continued this evening with our reading of St. Isaac’s 37th Homily and his discussion of the essential practices of fasting and vigil that are the foundation of the spiritual life. Through this fasting we begin to experience the “warmth” of our hunger for God and the unshakable peace of prayer. It is also here that we move toward stillness of the thoughts and the passions and so are prepared for the purification of heart that God alone brings about.
Isaac also emphasizes the importance of solitude in achieving and maintaining this purity of heart. We can’t throw ourselves into the chaos and disorder of the world and expect to thrive. Rather we must guard our hearts vigilantly.
Discussion ensued about Isaac’s thought that this is the true mode of freedom and that we should choose fidelity to God’s law and the salvation it promises over the law of the world which is rooted in the flesh. Life in this world is brief and we must be mindful of the dust to which we shall return and the judgement we shall undergo.
Final thoughts centered on the state of cultural collapse in the West and the reduction of Christianity for many to a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a similitude of faith but not life in Christ or the deification that we are called to by grace.
March 8, 2018
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.
October 5, 2017
In the second half of Homily 20, St. Isaac the Syrian lays out for us the beauty of maintaining Night Vigils. He values it so much that he tells us that we should never remove it from our spiritual life. Nor are we to dissipate our toil by becoming inattentive and negligent in our daily life. If we cultivate our converse with God throughout the day so that it conforms to our night's mediation then in a very short while we shall have embraced Jesus' bosom. Dominion over one's thoughts and purity and concentration is granted to the mind that allows it to gaze upon and understand the mysteries revealed in the Scriptures. Even in illness when other disciplines are relaxed Vigils gain for the mind a steadfastness in prayer. If we maintain the practice throughout our lives we will behold the glory experienced by the righteous.
This isn't without struggle. We must be willing to endure and persevere through times of heaviness and coldness and learn through these experiences that great fruit is received and suddenly our strength will return to us. We will be overcome with wonder and purifying tears will flow.
If after fasting, prayer and Vigils have led to the taming of the body, the arousal of appetites should return, Isaac warns us that we must through repentance search for the source of pride that diminishes this great gift until our hearts are once again brought to rest in God.