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.
September 14, 2017
Tonight we came to the conclusion of Homily 17 of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Isaac continues to discuss the Chaste life and how to protect it. He instructs us to keep our inner life a private affair. We must not reveal what is most intimate and our relationship with God or our vulnerabilities. We must never put ourselves or God to the test nor must we retaliate when we are condemned by others. Gluttony must be avoided at all costs and we must avoid rich foods so as not to weigh ourselves down. Silence is to be guarded as most valuable and in this we should avoid talkativeness and flee theological discussions. We must occupy ourselves with one thing alone – our relationship with Christ.
In Homily 18 St. Isaac begins to speak to us about the stages of the spiritual life. In particular he focuses upon the violence we must do to ourselves in order to transform the passions - fasting, reading, vigils, prostrations. Such must be embraced to stoke the fires of devotion and compunction which give way to tears that cleanse the heart. We must keep our focus on these disciplines and not hurry indiscriminately towards the higher forms of prayer. To do so would be to subject ourselves to potential delusion.
July 13, 2017
Last night we picked up with Homily 13 which focused on initial effects of Stillness on the soul. For a brief period of time she is deprived of spiritual comfort as she begins to walk more and more in the darkness of faith and as God continues His work of purification. St. Isaac warns that the pursuit of Stillness must be something one sets oneself to cultivating for the rest of one's life. This is no avocation but something to which one commits the rest of their days.
Patience is needed so as not to fall into despondency and discouragement. One must persevere in prayer and look to the Fathers for direction and nourishment.
In Homily 14, St. Isaac tells us that the sign and fruit of true stillness is tears. The more one enters into the reality of the Kingdom and intimacy with God the more they pass into an inexpressible beauty and as baby born into this world weeps so does one who enters the stillness of God shed copious tears for years on end. Only then does a soul pass into peace of thought and the Holy Spirit begins to reveal heavenly things to her.
We began Homily 15 by discussing how one in the world and surrounded by its noise could cultivate this stillness. One must come to realize that the desert is not a geographical region but rather the heart. It is there that we must foster constant stillness and remove those things from our lives that inhibit its growth.
May 25, 2017
St. Isaac began his teaching with a few warnings last evening. The constancy of a soul and its purity is tested by the subtleties of vainglory. The moment one begins to trust in the strength of his virtue and to think it is invincible, he begins to speak freely of licentious subjects. He will then be inundated by unchaste thoughts and his mind will be defiled. The greater the vainglory the greater the subjugation to the passion.
Purity must be guard by bodily toil, reading of the scriptures, and care for the virtues until cleansing tears rise from the depths of the heart creating a fervent longing for God. Yet if tears are lost through negligence or sloth one cannot presume that this precious gift will be regained.
Affliction alone solidifies and purifies the virtues in the heart and once the heart is purified the Holy Spirit becomes the teacher and guide. Fervor and the desire it expresses guides one to God with an ever greater swiftness.
The pursuit of God must not be made in an over calculated fashion, where fear of perils hinders movement. Free reign must be given to desire and not held back by a false prudence masking a lack of courage.
February 23, 2017
In this section of the 4th Homily Isaac warns: "Do not take it upon yourself to teach others while still in ill health; rather consider yourself ignorant and always a novice - preferring humility, holiness and purity to all things. Guard against becoming mere vendors of words and arm yourself with the weapons of tears, fasting and the study of scripture and the Fathers.
March 3, 2016
While trying to help Cassian and Germanus focus on the end of repentance and the marks of reparation which is healing (the removal of the thorn of the conscience and any disposition to sin), Pinufius patiently steps back and tries to hearten and encourage his proteges in the continuing pursuit of these things. He must first help them see the constant means God places at our disposal to know his mercy and forgiveness and the means he provides for healing us of the effects of our sins. Again, with a single stroke of the pen, Cassian removes our tendency to turn the forgiveness of sin and the repairing of its wounds into something mechanical or magical. God is a lover who ceaselessly seeks us out and draws us to himself; offering us at every turn means to know his forgiveness. Never more can we blame God for our lingering attraction to sin and return to it. It is our negligence and lack of resolve, our pride and laziness alone that keeps us from coming to know that fullness and freedom, love and forgiveness. Our lack of hatred for sin and our unwillingness to do whatever is necessary to free ourselves from its grip, reveals a lack of love and gratitude for God's gifts.
February 19, 2015
Along with Cassian and Germanus, we came to the end of the first conference on prayer with Abba Issac, where discussion focussed on the different origins of tears (consciousness of one's own sins, fear of Gehenna, the sins of others, and the hardships of this life in the face of a deep longing for heaven). Tears are to be fostered as a part of compunction, but never forced once one has reached deeper level of prayer, so as not to focus on things of lesser importance.
Prayers are heard or not heard for various reasons. Our hearts must be filled with a kind of urgency that gives rise to persistence in prayer and we must not doubt that God will hear and answer our prayers in due course, so long as like our Lord we seek only the will of God and what is for our salvation.
Prayer is to be engaged in silently; not only so as not to disturb others but in order not to reveal to demons the more intimate aspects of our relationship with God. Some things are only to be shared between the soul and the Heavenly Bridegroom.
February 12, 2015
Continuing our discussion of Conference Nine, we picked up with Abba Isaac's exposition of the final petitions of the Our Father: "And subject us not to the trial . . . but deliver us from evil." Trial is an inevitable part of the human condition and the spiritual life, but we seek in such trials the protection of God and the grace of perseverance and long-suffering so as not to succumb to the evil of the loss of our faith or to act in a way contrary to God's will. We ask not to be tried beyond our capacity.
When praying, care must be given not to seek those things that our transitory in nature and nothing base or temporal. To do so is to offer great injury to God's largesse and grandeur with the paltriness of our prayer.
Abba Isaac then moves on to discuss the more sublime character of "wordless prayer" that transcends understanding and to which few are called. It is a infusion of divine light through which God can in a brief moment fill the mind and heart. The precondition of this prayer is the breaking and humbling of the heart which is expressed through compunction and the overflow of tears that purify the heart.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the potential enigma of philokalic spirituality to the Western mind - the setting aside of imagination and the focus on taking every thought captive so as to eventually be brought to unceasing prayer.
January 8, 2015
Prayer is the subject of conferences 9 and 10 and its importance is underlined at the very beginning of the 9th: "The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer." But this constant prayer demands, in turn, perfection of heart and the virtues that go with it. This ninth conference serves as a kind of preliminary, among other things establishing the conditions for prayer and the different possible characteristics of prayer.
June 27, 2013
JOYFUL SORROW: TEARS OF REPENTANCE THAT LEAD US INTO THE EMBRACE OF LOVE
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.