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Archive for the 'grace' Category

Another beautiful group tonight!  We picked up with Hypothesis I, page 13. Again we are given multiple stories of individuals repenting from sin and turning back to God from states of depravity. The very movement of the mind and the heart brings down upon them a flood of God’s grace and mercy.

What is different in the stories we read tonight is the radical solidarity and empathy that we see in the minds and the hearts of the elders. They approach those in their charge not as masters but as servants; not condescending to them but rather seeing themselves sharing intimately in the sorrows and the woundedness of their sin. The responsibility was theirs’ to weep over these sins and seek to help others overcome them if possible. There is no such thing as an individual Christian; that is, a Christian separated from the body of Christ and from one another. Our own repentance should help to elevate and lift up the Church and the repentance of others can also help raise us up and strengthen us as well. God‘s desire is to heal us, not to punish us. We have lost this sense of the need for healing and understanding that the Church is a hospital and have instead turned the acknowledgment of one sins into a legalistic practice or rather a psychological and emotional release. Consciences can be so hardened - not only among individuals but among whole groups of people - that we can completely lose our way unless God and his great mercy and Providence does something to up-end the illusion. He will do anything to help us overcome what affects and afflicts us. Blessed be God forever.


Text of chat during the group:

00:17:02 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: in case anyone needs it my brother wrote A Brief Primer on Patristic Greek Anthropology with an Emphasis on the Process of Contemplation and Obstacles to It Very Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, SThD September, 2003     http://tho3306.sheptytskyinstitute.ca/2013/11/27/a-chirovsky-brief-primer-in-theological-anthropology/

00:17:36 carolnypaver: Thank you, Fr. Ivan!

00:18:11 Wayne Mackenzie: I have a copy of this. A good read.

00:51:30 Katharine M: Sorry I forgot to raise my hand, :)

01:07:00 Eric Williams: “Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” - GK Chesterton

01:08:53 Lilly Vasconcelos: Russia is definitely spreading Her errors across the world, as Our Blessed Theotokos warned us in Fatima, Portugal

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Tonight we continued our study of Hypothesis I on repentance and the avoidance of despair. Again, we are presented with a number of stories that emphasize the importance of the simple movement of the mind and heart toward God through acknowledging one’s sin. This immediately brings down upon the individual the mercy and the grace of God - no matter when or where it takes place. God who sees the mind and the heart knows the person’s motivation and the depth of the repentance.

One of the things we are warned about is the kind of sorrow that the demons often will place within the human heart to cast us into despair and make us call into question the mercy of God. Again and again the demons put forward the doubt that one has lived too long in sin in order to receive the mercy of God, that they belong to the demons and hell due to the amount of time they spent in their sin.  Yet, repeatedly we hear the angels say that God is the true master of heaven and earth and in his omniscience sees to the depths of a person’s soul. He alone has the right and the capacity to judge. 

We may find ourselves particularly challenged by the fathers’ emphasis upon how our conscience should immediately cease to be troubled the moment that we acknowledge and confess our sins to God. So often it is fear and doubt that allows our sin to cling to us; that it gradually undermines the unconditional love and mercy that God wants to fill us with in order that we might engage others with that same perfect love. It is often one of the great stumbling blocks for us even as men and women of faith to enter into this profound mystery, to let ourselves to be guided by the grace of God to imagine the unimaginable – that His love could so transform us and so free us from the shackles of sin. The darkness that sin brings to the mind and the heart often clouds our vision just enough to throw that all into doubt; making us want to qualify it in one way or another. All the “reasonable” objections immediately come to our hearts and minds and we stumble. The mercy that we are given is meant to free us in every way, from our sin and from every limitation on our capacity to love and give ourselves in love.


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We continued our reading of homily 72. Isaac presents us with a vision of life and the action of grace that is fierce and beautiful at the same time. The grace of God is constantly present to us and she teaches us and allows us to gain experience through the  temptations and trials that we face. She protects us and strengthens us in perfect measure while also letting us know and learn from our own weaknesses. Temptations and trials lead us to cling to God and seek his strength.  Weakness comes upon us when self-esteem leads us to think that we are the source of great things in our own lives. We must be taught by hardship, Isaac tells us.  It is tribulation and affliction that reveal the most to us in life, that draw us into the mystery of the cross and reveal to us the true nature of selfless love. Like Christ, through our suffering we are made perfect. Gradually we come to desire what God desires and will what He wills.

Ironically, it is desperation that reveals to us true hope. Only when we find no hope in the things of this world and we see its empty promises do we come to embrace the hope that comes to us from the hand of God. It is this alone that offers us comfort and it is this that drives us on to seek the Lord above all things.

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After a long hiatus we returned to our reading of the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. We picked up on page 501, about halfway through Homily 72. Isaac has been speaking about the nature of faith and humility, and how, when they are perfected by the grace of God, they bring us to a place where we are prepared for the experience of contemplation.  Let it be noted that it is preparation; it is only by the grace of God that one is elevated to contemplate God as He is in Himself. As we move from the multiplicity of deliberations and thoughts, God brings us to a state of simplicity of mind. We must become like little children, letting go of the limitations of intellect and merely clinging to He who is the Lord of life. It is then that His grace begins to act upon us and reveal to us things both in a manifest fashion and in more hidden ways. We begin to see how God‘s grace instructs us but also protects us from so many evils and dangers. The more that we begin to see this grace active in our lives, the more she reveals to us the hidden things in the ambush of the demons; how they manipulate our thoughts and guide us into a state of agitation and anxiety. We must see this as a temptation not simply as a result of the natural state of our existence in this world. Surrounded by chaos we must keep our eyes fixed upon the Provider of all things. When we do so, all anxiety and fear drifts away and we find ourselves resting in the ever present arms of God. 

This is such a timely teaching in an age of upheaval, where men and women have lost a sense of what to hold onto or what offers security and stability. Isaac reminds us with a clear and bold voice that it is God alone that we must trust.

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Tonight we concluded homily 71 and began homily 72. Once again Isaac serves us solid food. He presents us with an image of humility and faith perhaps unlike anything that we have ever considered before and calls us not to allow it to become a dead letter but rather something that raises us up to the fullness of life and love.  Can we let go of our worldly knowledge, our natural knowledge that comes through the senses and is shaped by the intellect and rather allow ourselves to comprehend what God reveals through and in faith?  For it means allowing ourselves to become fools in the eyes of the world, to become like children, like infants, unable to communicate clearly but able to receive the love and protection that the Father offers us. 
In this we are called to be like Christ himself, who in all things says “Thy will be done.”  Can we entrust ourselves so radically to the providence of God that we lose all fear and anxiety and become aware of Him and Him alone – trusting that we are in His care and allow, as Isaac says, “Grace to hold us in the palm of her hand”?  
Unless we live in this radical humility and faith we will have no inkling of the essence of God. But we will know instead is the distorted image of our own minds and imagination. Are we willing to receive the paltry alms that such a limited faith offers?  Do we truly desire and ling for the Heavenly Bridegroom? Do we desire God as He is in Himself?

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Tonight our discussion focused upon the conclusion of homily 69 and the beginning of homily 70. Both present us with an exquisite description of the nature and action of God‘s grace upon the soul; how we experience an alteration in the mind and indeed a struggle with our passions, with temptations and our falls only to be lifted up by the grace of God again. Isaac presents us with a vision of God who is intimately involved in our lives and seeks to draw us from glory to glory into the depths of his own life. He does that, however, within the context of our humanity and understanding that we must be drawn deeper through our struggles to see and comprehend the truth as he seeks to make known. God does not free us from the spiritual warfare and the struggle with temptation; rather He thrusts us into its depths to bring us to greater repentance and draw us back to himself and makes us steadfast in the faith, hope and love.  Our mind must die to the world and to the passions and be transformed by grace. The passions don’t die: we must die to self and sin and put on the mind of Christ. Grace, Isaac tells us, carries us in the palm of her hand. God will never abandon us in the struggle but is ever present to keep us from falling into despair.

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We continued with our reading of homily 68 tonight. In a most extraordinary section, Isaac emphasizes the need to take heed of ourselves, to acknowledge the importance of being able to discern the most subtle movements of the mind and heart; to see which passion is dominant and the symptoms of its presence. Isaac like no other holds this out as an important competence, if not the most important competence for us to have as Christian men and women. We must be able to discern the passions that act upon us, their kind, how they manifest themselves, and how we are to remedy them. To be able to do this, Isaac tells us, is greater than the ability to raise somebody from the dead. To be able to see one’s sins and so repent and know the healing grace of God is of inestimable value. 
Isaac not only speaks to us the struggle that is necessary but the joy that is ours in gaining purity of heart. Our joy becomes that of the kingdom - that makes all things in this world seem as if they are of no account. We are destined for greater things and, when our eyes are open to this reality, we begin to feel as if we are in heaven itself.

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What is the sensitivity of the human heart and mind? How deeply have we been formed by the grace of God? Can we see the subtle movements of the passions within the stirring of temptations, the rising of pride or vainglory? Do we gauge the strength of these movements within us or the army of demons that rush upon in battle and are we able and competent to discern what needs to be healed within us?  Are we willing to stand vulnerable and transparent before God in order that He might heal us, that He might apply the healing balm that perfectly meets the need?
These are some of the questions that Saint Isaac puts before us in the conclusion of homily 67 and the beginning of homily 68. He wants us to look within, to take heed of ourselves in such a way that we can recognize such subtleties. This “truthful living” is at the heart of the ascetical life and breeds intimacy with God. The more we embrace the humble truth about ourselves, the more we find ourselves in the embrace of God. Tears may come; yet not those rooted in coldness of fear but rather those that flow from the heart that has been warmed by the love of God. 

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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.

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Tonight we continued our reading of homily 65. Isaac begins to speak with us about the fruit of stillness. One of the primary gifts of stillness is the healing of memory and of predispositions over the course of time. The more that we are faithful to the grace that God extends to us, the greater the fruit that we experience as well as the desire for stillness. Isaac warns us that we must not concern ourselves with what is foreign to God. Our minds and our hearts must be set on freeing ourselves from the senses by being engaged in unceasing prayer. We must have a love in keeping night-vigil for the renewal of them mind that it creates. This is true of every aspect of the ascetical life. We must engage in it with an exactness. Our love for what the Lord has given us and our desire to protect what is precious should lead us with a manly courage to engage in the spiritual battle. Cowardice is often present in the spiritual life and we find many ways to rationalize our negligence and laziness for fear of giving ourselves over to God completely. This we must overcome and strive to enter the kingdom and be willing to sacrifice all to attain it.

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