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Archive for the 'hope' Category

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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Isaac’s thoughts take a turn as we approach the end of Homily 64. He moves from the love of silence to the Remembrance of Death. These are not disconnected thoughts. Rather Issac reveals to us that our remembrance of death and the fading of life in this world leads the heart to repentance. We are not long for this world and so must not remain idle in our pursuit of God and the things of God. Repentance allows us to cross the borderline into the hope of the Kingdom where death loses its sting and the life that is to be ours comes into focus. Death can be then greeted with joy: “Come in peace.  I have been waiting for you and preparing for you.”  The remembrance of death draws us not into despondency or to cling to the things of this world but rather draws us to the warmth of God’s embrace and fills the heart with hope. One becomes a lover of silence then because it gives birth to repentance and becomes for us also a foretaste of the enveloping communion with God to come. 

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Tonight‘s reading of homily 64 was something of a labor of love. Following Isaac’s train of thought was more difficult simply because language fails and more often than not the capacity to grasp the reality spoken of is limited for so many of us. Isaac began to speak of the ineffable hope and joy that belongs to one who has embraced the path of repentance and the renunciation of the things of this world. He begins to describe for us the fulfillment of all desires the frees one from anxiety about this world and the future. To turn from the passions, to be completely focused upon Christ, to see the world through the lens of his promises fills the heart with an indescribable joy. The ascetical life, the battle with demons, the inevitable reality of death, leave no trace of fear within the soul. 

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Tonight we began homily 57. Isaac starts by telling us “Blessed is he who lives a vigilant life in this world”!  Vigilance is one of the central teachings of the fathers and it behooves us to ask ourselves what it looks like in modern times. What does it mean to be vigilant in age so filled with distraction, noise and temptation?  Once again Isaac tells us that there is no Sabbath for us in this world, no day of rest when it comes to seeking the Lord and living a life of virtue. We cannot be under the illusion that we can outwit the demons who never rest. We must live in hope and and hope alone. He who is virtuous must place his trust in God not himself. The one deep in sin though can hope that God in His mercy will come to his aid and lift him up in his poverty.  He need only turn toward God with a repentant heart. 
 
Isaac quickly moves the discussion toward the absolute importance of humility. He tells us “the man who has a foretaste and in truth receives the recompense of good things is superior to him who possesses the work of virtue.” Virtue is the mother of mourning and mourning leads to humility. We must never attribute virtue to ourselves but only to God. It is He who lifts us up like a child to gaze upon us face-to-face. But we must allow Him to lift us. We must acknowledge that He raises us out of our sin.

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More than anything Isaac wants us to understand and embrace the primacy of divine hope over fear.  Hope fortifies the heart and allows God to reveal Himself as He truly is to us; the fullness of mercy and love, set not on our distraction but on our salvation.  It is this hope that spurs us on, that makes us desire to run the great race and to fight the good fight of faith. It is God’s love that beckons us and that makes us turn to Him in a spirit of repentance. Our concern with God‘s judgment is not tied to punishment but rather to the desire to share in the fullness of His life, to enter into His rest.
 
Such an understanding will lead us to maintain and protect the state of watchfulness and to avoid laxity. Our desire for God makes us want to protect our hearts from anything that might pull us away from Him. 

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This evening we had a rich discussion of the final three paragraphs of homily 48. St. Isaac gives us wonderful counsel in regards to our speech. We are to guard the tongue and not give free reign to anger. To constrain our speech allows us to experience compunction and to see the presence of our own impatience and lack of love. Silence breeds conversion and freedom from the passion.
 
In our relations with others we are not to focus on teaching and preaching or correcting others but rather providing for their basic and fundamental needs. Quite simply we are to love others and allow this to do our speaking for us. Good example always trumps words. Likewise negligence and laxity has a negative impact upon others. Before seeking to reform others we must reform our own hearts.
 
The freedom that has been given to us in Christ is something that must be protected and valued. Only in this way are we kept from being dragged down by anxiety or fear. Living for Christ and in Christ fills our hearts with an everlasting hope and peace.

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We continued our reading of homily 48 of St. Isaac the Syrian. St. Isaac begins to describe how we must set aside our past life. Above all we must seek God and to love virtue and hate sin. In our pursuit of virtue we must always guard our hearts against vain glory; attributing every good and perfect gift to God and God alone. The moment we see ourselves as the source of virtue we become like a ship crashing into the reef. Destruction is sure to follow. We must not even trust ourselves in the sorrow that we experience in the face of our sin. We must realize that such sadness can simply be rooted in our sense of shame rather than our love of God and desire for conversion. The impact of God’s grace must be all-encompassing; transforming our speech, our manner of thought, our way of life and our senses. Others must see the radical change in our countenance and our actions. As Christians we are not meant to fit into this world.

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Tonight we continued our reading of Saint Isaac the Syrian’s Homily number 48. After having spoken about fraternal correction and having divine love as the standard that we follow, Isaac turns his thoughts to allowing the heart to be overcome by fervor for God. We must develop a longing for the age to come and a deep hope for heaven. 
 
The one who longs for heaven keeps before his mind’s eye the thought of death. We do not live for this world but we are citizens of heaven - those sharing a dignity and destiny that God alone has made possible -  to share in the fullness of divine life and love. 
 
Our longing for God leads us to watch for him at every moment, to make our life itself become prayer. Christ is the pearl of great price and we should be willing to let go of all things in order to pursue and possess him. We should cherish the solitude in which God speaks to us in the language of silence and where he is comprehended by the vision of faith. 
 
God is the eternal rock upon which we find stability and security. He is the cornerstone that holds our lives together.

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Last night we discussed Homilies 11 and 12. Here St. Isaac holds up the monastic life as an exemplar which we are to emulate - monks illuminate the darkness of the world with the beauty of their virtue and in them we are to find refuge. Though not monks, we are called to an interiorized monasticism - to live as those who know how fleeting is life and how valuable is virtue. Isaac lays before us lists of their virtues by which we can gauge our deficiency or progress. It is by our virtue that we give glory to God. 
 
In Homily 12, Isaac discusses the various stages of the spiritual life. Daily we are to strive to walk the narrow path and to overcome the passions. We are to live in the hope that Christ alone provides; and even when we do not receive consolation or feel strong desire we are not to abandon that hope in God's mercy and grace. 

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We began last evening's discussion with the brief but powerful conclusion to St. Isaac's Sixth Homily. Worldly wisdom can become a stumbling block to our souls and a snare before us. We can approach the spiritual life in a willful manner, placing great trust in ourselves and our own judgement. Rather we are to have fortitude in our pursuit of God and set out with an earnestness - walking by the knowledge that comes through faith.  Each person is unique and while we embrace a rule of life we must allow the Spirit to guide us in the way that leads to our sanctification. 
 
The focus of Homily Seven is on the difference between True and False Hope.  Hope is not a passive virtue in the sense that it finds expression in our willingness to toil and labor in the pursuit of holiness and that confidence arises out of a pure conscience that does not desist in standing before God.  "Think not to grasp the winds in your fist, that is, faith without works."  Our confidence must be built upon the real relationship we have with God not upon the illusion of empty trust and lack of commitment. 
 
At times God allows us to be chastised to awaken us from such illusions - to be "seared with the hot iron many times" so that we may be instructed.  For mercy's sake, God allows us to experience tribulation. 

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