November 10, 2020
Exceptional! This one word alone describes the essence of the section of homily 74 that we read this evening. Isaac begins to show us the subtle ways that our thoughts lead us astray. We often cannot recognize sin as it manifests itself and its many forms. Nor can we recognize the action of God and how He seeks to help us escape it and to escape our own pride. We are stiffnecked and we would rather look anywhere else than into our own hearts to understand the reason why we suffer so. Isaac shows us how easily we shift the focus on to others and seek to blame them for our state. However, Isaac tells us it is God who holds out in hope, waiting to see if the afflictions that we bear and the cross that manifest itself in our lives will humble us and set us free. If we would but humble ourselves and allow tears to well up from our heart then God would cast our transgressions into oblivion and raise us up to gaze upon His loving countenance.
February 27, 2020
We continued homily 71. Isaac is slowly guiding us through the virtues that bring us to our end point. Tonight we began with his definition of perfection. For Isaac, it is simply to love as Christ loves – a willingness to lay down our lives for others in order that they might come to know the fullness of life and love. Isaac puts forward the examples of Moses and St. Paul who asked God to allow them to be cast off if it would mean that others would be saved. Christ is our teacher in this regard. It is in Him and in His cross that we learn to love and are given the capacity to love.
From this Isaac moves on to speak to us about hope. It is an incredibly moving section of Isaac‘s writing. He elevates hope to its proper position in our life. It is one of the three theological virtues and it is precisely its ability to help us to see beyond the things of this world that allows us to love with the perfection that he describes. With hope we can see the promise of life that Christ holds out to us and so we can run with a swiftness. In fact, Isaac describes it as like running on air. No mountain, no river, no obstacle at all prevents an individual with hope from running swiftly toward the kingdom, with a heart aflame for the love of God. Isaac describes it as a kind of shortcut. Hope and its perfection brings together all the virtues. It leads a person to heedlessly give their lives over completely to Christ and allow Him to take up residence within the heart. Hope allows for a kind of holy madness to guide and direct a person’s life. It allows one to cast off any obstacle to living for Christ and living for Him alone.
February 6, 2020
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.
October 31, 2019
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.
October 17, 2019
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.
May 23, 2019
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.
December 13, 2018
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.
October 18, 2018
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.
September 27, 2018
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.
September 14, 2018
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.