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This evening we continued our reading of homily 71. St. Isaac continues to define for us the essential virtues that lead us to the end of our course. Tonight, however, he not only describes for us and defines for us the nature of prayer and of humility as virtues, but he lays out for us the specific Asceticism of prayer and humility; how we exercise ourselves in faith to set God above all things - most of all above our egos. There’s an absolute quality to this response to God that Isaac puts before us. We have to have both feet within the kingdom, otherwise it is like we are unequally yoked in regards to our desires. We cannot desire God and the things of this world. To do so, even in the most subtle of ways, is to diminish our love for God and fall onto a path of mediocrity. God would have us completely and desires to be the object of the full desire of our hearts.

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Isaac continues in homily 70 to instruct us about the nature of temptation and trials. These are not to be something that we fear or avoid. God allows us to be tempted not only to perfect our virtue but in order that we may comprehend something greater. Our participation in the cross through our infirmities or tribulations allows us to experience something of the suffering love of our Lord. If God allows us to experience the rod it is not evidence of punishment or discipline but rather of His desire to draw us closer to Himself. Our souls profit and are made sound through such temptation. Therefore, we are not to allow ourselves to fall into despair. Even if we are afflicted 1000 times we must realize that victory can come in a single moment. God can give us the strength, the courage and heart of a warrior.  And so we must not fear or give ourselves over to negligence or sloth.
 
In homily 71, Isaac begins to define for us three things: repentance, purity and perfection. In each case, the definition that he offers us is not what we might imagine. Isaac seeks to help us measure things in accord with the mind of God. Purity, for example, is the heart’s capacity to show mercy to all creation. Rightly ordered love allows us to see things with the eyes of God and so to see them with compassion and mercy. Repentance is not simply an episodic turning away from or confessing of one’s sin but mourn over it with a heart that understands the wound has been dealt to love. And finally, humility is our willingness to abandon all things visible and invisible. We cling to nothing - not even our thoughts about the things of the world. We cling only to God and seek Him above all things.

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As Isaac guides us through the final part of homily 68, he reminds us that the heart must long for converse with God. In this is found the greatest joy of unbroken stillness. He also reminds us that purity of heart is more valuable than all things and that without it all effort is profitless. If we fall into sin through heedlessness, however, we are not abandoned and can return to this unbroken stillness through unremitting vigils with reading and frequent prostrations. We must let the Fathers renew our fervor and we must humble ourselves in mind and body in order that God might lift us up again. When one has obtained this stillness there is little need for persuasive argument for one has come to experience the Truth. 
 
In Homily 69 Isaac makes it very clear that hourly we experience variations within our soul and repentance is a constant need. Downfalls will occur which are opposed even to the will aim. We must not let our soul become despondent or dejected for this is the very course of growth – spiritual warfare as a movement between the struggle with sin in our weakness and the consolation of God‘s grace. He who thinks that he can ever rise above this spiritual warfare becomes even more vulnerable prey for the wolf. As long as we are in this world we are to enter into the fray and fight the good fight of faith. We must not linger in consolation as if it were an end in itself but must remain humble before God 

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Continuing our reading of Homily 64, a great deal of our attention was directed to how Isaac addresses discerning whether thoughts are from God or from the evil one. We must be ever vigilant, never falling into the snares that the devil sets for us. 
 
Yet some thoughts require deep prayer, night and day, and intense vigils. We can quickly fall into delusion as we imagine ourselves as seeing things clearly and judging things clearly. We must learn rather to humble ourselves before God who alone knows the workings of the human heart. Our consciences must be formed by His grace and our love for Him must lead us to embrace a rigorous ascetical life. Every thought must be taken captive and brought before Christ for His blessing or judgment. This is how much we must love the Lord.

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Tonight we continued our discussion of homily 64. It is rich in every way. Every sentence could be reflected upon for hours and once again Isaac does not waste a single word. The spiritual life involves allowing ourselves to be drawn by love and to love the things that draw us to God. We are to love humility, to love chastity, and to love contrition. All of these things free us from the impediments to experiencing the fullness of the life of God, free us from those things that prevent us from entering into the Paschal mystery and being transformed by it. Silence itself is to be treasured because in silence we allow God to speak a word that is equal to Himself. Silence illuminates like the sun, it removes ignorance and most important of all that unites us to God.

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We continued our reading of homily 64 where Isaac draws us ever more deeply into the heart of the spiritual life. He begins by emphasizing the fact that what God does within the human heart and the transformation that He brings about is far greater than anything that we might do in our own eyes or in the eyes of the world. To receive life from God is greater than our capacity to give or support life or edify others. Humility raises us up to acknowledge the truth about God and ourselves. In this sense humility provides something greater than any worldly knowledge we might possess. Furthermore, the humble heart and humble body allows one to draw close to God and to experience His peace. The more distant we become from God, the more agitated we become and begin to experience an internal disintegration. It is for this reason that Isaac tells us that we must love humility and not love the things that we seek to adorn ourselves with in the world. What could be more valuable than possessing the love and the mercy of God? What could be more valuable than adorning ourselves with virtue? This virtue, however, he warns us must not be the kind of posturing that we foster in the world that allows us to embrace a condescending spirit towards others. Such a virtue betrays a sickly conscience. We must always and forever see things through the eyes of God.

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We continued our reading of homily 62. Isaac begins by discussing with us the nature of humility, and rightly so. Humility is truthful living; acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our poverty and our struggle with the passions. The spiritual life must begin here. We must acknowledge our need for God’s grace and our need to enter into a lifelong struggle, a vigilant struggle to foster a greater desire for the love of God and the love of virtue. We must overcome our negligence and seek Him with unceasing prayer and discipline of mind and body. 
 
The starving man, it has been said, has no sense of taste and so one who has become impoverished by there sin no longer has a taste for the things of heaven and the joys to come to us from the hand of God. We must strive to deepen our desire for the love alone the nourishes us to everlasting life. We must come to have a greater taste for virtue and long for it.

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We continued tonight with homily 57 and read it to its completion. Saint Isaac gives us perhaps the most profound explication of humility among the fathers. Without humility all virtue is in vain. The Lord’s concern is with the soul’s amendment not with a self-willed “traffic in sin under the guise of divine pursuits.” Failings are not a problem for Isaac. If anything they produce humility in the soul; we come to see with a greater clarity our poverty and our need for God’s mercy and grace.  
 
Isaac tells us to seek humility even in the gifts that we receive from God. If they don’t help to produce humility within us, Isaac tells us, we should ask God to remove them from us. 
 
We must get used to the fact that afflictions are a part of our life as Christians and they give birth to humility. We must not think of our life and growth in virtue outside of them, otherwise we open the door for pride.
 
We can come to the point that we love pride. When this happens we esteem our own knowledge and intellect and we fall into a kind of derangement of mind. It is then that repentance becomes an impossibility and the worst of evils manifest themselves. Such a radical turning away from God leads men into insanity. Thus we must beg for humility as the mother of all virtues. And in this humility we must never try to outsmart the demons but rather let the light of Christ overcome the darkness within us.

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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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Tonight we continued our reading of homily 52. Saint Isaac begins to speak to us about the various degrees of knowledge and starts in particular with the knowledge that cleaves to the love of the body. Such a knowledge comes only through the senses and Saint Isaac calls it “common knowledge”; a knowledge that is naked of concern for God and sees the self as the sole source of providence. It is driven by a person’s concern and care for the things of this world and for their own safety and security. Every innovation and invention has its roots in anxiety and fear of losing what one possesses.  Beyond this it leads to judgment of others as standing in opposition to what one desires. Everyone becomes a threat of one kind or another and one becomes driven to seek positions of emotional power in relationships and control.  Faith, however, fosters humility and the true knowledge of our poverty as human beings and our need for God‘s grace and mercy. We are but dust and we must hold on to He who is the Lord of life and the governor of history.  In God alone do we find peace.

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