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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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Tonight we concluded Homily 65. Isaac closes his discussion on the value of silence and the work that surrounds it and allows it to develop and bear fruit.   Chief among these is fasting and stillness. External stillness fosters internal stillness and fasting humbles the mind and body and order that prayer may deepen and the mind and the heart become more open to God. The group spoke great deal about fostering a culture that supports the renewal of fasting. Saint Isaac closes the homily by holding up the joy that comes to the individual by living in this holy silence. It is the joy the kingdom itself and that comes through seeing and participating in the mysteries of God.
 
Homily 66 is Isaac‘s attempt to open up for us an understanding of eastern anthropology and how it shapes the spiritual tradition. Chief among the things that he speaks about is the nous, or the eye of the heart and how it must be purified through asceticism. The passions must be overcome in order that the dullness of the vision of the nous, which is the faculty of spiritual perception, might be overcome. There is no discernment outside of purity of heart. True theology can only be done by one who is experiential knowledge of God and has spent years in prayer, stillness and ascetical practice.

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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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We’ve come to a very special homily of Saint Isaac – homily 62. Here he begins to guide us along the path of the spiritual life and battle. He opens our eyes to what the struggle holds out to us - to live in the love of God and to know the consolation He alone offers. The natural man, as it were,  experiences only fear; in particular fear of death. The one who develops some knowledge of his own passions and begins to struggle with them experiences growth and health but continues to sit in fear of judgment. But the one who has wholly given his life over to God not only loses that attraction to the passions but also loses all fear. He begins to taste the love of God and His sweetness. This is what draws him forward. There is nothing greater than joy in the Lord and nothing more to be desired the knowledge of him.

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Tonight we continued our journey with St. Isaac through homily 51. Isaac continues his reflection upon living the life of mercy and challenging our view of justice as those who been redeemed by the blood of Christ. In the eyes of God our sin is like a handful of sand cast into an ocean of divine Mercy. Likewise we must view one another with the same generosity of spirit, always viewing sin and evil actions as a sickness driven and shaped by the evil one. We must never lose sight of the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God even in the face of incontrovertible moral failure. We must realize that our sin distorts our view of the truth and inflames our anger to the point of retribution. Our anger no longer simply informs us of the presence of injustice it makes us want to take the judgment of God into our own hands - to embrace once again the original sin of seeking to make ourselves gods. 
 
Isaac sets out the virtues of humility and chastity as shaping the heart and making us a tabernacle for the Divine Trinity. Fear and joy both draw us toward God. Joy excels however and creates exuberance in the soul and fashions an open and irrepressible heart. 
 
Isaac does not fail to warn us of the pitfalls along the way. We must be circumspect and watchful even in those relationships of greatest love. We must desire to protect and foster the virtue of the other as much as our own. 
 
Our reflection shows us that Isaac will not allow us to domesticate the gospel and shape it with our almost infinite capacity for rationalization. Divine revelation turns our perception of reality and all that is human on its head. The revolutionary nature of the Gospel strikes the heart with full force.

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Continuing with homily number 48, Saint Isaac speaks to us of the essential place of asceticism in the spiritual life. We must seek in every way to allow the passions to be transformed by the grace of God and through discipline of mind and body. Only in this way will we be able to experience something of the lasting joy and peace of God and the Kingdom. Through our senses we are in a constant state of communion with and receptivity to the world around us. Yet our sin makes us vulnerable and our vision of the things of the world become distorted. Conscience becomes malformed and so good appears to be evil and evil appears to be good. Only by being dead to life in this world, that is, dead to our attachment to the things of this world and our own desires can we be free to desire and love God. Ease and idleness are the very destruction of the soul and, St. Isaac tells us, injure the soul more than demons. Through our negligence we open the door for temptations to freely enter and so we darken the soul. 

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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 concluded Homily number 42 of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on the trials and afflictions that come both to the humble and the proud. Saint Isaac makes the distinction between the two and the fruit that each produces. Afflictions in those who are humble produce the fruit of patience. Whereas afflictions in those who are proud awaken the need for repentance. In many ways it is a deeply challenging Homily; so much so that St. Isaac feels compelled to say at the end “do not be angry with me that I tell you the truth. You have never sought out humility with your whole soul.”  Our tendency is to look at affliction, temptations and trials in a punitive fashion; Whereas the Fathers seek to help us understand the medicinal and healing nature of such things and to see in them the promise of joy and ultimately deification.

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At tonight’s group we read two exquisite homilies from Saint Isaac the Syrian: Homilies 34 and 35. Both speak to us about the essential Ascetical nature of Christianity and the fruit of the Ascetical life. The ordering of the passions, the bearing of affliction, the study of the Scriptures and the Fathers, all create within the heart a yearning and desire for God. In this pursuit, humility is the key virtue, the mother of virtues, that fosters in the soul an ever increasing love for God and joy. This Joy, Isaac tells us, is perceived by the world as a holy madness. At group’s end, however, we are left simply to echo the sentiment of Isaac - “May God grant us also to attain to such derangement.”

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