February 13, 2020
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.
January 30, 2020
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
January 23, 2020
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.
January 9, 2020
Tonight we began reading homily 67. Isaac lays out for us how it is that we are to labor for stillness fruitfully. He speaks to us of the many pitfalls to be avoided and the signs and proofs that we should seek in order determine if we are on the right path. One of the things that Isaac stresses is the presence of virtue in a person’s life. Stillness and silence can never be abstracted from the pursuit of purity of heart. Stillness without virtue is blameworthy.
Gradually Isaac begins to set forward various signs of growth. One starts to experience oneself being enveloped by the silence of God in the midst of prayer, of being enfolded in silence. Tears will often unexpectedly flow as a fruit of stillness.
But if our minds are distracted and filled with thoughts and if our passions continue to rage within us, we know there has been some heedlessness or negligence that we must address. We must understand that the passions will stand at the door of our hearts and howl for what they have become accustomed to desire. We must not become discouraged but continue to call upon our God and foster the love of stillness.
December 2, 2019
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.
May 16, 2019
Tonight we completed the homily 56. It was both challenging and beautiful. Every word of Isaac strikes to the heart and each example raises us up in our understanding not only of his teaching but of what it is to be a human being. Isaac began tonight, once again, by speaking to us of the profound resistance we have as human beings to embracing the strength God has given us in will and intellect to grow in virtue. We convince ourselves of our weakness and so all that is good seems impossible. Isaac shows us that even the pagan philosophers were capable through their will and intellect of pursuing the truth heroically and even being willing to die for that truth.
This should strike the Christian to the heart, knowing that we have received the fullness of the truth in Christ along with every grace and blessing to live a godly life. We must in every way let the love of Christ compel us and embrace every discipline that will foster virtue and purity of heart and so draw us closer to him.
March 15, 2019
We continued our consideration of homily 52 where St Isaac describes for us the various degrees of knowledge. Tonight he discussed the second degree of knowledge. The person begins to turn away from the merely sensual and by the love of the soul begins to turn toward God through the ascetical life, i.e., the practices of fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the Scriptures, and the battle with the passions. The Holy Spirit perfects this work and this action and so lays the foundation for greater purity of heart and opens up a path to the reception of faith.
The third third degree of knowledge that St. Isaac describes refines what has been acquired through the action of the spirit and the ascetical life: the soul stretches towards God and through the gift of faith comes to experience and taste the hidden mysteries of the kingdom and the depths of the unfathomable sea of God’s love.
November 26, 2018
Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 51. St Isaac the Syrian begins to map out for us how we are to form and shape our attitude and our thoughts in such a way that we guard and protect our own virtue and our capacity to look at others with Mercy. We are to be circumspect in our speech and in the revelation of our thoughts to others – being careful not to allow ourselves to be manipulated or drawn into acts of sin such as detraction.
In our service of others and in our charity we are to guard and protect the dignity and the feelings of others. We must never set our desire to perform a good work above the identity of the one we are called to serve. We are to lift them up in every way and be careful not to diminish their sense of worth.
Isaac is very strong in his language, telling us that when we are genuinely pained for the sake of any person then we are akin to being a martyr. We must grieve for the wicked and understand that sin is it’s own punishment. We must imitate Christ who died not for the just but for the wicked.
Furthermore, we must seek to establish within ourselves true discernment through bodily chastity and purity of conscience. If these are lacking every act becomes void in the eyes of God. We seem to have an infinite capacity for self delusion; our hearts telling us that we are good and righteous for the benefit of our egos and self esteem. God reckons righteousness in proportion to discernment and Saint Isaac provides us with a multitude of examples of how this is true.
November 1, 2018
Tonight we read homily 50 in its entirety. St Isaac presents us and leads us through the experience of darkness that often overcomes the solitary and anyone who is seeking to experience God as he is in himself. The path to contemplation and communion involves the movement between darkness and consolation where one comes to experience both the profound nature of their sin and of God’s mercy and love. The deepest trial belongs to solitary or hermit who desires through purity of heart to know God and know him alone and seeks simply the consolation of faith. The darkness of one so detached is beyond words and comprehension, feeling the heart and mind with slip into utter poverty. Only God can allow a person to persevere and only God can console.
Even those who are engaged in external works will experience this kind of despondency. They must learn to seek out counsel but more importantly they must learn to remain in their cell. That is, we must all learn to remain focused upon God, to open the mind and the heart to he alone who knows who we are and can plumb the depths of the mystery.
September 7, 2018
We continued our discussion of homily 48, in particular St. Isaac’s reflection upon fraternal correction. So often our understanding of such correction involves a spirit of vengeance and the desire to humiliate another or to take retribution. Can we say, though, that our attempts at fraternal correction are like that of God’s? It is the Cross that leads us to repentance - that reveals the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s love. Do we correct through showing others greater love, by making ourselves more vulnerable and more generous towards them?