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We continued with our reading of Hypothesis I on “repentance in the avoidance of despair.” After giving us a foundation of many stories of God‘s infinite and boundless mercy, the focus of attention this evening is on the human response to this mercy.  Repentance is not a static reality. Rather, it is a source of protection, a cloak that one wears. We are not meant to simply remain in the sadness of having committed sins, but rather we are to rise and engage in the spiritual warfare that God’s mercy and grace gives us the strength to enter. We are to be combatants. Our weapons are not worldly nor are they rooted in ourselves but rather arise first from the grace of God and manifest themselves in our hearts as humility, obedience, self-sacrificing love, contrition. We are also shown that the impact of repentance is not limited to one person. Repentance when it is deep and true brings about miracles not only in one’s own life but in the lives of those around us. God’s grace and mercy overflows in response to the abundance of tears that an individual sheds on behalf of his sins and the sins of the world. The presence of penitents in the Church strengthens it and gives others who have fallen into sin hope of salvation and conversion of life.

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Text of chat during the group

00:31:48 Eric Williams: PEWSLAG

00:56:07 Eric Williams: The ass saved the ass from himself!

00:58:25 Eric Williams: “Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” - Ephesians 6:10-17

01:03:47 The Pittsburgh Oratory: Erick we lost you.

01:16:38 Eric Williams: “Say: woe is me, alas, O soul, and weep; for thou hast been left and orphan so young by the blameless fathers and righteous ascetics. Where are our fathers? Where are the saints? Where are the vigilant? Where are the sober? Where are the humble? Where are the meek? Where are those who vow silence? Where are the abstinent? Where are those who with a contrite heart stood before the Lord in perfect prayer, like angels of God? They have left here to join our holy God with their lamps brightly burning. Woe is us! What times are these in which we live? Into what sea of evil have we sailed? Our fathers have entered the harbor of life, that they might not see the sorrows and seductions that overcome us because of our sins. They are crowned, yet we slumber; we sleep and indulge in selfish pleasures.” - St Ephraim the Syrian

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Such beauty! Not only were tonight‘s passages from the Evergetinos memorable - one is compelled to memorize them due to their profundity. They speak to us of the sweetness and the joy that comes to us through repentance and that God desires to give to us. At every turn we are encouraged to be confident and not to be duped by the temptations of the Evil One to ruminate on past sins or to doubt for a moment the God desire to forgive.

We are to be fearless in the face of our own sins and the thoughts from which they arise. To acknowledge them openly is to make them powerless and without weight. To bring them before God and the light of His love is to bring ourselves healing and hope. Immediately, like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God desires to robe us with innocence and restore to us the promise of adoption which the Holy Spirit bestows upon us. God desires to make us partakers of eternal life. In fact, repentance is to be seen as a rebirth from holy mother church who will supply us with nourishment and bring us to a mature faith. With tenderness we are embraced by God who draws us to the maternal breast. As Father he does not desire to punish but rather understands our weakness and likewise seeks to carries us and support us until we are capable of understanding the Evil One’s ways and fighting against them fully.

If we know sorrow because of our sin it should always be paired with the joy; the joy that comes from turning toward God and being restored to that relationship. Despair is the great enemy and we should not wait a moment to return to God.

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Text of chat during the group:

00:48:42 Eric Williams: We’re shy about sharing all our thoughts with a wide elder or confessor, but we broadcast them loudly and proudly on social media.

00:49:37 Mary Schott: Lol, true that.

01:05:11 Eric Williams: Just go up to the pulpit and stare ominously in silence. After an uncomfortable period, announce, “Thus ends the lesson” and step down. ;)

01:23:02 D Fraley: Thank you Father.

 

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Another beautiful group tonight!  We picked up with Hypothesis I, page 13. Again we are given multiple stories of individuals repenting from sin and turning back to God from states of depravity. The very movement of the mind and the heart brings down upon them a flood of God’s grace and mercy.

What is different in the stories we read tonight is the radical solidarity and empathy that we see in the minds and the hearts of the elders. They approach those in their charge not as masters but as servants; not condescending to them but rather seeing themselves sharing intimately in the sorrows and the woundedness of their sin. The responsibility was theirs’ to weep over these sins and seek to help others overcome them if possible. There is no such thing as an individual Christian; that is, a Christian separated from the body of Christ and from one another. Our own repentance should help to elevate and lift up the Church and the repentance of others can also help raise us up and strengthen us as well. God‘s desire is to heal us, not to punish us. We have lost this sense of the need for healing and understanding that the Church is a hospital and have instead turned the acknowledgment of one sins into a legalistic practice or rather a psychological and emotional release. Consciences can be so hardened - not only among individuals but among whole groups of people - that we can completely lose our way unless God and his great mercy and Providence does something to up-end the illusion. He will do anything to help us overcome what affects and afflicts us. Blessed be God forever.

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Text of chat during the group:

00:17:02 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: in case anyone needs it my brother wrote A Brief Primer on Patristic Greek Anthropology with an Emphasis on the Process of Contemplation and Obstacles to It Very Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, SThD September, 2003     http://tho3306.sheptytskyinstitute.ca/2013/11/27/a-chirovsky-brief-primer-in-theological-anthropology/

00:17:36 carolnypaver: Thank you, Fr. Ivan!

00:18:11 Wayne Mackenzie: I have a copy of this. A good read.

00:51:30 Katharine M: Sorry I forgot to raise my hand, :)

01:07:00 Eric Williams: “Each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” - GK Chesterton

01:08:53 Lilly Vasconcelos: Russia is definitely spreading Her errors across the world, as Our Blessed Theotokos warned us in Fatima, Portugal

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Tonight we continued our study of Hypothesis I on repentance and the avoidance of despair. Again, we are presented with a number of stories that emphasize the importance of the simple movement of the mind and heart toward God through acknowledging one’s sin. This immediately brings down upon the individual the mercy and the grace of God - no matter when or where it takes place. God who sees the mind and the heart knows the person’s motivation and the depth of the repentance.

One of the things we are warned about is the kind of sorrow that the demons often will place within the human heart to cast us into despair and make us call into question the mercy of God. Again and again the demons put forward the doubt that one has lived too long in sin in order to receive the mercy of God, that they belong to the demons and hell due to the amount of time they spent in their sin.  Yet, repeatedly we hear the angels say that God is the true master of heaven and earth and in his omniscience sees to the depths of a person’s soul. He alone has the right and the capacity to judge. 

We may find ourselves particularly challenged by the fathers’ emphasis upon how our conscience should immediately cease to be troubled the moment that we acknowledge and confess our sins to God. So often it is fear and doubt that allows our sin to cling to us; that it gradually undermines the unconditional love and mercy that God wants to fill us with in order that we might engage others with that same perfect love. It is often one of the great stumbling blocks for us even as men and women of faith to enter into this profound mystery, to let ourselves to be guided by the grace of God to imagine the unimaginable – that His love could so transform us and so free us from the shackles of sin. The darkness that sin brings to the mind and the heart often clouds our vision just enough to throw that all into doubt; making us want to qualify it in one way or another. All the “reasonable” objections immediately come to our hearts and minds and we stumble. The mercy that we are given is meant to free us in every way, from our sin and from every limitation on our capacity to love and give ourselves in love.

 

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Tonight we lingered long over a mere four paragraphs from homily 74. Their beauty and their depth allowed no other option.

Isaac began by speaking to us of  the beauty as well as the fragility of chastity. This virtue, which gives us the capacity to love freely, is to be treasured and protected; for it can be lost even in old age when one might think it has become deeply rooted. Isaac’s vision of life is one of repentance; of continuously turning the mind in the heart to God and letting go of all obstacles that would prevent us from experiencing the deepest intimacy with him.

The path to that intimacy, Isaac tells us, is the Cross. This is the door through which we enter into the heavenly Mysteries. When we experience the affliction of the cross we also experience the consolation of the vision of God‘s love and presence. We never suffer in isolation.  The cross both reveals the love of God to us but also transforms us and draws us into the depth of that Love.

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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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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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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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After having spoken to us in great detail about the ineffable consolation of faith and the experience of God‘s love in prayer, Isaac begins to teach us how we must be conformed to the mind and heart of Christ. In particular he emphasizes the absolute need for mercy. Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful comes to light vividly in this passage. Through mercy we become the physician of our own souls. Giving this mercy to others brings us great healing. We are never to be those who seek vengeance but rather those who only desire the conversion and repentance of others so that they might come to experience the healing mercy of God. We are to be the conduits of this mercy in the world.
 
We closed with a challenging paragraph. Isaac warns us not to think that God fails to see our motives. We cannot be crafty or knavish in our actions or take the love and the mercy of God for granted or hold he cheap. Death comes to us quickly and unexpectedly and so we must live every moment seeking to love God and to love one another. 

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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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