November 24, 2020
Isaac certainly presents us with solid food. We’ve come to the end of homily 74. Isaac begins to describe for us the image of a heart that is truly dead to the world and how it perceives the mode of life of the new man. In other words, a life free from the ego and from the drive of the passions takes on the New Adam and begins to share in the fullness of the life of resurrection. One begin to contemplate the revelation of the Divine. In this sense of the desert Fathers become for us a mirror; in it we see whether or not we have died to the things of this world and our attachments to the world and perceive the true beauty of the life that is held before us. If we stop for a moment and think about spending the day in silence, we see that our heart and our thoughts flit about as moths around a light. We are easily distracted.
In homily 75, Isaac lays out before us a practice of prayer that may be unfamiliar to most - keeping vigil in prayer during the night. Isaac begins by offering us a prayer to be said at the beginning of such a time. We are to call out to God to shelter us from our common enemy, to free us from the distractions of our passions in order that we might enter into the sacred Liturgy with strength and clarity. Filled with grace, one sheds tears that purify the mind and the heart and allow us to love with tranquility and with the true freedom of chastity. One begins the liturgy without turmoil and filled with joy.
Issac speaks of the freedom that exists even within the prescribed practices. One might stand praying the psalms and yet the Spirit might lift the individual into a deep silence where time passes swiftly. It is then that one must give way to the guidance of the Spirit to be led in accord with the will of God and drawn swiftly to His Heart as He desires.
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.
November 7, 2019
Tonight we concluded homily 64 and began homily 65. Isaac, with supreme confidence, speaks to us of the value of the solitary life and its beauty. One who responds to the supernatural grace to embrace absolute silence and solitude responds in much the same way as the apostle Paul who said “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul had to be faithful to the grace given to him and likewise the hermit must be faithful to the grace to live in the absolute silence of God. This he must do despite any infirmity. Isaac speaks of those who despite being hobbled by weakness understood the value of their silence and the remoteness of their solitude was greater than participating in the life of the monastery and its daily liturgy of hours. The silence of God is always greater than human words and actions.
Homily 65 begins with Isaac telling us that those who seek to abide in silence must embrace it with discernment and with exacting discipline. They must investigate the life as fully as they can from those who have experience. They must read the writings of the solitary souls in order that their ardor for God might be strengthened as well as their desire for the solitary life.
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 10, 2019
“Love silence above all things”, St. Isaac tells us. However, this is not a mere pious expression but rather one of the deepest truths of human existence. Silence is the place of encounter with God that reveals to us His beauty and our poverty at the same time. Tonight Isaac showed us the path to this Holy Silence. Its starting point is our willingness to force ourselves to remain in it and to pray that God shows some part of what is born of it. It is a discipline that offers us a taste of divine sweetness but also leads to a flood of tears that arises out of the pain of our sin and our perception of the beauty of God that amazes the soul. This silence fosters an internal stillness that begins to transform the mind and the heart. The deeper that one enters into it the more one comes to reflect the divine. Isaac speaks of the holy Elder Arsenius, who having achieved a level of perfect silence, merely through his countenance gladdened the hearts of those who encountered him without ever speaking a word. This encounter inflamed within them the desire for God and the desire for the ascetical life.
September 27, 2019
We continued our discussion tonight of homily 64. The group only considered two paragraphs over the course of the hour. But the discussion was eminently practical. Isaac challenges us to look at many things that we take for granted and asks us whether or not these things lead us to God or to be mindful of God. Do we understand the value of silence and prolonged silence? What does sleep mean for us and how do we enter it - prayerfully or distractedly? What do we do when we cannot sleep, do we turn our minds and our hearts to God, do we pray or do we distract ourselves with other things, like television or simply our own thoughts. Have we ever thought about breaking the night to pray? Isaac along with the other Fathers show us how this experience of praying at night allows us to be more wakeful during the day, in the sense of being vigilant about our thoughts and mindful of God.
September 12, 2019
Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 64. Isaac begins to open up our understanding of prayer through discussing the practical elements of it. The more he shows us the more we begin to understand that prayer is to be something that is guided and directed by God. It is not simply an activity that we engage in according to our own judgment and will. It must be a radical response to the love of God and the direction of the Spirit. All that we do should make us more attentive to where God is leading us or where we must go in order to foster silence and stillness within wherein we can hear God speak His word to us. Again, prayer involves the response of the whole self. We are to be attentive to our bodily postures, kneeling, prostration, etc. We are to allow ourselves to linger in the state that God has brought us to, whether it is silence or the tears of compunction. We are to struggle to bring ourselves out of distraction by nourishing ourselves upon reading in such a way that it restores our attentiveness. What we read must not be allowed to dissipate us. Rather it must foster within our hearts the purification of the conscience and the concentration of thoughts. Finally, discussions that we have with others must be rooted in the desire for the same end. Conversation must be had with those who have experiential knowledge of He who is the truth and have Him as the object of their heart’s longing.
September 5, 2019
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.
August 8, 2019
Tonight we concluded homily 62. Saint Isaac as always with great beauty and sometimes with a poetic touch speaks to us of the importance of vigilance and diligence in the spiritual life. We must come to desire the Lord above all things; having death as the only limit of that desire. We must work until the harvest time; that is, until we come to the grave. We must never become lax in our spiritual disciplines, knowing the vulnerabilities that we have if we turn from the grace of God. Prayer is our greatest work - the pearl of great price and we must do all in our power to foster the solitude and silence that is needed for intimacy with God. We must hate our old life and the bondage of our sin in order that we might come to truly love the freedom of life in God. While we are still in this world there is time for repentance - time to turn from our sins and fill our lives with virtue and love.
Homily 63 speaks to us of how we rise from the grossness of the flesh, becoming ever more limpid in our response to God and refined by the action of His grace. With purity of mind and heart we must let go of all thoughts and distractions to become worthy of the revelation of his love. We must hold on to nothing - willing to forsake all for Him.