March 16, 2021
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.
November 3, 2020
Once again we are presented with a beauty untold; that is, until recently when it has become accessible to us in the writings of St. Isaac.
We started this evening with Homily 73. Isaac, in a very brief and focused manner, speaks to us about the reason for embracing the exile of the desert. In doing so, one avoids close proximity to those things that could be a source of temptation and sin. Even being around worldly things can arouse the turbulence of warfare against a soul and allow her to voluntarily be led away into captivity even though no warfare has assaulted her from without. In other words, by living in a world that has become comfortable with sin we can find ourselves with dulled consciences. We may no longer live with a heightened sense of vigilance but give the evil one the advantage of seeing every manner of drawing us away from God. The poverty of the desert, the exile from the things of this world, extricated the monks from transgressions; it freed them from the passions. In a sense, it gave them the ability to run without impediment, to gird their loins and to seek the Lord without hesitation and without condition or limit.
Moving on to homily 74, Isaac gives us a more studied approach of how we deal with hidden thoughts and the actions and behaviors that can help us. We must begin with the study of the afterlife. We must acknowledge the fact that our life in this world is very brief. Having done so we find within ourselves courage and freedom from fear, every danger, and our impending death; for death we know only brings us closer to God. Such a vision of life helps us to patiently endure afflictions. Of course there is always the temptation put before us to return to our fears, to place ourselves once more in the shackles that once bound us. Cowardice can overcome our minds and we can begin to focus upon the body and its health. We become prey to the fear of losing all that the world can offer us. As always, Isaac’s writing is penetrating and it holds up an image of the desire for God that we might not recognize in ourselves. To read Isaac is to be humbled.
December 27, 2018
Tonight we completed our reading of homily 51. It was both exquisitely beautiful and challenging. Saint Isaac brings us to the point of reflecting upon the very nature of eternal love and mercy. How often is our conception of God limited by our imagination and intellect? God‘s mercy is eternal and part of the very character of God. God does not change and that love does not alter.
This leads Isaac to reflect upon the very nature of Gehenna. We often project on to God our desire for retribution. We turn God into a potential tormentor who scrutinizes our actions with the eye toward punishing us. Because we so often desire our pound of flesh for the ways that people sin against us, we believe God is the same and shrink God down to our dimensions. To lose sight of the wonder of God’s immeasurable love is to commit an iniquity against God. It speaks more to our lack of faith that we should make the poverty of our sin out measure God’s grace and glory and the power of the resurrection. In Gehenna one certainly experiences torment; yet this torment is the scourging of Love that has always been set on our repentance and salvation.
Lengthy discussion ensued. The group plans to read the recently discovered additional Homilies of Issac, especially those dealing with his thought on this subject.
November 8, 2018
Tonight we began reading homily 51. To say it was challenging is an understatement. Saint Isaac presents us with the gospel in its purity and challenges us to abandon our comfortable and limited perception of the truth; in particular our understanding of mercy and justice. Isaac, in stark terms, tells us that rash zeal and fanaticism have no place in the spiritual life and in our relationships with others. We are not allowed to give way to our desire to judge others according to our own sensibilities. We are to put on the mind of Christ and our love for others is to be cruciform.
Very often we take a morbid delight in assuming the position of power within relationships, enjoying correcting others when in reality we only add to their suffering. Furthermore, our rebuke of others only has the effect of undermining our own spiritual lives. Isaac bluntly tells us that to judge another is like a father slowly strangling his own beloved son.
We can only understand Issac’s teachings from the perspective of the life of Grace and Theosis. We must be conformed to and transformed by Divine Love in every way.
In the weeks and months to follow, St Isaac will draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s mercy and the beauty of the human person made in His image.
January 25, 2018
We began our discussion of Homily 32 which places before us a stark truth - these are times of martyrdom. We must die to self and sin in order to live for God. If we are not subject to God’s will, we are subject to the will of His adversary. This reality does not allow us to feign ignorance; for if the senses remain unchecked the passions will be inflamed and we will make ourselves indentured servants.
Therefore we must not only humble ourselves in the confession of our iniquities but seek to uproot their cause; and for this we need to have hatred for sin. If we do not recognize and experience the malodor of sin eventually we will learn to put it on as if it were a beautiful fragrance.
St. Isaac tell us that every hardship is followed by rest and every rest by hardship. In this we must understand that our life consists of continual repentance - a turning from sin toward God. No matter what level of “perfection” one may attain in this world such repentance is never complete until our passing from this world and having be purified to participate in the perfection that belongs to Christ.
January 4, 2018
The group began by continuing to reflect upon the final paragraphs of Homily 30 wherein St Isaac emphasizes the uniqueness of man, in particular our corporeal nature and our reason and free will. It is this reality the shapes our spiritual struggle. We need to understand our strengths and limitations.
In Homily 31 Isaac moves on to discuss the importance of vigilance in the moment - not looking to the past or to others but struggling today with what we are faced. We must valiantly engage in the battle and bear the recompense for our sin in a spirit of hope and joy. We are not to blame others for our sorrows but see them as rooted in our sin and as opportunities for virtue and healing.
Finally at the beginning of Homily 32 Isaac introduces us to the fiercest of struggles - learning to abhor sin with our whole heart and the resistance that we face in this task. Only through this can we then develop a true love for virtue. This struggle is the unseen martyrdom of the spiritual life - the bloodless martyrdom that we experience daily.
November 23, 2017
We picked up this evening about midway through Saint Isaac’s Homily 25. St. Isaac has been speaking about the beauty of the solitary way of life and the constant called to intimacy with God. In the sections considered this evening Isaac warns of the pitfalls solitaries often experience. As one is separated from the false self and the ego diminished one experiences the full vision of the poverty of their sin and the darkness it brings. The self is left to walk in the darkness of faith to rely only on the mercy of God. The temptation is to shrink back from this intimacy and knowledge of God or to seek worldly and sensible consolations. Worse yet one might fall into despair having been stripped of all worldly consolations but not seeking rest in God. This is by far the most pitiable state of man.
Isaac presents this all as a prelude to calling us to live out our lives in Expectation of the promise of life and eternal love that come to us through Christ. To seek the Kingdom above all things and to desire the things of the Kingdom frees us from the net of despair and fosters an invincible form of long suffering. Come what may one lives in and through hope.
September 7, 2017
We continued reading the 17th Homily of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on establishing a "Rule" of life for beginners in light of Hesychasm and Philokalic Spirituality as a whole. Isaac shows how every aspect of our life must be transformed by the grace of God. With a holy genius, he reveals the healing of soul that must take place. Every interaction with others, every emotion, can be a means of seduction and so must be considered with radical honesty. We must possess a willingness to reflect upon things such as laughter, the familiar and lingering gaze upon another, and encounters with the opposite sex from the perspective of their impact upon the spiritual life and the vulnerability that arises out of our sin. This is never a solitary pursuit. A solidarity exists between each of us and thus a responsibility for one another's salvation.
June 15, 2017
Tonight's discussion was on Homily 9 and focused on the distinction between voluntary and involuntary sin, the effects of laxity and heedlessness in the spiritual life, the need to remain stalwart in spiritual warfare, courageously entering into the battle and understanding that it may leave us wounded and permanently scarred. We should fear only the devastation that comes from trampling on our own conscience, willingly reaching out our hand to the devil and so taking the path of perdition.
The unfortunate focus in our culture and the culture of Church today is on pursuing individual freedom, fulfillment and satisfaction in this world over and above the pursuit of holiness of life and purity of heart. Our time in this world is short and we must lives as those who understand the urgency of conversion.