January 19, 2021
We picked up this evening in our final session of St. Isaac with the last part of homily 76. Isaac makes it very clear that those who are given over fully to God in prayer and solitude begin to live in the perfect love of God and thus also fulfill the commandment to love one’s neighbor. In God, nothing is lacking. Yet, this is a rarity. Few and far between our called to this way of life and only when it is lived fully and withholding nothing of the self is love complete. In so far as one cultivates solitude and stillness and yet engages with other men and receives their aid - so too is he obligated to tend to the sick and lift up and serve his fallen brothers. One must avoid the illusion of perfect stillness as an escape from one’s obligation to care for one’s neighbor.
In the last of St. Isaacs’s homilies, Homily 77, he presents us with the perfect and most important of virtues – humility. All the other virtues must be perfected in order that a person is capable of receiving this gift of God‘s grace. It is to clothe oneself with the very raiment of God. God revealed Himself to us in His Son – emptying Himself, taking upon our flesh and embracing the form of a servant, becoming obedient even unto death. Isaac tells us that we cannot look upon the spiritual life as if we are progressing up a ladder by her own power to achieve some natural goal constructed by her own minds or spiritual sensibilities. One is clothes in humility by God the more the self is set aside. We are to put on the mind of Christ and imitate his humility.
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 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.
August 15, 2019
Tonight we completed homily 63. Isaac begins to speak of us of the necessity of setting aside all possessions and possessiveness; of setting aside all thoughts and distractions in order that stillness might reign within the heart, where we might remove ourselves from the web of the passions. All of this is meant to allow us to hold on to nothing but rather to cling to God. We are to be turned toward the Lord completely.
Prayer requires a long continuance and perseverance. Seclusion or solitude is necessary in order that the love for God might grow and develop and that we might come to see with the greater clarity the causes for loving God. From prayer, the love of God is born and so it becomes the most important thing for us as human beings. We are to become prayer as it were. This means developing a hatred for the world; that is, a true understanding of what disordered love does to us and what it cost. Only when we do this will we become truly attached to God and the blessings that he offers. We must “be-in-love” in the truest sense of the phrase. We must live our lives seeking God and his love as the pearl of great price.
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.
April 26, 2019
Tonight we concluded homily 54 and began reading homily 55. Isaac finishes homily 54 by telling us of the intimate link between fasting and silence. To engage in meaningless conversation or distractions can make us dissipated and lose our attention and ability to remember God. It can also weaken us in our spiritual practices. By simplifying our lives and removing unnecessary busyness and by fostering solitude, our experience of prayer and intimacy with God can deepen. Likewise, the practice of praying at night and for extended periods of time can enrich our prayer on a daily basis. We must let go of the time constraints that we place upon ourselves and let God guide and direct us; let him determine how long and when he wants to draw us to himself.
Homily 55 begins by focusing on zeal. Do we enter into the spiritual life and spiritual battle with a desire for God and for virtue? Do we engage in that spiritual battle as those who trust in the grace of God and the strength that he gives us? Or do we give way to a kind of unmanly fear or what Isaac calls set satanic fear that is rooted more in our sense of what the battle will cost us or things that we are unwilling to let go of for the sake of what is good.
April 11, 2019
Tonight we continued our discussion of homily 54. Isaac begins to explain to us the importance of tears in the spiritual life as a reflection of true repentance and as a fruit of repentance. Through rumination on our sin and through meditation upon the reality of the brevity of our life we come to mourn what has been lost through sin and begin to find that our only hope is in what Christ can offer. It is the vision of this that fills the soul with joy.
Isaac then shows us that the solitary life and the vocation of the solitary reveals that we cannot neglect the interior life. We are not mere secular humanists, but our strength is in the Lord and our capacity to love comes only through his grace.
Finally Isaac calls us to hold fast and to have courage in the spiritual battle, for God is our guardian and protector. Without his grace all things would be ravaged by the evils and consequences of sin. We must not let affliction strip us of hope but hold fast to our faith in what the cross shows us; that in self-emptying love we experience now our destiny and dignity in Christ. Even if we were to lose all sense of security in this world, our hope is invincible if we are immersed in the love of the Lord.
September 14, 2018
Tonight we continued our reading of Saint Isaac the Syrian’s Homily number 48. After having spoken about fraternal correction and having divine love as the standard that we follow, Isaac turns his thoughts to allowing the heart to be overcome by fervor for God. We must develop a longing for the age to come and a deep hope for heaven.
The one who longs for heaven keeps before his mind’s eye the thought of death. We do not live for this world but we are citizens of heaven - those sharing a dignity and destiny that God alone has made possible - to share in the fullness of divine life and love.
Our longing for God leads us to watch for him at every moment, to make our life itself become prayer. Christ is the pearl of great price and we should be willing to let go of all things in order to pursue and possess him. We should cherish the solitude in which God speaks to us in the language of silence and where he is comprehended by the vision of faith.
God is the eternal rock upon which we find stability and security. He is the cornerstone that holds our lives together.
July 26, 2018
Where do we truly live our lives? Are we completely focused upon Christ and the life that he has made possible for us? Do we seek to protect the precious gift that we have in his love and the virtues that we are called to manifest in our lives?
In homily 45, St. Isaac warns his brother not to tempt him away from the solitude of the desert and the stillness of his cell. The virtues won in the spiritual battle and in the Ascetical life are not to be held so cheaply or put to the test. This homily and the value that St. Isaac places on protecting one’s virtue should make us look hard at our own lives and ask ourselves if we cherish that which endures unto eternal life.
July 20, 2018
Tonight we read homily 44 of St. Isaac the Syrian on Stillness. Isaac speaks of the value of stillness and the unwillingness an anchorite should have to sacrifice it. No dishonor or honor should lead a monk away from the silence. No natural bond or act of charity should tempt the one called by God to it to free himself from the charge. God alone can ask for such absolute love and commitment. The monk embraces the solitude not for himself or because of any whim or natural inclination but rather to obey God’s call him to serve the church in such a fashion. He does not despise association with men but rather loves stillness because God set it before him as the path to salvation.
Such a writing calls us all to reflect upon our lives and the depth of our commitment to God. It confronts us with the gospel and it’s truth in an unvarnished fashion. It is nothing less than unsettling and one must listen with faith. If we do not find it disturbing, then we have to ask ourselves if we have ever heard the gospel in its fullness. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, God wants our hearts completely and absolute fidelity.