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.
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 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.
August 22, 2019
Tonight we began reading Homily 64. It is 25 pages long and through it Isaac presents us with a vision of the ascetical life and the essential elements of it. He begins this evening where Jesus began in his own preaching - with repentance. Repentance, Isaac tells, us is the mother of life. In itself this is a striking statement and one that would be worthy of long consideration. Repentance is not just sorrow over a particular act but rather a way of life. With every aspect of our being we are to turn toward God, ordering all of our senses and desires and appetites towards him. We are to simplify the thoughts in order that we might gaze upon Him in a undistracted way. Through this gaze we come to experience a divine wisdom, love, and peace. Grace enlivens compunction within the heart and the living water of tears cleanses and purifies in order that we might gaze upon God with clarity and love. Isaac teaches us that mortification brings life; that dying to self and sin allows us to experience He who is our love and our destiny.
June 6, 2019
Our discussion began this evening with homily 58. Here Isaac speaks to us of the importance of willing the good. We must learn to seek virtue with all of our heart. In order to do this we must understand, however, that we will need God’s help and grace and we must support it all with unceasing prayer. Likewise, we must ask ourselves the important question: “is it pleasing to God?”; and in the end we must be willing to say “Thy will be done”. The good is discerned by much prayer, watchfulness of heart, tears and compunction and again ultimately God’s grace. This alone protects us from pride and seeking to embrace whatever desire falls into our hearts.
Homily 59 begins by telling us that we cannot have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. Our every concern must be with loving God and doing his will. So often we succumb to the illusion that we need material things in order to support our identity as well as our life. But Isaac reminds us that if we seek the kingdom before all things, God will provide. He will give us what is necessary. We must not simply work for worldly rewards. If we become overly attached to material things in this world God at time to allow us to experience trials in order that we might see where our faith really lies.
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.
April 5, 2018
We continued our discussion of Homily 37 and began with St. Isaac’s distinction between revelations and visions. Visions are concrete appearances of the incorporeal world such as angels and saints and are consolation for those who have embraced the anchoritic life in particular. Stripped of all worldly attachments God strengthens and encourages such individuals for the ascetic life. Revelations however come to the perfect and pure of heart and give insights into eschatological future states. The intellect (Nous) is engaged and participated in the Kingdom. It is an inward mystical experience.
The fathers, including Isaac, make these distinctions because of the dangers of prelest or delusion. Purity of heart is essential. A man must be free from outside modes of knowledge and embrace a kind of primordial simplicity and guilelessness.
It is in this profound childlike and humble state that God can raise one up to experience his love and life. Such purity comes through spiritual mourning and compunction. Humbled by the truth He raises us up. This is not raw emotionalism but rather a life wholly directed toward God and desiring Him. Such weeping purifies memory and imagination so that nothing holds a person back from God.
March 29, 2018
We returned to homily 37 tonight where St Isaac instructs us on the meaning and value of tears. They both cleanse us from our sins and are an expression of our compunction. Furthermore they anoint us and transform our countenance as we enter into greater intimacy with God and are transformed by his Grace.
Life transformed by God’s grace through such tears manifests to the world the resurrection that we experience now in Christ. We are to cast off the old man and live as those who seek Christ alone. Essential to this is fostering a life of stillness where we can mortify the senses in order to be more attentive to God.
To one whose conscience is clear and pure God will often provide visions or revelations. Sometimes he offers these simply to console one struggling in the spiritual life, in particular those living in the desert as anchorites. Having stripped themselves of all earthly consolation, God in his providence supports and nourishes them by manifesting to them the truth through these two means.
Discussion ensued regarding the experience of those in the world. While perhaps not experiencing the visions that are intrinsic to the solitary life, we are still called to foster stillness and seek intimacy with God as does the monk. To live our lives seeking God in all we do and having our lives shaped by this reality.
February 15, 2018
We picked up this evening with Homilies 36 and 37. Once again Isaac speaks to us of the importance of the Ascetical life and how it is the foundation of our sanctification. The ordering of the passions through tears, prayer and solitude are key as is humility. What Isaac seeks most of all in these Homilies though is to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love and His desire to draw us into His life. Isaac wants us to see how this love permeates all things and in seeing it he wants to stir our desire for God. This Life and Love are greater than all things worldly and so we should freely and without fear be willing to sacrifice all for it.
October 5, 2017
In the second half of Homily 20, St. Isaac the Syrian lays out for us the beauty of maintaining Night Vigils. He values it so much that he tells us that we should never remove it from our spiritual life. Nor are we to dissipate our toil by becoming inattentive and negligent in our daily life. If we cultivate our converse with God throughout the day so that it conforms to our night's mediation then in a very short while we shall have embraced Jesus' bosom. Dominion over one's thoughts and purity and concentration is granted to the mind that allows it to gaze upon and understand the mysteries revealed in the Scriptures. Even in illness when other disciplines are relaxed Vigils gain for the mind a steadfastness in prayer. If we maintain the practice throughout our lives we will behold the glory experienced by the righteous.
This isn't without struggle. We must be willing to endure and persevere through times of heaviness and coldness and learn through these experiences that great fruit is received and suddenly our strength will return to us. We will be overcome with wonder and purifying tears will flow.
If after fasting, prayer and Vigils have led to the taming of the body, the arousal of appetites should return, Isaac warns us that we must through repentance search for the source of pride that diminishes this great gift until our hearts are once again brought to rest in God.