October 20, 2020
We continued our reading of homily 72. Isaac presents us with a vision of life and the action of grace that is fierce and beautiful at the same time. The grace of God is constantly present to us and she teaches us and allows us to gain experience through the temptations and trials that we face. She protects us and strengthens us in perfect measure while also letting us know and learn from our own weaknesses. Temptations and trials lead us to cling to God and seek his strength. Weakness comes upon us when self-esteem leads us to think that we are the source of great things in our own lives. We must be taught by hardship, Isaac tells us. It is tribulation and affliction that reveal the most to us in life, that draw us into the mystery of the cross and reveal to us the true nature of selfless love. Like Christ, through our suffering we are made perfect. Gradually we come to desire what God desires and will what He wills.
Ironically, it is desperation that reveals to us true hope. Only when we find no hope in the things of this world and we see its empty promises do we come to embrace the hope that comes to us from the hand of God. It is this alone that offers us comfort and it is this that drives us on to seek the Lord above all things.
February 13, 2020
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.
November 14, 2019
Tonight we continued reading Homily 65. St. Isaac begins to speak about how one prepares oneself to enter into the life of stillness. One must investigate well what one is considering and the discipline necessary to live such a life. One cannot simply seek the name of solitary. Rather, a person must engage in the long work of preparing the mind and the heart to embrace the discipline of stillness. One must have a clear aim and fix one’s gaze upon God completely otherwise despondency will overcome them when faced with trials.
The solitary focuses upon God entirely in the stillness to the point of no longer being engaged in the battle and warfare with the passions. In perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs ever written St. Isaac captures for us the nature of the contemplative experience of God and the fruit of stillness. He speaks of the wonder of the life of stillness and its fruits like no other ascetic writer and his words become an exhortation that reaches to the depths of the heart and creates a longing for God.
July 11, 2019
Tonight we read the conclusion of homily 60 and all of homily 61. These few pages were some of the most beautiful that we have encountered. Isaac captures for us not only the meaning and purpose of afflictions, trials, and temptations but reveals to us the presence of the love of God within them. We never suffer in isolation and anything that we endure is permeated by the grace of God. To understand and see this clearly only increases a person’s desire for God as well as their willingness to embrace the cross as it comes to them without fear or anxiety.
June 27, 2019
Tonight we concluded Homily 59 and began homily 60. St. Isaac picks up where he left off by discussing the centrality of the Cross in the life of the Christian. The path of God and the path of virtue is the cross. We must not avoid this reality but rather seek to embrace it in faith and trust in God‘s providence.
It is this trust in God‘s providence that is the subject matter of homily 60. We must pray as those who do not seek to put God to the test. God acts in hidden ways to strengthen us and to lift us up in the midst of our trials and tribulations. How often do we pray in a utilitarian fashion, seeking to avoid trials or to force God’s hand; thinking that we can manipulate circumstances through our piety or through our goodness. God sees all things and most of all he sees what we need for our salvation. We must be willing to say “Thy will be done” and let that be the heart and substance of our prayer.
June 25, 2019
Tonight we continued reading homily 59. Saint Isaac seeks to draw us into the mystery of the cross as God’s path for us. It is not to be feared or avoided but rather seen as the path of love that unites us to God and His redemptive work. In fact, St. Isaac tells us that it is the distinct way that God brings us benefits, helps us to grow in virtue. It is also how we come to imitate the saints in their love for and embrace of the cross. Far from being sullen about the trials that we experience, we should gradually come to see that God permeates everything that comes to us in this life. Nothing is outside of his providential care. We know we are under God’s care when he perpetually sends us griefs. The path of God is a daily cross.
November 1, 2018
Tonight we read homily 50 in its entirety. St Isaac presents us and leads us through the experience of darkness that often overcomes the solitary and anyone who is seeking to experience God as he is in himself. The path to contemplation and communion involves the movement between darkness and consolation where one comes to experience both the profound nature of their sin and of God’s mercy and love. The deepest trial belongs to solitary or hermit who desires through purity of heart to know God and know him alone and seeks simply the consolation of faith. The darkness of one so detached is beyond words and comprehension, feeling the heart and mind with slip into utter poverty. Only God can allow a person to persevere and only God can console.
Even those who are engaged in external works will experience this kind of despondency. They must learn to seek out counsel but more importantly they must learn to remain in their cell. That is, we must all learn to remain focused upon God, to open the mind and the heart to he alone who knows who we are and can plumb the depths of the mystery.
July 6, 2018
Tonight we concluded Homily number 42 of St. Isaac the Syrian which focuses on the trials and afflictions that come both to the humble and the proud. Saint Isaac makes the distinction between the two and the fruit that each produces. Afflictions in those who are humble produce the fruit of patience. Whereas afflictions in those who are proud awaken the need for repentance. In many ways it is a deeply challenging Homily; so much so that St. Isaac feels compelled to say at the end “do not be angry with me that I tell you the truth. You have never sought out humility with your whole soul.” Our tendency is to look at affliction, temptations and trials in a punitive fashion; Whereas the Fathers seek to help us understand the medicinal and healing nature of such things and to see in them the promise of joy and ultimately deification.
March 8, 2018
We began our discussion of St Isaac’s 37th Homily with his teaching about the importance of separating ourselves from the things of the world so as to make the ascetical struggle easier. The struggle is easier when the sources of temptation are at a distance. We must in fact flee from those things that cause warfare and not associate with that which fights against us. The stillness and purity that is gained through asceticism must not be thoughtlessly thrown away; For even the memory or imagination of certain things can bring us harm. Thus we must guard against becoming overconfident so as not to trample our consciences. Various examples of this were discussed.
St. Isaac then moved on to consider what is the beginning of the spiritual war and where does one start the fight. Fasting and Vigils are the signs of our hatred for sin and desire for God. They are God’s holy pathway and the foundation of every virtue. Day and night they lead us to God - humbling the mind and body and making us ever watchful and discerning. Discussion ensued about what this means for those living in the world and how it they are to be fostered.
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.