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.
October 3, 2019
Continuing our reading of Homily 64, a great deal of our attention was directed to how Isaac addresses discerning whether thoughts are from God or from the evil one. We must be ever vigilant, never falling into the snares that the devil sets for us.
Yet some thoughts require deep prayer, night and day, and intense vigils. We can quickly fall into delusion as we imagine ourselves as seeing things clearly and judging things clearly. We must learn rather to humble ourselves before God who alone knows the workings of the human heart. Our consciences must be formed by His grace and our love for Him must lead us to embrace a rigorous ascetical life. Every thought must be taken captive and brought before Christ for His blessing or judgment. This is how much we must love the Lord.
September 19, 2019
We continued our journey with Isaac tonight discussing homily 64. While the subject matter seems varied, it is clearly connected in Isaac’s mind. All of these aspects of the spiritual and ascetical life must be understood in order that we might find “right order” in our lives that contributes to stillness and vigilance in the spiritual battle.
This is exactly what Isaac is introducing us to - the reality of the spiritual battle that involves the whole person. The mind and emotions must be engaged by the richness of the psalms to stir our zeal. Sorrow and compunction must constantly lead us back to God after we have fallen. Anger must be directed toward every temptation so as to strike it down before it takes hold of us.
The cravings of the belly must be met with fasting and self restraint. Such restraint lays the foundation for the struggle with lust. Sleep must be moderated in order to foster a taste for the sweetness of prayer.
May 23, 2019
Tonight we began homily 57. Isaac starts by telling us “Blessed is he who lives a vigilant life in this world”! Vigilance is one of the central teachings of the fathers and it behooves us to ask ourselves what it looks like in modern times. What does it mean to be vigilant in age so filled with distraction, noise and temptation? Once again Isaac tells us that there is no Sabbath for us in this world, no day of rest when it comes to seeking the Lord and living a life of virtue. We cannot be under the illusion that we can outwit the demons who never rest. We must live in hope and and hope alone. He who is virtuous must place his trust in God not himself. The one deep in sin though can hope that God in His mercy will come to his aid and lift him up in his poverty. He need only turn toward God with a repentant heart.
Isaac quickly moves the discussion toward the absolute importance of humility. He tells us “the man who has a foretaste and in truth receives the recompense of good things is superior to him who possesses the work of virtue.” Virtue is the mother of mourning and mourning leads to humility. We must never attribute virtue to ourselves but only to God. It is He who lifts us up like a child to gaze upon us face-to-face. But we must allow Him to lift us. We must acknowledge that He raises us out of our sin.