December 29, 2020
Tonight we came to the conclusion of homily 75. Saint Isaac continued to explain to us the blessings of Night Vigils. They give light to the thinking; having purified the mind and the heart through limiting sleep, one begins to discern the things of the kingdom through prolonged prayer and watchfulness. The Light shines upon the mind and one begins to perceive that which is Divine.
To help us understand this Isaac gives us a number of examples of those who are exemplars of holiness and lifetime practitioners of night vigils. In them we see not only the discipline that is needed but also the fruit of the practice; unyielding fortitude to produces transfiguration of the body. The Fathers came to acknowledge this as a sweet labor.
However, Isaac does not want us to have any illusions about the practice or its difficulties. One must ask oneself honestly if there is a desire not only to practice Vigils, but to foster constant stillness and a willingness to endure the afflictions that these practices bring. Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices to live a holy and undistracted life? Without this desire, the attempt to practice Vigils would be foolhardy.
St. Isaac closes with a comforting word as one who understands the weakness and the fragility of human nature. We may struggle throughout our whole life to engage in the practice of stillness. But we will undoubtedly experience losses and gains, victories and defeats. In all of this we must never lose patience and, most importantly, we must not lose our joy in the Lord and our trust in His grace.
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.
December 20, 2018
As we continue with homily 51, Isaac begins to speak to us about some of the more subtle challenges that we face along the way. At no time are we to relinquish the hard one freedom over the senses. Either through extending rest from ascetical labors indiscriminately or through laxity and slackening our watchfulness of heart, we can wound ourselves in small or great ways through our sin. If we give free reign to the senses we also give free reign to our hearts and the attacks of the evil one.
Isaac understands that even the most experienced person in the spiritual life will at times slip into sin. However we must not persist in that sin and act toward God in a cunning way. We must not give ourselves over to the illusion that life will go on indefinitely or that we will have the opportunity to repent. We must keep before eyes the brevity of life.
Likewise, we must always be engaged in the work of the heart. There’s always the danger that our asceticism can simply be an end in itself, feeding the ego and self-esteem. If we do not possess a discriminating disdain for the things that are passing in this world and if we are not driven by our love for God, even the most disciplined person can be very far from the life and love of the kingdom.
Those whose hearts are conformed to God do not hate sinners but rather look upon all with compassion and mercy. We must understand that God has not acted towards us with justice but rather with mercy and love. And what other way can we look at another person who is harassed and mocked by the evil one than with sympathy. We must be heralds of God‘s mercy and goodness. Great care must be given not to project on to God our own understanding of justice, Hell, and retribution. We must always look to what God has revealed to us in his only begotten Son and understand that God is eternal love and mercy. It is this reality that we are tempted to change to fit our own imagination.
December 13, 2018
More than anything Isaac wants us to understand and embrace the primacy of divine hope over fear. Hope fortifies the heart and allows God to reveal Himself as He truly is to us; the fullness of mercy and love, set not on our distraction but on our salvation. It is this hope that spurs us on, that makes us desire to run the great race and to fight the good fight of faith. It is God’s love that beckons us and that makes us turn to Him in a spirit of repentance. Our concern with God‘s judgment is not tied to punishment but rather to the desire to share in the fullness of His life, to enter into His rest.
Such an understanding will lead us to maintain and protect the state of watchfulness and to avoid laxity. Our desire for God makes us want to protect our hearts from anything that might pull us away from Him.
May 10, 2018
We began Homily 40 and it has proven like so many before it to be challenging and beautiful. St. Issac captures not only the foundational and essential elements of the spiritual life but presents us with an ever so honest presentation of the consequences of negligence. St. Isaac teaches us that stability of place fosters a kind of internal stability and stillness of mind. To leave the stillness and the watchfulness it affords opens our imagination and memories back up to the passions that had been once healed.
Fasting humbles the mind and body to make them more docile and placid to the workings of grace. Fasting involves the whole self in the spiritual life in order that life itself can become Liturgy - that is worship of God. To let go of perpetual fasting is to make ourselves swine - our belly and passions become insatiable and we begin to consume what is unfit for human being created in the imagine and likeness of God. The unconscious bears witness to this as fantasies emerge in dreams and the body responds by emitting the concrete manifestation of those fantasies enacted.