Be a persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 2
For years now I have been longing to read the Ascetically Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. At the Clergy Seminar last week I was able to purchase a copy of Holy Transfiguration’s 2011 revised second edition. That’s why I’ve been liberally quoting him in my recent posts. St. Isaac is not one of those Fathers that priests generally recommend for lay people to read. The homilies were written, not merely for monks, but for hermit monks. Most of what he writes, I am certain, cannot be deeply understood without living the prayerful life of a hermit. However–and this is the almost scripture-like quality of his writings–much of what he writes can be scaled down, can be applied fruitfully and powerfully even in the lives of spiritual beginners.
Although the quotation above has at least a month’s worth of sermons hidden in it, I couldn’t decide which part to leave out. So I quoted both sentences. Let me briefly comment on them.
Be a Persecutor of yourself, and your enemy will be driven from your proximity. It amazes me again and again how the “attacks” of the evil one increase as my personal discipline decreases. When I live a disciplined life–pray when I’m supposed to pray, eat when (and what) I’m supposed to eat, read edifying spiritual books instead of watching t.v., go out of my way to be kind when I don’t feel like it–when I am persecuting myself and making myself do what I know I should do, the temptations and disturbing thoughts and fears seem few and easily dealt with. But when I get busy with STUFF, so busy that I don’t have time to pray, don’t feel like reading good books, need a break, and am grumpier than normal, when I get like this, temptations abound, lusts and fears attack my mind and only with difficulty do I overcome them–and sometimes not.
Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you. I believe it was St. John Chrysostom who said, “No one can harm you unless you let him.” He was speaking of real harm, inner harm. The Martyrs lost their bodies and gained Heaven–they were not harmed. But this is very hard for us to accept. All someone has to do is infringe on some right of mine and I am wounded at heart. I yell at the driver who takes my intended parking spot. Whether or not others are at peace with me has almost everything to do with me being at peace with myself. Others may be angry with me for a while, but even their anger can be calmed if I am at peace. Our connection with and influence on those around us is much more a matter of heart than of words or even actions (although, as Jesus noted, both actions and words proceed from the heart). Irenic words and actions have little force when they proceed from a disturbed heart. They are the words and actions of a hypocrite, a dissembler. But a man at peace, according to St. Seraphim of Sarov, saves thousands around him.