What Does Asceticism Look Like?

One of the temptations of being an Orthodox priest and pastor is to present a view of the spiritual life and the ascetic path by which one develops his or her relationship with God in the Church as if it were essentially one thing, as if there were only one way for everyone—and I knew what that way looks like.  A lot of the reason for this, in my own experience, has…

Knowledge As The Infancy Of Love

In homily 47, St. Isaac introduces his famous three degrees of knowledge, which I have spoken about at length before.  Today, I’d like to take a closer look at some aspects of the first degree of knowledge. St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.  Because Paul sets up this contrast between knowledge and love, it’s easy to assume that they are somehow opposites, or tensions…

Holding Thorny Hands

A couple of weeks ago, a disturbed young man got onto the metro train in Vancouver and began acting erratically and shouting and cursing.  As people in the car began moving away from him, one woman did the opposite.  A seventy-year old woman moved toward the man and reached out her hand and gently held his hand.  She just gently put her hand in his.  The man immediately calmed down, and then,…

Stillness and Love: Shunning Your Neighbour To Love Your Neighbour?

St. Isaac the Syrian’s homily 44 is one of his several very difficult homilies.  It is difficult not because it is hard to understand.  Exactly the opposite is the case.  It is quite straight forward and easy to understand.  I understand it, and I am offended by it.  Homily 44 is a letter written to another monk who loves stillness exhorting him to guard that stillness by avoiding contact with others.  St.…

Disciplines, The Shifting Meaning of Words, and the Narrow Way

In Homily 43, St. Isaac speaks of three areas of ‘discipline,’ or areas in which we must guide or rule our life.  Proper discipline in these areas leads to purity.  These three areas are bodily discipline, leading to purification of the body; discipline of the mind, leading to purification of the soul; and spiritual discipline, leading to purification of the mind.  Now right off the bat you might notice that St. Isaac…

Learning To Love The Lover Of My Soul

One the contemporary Elders, and now recognized Saint, who has helped me the most over the past decade or so has been Saint Porphyrios of Kavsokalivia.  The book, Wounded by Love, is about his life and some of his sayings.  It’s a book that I have read several times, and each time it has inspired and corrected me.  The broad inspirational appeal of Saint Porphyrios can be partly seen in that my…

Humility And Patience In Trials

In my last blog post, I spoke of two categories of trials discussed by St. Isaac in homily 42: trials that are the fruit of pride and trials that are allowed by God to create longing and are evidence of one drawing near to God.  Before I get into what St. Isaac says about patience and humility at the end of homily 42, I want correct a potential misunderstanding some of you…

Joy And Fear Together: St. Isaac Helps Us Discern Our Trials

Continuing in homily 42, St. Isaac gives us another warning.  When you find unchanging peace, that is, when everything is going smoothly for you most of the time, then “beware: you are very far from the divine paths trodden by the weary feet of the saints.  For as long as you are journeying in the way to the city of the Kingdom and are drawing nigh to the city of God, this…

St. Isaac’s Warning Applied to Advice From Holy Elders

In Homily 42, St. Isaac the Syrian makes an interesting statement about spiritual guidance.  He says, “Do not seek advice from a man who does not lead a life similar to your own, even if he be very wise.”  St. Isaac goes on, “Confide your thoughts to a man who, though he lack learning, has experience in things, rather than to a learned philosopher who speaks on the basis of speculations, having…