Why Don’t Temptations Go Away?

In homily 69, St. Isaac reminds us that temptations to sin come upon all people, even the “perfect.”  Quoting freely from St. Macarius of Alexandria, St. Isaac reminds us that our inner state is rather like the weather.  “There is cold, and soon after, burning heat, and then perhaps even hail, and after a little, fair weather.”   I think some of us will find this shocking, that even the perfect experience…

Lustful Thoughts

Many do not realize that the ancient Church Fathers deal rather specifically with the problem of unwanted sexual thoughts, albeit from a man’s perspective.  Unfortunately, there were very few women in the ancient world who were able or had the leisure to read and write, so there is a dearth of information about the inner life of women in the early centuries of the Church.  Consequently, women have to translate the struggles…

The Manuscript of Our Life

   In St. Isaac the Syrian’s homily 62, St. Isaac offers us the metaphor of a manuscript in rough draft to help us understand why on-going repentance is important for Christians regardless of their real or imagined state of spiritual maturity.  Here is the paragraph that uses the metaphor: Life in the world is like a manuscript of writings that is still in rough draft.  When a man wishes or desires to…

On Perceiving God’s Glory in Another

According to Serafim Seppälä*, St. Isaac the Syrian understands the perception of the angelic orders to be limited by their own natures.  That is, each rank of the heavenly orders—angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers, etc.— is able to perceive a higher rank, but only in so far as its own nature, it’s own ability to perceive God’s glory, allows it.   I admit that this is a rather esoteric observation, one that…

Response To A Question on Buddhist Meditation

A reader wrote that he had begun to discover himself through Buddhist meditation despite 25 years of Orthodox Christian practice.  He asked for my perspective.  This is what I wrote him. Dear E, I don’t know enough about Buddhism or specifically about Buddhist meditation to make any sort of intelligent comment.  Neither do I know you personally nor your experience as an Orthodox Christian nor your actual practice of meditation.  Therefore, I…

Why We Have To Suffer

There is something within me that just doesn’t want to believe Jesus, that doesn’t want to believe that the hard things Jesus said apply to me.  “In this world you will have tribulation,” He said (John 16:33).  Why is it that every time I face something hard, something painful, something unfair, why is it that I think something is wrong?  I can’t  just accept that this painful trial, this tribulation, is the…

Turning Earth Into Heaven

I don’t think I can repeat often enough that the one Greek word peirasmos means both a trial and a temptation.  These two concepts, trial and temptation, are quite distinct in English and so it’s hard for us English speakers to understand statements in the Fathers such as “this sickness is a temptation.”  How can a sickness be a temptation if I don’t want to be sick?  It doesn’t make sense in…

The Folly and Necessity of Rationalizing the Supra-rational

Several years ago I was leading a book study on St. Theophan the Recluse’ The Spiritual Life and How To Be Attuned To It.  I had read the book at least twice before this study, so I was going through it a third time as I prepared for my talks. As I read, I was excited to discover that I seemed to be understanding his broader ideas and not getting so lost…

Advice On Psalmody

In the middle of Homily 54 of St. Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies, he begins a set of paragraphs with the question, “Do you wish to take delight in the psalmody of your liturgy and to understand the oracles of the Spirit which you recite?”  In the following three paragraphs, St. Isaac gives specific advice on how to do this, how to take delight in psalmody. He begins by saying that one should disregard…

Admitting That We Hate

Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny (Matthew 5:25,26). It has been said by many others that the “adversary” in this saying from the…