Glorying In Our Weaknesses

One of the recurring statements in St. Isaac the Syrian’s homilies is that we will not be completely free from the experience of passionate desires until our death.  Consequently, it is necessary for us to find a certain peace in the knowledge of our shadows, of our weaknesses.  It’s not that it’s “OK” to have passions–as though we were supposed to give up and just let certain persistent passions have their way…

Muddling Through The Snirt Of This World

In Homily 37, St. Isaac the Syrian discusses how a person comes to desire the heavenly life. In a series of questions and answers, he explains to the questioning novice how one comes to give himself or herself completely over to the experience of the heavenly life.  One does this, according to St. Isaac, only through obeying Christ’s word to deny one’s self and take up one’s own cross to follow Christ…

Why Does God Humble Us?

Truly, O Lord, if we do not humble ourselves, You do not cease to humble us.  Real humility is the fruit of knowledge; and true knowledge, the fruit of trials. St. Isaac the Syrian  Homily 36 In homily 36, St. Isaac says that there are two levels to our being crucified with Christ.  The first level is physical and is a matter of our will.  It has to do with bringing our…

A Small Affliction Born For God’s Sake

A small affliction borne for God’s sake is better before God than a great work performed without tribulation; for affliction willingly borne brings to light the proof of love…. St. Isaac The Syrian: Homily 36 Someone has famously said, the exact attribution is under dispute, that it is not the mountain that wears us out but the grain of sand in our shoe.  St. Isaac is, I think, saying something similar.  In…

St. Isaac, Dickens and Eating Away Gehenna

It is difficult for some of us who were raised on a theology of substitutionary atonement, those of us Protestant converts to holy Orthodoxy, it is difficult for us to accept that our final judgement will involve anything more than the forgiveness of sins. But the Church teaches us otherwise. Parables such as the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Separation of the Sheep and the Goats play a huge role in…

The Unseen Martyrdom

  “This is the fiercest struggle, the struggle that resists a man unto blood, wherein free will is tested as to the singleness of his love for the virtues….It is here that we manifest our patience, my beloved brethren, our struggle and our zeal.  For this is the time of unseen martyrdom…” What is this struggle that St. Isaac speaks of and how can it be overcome? Is it some dread mysterious…

St. Isaac, Gehenna and Hope

Probably the most controversial teaching of St. Isaac the Syrian is his teaching on Gehenna, or hell.  Homily 27 begins with the following statement and explanation of St. Isaac’s thoughts on sin, Gehenna and death: Sin, Gehenna and death do not exist at all with God, for they are effects [or acts], not substances.  Sin is the fruit of the will; there was a time when sin did not exist, and there…

Two Kinds of Confidence

Seeing Through A Glass Darkly In Homily 27, St. Isaac the Syrian speaks of two kinds of confidence. The first kind of confidence is what we generally mean when we say someone is confident. That is, the person is sure about what he or she is doing or saying.  St. Isaac tells us that this kind of confidence is spiritually dangerous. It is dangerous because we live in an age of changeability,…

Fighting Boredom and Despondency

I read the bible through the first time when I was in high school.  I was part of a youth group that made it a project.  We made a big chart with all of the books of the bible in columns on it with everyone’s names at the side and each Sunday we would check off whatever books (or parts of books) we had read during that week.  Since my main social…

Humility By Accident

In homily 24, St. Isaac points out a fundamental law of discernment:  “Everything that can be perceived by the senses, whether an action or a word, is a  manifestation of something hidden within.”   This principle of discernment is not given to us so that we can spy into the hearts of others by trying to surmise what is hidden in their hearts by scrutinizing their words and actions.  No, if we apply…