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…

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…

Humility And The Unseen Martyrdom

Homily thirty-seven is one of St. Isaac’s longer homilies and consists of a series of questions and answers.  The questions are posed by an apparently fictional disciple and fellow struggler in the hermitic life.  The questions are such as, “What is spiritual prayer, and how is a man who struggles deemed worthy of [attaining] it?” Or, “How is it that many who, perhaps, practise these works do not sense tranquillity from passions…

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…