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…

When Apples Are Sometimes Oranges

One of my big confusions during the first few years of my journey as an Orthodox Christian was caused by an assumption I had that words used by different Orthodox spiritual writers would refer to the same thing. There may be a philosophical name for this way of thinking about words and reality (other than ignorance), but I don’t know what it is. It took me a few years and abundant consternation…

Giving Birth To Prayer

Now that we are well into Great Lent and have, I hope, pushed ourselves a little in fasting and prayer, it’s probably time to take stock of what is really happening.  I imagine most of us are failing miserably.  Even if we have managed to keep a strict diet, obeying to the best of our ability the outer guidelines of the fast and even if we have attended most of the extra…

None Of Us Can Do Everything

In chapter 21 of the homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, the Saint gives some useful, but what may seem at first to be controversial, advice.  St. Isaac presents this advice in the context of a conversation between a younger hermit and an older, more experienced one.  The younger hermit asks the older one what he should do:  “Many times I obtain a thing I have need of because of illness, or…

Growing Up In God

One of the difficult transitions or junctures of the spiritual life is the movement between what St. Isaac the Syrian calls the second and third degrees of knowledge.  Keep in mind that the language of degrees is metaphorical.  It describes spiritual experience and ways of encountering and knowing God.   Many of us have gone through seasons of our life in which we have striven with great intention and zeal to do…

Surviving The Valleys

Homily 70 One of the realities of created life in this fallen world is variableness, according to St. Isaac the Syrian.  Variableness is the reality of change, both good and bad. In a sense, you can say that this variableness of life is what mankind chose (and continues to choose) in the Garden of Eden by eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Life as we…