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…

Spiritual Discernment In The Fog, At Night, and Without My Glasses

Passions are like some hard [dark] substances that, standing in the midst between the light and vision, prevent the latter from discerning the difference of things. St. Isaac the Syrian  Homily 66 St. Isaac the Syrian speaks of noetic vision as natural knowledge, that is, knowledge of God, of one another and of created things that human beings in a healthy (not sinning) state would know, not rationally (by deduction) but by…

Silence and Baseball in Chicago

First let us force ourselves to be silent, and then from out of this silence something is born that leads us into Silence itself.  May God grant you to perceive some part of that which is born of silence. St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 64 I’m at an archdiocese convention in Chicago, in a huge hotel with hundreds and hundreds of people.  Last night, I went to a Cubs game with some…

St. Isaac and Theosis (and the Experience of Fear)

I am preparing now to give a presentation at the Antiochian Orthodox Institute in the Fall on the topic of divinization or theosis according to St. Isaac the Syrian.  I have been enjoying reading through the latest edition of St. Isaac’s homilies, and when I was asked to present a small lecture on some aspect of the topic of theosis, I suggested that my focus be St. Isaac.  Most of the time,…

Avoiding Destructive Good

Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 58 “…[The realization of the good we desire] belongs to God. For this, a man has need of God’s help.  Therefore we accompany our good desire with constant prayer, and we pray not only because we need help, but also so that we can distinguish whether it [the good we desire] is pleasing to God’s will or not. “For not every fair-seeming desire falls…

Some Thoughts on Fear

For a while, when I was in my 30s, I was into rock climbing.  I never scaled any really large faces, although I did do a few three pitch climbs (a pitch is a little less than the length of a rope—50 metres). There are several levels of fear and even kinds of fear that one must encounter and work through as one climbs. There are irrational fears, like the fear of…