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Tonight we began a new homily, Homily 52, where St. Isaac expounds upon the various degrees of knowledge and in particular the distinction between earthly knowledge and faith. He leads us down a path that is often difficult for people in their sin to understand - that knowledge and faith are opposed. Now this may seem rather extreme. But what St  Isaac is trying to teach us is that earthly knowledge is always going to be confined by the very real limits of our intellect and understanding. It often arises out of and gives birth to anxiety; for earthly knowledge must always seek to control the realities that we face as human beings, to try to manipulate nature. Yet at the same time we know very well that we can never free ourselves from what frightens us the most; death, sickness and tragedy. We feel driven to work toward greater efficiency and authority over creation, but can never reach that end. Faith alone open our minds to the experience of God and His eternal love and compassion. It opens us up to the possibility of that which is not confined by the limits of this world. At the same time we are filled with the confidence in the providential love behind this that we are freed from fear and anxiety.

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Tonight we completed our reading of homily 51. It was both exquisitely beautiful and challenging. Saint Isaac brings us to the point of reflecting upon the very nature of eternal love and mercy. How often is our conception of God limited by our imagination and intellect? God‘s mercy is eternal and part of the very character of God. God does not change and that love does not alter. 
 
This leads Isaac to reflect upon the very nature of Gehenna. We often project on to God our desire for retribution. We turn God into a potential tormentor who scrutinizes our actions with the eye toward punishing us. Because we so often desire our pound of flesh for the ways that people sin against us, we believe God is the same and shrink God down to our dimensions. To lose sight of the wonder of God’s immeasurable love is to commit an iniquity against God. It speaks more to our lack of faith that we should make the poverty of our sin out measure God’s grace and glory and the power of the resurrection. In Gehenna one certainly experiences torment; yet this torment is the scourging of Love that has always been set on our repentance and salvation. 
 
Lengthy discussion ensued. The group plans to read the recently discovered additional Homilies of Issac, especially those dealing with his thought on this subject.
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As we continue with homily 51, Isaac begins to speak to us about some of the more subtle challenges that we face along the way. At no time are we to relinquish the hard one freedom over the senses. Either through extending rest from ascetical labors indiscriminately or through laxity and slackening our watchfulness of heart, we can wound ourselves in small or great ways through our sin. If we give free reign to the senses we also give free reign to our hearts and the attacks of the evil one.
 
Isaac understands that even the most experienced person in the spiritual life will at times slip into sin. However we must not persist in that sin and act toward God in a cunning way. We must not give ourselves over to the illusion that life will go on indefinitely or that we will have the opportunity to repent. We must keep before eyes the brevity of life.
 
Likewise, we must always be engaged in the work of the heart. There’s always the danger that our asceticism can simply be an end in itself, feeding the ego and self-esteem. If we do not possess a discriminating disdain for the things that are passing in this world and if we are not driven by our love for God, even the most disciplined person can be very far from the life and love of the kingdom.
 
Those whose hearts are conformed to God do not hate sinners but rather look upon all with compassion and mercy. We must understand that God has not acted towards us with justice but rather with mercy and love. And what other way can we look at another person who is harassed and mocked by the evil one than with sympathy. We must be heralds of God‘s mercy and goodness.  Great care must be given not to project on to God our own understanding of justice, Hell, and retribution. We must always look to what God has revealed to us in his only begotten Son and understand that God is eternal love and mercy. It is this reality that we are tempted to change to fit our own imagination.   
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More than anything Isaac wants us to understand and embrace the primacy of divine hope over fear.  Hope fortifies the heart and allows God to reveal Himself as He truly is to us; the fullness of mercy and love, set not on our distraction but on our salvation.  It is this hope that spurs us on, that makes us desire to run the great race and to fight the good fight of faith. It is God’s love that beckons us and that makes us turn to Him in a spirit of repentance. Our concern with God‘s judgment is not tied to punishment but rather to the desire to share in the fullness of His life, to enter into His rest.
 
Such an understanding will lead us to maintain and protect the state of watchfulness and to avoid laxity. Our desire for God makes us want to protect our hearts from anything that might pull us away from Him. 
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We continued with our discussion of homily 51 and once again Isaac through a kind of holy genius guides us deep within the truths of the gospel - In particular how we are to understand the nature of divine love and mercy and the hope that it brings to our soul and how it transforms the way that we look at others. He begins by warning us that asceticism absent a life of love and mercy is to be pitied. If we make ourselves castigators and chastisers we promise ourselves only a miserable life. 
 
If we are weak in the spiritual life we must set ourselves with a strong resolve to at least strive within our limits. If we are not peacemakers we must at least not be troublemakers. If we are angry with others in our hearts we must hold our tongues and remain silent. If we judge others or allow them to be consumed by the anger of others, then we are accomplices and bear their guilt upon our shoulders.
 
In all of this, Isaac teaches us that humility is the key virtue that produces peace within the heart and leads us to the joy of the kingdom. Humility is truthful living, a willingness to see the poverty of our sin, to acknowledge the futility of our life without Christ.
 
We closed the evening by simply touching upon one of the most powerful teachings and reflections of St. Isaac. He tells us that divine hope uplifts the heart but fear of Gehenna crushes it. What does the love of God, he asks, tell us about hell?  Do we desire the salvation of all as God himself desires it; or do we project our desire for retribution and worldly justice upon God?
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Tonight we continued our reading of Homily 51. We picked up with Isaac’s list of observations showing us the nature of discernment and how important it is in our relationships with others and for our engagement of the world around us. Things often are not what they seem and so the gift of discernment is of great value in the eyes of the Fathers. It allows us to see how we often rationalize certain worldly behaviors, how we domesticate the gospel, and how we constantly seek to place boundaries around and limits to our understanding of love and mercy. The characteristic and distinctive element of Isaac‘s writings is his perception of the nature of God‘s mercy and what that means for the Christian way of life. At one and the same time he compels us and challenges us to rise above are limited understanding and to walk by faith and also reveals to us the height and the depth of God‘s love for us. Each of us stands in a unique relationship with God of intimacy and of unbonded love and Mercy. No one can provide us with faith and love; only we as individuals can pursue that relationship. As one western Saint put it - you are either a whole saint or no saint it all. We cannot approach God‘s love and mercy with half measures.

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Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 51. St Isaac the Syrian begins to map out for us how we are to form and shape our attitude and our thoughts in such a way that we guard and protect our own virtue and our capacity to look at others with Mercy. We are to be circumspect in our speech and in the revelation of our thoughts to others – being careful not to allow ourselves to be manipulated or drawn into acts of sin such as detraction.  
 
In our service of others and in our charity we are to guard and protect the dignity and the feelings of others. We must never set our desire to perform a good work above the identity of the one we are called to serve.  We are to lift them up in every way and be careful not to diminish their sense of worth. 
 
Isaac is very strong in his language, telling us that when we are genuinely pained for the sake of any person then we are akin to being a martyr. We must grieve for the wicked and understand that sin is it’s own punishment. We must imitate Christ who died not for the just but for the wicked. 
 
Furthermore, we must seek to establish within ourselves true discernment through bodily chastity and purity of conscience. If these are lacking every act becomes void in the eyes of God. We seem to have an infinite capacity for self delusion; our hearts telling us that we are good and righteous for the benefit of our egos and self esteem. God reckons righteousness in proportion to discernment and Saint Isaac provides us with a multitude of examples of how this is true.
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Tonight we continued our journey with St. Isaac through homily 51. Isaac continues his reflection upon living the life of mercy and challenging our view of justice as those who been redeemed by the blood of Christ. In the eyes of God our sin is like a handful of sand cast into an ocean of divine Mercy. Likewise we must view one another with the same generosity of spirit, always viewing sin and evil actions as a sickness driven and shaped by the evil one. We must never lose sight of the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God even in the face of incontrovertible moral failure. We must realize that our sin distorts our view of the truth and inflames our anger to the point of retribution. Our anger no longer simply informs us of the presence of injustice it makes us want to take the judgment of God into our own hands - to embrace once again the original sin of seeking to make ourselves gods. 
 
Isaac sets out the virtues of humility and chastity as shaping the heart and making us a tabernacle for the Divine Trinity. Fear and joy both draw us toward God. Joy excels however and creates exuberance in the soul and fashions an open and irrepressible heart. 
 
Isaac does not fail to warn us of the pitfalls along the way. We must be circumspect and watchful even in those relationships of greatest love. We must desire to protect and foster the virtue of the other as much as our own. 
 
Our reflection shows us that Isaac will not allow us to domesticate the gospel and shape it with our almost infinite capacity for rationalization. Divine revelation turns our perception of reality and all that is human on its head. The revolutionary nature of the Gospel strikes the heart with full force.
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Tonight we began reading homily 51. To say it was challenging is an understatement. Saint Isaac presents us with the gospel in its purity and challenges us to abandon our comfortable and limited perception of the truth; in particular our understanding of mercy and justice. Isaac, in stark terms, tells us that rash zeal and fanaticism have no place in the spiritual life and in our relationships with others. We are not allowed to give way to our desire to judge others according to our own sensibilities. We are to put on the mind of Christ and our love for others is to be cruciform. 
 
Very often we take a morbid delight in assuming the position of power within relationships, enjoying correcting others when in reality we only add to their suffering. Furthermore, our rebuke of others only has the effect of undermining our own spiritual lives. Isaac bluntly tells us that to judge another is like a father slowly strangling his own beloved son. 
 
We can only understand Issac’s teachings from the perspective of the life of Grace and Theosis. We must be conformed to and transformed by Divine Love in every way.  
 
In the weeks and months to follow, St Isaac will draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s mercy and the beauty of the human person made in His image.
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Tonight we read homily 50 in its entirety. St Isaac presents us and leads us through the experience of darkness that often overcomes the solitary and anyone who is seeking to experience God as he is in himself. The path to contemplation and communion involves the movement between darkness and consolation where one comes to experience both the profound nature of their sin and of God’s mercy and love. The deepest trial belongs to solitary or hermit who desires through purity of heart to know God and know him alone and seeks simply the consolation of faith. The darkness of one so detached is beyond words and comprehension, feeling the heart and mind with slip into utter poverty. Only God can allow a person to persevere and only God can console. 
 
Even those who are engaged in external works will experience this kind of despondency. They must learn to seek out counsel but more importantly they must learn to remain in their cell. That is, we must all learn to remain focused upon God, to open the mind and the heart to he alone who knows who we are and can plumb the depths of the mystery.
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