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We picked up this evening in our final session of St. Isaac with the last part of homily 76. Isaac makes it very clear that those who are given over fully to God in prayer and solitude begin to live in the perfect love of God and thus also fulfill the commandment to love one’s neighbor. In God, nothing is lacking. Yet, this is a rarity. Few and far between our called to this way of life and only when it is lived fully and withholding nothing of the self is love complete.  In so far as one cultivates solitude and stillness and yet engages with other men and receives their aid - so too is he obligated to tend to the sick and lift up and serve his fallen brothers. One must avoid the illusion of perfect stillness as an escape from one’s obligation to care for one’s neighbor.

In the last of St. Isaacs’s homilies, Homily 77, he presents us with the perfect and most important of virtues – humility. All the other virtues must be perfected in order that a person is capable of receiving this gift of God‘s grace. It is to clothe oneself with the very raiment of God. God revealed Himself to us in His Son – emptying Himself, taking upon our flesh and embracing the form of a servant, becoming obedient even unto death. Isaac tells us that we cannot look upon the spiritual life as if we are progressing up a ladder by her own power to achieve some natural goal constructed by her own minds or spiritual sensibilities. One is clothes in humility by God the more the self is set aside. We are to put on the mind of Christ and imitate his humility.

We continued our reading of Letter 39. St. Theophan wants to prepare his beloved Anastasia for the spiritual battle that lies ahead. He begins by telling her that the adversary never sleeps. This thought alone could be the object of our meditation endlessly. The evil one is relentless in his desire to disrupt our relationship with God. Anastasia must not fear this reality but forever hold it in mind and let it help her understand that she must relentlessly call to God and rely upon his grace and his help. The devil will either withdraw and allow for the illusion of spiritual strength to grow and then attack the person all at once to pull them down. Or he will afflict them right from the beginning so as to discourage them. Attack after attack will come until the individual gives up. Thus, she must be steadfast; and as Theophan has told her she must be courageous and a plucky fighter. She must fight as one who has placed all of her hope in God.

In Letter 40, St. Theophan continues along this line of thought. He begins to discuss with Anastasia the various causes of spiritual cooling. Anastasia fears her own lack of diligence. Wisely, Theophan tells her not to let go of that fear but let it kindle within her a greater enthusiasm to drive her forward in the face of her own weaknesses. Eventually hope for salvation will emerge as one comes to experience the depth of God‘s grace and his constant help. Until then, she must cry out to God with an anguished heart; and anxiety that flows more from the urgent longings of the heart for love than it does from fear of punishment. She must strive to enter by the narrow door and so unite her prayers to the Spirit that calls out to God from the very depths of her being.


Text of chat during the group:

00:48:29 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Oh, I can relate to that.....

00:53:59 Eric Williams: I love that bit. Instead of being annoyed and disappointed that their fellow close disciples are pridefully seeking honors in Christ’s royal court, they get jealous! They make the problem worse!

00:59:18 Anthony Joyce: Vicki beckons..thank you, good sir, for your time for us. Til next time!

01:01:08 Eric Williams: Psalm 39 (38) seems relevant here.

01:20:35 Eric Williams: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

01:26:57 Ren Witter: Or that weird “Man makes plan and God laughs” one. Does not, as you said, reflect the real, deep love of God.

01:32:55 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Before we end today, a little taste of Byzantine-Ukrainian spirituality:  To the servant of God, Father David, with the upcoming 27th anniversary of his presbyteral ordination on January 15, grant, O Lord, a blessed and peaceful life, health, salvation, success in every endeavor, and preserve him and his loved ones, for many happy and blessed years!  God grant you many years! Many happy years! God grant you many years!  Many happy years!  May you be blessed with health and salvation!  God grant you many happy years!

*Please note that there were some technical difficulties which caused the audio to drop a few times between the 40-45min mark. 

We began this evening with Letter 38. St. Theophan shows Anastasia where she should take up for her Lenten disciplines. It may be surprising for some of us when we hear it. He tells her that she should begin with the renewal of her baptismal vows; vows that were made on her behalf when she was a child. At the very beginning of Lent she must in a clear and decisive fashion commit herself to Christ and her renunciation of everything that is contrary to His will. How different this is from our day when we typically renew our baptismal vows at Easter.  St. Theophan would have her see them as the lens through which she views all of her disciplines and takes them up. They mean nothing if they do not lead to Christ and they must be shaped and embraced with the fulfillment of these vows in mind.

In Letter 39, St. Theophan becomes more specific: he begins to tell her about the battle that lies ahead. She must be ready and prepared to engage in the fiercest kind of struggle with the most hostile opponent. The evil one will do everything he can to destroy her hope in the Lord or to distort her vision of the discipline she now embraces. Therefore, she must be humble in the battle and remain constant even in the midst of affliction. She must have strong courage and remain steadfast even when she seems to fail repeatedly. Such failure, in fact, will always be present; but it will not be absent the providence of God. Everything is from him and he shapes all things in secret. Anastasia’s prayer must simply be: “Save me by the way Thou knowest” And in the end, through these words she must give herself over entirely and irrevocably to God.


Text of chat during the group:

00:42:05 Mary McLeod: I read somewhere that fasting without prayer is just dieting :)

01:00:49 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: From the Third Hour:  Prayer of Saint Mardarios O God and Master, Father almighty, Lord, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, one Godhead, and one power, have mercy on me a sinner; and by the judgements which You know, save me Your unworthy servant; for You are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

01:01:53 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: General Prayer of the Hours:  In every season and at every hour, in heaven and on earth You are worshipped and glorified, O good God, longsuffering, rich in mercy, loving the just and compassionate to sinners, calling all to salvation by the promise of the blessings to come; now at this very hour, Lord, accept our prayers, and direct our lives in the ways of Your commandments. Sanctify our souls, purify our bodies, correct our thoughts, and make our knowledge whole and sober. Deliver us from every distress, evil, and pain. Surround us with Your holy angels as with a rampart so that protected and guided by their host we may reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Your unapproachable glory; for You are blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

01:15:27 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: the Russian or old church Slavonic govenie, with its Ukrainian counterpart, hoveennia, when it is used in the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom petition when we pray for everyone who enters the temple in order to pray in the spirit of “blahohoviynist’”, means more than just reverence or respect, for it is the kind of attitude that creates worship which is “full of the most sincere homage, respect and devotion as an expression of his own underlying measureless surrender to God”.  This aspect of surrender is also the ability to perceive everything as coming from God, and not just perceiving it in any old way but with gratitude.  This is why as he was dying almost literally on the road on the way to his place of exile, St John Chrysostom's last words were "Glory to God for all things!"

01:16:35 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: https://janotec.typepad.com/terrace/2007/10/the-last-words-.html

John remembered all these things, and he knew that his time was ending. He was not afraid. Even as a young monk he was never afraid of the night, because for him it was never dark. In one of his many sermons on the Psalms, he said that “… it is during the night that all the plants respire, and it is then also that the soul of man is more penetrated with the dews falling from Heaven … night heals the wounds of our soul and calms our griefs.” He was exhausted, and his body was broken by exposure to the wind and rain, the rocks and thorns, strong enemies and a weak body. But he wasn’t brokenhearted, and he was not bitter. He was not depressed or hopeless. He remembered all these things: his enemies, his disappointments and defeats, his last long journey into the wild lands, and the beatings and lashings of his two imperial guards. He forgave them, every one, for each and every hurt and trespass. In this world, you can forgive, but you

01:16:53 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: He forgave them, every one, for each and every hurt and trespass. In this world, you can forgive, but you don't forget. But every time you remember is one more instance in the infinite count of seventy times seven. John remembered and forgave them all, just as his own Lord forgave his every sin on the Cross. His body was fading, but he was still on fire for the Lord. His soul was even brighter with the flame of Divine Love, and the glory of God’s grace. On fire and not in darkness, in strength and not weakness, and in the greatest sermon of his lifetime, St. John Chrysostom the Golden-Mouthed, whispered out his last words: “Glory to God for all things!” Only a man who had given his heart solely to the Lord Jesus, who had sacrificed his everything to the Holy Trinity, who had soared to the heights of the Church and earthly power, who had it all taken away and spent his last years on dusty, forgotten roads … only such a man could say such things, giving God all the glory, Who gave this last sermon such

01:17:00 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: golden eternal wings."

01:18:30 Sheila Applegate: That is really beautiful. Thanks. I love his words on the night.




Tonight we began Homily 76 which focuses on the virtue of mercy and compassion. Isaac addresses the question of how one who lives in seclusion and stillness can fulfill the command of the gospel to love one’s neighbor. Isaac beautifully describes for us that only the rarest of individuals is called to a life that is completely wrapped in God and in prayer.  And in so far is this is true, they embrace all of creation as God Himself due to the radical communion that they share with Him. Beyond this, their life of radical seclusion from men may prevent them from actively showing mercy and compassion. The mercy and compassion is all embracing but one cannot tangibly reach out to others because of the life they’ve been called to by God.

However, those who live among others, no matter how few, must respond with mercy in the face of tangible needs. One must “leave God for God” as it were. When a neighbor is sick or starving one must attend to their needs without counting the costs. One’s religious life cannot become a form of resistance that blinds a person to the needs of others. We cannot use our religious practices as a bubble to shield us from others or any contact with them. To aid us in our understanding Isaac gives us a number of examples of those holy souls who despite the rigors of their solitude went the extra mile in attending the needs of others.

We picked up this evening with letter 37.  St. Theophan begins by reminding Anastasia that she does not want to belong to the category of one who is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm; having no real desire to please God and no desire for salvation. He doesn’t know if she falls into that category but it is possible that she is simply following along with everyone else in the group; doing what they do. However, she is called to something far greater; She is to do all things in good conscience and it (conscience) is to become for her a kind of new garment. If she seeks to please God and to do his will in all things she will begin to experience something of the peace of the kingdom. Before this happens, however, Anastasia must see and feel the depravity of life outside of God. She must acknowledge the many ways that she has lived her life vainly, letting time simply pass by. Out of this alone will emerge a contrite heart that fosters a deep repentance and desire for the life of God. “Do not let your life pass in vain,” he tells her. “Embrace this path now!” 

St. Theophan begins letter 38 by calling Anastasia to consciously renew the vows that were made at her baptism.  She simply needs to begin gradually and to do what she is able to do, trusting in the grace and love of God. She must do this, however, with a firm resolve and a belief in the depths of God‘s love. If she does this, all will be well.

Tonight we came to the conclusion of homily 75. Saint Isaac continued to explain to us the blessings of Night Vigils. They give light to the thinking; having purified the mind and the heart through limiting sleep, one begins to discern the things of the kingdom through prolonged prayer and watchfulness. The Light shines upon the mind and one begins to perceive that which is Divine. 

To help us understand this Isaac gives us a number of examples of those who are exemplars of holiness and lifetime practitioners of night vigils. In them we see not only the discipline that is needed but also the fruit of the practice; unyielding fortitude to produces transfiguration of the body. The Fathers came to acknowledge this as a sweet labor.

However, Isaac does not want us to have any illusions about the practice or its difficulties. One must ask oneself honestly if there is a desire not only to practice Vigils, but to foster constant stillness and a willingness to endure the afflictions that these practices bring. Are we willing to make the necessary sacrifices to live a holy and undistracted life? Without this desire, the attempt to practice Vigils would be foolhardy.

St. Isaac closes with a comforting word as one who understands the weakness and the fragility of human nature. We may struggle throughout our whole life to engage in the practice of stillness. But we will undoubtedly experience losses and gains, victories and defeats.  In all of this we must never lose patience and, most importantly, we must not lose our joy in the Lord and our trust in His grace.

In Letter 37, St. Theophan begins to feed Anastasia with solid food. He draws her from simply resolving to amend her life to yearning to act in accord with and in harmony with the will of God. It is this that she must be most diligent in seeking in her life. Anastasia must begin to examine her life in light of this general rule: everything she does should be done in accord with his divine will and for the sake of pleasing God. The person who does this, he tells her, even though they might have no talent, no riches, no special ability, will come to experience the joy of the kingdom and know themselves as seen by God as pleasing in His eyes. There is no greater gift. Most of the world, however, lives carelessly. People’s acts are done haphazardly - they act not because they desire to do the will of God but rather because they are drawn along by the ways of the world. The majority of the people in this world are driven by the spirit of lukewarmness. They have nothing against God but they have no deliberate desire to please him either. They are not egoists but yet they preserve their own self interest at every turn, avoiding every self-sacrifice. They are not blatantly vain, but they have no objection to amusing themselves in worldly matters. They want to be seen as part of the world and sharing in its delights rather than seeking to see God.


Text of chat during the group:

00:55:37 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Eastern Canon law often legislates the bare minimum, but in the UGCC, spiritually the general goal for everyone is: all Wednesdays and Fridays of the year are fasting days except for when a feast of the Lord or of the Theotokos occurs on that day; Four penitential seasons: the Great Fast (aka Lent), dairyless and meatless at least forty days before Pascha, (abstaining from meat seven days earlier actually), the St Philip's Fast, forty days before Christmas, Sts Peter and Paul Fast (aka Apostles' Fast) from the Second Monday after Pentecost until June 29, and the Savior's Fast (aka Dormition Fast) from August 1-14.  Granted there is no fasting even on Wednesdays and Fridays between Pascha and Ascension Thursday and between Dec. 26 and Jan. 4.  Byzantines also never fast, although we do abstain, on Saturdays and Sundays even during the penitential seasons.

00:56:09 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: UGCC = Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church

01:00:49 Eric Williams: Orthodoxy/Byzantine Catholicism: Hard disciplines, mercifully taught ;)

01:01:19 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: yes....

01:10:02 Eric Williams: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

01:19:54 Mary McLeod: Thank you, Merry Christmas!

Homily 75 continues to be St. Isaac‘s most exceptional and powerful reflection. He speaks about the oft neglected practice of night vigils. This, he tells us, is the most powerful form of prayer, more powerful than praying during the daytime. Isaac tells us that this is not because there is something magical about praying at night. He is not fostering a kind of superstition here. He is quite simply telling us the praying at night offers a person the opportunity to come before God without any distraction or impediment; humbling the mind and body by disciplining oneself through fasting not only from food but also from sleep. Unencumbered, the soul searches for God with an urgent longing. Having nothing weighing it down, it swiftly runs to the Beloved and seeks to remain in His embrace unceasingly. It is for this reason that the devil envies vigils above other all other forms of prayer. For, Isaac tells us, even when it is practiced poorly and in an undisciplined fashion, God produces great fruit in the soul.

Tonight we began with letter 35. St. Theophan begins to discuss with Anastasia the importance of identifying one’s inner disposition; whether one is focused on God and pursuing the life of virtue or driven by one’s passions or certain kinds depravity. It becomes very important to identify clearly the primary passion and those intertwined with it. It is the strongest one that we must overcome first in order to weaken all the others. Strike it down and one gains a great measure of freedom. We need also to identify that to which we are most dedicated and the one to whom we are most dedicated in this life. Are we driven by the spirit of our own ego and satisfying its needs or have we set aside the ego in order to live for God alone? Theophan like so many of the Fathers before him emphasizes the desire for God. It is this that  drives us on to engage in the spiritual battle and to be willing to make all the necessary sacrifices.

We continued our discussion of homily 75. Isaac draws us into the beauty of the practice of vigils. He speaks to us of the freedom from despondency and the onrush of joy the monks who immerse themselves in prayer at night experience. With the mind and heart filled with the things of God and of His word, no foreign thought has room to enter. All they know is God and they speak to him in the secrecy of their heart.

Isaac makes it clear that there is great room for variation, depending upon the monk and the strength of his constitution and will. Adjustments might have to be made, he acknowledges, but one always seeks to keep his mind and heart fixed upon God or upon the example of the saints who lived in this discipline in all of its fullness.

Isaac then begins to lay out for us how it is that these monks were able to sustain themselves in such a life; not only the discipline of it but how they could maintain themselves physically and emotionally in such isolation. As always, Isaac‘s writing is beautiful; no matter what he touches upon, it speaks directly to the heart.

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