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We continued with our reading of homily 68 tonight. In a most extraordinary section, Isaac emphasizes the need to take heed of ourselves, to acknowledge the importance of being able to discern the most subtle movements of the mind and heart; to see which passion is dominant and the symptoms of its presence. Isaac like no other holds this out as an important competence, if not the most important competence for us to have as Christian men and women. We must be able to discern the passions that act upon us, their kind, how they manifest themselves, and how we are to remedy them. To be able to do this, Isaac tells us, is greater than the ability to raise somebody from the dead. To be able to see one’s sins and so repent and know the healing grace of God is of inestimable value. 
 
Isaac not only speaks to us the struggle that is necessary but the joy that is ours in gaining purity of heart. Our joy becomes that of the kingdom - that makes all things in this world seem as if they are of no account. We are destined for greater things and, when our eyes are open to this reality, we begin to feel as if we are in heaven itself.

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What is the sensitivity of the human heart and mind? How deeply have we been formed by the grace of God? Can we see the subtle movements of the passions within the stirring of temptations, the rising of pride or vainglory? Do we gauge the strength of these movements within us or the army of demons that rush upon in battle and are we able and competent to discern what needs to be healed within us?  Are we willing to stand vulnerable and transparent before God in order that He might heal us, that He might apply the healing balm that perfectly meets the need?
 
These are some of the questions that Saint Isaac puts before us in the conclusion of homily 67 and the beginning of homily 68. He wants us to look within, to take heed of ourselves in such a way that we can recognize such subtleties. This “truthful living” is at the heart of the ascetical life and breeds intimacy with God. The more we embrace the humble truth about ourselves, the more we find ourselves in the embrace of God. Tears may come; yet not those rooted in coldness of fear but rather those that flow from the heart that has been warmed by the love of God. 

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Tonight we began reading homily 67. Isaac lays out for us how it is that we are to labor for stillness fruitfully. He speaks to us of the many pitfalls to be avoided and the signs and proofs that we should seek in order determine if we are on the right path.  One of the things that Isaac stresses is the presence of virtue in a person’s life. Stillness and silence can never be abstracted from the pursuit of purity of heart. Stillness without virtue is blameworthy. 
 
Gradually Isaac begins to set forward various signs of growth. One starts to experience oneself being enveloped by the silence of God in the midst of prayer, of being enfolded in silence. Tears will often unexpectedly flow as a fruit of stillness. 
 
But if our minds are distracted and filled with thoughts and if our passions continue to rage within us, we know there has been some heedlessness or negligence that we must address. We must understand that the passions will stand at the door of our hearts and howl for what they have become accustomed to desire. We must not become discouraged but continue to call upon our God and foster the love of stillness.

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We picked up again this week with homily 66. Saint Isaac presents us with perhaps the most formative part of his book. While this might seem to be an overstatement, St.  Isaac speaks with such clarity about the key aspect of the eastern Fathers’ understanding of the human person - the nous - the organ of spiritual perception. St.  Isaac lays out with striking clarity not only the nature of the nous but how it is to be formed and purified. Only through the ascetical life and the ordering of the appetites and the passions toward God is the nous, the eye of the heart, purified in such a way that it allows for true discernment.  Aided by grace, our capacity to perceive the truth the God increases as well as our capacity to embrace it. Isaac is very quick to warn us that this spiritual perception involves the whole person. It is not simply a philosophical or intellectual perception of truth, a mental vision. It is asceticism aided by grace that allows us to contemplate the truth and so develop a greater awareness of God. This awareness of God gives birth then to love and love is strengthened and emboldened by prayer. 

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Tonight we continued reading Homily 65. St. Isaac begins to speak about how one prepares oneself to enter into the life of stillness. One must investigate well what one is considering and the discipline necessary to live such a life. One cannot simply seek the name of solitary.  Rather, a person must engage in the long work of preparing the mind and the heart to embrace the discipline of stillness. One must have a clear aim and fix one’s gaze upon God completely otherwise despondency will overcome them when faced with trials.
 
The solitary focuses upon God entirely in the stillness to the point of no longer being engaged in the battle and warfare with the passions. In perhaps one of the most beautiful paragraphs ever written St. Isaac captures for us the nature of the contemplative experience of God and the fruit of stillness.  He speaks of the wonder of the life of stillness and its fruits like no other ascetic writer and his words become an exhortation that reaches to the depths of the heart and creates a longing for God.

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We continued our reading of homily 62. Isaac begins by discussing with us the nature of humility, and rightly so. Humility is truthful living; acknowledging the truth about ourselves and our poverty and our struggle with the passions. The spiritual life must begin here. We must acknowledge our need for God’s grace and our need to enter into a lifelong struggle, a vigilant struggle to foster a greater desire for the love of God and the love of virtue. We must overcome our negligence and seek Him with unceasing prayer and discipline of mind and body. 
 
The starving man, it has been said, has no sense of taste and so one who has become impoverished by there sin no longer has a taste for the things of heaven and the joys to come to us from the hand of God. We must strive to deepen our desire for the love alone the nourishes us to everlasting life. We must come to have a greater taste for virtue and long for it.

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We’ve come to a very special homily of Saint Isaac – homily 62. Here he begins to guide us along the path of the spiritual life and battle. He opens our eyes to what the struggle holds out to us - to live in the love of God and to know the consolation He alone offers. The natural man, as it were,  experiences only fear; in particular fear of death. The one who develops some knowledge of his own passions and begins to struggle with them experiences growth and health but continues to sit in fear of judgment. But the one who has wholly given his life over to God not only loses that attraction to the passions but also loses all fear. He begins to taste the love of God and His sweetness. This is what draws him forward. There is nothing greater than joy in the Lord and nothing more to be desired the knowledge of him.

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This evening we had a rich discussion of the final three paragraphs of homily 48. St. Isaac gives us wonderful counsel in regards to our speech. We are to guard the tongue and not give free reign to anger. To constrain our speech allows us to experience compunction and to see the presence of our own impatience and lack of love. Silence breeds conversion and freedom from the passion.
 
In our relations with others we are not to focus on teaching and preaching or correcting others but rather providing for their basic and fundamental needs. Quite simply we are to love others and allow this to do our speaking for us. Good example always trumps words. Likewise negligence and laxity has a negative impact upon others. Before seeking to reform others we must reform our own hearts.
 
The freedom that has been given to us in Christ is something that must be protected and valued. Only in this way are we kept from being dragged down by anxiety or fear. Living for Christ and in Christ fills our hearts with an everlasting hope and peace.

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Continuing with homily number 48, Saint Isaac speaks to us of the essential place of asceticism in the spiritual life. We must seek in every way to allow the passions to be transformed by the grace of God and through discipline of mind and body. Only in this way will we be able to experience something of the lasting joy and peace of God and the Kingdom. Through our senses we are in a constant state of communion with and receptivity to the world around us. Yet our sin makes us vulnerable and our vision of the things of the world become distorted. Conscience becomes malformed and so good appears to be evil and evil appears to be good. Only by being dead to life in this world, that is, dead to our attachment to the things of this world and our own desires can we be free to desire and love God. Ease and idleness are the very destruction of the soul and, St. Isaac tells us, injure the soul more than demons. Through our negligence we open the door for temptations to freely enter and so we darken the soul. 

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Tonight we were able to read homily 43 in its entirety. St. Isaac describes the various modes of discipline in the spiritual life - the purification of the body and senses, the purification of the soul (which is freedom from secret passions) and finally the purification of the mind or the nous which comes from God‘s revelation of himself to us and raising us up to Divine visions.  The third mode draws us into what he describes as hypostatic Theoria, where an individual begins to experience the limpid purity of his primordial nature as one created for God and union with God. In this experience one becomes awestruck with wonder at God; tasting what will be experienced in all of its fullness in existence after the resurrection.  Such a state carries with it no sorrow or attachment to the things of the world. If we only knew the depths of God’s blessings we would long to experience that intimate union with him now and always.   
 
We must remind ourselves that Christian mysticism is distinctive and unique.  It comes about not through altering the consciousness through asceticism or meditation but through God’s revelation of Himself and raising us up by His grace as a prelude to beholding Him with mediation unto the ages of ages.

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