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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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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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Tonight we concluded Homily 65. Isaac closes his discussion on the value of silence and the work that surrounds it and allows it to develop and bear fruit.   Chief among these is fasting and stillness. External stillness fosters internal stillness and fasting humbles the mind and body and order that prayer may deepen and the mind and the heart become more open to God. The group spoke great deal about fostering a culture that supports the renewal of fasting. Saint Isaac closes the homily by holding up the joy that comes to the individual by living in this holy silence. It is the joy the kingdom itself and that comes through seeing and participating in the mysteries of God.
 
Homily 66 is Isaac‘s attempt to open up for us an understanding of eastern anthropology and how it shapes the spiritual tradition. Chief among the things that he speaks about is the nous, or the eye of the heart and how it must be purified through asceticism. The passions must be overcome in order that the dullness of the vision of the nous, which is the faculty of spiritual perception, might be overcome. There is no discernment outside of purity of heart. True theology can only be done by one who is experiential knowledge of God and has spent years in prayer, stillness and ascetical practice.

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Tonight we completed the homily 56. It was both challenging and beautiful. Every word of Isaac strikes to the heart and each example raises us up in our understanding not only of his teaching but of what it is to be a human being. Isaac began tonight, once again, by speaking to us of the profound resistance we have as human beings to embracing the strength God has given us in will and intellect to grow in virtue. We convince ourselves of our weakness and so all that is good seems impossible. Isaac shows us that even the pagan philosophers were capable through their will and intellect of pursuing the truth heroically and even being willing to die for that truth. 
 
This should strike the Christian to the heart, knowing that we have received the fullness of the truth in Christ along with every grace and blessing to live a godly life.  We must in every way let the love of Christ compel us and embrace every discipline that will foster virtue and purity of heart and so draw us closer to him.

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We continued our consideration of homily 52 where St Isaac describes for us the various degrees of knowledge. Tonight he discussed the second degree of knowledge. The person begins to turn away from the merely sensual and by the love of the soul begins to turn toward God through the ascetical life, i.e., the practices of fasting, prayer, mercy, reading of the Scriptures, and the battle with the passions. The Holy Spirit perfects this work and this action and so lays the foundation for greater purity of heart and opens up a path to the reception of faith. 
 
The third third degree of knowledge that St. Isaac describes refines what has been acquired through the action of the spirit and the ascetical life: the soul stretches towards God and through the gift of faith comes to experience and taste the hidden mysteries of the kingdom and the depths of the unfathomable sea of God’s love.

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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 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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We continued our discussion of homily 48, in particular St. Isaac’s reflection upon fraternal correction. So often our understanding of such correction involves a spirit of vengeance and the desire to humiliate another or to take retribution. Can we say, though, that our attempts at fraternal correction are like that of God’s?  It is the Cross that leads us to repentance - that reveals the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s love. Do we correct through showing others greater love, by making ourselves more vulnerable and more generous towards them?

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Tonight we continued with our reading of homily 48 of Saint Isaac the Syrian. It is both beautiful and challenging. Isaac begins by comparing humility and conceit and how God will chastise the soul to bring healing - opening our eyes to the poverty of pride. 
 
Isaac uses this as a prelude to speaking to us about fraternal correction. We must always approach others not from the position of power but rather humbly and with the desire only to heal. We must never shame someone publicly or offend against love.  Behind all things must be the remembrance of God that guides and directs our actions and reminds us of the dignity of the other.

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Tonight we read homily 44 of St. Isaac the Syrian on Stillness. Isaac speaks of the value of stillness and the unwillingness an anchorite should have to sacrifice it. No dishonor or honor should lead a monk away from the silence. No natural bond or act of charity should tempt the one called by God to it to free himself from the charge. God alone can ask for such absolute love and commitment. The monk embraces the solitude not for himself or because of any whim or natural inclination but rather to obey God’s call him to serve the church in such a fashion.  He does not despise association with men but rather loves stillness because God set it before him as the path to salvation. 
 
Such a writing calls us all to reflect upon our lives and the depth of our commitment to God. It confronts us with the gospel and it’s truth in an unvarnished fashion. It is nothing less than unsettling and one must listen with faith. If we do not find it disturbing, then we have to ask ourselves if we have ever heard the gospel in its fullness. In whatever vocation we find ourselves, God wants our hearts completely and absolute fidelity.

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