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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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Tonight we concluded homily 66. Isaac focuses on the virtue of chastity and its beauty. It is to be prized and fostered through the gift of fasting. We must not give ourselves over to eating to the point of satiety. Rather our discipline must be regular and constant. We must humble the mind and the body so that our desire is ordered and directed toward God. At times it’s hard for us to understand such a longing for virtue and the willingness to go to such great lengths to attain it. 
 
This is the revolution that Isaac calls for – to be completely directed toward God in everything that we do. Asceticism is essential and the relational aspect of it is equally if not more important. Our whole being must be directed toward God - in order that habit and grace may work together to lift us towards God and away from sin swiftly and, as Isaac would say, violently. Our hatred of sin and our love for virtue begin to work together in such a fashion that when we see a movement of the body and its appetites, there is a complete and absolute response that draws us to the Beloved. 
 
Asceticism is essential for the life of the Christian and for the Church as a whole. Its breakdown over time has distorted the vision of what it is to be a Christian and what it is to be transformed into Christ by grace.

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We continued tonight with homily 66. St. Isaac lays out for us the path to prayer and reveals to us its deeper meaning. It involves self-denial; a setting aside of the ego in order that one might be fully attentive to God. And so prayer is essentially self-renunciation shaped and guided by faith and fueled by desire.  
 
In so many ways we have to let go of our limited understanding of prayer and the shape that we typically give it in accord with our own will. Isaac would have us allow God to lead us into the depths of prayer guided by a love that is inestimable.
 
Our greatest obstacle is our selves – the many ways that we allow ourselves to be pulled towards other things. We seek fulfillment in that which is so much less than God and we lose sight of our hope. We freely give away, without effort, the love God holds out to us.
 
Isaac exhorts us to order our desire and longing toward God, to let nothing draws away from what He alone can satisfy. We must allow ourselves to hunger for He who is the Bread of Life - - for He who can satisfy us unto eternity.

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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 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 continued our reading of homily 65. Isaac begins to speak with us about the fruit of stillness. One of the primary gifts of stillness is the healing of memory and of predispositions over the course of time. The more that we are faithful to the grace that God extends to us, the greater the fruit that we experience as well as the desire for stillness. Isaac warns us that we must not concern ourselves with what is foreign to God. Our minds and our hearts must be set on freeing ourselves from the senses by being engaged in unceasing prayer. We must have a love in keeping night-vigil for the renewal of them mind that it creates. This is true of every aspect of the ascetical life. We must engage in it with an exactness. Our love for what the Lord has given us and our desire to protect what is precious should lead us with a manly courage to engage in the spiritual battle. Cowardice is often present in the spiritual life and we find many ways to rationalize our negligence and laziness for fear of giving ourselves over to God completely. This we must overcome and strive to enter the kingdom and be willing to sacrifice all to attain it.

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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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Tonight we concluded homily 64 and began homily 65. Isaac, with supreme confidence, speaks to us of the value of the solitary life and its beauty. One who responds to the supernatural grace to embrace absolute silence and solitude responds in much the same way as the apostle Paul who said “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” Paul had to be faithful to the grace given to him and likewise the hermit must be faithful to the grace to live in the absolute silence of God. This he must do despite any infirmity. Isaac speaks of those who despite being hobbled by weakness understood the value of their silence and the remoteness of their solitude was greater than participating in the life of the monastery and its daily liturgy of hours. The silence of God is always greater than human words and actions.
 
Homily 65 begins with Isaac telling us that those who seek to abide in silence must embrace it with discernment and with exacting discipline. They must investigate the life as fully as they can from those who have experience. They must read the writings of the solitary souls in order that their ardor for God might be strengthened as well as their desire for the solitary life.

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