Date: Friday, June 20, 2003 09:50:35 PM
Subject: Insights regarding the martyrs
For the Sunday of All Saints
Insights regarding the martyrs from the Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac
Homily 5 Saint Isaac
He who is able to suffer wrong with joy, though having means at hand to
rebuff it, has [[consciously]] received from God the consolation of his
faith. The man who endures accusations against himself with humility has
arrived at perfection, and he is marvelled at by the holy angels, for there
is no other virtue so great and so hard to achieve.
Do not believe yourself to be strong, until you are tempted and find
yourself superior to change. In this manner test yourself in everything.
Acquire a right faith in yourself,1 so that you may trample down your
enemies; keep your mind lowly, and place no confidence in your strength,
lest you be given over to the frailty of your nature, and then, from your
own fall you will learn your own weakness. Nor should you trust your
know-ledge, lest you be found amid subtle snares and you become
entangled.2 Have a meek tongue, and dishonour will never encounter you.
Acquire sweet lips, and you will have all men as your friends. Never boast
of your labours with your tongue, lest you be put to shame.3 In each
matter about which a man boasts himself, God permits that he change, so
that he should be humbled, and learn humility. This is why you must
surrender all things to Gods foreknowledge, and not believe that there is
anything in this life unchanging.
Acting in this manner, your eye will be always lifted to God. For Gods
protection and providence encircle all men, yet they are not seen except by
those who have cleansed themselves from sin and who continually keep their
attention on God, and on Him alone. But Gods providence is especially
apparent to them when they enter into a great trial on behalf of the truth;
for then they perceive it as if seeing it with their bodily eyes, each man
in proportion to the magnitude of the temptation which befalls him and
according to the cause thereof. This is the case in order that providence
might anoint its champions to have courage in this manner, as with Jacob,
and Jesus of Navi, and the Three Children, and Peter, and the rest of the
saints, to whom it appeared in a human form,4 giving them confidence and
confirming them in godliness.5 But if you say that these things were
granted to the saints from God by way of oeconomy, and that it was for
special reasons that they were deemed worthy of such visions, then let the
holy martyrs be examples to encourage you. The martyrs, often many
together, but sometimes one alone, in places both many and diverse,
contested for Christs sake, and with the [[secret]] strength that came to
them they courageously endured in bodies of clay the lacerations of iron
and torments of every kind, which things surpassed nature. But also, to
such as these, the holy angels would manifestly appear, so that every man
might learn that Divine providence is very near to those who in every
manner endure both every temptation and every affliction for the Lords
sake, for their encouragement and for the shaming of their enemies. For
insomuch as the saints were roused to manliness by visions of this kind, to
just such a degree did their adversaries rage and become frenzied with
wrath at their unyielding patience.6
1 Syriac Acquire exultation [or boasting] in the faith of your heart
2 Many Greek MSS read lest the enemy come into the midst and trap you in
his subtle snares.
3 Instead of lest you be put to shame the Syriac reads lest, there being
nothing in creation that is free of change, your shame be rendered double
when you are found in the contrary [state].
4 I.e. the angels sent by Gods providence.
5 Syriac and consoling their faith.
6 Syriac were their adversaries tormented by their unyielding patience.
The love of God is fervent3 by nature, and when beyond measure it descends
upon a man, it throws his soul into ecstasy. Therefore the heart of the man
who has felt this love cannot contain it or endure it without4 an
unaccustomed change being seen in him according to the measure of love's
quantity. And these are its signs: his face becomes fiery, exceedingly
joyous, and his body becomes heated. Fear and shame withdraw from him and
he is like one deranged. The power that gathers the mind flees from him and
he is as though out of his wits.5 [[From henceforth he esteems his life as
nothing in comparison with his Beloved. ]] He6 considers death a joy,
though it be to him a thing most terrible. And further, the gaze of his
intellect is fixed inseparably and deliriously upon Him. Though he is
distant, he speaks with Him as one near at hand. Being hidden from sight,
he muses upon His well-known hiddenness. His vision is natural, but
inaccessible to sense perception. In his actions, as in his appearance, he
is enflamed. He dwells in solitude, but his thinking converses, as it were,
with Someone and is filled with awe.
This is the spiritual passion with which the apostles and the martyrs were
inebriated. With it the first travelled the world over, toiling and being
reviled, while the second, although their members were severed, and
although they shed their blood like water and suffered the most dreadful
torments, yet they did not grow faint-hearted but endured courageously, and
being truly wise, were thought fools. Still others wandered in mountains
and caves and dens of the earth,7 and amid disorder they were most
well-ordered. [[Being grave, they were unrestrained; being dispassionate,
they abode in the flesh; entreating always, they were silent without
compulsion. ]] May God grant us also to attain to such derangement!8
If, before you have entered into the city of humility, you observe in
yourself that you have found rest from the importunity of the passions, do
not believe it, for this is a trap of the enemy who strives to ensnare you.
Nay rather, await the onslaught of great disturbance and turmoil after this
period of rest.
For until you have passed through all the dwelling-places of the virtues,
you will not find rest from your toil, nor will you have relief from the
enemy's treacherous designs until you reach the abode of holy humility.
O God, deem us worthy to attain this by Thy grace! Amen.
3 Syriac love is fervent Throughout this paragraph St. Isaac speaks both
about love in general and the love of God in particular, describing the
second in terms of the first.
4 This is the Syriac reading.
5 Syriac impetuosity and turmoil prevail upon him.
6 From this point to the end of the paragraph the Syriac is rendered. The
Greek MSS have very different readings.
7 Ct Heb. 11:38.
8 Or madness, mindlessness. The Greek for this paragraph differs
insignificantly from the Syriac.