Pearls from Saint Isaac of Syria
This Holy Father of the 7th century, was born in the region of Qatar on the western shore of the Persian Gulf. Gifted with a keen intellect, he thirsted also for spiritual knowledge, and, when still quite young, entered a monastery with his brother. He gained considerable renown as a teacher and came to the attention of the Katholikon Giwargis (George), who ordained him bishop of Ninevah, the former capital of Assyria some distance to the north. For reasons not entirely clear, he requested to abdicate after only five months, and went south to the wilderness of Mount Matout, a refuge for anchorites. There he lived as a solitary for many years, in strict asceticism, eating only three loaves a week with some uncooked vegetables. His constant study of the divine writings strained his eyes, and eventually blindness and old age forced him to retire to the monastery of Shabar, where he died and was buried.
It was already towards the end of his life in the wilderness that, out of love for his neighbor, he felt compelled to share the experience he had gained. The result was a collection of incomparable texts on the spiritual life, from which we have gathered the following pearls.
The Light of Christ is noetic [spiritual, mystical] Light, and blessed is the soul which is worthy to see it!
The purpose of prayer is for us to acquire love for God, for in prayer can be discovered all sorts of reasons for loving God.
Love of God proceeds from conversing with Him; this conversation of prayer comes about through stillness, and stillness comes with the stripping away of the self.
When you dwell in stillness and possess the work of humility, this will be a sign for you that your soul is nigh to emerging from darkness: your heart is aflame and hot like fire both day and night.....
Faith is the door to mysteries. What the bodily eyes are to sensory objects, the same is faith to the eyes of the intellect that gaze at hidden treasures. Even as we have two bodily eyes, we possess two eyes of the soul, as the Fathers say; yet both have not the same operation
with respect to divine vision. With one we see the hidden glory of God which is concealed in the natures of things; that is to say, we behold His might, His wisdom, and His eternal providence for us which we understand by the magnitude of His governance on our behalf. With this same eye we also behold the heavenly orders of our fellow servants.
With the other we behold the glory of His holy nature. When God is pleased to admit us to spiritual mysteries, He opens wide the sea of faith in our minds.
Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind.Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.
As a man whose head is under water cannot inhale pure air, so a man whose thoughts are plunged into the cares of this world cannot absorb the sensations of that new world.
A life of spiritual endeavor is the mother of sanctity; from it is born the first experience of perception of the mysteries of Christ--which is called the first stage of spiritual knowledge.
To bear a grudge and pray, means to sow seed on the sea and expect a harvest.
A small but persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop tailing persistently, hollows out hard rock.
The key to Divine gifts is given to the heart by love of neighbor, and, in proportion to the heart's freedom from the bonds of the flesh, the door of knowledge begins to open before it.
This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.
Other texts by Saint Isaac can be found in Early Fathers from the Philokalia, Faber & Faber 1954; The Ascetical Homilfies of Saint Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration Monastery 1984; and On Ascetical Life, SVS Press 1990.