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THE ASCETICAL HOMILIES OF SAINT ISAAC On Prayer   28/11/2020 12:00 πμ
On Prayer.

(Translated by S. Brock in The Journal of Theological Studies 30 (1979) pp. 97-100).




Do not imagine, brother, that prayer consists solely of words, or that it can be learnt by means of words. No, the truth of the matter, you should understand, is that spiritual prayer does not reach fullness as a result of either learning or the repetition of words. 
For it is not to a man that you are praying, before whom you can repeat a well- composed speech: it is to Him who is Spirit that you are directing the movements of your prayer. You should pray therefore in spirit, seeing that He is Spirit.

No special place or vocal utterance is required for someone who prays in fullness to God. Our Lord said, 'The hour is coming when you will not be worshiping the Father in this mountain or in Jerusalem' (John 4:21); and again, to show that no special place was required, He also taught that those who worship the Father should 'worship Him in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23); and in the course of His instructing us why we should pray thus He said, 'For God is a Spirit' (John 4:24), and He should be praised spiritually, in the spirit. Paul too tells us about this spiritual prayer and psalmody which we should employ: 'What then shall I do?', he says, 'I will pray in spirit and in mind, then, that he says that one should pray and sing to God; he does not say anything at all about the tongue. The reason is that this spiritual prayer is more interior than the tongue, more deeply interiorized than anything on the lips, more interiorized than any words, and beyond vocal song. When someone prays this kind of prayer he has sunk deeper than all speech, and he stands where spiritual beings






[467]

and angels are to be found; like them, he utters 'holy' without any words. But if he cease from this kind of prayer and re-commence the prayer of vocal song, then he is outside the region of the angels and he becomes an ordinary man again.

Whoever sings, using his tongue and body, and perseveres in this worship both night and day, such a person is one of the 'just'. But the person who has been held worthy to enter deeper than this, singing in intellect and spirit, such a person is 'spiritual'. A 'spiritual man' is more exalted than the 'just', but one becomes 'spiritual' after being 'just'. For until a man has worshiped for a considerable time in this exterior manner, employing fasting, using the voice for psalmody, with long periods on the knees, constant vigils, recitation of the psalms, arduous labors, supplication, abstinence, paucity of food, and all such things, his soul continuously being filled with the remembrance of God, full of due fear and trembling at His name, humble before all men, considering everyone better than himself even when he sees a man's actions: should he see a debauched person, or an adulterer, or someone grasping, or a drunkard, he still acts humbly before them and in his hidden innermost thoughts really considers them better than himself, not just making an outward pretense, but, seeing someone amidst all these evil things, he goes up to him and acts in a humble way before him, begging him, 'pray for me, for I am a sinner before God, I am guilty of many things, for not one of which have I paid the price'. Only when someone achieves all this—and greater things than those I have mentioned—will he arrive at singing to God in the psalmody wherewith spiritual beings praise Him.






In other words, their teaching was directly opposed to that of Saint Isaac, and the Saint repeatedly refutes it. See, for example, Homilies 23, 29, and 69. The Syriac printed text reads here If, indeed, there is a secondary perception of the senses from which natural desire is born...).



Not he is chaste who, in the strain and crisis of combat and struggle, says that shameful thoughts cease within him, but rather he who, by the uprightness of his heart, makes the vision of his mind so pure that he cannot gaze on lewd thoughts without shame. And when the gaze of his eyes is held fast (this verb is added from the Syriac, it being lost in the Greek) thus bearing witness to the holiness of his conscience, then shame is like a veil that hangs over the hidden place of his thoughts, and his purity becomes like a chaste virgin being faithfully kept for Christ.



There is nothing so capable of banishing the inherent tendencies of licentiousness from our soul, and of driving away those active memories which rebel in our flesh and produce a turbulent flame, as to immerse oneself in the fervent love of instruction, and to search closely into the depth of the insights (or meanings) of divine Scripture.



When a man's thoughts are totally immersed in the delight of pursuing the wisdom treasured in the words of Scripture by means of the faculty that gains enlightenment from them, then he puts the world behind his back and forgets everything in it, and he blots out of his soul all memories that form images embodying the world. Often he does not even remember the employment of the habitual thoughts which visit human nature, and his soul remains in ecstasy by reason of those new encounters that arise from the sea of the Scripture's mysteries.



And again, if the mind swims on the surface of the waters, that is, of the sea of the divine Scriptures, and its perceptions cannot fathom the great depth so as to be able [6] to grasp all the treasures in its deep, yet even this practice in itself, by the power of its fervent love, will suffice the mind firmly to pinion its thoughts by a single thought of wonder, and to prevent them from hastening toward the body's nature, as one of the Godbearing Fathers said. And this [[he says]] is because the heart is feeble and cannot sustain the evils that it encounters from inner and outer warfares.



And you know that an evil [[bodily]] thought is oppressive. If the heart is not occupied with study (or learning) it cannot endure the turbulence of the body's assault. Just as the heaviness of weights impedes the quick swaying of a balance in a gust of wind, so shame and fear impede the aberration of the mind. In proportion to the lack of shame and fear, there is an abundance of the dominion of liberty (or freedom, but in the bad sense) in the mind.



And just as a decrease in the weight in the pans will be a cause for them to sway more easily to and fro, so an increase of liberty through removal of fear from the soul causes the scales of the mind to sway easily from side to side. Therefore the mind's mobility is a consequence of liberty, and mental changes are a consequence of aberration (this entire paragraph is rendered according to the Syriac).



Be wise, then, and lay the fear of God as the foundation of your journey (Syriac; lay a foundation for your journey) and in but a few days it will bring you before the gate of the Kingdom with no windings (meanderings) on the way. [[Do not, like the pupils of teachers, overly scrutinize words that are written from experience for the rearing of your way of life and that help you, by their lofty insights, to elevate yourself.]]






For God is silence, and in silence is He sung by means of that psalmody which is worthy of Him. I am not speaking of the silence of the tongue, for if someone merely keeps his tongue silent, without knowing how to sing in intellect and spirit, then he is simply unoccupied and becomes filled with evil thoughts: he is just keeping an exterior silence and he does not know how to sing in an interior way, seeing that the tongue of his 'hidden man' has not yet learnt to move correctly even so as to stammer. You should look on the spiritual infant that is within you in the same way as you do on an ordinary child or infant: just as the tongue placed in an infant's mouth is still because it does not yet know speech or the right movements for speaking, so it is with that interior tongue of the intellect; it will be still from all speech and from all thought: it will simply be placed there, ready to learn the first stammerings of spiritual utterance.

Thus there is a silence of the tongue, there is a silence of the whole body, there is the silence of the soul, there is the silence of the intellect, and there is the silence of the spirit. The silence of the tongue is merely when it is not incited to evil speech; the silence of the entire body is when all its senses are inactive; the silence of the soul is when there are no ugly thoughts bursting forth within it; the silence of the intellect is when it is not reflecting on any harmful knowledge or wisdom; the silence of the spirit is when the







[468]

intellect ceases even from stirrings caused by created spiritual beings and all its movements are stirred solely by the Existent One, at the wondrous awe of the silence which surrounds Him.

These are the degrees and measures to be found in speech and silence. But if you have not reached these and find yourself still far away from them, remain where you are and sing to God using the voice and the tongue in love and awe. Sing with application, toil in your service until you arrive at love. Stand in awe of God, as is only right, and thus you will be held worthy to love Him with a natural love—Him who was given to us at our renewal.

And when you recite the words of the prayer that I have written for you, be careful not just to repeat them, but let your very self become these words. For there is no advantage in the reciting unless the word actually becomes embodied in you and becomes a deed, with the result that you are seen in the world to be a man of God—to Whom glory, honor and exaltation is fitting, for eternal ages. Amen.




[469] (illustration; Christ on the Cross).

[470] (illustration; Saint 






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HOMILIES ST ISAAC FROM THE SEVENTH CENTURY
-FROM THE SEVENTH CENTURY.

7:1The noetic renewal of the saints is the crown of the intellect and the understanding which have communion with God through the revelation of His glorious mysteries, but the universal renewal is the general resurrection of all.
HOMILIES ST ISAAC FROM THE SEVENTH CENTURY
HOMILIES ST ISAAC Epistle to Abba Symeon


Part II – An Epistle to Abba Symeon of Caesarea.
(The Greek printed text addresses this epistle to Symeon the Wonderworker, while the Greek manuscripts have Abba Symeon of Caesarea. Judging merely by the content of the epistle it seems most unlikely that it was written to Saint Symeon of the Wondrous Mountain (Near Antioch) who is also called the Wonderworker).

Your Epistle, O Holy Man, is not simply written words, but as in a mirror you have depicted therein and made manifest your love for us. As you think us to be, so have you written; and you have shown by your very actions that you love us exceedingly, so that on account of your great love, you forget our measure. For that which it were meet for us to write to your holiness and to ask, so as to learn the truth from you (if we were solicitous over our own salvation), this you have anticipated and written to us by reason of the magnitude of your love. But probably you did this with the art of [[divine]] philosophy, so that by means of the subtle and spiritual questions you ask me, my soul

HOMILIES ST ISAAC Epistle to Abba Symeon
HOMILIES ST ISAAC First Epistle Saint Makarios
Makarios The Great). [451]



APPENDIX C – The First Syriac Epistle of Saint Makarios of Egypt.
(Translated from the Syriac text edition by W. Strothmann in Die syrische Uberlieferung der Schriften des Makarios 1 (Wiesbaden, 1981) pp. 74-84).

Abba Makarios writes to all his beloved sons, exhorting and greeting them before all else. When a man wishes to know himself, to seek God, and to repent of what he has done in the time when he was heedless, God by His grace gives him sorrow over his former deeds.
Hereafter God, in His tender mercy, gives him bodily hardship through fasting and vigil, through a multitude of many prayers and renunciation of the world. And he grants him to bear abuse, to despise bodily comforts, and to love weeping more than laughter.
After this a man is given mourning, weeping, humility of heart and of body, and the ability not to see another man's failings, but only his own. Further he is granted to recollect the day of his departure from this world and how he must needs come before God, to have always before his eyes the torments to come, and to have depicted before his heart the glory and honor which those who love God will receive.
HOMILIES ST ISAAC First Epistle Saint Makarios
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