Philokalia

Philokalia

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Writing of St. Isaac the Syrian - Heavenly Manna Leavened by the Yeast of the Kingdom


Turning more explicitly to St. Isaac's writing, Abbot Vasileios describes it as an expression of spiritual and psychological maturity - capturing states and changes in being that one experiences through the action of the Holy Spirit.  Isaac moves to draw his readers into the Mystery of God and unspeakable joy of walking in the light of Grace.  He follows no worldly pattern in his writing; while precise in his thought, it neither springs from nor is dissected by the human intellect but flows from the heart of a partaker in the mysteries as a whole.  Thus, Isaac knows equally the paths that lead to holiness and depravity. "A melody full of harmony rises inaudibly from his ample and mature writings" moved by love for God and for all his fellow men.  Having tasted the ripe fruit of this love, you will come to love him and not want to read anything else. "You eat it on earth, and dance in heaven.  It gives rest to your spirit and sanctifies your body.  It paralyses you and restores you, clothed in a new nobility and an indestructible power."  Indeed you would consume nothing else if not for the knowledge that "he helps you to understand and weigh the value of everything.  Here the light and warmth comes from the Spirit who sanctifies and unifies all things."

Abba Isaac does not express thoughts or give moral exhortations.  He describes states and ontological changes ("Making the change by the power of Thy Holy Spirit").  

He speaks with brevity and precision about the saving changes which come upon him who practices abstinence, who engages in the struggle and receives the grace of the Holy Spirit.

He speaks in a tangible way about things that are beyond nature and sense perception.  He walks in heavenly places.  And he describes the unspeakable joy which fills man's body in the hour of grace.

The he may write haphazardly about all the virtues and states, all jumbled together, and everything will still be harmonious and balanced.  Because it is not held together by some external plan devices by the brain, but springs forth like living branches from the trunk of an everlasting tree.

In talking about all things he reveals the one thing.  And in talking about any one detail, he makes you a partaker in the mystery of the whole.  The whole is feather-light and transparent.  And each part preserves intact the value of the whole.

Whether he is giving an exhortation or warning against something, he is disclosing a state that he himself has attained.  That is where his value lies: "Do not pass on to another what you yourself have not attained lest you put yourself to shame and your lie be exposed by a comparison with your life."

Through the things he says, he reveals the physiology of man's spiritual and physical being: the way in which the unified human entity becomes holy or depraved in both soul and body.

There is not a single superfluous word or phrase.  And there is not a single flaw in the architecture of his phraseology.  Everything arises from within him naturally, in maturity.

A melody full of harmony rises inaudibly from his ample and mature writings, and in love for his fellow men he reveals for all the workings of the spiritual law which peacefully and incontestably upholds and guides all things.

He does not say anything that has not passed through him, and has not caused him pain; like the mother who, when her time comes, gives birth to the fruit she has received in her womb, in pain and in completion of a process.

The way he expresses himself is characteristically bipolar.  He will present both aspects of the truth.  He speaks in positives and negatives.  He knows both one side and the other:

"He who reviles and belittles himself will be made wise by the Lord, but he who considers himself wise will fall away from divine wisdom."

"Spiritual wisdom causes silence to reign within the soul, but worldly wisdom produces a fountain of distraction.  When you have discovered spiritual wisdom, you will be filled with much humility and gentleness . . . 

When, however, you have become possessed of the second wisdom, you will acquire a proud mind, unspeakably perverted thoughts, a disturbed intellect, shamelessness in the senses."

He knows everything, and tells you about things, not at the top of his voice, but with the unquestioned authority of the silence of his words and his virtue:  "Confute those who dispute with you by the strength of your virtues and not by the persuasiveness of your words."

He is certain of what he believes and writes: "For I am telling you the truth in these words of mine, and in all that I say."  And "if someone should teach you otherwise, do not believe him."

He describes to you with assurance and sobriety what happens on the journey towards deification, and what the physical and spiritual consequences are in each case: "As long as a man is negligent, he fears the hour of death; when he draws nigh to God, he fears standing before the judgement; but when he proceeds forward with his whole heart, both fears are swallowed up by love."

If you decided you want to underline one phrase of his, you should underline them all.  All have the same weight, maturity and grace.  You either have to underline the entire book, or leave it without underlinings.  This means that nothing can or should be given more attention than anything else.  If when you first study him you want to underline something, on second reading you feel that the passages you have left unmarked are more important than the others.

With him, you are at a total loss.  And you find yourself in a different climate, another logic, another world, where all things are united in fellowship.  It has a mathematical precision, a musical melodiousness, an architectural completeness, a philosophical depth, a prophetic insight and a divine humaneness.  The entire body of his words is at the same point of maturity.  It gives forth the same fragrances of compunction.

When you read him and come to love him, he makes you unable to read anything else.  And at the same time he helps you to understand and weigh the value of everything.  Here the light and warmth comes from the Spirit who sanctifies and unifies all things.  He shows how all things function in a way that is theanthropic, at once divine and human; things present and things to come; what is his own and what pertains to others.

You have no appetite for other nourishment once your mouth has tasted the delicious sweetness of this this ripe fruit; of the heavenly manna which is formed from the substance of the earth, and leavened with the yeast of the Kingdom which is to come.  You eat it on earth, and dance in heaven.  It gives rest to your spirit and sanctifies your body.  It paralyses you and restores you, clothed in a new nobility and an indestructible power.

Archimandrite Vasileios
Abbot of Iveron Monastery, Mount Athos
Abba Isaac the Syrian
An Approach to His World