St. Isaac The Syrian Quotes

At the request to post more spiritual articles following suit of previous ones such as overcoming passions and orthodoxy of the heart, I’m dedicating one to a beloved saint, St. Isaac The Syrian. His homilies have served as a guide to monastics and his own stated purpose for writing is for each of us to learn the life of stillness, what mysteries are concealed in this discipline, “I write here to wise men, and I offer advice with love.”

Against Passions

“It is more profitable for you to attend to raising up unto the activity of your cogitations concerning God the deadness of your soul due to the passions, than it is to resurrect the dead.”

“You think that you possess humility. Other men accuse themselves; but while you cannot even bear to be accused by others, you reckon yourself humble. If you are humble, by these things try yourself: whether or not you are troubled when you suffer injustice.”

“What is more senseless and foolish than those who say that ‘It is sufficient for me to escape Gehenna, but I do not seek to enter into the Kingdom!’ For to escape Gehenna means precisely to enter the Kingdom, even as to fall away from the Kingdom is to enter Gehenna.”

“When the devil wishes to defile with recollections of fornication a mind that is resplendent with purity, he first tests its constancy by the love of vainglory, since the inception of this thought has no appearance of passion. He constantly acts thus with men who guard their mind and in whom he cannot readily introduce an unseemly thought. But when a man departs from his fortress through converse with the first thought, the devil immediately confronts him with something pertaining to fornication and turns his mind to licentious subjects. At first the man is troubled by this sudden onslaught, since his thoughts were formerly chaste, and his chastity had forestalled those things from the sight of which his governing mind was separated. Yet even though he was not completely defiled, the devil has succeeded in debasing him from his former dignity. But if he does not turn back and swiftly seize upon his first thoughts (vainglory) – which are the cause of the second – when he often encounters these things, then through the frequency of their occurrence this habit will blind his soul’s faculty of discernment. Thus, the greater the magnitude and extent of the first passion (vainglory), the greater is the subjugation to the second (lust).”

“It is better and easier to elude the passions by the recollection of the virtues than by resisting and disputing with them.”

“It is better for you to make peace with your soul, causing concord to reign over the trinity within you (the body, soul, and spirit), than by your teaching to bring peace among men at variance.”

“He is a fool, therefore, who even mentally does not draw nigh to God, and yet, when he is surrounded by tribulations, lifts his hands to Him in confidence. This man must be seared with a hot iron many times over so that somehow he might be instructed. He possesses no work deserving of confidence in God. Rather, with his grievous practices, and his negligence of his duties, he has rendered himself deserving of chastisement; yet for His mercy’s sake, God, who is long-suffering, endures him. Do you believe that God provides for His creatures and is able to do all things? Let suitable labor, therefore, follow on your faith, and then He will hear you. Think not to grasp the wind in your fist, that is, faith without works.”

“This temporal life is beloved of every man whose way of life is defiled.”

“The fear of death distresses a man with a guilty conscience, but the man with a good witness within himself longs for death as for life. Count no man truly wise who, because of this temporal life, enslaves his mind to timidity and fear.”

“World is a collective noun which is applied to the so-called passions. But if a man does not know first what the world is, he will never come to know with how many of his members he is distant from the world, and with how many he is bound to it.. By contemplative examination, the world is also called the aggregate of the collective noun which is applied to the separate passions. When we wish to give a collective name to the passions, we call them the world. And when we wish to designate them specifically according to their names, we call them passions. These are the passions: love of wealth, gathering objects of any kind, bodily pleasure, from which comes the passion of carnal intercourse, love of esteem, from which springs envy, the wielding of power, pride in the trappings of authority, stateliness and pomposity, human glory, which is the cause of resentment, fear for the body. Wherever these have halted in their course, there, in part, to the extent that the passions are inactive, the world fails from its constitution and remains inactive. Thus it was with each of the saints, that while they lived, they were dead.”

“Examine in which of the passions you are alive, and then you will know in how many parts you are alive to the world, and how many you are dead.”

“When a man knows that he is in need of divine help, he makes many prayers. And the more he multiplies them, his heart is humbled, for there is no man who will not be humbled when is making supplications and entreaty. ‘A heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise.’ Therefore, as long as the heart is not humbled, it cannot cease from wandering; for humility collects the heart.”

“What is the nature of the soul? If the nature of the soul was once translucent and pure by reception of that blessed light, it will be found the same when it returns to it’s original state. Therefore, when the soul is moved in a passionate way, she is confessedly outside her nature, as the children of the Church maintain. The passions, therefore, entered into the soul afterwards, and it is not right to say that the passions belong to the soul, even though she is moved by them. If passions are said to be natural because by them the soul is moved through the intermediary of the body, then hunger, thirst, and sleep would also be natural to the soul, because she suffers in these things and groans together with the body: in the amputation of its members, in fevers, diseases, and so forth. For because of her communion with the body, the soul suffers pain together with it, just as the body with the soul; and the soul is moved to gladness by the body’s gladness and she bears its afflictions.”

“What is purity of the mind? The man who is pure in mind is not he who has no knowledge of evil, nor he who is by nature on the level of infants, nor again he who never takes up human affairs, nor yet is purity of the mind that we should not beseech men for any created thing. But purity of the mind is this: to be rapt in things divine, and this comes about after a man has practiced the virtues. We are not so bold to say that anyone has achieved this without experience of evil thoughts, for in such a case he would not be clad with a body. For until death we cannot dare to say that our nature is not warred upon or harmed. And by the experience of evil thoughts, I do not mean to submit to them, but to make a beginning to struggle with them.”

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