Tag Archives: St. Isaac the Syrian

On the tip of a razor.

“Blessed is the man who acknowledges his weakness. This knowledge is the foundation, root and beginning of all virtue. For when someone knows himself and truly feels his total lack of power, then his soul recoils from the sloth that darkens the conscience…When someone realizes that he needs God’s help, he pours forth a multitude of prayer.

“Until the heart of a man is humbled, he will not cease flitting about, for humility gathers the heart. Once man is humbled, he is immediately engulfed by mercy and his heart senses the divine aid. All of these virtues are born in man through knowledge of his weakness. But the righteous one who does not know his weaknesses hold his deeds on the tip of a razor and is not far from a fall, nor from the destroying lion -— the demon of pride.”

—St. Isaac the Syrian

It’s a joyful day, whatever day it is.

Pascha goes on and on! So we have Paschal Bright Week services, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday….

Christ rose on the first day of the week, Sunday. The Church has always considered this to be be the eighth day as well, the beginning of a new order of things. I don’t really understand this. But our bishop mentioned it this morning, Bright Monday, when he talked about the grace that extends throughout the week hinting at the newness of life given us in Christ’s Resurrection.

We all are feeling the newness. Today we lived in the joy of Christ’s presence and celebrated it in many ways, including a loaf of bread. This year it was baked by a young girl with the help of a more experienced baker. It must weigh over five pounds — I know, because I was honored to carry it in the procession around the church, and then standing on the porch as the gospel for the day was read.

This bread is called the Artos and “symbolizes the physical presence of the resurrected Christ among the disciples.” It will remain in the church all week and be carried in procession after Divine Liturgy those days; on Saturday it will be cut into pieces and distributed to the parishioners.

Below is a photo I found online of a Bright Week procession elsewhere.  It seems it might be the only photo available — maybe everyone wants to actively participate in these blessed processions and not stand apart to be a photographer.

On Pascha night I remembered that I have a piece of last year’s Artos in my refrigerator. I’m sure I was saving it for a time when I was ill or afflicted, and I must never have thought that I was terribly bad off at any time during the year. Praise God for that. So I’ll have to eat it for joy this week and put a new portion in reserve for any upcoming needs. Having been exposed to the air for a whole week it becomes dry and keeps very well!

The day of our Lord’s Resurrection is another case, it seems, of how we live in the present life and at the same time we live in the reality and anticipation of God’s coming Kingdom. St. Gregory Palamas wrote in a sermon “On the Sabbath & The Lord’s Day”:

Whatever is said in praise of the 7th day applies even more to the 8th, for the latter fulfills the former. It was Moses who unwittingly ascribed honor to the 8th day, the Lord’s Day. The Jubilee year (Leviticus 25:8ff), which Moses regarded as a year of forgiveness and named accordingly, was not counted among the ‘weeks of years’ under the law , but came after them all, and was an eighth year proclaimed after the last of these 7 year periods. Moses did the same with regards to periods of 7 weeks.

However, the lawgiver did not only introduce in this hidden way the dignity of the 8th day, which we call the Lord’s Day because it is dedicated to the Lord’s resurrection, but also on the feast called “Trumpets” referred to the 8th day as ‘the final solemn assembly’ (cf. Lev.23:36 LXX, Numbers 29:35) meaning the completion and fulfillment of all the feasts. At that point he clearly said that the 8th day would be holy for us, proclaiming in advance how divine, glorious, & august Sunday was to be after everything pertaining to the law had passed away.

But I see that Metropolitan Anthony in a passage I quoted just last week tells us that we are living this present life in the Seventh Day:

…the seventh day will be seen as all the span of time that extends from the last act of creation on the part of God to the last day, the eighth day, the coming of the Lord, when all things will be fulfilled, all things will come to an end, reach their goal, and blossom out in glory. It is within this seventh day, which is the whole span of history, that the creativeness of man is to find its scope and its place.

In this whole span of history we have much work to do, including our bread-baking and flower-arranging to celebrate Christ’s rising from the dead. St. Isaac of Syria tells a bit about how the fullness of our Eighth Day is yet to come, and seems to see things somewhat differently from Met. Anthony:

The Lord’s Day is a mystery of the knowledge of the truth that is not received by flesh and blood, and it transcends speculations. In this age there is no eighth day, nor is there a true Sabbath. For he who said that ‘God rested on the seventh day,’ signified the rest [of our nature] from the course of this life, since the grave is also of a bodily nature and belongs to this world. Six days are accomplished in the husbandry of life by means of keeping the commandments; the seventh is spent entirely in the grave; and the eighth is the departure from it.

It certainly is a mystery to my small mind, but I am always comforted by these realities of the faith that show how great is our God, and His plans for us, so high as the heavens are above the earth, that they are hard to grasp with our minds. And I’m full of that joy that is not received by flesh and blood, of the glorious risen Savior Christ. He is here every day.

I want to become a stronger swimmer.

A view from our front yard

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 sensation of the world to come.

                       ~St. Isaac the Syrian

I’ve definitely had that underwater feeling lately — so I was relieved to take part in a lenten service at church today, one designed to clear the head of transitory concerns. During Communion in the time of Lent, we sing lovely meditative hymns to the words, “O taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Because that world St. Isaac speaks of comes to us in the Eucharist. We breathe the pure and sweet air of the Holy Spirit, a taste of the world to come and tonic to strengthen us for the labors of this world.

Mr. Glad and I have all sorts of busyness on our plates these days, and much of it is of a proper and happy kind, helping and loving people. But there is the other sort, as when one’s computer crashes and requires hours of trouble transporting, repairing, restoring. For me that’s the sensation of drudgery.

There’s the fence that falls down and needs replacing, which means hours of talking to the neighbor and the lumber store, and more hours actually tearing out the old and putting in the new. This kind of work often blends into another: The old bodies of us humans wear out and need more frequent maintenance, trips to the chiropractor or pharmacy.

It’s helpful that the melody of the “taste and see” hymns stick in my mind pretty well, so I can remember and come up for a gulp of that Air of Life, Sweet Jesus. I may not be walking on water, but I’m not drowning.

How to Get Light instead of Fog.

St. Isaac of Syria

Thanks to Christ is in our Midst for this posting appropriate to the beginning of Lent. To me it is a helpful elaboration on C.S. Lewis’s statement that “Virtue — even attempted virtue — brings light; indulgence brings fog.”

…If you cannot be still within your heart, then at least make still your tongue. If you cannot give right ordering to your thoughts, at least give right ordering to your senses. If you cannot be solitary in your mind, at least be solitary in body. If you cannot labor with your body, at least be afflicted in mind. If you cannot keep your vigil standing, keep vigil sitting on your pallet, or lying down. If you cannot fast for two days at a time, at least fast till evening. And if you cannot fast until evening, then at least keep yourself from satiety.

If you are not holy in your heart, at least be holy in body. If you do not mourn in your heart, at least cover your face with mourning. If you cannot be merciful, at least speak as though you are a sinner. If you are not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot be assiduous, at least consider yourself lazy. If you are not victorious, do not exalt yourself over the vanquished. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.

Know that if fire goes forth from you and consumes other men, God will demand from your hands the souls which your fire has burned. And if you yourself do not put forth the fire, but are in agreement with him who does, and are pleased by it, in the judgment you will be reckoned as his accomplice. If you love gentleness, be peaceful, if you are deemed worthy of peace, you will rejoice at all time. Seek understanding, not gold. Clothe yourself with humility, not fine linen. Gain peace, not a kingdom.

~St. Isaac of Syria