Thursday, December 1, 2016

While they lived, they were dead

At the end of Homily Two of his Ascetical Homilies, St. Isaac the Syrian offers what I consider a unique list of the passions and a description of their effects.  In them we are able to easily see how prevalent they are in many situations and relationships and through their presence or absence we are able to gauge in how many parts of the "world" (the passions as an aggregate) we are alive and in how many we are dead.  They are a very practical guide and offer a good means of personal examination.  

Although all are worthy of thorough consideration.  I shall give a few attention here.   "Human glory, which is the cause of resentment": as we cling to an exalted image of ourselves, anyone or anything that diminishes that image in our eyes or the eyes of others becomes the focus of resentment.  When we are made fun of even in jest our egos become inflamed and others become the object of our ire or fierce silence.  "The wielding of power": This of course can be the search for and use of material and physical power, but more frequently it is used as a means of seeking a position of emotional power within relationships.  We seek to keep the upper hand so as to control or manipulate the actions or feelings of another.  Finally, "fear for the body":  the modern age has made us obsessed with diet and exercise and personal health.  For this reason we often eschew asceticism for fear that we will diminish our capacities in some fashion and not operate at optimal levels.  We pamper ourselves in a cowardly fashion, having more concern for the body than the soul.  We resist being humbled in mind and body through fasting and vigils, even though these are the very means necessary for overcoming the passions.

The passions are portions of the course of the world's onward flow; and where the passions cease, there the world's onward flow stands still.  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. For living in the body, they lived not according to the flesh.  Examine in which of these passions you are alive, and then you will know in how many parts you are alive to the world, and in how many you are dead.

St. Isaac the Syrian

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