Philokalia

Philokalia

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Isaac the Syrian - A Teacher Who Leads Us to the Kingdom of Freedom in Christ


Abba Isaac, as a man transformed by the grace of God, becomes as teacher as Christ is Teacher.  He comes in love and humility offering freely and tenderly renewed health to the others and arousing within them the appetite and desire for Life.  He does this respecting the mystery and uniqueness of each person; understanding that he must allow others to take their own path to freedom.  Abba Isaac guides but does not constrain what must be given room to grow and breath.  Even if he knows you better than you know yourself, Abba Isaac realizes that you must come to see these realities yourself; you must come to see the beauty of God's grace and what he has made you to be.  You must be allowed to knit together your life and learn where to find hope. Abba Isaac lays out clearly the trials that we will face but leaves us to face them when and how they come to us.  His gift to us is to teach us to diagnose our own sickness, see where are passions lie, use our own experience to map out the path the set before us. As teacher he leads us to the Kingdom of freedom in Christ in order that we might drink from the living springs of water that well up within us. And all of this Isaac gives in order that we might lead and nourish others; that like Christ we might live and die constantly in order that others might live.   

You do not save man with advice and exhortations from outside.  Nor do you offer him freedom by telling him, "Do whatever you want."

Wordlessly, like a sun of tender love and a fresh breeze of courage, your love needs to be able to give him health and arouse within him his own person appetite for life.

This happens with Abba Isaac.  He is wholly on fire, and passes on the mystery of cooling fire, the mystery of the Church.  A love proceeds from his being which provides the other with a space for freedom; it gives him possibilities for realizing his own self.

He embraces the other in leaving him free in his entirety.

He knows you.  He understand you.  He leaves you free to move, to get to know your being and your endurance, the nature of things and their beauty.

In this life and this environment freedom is not just a permissible state of affairs, but an indispensable presupposition.  "It behooves us to observe our liturgy in complete freedom, far from every childish and disquieting thought."

He speaks calmly and simply.  Clearly and in hints.  So that each person can take a thread, a strand of wool to knit his own garment to fit the body of his own being; to warm his bones and hatch out his hope.

He informs us of the trials facing those who engage in the struggle at the various stages of spiritual life.  And he concludes: "You may comprehend the subtle pathways of your mind by the kinds of trials that beset you."  "Examine in which of these passions you are alive, and then you will know in which parts you are alive to the world, and in which you are dead."

He leaves us to understand for ourselves where we stand, to diagnose our own sickness: "Blessed is the man who knows his own weakness, because this knowledge becomes to him the foundation, the root and the beginning of all goodness."  He helps us to flee for refuge to Him who is strong: "Whoever subjects himself to God is near to having all things subject to him."

He leads us by the hand towards the true knowledge of man, which is the fount of the knowledge of all things: "When a man knows himself, the knowledge of all things is granted to him."

"Whoever desires to learn these things, let him make his way on to the past indicated above; let his doing of them follow up his consideration of them!"  "For the testimony of his own understanding is sufficient to persuade him above endless words having no experience behind them."

"Our intellect . . . is able of itself to move toward the good uninstructed."  And he urges: "Be diligent to enter into the treasury that is within you, and you will see the treasury of heaven: for these are one and the same."  "Be peaceful within yourself, and heaven and earth will be at peace with you."

"And when in actuality a man has come to these things, he himself will learn by himself, and will need no one else to teach him."

That is where the true teacher leads us: to the "kingdom of freedom", to the point where we do not need a teacher.  Where we find the spring which flows, or is able to flow, within us.  Where we drink from our own spring.  Where our whole being becomes a flowing spring.

Spiritual knowledge and contemplation "immaterially manifests itself within the soul by the grace of God, suddenly and unexpectedly, and it is revealed from within.  For 'the Kingdom of the heavens is within you.'

Then you quench your own thirst and the thirst of others.  You learn to be active and still.  You find relaxation in toil, and renewal in old age, in the passing of time.  And the ocean of eternal life in the ultimate death and immobility of everything.  "He regards fearful death as a joy."

Thus you teach and keep silent, you are nourished and nourish, you live and die constantly.  All in the same action.  And this action raises up the true man and reveals him as god-man by grace, as a true light.

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