Philokalia

Philokalia

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

St. Isaac the Syrian's Message - The Wonder of Eternal Love


Abbot Vasileios unequivocally tells us that Isaac's value is in his being a Saint. He had found "something" that he seeks to impart to us and to all: the one thing necessary, the one thing which is true - unique divine Love.  It is this Love that permeates all things.  Whether present to us or hidden it fills the heart with joy.  We may seem to lose it, yet even then it penetrates all.  And sometimes in its loss we see its worth and measurelessness all the more.  

The fundamental uneasiness and existential anxiety that so many experience in the world is due to the fact that they cling to what is false.  Therefore, even when they find and possess it, the void they experience remains.  

To possess what St. Isaac found fills the soul with eternal joy and warmth.  It is only the one who forcibly cast it away the comes to know the torment of his own choosing; an inexplainable isolation.

All worldly wisdom and ideas fall away as inadequate and meaningless and yet we bear within our very nature the image and likeness of that which shapes all things.  We would imprison ourselves in our feeble world views and understanding of ourselves, yet Isaac would draws us where he has gone - into the Eternal that envelopes all things, quenches every thirst and fills all that is empty. 

St. Isaac happens to be learned and well-read (he lost his sight from reading so much).  But he does not offer us undigested information or worldly wisdom.  His value lies elsewhere: He is a saint.  A brother of the God-bearers - whether learned or uneducated - who have found the secret of life and impart it to us.

The sister in the monastery of Tabennesi, the fool for Christ referred to in the Lausiac History had found "something".

Abba Isaac has found "something".

The one had no need of any attentiveness, understanding or respect.  She had her unique divine Love (eros) which gave her light, life and inner warmth.

And the other, Abba Isaac, has illumined everything with the unique grace which he has found and penetrates everything.

When you find the one thing, you find everything.  And when you lose it, you are not without it.  It is everywhere.  It penetrates everything.

You enjoy it better when you lose it.  Because in the lack of it you experience the measurelessness of its grace.  You appreciate its worth.  You see it from a different angle.

As for what is false, even when you possess it, it eludes you, it torments you.   Even when you possess it, it leave you in the void.

That which is true has many meanings, with endless application and ramification.

You possess it, and you possess everything.  You love everyone.  You truly rejoice in every joy.

You lose it and it appears before you and within you, imperishable.

You deny it, and it does not deny you.  You send it away and it comes to you.

You compel it to go and it goes (this i the ultimate courtesy).  And you suffer on your own.

One has felt that which Abba Isaac experienced and has lost it through his negligence, "only he knows to what misery he has been abandoned."

The content of Abba Isaac's message is that one thing which is true.

It is not bound to corruption.  "It blows where it will."  It becomes familiar to strangers.  It finds those who are far away.  "And there is none who can hide from its warmth."  All things belong to it.

It goes right through the prison of systems.  It pushes aside the false disguise of ideologies and finds the complete human being where he actually is.  It has something to tell him, regardless of whether he belongs to this or that camp, ideology or world view.  Our view and beliefs cannot alter "that which is within our nature", which is what Abba Isaac addresses.

He was accepted in the East and in the West.  He created an entire school and tradition for his own region and for Syriac speaking Christians (despite all the negative reactions that the boldness of his holiness provoked.  Through the Ethiopian translation he entered Africa.  He was translated into Greek and found a place as the doyen of hesychasm.  He influenced St. Symeon the New Theologian, Niketas Stethatos, Gregory Palamas.  St. Nikodemos calls him "my spiritual philosopher."

From the Greek text he passed to the Slav world, and was read avidly by the Russians of the last century.

The Elder Ieronymos of Aegina (+1966) recommends anyone who has no money to go out into the streets and beg in order to collect money for basic needs and get a copy of Abba Isaac.

The waters of his river rise utterly pure from a deep spring in the desert.  His life was spent in seventh century Syria.  His presence fills history; it has entered into eternity.  The setting for his life is the depths of the desert.  He is a hermit.  His regime is not like even that of monks who live in community.  Yet he lays the foundations for true, Orthodox anthropology.

Here the thirsty quench their thirst, those who have gone hungry eat their fill, the demanding grow quiet.

He does not concern himself with the few things, with the particular.  He speaks of the eternal, the general and inescapable.  And all this interwoven with the small, transitory things that make up the body of our life.

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