After reading the short but mind expanding, heart swelling, desire enhancing book on Abba Isaac the Syrian by Archimandrite Vasileios I had come in touch with a whole different reality with the literature on the Saints and the spiritual life that I had never encountered before. I had been warned by a friend before to not get too involved with the lofty "Ascetical Homilies" but instead to focus on the importance of

purification. Continuing to heed this warning I picked up this short book and was enthralled with its content, though I think the Archimandrite as an author helps with his clear articultation and understanding of Saint Isaac.  The little bit that I have read about Saint Isaac and by him through other sources has made me want to read his homilies even more.

  • If you decide you want to underline one phrase of his, you should underline them all.  All have the same weight, maturity and grace.  You will either have to underline the entire book, or leave it without underlinings.  This means that nothing can or should be given more attention than anything else.  If when you first study him you want to underline something, on second reading you feel that the passages you have left unmarked are more important than the others.
  • With him, you are at a total loss.  And you find yourself in a different climate, another logic, another world, where all things are united in fellowship.  It has a mathematical precision, a musical melodiousness, an architectural completeness, a philosophical depth, a prophetic insight and a divine humaneness.  The entire body of his words is at the same point of maturity.  It gives forth the same fragrance of compunction.
  • When you read him and come to love him, he makes you unable to read anything else.  And at the same time he helps you to understand and weigh the values of everything.  Here the light and warmth come from the Spirit who sanctifies and unifies all things.  Ho shows how all things function in a way that is theanthropic, at once divine and human; things present and things to come; what is his own, and what pertains to others.
  • You have no appetite for other nourishment once your mouth has tasted the delicious sweetness of this ripe fruit; of the heavenly manna which is formed from the substance of the earth, and leavened with the yeast of the Kingdom which is to come.  You eat it on earth, and dance in heaven.  It gives rest to your spirit and sanctifies your body.  It paralyzes you and  restores you, clothed in a new nobility and an indestructible power. (p. 14-16)
  • Do not pass on to another what you yourself have not attained, lest you put yourself to shame and your lie be exposed by a comparison with your life (p. 13)
  • 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 it 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 leaves you in the void.
That which is true has many meanings, with endless applications and ramifications.

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 withing 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 is the ultimate courtesy). And you suffer on your own.

One who has felt that which Abba Isaac experienced and has lost it through his negligence, only he knows to what misery he has been abandoned. (p. 16-17)

  • When you desire to draw nigh to God with your heart, first show Him your yearning by bodily labours. (p. 32)
  • If you are looking for human companionship, he (Abba Isaac) gives it to you. If you need a rest, you can get it. If you are tormented by problems of faith, of existential anguish; if you are searching inwardly for the meaning of life; if many people have disappointed you and left you on your own, abandoned - make you way to Abba Isaac. He does not abandon man. Go and find him in the Church. Sit down beside him. He knows all you have to endure better than you do yourself. Everything you are going through, he has gone through before you. His love is bound up with knowledge. Mercy feeds knowledge in the soul (p. 44)
  • There is a sequence in the virtues, and whoever says impudently that it is possible to acquire the more perfect virtues before he accomplishes the elementary has, without a doubt, laid the first foundation for the ruin of his soul. (p. 23)
  • For speech that come from righteous activity is a treasury of hope, but wisdom not based on righteous activity is a deposit of disgrace. (p. 23)
  • This is not philosophy.  It is beyond philosophy, in the realm and the ease of "foolishness" (1 Cor. 1:21), of the true wisdom that saves man.  For no one is able to acquire the Kingdom of heaven by instruction.?(p. 25)


Archimandrite Vasileios, "Abba Isaac The Syrian : An approach to his world" (Alexander Press; Montreal, Quebec, Canada)


Saint Isaac, pray to God for us



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