The summit of prayer – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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The disciple: What is the acme of all labours of asceticism, which a man when he has reached it, recognises as the summit of his course?

The teacher: When he is deemed worthy of constant prayer. When he has reached this, he has touched the end of all virtues and forthwith he has a spiritual dwelling place. If a man has not received in truth the gift of the Comforter, it is not possible for him to accomplish constant prayer in quiet. When the spirit takes its dwelling place in a man he does not cease to pray because the spirit will constantly pray in him. Then, neither when he sleeps, nor when he is awake, will prayer be cut off from his soul; but when he eats and when he drinks, when he lies down or when he does any work, even when he is immersed in sleep, the perfumes of prayer will breathe in his soul spontaneously. And henceforth, he will not possess prayer at limited times but always; and when he has outward rest, even then prayer is ministered unto him secretly. For the silence of the serene is prayer, says a man clad with Christ. For their deliberations are divine impulses. The motions of the pure mind are quiet voices with which they secretly chant psalms to the Invisible One.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, XXXV]

Pure prayer – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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Prayer is a beseeching for, a caring for, a longing for something, either a liberation from the evil things here or [in the world] to come, or a desire for promised things, or a demand for something by which man wishes to be brought nearer to God. In these emotions are included all habits of prayer. But its being pure or not depends upon the following circumstances. 

If, when the spirit is prepared to offer one of the emotions we have enumerated, any foreign deliberation or distraction mingles itself with it, prayer is called non-pure, because it has brought upon the altar of the Lord an animal which it is not allowed [to offer], the altar which is an upright, intelligible heart. 

But when the spirit gives itself with longing to one of these emotions, in accordance to the necessity of the case, at the time of beseeching, and when on account of its alacrity the gaze of the emotion is directed by the eye of faith beyond the curtain of the heart, the entrances of the soul are closed thereby against the foreign deliberations which are called strangers, whom the law does not allow to enter the tabernacle. This is called the accepted offering of the heart and pure prayer. Its boundaries are to this point. What lies beyond cannot be called prayer.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies, XXII]

Whenever you find your course at peace, without change, be suspicious – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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Whenever you find your course is in peace, without variations, be suspicious. For you are deviating from the divine ways trodden by the weary footsteps of the saints. The more you proceed on the way towards the city of the Kingdom and approach it’s neighbourhoods, this will be the sign: that you meet hard temptations. And the more you approach, the more you will find difficulties.

So, whenever the soul on its way perceives varying states which cause difficulty you must know that your soul has secretly been advanced to a higher state and that it has acquired a gift of increase in comparison with the degree it occupied before.

The hard temptation into which God brings the soul are in accordance with the greatness of His gifts. If there is a weak soul which is not able to bear a very hard temptation and God deals meekly with it, then know with certainty that, as it is not capable of bearing a hard temptation, so it is not worthy of a large gift. As great temptations have been withdrawn from it, so large gifts are also withdrawn from it. God never gives a large gift and small temptations. So temptations are to be classed in accordance with gifts. Thus from the hardships to which you have been subjected you may understand the measure of the greatness which your soul has reached. In accordance with affection is consolation.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]

Open my heart, O my God, by your grace – Mar Isaac

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Hold me worthy, O Lord, to behold your mercy in my soul before I depart from this world; may I be aware in myself at that hour of your comfort, along with those who have gone forth from this world in good hope. Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin.

Tread out in my heart the path of repentance, my God and my Lord, my hope and my boast, my strong refuge, by whom may my eyes be illumined, and may I have understanding of your truth, O Lord.

Hold my worthy, Lord, to taste the joy of the gift of repentance,
by which the soul is separated from cooperating with sin and the
will of flesh and blood.  Hold my worthy, O Lord, to taste this
state, wherein lies the gift of pure prayer.

O my Saviour, may I attain to this wondrous transition at which
the soul abandons this visible world, and at which new stirrings
arise on our entering into the spiritual world and the experience
of new perceptions.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Ascetical Homilies]

Be crucified, but do not crucify others – Mar Isaac the Syrian

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Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others. Be crucified, but do not crucify others. Be slandered, but do not slander others. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity. Suffer with the sick. Be afflicted with sinners. Exult with those who repent. Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone. Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

[Mar Isaac, Ascetical Homilies]

Stretch forth your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor – St. John Chrysostom

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Make God your debtor, and then offer your prayers. Lend to Him, and then ask a return, and you shall receive it with usury. God wills this, and does not retract. If you ask with alms, He holds himself obliged. If you ask with alms, you lend and receive interest.

Yes, I beseech you! It is not for stretching out your hands you shall be heard! stretch forth your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor. If you stretch forth your hand to the hands of the poor, you have reached the very summit of heaven. For He who sits there receives your alms. But if you lift them up without a gift, you gain nothing.

[St. John Chrysostom, Homily I on Timothy]

What is fear of God? – Abba Isaiah of Scetis

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Abba Peter said, “I asked him, ‘what is fear of God?’ and he said to me, ‘A person who trusts in anybody who is not God, that person does not have fear of God in himself.'”

[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetical Discourses, Discourse 26]

Grow in spirituality step by step – John of the Ladder

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To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible.

[John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent]

There are two ways, one of life and one of death – Abba Isaiah of Scetis

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Someone asked Abba Isaiah, ‘What is repentance and what does “to flee from sin” mean?’

He replied, ‘There are two ways: one of life and one of death (cf. Jr 21:8 and the Didache). The person who walks along one does not progress along the other. The person who walks along both is not yet reckoned for the kingdom, or for punishment. When such a person is dead, his judgement is in the hands of God, who also has mercy. Whoever wishes to enter the kingdom keeps watch over his actions because the kingdom puts an end to every sin. The enemies sow (cf. Mt 13:39) but their thoughts do not grow. If, through the Spirit, a person contemplates the loving kindness of the Godhead (cf. 1 P 2:3) the arrows of the enemy do not penetrate him (cf. Ep 6:16). He is, in effect, putting on the armour of virtues (cf. Ep 6:11), which guards against the enemy, taking care not to allow him to be troubled. If frees him in order that, in his contemplation, he may see, know and distinguish between the two ways, fleeing from one and embracing the other.”

[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetic Discourses, Discourse 21]

Self-examination and self-rebuke – Abba Isaiah of Scetis

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Abba Isaiah said, “O me, O me! For I did not struggle to save myself. O me, O me! For I did not struggle to purify myself in order to be made worthy of the intervention of the God of mercy. O me, O me! For I did not struggle to overcome the onslaughts of your enemies so that you might reign over me.”

He also said, “O me! For I have been invested with your name, and I am serving your enemies. O me, O me! For I do what God abhors; that is why he is not healing me.”

He also said, “O me, O me! For there are those before me who are accusing me of faults or which I am aware and unaware, and am unable to repudiate them. O me, O me! How can I meet my Lord and his holy ones when my enemies do not allow that even one of my members is pure in the sight of God?”

[Abba Isaiah of Scetis, Ascetic Discourses, Discourse 26]