Repentance is the ship, fear is her governor, love is the divine port – Mar Isaac the Syrian


As a grace beyond a grace has repentance been given to man. Repentance is being born anew in God. That of which we have received the pledge by baptism, we receive as a gift by repentance. Repentance is the gate of mercy which is opened to all who seek it. Through this gate we go in to divine mercy. Apart from this entrance it is not possible to find mercy. Because all have sinned, according to the words of scripture, and are justified freely by grace (Rom 3:23).

Repentance is a second grace; it is born in the heart from faith and fear. Fear is the paternal rod which guides us up to the spiritual Eden. hen we have arrived there, it leaves us and returns. Eden is the divine love wherein is the paradise of all goods, where the blessed Paul was sustained by supernatural food. When he had eaten from the tree of life which is there, he exclaimed: “eye has not seen, nor ear heard neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor 2:9).

Adam was bereft of this tree by the promise of the Devil. The tree of life is the divine love which Adam lost by his fall, after which he worked and wearied himself. Those who are bereft of divine love are still eating the bread that is won by the sweat of their labour, even though they work righteousness, as was commanded to the head of our race when he lost it by his fall. Until we find love, we work in the earth with her thorns. Among thorns we sow and reap, even if we sow the seed of righteousness. Perpetually we are pricked by them, even if we are justified, and live with sweat on our faces.

When, however, we have found love, we eat the heavenly bread and we are sustained without labour and without weariness. Heavenly bread is that which has descended from heaven and which gives the world life; this is the food of angels. He that has found love eats Christ at all times and becomes immortal from thence onwards. For whoever eats of this bread shall not taste death in eternity. Blessed is he that has eaten from the bread of love which is Jesus.

Whoever is fed with love is fed with Christ, who is the all-governing God. Witness is John who says: “God is Love” (1 Jn 4:16). Thus he smells life from God, that lives with love in this creation. He breathes here of the air of resurrection. In this air the righteous will delight at resurrection. Love is the kingdom of which our Lord spoke when He symbolically promised the disciples that, they would eat in His kingdom: “you shall eat and drink at the table of my kingdom”. What should they eat, if not love? Love is sufficient to feed man in stead of food and drink.

This is the wine that gladdens the heart of man. Blessed is he who has drunk from this wine. This is the wine from which the lascivious have drunk and they became chaste, the sinners and they forgot the ways of offence, the drunkards and they became fasters; the rich and they became desirous of poverty, the poor and they became rich in hope; the sick and they became valiant; the fools and they became wise.

As it is not possible to cross the ocean without a boat or a ship, so no one can cross towards love, without fear. This foetid sea, which lies between us and the intelligible paradise, we cross in the boat of repentance, which has fear for a rudder. If the rudder of fear does not govern this ship of repentance, in which we cross the sea of this world towards God, we shall be drowned in the foetid sea. Repentance is the ship, fear is her governor, love is the divine port. Fear places us in the ship of repentance and makes us cross the foetid sea of the world and brings us in the divine port which is love, towards which look all those who are weary and crushed by repentance.

When we have reached love, we have reached God and our way is ended and we have passed unto the island which lieth beyond the world, where is the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost; to whom be glory and dominion. That He make us worthy to fear Him and to love Him. Amen.

[Mar Isaac the Syrian, Homily XLII, Ascetical Homilies]