Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Posted by The Idler at 6:42 PM
Hardly anyone in the Christian West seems to know of the enigmatic figure of St. Isaac the Syrian. Yet he remains one of the most oft-quoted figures within Eastern Christianity; in my experience, he is quoted almost as much as the Greek Doctors (Sts. Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, and John Chrysostom). Why?
My personal take is the man’s overwhelming focus on the mercy and love of God, which informs his entire ascetical theology. Granted, he was actually a Nestorian bishop; granted, he held positions in line with the position of universal salvation of all things (as did Origen and arguably St. Gregory of Nyssa). No one is perfect, and he, like many other saints, was a man of his time. But like the great saints of the Church, his words are timeless – for goodness’ sake, he went blind from reading the Scriptures so intensely and for so long!
My experience in reading St. Isaac has wounded my heart, causing it to gush forth love that was hitherto bound up. He speaks with a wisdom not found often in the lives of men. His singular focus seems to be on the primacy of Divine Mercy over Divine Justice, thus echoing down the ages to St. Faustina and her mystical experiences of the Divine Mercy of God.
I cannot recommend the man’s writings enough. To me, they speak to all conditions, and not just to the great ascetics of the desert. They are directed to the heart of the individual Christian, and almost read as a foreign language in this modern world of ours. One could meditate on a sentence or two of St. Isaac’s for a lifetime.
But the words that struck me so very much are these:
“Do not call God just, for His justice is not evident in your deeds. If David called Him just and righteous, His Son, on the other hand, showed us that He is rather good and merciful. Where is His justice? We were sinners, and Christ died for us.”1
“Do not forget Him in your vain distractions, lest He also forget you in your temptations.”2
“This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.”3
What a beautiful statement – no doubt, it could be interpreted in an incorrect fashion as being a license to go ahead and sin away, but this is not what St. Isaac means. I think he speaks more to the primacy of mercy, of the most sweet and overflowing Divine Mercy that so few of us lean on. I know I must lean on it often.
If you have the time, do yourself a favor and seek out the writings of this great saint. Let me know what you learn so that you might edify and teach this poor sinner. Though it is inexplicable why this holy figure remains so unknown in the Christian West (as does St. Symeon the New Theologian it seems), I hope to rectify this in some tiny way.
1 – qtd. in Seraphim of Sarov, Spiritual Instructions, 1
2 – On Ascetical Life, V:72
3 – From HERE.