St. Isaac the Syrian: Abandonment and Suffering
+ Spirituality from the Desert: St. Isaac the Syrian + “Treasure of all good things: Grant Thou me perfect repentance and a fervent heart that I may wholeheartedly come forth to seek Thee. Without Thee, I will become estranged from all good things. Therefore, grant Thou me Thy Grace, O Good One. May the Father Who didst beget Thee from His bosom recreate in me the image of Thine icon. I have abandoned Thee; do not forsake me. I have separated myself from Thee; come forth to find me. And when Thou findest me, lead me into Thy pastures, and number me amongst the sheep of Thy select flock, and nurture me with Thy divine mysteries, which dwell within a pure heart, wherein the brilliance of Thy revelations are made manifest.” ~ St. Isaac the Syrian I. Trials on the Way to God 1. The Suffering on the Road to God • “God does not grant a great gift without a great trial” ~ St. Isaac the Syrian 2. Nature of Temptations A. Temptation • Syriac – nesyona (corresponding to Greek – peirasmos) means ‘temptation’, ‘trial’, ‘ordeal’, ‘examination’, ‘test’ • Related to the word nesyana = ‘experience’ • Related to the Hebrew nsh = ‘to put on trial, to test’ B. Pray for Protection from Temptations • “Pray, [Jesus] says, that you enter not into temptations of your faith. Pray that through your mind’s self-esteem you enter not into temptation with the demon of blasphemy and pride. Pray that you enter not by God’s permission into the manifest temptations of the senses, which the devil knows how to bring upon you when God permits it because of the foolish thoughts you entertain.” St. Isaac C. Prepare for Temptations • “Even so, prepare yourself with all your soul to receive bodily temptations; voyage in them with all your members and fill your eyes with tears, so that the angel who guards you does not depart from you. For without trials God’s providence is not seen, and you cannot obtain boldness before God, nor learn the wisdom of the Spirit, nor can divine longing be established in you.” ~ St. Isaac 3. Salvific Role of Temptations A. Temptations are Fuel for Prayer • “Before temptations man prays to God as though he were a stranger; but when he enters into temptations for the sake of his love and does not permit himself to be deflected, then straightway he has, as it were, God as his debtor, and God reckons him as a true friend.” ~ St. Isaac 93 B. Trials and temptations build fortitude of soul • “Ascetic strugglers are tried, that they may add to their riches; the slothful are tried, that they may thereby guard themselves from what is harmful to them; the sleepy are tried, that they may be armed with wakefulness; those who are far away are tried, that they may draw nearer to God; those who are God’s own are tried, that with boldness they may enter into his house…There is no man who will not feel oppressed at the time of training. And there is no man who will not find bitter the time when he is • given the virulent potion of trials to drink. Without temptations a man cannot acquire a strong constitution” ~ St. Isaac 94 C. God sends us temptations • “As soon as divine grace has made his thinking secure…so that he puts his confidence in God, she begins, little by little, to introduce him to temptations. She permits him to be sent temptations suited to his measure, that he may bear their force. But in these very temptations her aid palpably draws near him, that he may take courage until little by little he gains experience, acquires wisdom…” ~ St. Isaac 94 D. Spiritual Law: The Nearer You Are to God, the More Intense the Temptations • “As long as you are journeying in the way to the city of the kingdom and are drawing near the city of God. Let this be for you a signpost: the strength of the temptations you encounter. The nearer you draw and progress, the more temptations multiply against you.” ~ St. Isaac 95 E. Temptations from the Devil • “The trials from God are sent to ‘the friends of God, that is to say, the humble’. The friends of God are placed in trials, not in punishment, but with a view to their spiritual progress…By contrast, temptations that come from the devil are sent to ‘the enemies of God, that is to say, the proud’.” ~ Alfeyev 97-98 F. All Temptations Exist to Sanctify • “Both the temptations that come from God and those that come from the devil are allowed by God and so can serve one’s salvation and spiritual progress.” ~ Alfeyev 99 G. You Cannot Grow in Virtue Without Trials • “Whenever you wish to make a beginning in some good work, first prepare yourself for the temptations that will come upon you, and do not doubt the truth. For it is the enemy’s custom, whenever he sees a man beginning a good mode of life with fervent faith, to confront him with diverse and fearful temptations…It is not that our adversary has such power – for then no one could ever do good – but that God concedes it to him, as we have learned with the righteous Job. Therefore prepare yourself manfully to encounter temptation.” ~ St. Isaac the Syrian 4. Experience of Abandonment A. Spiritual Life is a Cycle of Ups and Downs • “Isaac describes the ascetical life as a constant fluctuation between periods of ‘assistance’ and ‘feebleness’, presence and abandonment, spiritual ups and downs.” ~ Alfeyev 101 • Abandonment is the heaviest form of temptation B. Abandonment and Spiritual Decay are necessary • “Periods of abandonment and spiritual decay are necessary for a person that he may perceive his helplessness and dependence upon God.” ~ Alfeyev 101 • Abandonment is not real, but a perception. • God allows us to feel his absence, but He is always there • STORY - St. Anthony the Great was once left in a state of abandonment for days. Afterwards, once God revealed himself, St. Anthony asked him where it had gone. “Why didn’t you come in the beginning, to stop my sufferings?’ A voice answered him, “I was here, Antony, but I waited to see you struggle.’ 5. How to React to a State of Abandonment A. Two Ends of the Road • For a Christian, abandonment can lead in two results: deeper faith or a spiritual shipwreck. • Thus, it is critical that we do not respond by blaspheming God or yielding to temptations. • Instead, we need to remind ourselves of God’s good providence and remain calm. - “Draw near a little to God in your trials, O fellow human being, by means of your mental disposition. Are you really aware against whom you are thundering away? You would immediately find relief if you have the wisdom to remember the hidden providence of this very same God.” ~ St. Isaac 102-103 B. What Should You Do? • Pray fervently through the abandonment - “During periods of these temptations, when someone is darkened, he ought to fall on his face in prayer, and not rise up until power come to him from heaven and a light which will support his heart in a faith that has no doubts” ~ St. Isaac 104 • Remember the zeal of one’s earlier years - “Ponder in your heart on the former time of your diligence…for thus, with such and so many recollections, your soul is wakened as if from deep sleep and is clad with the flame of zeal” ~ St. Isaac 104-105 • Occupy yourself with Spiritual Reading - “A sense of heaviness during stillness, this is dissolved by some form of scriptural reading” ~ St. Isaac 106 - “Be patient, be engaged in reading the books of the Doctors of the Church, compel yourself in prayer, and expect to receive help. Then straightway help will come unawares” ~ St. Isaac 105 C. When Nothing Helps • Wait, knowing that this season will pass like winter • “These periods of darkness and abandonment Isaac compares to winter; natural life almost completely ceases, but the seeds lie deep in the earth, waiting for spring, when they put out new shoots. One should not fall into despair but rather wait patiently until the afflictions, despondency, and abandonment that one has endured brings their fruits” (Alfeyev 107). 6. The Fruit of Perseverance A. Grace comes to those who resist despair • “God permits coldness and heaviness to come upon a man to train and test him. But if he zealously rouses himself an compels himself a little to shake off these things, then grace will immediately draw near him.” (St. Isaac 108). B. A Joy is Born • “After much converse with the Scriptures, continuous supplication and thanksgiving at his feeble state, with his gaze extended unceasingly towards God’s grace after great dejection in the stillness, and little by little from that starting point some spaciousness of heart is born, and a germination takes place which gives birth to joy from within…The mind is raised up from its association with everything else, is lifted up and finds itself above the world in its upsurge ” ~ St. Isaac 108 C. Temptation is Replaced with Closeness of God • “Temptation will assuredly be replaced by a period of closeness of God, and the feeling of abandonment will change to a sense of God’s presence.” (Alfeyev 109).