Today in the Church we honor the memory of St Isaac the Syrian (aka St Isaac of Nineveh), who was a prolific author and is one of my favorite spiritual fathers. Archimandrite Vassilios writes about his own experience in encountering St Isaac through reading Isaac’s literature.
I am reading St Isaac the Syrian. I find something true, heroic, spiritual in him; something which transcends space and time. I feel that here, for the first time, is a voice that resonates in the deepest parts of my being, hitherto closed and unknown to me.
Although he is so far removed from me in time and space, he has come right into the house of my soul. In a moment of quiet he has spoken to me, sat down beside me. Although I have read so many things, although I have met so many other people, and though today there are others living around me, no one else has been so discerning. To no one else have I opened the door of my soul in this way. Or to put it better, no one else has shown me into such a space, which is open and unlimited. And no one else has told me this unexpected and ineffable truth, namely that the whole of this inner world belongs to us. For the first time I feel a holy pride in our human—or better, our divine—human — nature, an amazement before it. The presence of a saint, separated from the world and from the stain of sin, has given me this divine blessing. He belongs to our human nature. I rejoice at this. I enjoy the benefits of his blessing. Being of the same nature as myself, he really transfuses the life-giving blood of his freedom into me. He shows me human personhood as it truly is. By his presence he tells me that we are together, and I feel that it is so. This is not something foreign to me. He is himself my most true self. He is an unblemished flower of our human nature. (HYMN OF ENTRY, pp 131- 2).
[Just a note on Archimandrite Vassilios’ comments that Isaac is ‘separated…from the stain of sin‘: the saints are not sinless nor infallible. They are humans just like the rest of us. They may more intentionally struggle against temptation, passion and sin than most of us do, but they are not freed from them. Their spiritual life is spiritual warfare, and that struggle doesn’t end in this world because they are pursuing holiness. The saints are an inspiration to us because they do things we can imitate, not because they are inimitable. Unfortunately, sometimes people accept an idea that the saints are without sin or fault or never make mistakes – and sometimes these ideas are even promoted by Orthodox authors who should know better but who raise the saints up on pillars and make them inaccessible to the world. They make them ‘perfect’ and inhuman, whereas the goal of the spiritual life is to become fully human. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God-including the saints (Romans 3:9, 23; 5:12), and we all are called to repentance by our Lord.]