Even When He Chatters a Lot

One can never be faulted who speaks of Love and Beauty,
For however far his speaking goes, it will never reach the end.
A child speaks to his parent with love,
While his father listens affectionately to all that he says to him.
And when he hears the questions that are posed to him,
He accepts them just as if someone were speaking of serious things.
Even when he chatters a lot without making clear what he is saying,
He is happier with his speech than he would be the speech of philosophers.
So I, like the child before his father,
I am going to speak now before God with great love.
Now I am going to speak, and if I say too little- oh, I will not say too little!
For it is easier for love to speak too much, as much as it desires!

Jacob of Serug (d. 521), Homily on the Judgment of Solomon, ll. 37-48, trans. by Stephen A. Kaufman

They Were Made Perfect Even in Love For Wicked Men

In the case of the person who has been held worthy to taste of divine love, that person customarily forgets everything else by reason of its sweetness, for it is something at whose taste all visible things seems despicable: such a person’s soul gladly draws near to a luminous love of humanity, without distinguishing between good and bad; he is never overcome by the weaknesses to be found in people, nor is he perturbed. He is just as the blessed Apostles were as well: people who in the midst of all the bad things they endured from others, were nonetheless utterly incapable of hating them or of being fed up with showing love for them. This was manifested in actual deed, for after all the other things they even accepted death in order that these people might be retrieved. These were men who only a little previously had begged Christ that fire might descend from heaven upon the Samaritans just because they had not received them into their village! But once they had received the gift and tasted the love of God, they were made perfect even in love for wicked men: enduring all kinds of evils in order to retreive them, they could not possibly hate them.

St. Isaac the Syrian, from ‘The Second Part,’ trans. Sebastian Brock, p. 50.

The Creator’s Power Will Be Made Known in Them

On the symbol of the ministry of the saints that is to be seen in the natural world:

1. An illustration of what is hidden in seedlings can be seen through the labours which the saints and (other) godly persons endure in themselves for the sake of God. For under the ordinary appearance of (seeds) at the time when the land is tilled April’s own transformation keeps hidden the abundance of ineffable transformations and the beauty of the various variegated colours which it will (in due course) bring out and display, as a wonderful vesture and adornment for the earth that had been nurturing the (seeds) within itself.

2. This symbolic significance which can be recognized in tiny seeds holy people engrave spiritually in their minds when their ministry is depressing and darkened, as a demonstration that the Creator’s power will be made known in them, and they wait expectantly to see in themselves, as a result of the strength of these ordinary labours, an ineffable transformation which will become perceptible as a result of (or, after) them, through the workings of the Holy Spirit which they will receive subsequently in accordance with the progress of their ascetic conduct.

St. Isaac of Nineveh, ‘The Second Part,’ Chapters IV-XLI, trans. Sebastian Brock, in the CSCO, vol. 555.

You Draw Up Everyone From Endless Evils

‘I prostrate myself, Lord, at the throne of Your majesty, I who am dust and ashes and the dregs of humanity. A thousand upon thousands of angels and countless legions of seraphim offer You, the holy Nature hidden from the senses and knowledge of all created beings, spiritual worship in the hiddenness of their natures with their fiery praises and their holy impulses; for You are close at hand, Lord, with Your assistance to everyone at all times of need, and Your door is open in season and out of season for the entreaties of all. You do not abhor sinners nor does Your Majesty feel loathing for the souls which are stained with all kinds of sins; rather, You draw up everyone from endless evils, including me, Lord, who am utterly defiled, seeing that You have held me worthy to fall down before You on my face and make bold to pronounce Your holy name with my mouth, even though I am a vessel full of uncleanness and not worthy to be numbered among the children of Adam.

‘Grant me, Lord, that I may be made holy by praising You, and be made pure by the remembrance of You; renew my life with a transformation of mind and with beneficial thoughts which You, in Your grace, stir within me. Be a guide to my mind in my meditation on You, and make me forget my stumbling conduct through a renewal of mind which You instill in me. Stir up within me requests that are beneficial, with my will in accordance with Your will, for it is You who give prayer to those who pray. Imprint in me a single will, one which gazes towards You at all times, and a deliberation which is never weakened in its hope of You by continual deaths for Your sake. Grant, Lord, that I do not pray before You with unfeeling words (just uttered) with the lips, but may I spread prostrate on the ground in hidden humility of heart and repentance of mind.’

St. Isaac the Syrian, in The Second Part, ed. and trans. by Sebastian Brock (CSCO Vol. 555)

The First Friday Night

From Questions and Answers of Isho bar Nun, an answer that I found particularly charming:

Question: Did God create the primordial Natures in the night or in the day-time?

Answer: He created both in the night and in the day-time; and in these at their beginning… But there are [expositors] who have said that He created the wild beasts, the cattle and the creeping things of the earth at the beginning of Friday night. And they have presented a plausible argument, [based] on the fact that the wild beasts and the creeping things of the earth see better at night. However, everyone agrees that man was created at the beginning of the daytime of the Friday.’

From The Selected Questions of Isho bar Nun on the Pentateuch, ed. and trans. by Ernest G Clarke (Leiden: Brill, 1962).

An Ineffable Transformation

Yesterday we remembered the two saints who are probably the most prominent representatives of the Syriac traditions in the Western churches- St. Ephrem and St. Isaac. A translation by Sebastian Brock of St. Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise was the very first Patristic work I ever purchased; I don’t recall now why I bought that particular one out of all the Patristic translations I could have picked from.

I don’t recall the first time I came across St. Isaac, but I do know that his writings have impacted me greatly (not greatly enough of course- if I could really assimilate just a handful of his teachings on prayer, peace, silence, and the like- I’d probably not be blogging!). That St. Isaac was and is shared across not only his native Church of the East but also among the Miaphysites, the Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholicism (and I would imagine some Protestant as well) is encouraging and a hopeful sign of the possibilities that- still- inhere within Christianity. Granted, his reception into the Miaphysite and later Chalcedonian communions involved a little ‘fixing up,’ but that does not detract from the importance and significance of his cross-traditions reception.

St. Ephrem and St. Isaac, pray to God for us!

From St. Isaac:

An illustration of what is hidden in seedlings can be seen through the labours which the saints and other godly persons endure in themselves for the sake of God. For under ordinary appearance of seeds at the time when the land is tilled April’s own transformation keeps hidden the abundance of ineffable transformations and the beauty of the glorious variegated colours which it will (in due course) bring out and display, as a wonderful vesture and adornment for the earth that had been nurturing the seeds within herself.

This symbolic significance which can be recognized in tiny seeds holy people engrave spiritually in their minds at times when their ministry is depressing and darkened, as a demonstration that the Creator’s power will be made known in them, and they wait expectantly to see in themselves, as a result of the strength of these ordinary labours, an ineffable transformation which will become perceptible as a result of them, through the working of the Holy Spirit which they will receive subsequently in accordance with the progress of their ascetic conduct.

(From the CSCO translation by Brock, part ii, chapter xxiii.)

The Door of Love To All Men

The soul which bears abundant clusters of fruit is the one which has divested itself of anxiety, uncertainty and dejectedness and put on calm, peace, and joy in God; has shut the door of perturbing thoughts, and opened the door of love to all men; has watched continually, night and day, at the door of its heart; has driven out of itself anything that says: ‘This man is good and that man is bad; this man is just and that man is a sinner.’ [It is the soul that] has sat on the high throne of its heart, and contemplated its armies and its helpers who are the mind, the intelligence, the intellect, the knowledge and the discernment; and has ordered and pacified them with meekness so that none of them should snarl with wrath, envy or wickedness, and that the mind should not be obscured by the thick clouds of perplexity. On the other hand the barren soul is the one which is clad in rancour, anxiety, perplexity, distress, dejectedness and perturbation, and which judges its neighbour as being good or evil.

Simon of Taibutheh (d. 680)