St. Isaac the Syrian and the Door of Heaven

hearts-door.jpg

Be at Peace with your own soul; then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven; for there is one single door to them both.

And another:

If you do not strive, you will not find; and if you do not knock eagerly at the door and keep long vigil before it, you will not receive an answer.

And this small word from St. Augustine:

Where can we find Him?…Not on earth, for He is not here. And not in heaven, for we are not there. But in our own hearts we can find Him. He ascended to heaven openly so that He could come back to us inwardly, and never leave us again.

17 Responses to “St. Isaac the Syrian and the Door of Heaven”

  1. Richard Barrett Says:

    Drawing from another letter in the new Again, don’t you know St. Augustine is heretical trash that can’t be discarded quickly enough?

    A lot of very special letters this time around…

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    They must have a different policy on publishing letters than I do on the blog. St. Augustine certainly has places that have to be read carefully, or even some things that would have to be corrected. But he is a saint of the Church and an important one. People should not be so quick and sure in their judgments. With what judgement you mete… I think it says.

  3. Richard Barrett Says:

    Indeed. I don’t know that it’s written anywhere, certainly, that everything a saint says has to be right. St. Isaac the Syrian was a Nestorian, after all.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    Again, you are technically right. But, for instance, when many things that are labeled “Nestorian” are examined, they don’t turn out to be “Nestorian” in the heretical sense. To the Alexandrians, Chalcedon sounded “Nestorian” and subsequent councils did much to clarify Chalcedon in a non-Nestorian direction. Thus you have neo-Chalcedonian which is a closer description of Orthodoxy.

    Same is true of Monophysitism. It’s hard to find anyone who actually fits the description of the heresy of Monophysitism. When you read actual Coptic statements of what they believe, it’s hard to figure how it differs from neo-Chalcedonian Orthodoxy.

    The fact that St. Isaac is on the Orthodox calendar speaks volumes. Thus, we really should only make statements about someone (he’s a Nestorian, etc.) if we’ve actually read them and can’t point to what we mean.

    I can think of few fathers I would rather quote on a frequent basis than St. Isaac.

    One last thought, I would not say, “he was a Nestorian, after all.” After all, he is an Orthodox saint. That would be the real “after all.”

  5. William Says:

    The edition of St. Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies published by Holy Transfiguration Monastery (it’s still out of print but is supposedly going to be reprinted sometime in the future) includes a lengthy essay explaining why Isaac and the church of his region and time should not be automatically labeled Nestorian, even if the Nestorian influence was rampant there. But if anything, there’s nothing remotely Nestorian in St. Isaac’s writings. I’m sad to say that I can’t outline the argument right here and now from memory, but that essay and that volume is well worth checking out if you have access. I was able to read a copy from New Mexico via interlibrary loan.

  6. Richard Barrett Says:

    Bless, Father, and forgive if I’m not being clear–I mean “Nestorian” only in the sense that St. Isaac himself was a part of the Assyrian Church of the East, and not in visible communion with the Orthodox in his lifetime, not to accuse him of heresy. That he is a saint of the Church is undeniable, as is the case with St. Augustine. My point is that sainthood does not make one infallible or mean that every circumstance of their earthly life was ideal–St. Augustine’s need for correction on a couple of points makes him no less worthy of veneration as a saint by us than does St. Isaac’s lack of canonical communion with the visible Church, in other words. My initial comment about St. Augustine was intended to be something of a helping of irony.

    Richard

  7. William Says:

    Richard: I did appreciate the point you were making, and it’s certainly good to remember. I find St. Isaac’s wisdom and sainthood under the circumstances in which he lived to be a sign of God’s unending power and mercy. God bless you.

  8. Fatherstephen Says:

    Richard,

    I got the irony, and it’s my fault for not being clear about that in my response. I wanted other readers to be clear – some of them get irony and some don’t. It’s the internet, after all.

  9. Priest Seraphim Holland Says:

    Isn’t it ironic? You did not understand my irony🙂


    Priest Seraphim Holland

  10. Sharon Says:

    Hi and greetings I was doing a search and found your journal.. What beautiful quotes.. Yes Yes Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within!!

    Luke 17:21
    nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

    There is hope for us all!!

    Gods blessings be yours in abundance!! Christian love from Sharon

  11. Catherine K. Says:

    There is a wonderful book written by Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev) titled “The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian”. It gives a balanced look at his life, background and teaching – including how a Nestorian Bishop came to be venerated by the Chalcedonians🙂

    Bishop Hilarian hails from Russia, and gave one of the Antiochian pre-Lenten priest retreats a few years ago – basically his talks summarized the contents of his book on Saint Isaac. So if you can’t afford the recordings, or prefer to read rather than to listen, just go ahead and get the book.

  12. Michael Bauman Says:

    As no one is perfectly Orthodox, so no one is a perfect heretic either. What matters is the direction of one’s heart. A person can agree in principal with all the teachings of the Church writing and speaking wonderful expositions that at their heart are founded upon nothing. Nestorius was not even a ‘Nestorian’ after all.

    St. Augustine suffers greately from the fact that his theology was not taken up by the entire Church but left in the west. Perhaps it is time to digest him as has been done for so many others. It is too great a burden for the theology of one man to form such a great part of the edifice of any tradition. It becomes subject to so many opinions and miss application. I’m sure St. Augustine is not an Augustinian.

    Father, I’d be interested to read the Monophysites to which you refer. The contemporary material I’ve read (which includes some of the official statements at various reunion conferences) make it pretty clear that they want nothing to do with the ideas of any Council after the third. I find them little different in spirit from the statements I’ve read of Serverus (an officially declared heretic). Plus some of the recent statements of Pope Shenouda are quite inflamatory as far as I’m concerned (calling even the word theosis heretical for instance). I’d love to get a better understanding.

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    Michael,

    I suppose I’ve read some more irenic material. I certainly don’t have the last word on the matter. I know that very substantial agreement has been reached between Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox scholars, but that is a minor thing (and was not like the usual protestant ecumenical thing), but that the matters of later councils, and Severus, etc. was a remaining point of difficulty, and maybe a point that says that this is not the time, or the heresy remains a heresy. In ways, it depends on what you read. I am hopeful on the one hand, but not anxious on the other. As God wills.

    I had read some material from an American Coptic site that seemed fairly solid to me. And I’ve had private conversations with some who had been involved in the theological discussions. There is also a climate of fear outside of all that – that is afraid that someone will try to pull a fast one and go all ecumenical on us. So I just pray that God will do good things.

    Though the Oriental Orthodox do not accept councils beyond the third, they are, nonetheless, iconodules. So there’s hope.

  14. Michael Bauman Says:

    Yes, and I do really like the Coptic icons, but put me in the skeptical camp that anything good can come out of top-down high level meetings in and of themselves. The pressure on both sides is either to agree for the sake of agreement (wrong) or to disagree for the sake of disagreement (equally wrong). The Emperor Justinian spent the better part of 50 years with all the resources and authority at his command back when the schism was fresh and couldn’t put things back together.

    At this point I’m inclined to follow the parable of the wheat and the tares continue in the effort to love in the process. All the schisms are the result of sin, no doubt but it does not necessarily follow that we can overcome that sin by trying to put things back together. It seems more logical to continue to work on overcoming sin by the grace of God and see where things end up.

  15. fatherstephen Says:

    No argument from me. I have seen some things in the past 20 years that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. God is good. And good things only come from God, not from us and a process. Thus I will trust in Him alone.

  16. ioannisfreeman Says:

    Never one to have read Augustine without a special set of lenses to help me appreciate the complexity of hermeneutics, I ventured on Father Seraphim Rose’s text: The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1996). Father Seraphim quotes from Augustine’s text “Against Nestorius,” calling Nestorius and Pelagius impious. I wonder how one can respond daily to Christ in repentance without also confessing how simple we have made it to this very day to lapse unwittingly into Monophystism ourselves as Orthodox Christians who confess and profess otherwise.

  17. WebElf Blogroll News « The WebElf Report Says:

    […] ST. ISAAC the Syrian and the Door of Heaven …. […]

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