July 3, 2010

Life and Sayings of Holy Abba Isaiah the Anchorite

St. Isaiah the Anchorite (Feast Day - July 3)

Regarding the life and teachings of Saint Isaiah the Anchorite, the following is told to us by Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite in the introduction to his writings in the Philokalia:

"Our Holy Father Isaiah the Anchorite lived in the year 370 AD, a contemporary of Abba Makarios the Great. Studying the divine Scriptures night and day, he drew from the founts of salvation abundant streams of spiritual wisdom and became the author of many and most beautiful words on various subjects of profit to the soul, so as to fill an entire book. From these we offer here this small discourse, for those who long to preserve their own nous. For this discourse teaches succinctly how we can repel the attacks of wicked thoughts so that our conscience does not accuse us, how to meditate [on divine things], and how to preserve appropriately in imperturbability the three parts of the soul."

Saint Nikolai Velimirovich adds the following:

"Isaiah lived a life of asceticism in the Egyptian Scete during the fifth and sixth centuries. He is mentioned in the book of Saints Barsanuphius and John (Reply 249 and others) as a man possessing exceptional sanctity. He wrote many instructions for monks and anchorites. Of his works, very little remains and much was destroyed by the Muslims."

According to the editors of the English Philokalia, most modern historians consider him to have lived in Scetis and then moved to Palestine around 431, ‘eventually dying in great old age as a recluse near Gaza on 11 August 491 (according to others, in 489). Whichever date is preferred, it is evident that the author reflects the spirituality of the Desert Fathers of Egypt and Palestine during the fourth and fifth centuries’.

Below are some of the counsels of wisdom from Saint Isaiah himself:

- The mind, before it awakens from the sleep of slothfulness, resides with the demons.

- The crown of all good works consists in this: that a man place all his hope in God; that he finds recourse in Him once and for all with his heart and strength; that he be filled with compassion for all and weep before God, imploring His help and mercy.

- The sign that a sin is forgiven is that the sin does not generate any activity in your heart and that you have forgotten it to such a degree that in conversation about a similar sin you do not feel any inclination toward that sin but rather consider it something totally foreign to you. That is the sign that you are completely pardoned.

- Watch with all your strength that you do not speak one thing with your mouth and have something else in your heart.

- The crown of good works is love; the crown of passions is the justification of one's sins.

- Shut all the gates of your soul, that is the senses, so as to not be lured astray. When the nous sees that it is not dominated by anything, it prepares itself for immortality, gathering its senses together and forming them into one body.

- If your nous is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you. If your nous is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.

- The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces desire for God, and this in turn gives rise to the anger that is in accordance with nature, and that flares up against all the tricks of the enemy. Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be made manifest.

- Attend to your self, lest something destructive divorce you from the love of God, and dwell in your heart. And do not become listless, saying, “How shall I guard her (the heart), since I am a sinful person?” For when a person puts aside one’s sins and turns around to God, that person’s repentance rebirths one and makes all things new.

- Holy Scripture speaks everywhere about the guarding of the heart, in both the Old and the New Testaments. David says in the Psalms: ‘O sons of men, how long will you be heavy of heart?’ (Ps. 4:2. LXX), and again: ‘Their heart is vain’ (Ps. 5:9. LXX); and of those who think futile thoughts, he says: ‘For he has said in his heart, I shall not be moved’ (Ps. 10:6), and: ‘He has said in his heart, God has forgotten’ (Ps. 10:11).

- A monk should consider the purpose of each text in Scripture, to whom it speaks and on what occasions. He should persevere continually in the ascetic struggle and be on his guard against the provocations of the enemy. Like a pilot steering a boat through the waves, he should hold to his course, guided by grace. Keeping his attention fixed within himself, he should commune with God in stillness, guarding his thoughts from distraction and his intellect from curiosity.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
A dweller of the desert and an angel in the flesh, and as a wonder-worker thou hast shone forth O God-bearing father Isaiah. By fasting, vigilance and prayer, heavenly gifts thou hast received. Whereby you heal all the poor in health and the souls of them that make haste to thee in faith. Glory to Him who hath given thee strength. Glory to Him who hath crowned thee. Glory to Him who made possible through thee healing for all.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
With the river of thy tears thou hast made the barren desert fertile, and with the sighs of sorrow from thy heart thou hast made thy labours to bear a hundredfold. With the glory of thy miracles thou hast become a light to the inhabited earth. O Isaiah our holy father, pray to Christ our God for the salvation of our souls.