February 4, 2014

Saint Isidore of Pelusium as a Model for our Lives

St. Isidore of Pelusium (Feast Day - February 4)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The venerable Isidore of Pelusium was born in Egypt around 360-370 A.D. He was a scion of noble and pious parents and he was a brilliant student. Before he became a monk he was a Catechist and Teacher of the Church of Alexandria. He settled in a Monastery near Pelusium, an area of Egypt east of the Nile, and for this reason he is known as "Pelousiotis". Because of his erudition, and especially his virtue, he acquired great prestige and fame. He is regarded as one of the best interpreters of the Divine Scriptures. After being ordained a Priest he was promoted to Abbot. His entire personality offered much to the Church, but also his discourses and writings.

Many people resorted to Saint Isidore to discuss matters with him, and find solutions to their problems. There were not few, however, who communication with him by letter. He answered their letters, and consoled them and spiritually guided them. Most of the letters refer to the clarification and interpretation of passages of Holy Scripture, and for this reason he is characterized as an interpreter of the Divine Scriptures. He also sent letters to mediate and settle various issues for the common good. 2212 of his letters have been preserved. Two of these, namely "On That Which Has Not Been Destined" and "Discourse to the Greeks", are extensive and characterized as short treatises.

"Saint Isidore of Pelusium is one of the eminent figures of the tradition of Orthodoxy." Photios the Great characterizes him as a "rule of the priestly and ascetic state", but also as a "muse of our courtyard" for his philosophical mind, excellent theological training, ascetic life, and especially for his ethos and blameless way of life.

He was "perfected in peace" in 440 A.D.

His life and deeds give us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, a letter is a means of communication. In earlier times it was perhaps the only means of communication between people of great distances. This is why many letters of various important people, and Saints of our Church, are preserved. Some of these letters are monuments of speech and culture. The letters of the Saints, besides the historical and geographical data they contain, exude the aroma and fragrance of the Holy Spirit and for this reason they have the ability to inspire, to move, to comfort and bring sweetness to the human heart.

The words recorded in letters, according to Basil the Great, are icons of the soul and thus through the letter you come to know the sender. In a letter to Maximus the Philosopher he writes: "Words are truly the icons of the soul. We have come to know you well, therefore, through letters, as much, as they say, as 'a nail on a lion'."

Nowadays, as is well known, sending letters has been restricted because of contemporary means of communication. The letter, however, is something tangible and in a certain way makes the presence of the sender felt. Also, serious issues cannot be communicated or arranged by telephone, but personally, and if this is difficult, with the written word, which has other capabilities and other value.

Second, the study of the letters of the venerable Isidore brings great benefit to those who have the disposition to be obedient to the Church and to live according to the will of God.

Below we will attempt a brief tour in the spiritual garden of the letters of the Venerable One, to reap even a few of his sweetest fruits.

The 24th letter of the venerable Isidore advises the recipient to study the Sacred Scriptures with much diligence and effort and not frivolously. He writes, among other things: "It is of benefit to you to study with much attention and wisdom Divine Scripture and investigate with soberness its deeper meanings and not dare approach with superficiality its untouched and inaccessible mysteries, allowing them into unworthy hands. In this way the most daring Uzziah, who took courage and reached out his hands to that which should not be touched by hands, acquired leprosy because of his audacity and he was exiled from the palace."

The 35th letter advises Emperor Theodosius to distribute wealth as it should be, because "not even a king is saved by his great power, nor does one avoid the irreverence of idolatry who avoids the generous disposal of wealth, which flows like water and goes away."

The 437th letter advises a physician Orivasio to heal not only for others their physical ailments, but also his own passions of soul and body, in order to obtain the health that he lacks, saying that without this health "you will neither be an excellent physician, nor wise in reality."

The 69th letter refers to gluttony and its devastating consequences, as well as the great value of fasting. He writes, among other things: "Was it not fasting that gave life to the Ninevites? ... Was it not fasting that showed Daniel and those like-minded with him wondrous? ... Was it not fasting and a modest life that made John the baptizer of the incarnate God?" He concludes urging the recipient of his letter to imitate the above and not be a slave of the flesh, but to return to his nature and become a natural man. A natural man is not one who likes to live in nature, but one who has acquired the first-formed beauty. That is, the Saint who has been regenerated by the Grace of God, having struggled spiritually, and returned to the condition of the First-Formed in Paradise or even higher, after being united with Christ.

Hopefully we also will be made worthy to become natural people.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Οσιος Ισίδωρος ο Πηλουσιώτης", February 2010. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.