PEARLS of Saint Isaac from Syria
These short quotes have been taken and slightly
adapted from The Ascetical Homilies
Isaac, Holy Transfiguration Monastery
When a sailor voyages in the midst of the
sea, he watches the stars and in relation
to them he guides his ship until he reaches
harbor. But a monk watches prayer, because
it sets him right and directs his course
to that harbor toward which his discipline
should lead. A monk gazes at prayer at all
times, so that it might show him an island
where he can anchor his ship and take on
provisions; then once more he sets his course
for another island. Such is the voyage of
a monk in this life: he sails from one island
to another, that is, from knowledge to knowledge,
and by his successive change of islands,
that is, of states of knowledge, he progresses
until he emerges from the sea and his journey
attains to that true city, whose inhabitants
no longer engage in commerce but each rests
upon his own riches. Blessed is the man who
has not lost his course in this vain world,
on this great sea! Blessed is the man whose
ship has not broken up and who has reached
harbor with joy!
A man who craves esteem cannot be rid
the causes of grief.
Spiritual delight is not enjoyment
in things that exist s outside the
Through the toil of prayer and the
of your heart commune with those who
grieved at heart, and the Source of
will be opened up to your petitions.
Beware of reading the doctrines of
for they, more than anything else,
the spirit of blasphemy against you.
It is just as shameful for lovers of
flesh and the belly to search out spiritual
things as it is for a harlot to discourse
Whenever you wish to make a beginning
some good work, first prepare yourself
the temptations that will come upon
and do not doubt the truth.
He who is able to suffer wrong with
though having means at hand to rebuff
has consciously received from God the
of his faith.
The man who endures accusations against
with humility has arrived at perfection.
He is marveled at by the holy angels,
there is no other virtue so great and
hard to achieve.
When temptation overtakes the deceitful
he does not have the presence of mind
call upon God, or to expect salvation
Him, since in the days of his ease
aloof from God's will.
Before the war begins, seek out your
before you fall ill, seek out your
and before grievous things come upon
pray, and in the time of your tribulations
you will find Him, and He will listen
Before you stumble, call out and plead;
you make a vow, have ready what things
promise, for they are your provisions
The ark of Noah was built in the time
peace, and its timbers were planted
a hundred years beforehand. In the
wrath the evil man perished, but the
became the shelter for the righteous.
Love the poor, and through them you
Do not disdain those who are handicapped
from birth, because all of us will
the grave equally privileged.
Love sinners, but hate their works;
not despise them for their faults,
be tempted by the same trespasses.
It is better to avoid the passions
recollection of the virtues than by
and arguing with them. For when the
leave their place and arise for battle,
imprint on the mind images and idols.
warfare has great force, able to weaken
mind and violently perturb and confuse
man's thinking. But if a man acts by
first rule we have mentioned, when
are repulsed they leave no trace in
Just as the dolphin stirs and swims
when the visible sea is still and calm,
also, when the sea of the heart is
and still from wrath and anger, mysteries
and divine revelations are stirred
at all times to delight her.
That which befalls a fish out of water,
the mind that has come out of the remembrance
of God and wanders in the remembrance
Just as fish perish from lack of water,
the meditative movements that God causes
to blossom forth vanish from the heart
the monk who loves to dwell and pass
life in company with worldly men.
The more a man's tongue flees verbosity,
the more his intellect is illumined
to be able to discern deep thoughts;
the rational intellect is befuddled
Who does not love a humble and meek
Only proud men and slanderers, who
to his work.
Flee from discussions of dogma as from
unruly lion; and never embark upon
either with those raised in the Church,
The saints in heaven will not supplicate
with prayer when their intellects have
consumed up by the Spirit, but rather
awe struck wonder they dwell in that
The cell of a solitary is the cleft
rock where God spoke with Moses, as
I also maintain that those who are
in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge
love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement
as the torment of love? I mean, those
have become conscious that they have
against love suffer greater torment
this than from any fear of punishment.
the sorrow caused in the heart by sin
love is more poignant than any torment.
would be improper for a man to think
sinners in Gehenna are deprived of
of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge
of the truth which, as is commonly
is given to all. The power of love
in two ways: it torments sinners, even
happens here when a friend suffers
friend; but it becomes a source of
or those who have observed its duties.
I say that this is the torment of Gehenna:
bitter regret. But love inebriates
of the sons of Heaven by its charm.
On that day God will not judge us about
nor for the neglect of prayer, but
by abandoning them, we have opened
to the demons.
Stillness mortifies the outward senses
resurrects the inward movements, whereas
agitation does the opposite, that is,
resurrects the outward senses and deadens
the inward movements.
What is the sign that a man has attained
to purity of heart, and when does a
that his heart has entered into purity?
he sees all men as good and none appears
to him to be unclean and defiled, then
truth, his heart is pure.
Whenever in your path you find unchanging
peace, beware: you are very far from
divine paths trodden by the weary feet
the saints. For as long as you are
in the way to the city of the Kingdom
are drawing near the city of God, this
be a sign for you: the strength of
that you encounter. And the nearer
close and progress, the more temptations
will multiply against you.
Faith is the door to mysteries. What
bodily eyes are to sensory objects,
is to the eyes of the intellect that
at hidden treasures.
Paradise is the love of God, wherein
enjoyment of all beatitude, and there
blessed Paul partook of supernatural
Until we find love, our labor is in
of tares, and in the midst of tares
sow and reap, even if our seed is the
The man who has found love eats and
Christ every day and hour and so is
immortal. 'Whoever eats of this bread',
says, 'which I will give him, will
taste death.' Blessed is he who consumes
the bread of love, which is Jesus!
eats of love eats Christ, the God over
as John bears witness, saying, 'God
Love is the Kingdom, which the Lord
promised His disciples to eat in His
For when we hear Him say, 'You shall
and drink at the table of My Kingdom,'
do we suppose we shall eat, if not
Love is sufficient to nourish a man
of food and drink. This is the wine
makes glad the heart of man.' Blessed
he who partakes of this wine! Licentious
men have drunk this wine and felt shame;
sinners have drunk it and have forgotten
the pathways of stumbling; drunkards
drunk this wine and became firm in
the rich have drunk it and desired
the poor have drunk it and been enriched
with hope; the sick have drunk it and
strong; the unlearned have taken it
As it is not possible to cross over
ocean without a ship, so no one can
to love without fear. This filthy sea,
lies between us and the paradise of
we may cross by the boat of repentance,
oarsmen are those of fear. But if fear's
oarsmen do not pilot the boat of repentance
whereby we cross over the sea of this
to God, we shall be drowned in the
The man who chooses to consider God
presuming that in this manner he bears
to His justice, accuses Him of being
of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance
ever be found in that Fountain of love
Ocean brimming with goodness! The aim
His design is the correction of men;
if it were not that, we should be stripped
of the honor of our free will, perhaps
would not even heal us by reproof.
A mind that has found spiritual wisdom
like a man who finds a fully equipped
at sea, and once he has gone aboard,
him from the sea of this world to the
of the age to come. In like manner,
of the future age while in this world
like an islet in the ocean; and he
it toils no longer amid the billows
appearances of this age.
A swimmer dives naked into the sea
he finds a pearl; and a wise monk,
of everything, journeys through life
he finds in himself the Pearl, Jesus
and when he finds Him, he does not
acquire anything else besides Him.
A serpent guards its head when its
being crushed, and a wise monk guards
faith at all times, for this is the
of his life.
A dog that licks a rasp drinks its
and does not know its own harm because
the sweetness of the blood; and a monk
stoops to drink vainglory, consumes
and does not perceive his harm because
the fleeting sweetness.
Worldly glory is a reef in the sea
by water; for as this lies unknown
sailor until his vessel strikes it,
up, is filled with water and sinks,
glory does to a man until it drowns
Do not approach the words of the mysteries
contained in the divine Scriptures
prayer and beseeching God for help,
Lord, grant me to perceive the power
Reckon prayer to be the key to the
of the divine Scriptures.
A small but always persistent discipline
is a great force; for a soft drop falling
persistently, hollows out hard rock.
As children are not born without a
so passions are not born without distraction
of the mind, and sin is not committed
parley with the passions.
Ease and idleness are the destruction
the soul and they can injure her more
If you compel your body when it is
labors that exceed its strength, you
instill darkness upon darkness into
soul and bring greater confusion upon
Mercy and legality in one soul is like
man who worships God and the idols
As grass and fire cannot coexist in
so legality and mercy cannot abide
As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance
a great quantity of gold, so in comparison
God's use of justice cannot counterbalance
Be persecuted, but persecute not; be
but crucify not; be wronged, but wrong
be slandered, but slander not. Have
not zeal, with respect to evil. Lay
of goodness, not legality.
Be every man's friend, but in your
If you cannot be merciful, at least
as though you are a sinner. If you
a peacemaker, at least do not be a
If you cannot be assiduous, at least
thought be like a sluggard. If you
victorious, do not exalt yourself over
vanquished. If you cannot close the
of a man who disparages his companion,
least refrain from joining him in this.
No man has understanding if he is not
and whoever lacks humility is devoid
No man is humble if he is not peaceful,
he who is not peaceful is not humble.
no man is peaceful without rejoicing.
We should not be exceedingly grieved
we make a slip in some matter, but
we persist in it; for even the perfect
slip, but to persist therein is total
There is no knowledge that is not impoverished,
however rich it should be; but heaven
earth cannot contain the treasures
Truly, confusion should be called (if
the chariot of the devil, because Satan
always eager to mount upon it as a
and bearing with him the throng of
he invades the wretched soul and plunges
her into the pit of confusion.
The recompense is not given for labor
for humility. He who maltreats the
loses the former.
Christ demands not the doing of the
but the soul's amendment, because of
He gave His commandments to rational
A gift free of trials is a disaster
who receive it.
To choose what is good belongs to the
will of the man who desires it; but
the choice of this good will belongs
His path has been trodden from the
from all generations by the cross and
death. How is it with you, that the
on the path seem to you to be off the
Do you not wish to follow the steps
saints? Or have you plans for devising
way of your own, and of journeying
The path of God is a daily cross. No
has ascended into Heaven by means of
for we know where the way of ease leads
how it ends.
In truth, without afflictions there
The carnal man fears death like a beast
slaughter. The rational man fears the
of God. But the man who has become
is adorned by love and is not taught
rod of fear; he says, 'But I and my
house will serve the Lord.'
A merciful man is the physician of
soul. Like a violent wind he drives
of the passions out of his inner self.
Conquer evil men by your gentle kindness,
and make zealous men wonder at your
Put the lover of legality to shame
compassion. With the afflicted be afflicted
in mind. Love all men, but keep distant
As long as you have feet, run after
before you are bound with that bond
cannot be loosed again once it is put
As long as you have hands, stretch
to Heaven in prayer, before your arms
from their joints, and though you desire
to draw them up, you will not be able.
long as you have fingers, cross yourself
in prayer, before death comes loosing
comely strength of their sinews. As
as you have eyes, fill them with tears
that hour when dust will cover your
clothes and your eyes will be fixed
direction in an unseeing gaze and you
not know it. Yes, fill your eyes with
as long as your heart is controlled
power of discernment and before your
is shaken by her departure from it
heart is left like a house deserted
Silence is a mystery of the age to
but words are instruments of this world.
The passions are like dogs accustomed
lick blood in butchers' shops. When
are barred from what their habit feeds
they stand in front of the doors and
until the force of their previous custom
A man who sits in stillness and who
experience of God's kindness has little
of persuasive argument, and his soul
sick with the disease of unbelief,
who are doubtful of the truth. For
of his own understanding is sufficient
persuade him above endless words having
experience behind them.
Know with certainty, therefore, that
is not within your power, nor does
to your virtue, but it belongs to grace
which carries you upon the palm of
that you may not be alarmed.
Humility, even without works, gains
for many offenses; but without her,
are of no profit to us, and rather
for us great evils.
Not every quiet man is humble, but
humble man is quiet.
Walk before God in simplicity and not
knowledge. Simplicity is accompanied
but subtle and intricate deliberations,
conceit; and conceit is accompanied
When you fall down before God in prayer,
become in your thought like an ant,
the creeping things of the earth, like
leech, and like a tiny lisping child.
not say anything before Him with knowledge,
but with a child's manner of thought
near God and walk before Him, that
be counted worthy of that paternal
which fathers have for their small
A man cannot receive spiritual knowledge
unless he is converted and becomes
little child. Only then does he experience
that delight which belongs to the Kingdom
of the Heavens. By 'Kingdom of the
the Scriptures mean spiritual divine
It is not possible without temptations
a man to grow wise in spiritual warfare,
to know his Provider and perceive his
and to be secretly confirmed in his
save by virtue of the experience which
A man can never learn what divine power
while he abides in comfort and spacious
Just as a man whose head is submerged
the water cannot breathe the subtle
is poured upon the atmosphere's empty
so he who immerses his mind in the
of the present life cannot take in
that is a perception of the new world.
It is a spiritual gift from God for
to perceive his sins.
This life has been given to you for
do not waste it in vain pursuits.
The cross is the door to mysteries.
this door the intellect makes entrance
the knowledge of heavenly mysteries.
knowledge of the cross is concealed
sufferings of the cross. The more we
in its sufferings, the greater the
we gain through the cross. For, as
says, 'As the sufferings of Christ
in us, so our consolation also abounds
Christ.' Now by consolation he means
which, being interpreted, is vision
Vision gives birth to consolation.
Prayer offered up at night possesses
power, more so than the prayer of the
Therefore all the righteous prayed
the night, while combating the heaviness
of the body and the sweetness of sleep
repelling bodily nature.
There is nothing which even Satan fears
much as prayer that is offered during
at night. And even if it is offered
distraction, it does not return empty,
perhaps that which is asked for is
He who despises the sick will not see
and the day of him who turns his face
a man grieved by affliction will become
The sons of the man who scorns the
of one suffering hardship will grope
way, being struck with blindness.
For unless those who travel on the
forward day by day, shortening their
- and, on the contrary, should they
in one place - the road before them
never diminish and they will never
at their destination. So it is with
If we do not constrain ourselves little
little, we shall never have the strength
to abstain from bodily things so as
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
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