Another Word from St. Isaac of Syria

solitudevalaamI prostrate myself, Lord, at the footstool of your feet and at your holy right hand which has fashioned and made me a human being capable of becoming aware of you. But I have sinned and done wrong, both in myself and before you, for I have abandoned holy converse with you and have given my days over to converse with the passions. I beg of you, Lord, do not set against me the sins of my youth, the ignorance of my old age, and the frailty of my nature…Rather, turn my heart towards you, away from the troublesome distraction of the passions; cause to dwell within me a hidden light. Your acts of goodness towards me always anticipate any kind of volition on my part to do well and any readiness for virtue on the part of my heart. You have never held back your care to test my freewill; rather, as with the care of a father towards his young son, so has your care for me run after me,…for you knew all the time that, even less than a child do I know whither I am traveling.

At the door of your compassion do I knock, Lord. Send aid to my scattered impulses, which are intoxicated with the multitude of the passions and the power of darkness. You can see my sores hidden within me: stir up contrition – though not corresponding to the weight of my sins, for if I receive full awareness of the extent of my sins, Lord, my soul would be consumed with the bitter pain from them…. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart in return for your mercies which I have experienced in latter days; for you came and renewed me with an awareness of the New World.

From The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev


I am particularly struck by St. Isaac’s words:

Your acts of goodness towards me always anticipate any kind of volition on my part to do well and any readiness for virtue on the part of my heart. You have never held back your care to test my freewill;

It is an excellent testimony and commentary on the mercy of God. His goodness towards us “always anticipates any kind of volition on my part to do well.” There is grace given to us even before we choose the good. We are not placed in a system of rewards and punishments.  “You have never held by your care to test my freewill.”

God knows us – it’s that simple – as well as His love. If He knows us, He does not need to test us. And His love for us is such as to set a merciful path before us.

This is not to say that everyone has it easy. Much to the contrary. But by grace, every hardship we receive is not to test or to punish, but is given as opportunity to share in the sufferings of Christ – if we will but receive it.

What human suffering did Christ not make His own? He seeks unity with us in all things. And the “door of the treasure-house” remains open for us.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





25 responses to “Another Word from St. Isaac of Syria”

  1. Katia Avatar

    Father Bless,

    Another beautiful Word, Thank you!

    Why God did not let the ‘foolish’ virgins in but left them out? Why He did not have had mercy on them?

  2. Mary Avatar

    In icons of Theophany, the Jordan flows backward. I live in time and go forward hoping, by God’s mercy, to come to the Cross. I also have a past. It was certainly not the path I had imagined I was walking, and I was not alone along it. As our future is transformed in Christ, and this moment, what about our past? All of it, back through our parents and their parents and all the way to Adam and Eve?

  3. Jane Avatar

    Mary – One of my favourite verses is Joel 2.25, where the Lord says “I will restore to you the years that the locust has eaten.” This for me is the redemption of all the sins and foolishness of the past.
    Glory to God!

  4. fatherstephen Avatar


    Of course, it’s a parable, and not an actual event – thus it is told to illustrate a particular point. I find it similar to the parable where those without wedding garments are thrown out.

    In this case they have not acquired the oil required. How exactly the oil is to be understood would like vary from Father to Father. The Holy Spirit, the mercy of God by showing mercy (the word for oil and the word for mercy in Greek are very close), it is all under the general heading of preparing ourselves. And we prepare ourselves by drawing near to God. We cannot manufacture our own Divine gifts. We can only draw near and accept them.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    I think redemption works in both directions (time wise). The past is not exactly frozen. The Lamb was slain “before the foundations of the earth” so that all that is needed for healing and redemption are eternally available. Thus we pray for those who have died – as I know they do for us.

  6. Katia Avatar

    Thank you father Stephen!

    Oil = Holy Spirit what do you think about this?

  7. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, This may seem an elementary set of questions but I’m having a difficult time understanding what suffering does for us and exactly why we must participate in it? It seems too easy at times to fall into despair, which is the road that many take. Since we were already suffering and Christ took that on, why then is it so difficult to partake in the resurrection? It seems as if we can not participate in this until we have walked a very thin line for many miles. I’ve read so many things on these topics and try to live out the simple things that I have learned but very little seems to break through. Sometimes being aware of sin can make one feel much worse, especially if one feels glued down by sin. I hope these things are somewhat clear. Please pray for me as I seek a clearer understanding of the Love and Mercy of God, and learn how to participate in and feel their reality surrounding me.


  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Oil as Holy Spirit would certainly work – I think of St. Seraphim of Sarov in that context.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Stephen W,

    A key is in your statement, “learn how to participate in and feel their reality surrounding me,” for this is very hard indeed. We are aware of suffering by its very character – it exists on the same level as sin. But the resurrection is “eschatological” belonging to the final things. It is already breaking in on our reality but often we do not know how to be aware, etc. I think of the phrase in the liturgy in which give thanks for the blessings “known and not known.” There’s more resurrection at work in you than you know…

  10. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, Thank you. Some day’s and in some seasons this truth of the resurrection is felt more acutely. The difficult part of the Christian life is holding on to the promise of better things to come, not fully possessing what we truly desire, yet continuing, feeling stuck in the patterns of our own sin. Sometimes it feels like a catch 22. We develop these patterns, sometimes when we are young before understanding the consequences and then later find ourselves immobilized and unable to do the very things that will bring salvation. There is something appealing in the life of a monastic, who has essentially died to this world. To figure out how to do this in my present setting is a daunting task. Basically in some way’s, I intuitively know what I should do but find myself unable to move. I have been told to pray for strength but so far see only weakness. Maybe this is a step in the right direction but I often wonder how long this step can last?


  11. Bruce Avatar

    Stephen W….

    Thanks for your thoughts. I find that often my struggles are simply a confusion about who God is and who I am. Often, I seem to want to elevate and ‘ordain’ my desires/selfishness and relegate God to a errand boy to give me what I think I want or need or maybe even deserve!

    If I begin to realize that He is God and I’m not, I can begin to become more open minded and willing to accept His desires for me and let go of my own. I also can stop fighting Him and start supporting Him. Alot of my struggle and misery is self imposed. His commandments can be thought of as nothing more than a way for us to express our love for Him and thus truly know Him….If you love me, obey my commandments (John 4:15) Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will know God (Matt 5:8).

    Do I love God enough to let go of my desire to be comfortable? successful? powerful? respected?….how much faith do I have that He knows what is best, not me….Isn’t sacrifice a word which has alot to do with a true experience of Love? Isn’t my job to stop asking “why did this happen” and start asking “how do I serve”

    Maybe one way for me to see struggles differently is to begin to have a deepseated faith that the seeds of growth are planted in my struggles. If I remain open as a student, my struggles are filled with lessons I need to learn from a Teacher that loves me and wants to guide me. When I’m willing to remain certain He is God…He is Good…He fillest all things….even my struggles, my attitude about struggles change. Maybe true growth for me is when I can honestly find a sense of gratitude for my struggles as invitations for a new part of me to be more deeply united to Christ.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    You did not say whether you were Orthodox – but matters such as these are excellent to take up with your confessor. Mine has been a great help to me over the years. Though we are aware of our sins and should confess them – our attention belongs with God. He must increase while we must decrease – and in that order. Jesus said, “Be of good heart, I have overcome the world.”

  13. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Fr. Stephen, Yes, I have been Orthodox for a few years now. I understand confession as a sacrament of the Church and that the parish priest usually fills this role. The issue that I have at times is to know if the priest is necessarily the one that should always fill this role. How does one know this? My experience is that most parish priests our usually not spiritual fathers, although they may act as such. What expectations should one have on a priest and when does one know when to search elsewhere? if this is even possible. Is having a true spiritual father still possible? All I know is that I need something more. Something more daily and consistent. I would like to move more from the general towards personal accountability. No one seems to have the time for this sort of thing, where academics are often more important than real relationships. I really just want to do the right thing and I also realize that it could be my understanding that is skewed. I wonder though since I’ve had the same thoughts for a couple years and have spoken to others that feel the same. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  14. Deb Seeger Avatar

    I am continually amazed when I read your blog how it seems to peer inside of me, and know exactly what I am wrestling with internally. These words of St. Isaac of Syria are exactly where I am tonight.

  15. Yudi Kris Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen….
    together Deb Seeger, Bruce and so many others I feel and experience that this blog is so great and surely a blessing for many people. And I am really wonder how great and wise St. Isaac of Syria was, awesome!

    Glory to God for all things!

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    I feel truly blessed by so many readers – and what we share in common in Christ. St. Isaac is exquisite.

  17. Lena Avatar

    Stephen W,

    If I may, there is a good book on confession and about finding spiritual father too

    Confession: Doorway to Forgiveness by Jim Forest.

    Hope to be of help.

  18. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Lena, Thanks. I will take a look.

    Fr. Stephen, Is this something worth fighting for (finding a spiritual father) or should one except what is given, even if the situation does not seem to meet the needs? Is this just a crazy idea that converts get from reading too many books on the way things should really be? I have heard the difference between a preist who is a confessor and a spiritual father described in terms of a general doctor compared to that of a specialist. But who could not use a specialist if we are honest?

  19. Audora Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Father, bless!

    I read recently (can’t remember now in which book of the teetering pile by my bedside this came) that the issue with the guests being thrown out of the wedding banquet for lack of proper attire was one of rebellion: that on these occasions, the host provided the garments to the guests. That these particular guests were not dressed for the occasion was not lack of access but a rejection of the host’s gift.

    Does this seem a reasonable understanding of that passage?

  20. katia Avatar

    Hi Stephen W

    Hope this would be of little help.

    The spiritual father and obedience to him.

    A spiritual father is a priest to whom a person regularly comes for confession and spiritual guidance. Just as a person frequents the same doctor for his illnesses, because being familiar with his ailments and physical background, the treatment would be more successful, so should he stay with the one priest for his spiritual therapy. The relationship with him should be built on sincerity, understanding and trust. Repentance should always be undertaken freely and not under duress.

    A spiritual father should not offer uncalled for advice or assume the role of a sagacious “starets.” The responsibility of the spiritual father is to help individuals realise their deficiencies, remember their sins and show genuine repentance. If the repentant, with prayer and reliance on God, asks his priest for spiritual advice, God (in recognition of the seeker’s faith) would implant into the spiritual father as to what to say to that individual.

    Although it is desirable to have the same spiritual father on an ongoing basis, it is certainly not essential condition for the act of repentance. In essence, God cures our spiritual sores, while the priest acts as a “guide” to His grace.

    By Bishop Alexander Mileant

  21. katia Avatar

    Hi Stephen W

    might answer another question

    “…. Still, I have a conviction that I know another reason why God has given us so few (if any) spiritual elders. Let me quote from the book of Proverbs:

    “A wise son heareth his father’s instruction; but a scorner heareth not rebuke.” (13.1)

    “Open rebuke is better than secret love.” (27.5)

    “Correct thy son, and He shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.” (29.16)

    But on the other side:

    “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes..” (12.15)

    “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.”

    Perhaps the words “rebuke” and “reproof” are a bit harsh for us genteel folk. We prefer to believe that we are open-minded, educated, and teachable. Shall I show you my degrees?

    This isn’t what Solomon was talking about. To be instructed, or rebuked, is to be shown that I am on the wrong path and heading in a direction that will harm or destroy me. It is to be shown that there has been a moral or a spiritual error on my part, or that I have come to call sin “habit” and evil “good.”

    Well, no one wants to be corrected. NO ONE! Our pride is too big for that. I want, I need to believe that I am a good man, that I have figured it out, that I am on the right path, loved and esteemed by all. I hate it when someone shows me my error. I am embarrassed and I get furious. After all, I am the Priest; who dares to correct ME??? In confession, I share just enough to show my “humility” but I hide enough to maintain the facade that I am the right man on the right path. If I share too much, I run the risk that Father will correct me. Hmmm…I can’t have that.

    Of course, it is a terrible risk to speak any “negative” word to anyone, even to a friend. It is possible that you will lose them. Few priests have the courage to truly correct people. They know that if they were to “rebuke” someone, chances are that person will become hurt or angry and leave the church in a snit. Priest’s learn to walk on eggs and offer little if any spiritual advice during confession. Instead of soul saving words of instruction, they give “helpful hints for hurtful habits.” Some people ask for correction, but even then a priest will walk very carefully.

    To be teachable doesn’t mean that I attend class to learn some new and interesting facts about the Babylonians. It means that I begin to have a profound distrust in my own understanding. It means that I realize that without the perspective of others, I will walk blindly into the pit. I begin to understand the full scope of my ego and how it makes me “wise in my own eyes.” I come to appreciate those who love me enough to speak a word of caution to me knowing that they risk losing me. I believe that “open rebuke is better than hidden love.” I realize that even the humblest of God’s servants can be my teacher. I quit defending my position and I stop my self-justification. Basically, I shut up and listen, even if it hurts.

    If we are unwilling or unable to be instructed, why do we need elders? What would they do with their time? I think this may be why God has sent us so very few, if any.”

    By Fr. John Moses

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Generally, your spiritual father should be your confessor and parish priest – generally. He is responsible for your soul before God. Sometimes we should not be so proud and accept what we are given and pray that God give them the wisdom they need.

  23. Stephen W Avatar
    Stephen W

    Sorry to belabor a point. I am attempting to stay fairly general here in this format. I beleive in what you say and I am not trying to be ungrateful. I have been given a great weight not because of my own sin or pride, although of course we are all responsible for this in some way. There are just times that a parish preist seems to busy and lacks the abilities to deal with unfathomable depths of pain. Some are too uncomfortable with certain things and wish to avoid them entirely. Would it be out of the question to receive a blessing from a priest to seek counsel elsewhere?

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    Stephen W.,
    That is always possible. I have given such blessings myself.

  25. Basic News Avatar

    I have given such blessings myself.

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