These short quotes have been taken from The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac, Holy
Transfiguration Monastery 1984
1. 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 harbour with joy!
2.A man who craves esteem cannot be rid of the causes of grief.
3.Spiritual delight is not enjoyment found in things that exists outside the soul.
4.Through the toil of prayer and the anguish of your heart commune with those who
are grieved at heart, and the Source of mercy will be opened up to your petitions.
5.Beware of reading the doctrines of heretics for they, more than anything else, can
equip the spirit of blasphemy against you.
6.It is just as shameful for lovers of the flesh and the belly to search out spiritual
things as it is for a harlot to discourse on chastity.
7.Whenever you wish to make a beginning in some good work, first prepare yourself
for the temptations that will come upon you, and do not doubt the truth.
8. He who is able to suffer wrong with joy, though having means at hand to rebuff it,
has consciously received from God the consolation of his faith.
9.The man who endures accusations against himself with humility has arrived at
perfection. He is marvelled at by the holy angels, for there is no other virtue so great
and so hard to achieve.
10.When temptation overtakes the deceitful man, he does not have the presence of
mind to call upon God, or to expect salvation from Him, since in the days of his ease
he stood aloof from God's will.
11.Before the war begins, seek out your ally; before you fall ill, seek out your
physician; and before grievous things come upon you, pray, and in the time of your
tribulations you will find Him, and He will listen to you.
12.Before you stumble, call out and plead; before you make a vow, have ready what
things you promise, for they are your provisions afterwards.
13.The ark of Noah was built in the time of peace, and its timbers were planted by
him a hundred years beforehand. In the time of wrath the evil man perished, but the
ark became the shelter for the righteous.
14.Love the poor, and through them you will find mercy.
15.Do not disdain those who are handicapped from birth, because all of us will go to
the grave equally privileged.
16.Love sinners, but hate their works; and do not despise them for their faults, lest
you be tempted by the same trespasses.
17.It is better to avoid the passions by the recollection of the virtues than by
resisting and arguing with them. For when the passions leave their place and arise for
battle, they imprint on the mind images and idols. This warfare has great force, able
to weaken the mind and violently perturb and confuse a man's thinking. But if a man
acts by the first rule we have mentioned, when the passions are repulsed they leave
no trace in the mind.
18. Just as the dolphin stirs and swims about when the visible sea is still and calm,
so also, when the sea of the heart is tranquil and still from wrath and anger,
mysteries and divine revelations are stirred in her at all times to delight her.
19.That which befalls a fish out of water, befalls the mind that has come out of the
remembrance of God and wanders in the remembrance of the world.
20.Just as fish perish from lack of water, so the meditative movements that God
causes to blossom forth vanish from the heart of the monk who loves to dwell and
pass his life in company with worldly men.
21.Te more a man's tongue flees verbosity, the more his intellect is illumined so as
to be able to discern deep thoughts; for the rational intellect is befuddled by
22.Who does not love a humble and meek man? Only proud men and slanderers, who
are foreign to his work.
23.Flee from discussions of dogma as from an unruly lion; and never embark upon
them yourself, either with those raised in the Church, or with strangers.
24.The saints in heaven will not supplicate with prayer when their intellects have
been consumed up by the Spirit, but rather with awe struck wonder they dwell in that
25.The cell of a solitary is the cleft in the rock where God spoke with Moses, as the
26.I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the
scourge of love. Nay, what is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean,
those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater
torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the
heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment. It would be improper for
a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the
offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all.
The power of love works in two ways: it torments sinners, even as happens here
when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy f or those who
have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter
regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its charm.
27. On that day God will not judge us about psalmody, nor for the neglect of prayer,
but because by abandoning them, we have opened our door to the demons.
28.Stillness mortifies the outward senses and resurrects the inward movements,
whereas agitation does the opposite, that is, it resurrects the outward senses and
deadens the inward movements.
29.What is the sign that a man has attained to purity of heart, and when does a man
know that his heart has entered into purity? When he sees all men as good and none
appears to him to be unclean and defiled, then in truth, his heart is pure.
30.Whenever in your path you find unchanging peace, beware: you are very far from
the divine paths trodden by the weary feet of the saints. For as long as you are
journeying in the way to the city of the Kingdom and are drawing near the city of
God, this will be a sign for you: the strength of the temptations that you encounter.
And the nearer you draw close and progress, the more temptations will multiply
31.Faith is the door to mysteries. What the bodily eyes are to sensory objects, faith
is to the eyes of the intellect that gaze at hidden treasures.
32. Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all beatitude, and there
the blessed Paul partook of supernatural nourishment.
33. Until we find love, our labor is in the land of tares, and in the midst of tares we
both sow and reap, even if our seed is the seed of righteousness.
34.The man who has found love eats and drinks Christ every day and hour and so is
made immortal. 'Whoever eats of this bread', He says, 'which I will give him, will
never taste death.' Blessed is he who consumes the bread of love, which is Jesus! He
who eats of love eats Christ, the God over all, as John bears witness, saying, 'God is
35.Love is the Kingdom, which the Lord mystically promised His disciples to eat in His
Kingdom. For when we hear Him say, 'You shall eat and drink at the table of My
Kingdom,' what do we suppose we shall eat, if not love? Love is sufficient to nourish
a man instead of food and drink. This is the wine 'which makes glad the heart of
man.' Blessed is 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 have drunk this wine and became firm in virtue; the rich have drunk it and
desired poverty; the poor have drunk it and been enriched with hope; the sick have
drunk it and become strong; the unlearned have taken it and been made wise.
36.As it is not possible to cross over the great ocean without a ship, so no one can
attain to love without fear. This filthy sea, which lies between us and the paradise of
the heart, we may cross by the boat of repentance, whose 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 world to God, we shall be drowned in the sordid abyss.
37.The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner
he bears witness to His justice, accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it,
that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with
goodness! The aim of His design is the correction of men; and if it were not that, we
should be stripped of the honor of our free will, perhaps He would not even heal us by
38. A mind that has found spiritual wisdom is like a man who finds a fully equipped
ship at sea, and once he has gone aboard, it brings him from the sea of this world to
the isle of the age to come. In like manner, the perception of the future age while in
this world is like an islet in the ocean; and he who approaches it toils no longer amid
the billows of the appearances of this age.
39.A swimmer dives naked into the sea until he finds a pearl; and a wise monk,
stripped of everything, journeys through life until he finds in himself the Pearl, Jesus
Christ; and when he finds Him, he does not seek to acquire anything else besides
40.A serpent guards its head when its body is being crushed, and a wise monk guards
his faith at all times, for this is the origin of his life.
41.A dog that licks a rasp drinks its own blood and does not know its own harm
because of the sweetness of the blood; and a monk who stoops to drink vainglory,
consumes his life and does not perceive his harm because of the fleeting sweetness.
42.Worldly glory is a reef in the sea covered by water; for as this lies unknown to the
sailor until his vessel strikes it, cracks up, is filled with water and sinks, so vain glory
does to a man until it drowns and destroys him.
43.Do not approach the words of the mysteries contained in the divine Scriptures
without prayer and beseeching God for help, but say: Lord, grant me to perceive the
power in them! Reckon prayer to be the key to the true understanding of the divine
44. A small but always persistent discipline is a great force; for a soft drop falling
persistently, hollows out hard rock.
45. As children are not born without a mother, so passions are not born without
distraction of the mind, and sin is not committed without parley with the passions.
46. Ease and idleness are the destruction of the soul and they can injure her more
than the demons.
47. If you compel your body when it is weak to labors that exceed its strength, you
will instil darkness upon darkness into your soul and bring greater confusion upon her.
48. Mercy and lengality in one soul is like a man who worships God and the idols in
49. As grass and fire cannot coexist in one place, so legality and mercy cannot abide
in one soul.
50. As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in
comparison God's use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy.
51. Be persecuted, but persecute not; be crucified, but crucify not; be wronged, but
wrong not; be slandered, but slander not. Have clemency, not zeal, with respect to
evil. Lay hold of goodness, not legality.
52. Be every man's friend, but in your mind remain alone.
53. If you cannot be merciful, at least speak as though you are a sinner. If you are
not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot be assiduous, at
least in your thought be like a sluggard. If you are not victorious, do not exalt
yourself over the vanquished. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages
his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.
54.No man has understanding if he is not humble, and whoever lacks humility is
devoid of understanding. No man is humble if he is not peaceful, and he who is not
peaceful is not humble. And no man is peaceful without rejoicing.
55.We should not be exceedingly grieved when we make a slip in some matter, but
only if we persist in it; for even the perfect often slip, but to persist therein is total
56.There is no knowledge that is not impoverished, however rich it should be; but
heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith.
57.Truly, confusion should be called (if permissible) the chariot of the devil, because
Satan is always eager to mount upon it as a charioteer, and bearing with him the
throng of the passions, he invades the wretched soul and plunges her into the pit of
58.The recompense is not given for labor but for humility. He who maltreats the latter
loses the former.
59.Christ demands not the doing of the commandments, but the soul's amendment,
because of which He gave His commandments to rational beings.
60. A gift free of trials is a disaster to those who receive it.
61.To choose what is good belongs to the good will of the man who desires it; but to
accomplish the choice of this good will belongs to God.
62. His path has been trodden from the ages and from all generations by the cross
and by death. How is it with you, that the afflictions on the path seem to you to be
off the path? Do you not wish to follow the steps of the saints? Or have you plans for
devising some way of your own, and of journeying therein without suffering.
63. The path of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into Heaven by means of
ease, for we know where the way of ease leads and how it ends.
64.In truth, without afflictions there is no life.
65.The carnal man fears death like a beast fears slaughter. The rational man fears
the judgment of God. But the man who has become a son is adorned by love and is
not taught by the rod of fear; he says, 'But I and my father's house will serve the
66. A merciful man is the physician of his own soul. Like a violent wind he drives the
darkness of the passions out of his inner self.
67. Conquer evil men by your gentle kindness, and make zealous men wonder at your
goodness. Put the lover of legality to shame by your compassion. With the afflicted
be afflicted in mind. Love all men, but keep distant from all men.
68. As long as you have feet, run after work, before you are bound with that bond
which cannot be loosed again once it is put on. As long as you have hands, stretch
them out to Heaven in prayer, before your arms fall from their joints, and though you
desire to draw them up, you will not be able. As long as you have fingers, cross
yourself in prayer, before death comes loosing the comely strength of their sinews. As
long as you have eyes, fill them with tears before that hour when dust will cover your
black clothes and your eyes will be fixed in one direction in an unseeing gaze and you
will not know it. Yes, fill your eyes with tears as long as your heart is controlled by
the power of discernment and before your soul is shaken by her departure from it and
the heart is left like a house deserted by its owner.
69. Silence is a mystery of the age to come, but words are instruments of this world.
70. The passions are like dogs accustomed to lick blood in butchers' shops. When
these are barred from what their habit feeds on, they stand in front of the doors and
howl until the force of their previous custom is spent.
71. A man who sits in stillness and who receives experience of God's kindness has
little need of persuasive argument, and his soul is not sick with the disease of
unbelief, like those who are doubtful of the truth. For the testimony of his own
understanding is sufficient to persuade him above endless words having no
experience behind them.
72. Know with certainty, therefore, that to stand is not within your power, nor does it
pertain to your virtue, but it belongs to grace herself which carries you upon the palm
of her hand, that you may not be alarmed.
73.Humility, even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses; but without
her, works are of no profit to us, and rather prepare for us great evils.
74. Not every quiet man is humble, but every humble man is quiet.
75.Walk before God in simplicity and not with knowledge. Simplicity is accompanied
by faith; but subtle and intricate deliberations, by conceit; and conceit is
accompanied by separation from God.
76. When you fall down before God in prayer, become in your thought like an ant, like
the creeping things of the earth, like a leech, and like a tiny lisping child. Do not say
anything before Him with knowledge, but with a child's manner of thought draw near
God and walk before Him, that you may be counted worthy of that paternal
providence which fathers have for their small children.
77. A man cannot receive spiritual knowledge unless he is converted and becomes
like a little child. Only then does he experience that delight which belongs to the
Kingdom of the Heavens. By 'Kingdom of the Heavens' the Scriptures mean spiritual
78. It is not possible without temptations for a man to grow wise in spiritual warfare,
to know his Provider and perceive his God, and to be secretly confirmed in his faith,
save by virtue of the experience which he has gained.
79. A man can never learn what divine power is, while he abides in comfort and
80. Just as a man whose head is submerged in the water cannot breathe the subtle
air which is poured upon the atmosphere's empty opening, so he who immerses his
mind in the cares of the present life cannot take in the breath that is a perception of
the new world.
81.It is a spiritual gift from God for a man to perceive his sins.
82.This life has been given to you for repentance; do not waste it in vain pursuits.
83.The cross is the door to mysteries. Through this door the intellect makes entrance
into the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. The knowledge of the cross is concealed in
the sufferings of the cross. The more we participate in its sufferings, the greater the
perception we gain through the cross. For, as the Apostle says, 'As the sufferings of
Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.' Now by consolation
he means theoria, which, being interpreted is vision of soul. Vision gives birth to
84. Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more so than the prayer of
the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combating
the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling bodily nature.
85.There is nothing which even Satan fears so much as prayer that is offered during
vigilance at night. And even if it is offered with distraction, it does not return empty,
unless perhaps that which is asked for is unsuitable.
86. He who despises the sick will not see light, and the day of him who turns his face
from a man grieved by affliction will become darkness. The sons of the man who
scorns the voice of one suffering hardship will grope their way, being struck with
87. For unless those who travel on the road go forward day by day, shortening their
journey - and, on the contrary, should they stand in one place - the road before them
will never diminish and they will never arrive at their destination. So it is with us
also. If we do not constrain ourselves little by little, we shall never have the strength
to abstain from bodily things so as to gaze toward God.
Sayings of the Saints
|Pearls of Saint Isaac of Nineveh