Scripture, Prayer, and Life

I wonder too at people who, when they see someone labouring at reading the Holy Scriptures, assiduously searching out the insights contained in them, always engaged in these and suchlike meditations on this subject of the hidden ministry, address him with some truly crass words that possess no perception or understanding, such as, “However much you read or toil away, your labour is useless.” Even more so in the case of people who speak along the following lines: “What is the point of your searching out, and what advantage do you get by making yourselves idle as you hunt for spiritual meanings and the such like? Active work is what is required. If we do what we know about, we do not need any immense labour over the Scriptures or things of that sort.”

Such people do not realize what they are saying, and they are unaware that this very thing—namely that a person’s intellect be filled with the thought of the divine economy and the continual recollection of that, which stems from the wondrous reflection sown in the intellect by the reading of Scripture and the search for hidden things—constitutes the complete performance and sum of our Lord’s commandments.

For someone to fulfil works which are performed just with the body is the way and norm of secular people. But he whose recollection is continually bound in with our Lord by means of the reading of Scripture, prayer, the search to this end involving the stirrings of the mind, consolation and hope of what lies hidden: who, by means of these, harnesses his intellect, preventing it from wandering among the passions; by means, too, of the delight that comes from converse with God—such a person has fixed in himself all the works of excellence; he has brought them to complete fulfilment, with nothing lacking. Whereas all those other people who labour at various stages in all kinds of excellent things, are below this person on the road of the commandments.

Let us rejoice, then, and give thanks to God that we have been held worthy, even for a small moment, to be able to escape from chatter and talk with the passions, and even though we may be occupied with them under the guise of struggle—for we are, albeit just for one moment, through converse with some excellent meditation, above struggles and meditating on the fight with, and images of, the passions. And this cannot be acquired without the continual reading of Scripture in stillness and the reflective search for things hidden, and prayer.

The reading of Scripture manifestly is the fountainhead that gives birth to prayer—and by these two things we are transported in the direction of the love of God whose sweetness is poured out continually in our hearts like honey or a honeycomb, and our souls exult at the taste which the hidden ministry of prayer and the reading of Scripture pour into our hearts.

St Isaac the Syrian. The Second Part, XXIX.1-5. Translation by Sebastian Brock (CSCO 555).

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