Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Metropolitan Ephrem on Isaac the Athonite

Metropolitan Ephrem’s homily on the twelfth Anniversary of the repose of Archimandrite Isaac Atallah, delivered at the Church of St. George in Hamatoura July 16, 2010-08-04. The Arabic original can be found here.

Be Brave

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.

Beloved, we have come here on this day to pray and raise a living memorial for the Monk Isaac on the twelfth anniversary of his repose. He lived for a time in this monastery and practiced asceticism here before being forced by historical circumstances to leave to go and be an ascetic on the Holy Mountain.

This memorial is fitting for us, so that we might remember and know all those monks and ascetics who lived and practiced asceticism and consecrated themselves to the Lord, so that we the faithful might know the substance of monasticism, the reason why it came into being and why God permitted it to exist in this world! Monasticism spread strongly from the fourth century and this, as you, is after the end of the first persecutions against Christians and the victory of Saint Constantine the Great and his establishing the Byzantine Empire.

At this point in history many people became Christians according to the faith of their leader. This is well-known. It led to the Christian life becoming colder. For this reason some Christians zealously wanted to closely maintain the life of the Gospel, imitating the Lord Jesus Christ and following the Gospel commandments. Thus some started to leave the cities and the world in order to hasten to quiet. This quiet is necessary for beginners because man is affected by his surroundings because of his weakness. But they went further than that in their imitation of the Lord Jesus and His teachings because they did not only seek external quiet but also interior quiet that is, to quiet their nerves, their desires, their passions. They were helped to achieve this by grace, the grace of God. Through this they are able to be consecrated to the Lord, in the love of the Lord.

Man cannot love God or love his neighbor if he only loves himself! This is why the Lord Jesus said, “he who wants to follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is the ascetic way that many have walked since the fourth century, and especially in our lands because it arose in Egypt and Syria and extended to Iraq and Mesopotamia and to Iran to the Far East and then to Asia Minor, Turkey and Greece.

What good is this ascetic way for the world?

The monk purifies himself but he also purifies his surroundings! Because when God’s grace ‘sits’ in a person, when it fills the heart, it pours out to others. A single holy ascetic changes his surroundings an builds around himself a whole world! This is what we need today and at all times so that the entire world does not fall into sin and worship idols! That is, worship their passions and all the material things in this word, especially corruption. We need that so that the world worships the living God mentioned in the Gospel today when it spoke about the Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist. This is how man becomes holy.

This is the way in which Abuna Isaac walked! Those who saw him know this, his brothers who are present here today. From his youth he yearned for quiet and he fled from him home to the wilderness where he could be alone with God and be filled with His Holy Spirit. This is the way in which he walked and in which he was raised. God wanted him to go to Balamand Monastery and from there to this Monastery of Our Lady of Hamatoura and afterwards to the Holy Mountain where he ended his life in peace and repentance.

Father Isaac was hard on himself at first because he was persistent and watchful in order to be with God and to follow His commandments. He brought up his disciples in this way, just as he brought other up. His good memory is deep on the Holy Mountain. He was a brave and courageous man who spoke the truth and did not fear.

This way requires courage. This courage can only come from God because man is weak and fearful. However he was not afraid because he was a man who exerted great effort on himself and God gave him this power. For this reason his memory remains deep in all those who knew him. Father Isaac bore witness that God is the only necessary thing. This world and the material things in it, food and drink, none of them are necessary, but God alone is what is sufficient for us. This was the witness of Father Isaac. He was not attached to this world. He showed all that the world does not suffice and that there is eternal life with Jesus Christ waiting for us all, amen.

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