St. Isaiah the Solitary was a monk in Scetis who lived around 370 and was a contemporary of St. Macarius the Great. He moved to Palestine after 431 and died there in great old age around 491 as a hermit near Gaza. He is known for 27 "texts" on guarding the intellect against demonic deception, some of which we share below. Unfortunately, the full text of St. Isaiah's writing was not available to this author in English, although a much longer text is available in Greek. We will look at some of these texts today and in the next issue:
["GUARDING THE INTELLECT" -- ST. ISAIAH THE SOLITARY]
-- There is among the passions an anger of the intellect, and this anger is in accordance with nature. Without anger a man cannot attain purity: he has to feel angry with all that is sown in him by the enemy. When Job felt this anger he reviled his enemies, calling them "dishonorable men of no repute, lacking everything good, whom I would not consider fit to live with the dogs that guard my flocks" (Job 30:1,4). He who wishes to acquire the anger that is in accordance with nature must uproot all self-will, until he establishes within himself the state natural to the intellect.
-- Let us stand firm in the fear of God, rigorously practicing the virtues and not giving our conscience cause to stumble. In the fear of God let us keep our attention fixed within ourselves, until our conscience achieves its freedom. Then there will be a union between it and us, and thereafter it will be our guardian, showing us each thing that we must uproot. But if we do not obey our conscience, it will abandon us and we shall fall into the hands of our enemies, who will never let us go. This is what our Lord taught us when He said: "Come to an agreement with your adversary quickly while you are with him in the road, lest he hand you over to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer and you are cast into prison" (Matthew 5:25). The conscience is called an "adversary" because it opposes us when we wish to carry out the desires of our flesh; and if we do not listen to our conscience, it delivers us into the hands of our enemies.
-- The monk should shut all the gates of his soul, that is, the senses, so that he is not lured astray. When the intellect sees that it is not dominated by anything, it prepares itself for immortality, gathering its senses together and forming them into one body.
-- If your intellect is freed from all hope in things visible, this is a sign that sin has died in you.
-- If your intellect is freed, the breach between it and God is eliminated.
-- The demons cunningly withdraw for a time in the hope that we will cease to guard our heart, thinking we have now attained peace; then they suddenly attack our unhappy soul and seize it like a sparrow. Gaining possession of it, they drag it down mercilessly into all kinds of sin, worse than those which we have already committed and for which we have asked forgiveness. Let us stand, therefore, with fear of God and keep guard over our heart, practicing the virtues which check the wickedness of our enemies.
-- Unless a man hates all the activity of this world, he cannot worship God. What then is meant by the worship of God? It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, not jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind. For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity. They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination. As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge.
-- When the intellect rescues the soul's senses from the desires of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion, the passions shamelessly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin; but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret, He, seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions at once.
-- He who receives no help when at war should feel no confidence when at peace.
-- When a man severs himself from evil, he gains an exact understanding of all the sins he has committed against God; for he does not see his sins unless he severs himself from them with a feeling of revulsion. Those who have reached this level pray to God with tears, and are filled with shame when they recall their evil love of the passions. Let us therefore pursue the spiritual way with all our strength, and God in His great mercy will help us. And if we have not guarded our hearts as our fathers guarded theirs, at least in obedience to God let us do all we can to keep our bodies sinless, trusting that at this time of spiritual dearth He will grant mercy to us together with His saints.
-- Examine yourself daily in the sight of God, and discover which of the passions is in your heart. Cast it out, and so escape His judgment.
-- Be attentive to your heart and watch your enemies, for they are cunning in their malice. In your heart be persuaded of this: it is impossible for a man to achieve good through evil means. That is why our Savior told us to be watchful, saying: "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there are that find it" (Matthew 7:14).
-- At the time of prayer, we should expel from our heart the provocation of each evil thought, rebutting it in a spirit of devotion so that we do not prove to be speaking to God with our lips, while pondering wicked thoughts in our heart. God will not accept from the hesychast a prayer that is turbid and careless, for everywhere Scripture tells us to guard the soul's organs of perception. If a monk submits his will to the law of god, then his intellect will govern in accordance with this law all that is subordinate to itself. It will direct as it should all the soul's impulses, especially its incensive power and desire, for these are subordinate to it. END
from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, trans. and eds., "The Philokalia: The Complete Text" (vol. 1), (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp. 22 - 28