Today we will conclude our study of St. Isaac of Syria and his "Directions on Spiritual Training." St. Isaac teaches us more about the distinctions between different kinds of knowledge and how we should evaluate and respond to those different types. He also gives an excellent discussion of liturgical worship and how the believer should approach the services and rituals of the Church. As a convert from a non-liturgical background, I find his discussion of this subject especially valuable in learning how to enter fully into the Liturgy and the prayers which the Church establishes for us.
-- Memory of good things and memory of bad things show us, like a pointing finger, either the shamefulness of our thoughts, or the height of our life, and each, according to its nature, strengthens in us thoughts and movements belonging either to the right or to the left. Our traffic with them is in the secrecy of our mind; but this mental traffic depicts our life and in it we can see ourselves.
-- There is a love like a small lamp, fed by oil, which goes out when the oil is ended; or like a rain-fed stream which goes dry, when rain no longer feeds it. But there is a love, like a spring gushing from the earth, never to be exhausted. The first is human love; the second - is Divine, and has God as its source.
-- Do not doubt the power of our prayers in established services, if it happens that prayers or hourly reading are not followed by strong stimulation and constant contrition.
-- Do you wish to enjoy the words of your services and to understand the meaning of the words of the Spirit that you utter? Then disregard completely the quantity of verses, take no account of your skill in giving rhythm to the lines, abandon te customary loud chanting, but let your mind sink deep into study of the words of the Spirit, till your soul is roused to heights of understanding and thereby is moved to glorify God or to salutary mourning. There is no peace for the mind in slavish work (in merely reading the set prayers); and disturbance of mind deprives it of the taste of the meaning and of understanding and disperses thoughts. Disturbance may truthfully be called the devil's chariot, for it is Satan's practice to drive the mind like a charioteer, and, carrying with him a load of passions, to enter the luckless soul and plunge it into confusion.
-- Do not oppose the thoughts, which the enemy sows in you, but rather cut off all converse with them by prayer to God. We have not always strength enough so to oppose hostile thoughts as to stop them; on the contrary, in such attempts they frequently inflict us with a wound that is long in healing. Despite all your wisdom and all your good intentions, the enemies will succeed in dealing you a blow. But even if you conquer them, the filth of such thoughts will pollute your mind and their stench will long cling in your nostrils. But if you use the first method, you will be free of all this and of fear; for there is no help but God. END
from E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, "Early Fathers from the Philokalia," (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 196 - 198