Abba Isaac the Syrian: On that for fear of trials, the body becomes a friend of sin


ESSAY 47
On that for fear of trials, the body becomes a friend of sin
From the book “Ascetic Words of Abba Isaac the Syrian”

One of the holy fathers had said that for fear of trials, the body befriends sins, lest it be troubled and die; it is for this, that the Holy Spirit urges it to die, because He knows that if it does not die, it will not defeat sin. Thus, whoever desires the Lord to dwell within him, let him force his own body and serve God, and let him pursue the commandments of the Holy Spirit which are described by the Apostle Paul, and let him guard his soul from works of the flesh, as the same Apostle had written.

A body that is admixed with sin feels comfortable with works of the flesh and the spirit of God does not dwell within him. When the body is weakened through fasting and humility, the soul is reinforced through prayer. When the body becomes hard-pressed by trials through quietude and the deprivation of necessities to the point of nearing death, it customarily prays, by saying: “Let me live a while longer with the appropriate measure; I have already begun to stand on my own two feet, as I have been tested by such trials...” But if you become quiescent with your body during those trials and sorrows and allow it a small amount of respite, it will straight away begin to whisper flatteries little by little, until it convinces you to depart from your desert, for its flatteries are extremely powerful.

This is what it will “say” to you: “We are able to live virtuously, even in the world, for we have been tried excessively in the desert and we can continue with those same struggles in the world. Just test me, and if I don’t become the way you want, we can always return to the desert – see, the desert won’t go away...” Therefore do not believe whatever it “tells” you, even if it pleads with you excessively and makes you many promises; for it never does what it promises. If you do yield to its demands, it will cast you into many and major unseemly works, of which you will not be able to rid yourself.

When the body becomes weary from the trials and seeks to be rid of them, just tell it: “you will again desire uncleanness and the vulgar life”. And if it says to you: “It is a great sin, to kill yourself through hardships”, then again say to it: “I am killing myself, because I cannot tolerate living an unclean life; I would rather die here in the desert, than see the true death of my soul – which is the separation from God. It is of benefit to me to die here in the desert for the sake of prudence and my cleanness, rather than live a bad life in the world. I have chosen this death for my sins; let me submit myself to death for I have sinned before God and I no longer wish to aggravate Him. Why desire a life that is far away from God? I am submitting myself to these trials, lest I alienate myself from the celestial hope. What benefit will God have from this life if I live it badly, and anger Him?

Translation:  K. N.


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