The strength in weakness of the saints

6 October 2022

If you read what the holy Fathers wrote as regards their personal struggle to experience God in their lives, you see that they had the same or similar difficulties, temptations and even offences which we face. In this situation, the basic element which distinguished them was their desire, their longing, to move forward and achieve their aim, even if this effort involved failures.

When Saint Isaac the Syrian addressed monks, he divided people into three groups: the novices, those in the middle and the perfect. He concludes by essentially encouraging them that they should continue to want, seek and desire, even if they don’t achieve their aim. They should continue to study the holy scriptures, guard against negative thoughts and, in particular, ask God with diligent prayer and patience. He will then give them what they want and open the door for them, because of their humility. Since the mysteries are revealed to those who are lowly in spirit [1].

As regards their relationship to the Church, people these days are mostly characterized by indifference and rejection rather than hostility. Certainly the messages we send as ‘people of the Church’ aren’t such as would make them change their attitude. We all bear some responsibility commensurate with the kind of person we are, and our course is set by the personal choices each of us makes.

There are certainly people in our own day and age who want to strive but who find it difficult to achieve what they’re trying to do. They strive, they fall; they’re refreshed, they’re frustrated. Saint Isaac is quite clear: don’t stop wanting and desiring change. Pray and be patient. The final say lies with God and he reveals it to the humble.

Rapid advances, direct communication and ease of movement don’t encourage patience. We want everything to happen here and now. But it would seem that God doesn’t hurry. His way of life is different from ours and what we have to understand is that we’re called upon to live like him, not the other way round.

When we know how those have gone before us achieved sanctity, we realize that mostly they had will and desire and the power of God. These were activated by their awareness of their weakness and this was revealed to them by Grace ‘which heals the weak and supplies the deficient’. In this way, everything becomes easy, beautiful and joyful.

[1] Philokalia, Isaac the Syrian, ‘Ascetic Discourses (1-26).