Saint Paisios and Saint Isaac the Syrian: St. Paisios also told me: “Read it, little by little, it is so ‘vitamin-rich’ that you cannot read more than two pages and understand them. Then go back, go back and never say ‘I finished St. Isaac’. The end of the perfects is endless. And Saint Isaac the Syrian is one of the perfects, of the great Saints!”
[Spotify/Apple Podcasts/Google Podcasts] This English translation of the sermon of Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou (Cyprus) was recorded for otelders (Orthodox Teaching of the Elders) by Peter Eliades.
The original Greek sermon was delivered in Astromeritis, Cyprus, on September 27th, 2021. It is available online here: https://youtu.be/MNr9wZ5T6YU
[Transcript] Metropolitan Neophytos of Morphou:
Along with Saint Neofytos, who is known to us also through the many miracles he performs, thus the many celebrations in each church of Cyprus and holy icons of his exist everywhere.
Today, I want to present in your love, a Saint who was named by the great modern Saint Paisios as the “much wronged Saint of the church”.
I am talking about an even older Saint of our church, a Saint, an ascetic from Syria, thus his name—St. Isaac the Syrian—who lived during the 7th century in the area of Mesopotamia. He lived and practice asceticism there and left us as I have said and written in a book, “the Doctorate (if the use of the term is permitted) of the Ascetic State of every fighting orthodox Christian.”
There is nothing more superior to recommend somebody to read, regardless of whether he is an amateur in the ascetic life or he in a mediocre or in a state of enlightment, but the writings of Saint Isaac the Syrian.
Saint Paisios, who cherished him, used to say to us and to many visiting him that:
“The worth of the book “Ascetics” by St. Isaac the Syrian is equal in value to ten libraries full of patristic books”.
This book was written in the Syrian language during the 9th century. Two monks of the monastery of St. Savvas the Sanctified in Palestine who were well-aware of the Syrian and the Greek language translated this book in Greek.
From then on, it never stopped being translated in all the languages of the world, it was even translated in Japanese.
But, we being captured by the modern passion of laziness and “mediocrity” as Saint Porphyrios used to say for us the modern Greeks, not the old ones, us, the new ones, who were corrupted by the consumerism and the atheist words of Europe.
“These two things weave the shroud of the [Greek] nation” [Saint Porphyrios used to say].
Who can now read the beautiful language [of Ancient Greek]?
Yet, I will read you just one page so you can realize how understandable is this language, our language, the Greek one.
And what crime is committed by the so-called modern Ministries of Education so that this language is not taught—as it should—in all classes … we should start from primary school and until we reach secondary school, we should have already attained at least the level of knowledge required for the study of the original language of the Gospel [Ancient Greek]. But that is an issue for another time.
Before I move on and complete my homily as I hope that at least one or two of you will leave this place with the desire to study these books, either laymen or clergy …
Saint Paisios used to tell me in person “You, among the many flaws you have, one flaw of yours is that you are a bookworm.”
This is not a good thing. You do not leave much time to your nous for prayer. You always prefer reading. This will be apparent as a problem later on. Right now you cannot realize it, you even think it’s an advantage.
“Those books my son of the holy fathers are to be read little by little but every single day. And when I say “little”, two chapters from the Holy Gospel, three sittings [“kathismata”] of the Psalter and two pages from Saint Isaac!”
Saint Paisios had an icon in his cell, a paper icon … not like the aristocratic ones of ours …
A paper icon in which St. Isaac is seated and writes his “Ascetics” with a feather as there was no pens back them. The people of the time used to write with a feather of a big bird and ink.
Saint Neofytos and all the Saints, this is how they wrote their writings with a feather.
I am telling you this because it’s important and it’s a joyful narration so I can help you rest a bit.
Saint Paisios was so excited by these ascetic writings of Saint Isaac the Syrian and as he was watching this paper icon of the Saint sitting and writing turns to him and says:
“My Saint Isaac, I like to highlight the books, give me your feather so I can highlight the whole book! There is not a single word that is without value! A sentence that is not light of Christ! Give me your feather so I can highlight the whole book.”
And not only did he make this thought, but he wrote it down on his book so that today exists the book he was reading with the words: “My Saint give me your feather so I can highlight the whole book.”
Such was the value he discovered and spiritual food for his soul!
He also told me: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will have one book open on your desk, Saint Isaac the Syrian. Never finish him [meaning read the book again and again]! regardless of how many years you live.
If you visit my office, even if all the other books are closed, Saint Isaac is always open.
St. Paisios also told me: “Read it, little by little, it is so “vitamin-rich” that you cannot read more than two pages and understand them.”
“Then go back, go back and never say ‘I finished St. Isaac’. The end of the perfects is endless.”
“And Saint Isaac the Syrian is one of the perfects, of the great Saints!”
So, I read every day one or two pages of St. Isaac and highlight.
One day, when I was in Evrychou, I was so excited by what I was reading that I remembered the feather!
And I say “My Saint Isaac, Saint Paisios was right! Every single word of yours is gold and it must be highlighted!”
“Saint Paisios, send me a feather so I can highlight the whole book” I told him.
A few days later, that is four or five days, a spiritual child of ours and a very close friend of father Iakovos [our Archimandrite] arrives at the Metropolis of Morphou to visit.
Vassilis from Thessaloniki comes into our office and tells me:
“Metropolitan, I brought you a gift. I am not sure if you will like it but since I know that you are always in front of a book …
I thought bringing you a gift which the ancient scholars, the educated ones had always in their hand.
I thought he must have brought me a Parker pen …
I open a rectangle box and what do you think was inside it, Marios?
I say: “Lord have mercy, the Saints hear even our jokes!”
Inside this book that we published, we added the photo of the feather. Here it is!
I wrote under the picture: “The feather sent by Saint Paisios to highlight the Ascetics of our favorite Saint Isaac the Syrian.
From then on, we also made him a beautiful holy icon, the one you venerate here.
He wears this eastern “sarikion” on his head.
Now, summing up and in order to proceed to the Six Psalms [“Exapsalmos”] I will read you one page. In Greek as translated by the fathers in the 9th century so you can realize the depth of the Holy Spirit. Because all these writings are not St. Isaac’s, they are the result of the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
Before that, let me tell you why St. Paisios used to speak of St. Isaac as the ‘wronged’ [Saint].
In the synaxaria and the liturgical books the Saint was not mentioned.
Some pious, mostly monks, aware of his ascetic, theological, neptic, therapeutic value used to honor him next to the other—also great writer from Syria—Saint Ephraim the Syrian who is commemorated on the 28th of January.
And they said: “and the Saint and God-bearer father of ours … Saint Isaac the Syrian”.
He had neither Apolytikion, nor Kontakion, nor Megalynarion, nor Service.
Why this injustice?
Because some were accusing Saint Isaac of being “a bit” Nestorian as he lived in Mesopotamia among heretic Nestorians. For that, he is not numbered among the Saints. Imagine how strict Byzantines were…
But even though he lived in a heretic environment, the Saint not once performed Liturgy with heretics. It is that important, my fathers, to be careful with who we perform Liturgy.
The years and the centuries passed and St. Isaac, the great “unknown”, without being commemorated, without given any glory, “a wronged Saint”.
Saint Paisios had this gift, he “owned a TV” and could see both the heavenly and the earthly as with all great Saints!
One day, Saint Paisios was in a monastery and he heard a monk speaking against St. Isaac:
“What a great book this is! But this Saint was a heretic, he was in bad faith…”
St. Paisios did not say anything, but he was saddened! “I started going back to my cell and I was saddened for these words spoken against St. Isaac. Because in every single line of his book I was reading, I could feel the greatness of this Saint!”
“On the other hand, I was confused … How could they not write an Apolytikion for him? So many neomartyrs with their own Apolytikion … is there something wrong with the life of the Saint? So “a small question mark” crossed St. Paisios’ mind.
As he was ascending to go to his cell …right in the middle of the road … a big “screen” opened in front of him … and all the Saints starting walking in front of him … what a scene!
First, Saint Antonios, then St. Pachomios, St. Hilarion … all the Saints were passing right in front of him.
And he bowed to them and they were blessing him. At one point, St. Isaac passed, he stopped and talked to him:
“Father Paisios do not be saddened. I hear such words against me for years there in the glory of God that I reside.
«My father, I lived in Mesopotamia among heretic Nestorians, but not once did I perform Liturgy with them! On the contrary, I was trying to bring them in the Orthodox faith.
You can celebrate me with a holy icon and write me a Service.”
The next day, St. Paisios is on his feet and where do you think he went, Marios?
To Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis, the great hymnographer, at Little St. Anne’s Skete [Mt. Athos].
With tears, he told to the virtuous father Gerasimos about the vision he had and he, father Gerasimos, wrote the Service that our cantors sang today.
This Service that you sing is after the order of Saint Paisios and it was written by the also sanctified hymnographer Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis.
So you see that “a Saint is known by a Saint”.
And how important it is to hold in reverence our Saints and especially these great Saints!
Know that when the other Saint, Saint Neophytos wrote his writings in isolation for 40 years, he took into account the writings of Saint Isaac.
Saint Isaac had an incredible memory, he could remember entire books by heart, but before he lived in isolation in Egkleistra, do you know what he did?
He visited all the monasteries of Cyprus and bought theological books and created a great library. And he studied, Saint Neophytos was a really studious Saint and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, he wrote his own writings.
It seems that one of the writings he had, belonged to St. Isaac. I remember a verse that I very much liked even from my university years, I will say it to you and I will finish so we can connect the two Saints.
Which date did Saint Paisios pick for the celebration of Saint Isaac the “wronged one”?
He separated his celebration from the 28th of January and he suggested the 28th of September as his celebration date.
Hence, we, Cypriots, have the great blessing of celebrating the great Saint of Cyprus the same date with the great Saint, not only of Orthodox Syria, which exists, but of the whole Orthodoxy.
Ecumenical Saints, both of them.
Saint Isaac incredibly great, Saint Neophytos great and now that his writings have been published by the monastery of Egkleistra of Paphos you will see that little by little the reading of the writings of Saint Neophytos will lead him to a position that is worthy for him in the theological, doxological, ascetic, therapeutic letters.
I conclude with the verse that is saved in St. Neophytos writings and probably belongs to St. Isaac because I also found it in St. Isaac. As we said, one a Saint of the 7th century, the other Saint fell asleep in the beginning of the 13th century, 1221.
Saint Neophytos says: “I am clay”, “I need a technician”, “Become my technician because in wisdom You created everything”.
The Great Artist who created everything “very good” [Genesis 1:31] so that man can enjoy them.
“And make me your proper vessel”.