The person of Christ the God-man presents in itself the ideal image of human personality and knowledge. The person of Christ of itself traces and defines the path of a Christian’s life in every way. In Him is found the most perfect realization of the mystical union of God and man, while at the same time He reveals both God’s work in man and man’s in God.
God and man working together is the basic indication of Christian activity in the world. Man works with God and God with man (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9). Working within and around himself, the Christian gives himself entirely to ascesis, but he does this, and is able to do it, only through the ceaseless activity of the divine power that is grace. For the Christian no thought, no feeling, no action can come from the Gospel without the help of God’s grace.
Man, for his part, brings the desire, but God gives the grace, and it is from this mutual activity, or synergy, that Christian personality is born.
On every rung of the ladder of perfection, grace is essential to the Christian. A man can make no single evangelical virtue his own without the help and support of God’s grace. Everything in Christianity is by grace and free will, for all is the common work of God and man.
St. Isaac particularly stresses this common work of man’s will and God’s grace in the whole of a Christian’s life. Grace opens a man’s eyes to the discernment of good and evil. It strengthens the sense of God within him, opens the future to him, and fills him with mystical light.
The more grace God gives to the man of faith, the more He reveals to him the abysses of evil in the world and in man. At the same time, He allows greater and greater temptations to assail him, that he may test the God-given power of grace and may feel and learn that it is only by the help of grace that he can overcome the ever more fearsome and scandalous temptations. For as soon as grace perceives that a man’s soul is becoming self-sufficient, making him great in his own sight, it leaves him and lets temptations assail him until he becomes aware of his sickness and humbly takes refuge in God.
By the working together of God’s grace and his own will, a man grows in faith to perfect stature. This happens by degrees, for grace enters into the soul little by little, being given before all else to the humble. The greater the humility, the greater the grace, and wisdom is contained within grace. The humble are endowed with wisdom by grace.
Grace-filled wisdom gradually reveals the mysteries to the humble, one after the other, culminating in the mystery of suffering. The humble know why man suffers, for grace reveals to them the meaning of suffering. The greater the grace that a man has, the greater his grasp on the meaning and purpose of suffering and temptations. If he drives grace from himself by sloth and love of sin, a man drives from himself the only means he has of finding meaning and justification for his sufferings and temptations.
The text above is from Saint Justin Popovich’s essay The Theory of Knowledge of Saint Isaac The Syrian. This is one of several installments. I am splitting up parts of his essay into short reflections. Text in italic font is where St. Justin directly quotes St. Isaac.
The quoted text is taken from Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ, which is a collection of essays by St. Justin Popovich, compiled and translated by Fr. Asterios Gerostergios.