Love is born of prayer, just as prayer is born of faith. The virtues are of one substance, and are thus born of one another. Love for God is a sign that the new reality into which a man is led by faith and prayer is far greater than that which has gone before. Love for God and man is the work of prayer and faith; a true love for man is in fact impossible without faith and prayer.
By faith man changes worlds: he moves from the limited world to the limitless, where he lives no longer by the laws of the senses but by the laws of prayer and love. St. Isaac lays great emphasis on the conviction he came to through his ascetic experience: that love for God comes through prayer – Love is the fruit of prayer.
One can receive love from God through prayer and cannot in any way acquire it without the struggle of prayer. Since man comes to the knowledge of God through faith and prayer, it is strictly true that love is born of knowledge.
Through faith man renounces the law of egotism; he renounces his sinful soul. Though he loves his soul, he loathes the sin that is in it. By prayer, he strives to replace the law of egotism with the law of God, to replace passions with virtues, to replace human life with divine life and thereby heal the soul of its sin. This is why St. Isaac teaches that the love of God lies in the self-denial of the soul.
Impurity and sickness of soul are unnatural accretions; they are no part of its created nature, for purity and health are the kingdom of the soul. A soul weakened by the passions is a ready ground for the cultivations of hatred, and love is only acquired through healing of the soul.
Love is of God, “for God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). He who acquires love puts on with it God himself. God has no bounds, and love is therefore boundless and without limit, so that he he who loves by and in God loves all things equally and without distinction. St. Isaac says of such a man that he has achieved perfection.
As an example of perfect love, St. Asaac quotes the wish of the holy Abba Agathon: to find a leper and change bodies with him.
In the kingdom of love the antinomies of the mind disappear. The man who strives in love enjoys a foretaste of the harmony of Paradise in himself and in God’s world around him, for he has been delivered from the hell of self-centeredness and has entered into the paradise of divine values and perfections.
In St Isaac’s words: Paradise is the love of God, in which lies the sweetness of all blessings. Hell is the absence of the love of God, and those tortures in hell are tortured by the whiplash of love. When a man acquires perfectly the love of God, he acquires perfection. St. Isaac therefore recommends: First acquire love, which is the original form of man’s contemplation of the Holy Trinity.
Freeing himself from the passions, man disengages himself step by step from that self-absorption that characterizes humanism. He leaves the sphere of death-dealing athropocentrism and enters the sphere of the Holy Trinity. Here he receives into his soul the divine peace, wherein the oppositions and contradictions that arise from the categories of time and space lose their death-dealing power, and where he can clearly perceive his victory over sin and death.
The text above is from Saint Justin Popovich’s essay The Theory of Knowledge of Saint Isaac The Syrian. This is the fourth of several installments. I am splitting up parts of his essay into short reflections.
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.