(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, St. Isidore, comes from Volume 1 of the series.)
St. Isidore of Pelusium
The archives of Christianity contain literature authored by the world’s greatest minds, ranking in the forefront for the purity not only of their thoughts but for their prose as well, representing nearly two thousand years of unbridled enthusiasm for the word of Jesus Christ. Not the least among these classics are the near-poetic expressions of devotion of a little-remembered monk who has come to be known as St. Isidore of Pelusium, a tireless chronicler of Christianity and constructive critic whose scope of influence reached a high as the Patriarchate itself. In a lifelong pursuit for perfection, he asked no more of the clergy than he demanded from himself – a strict adherence to clerical obligations in a rigidly disciplined pattern of behavior which stressed self-denial and total conformity in the sacred trust to which they were committed.
Born in 370 into an influential family of Alexandria, Egypt, Isidore was given every advantage, including a full education in a formal system which to him lacked the emphasis on religion so essential to his concept of a full life. By the time he had completed his studies, in all of which he excelled, he was attracted to religious endeavor, much as two of his kinsmen had been and had gone on to become the Patriarchs Theophilos and Cyril, both of Alexandria. He left the clamor of the city of Alexandria for the quiet of a monastic cloister known as Pelusium, a mountain retreat in which he began his remarkable life as a man of God. He embraced asceticism with the genuine zeal of the true monk and never ceased to consider that stern discipline and self-denial were as vital to the life of a cleric as breath and bread. At the core of his brillant expressions of faith was his uncompromising belief that a proximity to God demanded total austerity.
After he had been ordained a priest by his friend and admirer, Bishop Ammonios of Pelusium, Isidore became abbot of his monastery. Under his direction it became the monastery he thought all monasteries should be, stressing the three essentials of prayer, virtue and faith. The observances were not mere gestures, as was true in some cases, but became the driving force in a meaningful relationship with God and man, with particular emphasis on maintaining a pious posture in every aspect of clerical efforts, all of which have the common goal of real service to Jesus Christ.
Isidore deplored the fact that the name of the great St. John Chrysostom, for whom he felt an esteem beyond measure, had been stricken from church records after he was exiled many years before by Theophilos. In a compelling letter of protest to the Patriarch Cyril, nephew of Theophilos, Isidore urged the restoration of the name of St. John to the annals of the Alexandrian Church. It is inconceivable that a hierarch would have countenanced the act of vindictiveness that struck the name of so venerated a saint, but the deed had been done and it took considerable eloquence to convince Cyril to countermand his uncle’s order. The restoration of the name and works of St. John was assured by the Patriarch Cyril, who agreed with his kinsman on this issue.
A literary genius in his own right, Isidore in his glorious lifetime wrote more than three thousand commentaries in various forms on the basic elements of theology, philosophy and Holy Scripture, comprising a massive output of masterful literature that makes up several sizeable volumes that weigh down the shelves of ecclesiastical libraries but add to them a luster without which the light of Christianity would be appreciably diminished. In the centuries that have passed since he composed these masterpieces, countless thousands of clerics, as well as laymen, have benefited from his genius.
A great portion of the writings of Isidore is in the form of a criticism of the clergy, ranging from the lowliest deacon to the patriarch himself, all of whom were called to task for certain abuses that existed in all echelons of the clergy. His pen brought the wayward into line and influenced a reformation in the church structure which restored order and respect.
Calling for observance of regulations set forth in the First Ecumenical Synod, Isidore wrote voluminously on dogma and monasticism, and when he died on February 4, 470, he left a treasure of undying Christian prose.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.