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On Ascetical Life

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SVS Press Popular Patristics Series #11

Isaac of Nineveh was a native of Bet Qatraye, near present-day Bahrain on the Persian Gulf. A teacher and a monk, he was consecrated as a bishop (ca. 660-680), but preferred to live out his life as an anchorite. A scriptural scholar, he studied so much that he became blind and had to dictate his writings. He died at an advanced age and was buried in Rabban Shabur, where he had spent most of his monastic life.

St Isaac's monastic anthropology had a major influence on Byzantine spiritual literature. The way towards God, in his writing, was threefold: the way of the body, the way of the soul, and the way of the spirit. In the first stage, the person begins with a total preoccupation with fighting the passions and moves toward God by means of bodily works: fasting, vigils, and psalmody. The next stage involves a struggle against thoughts foreign to the nature of the soul, turning from created objects to the contemplation of God's wisdom. The person proceeds finally to an attitude of wonder and praise in continual prayer to God, which leads to the freedom of immortal life.

Translated by Mary Hansbury.

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