St. Isaac the Syrian is also known as St. Isaac of Nineveh, because he lived in the 7th century in what is today Iraq, and is one of the most renowned of all the ascetic saints of the Orthodox Church. He composed many prayers that are scattered throughout his writings. May his prayer for those who are sick be a prayer we can all say with deep compassion and compunction in these days of coronavirus pandemic:
May those who suffer from dire sicknesses and grievous illnesses of the body be remembered before you. Send to them an angel of compassion and soothe their souls which are so tormented by their bodies’ terrible afflictions. O my Lord and my God, send comfort to all who are constrained by any kind of hardship.
In addition to those who are infected, we also remember those who are alone and are afraid. Whatever we can do, even if it is just a phone call, let’s do it. Let’s reach out to those who have been deprived of the human touch. We can touch each other with our voices, just as St. Isaac touches our hearts with the voice of his writings from fourteen centuries ago.
But St. Isaac inspires us more by his mystical writings and prayers. Here is a prayer by St. Isaac that can lift up our souls during this time, regardless of whether we are ill or not and regardless of whether we are alone or not. It’s a beautiful prayer that reminds us that our lives are mysteries of shared existence with God through the incarnate Christ. Caring for each other is part of the mystery of our shared life with Christ. It is pure incarnational theology and mysticism.
I give praise to your holy nature, Lord,
for you have made my nature
a sanctuary for your hiddenness and
a tabernacle for your Mysteries,
a place where you can dwell, and a holy temple for your divinity.
O Mystery exalted beyond every word and beyond silence,
who became human in order to renew us by union with our flesh,
reveal to me the path by which
I may be raised up to your mysteries,
travelling along a course that is clear and tranquil,
free from worldly concerns.
Gather my mind into the silence of prayer,
so that all my wandering thoughts may be silenced within me
during that luminous converse of supplication
and mystery-filled wonder.
What an amazing way to describe prayer: that luminous converse of supplication and mystery-filled wonder. Look at the words that Isaac uses to describe the body in which we live our lives: sanctuary, tabernacle, holy temple! Mystery everywhere in these inspired words. Our bodies, so vulnerable to illness, our lives, are mysteries of God living in us. What a high calling. How can we go through a day without this awareness that a profound mystery is being lived in us: in each of us and among us? Any version of Christianity that does not invoke words of mystery becomes just another form of mind control and what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”.
May your prayer today and every day be a “luminous converse of supplication and mystery-filled wonder.” May your supplication today for someone who is sick or for all who are sick be filled with wonder. May it be luminous, filled with the light of Christ! Have a blessed day. Stay well, be careful. Live to be the luminous presence of Christ.