Saint Isaac of Nineveh, also Isaac the Syrian, Isaac of Qatar and Isaac Syrus

Saint Isaac of Nineveh, also Isaac the Syrian, Isaac of Qatar and Isaac Syrus
Early 7th Century
c. 700

Syrian Monk, Bishop, Theologian and Ascetic Hermit

Author Quotes

Prayer offered up at night possesses a great power, more so than the prayer of the day-time. Therefore all the righteous prayed during the night, while combating the heaviness of the body and the sweetness of sleep and repelling bodily nature.

The only way that a man who wishes to be wise in the eyes of God can do so is to become a fool to the world and a despiser of human glory.

Walk before God in simplicity and not with knowledge. Simplicity is accompanied by faith; but subtle and intricate deliberations, by conceit; and conceit is accompanied by separation from God.

Works and deeds gain passionlessness for the soul . . . and give quietness from thoughts when we acquire silence . . . Otherwise success is not possible. For if a tree is watered every day, can its root wither? Does water ever get less in a vessel if more is added daily? But when a man gains silence, his soul readily discerns passions, and the inner man, roused to spiritual work, overcomes them and, from day to day, lifts the soul nearer to purity.

Silence cuts off pretexts and causes for new thoughts, while within one’s walls it withers and wilts memories of things which used to concern us. When the old matters wither in the thought, the mind, in setting them aright, returns to its proper dignity.

The passions are like dogs accustomed to lick blood in butchers' shops. When these are barred from what their habit feeds on, they stand in front of the doors and howl until the force of their previous custom is spent.

We should not be exceedingly grieved when we make a slip in some matter, but only if we persist in it; for even the perfect often slip, but to persist therein is total death.

Worldly glory is a reef in the sea covered by water; for as this lies unknown to the sailor until his vessel strikes it, cracks up, is filled with water and sinks, so vain glory does to a man until it drowns and destroys him.

Silence is a mystery of the age to come, but words are instruments of this world.

The path of God is a daily cross. No one has ascended into Heaven by means of ease, for we know where the way of ease leads and how it ends.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

Spiritual delight is not enjoyment found in things that exist s outside the soul.

The recompense is not given for labor but for humility. He who maltreats the latter loses the former.

What is so bitter and vehement as the torment of love? I mean, those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is more poignant than any torment.

Stillness mortifies the outward senses and resurrects the inward movements, whereas agitation does the opposite, that is, it resurrects the outward senses and deadens the inward movements.

The saints in heaven will not supplicate with prayer when their intellects have been consumed up by the Spirit, but rather with awe struck wonder they dwell in that gladdening glory.

What is the sign that a man has attained to purity of heart, and when does a man know that his heart has entered into purity? When he sees all men as good and none appears to him to be unclean and defiled, then in very truth his heart is pure. Our soul cannot yield spiritual fruit unless our heart is dead to the world. Blessed is the man who realizes his weakness, for this knowledge becomes the foundation, the root and the beginning of every boon. For as soon as a man understands and truly feels his weakness, he immediately puts a restraint on the vain pride of his soul which obscures reason, and thus he gains protection.

Take provisions for your long way, O wise man! Remove the heaviness of sleep from your heart, O invited guest! Set your baggage in order for departure, O sojourner! The morning tide is night at hand, O wayfarer; why do you sleep? Arise and prepare yourself, O mariner who is to voyage on the sea! Arise and make ready the tackle of your ship, for you do not know at what hour the wind will carry you out! Honor flees away from before the man that runs after it; but he who flees from it, the same will it hunt down, and to all men become a herald of his humility.

There is no knowledge that is not impoverished, however rich it should be; but heaven and earth cannot contain the treasures of faith.

When a man comes to know that he can fall away from God as a dry leaf falls from a tree, then he knows the power of his soul.

That which befalls a fish out of water, befalls the mind that has come out of the remembrance of God and wanders in the remembrance of the world.

There is no prayer so quickly heard as the prayer whereby a man asks to be reconciled with those who are wroth with him. For when he charges himself with the offence, this prayer is immediately answered.

When a sailor voyages in the midst of the sea, he watches the stars and in relation to them he guides his ship until he reaches harbor. But a monk watches prayer, because it sets him right and directs his course to that harbor toward which his discipline should lead. A monk gazes at prayer at all times, so that it might show him an island where he can anchor his ship and take on provisions; then once more he sets his course for another island. Such is the voyage of a monk in this life: he sails from one island to another, that is, from knowledge to knowledge, and by his successive change of islands, that is, of states of knowledge, he progresses until he emerges from the sea and his journey attains to that true city, whose inhabitants no longer engage in commerce but each rests upon his own riches. Blessed is the man who has not lost his course in this vain world, on this great sea! Blessed is the man whose ship has not broken up and who has reached harbor with joy!

The angel who is always near us is by nothing so distressed and made indignant as when, without being constrained by some necessity, we deprive ourselves of the ministration of the Holy Mysteries and of reception of Holy Communion, which grants remission of sins. For at that hour the priest offers up the sacrifice of the Body of Him Who gives us life, and the Holy Spirit descends and consecrates the Body and Blood and grants remission to creation. The Cherubim, the Seraphim, and the angels stand with great awe, fear, and joy. They rejoice over the Holy Mysteries while experiencing inexpressible astonishment. The angel who is always by us is consoled, because he also partakes in that dread spectacle and is not deprived of that perfect intercourse.

There is nothing which even Satan fears so much as prayer that is offered during vigilance at night. And even if it is offered with distraction, it does not return empty, unless perhaps that which is asked for is unsuitable. Before the war begins, seek after your ally; before you fall ill, seek out your physician; and before grievous things come upon you, pray, and in the time of your tribulations you will find Him, and He will hearken to you.

Author Picture
First Name
Saint Isaac of Nineveh, also Isaac the Syrian, Isaac of Qatar and Isaac Syrus
Birth Date
Early 7th Century
Death Date
c. 700

Syrian Monk, Bishop, Theologian and Ascetic Hermit