In homily 67, St. Isaac gives some signs or markers to help the monk discern whether or not he or she is actually progressing in their spiritual life. It seems to me that these markers apply as well to those struggling in the world as to those struggling in a hermitage.
- “You secretly feel in yourself that you are weak in your faith” St. Isaac clarifies that by “faith,” he is not referring to credal faith, but rather to “the noetic strength that steadies the heart by the light of [noetic] understanding...so that...she casts her cares on God.” So a sign of spiritual heedlessness is the inability to cast one's cares on the Lord.
- “You covet visible things.” (Position, Power, Possessions, Property, Privilege, Prestige)
- “Your confidence wanes.” He means here confidence in God. If your confidence has been based on things that pass away (your own strength, intelligence, the correctness of your rational understanding of things, or any of the six P's listed above), then you will experience a loss of confidence on the way to learning to place all of your confidence in God.
- “You are being harmed by your neighbour.” St. John Chrysostom says that no one can harm you unless you let him. When I feel harmed by what my neighbour does or says against me, it is because I have become heedless of spiritual things. The Martyrs of Christ are able to love those who persecute them precisely because their enemies cannot harm them--cannot harm them so long as their eyes, the eyes of their heart, are fixed on Jesus.
- “Your whole soul is taken up with fault-finding in mouth and heart against every [person] and [in] every matter...even agains the Most High Himself.” For me, this is the sign that is easiest for me to recognize in myself. As soon as I notice that my mind is focused on picking out what is wrong with others, what they are doing or saying, then I know: my heart has wandered from Grace.
- “From time to time, your soul is shaken by fear so that you are terrorized.”
- “You are strengthened in your hope, and you are enriched by prayer.” When we experience hope (not necessarily in a given situation, but in God’s providence and love regardless of the situation) and we experience blessing, Grace, or encouragement in prayer, then we know that we are moving forward on the right path.
- “The material of profit is never absent from your mind in everything you meet.” When we are moving forward in God, then we can find Grace and spiritual encouragement in anything we encounter. Trees can speak to us. What we see, what we notice, what we encounter, anything can become spiritually profitable to us when our minds are attending to the Grace in our hearts.
- “You have an awareness of the frailty of human nature; and on the one hand, by [this knowledge] you are kept from pride, and on the other, your neighbor’s faults are set at naught in your eyes.” When you are growing in your relationship with God, you acquire a growing knowledge of human brokenness and sin, and specifically of your own brokenness and sin. This is a gift of the Holy Spirit enabling you to become humble and to forgive the sins and offenses of others.
- “You long for departure from the body by reason of your aspiration for the [state] in which we shall live in the age to come.”
- “All of the afflictions that befall you openly and in secret you find to be rightly yours, all having descended on you precisely so as to keep you from conceit.”
- “For all of these things (afflictions) you render confession and thanks to God.”
The victory over unseemly thoughts and the evidence of divine Grace and dispassion is that we ignore such thoughts and that our attention and focus remain on the “leaven” of Grace which through habit we have trained ourselves to attend to. Or, as in my case, I am just beginning to learn how to attend to.