About St. Isaac
St. Isaac was born
in Beth Qatraye, an ancient
province on the northeast coast
of the Arabian Peninsula that now
includes Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The only date we have to fix him in history is A.D. 676, when George, the Catholicos (or Patriarch) of the Persian Church, took St. Isaac from his monastic tranquillity and made him Bishop of Nineveh in Mesopotamia. After only five months as Bishop, he fled back to the wilderness and lived the rest of his life as a hermit in the mountains of Beth Huzaye – the modern Khuzistan in southwestern Iran.
Towards the end of his life, drawing on his long experience, St. Isaac composed homilies in his native Syriac as a testament to what he had come to know, as few do, about the infinite love and mercy of God, about how Providence works out our salvation through adversities, about the practice of prayer and fasting and flight from the world in the battle against the passions.
Within a century of his death, his writings were translated from Syriac into Greek by two monks of the Monastery of Mar Sabbas near Jerusalem. In the Greek translation they spread through the Byzantine Empire and, via Latin translation, into Western Europe. The historical facts about St. Isaac being few, it is through his writings that he has been known and loved by many generations of Christians.
While his homilies were intended for hermits living in severe stillness and seclusion, he writes as an affectionate father addressing his spiritual children, and his writings are made so memorable by his knowledge of the human heart, and his striking language about God’s invincible mercy, the tragedy of our fallen state, and the treachery of the passions, that once we have read him, we feel we know him.
St. Isaac’s Ascetical Homilies are an enduring classic of ascetical literature. Highly esteemed by many great Saints such as Saints Euthymius of Iveron, Gregory Palamas, Paisius Velichkovsky, and Seraphim of Sarov, they were so widely known in Orthodox Russia that he is mentioned in The Way of a Pilgrim and The Brothers Karamazov.