Question What are the exact tokens and accurate signs that the fruit which is hidden in the soul has begun to appear from a man’s labour?
Answer When a man is deemed worthy to receive the gift of abundant tears which come over him without effort. For tears are established for the mind as a kind of boundary between what is bodily and what is spiritual and between passionateness and purity. Until a man receives this gift, the activity of his work is still in the outer man and he has not yet at all perceived the activity of the hidden things of the spiritual man. But when a man begins to relinquish the corporeal things of the present age and crosses this boundary to that which lies inside of visible nature, then straightaway he will attain to the grace of tears. And from the first hospice of this hidden discipline tears begin to flow and they lead a man to perfection in the love of God. The more he progresses in this discipline, the more he is enriched with love, until by reason of his constant converse with tears he imbibes them with his food and drink. …
There are tears that burn and there are tears that anoint as with oil. All tears that flow out of contrition and anguish of heart on account of sins dry up and burn the body, and often even the governing faculty feels the injury caused by their outflow. At first a man must necessarily come to this order of tears and through them a door is opened unto him to enter into the second order, which is superior to the first; this is the realm wherein a man receives mercy. These are the tears that are shed because of insight; they make the body comely and anoint it as if with oil, and they pour forth by themselves without compulsion. Not only do they anoint the body with oil, but they also alter a man’s countenance.
St. Isaac the Syrian,The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (I, 37), translated by the Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Boston, 1984. p. 174-175.
If my blog stats are anything to go by, it would appear that my quote from Father K.M. George on The gift of tears is one of the most popular posts on this blog. Given this interest, it seemed worth sharing these words of Abba Isaac that I read this morning. (On a totally unrelated note, Wei Hsien reports that the aforementioned Father George was an observer at the recent Catholic Synod of Bishops).