Conversations with Abba Isaac: For the Health of Body and Soul

Conversations with Abba Isaac: For the Health of Body and Soul

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For the past week a disturbing phenomenon has been taking place.  The usually quiet and relatively uncrowded gym of which I am a member has been full of people and excited chatter! When I heard one of the regulars whisper to another about how all these “New Year resolution types” were filling the gym, I realized why I could never use my rowing machine. It made perfect sense. Many people make resolutions to exercise at the New Year, and I will just have to put up with a more crowded gym (at least for a few more weeks).

Reflecting on exercise and “eating right,” I began to wonder what motivates people to make this resolution – why do we feel a need to make exercise part of our regular routine? I came up with three conclusions. Though not limited to these three, I believe that these are probably the three main reasons for resolutions concerning exercise and healthy eating.

First, most of us live rather stationary lives which cause innumerable and negative health consequences. Exercise and healthy eating are ways of assuaging some of these consequences.

Second, for a myriad of reasons ranging from societal pressure to an overly aesthetic sense of self, we feel that with losing weight or building muscle, we will be more attractive to others and be more comfortable with ourselves.

Third, many people participate in activities and sports which would benefit from a more healthy lifestyle.

Abba Isaac, the great athlete of God who competed in the desert and won innumerable crowns, offers us a sacred reason for being attentive to our bodies. Throughout his homilies, Abba Isaac reminds us of the necessity of physical involvement in prayer. He praises the “delightful bending of the knees.” He teaches, “Sweet to the laborer is bread earned by his own sweat.” And that, “Until a man has sweated, the bread of truth will not satisfy him. The body, which is the laborer, sweats, and it nourishes the rational mind.”

Abba Isaac’s concern is not for physical health in and of itself, but that the body becomes an active participant in the life of prayer. At one point, he quotes his own wise teacher and elder, who said, “Reckon every prayer, wherein the body does not toil and the heart is not afflicted, to be a miscarriage, for this prayer has no soul.”

Elder Paisios, a spiritual successor to Abba Isaac, explains why bodily toil is important:

The three blessings of prostrations: the first of these is that we venerate God and humbly ask for His mercy. The second thing is that our unruly flesh is humbled, bringing with it peace and dispassion of the flesh. The third is that they offer physical health and drive out the moldiness of self-indulgence, bringing twofold health to man.

Again, this teaching of Abba Isaac is revealed in an occurrence from the Life of St. Porphyrios. Once, St. Prophyrios shared a taxi with one of his spiritual children and told her to give specific advice to a nun who suffered from obesity concerning her diet. He was concerned about her obesity and recommended the diet, “To allow her to move about freely. It was meant so that she could do prostrations which she desired to do very much but could not do because of her obesity.”

As we contemplate our plans for the New Year, let us resolve to be more active and physical, glorifying our incarnate Lord with fasting, vigils, and prostrations, for the health of both our souls and bodies.


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Fr. Micah Hirschy

Fr. Micah Hirschy grew up in St. Paul, MN and attended St. George Greek Orthodox Church. He graduated from Hellenic College in 2004 and continued his studies at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, where he graduated with an M. Div. in 2007. Upon graduating, he began working at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Memphis, TN as Pastoral Assistant. He was married in 2011 to Anastasia Hartzes of Mobile, AL and was ordained to the Deaconate and Priesthood by Metropolitan ALEXIOS of Atlanta in December of 2012. He currently serves as Ephemerios at the Holy Trinity Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Birmingham, AL.