Isaac the Syrian

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Saint Isaac the Syrian, also Isaac of Spoleto, was an ascetic monk from Syria who was endowed with the gift of clairvoyance. He lived in Italy during the middle of the sixth century and is commemorated on April 12.


Other than that he was from Syria, nothing is known of Isaac's early life. He left Syria to escape living under Monophysite heretics. When he first arrived in Spoleto, Italy, he received permission from the wardens of a church to stay several days for prayers. After a couple days one of the wardens, apparently jealous of Issac's piety, approached and reproached him for his hypocrisy. Then, the warden struck on Isaac the cheek, driving him from the church. The warden's actions were soon returned with a punishment of God as he fell under demonic possession. At once, Isaac began praying for the expulsion of the demon which finally resulted in the unclean spirit being expelled. News of the miracle quickly spread throughout the city, and people came to Isaac offering him help and gifts to build a monastery. The humble monk refused all this.

Isaac then withdrew to a cave on Mount Luco to live as a hermit in a small cell. In time, disciples gathered around Isaac, and so a monastery began to form although Isaac would not accept any gifts. When his disciples asked the Elder Isaac why he declined the gifts, he replied, "A monk who acquires possessions is no longer a monk."

St. Gregory the Dialogist speaks in his "Dialogues About the Lives and Miracles of the Italian Fathers" of the gift of clairvoyance to which Isaac was endowed, noting some examples. Once, St. Isaac told the monks to leave their spades in the garden for the night. Then, in the morning, he asked them to prepare food for the workers, for some robbers, equal to the number of spades, had come to rob the monastery, but the power of God forced them to abandon their evil intent. They took the spades and began to work. When, in the morning, the monks arrived in the garden all the ground had been dug up. Isaac greeted the workers and invited them to refresh themselves with food. After they had eaten, he admonished them to stop their thievery and gave them permission to come openly and pick the fruits of the monastery garden.

At another time, two men wearing almost no clothes came to Isaac and asked him for clothing. In response he asked them to wait a short time. Isaac then sent a monk into the forest where in the hollow of a tree he found the fine clothes the travelers had hidden in order to deceive Isaac. After the monk brought the clothes to the monastery, Isaac gave them to the travelers. Immediately, the travelers fell to the ground in great distress and shame, having seen that their fraud was exposed.

Also, it happened that a man sent his servant to the Isaac with two beehives. But, the servant hid one of these hives along the way. After Isaac received the lone beehive, he said to the servant, "I accept the gift, but be careful when you go back for the hidden beehive. Poisonous snakes have entered into it, and if you reach forth your hand, they will bite you." Thus, in these manners St. Isaac unmasked the sins of people wisely and without malice and enabled salvation for all.

St. Isaac died in 550. This saint should not be confused with the other St. Isaac the Syrian, who was Bishop of Ninevah. He lived during the seventh century and was a strict ascetic known for his ascetic writings.