EVEN the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
What is distinctive about Orthodoxy?
Perhaps more than anything else, it is the recognition of the truly humble person’s absolutely staggering, infinite potential.
That potential is not often articulated more beautifully than in the words of St Isaac the Syrian (+ c. 700).
THE heart’s eye newly come from this entanglement [in the passions] is a bird without wings.
It struggles to be lifted up from earthly things, and is unable to manage it, only just managing to crawl on the surface of the earth.
It is still without the power to fly, and instead it concentrates its thoughts on reading, on work, on fear, and on reflection upon the various kinds of virtue, for besides these things it cannot know anything else.
AND these things, for a short period, do keep the heart’s eye unsullied, but eventually memories come in, and trouble and sully the heart.
For it has not yet tasted of the stillness [hesychia] of freedom, a stillness to which he unites the eye of the heart, after a short while, through forgetfulness of [earthly] things.
For it has only just acquired bodily wings, I mean the virtues, which are practised openly.
He does not yet contemplate the virtues belonging to heart-sight [theoria], neither has he been made worthy to be aware of them.
They are the wings of the eye of the heart, through which one approaches heavenly things and leaves behind the earthly.
TO the extent that someone serves the Lord through things of the senses, the impressions of these things are engraved upon his thinking, and he thinks about divine things in outward corporeal forms.
But once he acquires a sense of things as they are within things, at that point, in proportion to his sensitivity, his mind will be raised up beyond the outward forms of things, in due season.
“The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry” (Ps 33(34):15).
“The prayer from the mouth of a humble mind reacheth to the ear [of God]” (cf. Sir 21:5).
In the moment of your stillness, cry out in the beautiful deeds of humility: “Lighten my darkness, O Lord my God” (2 Rgns [2 Sam] 22:29).
WHEN your soul starts to move out of the darkness, this is your sign: your heart burns and is heated through like fire night and day, so that you regard the whole world as dung and ashes, nor will you experience any desire for food, due to the sweetness of new, ardent thoughts which are constantly being moved in your soul.
And suddenly a well-spring of tears is given to you, like a winter torrent but flowing without violence, a flood which is mixed in with everything you do – in your reading, I mean, and your prayer, in your pursuits, and in your food and drink, and your tears will be found mingled with your every action.
And when you see these things in your soul, be of good heart, because you have passed through the sea, and in this way progress in your works and grasp vigilance firmly, so that grace may multiply in you day by day.
Until you encounter this, you have not finally completed your journey and reached the mountain of God.
St Isaac the Syrian, “An Ascetical Life” Discourse 56 (VI §21). My amateur translation, from the Greek text at Αββάς Ισαάκ ο Σύρου.
Here is Elder Thaddaeus of Vitovnica talking about this from his own experience.