Isidore of Pelusium (+449), whose feast day falls today, employs St Paul’s sporting metaphor – allowing for the grotesquely debased nature of what the Roman world considered “sport” at the time – in his advice concerning the discipline of the spiritual life.
To the reader Timotheus.
CONCERNING the conflicts which you undergo, excellent sir, be convinced: the present circumstances put before us are an invisible arena, in which we do not wrestle against perceptible beasts, but against perceptible passions. These are the very things that, if they should prevail over the strength in us, will bring on danger not just as far as the body but bring death to the soul itself.
But if they should be controlled then they will flee, and we will gain for ourselves great rewards and acclamation; and here we wrestle these often, but hereafter certainly we will receive rewards and acclamation, since the coming age has been entrusted with rewards, just as this age has been entrusted with trials.
Translation by Roger Pease.
St Paul’s metaphor provides us with a way to commend to a sports-mad world today our need for disciplined training, diet, and goal-setting in the spiritual life.
It illustrates our exclusive obedience to Jesus as our inspirational coach, and the way we turn to the few friendly faces (the communion of saints) in a hostile crowd for encouragement and advice.
And it provides a way to explain our expectation of a reward, the imperishable laurel crown of the victor.
WHEREFORE seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2. In Greek, “cloud of witnesses” reflects a technical term used of sports crowds.
I HAVE fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8.
KNOW ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
IN you, Father, was preserved unimpaired that which is according to the image, for you took up the cross, and you followed Christ; and by your deeds you have taught us to despise the flesh, for it passes away; but to care for the soul, which is a thing immortal; and therefore your spirit, holy Isidore, rejoices with the Angels.
FINDING in you, glorious Father, another Morning Star, shining with the dazzling radiance of your words, the Church cries out to you: Hail all blest Isidore, inspired by God.
For the Feast of St Isidore of Pelusium (+ ca. 449). Translation from Anastasis.