Silence, Watchfulness, Purity of Heart / Jesus Prayer: Prayer of Mind-in-Heart

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Session 1 & 2 of "Hesychia: Inner Silence and the Jesus Prayer"

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The word Hesychia, as has been seen, has different levels of meaning.
It was first related to the desert as an external place, then to the cell of a monk, and finally
to the heart of each person.
A true Hesychast is a person who keeps guard over his heart and preserves inner silence
or stillness, no matter where or in what circumstance he finds himself.
The inner silence or inner stillness of the heart can be attained only through watchful
vigilance and constant remembrance of God.
In the Hesychast tradition, constant remembrance of God or unceasing prayer gradually became
synonymous with the Jesus Prayer.
Just as Hesychia ultimately signifies stillness of the heart, so the Jesus Prayer is also
called Prayer of the Heart.
The heart has a central significance in the Orthodox spirituality, which can rightly be
termed the Way of the Heart.
The idea of Prayer of the Heart can somehow be traced back to the instruction on prayer
given by Jesus himself.
Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who
is in secret, Matthew 6.
The words of Jesus are also regarded as a call to the individual to enter into the inner
chamber of the heart and there to shut out all evil thoughts and distractions so as to
be able to pray to God in the silence of the heart.
Commenting on this text, John Klimakus, our friend, speaks of the closing of the door
in three ways.
Close the door of your cell to the body, the door of your lips for words to conversation,
and the inner room of your heart to evil spirits.
In the West, in the Latin West, we often come across the controversy regarding the proper
faculty of prayer and contemplation.
Is it the intellect or the will?
Two different approaches can be distinguished.
The intellectualist school holds that contemplation is primarily the work of the mind or intellect
which acquires the knowledge of God.
The voluntary school, on the other hand, insists on the specific role of the will and the primacy
of desire and affection in contemplative prayer.
In the Orthodox tradition, however, this dichotomy between the intellect and the will is overcome
through the concept of the heart in the Semitic biblical sense of the word.
The heart means much more than affectivity or emotion.
The heart is the unifying center of intellect, will, and affectivity before their differentiation
into distinct faculties.
And the heart also continues to hold them together in unity.
The hominids of pseudo-materials developed the idea of the heart, presenting it as the
spiritual center of the whole person.
Quote, the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodily organism, and when grace possesses
the heart, it rules over all the members and the thought.
For there in the heart is the intellect and all the thoughts of the soul and its expectations.
And in this way, grace penetrates also to all the members of the body.
End quote.
Here in Mercurius, there is no head-heart dichotomy, for the intellect is said to be
in the heart.
The heart is also the meeting point between soul, body, and its various members.
When the Orthodox writers speak of the heart, they mean, among other things, the carnal
part, an organ of flesh and blood, which is the natural symbol for the deep heart of
the person.
In the same hominid, Mercurius continues to say, within the heart are unfathomable depths.
There are reception rooms and inner chambers in it.
In it is the workshop of righteousness and of wickedness.
In it is death.
In it is life.
Mercurius looks on the heart as the moral and spiritual center of the human person.
To understand better the meaning of the heart, we should look at St. Paul's view of the human person.
In addition to body and soul, Paul also mentions the spirit in humans.
Rather than a third constituent of the human being, the spirit is a new dimension which
qualifies the whole person, body and soul.
Whereas the soul gives life to our bodies and makes us rational beings, the spirit brings
us into contact with the order of divine realities.
It enables us to enter into communion with God.
As such, the human spirit is closely linked with the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God.
If the heart is related to our body and soul as their meeting point, it is above all linked
with our spirit.
Thus, Theophanes of Hercules states, the heart is the innermost person, our spirit.
Here are located one's conscience, the idea of God, and of one's complete dependence on him.
The Hesychast writers are fond of quoting the psalm,
The inner person and the heart are very deep.
This deep heart is equivalent to the human spirit.
It signifies the core or apex of our being, or what the Rhineland and Flemish mystics
termed the ground of the soul.
It is here in the deep heart that a person comes face to face with God in a direct encounter.
When a person enters into his heart, he discovers his own spirit and at the same time the divine
spirit who continuously awakens and enlivens our spirit.
In the heart, therefore, we find the same door, one and the same door that opens to
our inner self and to God.
Theophanes, the Hercules, gave the classic definition to prayer.
To pray is to stand before God with the mind in the heart.
This expression, with the mind in the heart, is the key to prayer according to the Orthodox spirituality.
So long as you pray with the mind in your head, you will still be working solely with
human resources.
You will not attain to an immediate encounter with God.
You will at best know about God, but will not know God in the biblical sense of entering
into an intimate, personal relationship with someone.
True knowledge of God implies a deep love that comes from the core of the person, from
the heart.
For this reason, it is necessary to descend from the mind to the heart, or even better,
to descend, as Theophanes insists, to descend with the mind into the heart.
For the mind should not be separated from the heart, which is its native abode.
Any form of prayer that is offered by the heart, in the above sense, can be termed prayer
of the heart, or prayer of the mind in the heart.
But according to the Orthodox tradition, prayer of the heart is practically synonymous with
the Jesus Prayer, which is considered to be preeminently effective in keeping the mind
in the heart.
The standard formula of the Jesus Prayer, as we know, reads,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.
In practice, a variety of forms is being used.
For example, the designation of sinner may be added to the ending,
have mercy on me, a sinner.
Likewise, the invocation, have mercy on me, may be expressed in the plural,
namely, have mercy on us.
Some omit the title, Son of God.
Or the prayer can simply be shortened to the following invocation,
Lord Jesus, have mercy.
The Jesus Prayer has a biblical foundation.
It is based on the combination of two prayers in the Gospel,
that of the blind man in Jericho,
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, Luke 18, 38,
and that of the publican, God, be merciful to me, a sinner, Luke 18, 13.
The title, Son of David, in the first prayer is changed into Son of God,
and the title, Lord, is added to the name Jesus.
Western Christians have become familiar with the Jesus Prayer
above all through the way of the pilgrim,
the story of an anonymous Russian pilgrim
who lived in the middle of the 19th century.
But the prayer itself is far more ancient.
As will be seen presently,
its origins can be traced back to the 4th and 5th centuries.
In the practice of the Jesus Prayer,
four constituent elements may be distinguished.
First, the invocation of the name Jesus.
Second, the appeal for God's mercy,
accompanied by a sense of penthos, or sorrow for sin.
Third, the discipline of frequent or continual repetition of a short formula.
Fourth, the aim to attain non-discursive or pure prayer.
The second and the third of these elements,
penthos and frequent repetition of a short prayer,
are found already in the desert spirituality of the 4th century Egypt.
The practice of frequent repetition of a short prayer among Egyptian monks
is witnessed to by St. Augustine in his letter to Prover.
He says,
The brethren in Egypt are said to have offered frequent prayers,
but those very brief and the style of quick ejaculations,
lest their vigilance, alert concentration,
very necessary for one who is praying,
might be weakened and blunted if too long drawn out.
The Desert Fathers recommended constant remembrance of God
as the best means of guarding the mind and the heart,
and of fulfilling the precepts of praying without ceasing,
which they took quite literally.
The monks were ordinarily engaged in simple manual labor,
which allowed them to be occupied with some pious thought or reflection
other than the work they had in hand.
Normally, they would accompany their work
with the recitation of some verses of the Psalms
or some texts from other parts of Scripture.
Initially, a variety of formulas were used for frequent repetition.
Very soon, a certain preference was given to penitential texts,
such as the first verse of Psalm 51,
Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your great mercy.
Or, a preference was also given to the prayer of Republicans,
which we have seen before.
As an example, we have the well-known prayer
formulated by Abba Apollo,
As man I have sinned, as God forgive.
The short invocation, Lord have mercy,
became commonly used by the monks from the earliest time.
In these instances, the sentiment of penthos,
namely compunction or sorrow for sin,
is strongly present.
In fact, penthos was at the heart of desert spirituality.
But at the same time, other formulas were also being used.
Macarius the Great, for instance,
recommended the very brief prayer, Lord help.
And in one of his conferences, John Cassian
recorded the famous prayer taught by Abba Isaac,
O God, come to my aid, O Lord, make haste to help me.
This, the opening verse of Psalm 70,
was to be repeated throughout the day in all circumstances
as a secret means of attaining and seizing inner prayer.
This practice of reiterating a short phrase or formula
was later described by John Klimakus as monologic prayer,
namely, prayer consisting of a single logos or phrase, monologic.
Through such monologic prayer,
the monks were enabled to combine with the outer work of their manual labor,
the so-called inner work of prayer,
and so to fulfill the precept of praying without ceasing.
Thus, early Egyptian monasticism provided
the second and the third elements of the Jesus prayer,
penthos and the repetition of a monologic prayer.
As for the fourth element, non-discursive prayer,
this was taught in 4th century Egypt by Evagrius Ponticus.
When Evagrius was defining prayer as laying a sign of God,
he was inspired by Origen and the Cappadocian fathers
rather than by the Coptic monks,
who for the most part were simple and educated peasants,
cherishing an anthropomorphic view of God.
They took the text of Genesis literally,
that God created human beings in his own image.
They were enabled to pray to God
without visualizing a human face of God.
The idea of non-iconic or imageless prayer was foreign to them.
By defining prayer as laying a sign of thoughts,
Evagrius not only meant the shedding of evil thoughts,
but of any kind of thoughts, mental images, words and concepts,
so that what he called pure prayer may be practiced by the naked mind.
Unfortunately, Evagrius did not propose a concrete means
to achieve the practice of pure prayer.
Although on one occasion he mentioned
use a brief but intense prayer,
he makes no connection between this advice and the shedding of thoughts.
So the teaching on non-discursive prayer
was not originally related to the practice of repetition of a short formula.
Now, regarding the first element, the invocation of the Holy Name,
although in the sayings of Desert Fathers
there are a few prayers that include the name of Jesus,
no priority is assigned to this invocation yet.
For the name of Jesus to become the focus of devotion,
we must wait till the following, namely the 5th century,
when a Jesus-centered spirituality began to emerge.
The continual remembrance or invocation of the name of Jesus
occupying a central place in the teaching of Diadochus Fonticus.
He linked together three of the four elements of the Jesus Prayer.
The invocation of the name,
the constant repetition of a short phrase,
and the practice of non-discursive prayer.
He did so by presenting the frequent invocation of the name of Jesus
as the means of achieving non-discursive prayer.
But he gave no special prominence to the second element
of penthos or compunction in his teaching.
Diadochus was concerned with collecting our dispersed and fragmented memory
to one pointiness and with bringing our mind from restlessness to stillness,
from multiplicity to unity.
This is his teaching.
When we have blocked all its outlets by means of the remembrance of God,
the mind or intellect requires of us imperatively some task
which will satisfy its need for activity.
For the complete fulfillment of its purpose,
we should give it nothing but the prayer, Lord Jesus.
Let the intellect continually concentrate on this phrase
within its inner shrine with such intensity
that it is not turned aside to any mental imagery.
End quote.
The Jesus Prayer was proposed by Diadochus
as a way of keeping guard over the mind
and of achieving imageless, non-discursive prayer.
He made a decisive advance beyond evaluations
by suggesting a practical method for the attainment of such prayer.
The advice given by Diadochus is very wise.
The human mind is always active.
Thoughts keep moving restlessly and aimlessly in the mind
like the buzzing of flies
or the capricious leaping of monkeys from branch to branch.
It is of little use to say to ourselves,
Stop thinking.
We might as well say, Stop breathing.
It's the same thing.
The rational mind cannot remain completely idle.
But while it lies beyond our power
to make the continual chattering of the thoughts disappear,
what we can do is to detach ourselves from it
gently but persistently.
The word detaching is important.
In order to let go the multiplicity of thoughts,
we must, as Diadochus recommends,
give the mind some task which will satisfy its need for activity,
namely, something which will keep it sufficiently occupied
without at the same time allowing it to be too active.
That's the secret of the Jesus Prayer.
For the same purpose, Theophan teaches that
to stop the continual jostling of your thoughts,
you must bind the mind with one thought
or the thoughts of one only.
Famous saying of Theophan.
And this strategy is fully in keeping with the Chinese saying
which forms the basic rule on one-pointedness
necessary for any sitting meditation,
namely, to replace the 10,000 thoughts with one single thought.
To replace the 10,000 thoughts which keep coming and going
with one single thought.
By holding to one single thought,
we avoid the dispersion of the mind with 10,000 thoughts.
In our case, this one single thought
or the thought of one only is the holy name of Jesus.
The Jesus Prayer is thus a way of keeping God over the mind and the heart.
Although it is a prayer in words,
the invocation of the name of Jesus,
because of its brevity and simplicity,
is capable of leading us beyond the world
into the eternal silence of God.
The Jesus Prayer is not just a kind of mantra
devised for inducing people into quiet and stillness.
According to the biblical tradition,
the name stands for the person.
The name Jesus was announced by an angel
to indicate his saving mission.
During his ministry on earth,
saving power constantly came forth from his person
to heal the sick and deliver the possessed
from the dominion of evil spirits.
The invocation of the holy name of Jesus
has a quasi-sacramental effect
that renders the Savior present to us,
enabling us to experience his power over the evil spirit.
Jesus' parable of the strong man and the stronger one
is relevant here.
He says,
When a strong man fully armed guards his castle,
his property is safe.
But when one stronger than he attacks him
and overpowers him,
he takes away his armor in which he trusted
and divines his plunder.
Luke 11, 21-22
The strong man is the evil spirit,
and the stronger one is Jesus, our Savior.
By invoking the name of Jesus with faith,
we are inviting him to come to us
to drive away the evil spirit
and to take possession of our hearts.
Jesus concludes the parable saying,
Whoever is not with me is against me,
and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
So long as our mind is not gathered with Jesus
by constantly remembering his holy name,
it is scattered or dispersed.
The idea of presence is essential to the Jesus prayer.
However, it deals with a non-iconic
or imageless presence of the Lord.
The Jesus prayer is distinguished from methods
of discursive meditation on the episodes
in the life of Jesus.
Following the teaching of Evagrius,
Saint Gregory of Sinai gives this instruction
to those who practice the Jesus prayer.
Keep your intellect free from colors,
images, and forms.
Our awareness of the presence of Jesus
must not be accompanied by any visual concept,
but must be confined to a simple conviction
or feeling.
Saint Teresa of Avila gives testimony to the fact
that it is possible to have experience
of the nearness of Jesus
without forming mental pictures of the Lord.
Through the invocation of the name,
we are united with Jesus
in a direct, unmediated encounter,
namely, without any intermediary concept
or image.
We feel his nearness with our spiritual senses,
much as we feel the warmth with our bodily senses
on entering a heated room.
We don't have to imagine the heat,
we simply feel it.
While insisting that the Jesus prayer
must be free from images and thoughts,
Theophan and other Hesychast writers
emphasize that prayer of the heart,
as distinct from prayer of the intellect,
is a prayer of feeling.
Among the feelings which normally accompany
the Jesus prayer,
these writers mention
the sentiment of tenderness for the Lord
and a sense of spiritual warmth,
which they call the burning of the Spirit
within us, or the flame of grace
kindled in the heart.
Together with the sense of spiritual warmth,
they also speak of a vision of spiritual light.
This evening, we shall dedicate some time
to discuss the nature of this spiritual warmth
and light.
While the Hesychast writers are uncompromising
in rejecting images or thoughts in their prayer,
they are less rigorous with regard to feelings.
As Calisphorus Ware says,
the Jesus prayer should be seen
not so much as prayer emptied of thoughts,
but as prayer filled with the Beloved.
So emptiness is not the real object of the prayer.
We try to empty our mind
in order to be filled with the presence of Jesus,
an imageless presence.
He believes that the Jesus prayer should be,
in the richest sense of the word,
a prayer of affection,
although not of self-induced emotional excitement.
He also testifies that over the centuries,
most Eastern Christians have used the prayer
simply as an expression of their tender,
loving devotion to Jesus,
the Divine Friend and Companion.
The Jesus prayer is not only a powerful means of unification,
it is also a journey of inwardness,
moving to the heart,
the inmost center of the person.
One can usually distinguish three levels or degrees of prayer,
prayer of the lips, oral prayer,
prayer of the mind, mental prayer,
and prayer of the heart,
or better, of the mind in the heart.
The Jesus prayer includes all these different levels.
The invocation of the name begins as an oral prayer
in which the words are spoken by the tongue.
The first degree of prayer develops naturally into the second.
As Theophanes insists,
we must confine our mind within the words of prayer,
otherwise there is no prayer at all.
As our prayer grows more inward,
the participation of the mind becomes more intense and spontaneous,
while the sounds uttered by the tongue become less important.
At times, the name is invoked inwardly by the mind alone,
without any movement of the lips.
When this occurs,
we have passed, by God's grace,
from the first level to the second.
So long as prayer remains in the mind or in the head,
it is incomplete.
It is necessary to descend from the head to the heart,
to find the place of the heart.
This means also searching for the physical heart
as a symbol and abode of the deep personal heart.
To be more exact,
we must descend with the mind to the heart,
to bring down,
as Theophanes says,
to bring down the mind into the heart.
Our aim is prayer of the mind in the heart.
Just as fish must remain in the water,
so the mind finds its natural home in the heart.
As a consequence of original sin,
the mind is divorced from the heart
and remains alienated and restless.
The reintegration of mind and heart
signifies the restoration of our fallen nature
and a return to the paradise.
It is the special power of the Jesus Prayer
to accomplish the union of the mind and the heart.
In order to bring the mind into the heart,
our heart must first be awakened.
As Christians,
we have received the Holy Spirit at our baptism.
As the Holy Spirit dwells in the sanctuary of our heart
and is unceasingly praying in us,
we ourselves carry within us a constant prayer.
But most of us are unconscious of His presence
and the prayer which continuously goes on in us.
Our heart lies asleep
and needs to be awakened to this inner reality.
The Jesus Prayer is a powerful means for awakening our heart,
enabling us to become aware
of the secret indwelling of the Spirit
in a conscious manner.
For too long, our heart lies dormant within us
like the seed lying beneath the winter snow.
Finally, spring comes,
snow melts away under the warmth of the sun,
and a little seed begins to sprout forth
with its latent energy.
In the same way,
the name of Jesus,
which radiates His power and energy,
warms up and awakens our heart from its winter lethargy.
Once awakened,
the heart opens its door to welcome the mind.
There, in the inner chamber,
the mind and the heart celebrate their weeping feast,
sealed by the bond of the name of Jesus.
This union of mind and heart
is a special gift of God
which many ascetics attribute
to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
In Luke's Gospel,
we read that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home.
She was easying herself with many things
while her sister Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet.
Listening attentively to His words,
the two sisters, Martha and Mary,
are like the mind and the heart.
Separated from Mary,
Martha finds herself worried and distracted by many things,
for only the heart can attain to the one thing necessary.
So the two sisters, Martha and Mary,
the mind and the heart,
must be united.
It is only by being united with her sister Mary
that Martha can remain at the feet of Jesus
throughout the day,
even when she is occupied with various tasks
that demand her attention.
But in order to achieve this goal,
Martha must actually spend some time daily
sitting at Jesus' feet,
side by side with Mary,
doing nothing else but listening to Him.
The heart is the inner core of our person,
where we come into contact with our true inner self.
It is also the inner sanctuary,
the place where we encounter God.
The ground of our being.
Following the teaching of St. Paul,
Materius calls the heart the temple of the Holy Spirit,
who unceasingly prays in us
with groanings too deep for words.
Romans 8, 26.
The Jesus prayer begins as what Theophan terms
strenuous prayer,
a prayer which demands our effort.
But when the prayer enters into the heart,
it becomes self-acting prayer,
namely, prayer that offers itself spontaneously.
Prayer of the heart signifies
my prayer becoming identified
with the action of another in me.
In the words of St. Isaac the Assyrian,
when the Spirit takes its dwelling place in a person,
he, that person, does not cease to pray
because the Spirit will constantly pray in him.
In the story of the pilgrim,
we are told that the pilgrim began
by saying the Jesus prayer
a certain number of times every day,
increasing from several hundred
to several thousand times a day
with unremitting effort.
Then, to his surprise, as he tells us,
early one morning,
the prayer woke me up, as it were.
Ever since then,
he found the prayer repeating itself constantly
in keeping with the rhythm of each heartbeat.
It was as though he were carrying
a small murmuring stream
flowing unceasingly in his heart.
Prayer in such a person
is no longer a series of acts
but a permanent state.
As Paul Hebdochimov says,
it is not enough to possess prayer.
We must become prayer,
prayer incarnate.
At this point, the Jesus prayer
is no longer a prayer offered to Jesus,
addressed to Jesus,
but the prayer of Jesus himself,
who unceasingly lives and prays in me.
So the Jesus prayer
becomes the prayer of Jesus himself.
In this way, the Jesus prayer
is transformed from being something we do
into something freely given by God.
But Calisphus Ware warns the readers of the Pilgrim
against gaining the wrong impression
that this passage from strenuous prayer
to self-acting prayer is easily attained.
Nothing is easy.
The rapid achievement of the Pilgrim
is something altogether exceptional,
More usually,
prayer of the heart comes only
after a lifetime of ascetic practice.
The Hesychast teachers emphasize
the importance of concentrating full attention
upon the recitation of the actual word.
Thus, Calisthus quotes the wise advice
given by contemporary spiritual father of Mount Athos,
Jerome Joseph of New Cape.
The work of inner prayer
consists in forcing yourself
to say the prayer with your mouth continually
without ceasing.
Attend only to the words,
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
All your efforts must be centered on the tongue
until you start to grow accustomed to the prayer.
Something must be said about the method
accompanying the recitation of the Jesus Prayer,
such as external posture,
control of the breathing,
use of a prayer rope, etc.
When reciting the prayer,
it is usual to sit on a low stool
with the eyes closed.
One should breathe more slowly,
coordinating one's breathing
with the rhythm of the prayer.
Often, the first part,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
is said while breathing in,
and the second part,
have mercy on me while breathing out.
A prayer rope made of knotted wool
is commonly used to help concentration
rather than for counting the number of prayers.
While these external physical techniques
are based on the psalm's theological principle
that the human person forms a psychosomatic unity
and that the whole person, body and soul,
must be involved in prayer,
most Orthodox writers
would consider these techniques
as no more than an aid
and hence as something secondary,
not indispensable.
More will be said about
the psychophysiological method this evening.
The most important thing
is to start saying the prayer,
the Jesus Prayer,
and keep saying it regularly every day.
After all, it is the Holy Spirit
who will teach us how to pray,
like a mother teaching her child
to call its father.
Let me conclude with the words of Diadochus.
The soul now has grace itself
to share its meditation
and to repeat with it
the words, Lord Jesus,
just as a mother teaches her child
to repeat with her the word, Father,
until she has formed in him
the habit of calling for his father
even in his sleep.
I sleep,
but my heart is awake.
Welcome to this weekend's Preach the Retreat.
Our topic is on hesychia,
inner silence,
and the Jesus Prayer.
During this first talk,
I am going to speak about
silence, watchfulness,
and purity of heart.
In the book written by
Herodotus Flachos,
A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain,
Discussion with the Hermit on the Jesus Prayer,
there is a beautiful description
of the sunset on Mount Athos.
The sun was sinking in the west.
Mornings on Mount Athos
are fragrant, charming.
The darkness of the night is dispersed,
while the monks are at the main church
of the holy monasteries,
singing glory to thee
who showed us light.
One could say that
the sweet melodious voices,
the sweet ringing gongs,
and the warm rhythm of the talenter
drive the darkness away.
But also,
the evenings on Athos
are peaceful.
A day of struggle has passed,
and night is spreading
its veil now.
The monk will hide within it
many battles,
abundant tears,
and a lot of spiritual exercises.
The sun falls,
but the sun which exists
in the hearts of the ascetics
is not extinguished.
A ceaseless luminous day
exists in their all-pure hearts,
without the clouds of their passions.
Oh, the sunsets of Athos,
sunsets full of charm,
full of grace,
wrapped up in silence.
End quote.
I wish that all of you
may enjoy the sunrise and sunset
and the silence
here on this holy mountain
of the Hermitage in Big Sur.
I dare not compare our small hermitage,
founded only in 1958,
to the holy mountain,
Mount Athos,
with its 1,000-year glorious history
of holiness and renown.
But I am convinced
that you can find here
on this humble mountain
the same natural beauty,
solitude, silence,
and especially the presence of God
and of his holy grace.
Speaking about silence,
Herodotus Platos says
that the holy mountain
is a place of mystery
where silence speaks strongly.
The monks do not speak much there.
They live the mysteries of God
in silence.
Their silence
is the most eloquent sermon.
At this point,
I am almost tempted to stop here
and leave you in silence
for the rest of the retreat.
But then the author continues
to tell us
that people also come
to the holy mountain
asking for words from the monks,
just as the author himself
was coming to Mount Athos
to meet with a hermit
to converse with him
on the Jesus Prayer.
He likens the word coming forth
from the silence of the heart
of a hermit to Christ,
the Word of God,
born of the eternal silence
of the Father.
In my talks during this retreat,
I am hoping to transmit
the wisdom and the teachings
of the Eastern Orthodox
spiritual tradition,
especially based on
such precious sources
as the Philokalia,
the writings of Theophanes the Recluse
of the 19th century Russia,
and of the well-known
contemporary Orthodox
spiritual writer,
Callistos Ware.
At the same time,
I shall also attempt
a dialogue between this tradition
and other spiritual traditions,
both East and West.
This dialogue will take place
probably tomorrow evening
and Sunday morning
during the last two talks.
In some way,
I am hoping to speak
from the silence of Mount Athos
Hopefully, the Holy Spirit
will also speak
in the silence of the hearts
of each one of us
during this retreat.
Our topic is on Hesychia,
which means stillness or silence.
Let me read for you
the inspiring description
of Hesychia
given by Herodotus Flachos.
External quietness is helpful
so that humans can reach
the inner hesychia.
A hesychast is one
who struggles to achieve
the returning of the mind
back into the heart
following a specific method.
End quote.
It is important to note,
among other things,
the author distinguishes
between external quietness
and inner hesychia.
Since its early beginning,
the monastic tradition
has attached a great significance
to hesychia,
so much so,
Saint Nihilus of Ancyra insists,
it is impossible to become a monk
without hesychia.
The importance of silence
is brought forth
by one of the stories
in the sayings of the Desert Fathers,
which describes a visit
by Theophilus,
Archbishop of Alexandria,
to the monks of Ctes.
Anxious to impress
their distinguished guest,
the assembled brethren
appealed to Abba Pambo
to say something
to the Archbishop
that he might be edified.
The old man replied,
If he isn't edified by my silence,
then he won't be edified
by my words.
Hesychia, however,
means more than
refraining from speech.
It is a term
that can be interpreted
at different levels.
According to Kallistos Well,
it contains at least
the three main senses,
moving from the more external
to the more inward.
First, Hesychia and solitude.
In the earliest sources,
the term hesychast
usually denotes
a monk living in solitude,
a hermit as opposed
to the member of a synobium
or a monk living in a community.
This sense is found already
in Evagrius Ponticus.
It occurs also
in the sayings
of the Desert Fathers.
On this level,
Hesychia refers primarily
to a person's relationship
in space with other people,
living in a desert
away from other people.
This is the most external
of the various senses.
Then secondly,
Hesychia and the spirituality
of the cell.
Hesychia says
Abba Rufus is to sit
in your cell with fear
and in the knowledge of God,
abstaining entirely
from rancor and vainglory.
Such Hesychia is the mother
of all the virtues
and guards the monk
from the fiery arrows
of the enemy.
Here, Hesychia is linked
to the cell of a monk.
The Hesychast is one
who obeys the teaching
of Abba Moses.
Go and sit in your cell
and your cell
will teach you everything.
The link between Hesychia
and the cell
is also explicitly stated
in a famous saying
of St. Anthony the Great,
father of monks.
Fish die if they carry
on dry land.
And in the same way,
monks, if they linger
outside their cell,
lose the pitch
of their Hesychia.
And the monk who remains
within his cell
is like the string
of a well-tuned instrument.
But Hesychia is not guaranteed
by simply remaining
in one's cell.
To the statement,
Hesychia is to sit
in your cell,
Abba Rufus adds
the following advice.
Be vigilant
over your own soul.
Sitting in the cell
is closely associated
with another key term
in the desert tradition,
that is nefsis,
vigilance or watchfulness.
I shall speak more of it
in a minute.
In addition to the link
with vigilance,
the cell of a hesychast
is envisaged above all
as a workshop
of unceasing prayer.
The monk's chief activity,
while remaining still
and silent within his cell,
is the constant remembrance
of God,
accompanied by
a sense of compunction
and repentance.
The remembrance of God
is maintained
especially by keeping in mind
the words of the publican,
God be merciful to me,
a sinner.
For the hesychast, then,
the cell is a house of prayer,
a sanctuary,
a place of meeting with God.
So we are moving
from the external
to the inward sense
of hesychia.
Interpreted in terms
of the spirituality of the cell,
the word signifies
not only an external
and physical condition,
but a state of soul.
A hesychast is one
who remains in his cell
in watchful vigilance
and unceasing prayer.
In this sense,
a hesychast need not always
be a hermit,
but can as well be a monk
living in a community
with other monks
under the same roof.
In the third place,
we have hesychia
and inner silence,
or return into oneself.
This more inward understanding
of hesychia is emphasized
in the classic definition
given by St. John Climacus.
Climacus actually means ladder.
The definition is given
in his book
The Ladder of Divine Ascent.
The hesychast is one
who strives to confine
his incorporeal or spiritual being
within his bodily house,
that is,
keeping his mind within his body.
This is the curious definition
given by Climacus to hesychia,
to confine one's incorporeal
or spiritual being
within the bodily house,
that is,
keeping the mind within the body.
The hesychast,
according to this inward sense,
is not someone
who has journeyed outwardly
into the desert,
but someone who has started
the journey inward
into his own heart,
someone who returns into himself,
shutting the door of his mind
to distractions.
He came to himself.
This is the beginning
of the conversion
and homecoming
of the prodigal son.
The return into oneself
is beautifully described
by St. Basil the Great.
When the mind is no longer dissipated
amidst external things,
nor dispersed across the world
through the senses,
it returns to itself.
And by remaining in the self,
it ascends to the thought of God.
For there is but one single entry
to the two.
When one enters into oneself,
one discovers God.
So far we have seen
the different levels of meaning
of hesychia.
The three levels of meaning
are indicated in an episode
of Abba Arsenius.
While still tutor
to the imperial children
in the palace,
Arsenius prayed earnestly to God,
Show me how to be saved.
A voice came to him,
Arsenius, flee from people
and you will be saved.
He withdrew into the desert
and became a solitary.
And then he prayed
in the same words.
This time the voice said,
Arsenius, flee, keep silent
and be still.
For these are the roots
of sinlessness.
So we have the three words,
famous words,
Fuge, Tache, Guieshe.
Fuge, flee from the crowd.
Tache, keep silent.
Guieshe, be still.
Such are the three degrees
of hesychia.
The first is spatial,
fleeing into the desert.
The second is still external,
to refrain from outward speech.
Neither of these things
can by itself make a person
into a real hesychast.
For he may be living in solitude
and keeping his mouth closed
and yet inwardly
he may be full of restlessness
and agitation.
To achieve true stillness,
it is necessary to pass
from the second level to the third,
from external to interior hesychia,
from the mere absence of speech
to inner silence.
This distinction
between the different levels
of hesychia
has important implications.
A person may flee into the desert
and yet in his heart
still remains in the midst
of the city.
a person may live in the city
and yet be a true hesychast
in his heart.
I remember an episode
about a contemplative
of our time,
brother Carlo Caretto,
a little brother
of Charles de Foucault.
In his letters from the desert,
he shared
the profound experience of God
which he had
when he was living in solitude
in the Sahara Desert.
in a journey to the forest,
he visited also Hong Kong.
During a meeting
with a group of young people there,
I was not there by that time.
During a meeting
with a group of young people,
he was confronted
with the question
whether and how
they were able
to have similar experience of God
while they were living
in a busy city like Hong Kong.
Brother Carlo
was quite taken by surprise.
After he went back to Italy,
he reflected on the question
and wrote another book
A Desert in the City.
The title of this book
reminds me of a recent visit
I took together
with brother Casson
to a monastery
of Chinese Buddhist nuns
in San Francisco
next to Chinatown,
right on the second floor
of the Bank of America
What a combination.
we found the nuns
chanting their prayer,
their midday or afternoon prayer
in this urban temple
with edifying recollection
and devotion.
They were sort of saying
the Jesus prayer
in a Buddhist way, I guess.
There are stories
in the sayings
of the Desert Fathers
where lay people
fully committed
to a life of active service
in the society
are compared with hermits
and solitaries.
A doctor in Alexandria,
for instance,
is regarded
as the spiritual equal
of St. Anthony the Great himself.
And during his time,
St. Gregory of Sinai
decided to send
one of his disciples,
a certain Isidore,
back from Mount Athos
to Thessalonica
to act as exemplar
and guide
to a circle of lay people.
Gregory could scarcely
have done so
had he regarded
the vocation
of an urban Hesychast
as something impossible.
His contemporary,
St. Gregory Palamas,
that the command of St. Paul
pray without ceasing
applies to all Christians
without exception.
St. Simeon the New Theologian
that the grace of contemplation
is given to people
in the middle of cities
as well as in mountains
and cells.
Married people,
so he believed,
with secular jobs
and children
burdened with the concerns
and anxieties
of a large household
may equally ascend
to the heights
of contemplation.
The ultimate criterion
is not the external situation
but the inward reality,
even though the external
may be of great help,
as you can notice
while spending a few days here.
our original definition
of the Hesychast
as a solitary living
in the desert,
we may say that
solitude is a state of soul
rather than an external
physical place
and that the real desert
lies within the heart.
In a metaphorical sense,
we can have a desert
in the city
by cultivating the inner cell
of the heart,
the cellar god is.
The second meaning
of Hesychia,
as you remember,
is related to the spirituality
of the cell,
which hinges on
the two basic practices
of watchful vigilance
and constant prayer.
If we wish to replace
the physical cell
with the cell of the heart,
then spirituality of the cell
would mean guarding over
our heart with watchfulness
and with constant prayer.
While I shall deal
with constant prayer tomorrow,
let me say something
about watchful vigilance
at this point.
The close connection
between the cell and vigilance
is also expressed
in the brief rule
of Saint Romuald,
Sit in your cell
as in paradise.
Watch your thoughts
like a good fisherman
watching for fish.
The metaphor of fisherman
is probably borrowed
from John Climacus.
In the chapter on watchfulness
of his book,
The Ladder,
we read,
The vigilant monk
is a fisher of thoughts,
and in the quiet of the night
he can easily observe
and catch them.
While Evagrius defines prayer
as laying aside of thoughts
or shedding of thoughts,
John Climacus applies
the same definition
to Hesychia,
saying that Hesychia
is the laying aside of thoughts.
To attain inner stillness,
one must put aside thoughts.
Thus thoughts,
or evil thoughts better,
are the proper objects
of our watchfulness
and vigilance.
To be vigilant or watchful
means keeping guard
against evil thoughts
at the entrance of our hearts
so that they may not enter
and disturb our inner stillness.
For a better understanding
of thoughts,
we have to turn to Evagrius,
their classical exponent.
Following the ancient tradition,
Evagrius distinguishes
the spiritual life
into three stages,
the active life
and the contemplative life.
And the contemplative life
is further distinguished
into natural contemplation
and the contemplation of God.
So altogether,
we have three stages.
But this distinction
of the active
and contemplative life
is different
from the distinction
that developed later,
which denotes
two different styles of life.
According to the later definition,
people who dedicate themselves
to the active service
of the Church
and of their neighbors
are said to lead
an active life,
while those dedicated primarily
to a life of prayer
and contemplation
are said to lead
a contemplative life.
according to the more ancient usage
as adopted by Evagrius,
the active
and contemplative life
indicate two different stages
in the spiritual life
of the same person.
The active life,
in this sense,
begins with repentance,
understood not merely
as sorrow for sin,
but as a change of mind,
a radical conversion.
The ascetic strives,
with God's help,
to overcome
the deep-rooted passions
that distort human nature.
In Evagrius
and most Greek writers,
the term passion, pathos,
signifies a disordered impulse,
such as jealousy, lust, anger,
which violently dominates the soul.
Thus, passions are seen
as something evil.
But there exists also
a more positive view,
according to which
the passion is a natural tendency
or power given by God.
It is not the passion as such,
but its misuse that is sinful.
Hence, our aim is the redirection
or reintegration of the passions,
not their suppression
or modification.
The Christian is called to struggle
not only against the passions,
but also against the thoughts.
As soon as they emerge
in consciousness,
before they have issued
in outward actions
or taken root as passions.
Evagrius formulated a list
of eight basic evil thoughts,
which, with some modification,
became the seven capital sins
current in the West.
The list of Evagrius runs this way.
Gluttony, lust, avarice,
dejection, anger, despondency,
or listlessness,
the so-called Assyria,
vainglory, and pride.
We have a classic description
of the eight thoughts
in his book Praktikos,
where Evagrius made
an original contribution
by applying his profound
psychological insights
to the description
of each evil thought.
From the beginning
of the monastic tradition,
as is seen in the life
of Saint Anthony,
the spiritual life
was presented as a combat
against the demonic forces.
Following this tradition,
Evagrius envisages
a close connection
between the demons
and the evil thoughts.
He actually calls them
evil spirits or demons,
such as the demon of gluttony,
of anger, of vainglory,
and so forth.
His idea of these various demons
is that they are each specialists
in their particular field.
These demons assault us
by presenting mental images
to our mind.
If we do not resist them
at their uprising,
they enter into our hearts,
incite our passions
towards evil,
and rob our inner stillness
or hesychia.
So the secret is to watch for them
and to expel them
right from the beginning.
The narrative of the fall
of Adam and Eve in paradise
is a classic example.
The Book of Genesis
depicts Satan as a serpent
more crafty than any other animal
that God had made.
The serpent initiated
a seductive conversation
with Eve.
She lingered to converse with him.
As a consequence of this dialogue,
her inner passion was aroused.
She saw that the tree
was good for food
and that the fruit
was a delight to the eyes
and was to be desired
to make one wise.
Finally, following the movement
of the inner passion,
the external action took place.
She took of its fruit and ate,
and she also gave some
to her husband, and he ate.
It was Eve's lingering
in conversation with the serpent
that led to the fall.
The failure in watching over
and driving away evil thoughts
from its inception
reminds me of a story
about a novice who fell prey
to the demon of vainglory.
By the way, I heard this story
when I was a novice myself.
One day, when this novice
was sweeping the floor,
the novice was seized
by daydreaming.
He said to himself out loud,
Very soon,
after my religious profession,
I shall study theology
and be ordained a priest.
Then, with my exemplary life
and extraordinary capacity,
I shall be made, no doubt,
superior of the community.
After some time,
my fame as a successful superior
will spread.
Rome will come to realize
that the particular religious community
of which I am in charge
is too small for my
administering ability
and will make me a bishop,
and later, who knows,
a cardinal.
Then, if the Pope dies,
there will be a papal election.
Very likely,
as one of the most popular candidates,
I shall be elected the next Pope.
Now, which name
shall I take for myself?
Pius XIII?
Thirteen is an unlucky number.
What about Paul VII
or John Paul III?
All this time he was thinking aloud,
he did not realize
that his novice master
was right behind him
and had heard all the nonsense
of his wild daydreaming.
Just at that moment,
the novice heard a voice saying,
I think you should name yourself
Dumbass I.
It's a famous story.
It's a famous story.
Along with unceasing prayer,
watchfulness of guarding the mind
is the topic which occurs
most frequently in the Philokalia.
In reality,
the two themes are closely related.
Watch and pray
that you may not fall into temptation.
The Hesychast writers,
as I have said,
use the metaphor of a fisherman
watching for fish
to describe this ascetic
watching for thoughts.
In this regard,
John Klimakus also employs
the image of a watchman
guarding over a vineyard.
He says,
sit in a high place
and keep watch if you can
and you will see the thieves come
and you will discover how they come,
when and from where,
how many and what kind they are
as they steal your clusters of grapes.
The various methods
of watchfulness or vigilance
can be summarized under two headings.
Watching over our thoughts
and a constant remembrance of God.
So, Hesychius of Sinai
writes on watchfulness.
One type of watchfulness
consists in closely scrutinizing
every mental image or provocation.
For only by means of a mental image
can Satan fabricate an evil thought
and insinuate this into the intellect
in order to lead it astray.
In order to be able to discover
the thoughts that they are rising,
one must be constantly present
to oneself,
mindful of the present moment.
One must be fully present
to the here and now,
paying full attention
to what one is doing at each moment.
It is only when one is trained
in the discipline of mindfulness
that one can be a good fisher of thoughts.
The second type of watchfulness
recommended by the ascetic fathers
is through constant remembrance of God.
This is a more positive tactic.
Instead of trying to empty our mind
of what is evil,
we fill it with the thoughts
of what is good,
namely with the remembrance of God.
For this purpose,
various practices are recommended
by the hesychast writers,
such as constant remembrance
of one's death,
frequent recitation of some verses
from scriptures,
especially from the Psalms,
and frequent repetition
of some short,
ejaculatory prayers.
It is in this connection
that we find a special recommendation
for the Jesus Prayer.
Watchfulness over thoughts
is an indispensable task
for all ascetics.
But there are two different ways
of combating thoughts
once they are discovered.
The first method is for the strong.
They confront their thoughts face to face
and repel them in direct battle.
However, as Callistos Ware observes,
direct confrontation often serves
merely to give greater strength
to our imagination.
If violently suppressed,
our fantasies tend to return
with increased force.
Instead of fighting our thoughts directly,
the second, or indirect method,
teaches that it is wiser
to turn aside and fix our attention
Rather than gazing downward
into our turbulent imagination
and concentrating on how to oppose
our thoughts,
we should look upward to the Lord Jesus
by invoking his holy name.
The grace that acts through his name
will overcome the thoughts
we cannot expel by our own strength.
This is the teaching especially given
by Hesychius of Sinai,
who repeatedly connects watchfulness
with continually and humbly
calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ
for help,
proposing the invocation of the holy name
as the most powerful weapon
against the evil spirits.
In a similar vein,
John Climacus urges the ascetics
to flock the enemy
with the holy name of Jesus.
For Evagrius,
the aim of vigilance,
or of the active life in general,
is to achieve apatheia,
that is,
or freedom from passion.
This term,
taken over from the Stoic philosophers,
was employed by Clement of Alexandria
in his ascetical theology.
It is not apathy
in the modern sense of the word,
which means insensitivity.
Following Clement of Alexandria,
Evagrius understood apatheia
or dispassion
not negatively,
but positively.
It does not signify
the extinction of passions,
but an ordered control over them.
It is a state of reintegration
and spiritual freedom,
not the absence of all feeling.
To bring forth its positive meaning,
Evagrius linked dispassion
closely with love.
Thus he states,
Agape, or divine love,
is the offspring of apatheia.
For him,
dispassion and genuine love
are but two aspects
of a single reality.
This is so because
all disordered passions
have self-love at their root.
Once dispassion
or reintegration
of disordered passions
is attained,
our self-love
will be transformed
into true love of God
and of neighbor.
That's why apatheia
or dispassion and love
are two sides of the same coin.
Transmitting Evagrius' teaching
to the Latin West,
John Cassian rendered apatheia
as purity of heart.
Cassian proposes
as the aim of the ascetic life
the achievement of purity of heart,
which, as in Evagrius,
is identified with love.
Thus Cassian writes,
We must practice fasting,
vigils, withdrawal,
and meditation of scripture
as activities which are subordinate
to our objective,
namely purity of heart,
that is to say, love.
We may say that purity of heart and love
are the negative and positive poles
of a single field of force.
Being liberated from disordered passion,
one is free to love.
Dispassion or purity of heart
also means an inner state
of unperturbable calm,
which is the distinctive mark
of hesychia.
I have presented the different levels
of meaning of hesychia.
In its external sense,
hesychia denotes a solitary or hermit
living in the desert.
Moving towards a more inward sense,
it is associated with the spirituality
of the self.
A hesychast is a monk
who stays in his cell with watchfulness
and constant prayer.
Finally, in the most inward sense,
hesychia means returning to oneself,
achieving inner stillness
or purity of heart.
The first two conditions,
desert and the material self,
can be of great help
for attaining the third level of hesychia,
namely inner stillness.
But the connection is not absolute.
One can become an urban hesychast
by cultivating a desert in the city.
Moreover, while not everyone is called
to live in a cell in a monastery,
all are called to guard
the inner cell of the heart.
The indispensable, essential quality
of a true hesychast
is to maintain inner stillness
of the heart or purity of heart
through watchful vigilance
and constant prayer,
so as to be able at all times
to love God and others.