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© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Silence, Speech and the Life of the Monks
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"A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain" is a book which brings to light the quintessence of Orthodox spiritual life: the Jesus prayer or prayer of the heart and how it can be practised by both monks / nuns and lay people. The discussion ﬂows in a spontaneous and immediate way with the dialogue form of the book contributing to this. The reader enjoys the simple presentation of the teachings of the Church on the Jesus prayer, through the authentic experience of an Athonite hermit. And "when a hermit's mouth opens, it ﬁlls you with fragrance".
The Holy Mountain is a blessed place for the entire Church. There are monks there who practise without ceasing the Jesus prayer and who struggle to live the ascetic life, which is actually life according to the Gospel. Thus they become bearers of the Holy Tradition of the Church. It is with such a monk and ascetic that the author of this book enters into dialogue. The book has been a classic of its kind in Greece where it is now in its ninth edition. It has also been translated into French, Arabic, Spanish, and Russian. The translation into English was undertaken as a response to the requests of many English speaking friends who believe that the text has a lot to offer to all our brethren in Christ who thirst and seek for intimate communion with God; for the transformation and uniﬁcation of their inner world through the energy of the grace of God; and who desire to become indwellings of the most Holy Spirit: The author of this book is himself an admirer of the neptic tradition of the Church, which he also presents in his other books. His series of four books on "Orthodox psychotherapy" is of great interest since he believes that the neptic tradition of the Church has a therapeutic value. Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos believes that Christianity is not a philosophy or an ideology, but rather it is a therapeutic science and a therapeutic treatment which cures the innermost aspect of one's personality. It is within this framework that the present book operates. Many thanks are due to Mrs Rachel Hales (Essex, England) who kindly offered to examine the translation and make several needed corrections. Her zeal and personal interest in the text made possible the publication of this translation. Special mention should also be made of her excellent
work on the passages and poems by St. Symeon the New Theologian as well as of other Fathers of the Church. I am also indebted to sister Makrina of the "Birth of the Theotokos convent"(Thiva, Greece) for her valuable suggestions. The ﬁnal version of the translation is, however, the sole responsibility of the translator.
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It is by inspiration of divine love that in our day there is a reawakening of the desire for mystical theology and the teaching of the Fathers, for asceticism, sobriety and unceasing noetic prayer of the heart. How is it that in the high tide of man centered, materialistic, and this wordly understanding, there emerge souls desiring the true life in Christ –seeking perfection– union with God; who want to live according to the tradition of our Church and the holy Fathers? "The right hand of the Most High has changed". This is the work of the Holy Spirit, Who lives eternally, and Who sets apart and makes holy the souls in the Body of Christ, our holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
After the ordeal of much effort, it is becoming increasingly clear today that the Tradition of the Holy Fathers is not a luxury, but a prerequisite for a truly genuine Orthodox way of life. And it is a great blessing that the most merciful Lord planted in the midst of the Church the paradise of the garden of the Theotokos, –the Holy Mountain– to revive the Church through the gift of the grace of God, which comes down to us today through the living tradition of the Holy Fathers, uninterruptedly. The author of this present book yearns for this Tradition. He lives and works in the world, but his abiding city "is in heaven", the heaven of the Holy Mountain, which is the foretaste of the Kingdom to come. The Lord, Who loves mankind and Who gives us what our soul truly desires, has given to Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos the grace to love the spiritual atmosphere of the Holy Mountain and to hear within himself his own mystical heartbeat of the prayerful words "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner". He has spoken with the Holy Fathers and has received their blessings. He has heard words spoken of eternal life and out of the fullness of his heart, he offers these conversations to his brethren. It is a sign of the love of the Holy Fathers for us, that while they reveal to us the heights of the spiritual life, encouraging us not to be fainthearted in our spiritual efforts, they also show us at the same time, the ﬁrst steps which we who are inexperienced must take. They show us the heights, but they take us by the hand in order for us to take the ﬁrst steps. Thus this present work not only presents prayer in its perfected state, but also introduces it in its initial stages for our brothers and sisters in the world to practise, so that they can be strengthened and made holy. I believe that through the blessing of our Lady, the Theotokos, who herself had received and lived this fullness of grace, this book will prove
beneﬁcial to the writer and the readers. It goes without saying that the more frequently people read books about the prayer of Jesus, the greater will their desire be to practise it. To our God, from Whom we receive so much goodness and perfection, be glory throughout all the ages.
Archimandrite George, Abbot of the monastery of Saint Gregory of the Holy Mountain
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In the following pages I present a discussion which I had with a staretz on Mt. Athos. I did not intend to record it. One day, however, just as I was getting ready to read one of the works of St. Maximos, I heard an inner voice urging me to write down the discussion I had with the wise Athonite monk. And I obeyed that voice which, I confess, I had not heard before. I started writing as it came to my mind. That is why what follows is the output of only a few hours work, and I apologize to the readers for this.
First of all, though, I would like to make a few comments: Firstly, the book should not be read as a story or as a tale, but rather as a teaching sent by God to that wise Athonite who was a Godbearer "by grace". The reader should stop at times to think, but much more, however to pray. He might need to read over the discussion twice. Secondly, the dialogue should be read keeping in mind the purpose for which it was written, i.e. the practice of the prayerful life. We should at once make the decision to enter into the divine darkness of the Jesus prayer, which is Mount Sinai and Mount Tabor, where we will meet God. "The invocation of the name of Jesus is accompanied by His immediate revelation, because the name evokes a form of His presence" (Evdokimof). This thought is in accordance with the Words of the Lord, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18. 20), as well as with the apostolic word, "Therefore I want you to understand that no one can say Jesus is the Lord except by the Holy Spirit". (1 Cor. 12. 3) When one is praying the "Jesus prayer", the Holy Spirit descends like the cloud on Mount Tabor. Thirdly, the reader should not try to ﬁnd out who the monk I spoked with is. He may not be successful and his judgements may be wrong. That holy staretz would not like this. Fourthly, the reader may be impressed by the number of quotes coming from the Fathers of the Church. It must be emphasized, however, that the Holy Spirit, Who lived and acted within the Holy Fathers, also lives and acts in the ever vigilant Athonites. They have, in other words, the spirit of the Fathers and so can be ever mindful of their teachings, without much labour and special effort. Apart from that, many times during the discussion, the wise hermit, who has seen God, would open his books (of St. Gregory Palamas, St.
Symeon the New Theologian, the Philokalia etc.) which he kept near him, and would read and comment on many passages. My ardent wish is that there be readers who are helped to experience the Jesus prayer, which has sanctiﬁed so many others, that they too be made holy. I feel obliged to turn my thoughts also to the heroic and respected men, "the imitators of divine love", who live on Mt. Athos, who abandoned the world and live the real world not the improper world, but the transﬁgured world who experience the living God. They are the contemporary witnesses of Christ, "who have separated themselves from this world and who are in fact dead, so far as the world is concerned". These holy men have often supported and helped me many times, have fed me with their own bread; and I, who am poor, owe them so much. I am poor. But, if I had not taken even this little food, I would have died! I am hungry, yet I live through their grace, their blessings and their love. The following lines are thus dedicated to those fathers who have known heaven on the Holy Mountain, in gratitude for their great love, "in return for their love", and who have passionately loved the threefold poverty, the material one (poverty), the spiritual one (humility and obedience) and that of the body (chastity); to those fathers who truly have lived the beatitudes of the Lord; for, by becoming poor in spirit they became rich and by becoming meek they inherited the earth; they mourned and were comforted; they hungered for righteousness and were satisﬁed; they were merciful and they obtained mercy; becoming pure in heart they saw God in His power; becoming peacemakers they were made worthy of becoming sons of God. Oh Holy Fathers, blessed monks, hermits, we, who are sinners "declare you blessed, the younger to the elder the sons to the fathers, and the sinners to the holy ones" (St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain).
Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos
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Silence, Speech and the Life of the Monks
The Holy Mountain is a place of mystery where silence, which is eternity itself, speaks intensely, since silence is the language of the age to come. As the holy angels have a noetic power inconceivable to us through which they transmit divine thoughts to each other (St. Basil the Great), in the same way the earthly angels –who live on the Holy Mountain– and compete with the heavenly and bodiless one in life and prayer have another power in order to transmit what they experience. And this power is that of silence which, especially on the Holy Mountain, is the most eloquent of sermons; a "silent exhortation". The monks there do not speak much; they live the mysteries of God "in silence;" they experience Orthodox theology in an apophatic way. They listen to the voice of God through silence and acquire virtue. According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, "the silence of the lips, the closing of the eyes, and the deafness of the ears are for beginners in spiritual life the quick way to acquire virtue". The silence of the monks is edifying. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers we read the following: The Archbishop Theophilos visited a skete one day, where the brethren were exhorting Abba Pambo to say something edifying to the Archbishop. The former responded, "if he is not ediﬁed by my silence, he will not be ediﬁed by my speech".
One should go to the Holy Mountain with the intention of being ediﬁed through silence. For the visitor who knows how to be taught in this way, everything will speak to him. The silent ﬁgures of the monks, the caves of the hermits, the monasteries permeated with an atmosphere of compunction, nature itself and inanimate objects as well, will tell many stories and transmit wonderful teachings. It is in this way that the Holy Mountain speaks "in silence". Sometimes, however, they speak, and then they edify because they set a good example by how they live". A good life without words ediﬁes more than words without the example of a good life; in fact the others may disturb when they speak. If life and speech coexist they manifest an example of holiness" (Isidore of Pelouse). As the Holy Fathers live a holy life and have become instruments of the Holy Spirit, "mystical trumpets" of the Holy Trinity, of Love, of the Word and of Wisdom in whatever words they utter elevate. They have "words" to speak, because their acts are abundant. And they say the "words" when they are asked. From the sayings of the Fathers the following request is familiar: "Father, tell me a word so that I may be saved". A "word" spoken from the heart of the hermit as from the Holy Spirit, in the language of the desert, is considered revealed and authentic; ... and the one who requests it, receives it as the fruit of grace, without elaborating on it in his mind. This "word" from the spiritual father is absolutely necessary for the one who asks. The "word" comes from a soul which is the friend of God, wounded by the love of God and is spoken in accordance with the measure of "thirst" of the one who asks. As the Holy Mother of God conceived the Word of God and gave birth to the Theanthropos Christ, becoming therefore "the joy of all creation", in the same way do the Fathers, because of their purity, conceived the word and transmit it to those who thirst for it, becoming for them their joy... "A few brothers who had lay persons with them, approached Abba Felix and begged him to say a word to them. But the old man kept silent. After
they had asked for a long time he said to them, "You wish to hear a word", they said, "Yes Abba". Then the old man said to them, "There are no words nowadays. When the brothers used to consult their elders, and when they did what was asked of them, God would show them how to speak. However now, because they ask without doing that which they hear, God has withdrawn the grace of His Word from the elders, and they do not ﬁnd anything to say, because there is no longer anyone who carries out their words". Hearing this, the brothers groaned, saying, "Pray for us, Abba". (Sayings of the Desert Fathers). Through this example it is obvious that the word is the illumination of grace. Grace illumines pure and holy people and "incarnates" life into words. It is obvious also that the word is expressed according to the degree of thirst of him who asks and that the monks know how "to break" even the coldest heart and make it turn to God, even if they use a discreet reproach. So when you ask them with simplicity, humility and willingness to practise it, you will hear, then, the "glowings" of grace. They are words simple, humble, yet full of wisdom and grace. Words which are ﬁlled with grace. And at this point they imitate Christ who is the almighty Logos of the Father but also the embodiment of deep silence. He spoke, yet He also kept silence. The movement of God towards man is precisely not only a "revelation of the Word" but also an "expression of silence". The movement, therefore, of man towards God as well as towards his fellowman should be distinguished by these two elements. You visit the Holy Mountain with the intention of being taught more through silence and less through the word.
The monks of the Holy Mountain, the hermits, these songbirds of the desert, live life to its fullest. They are emmersed in Paradise. They are truly "Godbearers". They live the life of Christ "in earthen vessels", e.g. in bodies which have been exhausted by ascetic practice and the serving of others. In these monks, one can see divinization* in action, so to speak and not divinization as taught theoretically by the inexperienced in theology. They live both faith and works. For without doubt, faith without works is an illusion, and works without faith is idolatry. The grace of God, the image of Christ, are inscribed on their weatherbeaten faces. The "dance" of the holy ascetics "ﬂees from what is contrary to nature, salvages what is according to nature and becomes worthy of the gifts which are beyond nature" (St. Nicodemos). When you look at them you think that they are unhappy and sad, yet when their inner calmness overﬂows how it inundates you! These holy ascetics are likened to the big dams which retain abundant still waters, but, when the dams break, the force of the water reveals itself as it ﬂoods the surrounding area. When the hermit's mouth opens it will "ﬂood" you with fragrance! The mouths of the holy monks are "springs from which ﬂow honey and pure living water". You may think that their lives are of no value, but you will realise very soon that these hermits are "trees reaching high into the sky", well equipped with leaves affording shade, giving you shelter and refreshing you. You picture them as dressed in rags, as unapproachable, and as not having bathed thoroughly, because of their abstinence from washing (alousia), yet very soon you see them as "undying plants producing splendid fruit", "lilies, evergreen and always fragrant", whose fragrance satisﬁes you! And all this because Christ, the true life, lives in them". Their life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3. 3). In every Athonite monk who follows in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers and lives according to their teachings, you can discern, if you have within you the spirit of God, the coexistence of two seemingly opposite states: that of death and of life. Life springs from a daily death and death
becomes more dead from the enjoyment of life. The more the death of death (sin) extends, the greater the life of Life (of Christ) is experienced; and the more "Life" is experienced, the more death is put to death to the point that one experiences within oneself the resurrection and the ascension of Christ. Sin is destroyed and life comes forth. So, it can be said that monks put on death and enjoy Life. St. Paul writes to the Romans: "For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him. The death He died He died to sin, once and for all, but the life He lives He lives in God" (Rom. 6, 9). St. Nikitas Stethatos writes that the same happens to the saintly man who has become like Christ since he lives the life of Christ, having become dead to the world: "The one who has been raised from death was raised together with Christ. If he was raised with Christ through knowledge of Him and death no longer having dominion over Christ the death of ignorance has no dominion over Him. Thus he no longer lives for the ﬂesh and the world, having been dead to the members of his body and to the material things of life, but Christ lives within him, having yielded to the grace of the Holy Spirit and not to the law of his ﬂesh; that is to say he has offered his members to God the Father like weapons of righteousness". Even in deiﬁed monks are found the coinherence of rest and motion. According to St. Maximos they live an "evermoving rest" as well as a "restful motion". They remain "in Christ" and move unceasingly towards the more perfect delight of Him, because Christ is the pearl of great price. St. Gregory of Nyssa clariﬁes this point in a vivid manner, "The strangest thing of all is how rest and motion can coexist simultaneously, since he who ascends in no way stands still, and he who stands does not ascend; but here the ascending is accomplished by standing still, which means that the more one remains ﬁrm and steadfast in the good, the more he advances in the way of virtue". He abides, that is, in the while continually in motion. He is constantly moving and he remains in Christ. It is the incessant thirst for Christ but at the same time the divine satiation. A monk once said: "Something strange is happening to me. I
am hungry, yet I feel full"! This is not at all strange, however, for the man of God. This is what is referred to as the "perfect but still unﬁnished perfection of the perfect" (St. John Climacos). The life of the monk becomes continually the life of the Word of God, the life of Christ. Through "violence", the monk experiences all the "ages" of Christ. Christ is incarnate within him, performs miracles, suffers the passion, he is resurrected and he ascends. Living, therefore, in Christ he attains not only the uniﬁcation of his whole inner world but also of the world around him. He overcomes all the divisions and he ascends to an even higher level than the one before the Fall; he becomes like the ﬁrst Adam. St. Maximos refers to the ﬁve divisions which Adam failed to overcome, whereas man succeeds in this now through the help of the new Adam, that is to say of Christ. He can overcome the divisions between created and uncreated, between intelligible and sensible, heaven and earth, paradise and the universe, between man and woman. By overcoming the last division he goes on to overcome the ﬁrst that of created and uncreated. A holy man of God brings his whole self as well as the entire world to God; that is why the saint is the greatest benefactor of humanity. On the Holy Mountain I once approached such a gerondas* a gerondas who enjoys the never-ending fulness of divine mercy. Living in an opening in the earth, he has overcome all the conventions of this world. There are no words to describe him. If you characterize him as wise, you fall short. If you call him mad you do not convey the greatness of his spiritual folly! you do not know how to describe him. As he has escaped the categories of this world, he goes on towards the depths of eternity. He touches the divine ﬁre and he is literally aﬂame. He is on ﬁre now with the uncreated Light. For hours at a time while you are talking with him you think that he will be ignited and be completely consumed in ﬂames. You think that he will vanish bodily in front of you like the Prophet Elijah on the ﬁery chariot. At the very moment when he speaks to you, you think that he will ascend into Heaven like the Lord who
"while he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up to heaven" (Lk. 24. 51). Yet what you think will happen does not, because something else is happening. The compunction that is created while he is talking to you about matters of the spiritual life is similar to the "wonder" that took hold of the disciples on Mount Tabor. "A bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were ﬁlled with awe". (Matt. 17. 56) While he is speaking, the Holy Spirit descends suddenly, encompassing you, capturing you. Fear seizes you, but also the desire to remain there. When the holy ascetic is telling you his simple, unaffected words, you remember Christ talking to his disciples on the top of a mountain or on a boat in the sea. The holy ascetic indeed, is talking to you from the "mountain" of theoria* (of vision of God) and from the sea of eternity, beyond the mundane and trivial matters, beyond what you are. I approached this Gerondas one day. I knew he was a true theologian*. He did not have knowledge about God, but the "knowledge of God", which is inaccessible to the majority of people! "The knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed, and difﬁcult to climb –the majority of people scarcely reach its base"3. Only Moses was able to ascend the mountain of the vision of God and see God. I knew then that this gerondas was a Moses, a man who had seen God. At the beginning I felt awkward. What could one talk about with him! What had we in common? Were we on the same wavelength? We are at the ﬁrst stage of "practical philosophy" (puriﬁcation*), whereas he has already passed from "natural contemplation" (illumination of nous*) to "mystical theology" (knowledge of God*), that is, to everlasting knowledge. We are full of passions,* whereas he is the royal golden throne of the King. We personify hell, he is Paradise. However during our discussion the ascetic came down from his height and raised me higher. He emptied himself and enriched me! "Although
he was once rich, he became poor, so that I could be rich through his poverty". For unity always demands a movement out of one's self on both sides, which is also what happens in the union with God. A movement from God out of Himself as well as a movement from man out of himself occurs. This is the distinctive trait of divine love. "Theologians at times call the divine an erotic force, sometimes love, and at other times that which is intensely longed for and loved. Consequently, as an erotic force and as love, the divine itself is subject to movement; and being that which is intensely longed for and loved, it attracts to itself everything that is receptive of this force and love". (St. Maximos the confessor). The same Father states further: "The divine erotic force also produces ecstasy, compelling those who love to belong not to themselves but to those whom they love. This is shown by superior beings through the care of inferiors, by those of equal stature who support each other and by those of inferior status who strive passionately and are converted to the divine". I always keep in my memory, and even more so in my heart, every single minute of that conversation. What follows is how I met him and what we talked about.
A NIGHT IN THE DESERT OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN o · 1 2 · 3 · 4 5 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Discussion with the Gerondas on the Jesus Prayer
The signiﬁcance of the Jesus Prayer
The Stages of the Jesus prayer
3. Ways of the "Jesus Prayer" 4. The War of the Devil and Coping with it 5. The Advent and Withdrawal of Grace
The Fruits of the Jesus Prayer 7.
Errors in practising the Jesus Prayer and How we Cope with them 8.
The Jesus Prayer is necessary for Clergy and Laymen who live in the World
9. Saying the Jesus Prayer for Others
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Discussion with the Gerondas on the Jesus Prayer
– Holy father, I started in a low voice, a desire has taken hold of me very strongly lately. I believe that God has planted it. I want to be puriﬁed. I can see the passions unfurling within me. I think my heart is a jungle which feeds many wild beasts the devil is its master and does whatever he wants. I want to be free from this awful state. I would like to give my soul completely to God, I would like him to illumine me. The cunning
devil has devastated it long enough. So, I want to be puriﬁed but I do not know how. Can you hear me, Gerondas! I want to be puriﬁed! Show me the way! I am ready to take it and obey without question whatever you tell me. ... I had started in a low voice but ended up crying out and weeping. My last words may have been heard like thunder in the ears of the hermit. So loud were they! He kept silent for a while. He looked at me with much love; only monks have this sort of love and know how to show it. He gave me the impression that I should not be troubled about this concern, for it was blessed. – It is obvious, he said, that the Holy Spirit exists and acts within us when we experience such a state. We begin walking the way of the theoria (vision) of God. It is the ﬁrst stage of theoria. If the perfect theoria (vision) of the uncreated Light is "enraptured light" the soul, repentance and the awareness of our sinfulness is "ﬁre consuming" the soul. Then, repentance and the desire for the puriﬁcation of the soul from the passions constitutes the time of grace. Only when grace enters within us can we see our desolation how far we are from God and we ﬁght to be united with him. We are not able to have these thoughts and these desires if the grace of God does not visit us. He was a wise director, an experienced spiritual father indeed a man full of grace. He knows, like the best doctor, how to calm you down, to give you peace, to give you a pacifying medicine not in order to leave you contented with your selﬁshness but in order to deliver you from it, to cure you. – Having clariﬁed this point, he went on, I must also show you some methods or rather a very simple method. Do not expect me to burden you with very heavy things. The prayer of Jesus, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me" the unceasing cry to God, our Saviour puriﬁes our soul. All our salvation rests upon the invocation of Jesus and
union with him. Let us cry to him to come and He will cure us by his coming. Let us moan like a sick man and He like a doctor will come lovingly to our aid . Let us cry like the one who fell among thieves, and the good Samaritan will come to clean our wounds and guide us to the Inn, that is to the theoria (vision) of the Light which consumes all our being. When God comes into our heart, He gains victory over the devil and cleanses the impurities which the evil one has created. The victory, therefore, over the devil is the victory of Christ in us. Let us do the human part, that is to invite Christ, and He will do the divine part, He will gain victory over the devil and cut him off. So we should not want to do the divine part ourselves and expect God to do the human one. We should understand this well, we do the human part, the prayer of Jesus, and God the divine part, our salvation. The entire work of the Church is the collaboration of divine and human. [ BACK ]
1. The signiﬁcance of the Jesus Prayer
–If I have understood correctly, salvation is attained mostly through asceticism, watchfulness* and the Jesus prayer. Allow me however a question. I ask it not because I agree with it but because I hear many objections about the Jesus prayer. They say that the "Jesus prayer" and the way it is practised is a Christian yoga and is connected with prototypes of Eastern religions. What do you have to say about this?
– It seems that those who say this are completely ignorant of the graceﬁlled state of our Church, since we obtain divine grace through the Jesus prayer. They have not experienced it, that is why they do not know it. Yet they should never accuse those who have experience. They blaspheme against the Holy Fathers as well. Many of the Fathers fought for the Jesus prayer, and they spoke strongly about its value. What then? Did they fall into error? Did St. Gregory Palamas fall into error? They are even ignorant of the Holy Bible. The blind men said the words: "Son of David have mercy on us", (Matt. 20. 30), which means "Jesus have mercy on us", and their sight was restored; the lepers said it and they were cured from their leprocy (Lk. 4. 27), etc. The prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me", consists of two basic points: The dogmatic one –acknowledgement of the Divinity of Christ– and the suppliant one –supplication for our salvation. In other words the confession of faith in Christ is connected with the confession of our inability to be saved of our own accord. This says everything, and the whole struggle of the Christian is based on these two points: Faith in Christ and awareness of our sinfulness. The "Jesus Prayer", therefore, expresses to the utmost the effort of the faithful in a few words and summarises all the dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church. We acquire this twofold knowledge through the Jesus prayer. St. Maximos points out that the passion of pride consists of two ignorances: the ignorance of the divine power and the ignorance of human weakness. And this double ignorance creates a "confused mind". Proud, therefore, is the man of ignorance, whereas, on the contrary, humble is the man of dual knowledge. The latter knows his own weakness and the power of Christ. So, we acknowledge and confess the power of Christ (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God) as well as our own weakness (have mercy on me) through the Jesus prayer. We acquire in this way the blessed state of humility. Where there is humility there also, is the grace of Christ, and this grace is the Kingdom of Heaven. Can you see then the worth of the Jesus prayer? Can you see that we can obtain the Kingdom of God by its power?
– I know, Gerondas, that a prerequisite of the Orthodox teaching is never to separate Christ from the other persons of the most Holy Trinity. For this reason we often invoke and glorify fully the Holy Trinity in all the prayers which are said aloud by the priest as well as in the meditative endings of the prayers during the Divine Liturgy: "For unto Thee are due all glory, honour and worship, unto the Father and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Spirit now and forever. . . "; "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all", etc. I wonder whether the "Jesus prayer", which refers only to the second Person of the most Holy Trinity, deviates from this correct teaching. –Deﬁnitely not, and I will explain it to you further. The "prayer" is called the "Jesus prayer" but is founded on a Trinitarian basis. Moreover, Christ, "being one of the Holy Trinity" , never exists without the Father and the Holy Spirit and constitute, together with the other Persons, "a Trinity of one substance and undivided". Christology is tightly connected with Triadology. Let me come back to the matter of the "Jesus prayer". The heavenly Father ordered Joseph through the angel to call Christ, Jesus: ". . .and you shall call his name Jesus..." (Matt. 1. 21) Joseph obeying the Father, called the Son of the Virgin, Jesus. Evenmore so according to the Holy Spirit which illumined the Apostle Paul, "no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12. 3). By saying, therefore, the prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me", we acknowledge the Father and are obedient to Him. Moreover we feel the energy of and the communion with the Holy Spirit. The Fathers illumined by the Holy Spirit, told us that the "Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, makes everything". The complete Holy Trinity created the world and made man; and again the entire Holy Trinity recreated man and the world. "The Father was well pleased, the Word became ﬂesh". And He "became ﬂesh" by the Holy Spirit. That is to say, the incarnation of Christ was made "by the good will of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit". For this reason we say that the salvation of man and the acquisition of divine gifts are common acts of
the Holy Trinity. I will mention two characteristic teachings of the Holy Fathers. Saint Symeon the New Theologian writes that the Son and Word of God is the door of salvation according to His declaration: "I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and ﬁnd pasture". (John 10. 9). If Christ is the door, the Father is the house".In my Father's house are many rooms" (John 14. 2). So we enter into the Father through Christ. And in order to open the door (Christ) we need the key, which is the Holy Spirit. For we know the truth, which is Christ, through the energy of the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His Son to the world, the Son and Word of God reveals the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and is sent through the Son, forms Christ in our hearts! We know, therefore, the Father "through the Son in the Holy Spirit". St. Maximos speaks often in his works about the mystical incarnations of the Word. He writes that, just as the words of the law and of the Prophets were the forerunners of the presence of the Word in the ﬂesh, in the same way the Son and Word of God, being incarnate, became the forerunner of "his spiritual presence", "by instructing the souls through his own words so that they will be able to accept His divine presence". In other words Christ must be incarnate within us, because we shall not be able to see His glory in Heaven otherwise. The incarnation of Christ within us, however, is done by the good will of the Father and the cooperation of the Holy Spirit. Can you see how the common action of the Holy Trinity is expressed, how we acknowledge and confess the great Mystery that the Lord revealed through His incarnation? He who then denies and does not acknowledge the Jesus prayer makes a big mistake. He denies the Holy Trinity. He does not obey the Father and does not accept the illumination of the Holy Spirit, therefore, he does not have real communion with Christ. So, he must be in doubt as to whether he is a Christian or not.
–I would also, Gerondas, like you to explain to me and expand more on what I was saying earlier, on the differences between the Jesus prayer and yoga, and for you to show me its superiority over the other eastern religions, since you offer great experience. –The subject is very big, my son, and one could say many things about it. From what I said previously the following stand out: Firstly: In the Jesus prayer faith in God, Who created the world and Who governs it and loves it, is expressed strongly. He is an affectionate Father who cares about saving His mortal creation. Salvation is attained "in God". For this reason when we pray we implore Him by saying: "Have mercy on me". Self-redemption and self-divinization are far from the athlete of noetic prayer,* because this is the sin of Adam, the sin of the Fall. He wanted to become God outside God's plan for him. Salvation is not attained "through ourselves and does not emanate from ourselves", as the human philosophical systems claim, but is attained "in God". Secondly: We are not struggling to meet an impersonal God through the "Jesus prayer". We do not seek our elevation to "absolute nothingness". Our prayer focuses on the personal God, the Godman Jesus, for this reason we say "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God". Divine and human nature meet in Christ, in other words in the fullness of the divine Word and all of humanity the perfection of divinity dwells in him in the ﬂesh". (Col. 2. 9) Therefore, anthropology and soteriology (teaching about man and his salvation) in Orthodox monasticism are closely connected with Christology. We love Christ and keep His commandments. We place great importance on this matter. We insist on the keeping of the commandments of Christ. He Himself said: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments". (John 14. 15) By loving Christ and by keeping his commandments we are united with the entire Holy Trinity. Thirdly: We do not reach a state of pride through unceasing prayer. The philosophical systems you mentioned before are possessed by pride. We
acquire the blessed state of humility through the Jesus prayer. We say "Have mercy on me", and we consider ourselves the worst of all. We despise none of our brothers. The athlete of the Jesus prayer is a stranger to every sort of pride. And whoever has pride is foolish. Fourthly: Salvation, as we said before, is not an abstract notion but union with God, the Holy Trinity in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. This union, however, does not efface the human factor. We are not assimilated, since we are ourselves also persons. Fifthly: As prayer develops we acquire the ability to discern error. We can see and distinguish the movements of the devil but at the same time the energies of Christ. We recognise the deceit of the devil who, many times, changes his form even into an angel of light. We distinguish, therefore, good from evil, the uncreated from the created. Sixthly: The struggle for the "Jesus prayer" is connected with the cleansing of soul and body from the corrupting effect of passions. We do not aim at reaching Stoic apathy but we strive to attain the dynamic state of dispassion,* which means that we do not aim at the mortiﬁcation of passions but at their transformation. Without dispassion one cannot love God and be saved, but because this love has been corrupted and distorted, we strive for its transformation. We ﬁght to transform the distorted states that the devil created in us. We cannot be saved without this personal struggle which is achieved with the help of the grace of Christ. According to St. Maximos, "Spiritual Knowledge without practical life (puriﬁcation of heart) is the theology of the demons". Seventhly: We do not try to guide the nous noetic faculty to absolute nothingness through the "Jesus prayer", but to turn it to the heart and bring the grace of God into the soul, from where it will spread to the body also. "The kingdom of God is within us" (Lk. 17. 21). According to the teaching of our Church, it is our way of thinking, according to the ﬂesh, which is bad and not our body. We must not try to get rid of "the
garment of the soul", as the philosophical systems claim, but we must try to save it. Additionally, salvation means redemption of the whole of man (of the soul and the body). We do not aim, therefore, at the destruction of the body, but we ﬁght the worship of it. Neither do we want the destruction of life. We do not aspire to reach a point where we do not desire life so that suffering ceases. We practise the Jesus prayer because we thirst for life and we want to live with God eternally. Eighthly: We are not indifferent to the world around us. The various systems you mentioned before avoid facing people's problems, so that peace and impassibility can be maintained. We have in mind the opposite: we pray unceasingly for all. We are suppliants for the whole world. Moreover, salvation is union with Christ while we are in communion with other persons. We cannot be saved just by ourselves. A joy which is only ours, without being joy for other people as well, is not true joy. Ninthly: We do not place great importance on psychosomatic techniques and on the various postures of the body. We consider some of them as assisting the concentration of the nous on the heart, i.e. which in essence do away with all of this. I repeat, we do not strive for impassibility, a negative state, but for the acquisition of divine grace... – Thank you very much, Gerondas, for these illuminating thoughts. They have great importance because they come from you, who knows them from experience. Allow me a question. Is puriﬁcation and salvation, that is divinization, attained only through the "Jesus prayer", Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me? Are other prayers not appropriate? Do they not help? –Every prayer has enormous power. It is a cry of the soul. Divine help comes according to one's faith and fervour. There is liturgical prayer, individual prayer etc. The Jesus prayer, however, has boundless value, because, as St. Isaak the Syrian says, it is that small key with whose help
we can enter into the mysteries which "no eye has seen, no ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived". That is, the Jesus prayer can keep the nous more in check and make it pray without ceasing; the nous, then, becomes "without colour", "without form", "without shape" and receives much grace in a very short period. The Jesus prayer calls forth a lot of grace, even more than psalmody does, because it is closely connected with humility and the awareness of our sin. This is what the Fathers tell us. St. Gregory the Sinaite says, indeed, that psalmody is for practical* ones and the beginners, whereas the Jesus prayer is for those who have tasted divine grace for the hesychasts. – Usually, my son, he went on, confusion comes with psalmody, but also selﬁshness and pride enters the heart for one's beautiful voice, for the impressions that the others express, whereas there are no external factors for the appearance of pride when the believer says "Lord have mercy on me", in his cell. For this reason the hesychasts practise more this sort of prayer which our Fathers taught us and do matins and vespers with the prayer rope, repeating the Jesus prayer. – The Jesus prayer is quite limited, very short. How can the nous be ﬁxed on it? – The nous concentrates more on short phrases. But the Jesus prayer has an immense depth which cannot be seen externally. The nous has the property to increase love and desire for that which it concentrates on. St. Maximos says: "the nous seeks to expand on the things it is ﬁxed on; it, then, turns, its love and desire to those things it expands on, either being divine and noetic or of the ﬂesh and of passions". Moreover, the same thing happens with knowledge. Something that, at ﬁrst glance, is simple can become a subject of length study and research. How much more the sweetest name of Jesus! You can study it all your life.
–Since the Jesus prayer possesses such power, allow me, Gerondas, to ask you how it is done. How can one enjoy it? I know that I may annoy you by being ignorant and... illiterate in these matters, but you can help me a lot if you tell me this. – The Jesus prayer is the greatest science, my son. It cannot be described precisely nor can it be deﬁned for fear of it being misunderstood or not being fully understood by those who have not had at least a little experience. It is indeed a great feat. I would even say that it is the highest form through which we acquire Theology* or rather the vision of God. Theology is the offspring and emanation of pure prayer, its wholesome and blessed fruit. The climate in which it develops and can be experienced is the quietude of the sweet desert in all its dynamic content as well as puriﬁcation from passions. –I have read, Gerondas, some books and articles referring to this work which is ﬁlled with grace, the work of noetic hesychia the unceasing calling on the name of Jesus. But I would like you, since you have shown me its signiﬁcance, to share with me some thoughts about it out of your personal experience and the knowledge of the Fathers. I do not want to learn simply because of curiosity but because of my zeal to experience, as much as I can, this blessed state. Please do not refuse my wish. [ BACK ]
2. The Stages of the Jesus prayer
–I referred to something before. Noetic prayer requires mainly renunciation of the world, submission to a Gerondas, a decision by the monk to remain in exile and to keep the commandments of Christ for a long period of time. In the beginning our attention concentrates on the fulﬁlling of the commandments of Christ and is occupied in practising abstinence and obedience. We know from the teaching of our Holy Fathers that virtues do not unite man with God perfectly, but they create the appropriate climate so that prayer comes which unites man with God–the Holy Trinity. Virtues are a prerequisite for the granting of much grace, yet they also offer grace. When, therefore, the Gerondas, who has the experience of the Jesus prayer, realises that his disciple's will has been cut off, and has been cleansed from the gross passions, only then does he decide to initiate him in the Jesus prayer. Even then, however, he does not tell him everything but only as much as he can endure and carry out. He guides him little by little in case he may be led into disappointment or error. –What are these stages? Which are the mystical steps which bring us to perfect union with Christ and to the enjoyment of deifying grace? –The basic purpose of the Jesus prayer is to unify the whole of man "who has become fragmented". –Please, forgive me for the interruption. What does uniﬁcation of the whole of man mean? –Man, according to Scripture, has been created "after the image of God". (Col. 3. 10) God is Trinity, that is, one essence in three hypostases (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Thus the soul, being created in the image of God, is single as well as manifold. She has three powers: the appetitive power, the intelligent power and the irascible power. All three must be united and be directed to God. According to St. Maximos their development according to nature is for the intelligent power to have the knowledge of God, for the appetitive power to desire and love only God
and for the irascible power to carry out the will of the Lord. In this way the commandment is fulﬁlled: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength". (Mk. 12. 30) When the nous remains in God, it raises the appetitive power to love Him and the irascible power to ﬁght against the evil spirit and seek for puriﬁcation. So, union exists because an impetus towards God exists. Well then! Sin tears up the union of the three powers of the soul. The nous comes to ignore God, the appetitive power loves the creatures and not the Creator and the irascible power is submitted to the tyranny of the passions. Thus, we have the complete enslavement of the soul. St. Gregory Palamas describes this state very well. Firstly, the nous moves away from God and turns to other creations: "whenever we open a door to the passions, the nous is immediately scattered, wandering all the time over carnal and worldly things, over the manifold pleasures and the impassioned thoughts which go with them". Secondly, the nous, fallen away from God, leads desire astray from God and His commandments: "when the nous rebels, desire is also scattered in fornication and foolishness". Thirdly, the will is submitted to the passions and is tormented and becomes enraged: "man, who has been destined to be a child of God, becomes a murderer, becoming comparable not only to the wild beasts, but also to the reptiles and venomous animals, he becomes a scorpion, a snake, an offspring of vipers". Therefore, the three powers of the soul depart from God but at the same time, they lose their unity with each other. The appetitive power wants to return to God but the irascible power does not allow it; desire wants the return but the nous, not believing in God, does not want to love God. We strive for this unity and attain it ﬁnally through the Jesus prayer. The return to God starts with the concentration of the nous. Our aim is to
detach the nous from its attraction to surrounding objects and bring it back to itself so that the desire is brought back. – I think you have presented it to me very vividly, and thus I have understood it. –It is the Fathers that present these, not me, my son. –After my interruption and your explanation, can you please tell me the stages of the prayer more analytically? Where does one start from and how does one progress? –There are primarily ﬁve stages. Firstly: The reciting of the Jesus prayer vocally. We repeat the Jesus prayer with our lips while trying at the same time to focus our attention on the words of the prayer. Secondly: The nous takes the Jesus prayer and says it noetically. Our whole attention is centred again in the words, but is concentrated on the nous. When the nous gets tired then we start again to vocalize the prayer with the lips. This method, of course, or the use of the prayer rope is still the elementary level school of the Jesus prayer. A beginner should start however, from this stage, and when he reaches the more perfect, the imperfect one will then fade away. After the nous has rested, we start again to concentrate our attention there. St. Neilos advises: "Always remember God and your nous will become heaven". Thirdly: The Jesus prayer then descends into the heart.* Nous and heart are united. The attention now is centred in the heart and is immersed again into the words of the Jesus prayer, and primarily into the name of Jesus which has an imperceptible depth. Fourthly: The prayer now becomes automatic. It is done while the ascetic is working, eating, discussing or while he is in church or even while he is sleeping. "I sleep but by heart waketh" is said in the Holy Scripture. (Song of Songs 5. 2) Fifthly: Then one feels a divine soft ﬂame burning within his soul and making it joyful. The grace of Christ lives in the heart. The Holy Trinity is established. "We become the dwelling place of God, when He lives
within us, established in the memory. Thus, we become the temple of God when remembrance of Him is not disturbed by earthly cares, and the mind is not distracted by unexpected thoughts. Fleeing the latter, the friend of God withdraws into Him, chasing away the passions which invite intemperate thoughts, and occupying himself in a way which leads to virtue". (St. Basil the Great) Thus, he feels the divine presence within himself, and this grace passes through to his body which becomes dead to the world and is cruciﬁed. And this is the most extreme stage which is sometimes connected with the vision of the uncreated Light.* This is, virtually, the course of the development of the Jesus prayer. Each stage has a corresponding grace. –Gerondas, allow me a few questions which arose while you were talking about the stages of the Jesus prayer. What do you mean by the word heart? – According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, the heart is the centre of the spiritual world. Among the many opinions of the Fathers on this subject I will mention a distinctive one of St. Epiphanios, Bishop of Konstantia of Cyprus: "For this reason, we need not in any way deﬁne or ascertain in what part of man the image of God rather is accomplished, but we need to confess that the image of God does exist in man, so that we will not despise the grace of God and disbelieve in Him. For whatever God says is true, although His word has to a certain extent, escaped our capacity to conceive it". Just as a beam when it falls upon a prism is refracted and shown from all sides, in the same way does the soul also express herself through the whole human being. When we say the Jesus prayer, however, we ﬁx our attention on the physical organ, on the heart, so that we are distracted away from the outside world and bring it back again into ourselves, into the "deep heart". In this way the nous – the eye of the soul– returns to its home and is united there with the other powers.
– Allow me a second question. Do all who are enchanted by the enjoyment of God follow the course you have just described to me? –Yes, most of them do. There are some however who, from the very beginning, seek to unite the nous with the heart by doing breathing exercises. They breathe in the words "Lord Jesus Christ" and exhale the words "have mercy on me". They follow the air as it comes into the nose all the way to the heart, and there they rest a little. This, of course, is done to allow the nous to be ﬁxed on the prayer. The Holy Fathers have also handed over to us another method. We breathe in saying all the words of the Jesus prayer and we breathe out saying them again. This method, however, requires maturity in spiritual development. But using this way of breathing can cause many difﬁculties, many problems; that is why it should be avoided, if there is no guidance from a spiritual father. It can be used, however, simply to ﬁx the nous on the words of the prayer so that the nous is not distracted. I repeat, this needs a special blessing (permission) of a discerning father. –You said before, Gerondas, that the aim of the Jesus prayer is to bring the nous back into the heart, that is the energy into the essence. We can experience this speciﬁcally at the third stage of this holy pathway. When, however, you recounted the ﬁfth stage, you referred to a quotation of St. Basil the Great: "he who loves God having avoided all these, departs towards God". How does the nous come into the heart and depart towards God? Is this perhaps a contradiction? – No it is not, the holy hermit answered. As the Holy and God–bearing Fathers teach, those who pray are at various stages. There are beginners as well as the advanced; as they are better called in the teachings of the Fathers, the practical and the theoretical ones. For the practical ones, prayer is born of fear of God and a ﬁrm hope in Him, whereas to the theoretical ones, prayer is begotten by a divinely intense longing for God and by total puriﬁcation. The characteristic of the ﬁrst state – that of the
practical ones– is the concentration of the nous within the heart; when the nous prays to God without distraction. The characteristic of the second state of prayer –that of the theoretical ones– is the rapture of the nous by the divine Light, so that it is aware neither of the world nor of itself. This is the ravishment (ecstasy*) of the nous, and we say that, at this stage the nous "departs" to God. The God–bearing Fathers who experienced these blessed states describe the divine ravishment; "it is the rapture of the nous by the divine and inﬁnite light, so that it is aware neither of itself nor of any other created thing, but only of Him Who through love, has activated such radiance in the nous". (St. Maximos) – Allow me another question. I wasn’t able to understand the quotation you mentioned before: "I sleep, but my heart waketh". (Song of Songs 5. 2) Please do love for me.* Explain it to me. How is it possible that the heart continues to pray while man is sleeping? –This passage is written in the book of the Old Testament which is called "Song of Songs". It is not difﬁcult to explain. Prophet David says that man's heart is deep. All the events, all the impressions of the day and the occupations of the mind go into the depths of the heart, into what we call nowadays the subconscious. So, whatever man is occupied with during the day, the heart will be occupied with these same things at night, when the mind and the human energies rest. And this can be seen clearly in our dreams. St. Basil says that "to a great extent, the phantasies of night (dreams) are an echo (reﬂection) of our daily thoughts". Evil occupations and thoughts of the day create evil dreams. The same also happens with good deeds. The ascetic or the man of God in general, thinks of God all day long through the Jesus prayer. The remembrance* of God by the repetition of the Jesus prayer, is his delight. He does everything, whether he eats or he drinks, for the glory of God according to the word of the Apostle. It is natural, therefore, that his heart thinks of God and prays even during the few hours of nightly rest. His heart is ever awake.
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6. The Fruits of the Jesus Prayer
– I will mention to you some of the fruits of the Jesus prayer, since I can see you are very eager to learn. In the beginning the Jesus prayer is the bread which sustains the athlete, then it becomes oil which sweetens the heart and, in the end, it becomes wine which intoxicates man, that is, which creates ecstasy and union with God. To be more speciﬁc. The ﬁrst gift which Christ gives to the man of prayer is the awareness of his sinfulness. He stops believing that he is "good" and considers himself "the desolating sacrilege... standing in the holy place" (Matt. 24. 15). Like the saw of a surgeon cutting through bone, the sharp word of the Spirit penetrates to the depths of the soul. There is so much impurity within us! Our soul reeks. Sometimes people come in my cell and they give a bad odor... from their inner ﬁlth. Well then, whatever was unknown before to the athlete, is now revealed to him through the Jesus prayer. As a result he considers himself below all people and thinks that Hell is his only eternal habitation and starts crying. He cries for his dead self. Is it possible for one to cry for the dead of his neighbour and not for the dead who is in his own house? In this way the athlete of the Jesus prayer, too, does not see the sins of others, but only his own death. His eyes become fountains of tears which ﬂow from the afﬂiction of his heart. He weeps like a condemned person, and at the same time he cries, "have mercy on me". "Have mercy on me". "Have mercy on me". With these tears, as we said above, the puriﬁcation of soul and nous begins. As water cleanses dirty things, as the falling rain clears the sky of clouds and the earth from ﬁlth, likewise tears cleanse and whiten the soul. The
tears are the water of the second baptism. Thus the Jesus prayer brings the sweetest fruit of puriﬁcation. – Is man completely puriﬁed when divine grace visits him? – He is not puriﬁed completely, but is always seeking purity of heart for puriﬁcation is a never ending effort. St. John Climacos reports this saying which he had heard from a monk, who had achieved dispassion. "The perfect but still unﬁnished perfection of the perfect". The more one weeps the more one is puriﬁed; the more one sees the deeper layers of sin the more he feels the need to weep again. St. Symeon the New Theologian elucidates this point well: These by frequent prayer, by unutterable words by the ﬂow of their tears purifying their souls. As they see their soul puriﬁed, they are set on ﬁre with love, the ﬁre of desire, to see it perfectly pure. But as they are powerless to ﬁnd perfection of light the process is incomplete. The more I am puriﬁed I, the sinner, am illumined, the more He appears, the spirit who gives purity. Each day, it seems I begin again to be made pure, to see. In a fathomless abyss, in a measureless heaven, who can ﬁnd a middle or an end? As you understand, my father, man is being continuously perfected and cleansed. The passive aspect of the soul is ﬁrst cleansed and then the intelligent power of the soul. The faithful are initially delivered from the passions of the ﬂesh; then –through harder prayer and more intensive struggle, from the passions of hatred, anger and rancour. When man manages to be freed from anger and rancour, it is obvious that the passive aspect of his soul has almost been puriﬁed. Then the entire warfare is carried out in the intelligent aspect, and the athlete wars against pride, vainglory and against all vain thoughts. This warfare will
follow him to the end of his life. But all this course of puriﬁcation takes place with the help and energy of grace, so that the faithful becomes a vessel receptive of rich divine grace. Again St. Symeon writes: For man cannot overcome his passions unless the light comes to our help. Even so, it does not happen all at once. Man by nature cannot receive all of a sudden, the spirit of God. But much must be achieved, all of which is in his power. Detachment of soul, despoiling of goods, separation from his own, giving up his will, renouncing the world, patience in temptations, prayer, sorrow, poverty, humility, dispassion. –And how does one understand that his soul is beginning to be puriﬁed? –This is easy, the wise hermit answered. It becomes perceptible very soon. Hesychios the Elder uses a nice image. As the poisonous food which enters the stomach and causes disturbance and pain, comes out when we take medicine, and the stomach is relieved afterwards and feels the relief, the same happens with spiritual life. When man accepts evil thoughts and subsequently, experiences their bitterness and their heaviness, he "vomits easily and casts the evil thoughts out completely" through the Jesus prayer, attaining the sense therefore that puriﬁcation is taking place. Moreover, the man of prayer becomes aware of puriﬁcation, because the internal wounds that the passions cause cease bleeding. In the Gospel of the Evangelist Luke we read about the woman who had a ﬂow of blood that: "she... came up behind him, and touched the fringe of his garment; and immediately her ﬂow of blood ceased" (Lk. 8. 44). When one approaches Jesus Christ, he is immediately healed –"the ﬂow of blood ceases": the blood of passions ceases to ﬂow. I wish to say that images, circumstances, persons who used to scandalize us cease to now. In other words, when various persons or things disturb us, it is obvious that we are wounded by the attacks of the devil. It is within us that the scandal lies. Being puriﬁed
through the help of the Jesus prayer, he sees all people and all things as creatures of God. He considers, especially human persons, as images of a God Who is full of love. Whoever, therefore, is dressed with the grace of Christ also sees the others dressed with such grace, even if they are naked. Whereas he who is destitude of divine grace, sees even those who are dressed as if they were naked! I would like at this point to read from the homilies of St. Symeon the New Theologian again. –He is a Theologian, indeed. I read a few of his works and I was touched by them! – I exhort you to read all his works because you will be able, in this way, to acquire a taste of mystical theology, of the apophatic way of ascetic experience. Well, the God–seeing father says: The holy, pious Symeon the Studite was not ashamed of seeing the body parts of any person or of seeing naked people, neither was he ashamed of being seen naked; for Christ was fully within him; the whole of him was Christ and all of his members and everyone else's members whether seen separately or all together he would always see as Christ; and he would remain unmoved, unharmed and dispassioned, for he was all Christ himself and saw all those baptised as having put on Christ. And if you are naked and being ﬂesh, you touch ﬂesh and you become excited as a donkey or a horse, how then do you dare calumniate the holy man and you blaspheme against Christ who has been united with us and has given dispassion to his holy servants?". –As you can see, he went on, the dispassionate man, the one puriﬁed through the Jesus prayer, does not fall into temptation, whatever he might see. At the same time the devil is defeated; this is a fruit of the Jesus prayer. The athlete of the Jesus prayer recognises the enemy and his traps and easily casts him out of his soul. He also realises the devil's
preparation for war and takes action just in time. He sees the arrows of the devil aimed at his soul, and before they even touch it, they are destroyed. St. Diadochos says that when the arrows reach the surface part of the heart, they are destroyed there, because the grace of Christ is within. Furthermore, as we were saying before, the integration of the complete person is achieved. Mind, desire and will are united and combined in God. – Puriﬁcation and dispassion are great gifts!!! I exclaimed. –Yes, indeed, dispassion is a gift of grace. Dispassion presupposes puriﬁcation and love and even more it covers love. St. Symeon can help us even at this point. He uses an effective image. On a cloudless night we see the moon in the sky ﬁlled with the most pure light and many times a shining circle around it. This is how St. Symeon adjusts this image to the puriﬁed and dispassioned man. The bodies of the Saints are the sky. Their God–bearing heart is like the moon. Holy love is the "almighty and all–accomplishing light", which ﬁlls the heart each day, according to its degree of puriﬁcation, and then a time comes when the heart is full of this bright light and becomes like a full–moon. But this light does not diminish, as the moon’s light does, because it is preserved with good works. "It remains always bright through the zeal and the good works of the Saints". Dispassion is the circle which surrounds the all–shining heart, covers it, and maintains it invulnerable from the furious assaults of the devil. "It shields it from every side and guards it and maintains it invincible from every evil thought and establishes it unharmed and free from all enemies; not only this but also it makes it unapproachable by the adversaries". Although dispassion is absolutely necessary, it is not the ﬁnal gift of the Jesus prayer and the acquisition of everything. From then on the ascent to God starts. The Holy Fathers describe this spiritual ascent to divinization in three words: Puriﬁcation, illumination, perfection. I'll mention to you two examples from the Holy Scripture to make it more
comprehensible: the ascent of Moses on Mount Sinai to obtain the "Law" and the march of the people of Israel to the promised land. The ﬁrst is described by St. Gregory of Nyssa and the second by St. Maximos. –The Fathers always inspire me. They interpret the word of God correctly, that is why I like to hear the interpretations of the Fathers. –The Hebrews washed their garments ﬁrst and cleansed themselves according to the commandment of God: "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready by the third day". Then on the third day, all the people heard voices and "a very loud trumpet blast" and saw thunder, lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain. "And Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke". The people walked to the foot of the mountain; only Moses went into the shining cloud and reached the top of the mountain, where he received the tablets of the Law (Ex. 19. 10–18). St. Gregory of Nyssa understands that the way to divine knowledge is purity of body and soul. He who is going to ascend must be, as far as it is possible, pure and spotless, both in body and soul. He must also, according to the divine commandment, wash his garments –not so much the material ones, because they do not become an obstacle for those who want to be deiﬁed– but rather the deeds of this life which enwrap us like a garment. He must also distance himself from the "irrational beasts", e.g. he must overcome every knowledge which is obtained through the senses. He must be cleansed from every aesthetic and irrational action he must purify his mind and be separated even from his own familiar companion –his sense– and being prepared in this way, let him dare to approach the mountain with the thick cloud upon it. Yet, since the mountain is inaccessible to the people, let only Moses –that is he who has been called by God ascend– proceed. Therefore, father, as it is seen here, puriﬁcation precedes and the ascent to divine vision follows. The greater gifts, then, are obtained after puriﬁcation, which is a prerequisite for their acquisition.
Let me remind you, the God–seeing ascetic continued, of the second example. St. Maximos the Confessor writes that there are three stages for the mystical ascent to God: practical philosophy which is both negative (puriﬁcation from passions) and positive (acquisition of virtues); the natural theoria–vision when the puriﬁed nous contemplates all creation (that is the inner essences of created beings) comprehends the spiritual meaning of the Scriptures, and sees God in nature and prays to Him. Then the third and last stage follows: the mystical theology, which unites God with the militant, the faithful one. These three stages can be seen clearly in the route of the people of Israel. They were ﬁrst liberated from the slavery of Egypt, and crossed the Red Sea where Egyptian power was defeated. Then they came to the wilderness, where they received the gifts of divine love manifested in various ways (the manna, the water, the bright cloud, the Law, the victory against enemies), and they entered the promised land after many years of struggle. In the same way, the athlete of the "Jesus prayer" is ﬁrst delivered from the slavery of passions (practical philosophy), he enters then the desert of dispassion (natural theoria–vision), where he receives the gifts of the love of God. And ﬁnally, he becomes worthy of the promised land (mystical theology) after a heroic struggle; he becomes worthy of perfect union with God and the enjoyment of eternity, which is experienced in the vision of the uncreated Light. These three stages, however, are not clearcut, according to the God–bearing Fathers. When we reach natural theoria–vision and mystical theology, it does not mean that we give up ascesis and compunction of the heart, i.e. practical philosophy. Rather the more a person progresses spiritually, the more he struggles so that he will not lose the mercy that he received. The Fathers advise us that when we become worthy of divine and lofty visions, we should then be more diligent in our expression of love and continence, "so that by keeping undisturbed the passive aspect of the soul, you will experience the unfailing light of the soul". It is necessary that man should always proceed on his spiritual path in fear. In the beginning, he should have the fear of Hell, of punishment (preliminary fear) and then the fear, lest he loses grace and falls from it (perfect fear). "Work out
your own salvation in fear and trembling", the Apostle Paul says (Phil. 2. 12). – Tell me now, Gerondas, what are the gifts that the athlete of the "Jesus prayer" receives after puriﬁcation and before he enjoys perfect union with God? Go on describing to me the other fruits of the Jesus prayer. –The monk who does violence to himself feels divine consolation. He feels the presence of Christ, which spreads "sweet calmness", unperturbed peace, profound humility, and insatiable love for all. The consolation of divine presence cannot be compared with anything human. I met an ascetic who became seriously ill and went to the hospital for treatment. The best of doctors were by his side as they respected him and wanted to comfort him. He recovered, of course, thanked the doctors and returned to his little cell. After a brief period of time, however, he experienced a relapse which the brothers did not realise, because he was isolated. He suffered much, yet he was feeling such comfort from God, which could not be compared with the sincere and loving care of the doctors or with the efﬁcacious action of the medications. The rest he felt was without precedent. That is why some hermits (this is incomprehensible to those of the world) avoid diligently human consolation in order to feel the intoxicating sweetness and the insatiable joy of divine consolation... –That is a wonderful fruit of noetic prayer, I said. Go on, father. –Man acquires grace in the sufferings that his fellow–men cause him. He ﬂies to the azure and glorious sky of spiritual life, where the arrows of men of the world cannot reach him. Not only is he not afﬂicted, but neither does he not notice them. As an aeroplane cannot be brought down nor hit when stones are thrown at it the same happens with such a man. There is no grief because of slander, persecution, contempt, accusation etc., but there is only grief for the fall of a brother. But even if he grieves for something, he knows the way to cast it out. Such an
example is told in the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers": "An old man who came to see Abba Achiles found him spitting blood out of his mouth. He asked him, "What is the matter, Father?" The old man answered, "The word of a brother grieved me, I struggled not to tell him so and I prayed God to rid me of this word. So it became like blood in my mouth and I have spat it out. Now I am in peace, having forgotten the matter"9. –This means, indeed, perfect love for the brother, which forgives everything. He does not even want to recall them. We are already reaching perfection! –Certainly. And this is achieved through the Jesus prayer. This love is the result of the experience of the unity of all mankind. And this is a wonderful fruit of the Jesus prayer. Not only man himself is integrated, but also the unity of mankind is felt. You know, father, the hermit continued, that the unity of human nature was divided immediately after the Fall of Adam. After the creation of Adam, God created Eve from his side. Eve's creation gave joy to Adam and he felt her as his own (from his body) and so he said: "This at last is bone of my bones and ﬂesh of my ﬂesh... " (Gen. 2. 23). After his fall – when God asked him– Adam said: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate" (Gen. 3 . 12). Before the Fall, Eve was "bone" from his bones after the Fall she became "the woman" that God gave him! It is obvious here the division of human nature after sin, as it can be seen later in the children of Adam, in all the history of Israel and in all the history of humanity. This is natural. Since man was estranged from God, he was also estranged from himself and separated from other people. This constituted complete alienation and enslavement. The reunion of human nature was attained "in Christ". He "stretched out his palms and united what was before divided" and so he gave the power to each one of us, after being united with him, to experience the unity of human nature.
The ascetic, then, aquires great love for Jesus Christ through the Jesus prayer, and he is joined with Him through this love. It is natural, therefore, for him to love whatever God loves and desire whatever He desires. God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tit. 2. 4). This is what the athlete of prayer wants. He is shaken by the evil that exists in the world and grieves deeply for the loss and the ignorance of his brothers. Since sin always has ecclesiastical and cosmic dimensions and affects the entire world, it is natural that he who prays experiences all the tragedy of humanity and suffers deeply for her. He lives the agony of the Lord in Gethsemane. He reaches a point, therefore, where he ceases praying for himself and prays continually for others, to come to the knowledge of God. His puriﬁcation from passions, his acquisition of the life–giving divine grace, and prayer for others – which is the result of his experiencing the unity of mankind in Jesus Christ– is the greatest mission. This is how the Fathers saw the missionary effort: as a striving for the renewal of the human being and a reintegration of nature. Each person who is puriﬁed becomes a valuable part of society, as we are all members of the blessed body of Christ. We can see this vividly in the person of the Most Holy Mother of God. She was "full of grace", and then bestowed grace and adorned all of human nature. Puriﬁed and "full of grace", she prays for the whole world. And thus we can say that the Most Holy Mother of God performs the greatest mission of all and beneﬁts all of mankind effectively. He kept silent for a while and then went on. –Still the ascetic feels the unity of all nature. – What do you mean? –He is acknowledged by all nature. Before the Fall, Adam was the King of all creation, and all the animals acknowledged him as a King. After the Fall, however, this link was broken and this acknowledgement abolished. Nikolaos Kavasilas analyses this condition vividly. Man, he
says, is created in the image of God. In Adam the image of God was the clear mirror through which the Light of God reﬂects on nature. As long as the mirror remained unbroken, all nature was lit up. However, as soon as it was broken and smashed, deep darkness fell on all creation. All nature, then, rebelled against man and now does not acknowledge him, neither does it want to give him its fruits. Thus, man is sustained with anguish and labour. The animals are also afraid of him and are quite aggressive. Yet, when man receives the grace of Christ, all the powers of the soul integrate. He is in the image and likeness of God. He becomes a mirror, a light which shines forth the divine grace even to irrational nature. Now the animals acknowledge him, obey him and respect him. There are many cases recorded where the ascetic–hermit lives in the company of bears and wild animals. He feeds them, and they in turn serve him, thus acquiring divine grace through the Jesus prayer, he becomes, again, King of nature, and evenmore, he ascends to a more elevated state than Adam's. Ac cording to the Fathers, Adam was in the image of God but he had to reach to the likeness of God through obedience. He was in the stage of the illumination of the nous and he had to attain to theosis. Whereas the ascetic attains to "the likeness of God" (divinization), as far as it is possible, through divine grace, without entering, however, into the Divine Essence. He partakes of the uncreated energies of God. I shall give you an example of this acknowledgement on the part of nature from this very present interview. When my ever memorable Gerondas was saying the Jesus prayer, wild birds would come to the windows of his cell pecking the panes. One would think that this was the activity of the devil to hinder him from prayer. But, in fact, the wild birds were attracted by the prayer of the Gerondas!!! –Gerondas, you have led me through the stages of perfection; to the end of spiritual life. Man is capable of becoming a King... He smiled faintly.
–There are even higher stages. After a great struggle, as I mentioned before, it is possible for the athlete to submit to ecstasy, the divine rapture, and enter the new Jerusalem, the new promised land. The nous is seized in rapture, and contemplates the uncreated Light. At vespers of the divine Transﬁguration we sing: "When the chosen apostles beheld upon the mountain the overwhelming ﬂood of Thy light, "Christ who has no beginning, and Thy divinity which no man may approach, they were caught up into a divine trance". Ecstasy and theoria (vision) of God are connected. When we say ecstasy, we do not mean something static, but we refer to divine presence and spiritual movement. It is not inactivity and death but life in God. The Fathers say that when man is enraptured in the divine Light, during the Jesus prayer, he ceases praying with the lips. The mouth and tongue remain silent, the heart is silent, too. The athlete, then, delights in the theoria (vision) of Taborian Light. He receives the uncreated energy of God. It is the same Light of Mount Tabor, which the disciples saw; it is the Kingdom of God –eternity. According to St. Gregory Palamas, the Light is "the beauty of the age to come", "the substance of future good", "the most perfect vision of God", "the heavenly food". Those who become worthy of seeing the uncreated Light are the Prophets of the New Testament. For, as the Prophets of the Old Testament would surpass time and could see the incarnation of Christ, the ﬁrst advent, in the same way those who contemplate the Light surpass time and see the glory of Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven. He was silent for a while, took a deep breath and went on. –The divine Light possesses all of his being. Even his hut shines from the presence of Christ and he enjoys this "sober drunkenness". He beholds the invisible God. "God is Light and his vision is Light", says St. Symeon the New Theologian. The monk sees divine Light at that moment, and this is "a pleasing and sacred vision", according to "the defendor of theologians", St. Gregory Palamas. Makarios the Chrysokephalos also describes this vision: "What is more beautiful than being in intimate communion with Christ? What is dearer than his divine
glory? Nothing is sweeter than this light, through which every illuminating order of angels as well as of men is made lucid; nothing is more loving than this life, wherein we all live and move and have our being; nothing is sweeter than ever–incarnate beauty; nothing is more delightful than the everlasting joy; nothing is dearer than eternal gladness, digniﬁed majesty and boundless Bliss". In other words, delight and joy are boundless. These states are indeed too great for words. This is how St. Symeon the New Theologian describes it. He took one of his books in his hands and started reading. "I sit on my bed, free of this world and within of my hut I can see present before me, Him who is out of the world, I see Him and talk to Him; and I dare say I love Him and He loves me, I eat and I am fed well only with the vision; and being united with Him I go beyond Heaven and I know that this is true and certain; and where my body is therefore I do not Know. I know that He Who is immovable descends I know that He Who is invisible appears to me I know that He Who is separated from all creation receives me within Himself, and hides me in His arms and then I am thus out of the world and I, mortal and small in the world, I can see the creator of the world within myself and I know that I will not die, because I have eternal life, and because all of life is poured forth within me". The Gerondas read the passage with great longing. His voice was moving. His eyes sparkled. His face was shining with an inexplicable joy. His trembling voice –his spiritual delight brought tears to my eyes. –Thus even his face shines, he went on, from the divine presence. He enters, like Moses, into the divine darkness of unknowing, into the
"radiant darkness", and acquires "enduring knowledge" and "ineffable theology". He stopped again for a while. I was waiting almost ecstatic, literally gasping. – Even the body feels the sweetness of this Light and during these moments it undergoes "change". –What does this mean? – "That the body participates in the grace which acts 113 on the nous, is orientated to it and receives awareness of the ineffable mystery of the soul" (St. Gregory Palamas). Then the body "becomes strangely buoyant and glowing", that is, it feels an unusual warmth which is the result of the vision of Light. It is like the candle which when it is lit up, its main body (the wax) is at once warm and luminous. –Please, allow me a question. It may be blasphemous but I will ask it anyway. Is this "change" of the body a reality or imaginary? Is it an imagined warmth? –No, my father it is not. This "change" is real. The body participates in all the states of the soul. The body itself is not bad, but rather the mind of the ﬂesh, that is, when the body is enslaved to the devil. Besides, the vision of the Light is a vision of the physical eyes which have been altered and strengthened by the Holy Spirit and have become capable of seeing the uncreated Light. There are many examples in the Holy Scripture which indicate that the grace of God, through the soul, penetrates to the body as well, which feels the action of the life–giving divine grace. –Could you refer to some of these?
–There are many verses in the psalms of David, which show this: "My heart and ﬂesh sing for joy to the living God" (Ps. 84). "In Him my heart trusts; so I am helped and my heart exults" (Ps. 27). Also in the 119th Psalm: "How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth"! We have the story of Moses, too. When he came down from Mt. Sinai with the ten commandments, his face shone. "When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, he did not know that the skin on his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him" (Ex. 34. 29–30). This is also seen in the case of archdeacon Stephen: "And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel" (Acts 6. 15). St. Gregory Palamas believes that the sweat of our Lord Jesus Christ, while praying in the garden of Gethsemane, shows "the fervour felt in His body because of the intensive prayer to God". –Forgive me, father, because I've tired you with my blasphemous and worldly question. We, people of the world, cannot understand... Allow me, however, one more question. Are there monks nowadays, who see the uncreated Light and undergo "change" when they pray? He smiled and said: –If the Holy Spirit should cease acting in the Church, then "the beholders of the uncreated Light", will cease to exist. The Holy Mountain hides great treasures and those who ﬁght against it in any way, are accusers and enemies of God. In the time of St. Athanasios the Great some disputed the Deity of Christ. In the time of St. Gregory Palamas they disputed the deity of the uncreated energies. Nowadays, we fall into almost the same sin. We dispute the existence of deiﬁed people, who see the divine Light. Today, there are sanctiﬁed monks –Gods by grace. The continuation of life on earth is due to these deiﬁed ascetics. They brighten our world, which is darkened by sin.
–Allow me another, perhaps indiscreet question. Have you seen the Light, Gerondas? ................ Let the reader of this book allow me not to describe that moving scene and what was said. I want to guard it in a mantle of silence. I hope I will be excused. After a long pause, enveloped in silence, I was impetuous enough to disturb once more the silence of the ascetic. Yet, I had to. The hours were few and I had to learn more. I wanted to proﬁt as much as possible from my visit with the God–seeing Father. –Father, I apologize again. You've said that, even nowadays, there are monks on Mt. Athos, who behold the uncreated Light. I believe that one monk may see it many times. Does it always have the same brightness? – We can say that there is spiritual light and the light that man sees with his physical eyes, after they have been transformed and strengthened to see it. Spiritual light is the commandments, and he who keeps them receives it. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path". The commandments of Christ are "words of eternal life" and not moralistic external precepts. Virtues, as well, which are conceived in our effort to carry out the commandments of Christ, are torches. Faith is light as well as hope and love. God is the true light and "the light of the world" (John. 8. 12). But the name of God is love. "God is love" (1 John. 4. 7). That is why we say that love is the brightest light of all other virtues. Repentance, too, is light, which shines in the soul of man and guides him to the pool of the second baptism, where the eyes are cleansed from spiritual cataracts. All Christians who ﬁght the good ﬁght enjoy this light, especially those who pursue puriﬁcation from the passions and they enjoy it, of course, according to the degree of their struggle. St. Gregory the Theologian says that "where there is
puriﬁcation, there exists illumination; because without the ﬁrst the second is not accorded". In other words, we interpret what St. Symeon the New Theologian is saying that if man does not see the Light in this life, he will not see it in the next life either. Sometimes, however, he went on, because of their great purity and struggle, and even because of the special good–will of God, some people become worthy of seeing the Light with their physical eyes which have been transformed by divine grace like the three disciples on Mount Tabor. Even here a gradation can be observed. When they see it for the ﬁrst time, they behold it as a "great Light", which makes everything inside them joyful. Yet, in fact, it is a dim light. They behold it, as I said, as a "great Light" in comparison to the darkness they had been used to. They now experience something which they had not experienced before. In the second appearance however, the light is stronger, but man has already adjusted to the vision... Yet, the more he approaches the Divine Essence, the more he realises the impossibility of beholding the divine nature, and this is what the Fathers call "radiant darkness". –There are many things I have not understood. – I will help you to understand by examining the case of the God–seeing Moses, as St. Gregory of Nyssa presents it. Moses saw the Light, for the ﬁrst time, on Mt. Choreb in the form of a burning bush, when God called him to guide the people to the promised land. The second time, he is called by God to enter into divine darkness and meet Him there. First it was the Light and then the divine darkness. And St. Gregory explains that man at ﬁrst sees Light because he used to living in the darkness. As the time passes, however, the more he approaches the Divine Essence the more he "beholds invisibly" the divine darkness, "the impossibility of beholding the divine essence". I shall read to you the entire passage: "What does it mean that Moses entered the darkness and then saw God in it? What is now recounted
seems somehow to be contradictory to the ﬁrst Theophany; for then the Divine was beheld in light but now He is seen in darkness. Let us not think that this is at variance with the sequence of things we have contemplated, spiritually. Scriptures teaches by this, that religious knowledge comes at ﬁrst to those who receive it as light. Therefore what is perceived to be contrary to religion is darkness, and the escape from darkness comes about when one participates in light. But as the mind progresses, and through ever greater and more perfect perseverance comes to apprehend reality as it approaches more nearly to contemplation, it sees more clearly what part of divine nature is yet to be contemplated. For leaving behind everything that is observed, not only the part that sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until, by the intelligence's yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and incomprehensible where it sees God. This is the true knowledge of what it sought; this is the seeing that consists of not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility, as by a kind of darkness"10. This is what usually happens. Man proceeds from the vision of dim (small) Light to the vision of brighter (greater) Light until he reaches the "radiant darkness", as St. Gregory describes. But we need to know the teaching of the Fathers about the beholding of the "radiant divine darkness" in order to understand, in the Orthodox way, what was mentioned before. According to the Fathers, God appears always as Light and never as darkness. But when the nous of the God–seeing ascetic, while in "vision", wants to enter into the Divine Essence as well he meets the unpenetrable –the radiant divine darkness. Divine darkness, therefore, is not the appearance of God as darkness, but the weakness of man to see the Essence of God, which is "the unapproachable Light". The divine darkness, therefore, is Light, but Light invisible and unapproachable for man. God is Light. "I am the Light of the world" (John. 8. 12), He said, and not the darkness of the world. According to St. Dionysios the Areopagite, "the divine darkness is the
unapproachable light wherein God dwells, which is invisible because of its supreme splendour and unapproachable because of the excessive shedding of the supra–essential light, and within which everybody who is deemed worthy of knowing and seeing God, is found, without seeing or knowing it at the same time". In this sense, therefore, we say that divine darkness is beyond light. Many times, however, the Fathers talk about entering into the divine darkness and beholding the radiant divine darkness, as does for example, St. Gregory of Nyssa. He talks about his brother St. Basil the Great by saying: "we knew that many times he was within the divine darkness where God is". The Fathers do not mean the entrance into the Divine Essence, but the superiority of the uncreated Light to the "light of natural knowledge;" because, according to Orthodox teaching, men participate in the uncreated energies of God and not in His Essence. St. Paul writes: "...the king of kings and Lord of Lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see" (1 Tim. 6. 15–16). And, in order to summarise, I say to you, my father, that the radiant divine darkness is for man, according to the Fathers, the unapproachable Light of Divine Essence. Even when they talk about the value of beholding the radiant divine darkness, they do not wish to show the superiority of divine darkness to the vision of the uncreated Light, but they want to show its value in comparison to the value of the light of natural knowledge –knowledge of the intellect. –Gerondas, I would like to ask another question. When man beholds the Light, does he then continue praying? –No, he does not. We can call it prayer in divine vision. He beholds Christ and rejoices in His divine presence. Then prayer proceeds without words. St. Isaac the Syrian says that, if prayer is the seed, then ecstasy is the reaping of prayer. And as the reapers are surprised when they see that a small seed yields such a big harvest, in the same way are the God– seeing ascetics astonished at seeing "the reaping" of the "Jesus prayer".
This ecstasy is the offspring of prayer during which, according to St. Isaac "the nous is not praying in the usual way but falls in ecstasy through things incomprehensible; and this is the ignorance which is superior to knowledge". This is "the silence of hidden mystery" and the "muteness of the spirit". The Fathers call this state "prayer", because it is the greatest gift awarded during prayer and is bestowed upon the Saints, but man does not know its real name. For at that time he ceases praying. He is elevated above words and concepts. That is why many of the Fathers call this state "the divine Sabbath" or Sabbath of the nous. As the Hebrews were given the commandment to rest on the Sabbath, likewise the spiritual state is the Sabbath of the soul, which rests from all works and is calm. Sabbaths of Sabbaths signify the spiritual calm of the deiform soul which has even withdrawn the intellect from the contemplations of all divine principles in created beings, that through an ecstasy of love, has clothed it entirely in God alone, and that through mystical theology, has brought it to rest perfectly in God"11. The only thing that man does at that moment is to weep. He pours abundant tears, not because of the awareness of sin, as before, but because of the vision of the uncreated energy of God. They are tears of delight, gladness, joyous tears. They are "painless tears", "gratifying tears", "which refresh and nourish the heart". Yes, they are tears which ﬁll the eyes making rivers and furrows on the face. He is then, in rapture. "Whether in the body or out of the body, he does not know" (2 Cor. 12. 2). Soul and body are ﬂooded with a joy impossible for human language to describe. St. Gregory Palamas, offering a passage from St. Dionysios Areopagite says, that when the lover of communion with God frees the soul from every attachment and unites the nous with unceasing prayer, he rises by mystical ascension to heaven and surveys all created things from above, through stillness and silence. "He unites his nous with unceasing prayer to God. Through this, he is rapt within himself, and ﬁnds a new and mysterious way to rise to the heavens: what one could call the impenetrable darkness of the original silence. With joy indescribable, he remains mysteriously enraptured, in spirit, in veritable rest and in silence, full of sweetness; and he ﬂies over all created things". At this
point, all worldly things become dust and ashes. They become refuse. Not only does he not feel the disturbance of passions but also he even forgets about his life, since the love for God is sweeter than life, and the knowledge of God sweeter than any other knowledge. "O joyful and sacred vision". "O divine eternity"! O divine "sweet peace"! "O divine love"! –Gerondas, could you stop for a while, please? I feel very dizzy and tired. I cannot follow you in your ascent. I cannot bear it... He came near, took my hand, and said in an affectionate voice: – I understand you. But you wanted me to proceed and talk. And thus I spoke! I understand your distress. We, too, after the vision of Light, feel exceedingly tired, literally crushed. When divine grace comes, it is as if it holds a whip and whips our mortal ﬂesh. I confess that many times after the Divine Liturgy, I feel exhausted and need to rest, only then does my human strength recover; it is similar to when one steps off of the grass, it returns little by little from the earth to its former position. If we would behold divine grace completely, we should have died. The love of God cares for everything. We brought our conversation to a halt. Absolute silence reigned everywhere. Intermittently you could hear a monk hoeing in the garden reciting at the same time the Jesus prayer. I was breathing deeply. My heart was pounding as if it would break... A fever came over me. I had approached the holy of holies of mystical theology –I had approached "the intangible for the uninitiated". Down on the sea the reﬂection of the sun had sunk into the water and the part of the sea that I could see was golden like. A school of dolphins (a usual phenomenon on Mt. Athos), as far as I could distinguish from where I was, was playing in the sea. They would emerge and then again take a plunge into the golden water. Monks, I thought, these fervent lovers of heaven, are like dolphins. They live immersed in the water of grace and emerge only for a while to show
us that they exist and again recede into the "vision" of God. St. Symeon dwelling within the uncreated Taborian Light, blesses the "lovers" of God: "Blessed are those who are clothed in light, for they are wearing the wedding garment. Their hands and feet shall not be bound, nor shall they be thrown into everlasting ﬁre. Blessed are those who have kindled the light in their hearts, who keep it unquenched, for as they joyfully depart from this life, they will meet the bridegroom, torch in hand, as he leads them into the bridal chamber. Blessed are those who have approached the divine light, who have entered it and been absorbed by it, mingled in its brightness, sin has no more power, they will weep bitter tears no more. Blessed is the monk, offering his prayers to God, who sees Him, and is seen near Him, who feels himself out of time and space, for he is in God alone, knowing not if he is in or out of the body; he hears inneffable words, not to be spoken; he sees what no eye has seen or ear heard, nor has it entered the heart of man. Blessed is he who has seen the Light of the world formed in himself, for he has conceived Christ within himself; he will be counted as his mother, as Christ, in Whom there is no lie, has said". I was beside such a burning mountain. I was close to a monk who was living, already in this life, the heavenly reality. There was calm outside in nature, and calm came into my soul. God, Paradise are beyond time but also within time, quite near to us. Beside us, within us, dividing time and history.
–Let us stop our discussion, father... said. Let us go outside for a while. –No, no I said. I want to hear more. You said that the Jesus prayer is a science, a complete university. I want you to make me a scientist tonight. [ BACK ]
7. Errors in practising the Jesus prayer and how we cope with them
– You are asking too much. Nobody can become a scientist of the Jesus prayer unless he struggles personally, unless he himself starts this work. Whatever the others would say is simply an introduction, to give him a good spiritual appetite. However, in order to complete my thoughts about the Jesus prayer, I must, perhaps, say a few things about the dangers and the errors that may arise along the way. –Indeed, I said. You said something before, that the monks avoid the direct descent of the nous into the heart by the use of various means, in order to avoid dangers. What are these dangers and errors? – The error starts with the thought that we must acquire grace in a short period of time. There are many people who are practising the sacred work of the Jesus prayer and want to enter into the vision of Light in a short while. And they lose heart and get disappointed because this cannot happen immediately and to all. The athlete must accept that he must struggle many years. God does not force our will, because we are persons and have free will nor should we force God's freedom, because
He is a Person, too. We should let Him come, whenever He thinks, whenever He wants. He stopped for a while. –Another error is to give great signiﬁcance to psychotechnic methods. These methods (breathing in and out, beating of the heart) are simply helpful means so that we can concentrate our nous and free it from elements alien to its nature. These methods do not have a magical power, but they are useful to us in avoiding the distraction of the nous. When the nous is focused and maintained within itself easily, then all auxiliary means are unnecessary. –Are there other errors as well? –There are, indeed. When we move quickly during the course of prayer. We mentioned a little while ago that there are various stages of development in the practice of the Jesus prayer and we summed them up into ﬁve. The ﬁrst stage is to recite the Jesus prayer with the lips. The second is to keep the remembrance of Jesus in the mind and it will descend by itself into the heart. Some people, however, skipping the ﬁrst stage, start from the second and do not succeed in accomplishing very much. Others go straight from the ﬁrst stage to the third and develop it mainly by breathing. This is dangerous, because, as I said before, the physical heart may suffer and this can cause the Jesus prayer to cease. There is no illness of course, but, nevertheless, it is possible that this sacred work may stop. On the subject of tears, he went on, there are also certain problems. – What do you mean? – We said earlier that when the Jesus prayer stays in the nous the eyes shed abundant tears. However, this is not always indispensible. Prayer can go well even if there are no tears. So, we should not get disappointed
in the absence of tears, because they will come when God allows it. And even if we are ﬂooded by them, we should not pay attention to them, neither should we describe these states to others. The ascetic experience says that when we talk about these states, then they cease immediately, and it takes a long time for them to return. Needless to say, although we know the stages of noetic prayer, we should avoid thinking about which stage we are in. We must proceed in humility. Besides, I think I told you a short while ago, feeling pride in and during prayer is stupidity. It really is stupidity. Man is like a beggar who asks for a piece of bread and then he feels proud because he has obtained it. And this is stupidity and a sin ! – I can see that humility plays an important part here. –Yes, it does –in all stages. St. Basil the Great says that humility is the treasury of all virtues. It conceals all virtues and ﬁnally it conceals itself. In general, we must diligently avoid pride in the spiritual life, especially when it comes as vainglory. And you know, of course, that vainglory appears in every virtue; when we talk, when we keep silent, when we fast, when we keep vigil and even when we say the Jesus prayer, in hesychia and in forbearance. The Fathers say that vainglory is like a traitor who secretly opens the gates of the city so that the enemy can enter. In such a case, no matter how strong the city is and how good its defences are, it is captured by the enemy. The same also happens in the spiritual life. No matter how many virtues we have and no matter how much strength we hold on to, vainglory hands us over to the devil. And the Fathers recommend that one must never undertake a work which will possibly lead him to vainglory. –I did not understand this. Can you explain it further? –Let me come to the subject of prayer. The faithful must not overdo it, as far as prayer is concerned, because it is certain, then, that he is being allured by the devil. In such a case, whatever, he might do –even things
beyond his strength– is achieved by the power of the devil. So, dragged by the devil, he is later abandoned by him at some time, then pushed backwards, and impelled to fall very low. He is actually destroyed. –And how can one avoid this most heavy fall? –The saving path is mourning and obedience. Prayer is very closely connected with mourning. When the devil sees somebody living in mourning, he does not remain there but ﬂees, because he is afraid of the humility which is engendered by mourning. St. Gregory of Sinai tells us that the best defence for the athlete of prayer is to be in a state of mourning, so that the joy which comes in prayer may not lead him into pride, for the bright sadness keeps his soul unharmed. Mourning and the awareness of our sinfulness are indispensable in the course of pure prayer. The athlete “should keep his nous in hell and despair not”. Moreover, the awareness of our sinfulness, of our nothingness, and the hope in the Merciful Jesus are characteristic of Orthodoxy and of all of our hymns. It should be stressed, though, that not all can live in deep mourning because great strength and an earlier taste of divine grace are needed so that they are not shaken. However, as far as it is possible, we should all live this blessed mourning. Indiscriminate obedience to a Gerondas is also necessary. Everything, even the smallest things, should be done with his blessing and his wise guidance; even in the case of the uncreated Light. – What does obedience to a Gerondas have to do with the vision of the uncreated Light? I asked astonished at what I had heard. –When man walks alone, without the indispensable blessing, then he is pursued by the devil, as we said before. He experiences within himself the dissatisﬁed desire to see the uncreated Light. He believes that this is perfection and he wants to reach there quickly. – Is this not right? I interrupted him.
–No, it is not. St. Diadochos recommends that the ascetic should not practise his ascetic life with the hope of seeing the uncreated Light, “so that the devil will not ﬁnd his soul ready on that account to be carried off”. One should start the work of the Jesus prayer with love towards God and obedience to His holy Will. For, it is possible for the devil – who can disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11 . 14)– to take the form of an angel who will serve him. And, then, the poor man thinks that he has reached the height of perfection, since he lives with angels, without being aware that he is conversing with devils. It is also a temptation when the ascetic while praying accepts thoughts from the demons that he will soon see the uncreated Light. Much care is needed in this delicate and dangerous situation. He must stop praying and reprimand himself severely: “How dare you, so wretched and vile, desire to see the uncreated Light”. The greatest danger is to think oneself worthy of seeing the uncreated Light! He can even say: “Alas! the demons, my murderers are coming to destroy my soul!” Then, immediately, the enemy disappears. Many times the devil, in order to satisfy the ambition of the monk and captivate him even more, brings even light into his cell. It is not the uncreated Light, but the created one, that of the devil. –And how can it be distinguished? –There are many ways which help the monk to distinguish the two lights. The criteria are as follows: Firstly, if he has reached the vision of the uncreated Light through obedience. The path of perfect and indiscriminate obedience is the guarantee that the vision of Light is genuine. The ascetic must conﬁde all matters concerning “vision” to a discerning, holy and dispassioned Gerondas and ask him about them. The thought that he should not ask his guide is from the devil who aims at keeping him in darkness, error and slavery. Secondly, the Lord said about the false prophets: “you will know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7. 16). The same holds true in this case, too. A clear distinction between the uncreated and created light is made by their fruits. The uncreated Light
brings into the soul, calm, peace, humility and awareness of our wretchedness. When Abraham talked to God, he called himself dust and ashes: “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord, I, who am but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18. 27). The same happened with Job: “I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42. 5). And Prophet Isaiah, when he saw the glory of God, exclaimed: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6. 5). On the contrary, the vision of the light of the devil engenders pride, vainglory, the thought that we have acquired perfection. St. Gregory of Sinai says: “Know, then, that the energies of grace are obvious and the demon, even if he disguises himself, cannot administer them; he cannot give meekness, nor forbearance, nor humility nor hatred for the world, neither can he extinguish pleasures and passions –this is the work of grace; his activity is pride, haughtiness, cowardice, and every kind of evil”. Apart from pride, the vision of the light of the devil creates disturbance. The energy of the Holy Spirit bestows peace, boldness and calmness to both body and soul, whereas the activity of the devil gives vent to fear and disturbance. St. Isaac says that every disturbance is a plague of the devil, because one transmits to others what he has in his nature. The Holy Spirit is by nature a spirit of peace and it transmits peace, whereas the devil is by nature a spirit of disturbance and fear and transmits disturbance and fear. Thirdly, the soul does not accept the light of the devil immediately, but it is reluctant at the beginning. The vision of the uncreated Light conveys certainty and acceptance at once. The uncreated Light comes unexpectedly and you do not doubt whether it is genuine or not. Fourthly, even in colour there is also a difference between the two lights. The disciples witnessed on Mount Tabor, during the Transﬁguration of Christ, that “his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (Matt. 17. 2). On the contrary, the colour of the devil's light is reddish, according to the testimony of many Saints, who realised the difference. Fifthly, there is also a difference in shape between the two lights. Those who behold the
uncreated Light “see no shape or form or image, but light without any form” (Symeon the New Theologian). And if it should take any form, it would look like the disc of the sun. God appears like the “sun or like the disc of the sun, presenting Himself in the shape of a sphere, radiant, like a ﬂame”, without any shape and form. The reverse happens with the vision of the created light of the devil. St. Gregory Palamas gives the following example. He writes that once Akindinos went to Mt. Athos. He stayed there for a few days and told St. Gregory that while he was trying to pray, he saw a light which was split, and a human face could be seen within it. The Saint asserted that the light was from the devil, because it had a shape. “And I declared to him that it was a terrible deceit and mockery and game of the devil, or rather a cunning trap”. The Fathers suggest, the experienced ascetic went on, that we should not immediately accept every incident that occurs during our prayer. “Consider something as good after great testing”. We must ask the Gerondas about all of these matters and only after an intense and long struggle, according to the grace we acquire, are we able to distinguish error from truth. Vinegar and wine are the same in appearance, but they differ in taste. Similarly as years pass, the athlete of prayer acquires the ability to discern the difference. The Gerondas was speaking unremittingly. His head was bent toward the ground. I was listening to him, literally charmed. I did not want to interrupt his Orthodox thoughts, which expressed the teachings of the Fathers. Peace and calmness ﬁlled my heart while he was speaking, and that was a sign that his teaching was true and sound. – All of these factors I have just mentioned to you are clearly shown in a conversation that St. Symeon the New Theologian cites. You can see there that God appears as Light which brings sweetness. The disciple asks the discerning spiritual father, who has already seen God, and is assured that what he saw was God. He took the book and started reading:
“God is light, His vision is light When He reveals Himself, It is a light. The beholder marvels knowing not Who hast appeared, daring not to ask the question “Who art thou?” Daring not to lift the eyes to see His greatness, except in fear, in trembling, prostrate before Him, knowing only that someone has come, someone has appeared. If there is a person who has already spoken of these things, a person who has already seen God, to him, it can be said: “I have seen”. “What have you seen, child?" “A light, Father, sweet, so sweet, to say what it was, is beyond me”, even as he speaks his heart is dancing on ﬁre with love for Him Whom he saw. He says, weepingthe light, this light has come to me, father; my cell was engulfed the world ﬂed away before His face: only I by myself and the light. Was I in the body, or out: I do not know. The joy which I had is with me still, unspeakable, except in tears which ﬂow unceasingly as you see. He replied “It is He, my child”. At these words, He came again and gradually, little by little, puriﬁed, encouraged, I could ask “my God, Thou art here?" “Yes, I am here, “Your God, Who “became man for you “and now, “you share my divinity, “I make you god”. When you devote yourself to tears, to contrition, to prostration, to humility, He brings you little by little to knowledge of God”. The novice appeared then, whom I had begun to feel jealous of, because he had found such a wise and experienced guide and asked his Gerondas. – You told me to water one of the trees. I have done it. Shall I water the other one, now?
– Yes, water it. And, turning to me, he said: –This is the obedience which I was speaking of before, and he who practises it and asks his instructor about everything, makes spiritual progress. He achieves many things through obedience. Firstly, he does not let his imagination work out solutions, as many monks do. In this way, he puriﬁes his mind, not only of the complex but also of the simple thoughts; and thus he concentrates more on the Jesus prayer. Secondly, he gets used to asking. Asking one's own spiritual father is salvation. Where obedience exists, there, too, exists humility, which is the foundation of obedience. So the spirit of pride, the devil, can not penetrate and create stressful situations. In general, obedience is absolutely necessary in the course of this holy work. We must not proceed without a guide. The Gerondas shows us the way, regulates the program of our spiritual life, orders us to stop a task and tells us whether we are proceeding well and in the sight of God. The person of Gerondas stands for God Himself. He is “in the place of Christ”. The Gerondas is for the monks whom he has under his care, what the bishop is for his diocese and the abbot for his holy monastery. –Does asceticism give such a great importance to the existence of the Gerondas? –Yes, indeed, it does. No one can go on without a Gerondas nor can he live within pure Orthodox tradition. As physical life is imparted from generation to generation in the same way too is spiritual life imparted. The Gerondas, being the possessor and bearer of this tradition, imparts it to his spiritual child and gives birth to him in Christ. The Gerondas imparts the tradition to him who wants to obtain it. The meaning of obedience concerning salvation rests on this point. I am obedient, not so that I will disappear, but in order to mortify my bad self and get rid of my own will and accept tradition; in order that Christ be formed within
me. I am obedient so that I may be born. Obedience is also necessary because the danger of error lurks. That is why Abba Dorotheos writes: “No one is more wretched, no one is more vulnerable than he who walks the path of God without anyone to guide him”. The same Father, interpreting the passage from the Proverbs: “where there is no guidance, a people falls like leaves” (Prov. 11 . 14), says that the leaf is in the beginning green and fresh but then it fades and falls. It is despised and stepped upon. The same happens to the man who does not have a spiritual father. He soon withers and succumbs to his enemy. “In the beginning he is full of fervour concerning fasting, vigil, practising hesychia, obedience, and other virtues; then his fervour fades away and, because he does not have a spiritual father who sustains, increases and excites this fervour, he withers away and falls and is subject to his enemies, who do whatever they want to him”. I will give you an example so that you understand why the existence of a Gerondas is necessary for us to avoid mistakes. I met a monk who, while praying, felt a strong pain in his heart. He told it immediately to his Gerondas. The Gerondas was worried and, being himself experienced, asked him where in his heart he felt the pain. When the monk answered that his heart hurt on the outer lower part, he ordered: “You must stop saying the Jesus prayer immediately; you will not say it for a week, for you should have felt pain on the upper in side part of the heart. Since the passions act on the lower part, the devil is surely preparing something against you”. Thus, the monk was delivered from the deceit of the devil which had already begun to take action. The Fathers teach from their experience: “If you see a young man ascending to heaven by his own will snatch him by the leg and pull him down because it won't be beneﬁcial to him”. I considered that disciple blessed because he was humble and his spiritual father was holy. And I remembered a poem by Theodore the Studite:
To the Disciple. “Come young athlete of God, keep close to me, keep full of zeal, bend low your neck in complete obedience, humble yourself, dead to your own will, telling all the thoughts of heart and mind you are already in the arena, have no fear of desert, have no fear of the pillar, nor of any other order in the race that is before us, the race to know God you are the ﬁrst according to Holy Scripture; you follow the path of the ﬁrst martyrs”. – Blessed are the monks, athletes of the spiritual life. Blessed are the birds which sing and enjoy the dewy spring time of God. We cannot live these ecstasies. We breath the fumes of our impurities. We eat the dust of the earth, from which we are made. –Yet, you too can enjoy the beams of divine glory, shedding of divine light. If you want to become true theologians you must pray because only then the Most Holy Spirit is pre sent and acts. “If you are a theologian you pray truly and if you pray truly you are a theologian”. I will tell you something to help you to understand this. It is possible after committing a sin (primarily a carnal one) that a person can write theological treatises and be engaged in the analysis of the works of the Fathers, but, since he has lost grace by committing the sin, he cannot pray. Prayer ceases but work does not. Thus, a true theologian is he who lives in prayer. Therefore, you too can receive, the joyful heart–beat of divine illumination. –But how? I would like your invaluable help on this subject. It will be very practical as well as indispensable.
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8. The Jesus Prayer is necessary for Clergy and Laymen who live in the World
You must realise the necessity of puriﬁcation from passions. You should not only want to make others well but you should believe that you, too, like all of us, are full of passions. Each passion is a hell. You should also know that, according to what we have said, the Jesus prayer is a remedy which cures the soul and puriﬁes it. That does not mean that the Jesus prayer is a panacea but rather it is the means by which man is united with God, who is the only one Who puriﬁes and illumines the soul. He is the physician of our soul and body He is “the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world” (John. 1 . 9). As eye salve cleanses the vision and enables already existing objects to be seen, similarly, each person must will to be puriﬁed and transformed and seek, through prayer, illumination which comes from God. –Do you believe that we, who work in the world, can do what the monks do concerning this divine work of prayer? –Even if you cannot do exactly what they do, still you can achieve many things. It must be made clear, however, that noetic prayer is one thing and praying the Jesus prayer another. Noetic prayer, as some hesychasts practise it, re quires a life without distraction. It requires quietness and many other things, as we have already described. If you cannot practise noetic prayer in the world –and this is very difﬁcult– you must pray with the Jesus prayer at set times or say it whenever you can. It will do you great good. –Can you suggest to me some useful and practical ways?
–Apart from church services, you should also designate a certain hour for the practice of the Jesus prayer, for meditation on the name of Jesus. You should start the practice of the Jesus prayer gradually and proceed according to your thirst and the grace you feel. One can start by saying the prayer for half an hour in the morning before sunrise, and half an hour in the evening, after the compline, before sleep. It is necessary for there to be a ﬁxed hour for prayer which should not be changed for any reason, not even for good works. It is possible, for example, that somebody may come for confession at that particular time. If he is not ill or if it is not very urgent you should not postpone the time you have set aside for the Jesus prayer. The same should happen concerning good works. A peaceful and quiet room where no noises are heard is also necessary for one to start the work of the Jesus prayer, in the way we mentioned before. That is, in the beginning we should warm our heart or read a book of the Fathers, which creates in us a feeling of compunction, and then we should say the Jesus prayer either with the lips, the mind or the heart, according to our spiritual progress. Little by little the time devoted to the Jesus prayer will increase and it will sweeten our hearts, and we shall long for it. But, I repeat, in the beginning we need to force ourselves to say the prayer even for a short time. It will do us great good. – Is it enough, this short period of time? – It is not enough but when there is a good disposition and humility, God ﬁlls up what is lacking in prayer. Since God is so sympathetic to our downfalls, won't He be extremely merciful to us in the struggle for our transformation? He ﬁlls up whatever is lacking. He takes into account even the special circumstances of each one of us. It may be that one hour of your prayer will be more blessed than the many hours of a monk, because you are also busy with other works. I admired the discretion of this Athonite monk, of this incarnate angel. He distinguishes all problems with admirable ability and puts everything in its proper perspective.
–You should know, however, he went on, that the devil will expose you to many temptations during prayer, as I said previously. Many incidents will come up to make you stop praying. But you should also know that God is testing you through these trials to determine if you really want to practise the Jesus prayer. In such a case, if you persevere, God will come to your aid and drive away all difﬁculties. –But, Gerondas, if, while praying, thoughts come to my mind of preparing a speech or a sermon; of doing something for the love of my brother, must I abandon them? –Yes, you must abandon them. For, even when good thoughts come during prayer (I refer to the set times of prayer), the devil exploits them to obstruct us from prayer. If the devil realises that we are ready to give up the Jesus prayer for such things, he will send us many thoughts of the same kind even at the restored set time. But in this case, neither do we pray, nor are we puriﬁed nor have our brethren really beneﬁted. For the preparation of a sermon, which has replaced prayer, is without fruit. It won't beneﬁt the brethren. – It happens sometimes that we return to our cell exhausted, after having spent a lot of our strength, and then we cannot pray our usual rule. What should we do in these cases? –We should not give up the Jesus prayer even then. St. Symeon recommends that serving our brothers should never be the cause for us to be deprived of the Jesus prayer, because we then lose many things. We should never ﬁnd excuses to avoid prayer. “Labour in service according to your strength; and in your cell, persevere in prayer with contrition, vigilance and continuous tears; and do not have it in your mind; I have laboured exceedingly today, let me diminish the time of prayer because of physical tiredness. For, I tell you that no matter how much you work beyond your strength in serving others, if you deprive yourself of prayer, be sure that you have lost something very great”. Half
an hour of the Jesus prayer is worth as much as three hours of deep sleep. The prolonged Jesus prayer rests and calms us. So, even from this point of view, it is an invigorating physiological remedy. My dear father, wrap up all your works in the golden mantle of the Jesus prayer. It is because they work much with their brain and not with their heart, that many of the brethren have tribulations and are in anguish in their spiritual endeavour. They become tired by thinking what to say, whereas when they live in grace, then the thoughts come, they literally spring forth like a rushing river. It is because they do not have a good link with the Jesus prayer that the brethren quarrel among themselves, do not have peace, are afﬂicted by unjust attacks and do not rejoice over them, according to the commandment of Christ. St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, being guided by a long tradition of several centuries, suggests that the Bishop should be elected from the rank of the monks. Having monastic consciousness, he will not be troubled by persecutions, slander, accusations or the anger of men, since he himself is the ﬁrst to recognise his own sinfulness and to accuse himself. Thus he acquires all the fruits we mentioned before –mainly love, which ﬂows from much grace, and freedom from falling into sin, as the Fathers say. –What do you mean, father, by monastic consciousness? –I mean obedience, humility, self-condemnation and an insatiable thirst for the Jesus prayer –obedience to the Gerondas and the spiritual father. The monk should be humble toward all people and his humility should be connected with the struggle for puriﬁcation from passions. We should not undertake many works, because, unfortunately, we are inﬂuenced in this matter by other heresies. The greatest work is to acquire humility and holiness. Then we are truly rich. The Church is not a ministry of social services, but it is the treasury of divine grace. Priests are not social workers but those who guide the people of God. And this cannot be done unless they have humility and holiness. Without holiness and humility the greatest social work is soon obliterated, whereas when we have humility and holiness of life, even the smallest social work acquires
extraordinary dimensions. Humility should be connected with self condemnation, too, that is with self–accusation. We should be the ﬁrst to accuse ourselves. We should attach the respect that the others show us to our priesthood and not to ourselves. We should attribute the accusations of others to our own sinful state and not to our priesthood. We will experience then peace and much grace from God, and will drive out every cause which makes us hate our brother. There must also be insatiable thirst for the Jesus prayer. We should not consider the Jesus prayer an opportunity, but we should consider it as life itself. We should move within prayer. Our theology and our preaching should be born within its holy atmosphere. We should also have our rule and do it every day. When we live in this way the world is then beneﬁted beyond measure. Whoever one may be, either priest or bishop, he should always have one concern: not to lose his monastic consciousness. It is written in the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers": “It was related of Abba Netras, the disciple of Abba Sylvanus, that when he dwelt in his cell on Mount Sinai, he treated himself prudently, with regard to the needs of his body, but when he became bishop at Pharan, he curbed himself with great austerities. His disciple said to him, “Abba, when we were in the desert, you did not practise such asceticism. “The old man said to him, “There in the desert I had interior peace and poverty and I wished to manage my body so as not to be ill and not to need what I did not have. But now I am in the world and among its cares, and even if I am ill here, there will be someone to look after me and so I do this in order not to destroy the monk in me"12. Those who have the consciousness of a monk feel the need to receive a blessing for whatever work they do. They entrust it to the Bishop and to an experienced spiritual father to check it and correct it during its course and at its end. They do not want praises for what they do, because he who is honoured or praised more than he deserves loses much. Wherever you are, in the street, in the car you should say the Jesus prayer; “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” and “Most Holy Mother of God save me”. We should often attend the Divine Liturgy with the proper preparation and participate in the undeﬁled Mysteries. All creation praises and gloriﬁes God. A priest who does not offer the
Divine Liturgy is in discord in this wonderful praise. It would be good to chant from time to time the Canon to our Lord Jesus Christ which is found in the Book of Hours. You should also chant the special prayers addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ and found at the end of the book: “The Unseen Warfare”, composed by St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite. He urges us to evoke often, the most sweet, joy -producing and the cause of all good, saving name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not only with our lips, but also with our heart and mind. You should also pray for others, too, because God has en trusted his own people to you. Therefore it is your duty to withdraw and pray for peace and illumination of his people. As great Moses did...
A NIGHT IN THE DESERT OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN o · 1 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 9 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Descent from my own Tabor
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Descent from my own Tabor
As soon as the day had well dawned, I sought to obtain the blessing of father... and descend from the mountain to the sea and also from the spiritual mountain to the sea of the world. I found him peaceful and calm, saying the Jesus prayer and working on his handiwork in order to earn his living, that is a bit of toasted bread and the most necessary of things. –Give me your blessing, I said, and I bent to kiss his hand. –Good bye my father. The Lady Mother of God be with you. May the Holy Trinity support you. “May the Lord keep your soul and body from every evil and from every adversity caused by the devil and from every imagination causing disturbance; may the Lord be your light, your protection, your way, your strength, the crown of your joy and eternal help. Be watchful”. Have always as your inseparable companion the Jesus prayer. And pray for me so that God may have mercy on me. The prayers of monks are full of life. They come out of sensitive hearts. –Gerondas thank you for everything. Pray for me, for my friends, my spiritual children, for my relatives. Pray, pray holy Gerondas. Pray for the whole world because you are its highest peak, approaching Heaven. Pray, Gerondas. You are the most precious person of the human race. Pray. You are an inestimable treasure of Orthodoxy, who is kept as many others are, in the treasury of the Holy Mountain. Pray, pray for us, sinners. You are the copper snake which was raised up in the desert and we, the sinners, who are bitten by the snakes of sin, see you, and we are cured. You are our Moses, who on the mountain, (you) raise up your hands in prayer and we defeat the enemy, down in the world. Do not put your hands down, because the power of the enemy, of the devil will crush us. Pray Gerondas...
–May God give you His mercy, my father. –Your blessing. –May the Lord bless you. I'll be expecting you next year. I was climbing down from the mountain to the seashore to meet the boat, like a burning six-winged seraphim, like the ﬁery and ﬁre-bearing Prophet Elijah. My mind was not functioning. Reason had ceased. Only my heart was aﬂame. It was ﬂittering. And without my hardly realizing it, I was chanting phrases from the service that the exceptional Athonite monk, St. Nicodemus, composed for the Athonite Fathers. “Who is going to speak about your struggle, blessed Fathers; Who is going to praise worthily the deeds of your asceticism? Who is going to praise the temperance of your mind? your unceasing prayer your sufferings to gain virtue, the wearing out of the body, the struggle against passions, the all–night assemblies for prayer, the unceasing tears, the humility of spirit, the victories against demons, and all the other gifts? O multitude of holy men sanctiﬁed and desired by God. O honeycombs chosen by God, who made wax cells, full of the sweetest honey of quietness in the holes and caves of the earth in the Holy Mountain. Delight of the Holy Trinity! Delight of the Holy Mother of God! Pride of Athos, source of pride for the world.
Pray to the Lord that our souls ﬁnd mercy”. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the intercessions of Thy Saints, have mercy on me a sinner. Most Holy Mother of God, save me. [ BACK ]
Ascesis: It is so called man's effort as well as the method he uses to pass through the three stages of the spiritual life: puriﬁcation of heart, illumination of the nous and theosis. Since this is achieved through the commandments of Christ, ascesis is man's struggle to keep the commandments of Christ. Thus ascesis is connected with the keeping of the commandments and the healing of man. Discernment (diakrisis): A spiritual gift through which one discerns the inner states. It is not a sharpness of mind but the energy of the grace of God. It is a gift which pertains to the pure nous. It is mainly the ability to distinguish between uncreated and created things; between the energy of God and the energy of the devil but also between the energies of God and the psychophysical energies of man. Thus, one distinguishes emotional states from spiritual experiences. Disciple (hypotactikos): In the narrow sense of the word it means the monk who obeys a Gerondas so that he gets healed and acquires theosis in the grace of God. In the wide sense of the word “disciple” means every Christian who receives spiritual guidance by his spiritual father.
Dispassion (apatheia): The soul has three powers aspects, that is: the intelligent power, the appetitive and the irascible power. The last two constitute what is called the passible aspect of the soul. Dispassion, then, is not the mortiﬁcation of the passible aspect of the soul but its transﬁguration. Generally, when all the powers of the soul turn to God and are directed to Him we have the state of dispassion. Ecstasy (ekstasis): It is not the “going–out” of the soul from the body but it is the detachment of the nous from the reason and the surrounding world and its return to the heart. It is not a respite of the energies of the soul and intellect but it is a respite of physical energies like sleeping, eating etc. Imagination – Phantasy: The covering of the noetic energy of the soul. It is an after–the–Fall phaenomenon. It is an energy of the soul which covers the nous and darkens it. The ascetic endeavour consists in purifying the nous from the energy of imagination–phantasy. Gerondas: The priest or monk who has been healed by the grace of God and helps effectively his spiritual children –disciples– to be healed, that is to go through the puriﬁcation of heart, the illumination of nous and to attain to theosis divinization. Heart: The spiritual centre of man's being. It is the do main which is manifested through ascesis in grace and within which God Himself is manifested. It is also called the centre of the powers–energies of the soul (intelligent power, appetitive and irascible power). Hesychia: The peace of the heart, the undisturbed state of the nous, the liberation of heart from the thoughts (logismoi), from the passions and the inﬂuence of the environment; it is the dwelling in God. Hesychia is the only way for man to attain to theosis. External quietness is helpful so that man can reach the noetic hesychia. A hesychast is one who struggles
to achieve the returning of the nous back into the heart, following a speciﬁc method. Illumination: When all thoughts–logismoi come out of the heart the nous returns within it and the prayer operates unceasingly. This is called illumination of the nous. Thus the illumination of the nous is closely connected with noetic prayer. Knowledge (gnosis): It is neither the intellectual engagement with God nor the knowledge of the reason about God but it is the personal experience of God. The knowledge of God is closely connected with the theoria (vision) of the uncreated Light. This knowledge is beyond any other created knowledge. It is achieved through man's theosis. Theosis is man's communion and union with God. And it is this union which engenders knowledge of God, which is of a higher order than and above any other human knowledge. Mourning (penthos): Deep sorrow of the soul. The mourning according to God is an energy of the divine grace and is closely linked with repentance, weeping, tears. It is called gladdening sorrow because it does not cause any psychological anomaly but it brings inner peace and man's yearning to adjust his life to the commandments of Christ. Noetic Prayer: The prayer which is done with the nous. When the nous is liberated from its enslavement to reason, to the passions and the surrounding world and returns from its distraction within the heart, then noetic prayer starts. Thus noetic prayer is done with the nous within the heart, whereas the prayer of the intellect is done within the reason. Nous: The word has various uses in Patristic teaching. It indicates either the soul or the heart or even an energy of the soul. Yet, the nous is mainly the eye of the soul; the purest part of the soul; the highest attention. It is also called noetic energy and it is not identiﬁed with reason.
Passion: The last stage of the development of sin. The stages of sin are: provocation through the thoughts, joining, assent, desire, action and passion. Passion is a repeated action which dominates man. In ascetic theology the movement of the powers of the soul contrary to nature is called passion. Pleasure: The pleasure that man feels enjoying an object, an idea etc. There is sensual pleasure and spiritual pleasure corresponding to the body and soul accordingly. The pleasure which derives from God is connected with peace whereas the pleasure which derives from sin and the devil causes disturbance. Also, a pleasure which causes pain and guilt comes from the devil and is connected with the passions. Practical Man- Praxis: Praxis is the struggle to purify one's heart and that is the ﬁrst stage of spiritual life. Practical man is one who struggles to purify his heart. In patristic theology the practical man is also called a breeder because he tries to tame his passions, which are like animals. Puriﬁcation (Katharsis): Puriﬁcation refers mainly to the soul. In patristic theology the term “katharsis" –puriﬁcation– is employed to denote three states. The ﬁrst one is the rejection of all thoughts (logismoi) from the heart. The thoughts-logismoi are so called because they must be in the reason (in Greek: logiki- logismoi). The second state is the ascetic effort so that the powers of the soul, intelligent, appetitive, irascible move in accordance with nature and above nature –which means they must turn towards God– and not contrary to nature. The third state is the ascetic method by means of which man reaches from selﬁsh love to unselﬁsh love. Reason (logiki): The power of the soul through which we perceive the surrounding world and we develop our relation with it. We aquire experience of God by means of the nous and we formulate this experience, when required, by means of reason, in so far as it is attainable.
Remembrance of Death: It is not just the feeling that the end of our biological existence will come but the feeling of mortality –the garments of the ﬂesh that man wore after the Fall. The remembrance of death is activated by the grace of God and creates desire for repentance. Remembrance of death is also the experience of the loss of the grace of God. Remembrance of God: The incessant remembrance of the name of God. It is not just calling God to mind but it is a state attained through the puriﬁed nous. It is achieved and expressed by means of noetic prayer. Sin: In theological terms sin is the darkening of the nous. When the nous goes away from the heart and ceases having remembrance of God and is distracted to creation through the senses, then it commits sin. This distraction is manifested in actions which are, thus, called sin. Sin starts with assent and evolves to desire, action and passion. Slothfulness (acedia): The spiritual paralysis of the powers of the soul. It is this state during which there is an absolute indifference to prayer and fasting and, in general, an inertia about the keeping of the commandments of the gospel. Since man is a psychophysical being, spiritual slothfulness is reﬂected in the body too. It is a psychophysical weakness and slackness. A psychophysical paralysis. Sorrow: The inner pain of the soul. There is sorrow ac cording to God and sorrow according to the world. The former creates spiritual inspiration, that is it moves within an atmosphere of hope in God and urges man to spiritual struggle. It gives great strength and energy. Sorrow according to the world leads man to despair and to a psychophysical paralysis. Theology - Theologian: Theology is the knowledge of God. It is not a result of studying books or exercising the reason; it is on the one hand a
fruit of the knowledge of God and of the personal experience of Him; on the other hand it is the way which leads to the healing of man and the knowledge of God. A theologian is one who has passed through the puriﬁcation of heart to the illumination of the nous and to theosis. Thus, he has acquired the knowledge of God and speaks about Him in an authentic way. A theologian can be even called one who accepts the experience of the saints, not having himself a personal experience of God. “He whose prayer is pure is a theologian”. Theoria -Theoretical Man: Theoria is the vision of the glory of God. Theoria is identiﬁed with the vision of the uncreated Light, the uncreated energy of God, with the union of man with God, with mans theosis. Thus, theoria, vision and theosis are closely connected. Theoria has various degrees. There is illumination, vision of God and constant vision (for hours, days, weeks, even months). Noetic prayer is the ﬁrst stage of theoria. Theoretical man is one who is at this stage. In patristic theology the theoretical man is characterised as the shepherd of the sheep. Theosis - Divinization: It is the participation in the uncreated grace of God. Theosis is identiﬁed and connected with the theoria (vision) of the uncreated Light. It is called theosis in grace because it is attained through the energy of the divine grace. It is a cooperation of God with man, since God is He Who operates and man is he who cooperates. Thoughts - Logismoi: The thoughts which are connected with images as well as with the various stimulations originating from the senses and the imagination. The thoughts logismoi evolve to sin through the stages of desire, action and passion. They are called logismoi because they act in the reason (logiki). Uncreated Light: It is the energy of God which can be seen as Light many times. This energy of God is the glory of divinity. It is called uncreated Light because it is divine and thus, uncreated. It is not the energy of a created being.
Watchfulness (nepsis): Spiritual alertness, constant attentiveness and readiness so that the thought won't progress from the reason and enter into the heart. It is only the nous that must be within the heart and not the thoughts-logismoi. This spiritual alertness is called nepsis.
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