|This article forms part of the series|
|Baptism - Chrismation |
Confession - Eucharist
Marriage - Ordination
|Nepsis - Metanoia |
Hesychia - Phronema
Mysticism - Nous
|Chastity - Obedience |
Stability - Fasting
Poverty - Monasticism
|Humility - Generosity |
Chastity - Meekness
Temperance - Contentment
|Worship - Veneration |
Prayer Rule - Jesus Prayer
Relics - Sign of the Cross
|Apostolic Fathers |
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
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Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of experiential prayer in the Orthodox Church. It is described in great detail in the Philokalia, a compilation of what various saints wrote about prayer and the spiritual life.
The Hesychastic prayer
In practice, the Hesychastic prayer bears some superficial resemblance to mystical prayer or meditation in Eastern religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism, especially Yoga), although this similarity is often overly emphasized in popular accounts.
For example, it may involve specific body postures and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. It involves acquiring an inner stillness, ignoring the physical senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray" to mean that they should ignore sensory input and withdraw inwards to pray. It often includes many repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner].". While some might compare it with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the "surface" meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.
Saint Theophan the Recluse once related that body postures and breathing techniques were virtually forbidden in his youth, since, instead of gaining the Spirit of God, people succeeded only "in ruining their lungs."
Gregory Palamas: Defender of Hesychasm
Hesychasm was defended theologically by Gregory Palamas at about three separate Hesychast Synods in Constantinople from 1341 to 1351; he was asked to by his fellow monks on Mt. Athos to defend it from the attacks of Barlaam of Calabria, who advocated a more intellectualist approach to prayer.
Some words from St. John Climacus
From Step 6 - On Remembrance of Death in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:
- Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning.
Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found), through the action of the Holy Spirit, ask for their departure.
Some inquire and wonder: “Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?” – not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.
And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired. And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone was all we heard from him: "Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin." We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by Hesychius's true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.
- The Jesus Prayer, a very straightforward exposition.
- On Practicing the Jesus Prayer
- Three foundational aspects of the Theology of St Gregory Palamas