Joseph the Hesychast
Elder Joseph the Hesychast (Spilaiotis) was a monk and elder on Mount Athos. He reposed in 1957, and he has wide acclaim for being the spiritual father or grandfather of Elders Ephrem, Joseph and others, who are directly credited for revitalising six of the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos.
Francis was born in Paros to George and Maria Spilaiotis in 1898. In his teens, he went to work in Piraeus. At twenty-three he began to read the lives of the Fathers, a spiritual turning point for him. These lives, particularly those of the strict ascetics, and a dream he had, gave him the desire to enter into monasticism. He responded to this desire by fasting and praying in the nearby countryside, which was uninhabited, and then go to Mount Athos.
The future Elder yearned to pray unceasingly, but had great troubles - he could not find a spiritual father, and the indifference of many monks towards unceasing prayer.
- I was inconsolable because I was longing so ardently to find what I had set out for in search of God; and not only was I not finding it, but people would not even being helpful.
In the midst of this experience, however, he was granted a vision of the uncreated light, and the gift of ceaseless prayer was given to him.
- At once I was completely changed and forgot myself. I was filled with light in my heart and outside and everywhere, not being aware that I even had a body. The prayer began to say itself within me...
During this time, he spent time in remote places to practise the Jesus Prayer. Eventually he met Fr Arsenios, who was to become his co-struggler, and found that they shared a common desire for hesychasm, and decided to find an experienced elder. They found Elder Ephraim the Barrel-Maker, and they arranged their lives to provide the maximum silence for praying the Jesus Prayer. In addition to his work and his prayer rule, Fr Joseph went to a cave at sunset to practise the Jesus Prayer for six hours.
After Elder Ephraim the Barrel-Maker's repose, Frs Joseph and Arsenios spent summers moving from place to place around the peak of Mount Athos, so as to be unknown and to find and learn from spiritual monks. In winter, however, they returned to their hut in the wilderness at St Basil's. They possessed only their tattered monastic garments, and Fr Joseph ate three ounces of rusks (dried bread) a day, sometimes with an amount of boiled wild greens. They spoke little so that they could prayer more. Fr Joseph began to be assailed by the demon of fornication around this time, and he would battle this great temptation for eight years, using as weapons extended vigils and, instead of a bed, using a chair to sleep on. Finally, Frs Joseph and Arsenios discovered an experienced ascetic and spiritual father, Elder Daniel.
Little St Anne's
Time passed, and the fame of Elder Joseph began to spread. After Fr Arsenios ceded the eldership that was his right by length of time in monasticism, Elder Joseph accepted three brothers to live with them, with others living with them for short periods of time. In 1938, seeking solitude from the increasing number of monks who sought his advice, he went to a cave at Little St Anne's, where the brotherhood grew to seven monks.
After approximately 13 years, the large amount of physical labour required to live there became too much, making most of the fathers ill. Elder Joseph moved the community further down the mountain, nearer the sea, to New Skete.
Elder Joseph reposed on 15 August 1959.
- Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, by Elder Joseph the Hesychast, 1998. Published by St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona. ISBN: 0-9667000-0-7 (HB), 0-9667000-1-5 (PB)
- Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles, Experiences, Teachings, by Elder Joseph, 1999. Published by the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, Mount Athos. ISBN 960-7735-12-9 (SB).
- Book Review of Monastic Wisdom
- Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller, by Monk Joseph Dionysiatis.