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OS (Commentary) -- 20

102 Insensibility (lethe) knows to extinguish the guard of the mind (nous) just as water extinguishes fire.

This is the third time that St Hesychios has used for lethe the simile of the water that extinguishes fire. The first two times were in OS 32 and 100. We discussed in the commentary on OS 100 the significance of the opposition of lethe to ‘attention’ (OS 32), taken to be equivalent to ‘stillness (hesychia) of the heart’ (OS 100) and, here, to the ‘guard of the mind (nous)’.

The problem that St Hesychios is addressing is one of the passions, lethe—insensibility, perhaps accidie—and its effects on the Hesychast who has attained to the stage of the guard of the mind. This lethe extinguishes, as water extinguishes fire, the exercise of attention in the heart with continual invocation but without images: this is the guard of the mind, the precondition of contemplation and Theology. This lethe, as we have already said, derives in part from the natural tendency of the Hesychast to tire: this gives a starting-point to the demon of lethe to sow thoughts of boredom, of the uselessness of the activity, of the fruitlessness of the years spent in hesychia; and to tempt the Hesychast to distractions, first petty and then major. However, as St Hesychios has described lethe, it is not merely accidie: in St Hesychios, lethe also conveys a sense of spiritual insensibility and even inertness: the Hesychast has lost conscious connection with the spiritual condition he may have once had; he has difficulty in maintaining the ‘memory of Jesus’ or the ‘extreme attention’ to Jesus or the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ of Jesus, or, more generally, the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ of the presence in him of the Holy Spirit. That St Hesychios continually returns to the topic of lethe in addressing the guard of the mind indicates that lethe is a serious ‘occupational hazard’ of the Hesychast.

The treatment?

The continual prayer (euche) of Jesus

This is the formula of invocation. The treatment for lethe is precisely to return zealously to the continual repetition of the formula. As we have already remarked in the commentary on OS 100, in St Hesychios’ doctrine, the continual repetition of the formula and the extreme attention reinforce each other.

with intense sobriety,

We have discussed this intense sobriety. It is synonymous with extreme attention. Having encountered these thoughts of lethe, having realized that he has grown slack, having grasped that he has lost the ‘memory of Jesus’, the Hesychast must increase his sobriety, his intensity of focus in the heart with continual invocation, until the Prayer and the intense sobriety—the extreme attention—consume completely those thoughts of lethe (insensibility or accidie) and enable him to regain the ‘memory of Jesus’, the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ of Jesus, the plerophoria (inner spiritual assurance) of the presence of Grace.

Recall from TPL 39 that to the extent that the ascetic’s condition is due to a temptation, a demon, a fallen mind (nous), has approached him and with its spiritual bad odour has excited the passion or even enveloped his whole soul. Hence, the thoughts of lethe may not merely be a matter of being tired but of being in combat with an external, fallen mind. This would make St Hesychios’ instructions for dealing with lethe particularly important from the point of view of a method of spiritual warfare. The particular characteristics of the demon of insensibility can be found in OTT 11, and of the demon of accidie in TPL 12.

St John of Sinai discusses both of these demons in the Ladder. St John considers that the demon of accidie purveys the hardest battle—this agrees with Evagrius’ estimation—but that it therefore purveys the greatest wreaths of victory when it is conquered. The demon of insensibility is similar in St John of Sinai to the demon of insensibility in Evagrius.

However, the analysis of lethe of St Diadochos of Photike in GC 61 focuses on the inability of the mind (nous) to retain the ‘memory of Jesus’ on account of disturbances to the functioning of the mind (nous) itself arising from anger, drunkenness or severe melancholy. This means that the lethe may not, strictly speaking, always be in the nature of a direct demonic temptation: it may be the consequence of another temptation. In this regard, it might be well to recall OTT 23, where Evagrius speaks of lethe in the following way:

Let no one of those who live the life of solitude take up the life of solitude with anger, pride or sorrow; neither let him flee the brothers when he is troubled by thoughts such as these. For ecstasies occur from passions such as these, the heart from mental representation to mental representation, and from this one to another, and from that to another, bit by bit falling into a pit of lethe.

We see in this passage of Evagrius the same notion as in St Diadochos of the inability of the mind (nous) to maintain a stability in its thinking processes. To the extent that the modern reader would like to see this as a matter of clinical depression, St Hesychios’ therapy is important, for it is one that today would probably not be prescribed: renewed effort in the repetition of the Prayer of Jesus and the maintenance of extreme attention in the heart.

The Hesychast must assess why he is afflicted by lethe: whether it is the result of anger or sorrow or an excess of drink, or even pride; or whether he is being tempted by a demon.

To the extent that he has fallen prey to anger or sorrow or pride, the Hesychast must take the appropriate measures, as in the case of an immoderate use of wine.

To the extent that the lethe is due to his being tempted directly by a demon, the Hesychast must grasp that the thoughts of weariness that he has are in fact due to temptation, to this external mind—to this demon of lethe which we are comparing to the demons of insensibility and accidie—, that he is locked in battle with this demon, that he can either win or lose, and that the weapons of choice are intense sobriety and the continual invocation by means of the Prayer of Jesus—precisely the weapons the Hesychast might be inclined not to use, precisely the weapons that the demon of lethe will suggest to him not to use.

however, consumes it completely from the heart.

St Athanasios the founder of the Great Laura of Athos, when he was in hesychia before founding the Great Laura, battled with the demon of accidie for over a year. He set a certain day as the limit of his struggle: either by then he would conquer the passion or he would leave the wilderness. On that very day, the battle having continued unabated until that very hour, he was freed from the demon of accidie once and for all by Divine Grace. When in TPL 5 Evagrius says that ‘The demons wrestle nude with the hermits…’ he is speaking the plain facts.

For the prayer (euche) has need of sobriety, just as a small torch has need of the light of a lamp.

This image is both very important for the theology of nepsis, sobriety, and somewhat ambiguous.

The theological dimension is conveyed by the assertion that the prayer has need of sobriety as the lesser has need of the greater. The prayer is not enough. He who prays the Jesus Prayer must also keep sobriety, here understood both as intense focus or extreme attention as the prayer is being prayed—on the words of the prayer, yes, but also on the space of the heart—and as the practice of the immaterial war.

This sobriety, this attention, is that conveyed by St John of Sinai in the passage of the Ladder quoted in the commentary on OS 100, above, where St John describes the Hesychast as a watchman in the vineyard who protects the crop of grapes.

The Hesychast must be a watchman.

The ambiguity arises from the statement of St Hesychios that the small torch[1] has need of the light of a lamp. It is not clear precisely what St Hesychios intends to say. That the formula of invocation continually repeated in the space of the heart with the grace of the Holy Spirit might be compared to the flame of a candle flickering in the heart is clear. That the Hesychast’s attention in the space of the heart might provide a low background light like that of a lamp dimly lighting a room in which there is also a candle is also clear.

However, St Hesychios might possibly mean something else: he might mean that the candle or small torch must be lit by the flame of the lamp, here taken by St Hesychios to be sobriety.

The sense, in any event, is that the Prayer of Jesus is incomplete without sobriety, here taken as attention: the lamp of attention must supplement the small torch, candle or oil lamp of the Prayer of Jesus. Recall that St Hesychios is addressing the Hesychast who has attained the guard of the mind, so that the Hesychast’s attention is infused with grace: the Hesychast’s attention by now has a charismatic element.

All of these chapters are destined for the mature Hesychast, including the chapters which follow. Here, St Hesychios is able to speak without the constraints imposed by having the beginner in his mind’s eye: he can speak freely and seriously about what he knows.

103 It is necessary to toil over the guard

Here again the image is apt of the watchman who toils in the vineyard over the guard of the crop of grapes.

of the things which are honourable.

This appeal to honour manifests the spiritual maturity of the intended audience.

Honourable, of a truth, are the things which guard us from every vice both sensible and intelligible. These things, then, are the guard of the mind (nous) together with the invocation of Jesus Christ;

The one and the other. Although in the guard of the mind, the ‘images’ stop—the impassioned and unimpassioned mental representations of objects of sense—, the invocation must not.

It can be seen that in these chapters St Hesychios is treating ‘guard of the mind’ and ‘attention’ as virtually synonymous, as would accord with the lived experience of the Hesychast practising the guard of the mind at this level of attainment.

St Hesychios continues:

and ever to look into the depth of the heart

This is clearly an indication that the prayer is to be prayed in the space of the heart. Moreover, this is the ‘standing in the gate of the heart’ to rebut the impassioned mental representations as they arise, implemented in the case of the guard of the mind: the human attention that the Hesychast exercises in the heart in the immaterial war before he has attained to the guard of the mind is transformed into a charismatic attention in the heart by the time he has attained to that guard of the mind. This charismatic attention in the heart—‘ever to look into the depth of the heart’—is the stepping-stone to being raised to contemplation by the Holy Spirit.

and everlastingly to keep stillness in the intellect (dianoia),

This is not to be taken as the space of the head. The intellect (dianoia), as we have discussed, is an operation of the mind (nous) which generates as it were the consciousness of the man. Hence, what St Hesychios is saying is that the consciousness, the field of consciousness, here by supposition centred in the heart, since the Hesychast is expected ‘ever to look into the depth of the heart’, is to be kept quiescent and empty of thoughts. A useful image is that of looking into a pond: if the water is undisturbed and clear, then you can see into the depths.

even, if I may put it thus, from thoughts (logismoi) which appear to be good;

Literally, ‘which appear to be right’ or ‘which appear to be from the right side’, terminology having its etymological roots in augury, so that a plausible translation might be ‘which appear to bode good’. The sense is clear, however, whatever the etymology: we must avoid all thoughts, so that the mind (nous) in the heart be empty. Only then will it give birth to contemplation, as the next chapter will make clear.

and to be diligent that [the heart] be found empty of thoughts (logismoi),

The notion that we must empty the heart of all thoughts is extremely important in St Hesychios’ system. It is St Hesychios’ presentation, in the language of his own system, of the doctrine of Evagrius in OTT 2 and 40–1 that the heart must be free of all mental representations for the light of the Divinity to shine in it.

St Hesychios now adds another reason that we must keep the heart empty of thoughts:

so that the thieves do not hide.

The demons or the mental representations sown by them. If the heart is empty of thoughts, then the ‘thieves’ are evident like black flies on a white wall.

And even if we toil staying beside the heart,

This is hard work.

yet consolation

Divine consolation. This is a difficult life. Only God himself can support and console the Hesychast.

Let the Hesychast beware, however, lest he accept a false vision.

is near.

Entering into the Hesychast life requires the consent and support of the Holy Spirit, the Consoler. It cannot be entered into arbitrarily in self-will.

The next chapter is important. It explains the transition, or transformation, from the guard of the mind to contemplation. It is an extremely important theological discussion of the nature of contemplation.

104 It is the nature of the heart

St Hesychios is asserting that what he is going to say is a matter of human nature.

unceasingly kept

This is the guard of the mind that St Hesychios has been discussing since OS 87: this toilsome labour of watching, coupled to the continual repetition of the Prayer of Jesus, but without images. This watching is in the gate of the heart.

and not permitted to accept the forms and images and imaginations of the dark and wicked spirits

This is the keeping of the commandments, the practical life. This is precisely what Evagrius developed his theory of asceticism to explain. Note that the mind—St Hesychios will in OS 145 describe this operation of the mind as ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’; this operation of the mind is very closely related to attention—decides whether or not to accept the mental representation. Without the Hesychast’s consent, the demon can get nowhere. Not only does the Hesychast not consent, but he rejects the thought—even the good one—and keeps his heart empty; this is the guard of the mind that St Hesychios is counselling the Hesychast to practise. The will, choice and decision of the Hesychast are involved. The intense concentration, the repetition of the Prayer, the care not to let the mental representations into the heart—not to allow the heart to accept them—all these things constitute the toilsome business of the Hesychast.

To what end?

to bring forth out of itself thoughts (logismoi) in the form of light.

For the beginner, this is an extremely dangerous passage of St Hesychios: he might accept light-like thoughts which are delusive or deceiving. Better not to dwell on these light-like thoughts.

But the spiritually mature can find the following:

For just as the coal

The red-hot piece of coal or wood.

gives birth to flame, thus, much more the God who dwells in the heart from Holy Baptism,

Here St Hesychios touches on a very important dogmatic point. It is by Holy Baptism that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the Ever-Blessed Holy Trinity, dwell in the Orthodox.

This passage should be considered in the light of the fact that St Mark the Ascetic and, following him, St Diadochos both emphasize in their writings—St Mark most notably in On Holy Baptism[2] and St Diadochos most notably in GC 76–85[3]—that it is from Holy Baptism that Orthodox Christians have God dwelling in their heart. In On Holy Baptism, Question 6,[4] St Mark makes precise that it is the Holy Spirit that dwells in the heart of the baptized Orthodox person, but that the unity of the Holy Trinity implies the co-presence of both the Father and the Son in the heart together with the Holy Spirit.

Those who are not members of the Orthodox Church would do well to reflect on this point: an external form, similar to the use of a mantra in Buddhist or Hindu yoga, or to the use of zikr in Sufism, can be delineated in the writings which together constitute the Philokalia. A more humanistic theological approach would say: ‘One God, many forms of yoga.’ However, it is clear in St Hesychios that we Orthodox are invoking Jesus Christ and that we are aided by him and, now, by the Holy Spirit, in our practice of the Jesus Prayer. The role of the grace of Jesus Christ in the practice of the Jesus Prayer cannot be overlooked. Moreover, St Hesychios is now explicitly saying that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit dwell in the heart of the Hesychast from Holy Baptism.

Were a non-believer casually or presumptuously to begin Hesychasm as here described without having received Holy Baptism, without having become a member of the Orthodox Church, would he have God dwelling in his heart and ready to help him in the way that St Hesychios is about to describe?

We think not. Something else would happen. St Hesychios is speaking to members of the Orthodox Church about how God, who dwells in the hearts of the members of the Orthodox Church from Holy Baptism, operates.

if indeed he will find the air of the intellect (dianoia)

Recall that the intellect is an operation of the mind (nous). It is the mind’s eye, the field of consciousness, here placed in the heart by the descent of the mind (nous) into the heart. The ‘air of the intellect (dianoia)’ is the texture of consciousness.

pure of the winds of wickedness

Free of the demonic influences, free of demonic thoughts, free of demonic operations (energeies). Note that this corresponds to St Hesychios’ characterization in OS 3, above, of the guard of the mind as a stillness of heart that is free of images. The intellect is here supposed by St Hesychios to be centred in the heart because of the practice of his method of sobriety, here in particular the guard of the mind:

and kept by the guard of the mind (nous),

The significance of the guard of the mind as the gate to contemplation now becomes clear: its task is to keep the mind (nous) in the heart pure, free of the influences of demons and alert for the Presence of the Lord, the Spirit, who—

sets our intellectual part on fire towards contemplations as a flame, wax.

This is the transforming operation of God himself that raises the purified mind—purified by the methods that St Hesychios has been discussing since the beginning of OS—to contemplations, just as a flame melts wax and sets it on fire.

What better evocation and theological description of the ascent of the mind (nous) to contemplation? Our heart is purified by Hesychian sobriety, and kept pure in the guard of the mind, and the Holy Spirit comes and sets our intellectual part on fire towards contemplations.

This is the critical stage: First, because of the danger of delusion in accepting a ‘false advent’ concocted by the Devil. Second, because once the Holy Spirit has begun to ignite our minds towards contemplations, we must learn the workings of the Holy Spirit, or Grace: it is then time for us to read the Spiritual Homilies of St Makarios and the works of St Symeon the New Theologian. St Silouan remarks in his own writings[5] that of all those whom he knew who had experienced the advent of Grace, not one of them could retain it because of a lack of humility.

Moreover, until this advent of the Holy Spirit, our work is not to aspire after visions, but to keep watch in the way that St Hesychios has taught us in his method of sobriety, and that, at this stage, in pursuit of the guard of the mind. As Evagrius himself says in TPL 32:

Insofar as we are without a taste of gnosis [contemplation], let us work on the practical life [sobriety, or, here, the guard of the mind] willingly, showing to God our goal, that we do everything for the sake of his gnosis.

Moreover, it is here that the passages from St Mark the Ascetic’s On Those Who Think They are Justified by Works that St Hesychios has quoted as OS 79–82 take their full force. It would be useful for the reader to reread those passages before continuing, but let us here merely quote a small part of them, St Hesychios’ OS 79:

79 The Lord, wishing to show that every commandment is obligatory and that the adoption as son has been given in his own blood, says: ‘When you do those things which have been commanded you, say that we are worthless slaves and what we owe to do we have done.’ [Luke 17, 10.] Because of this, the Kingdom of the Heavens is not the wage of works (erga) but grace of the Master readied for faithful slaves. The slave does not demand his freedom as a wage, but he gives thanks as debtor and receives [it] by grace.

In our discussion, above, we have treated the transition or transformation to contemplation as a permanent advent of the Holy Spirit which radically changes the ascetic’s spiritual condition on a permanent basis. This is true. Prior to that, however, there may be small and temporary advents which temporarily raise the ascetic to contemplation without, however, radically altering his stable spiritual condition.

In regard to the nature of the advent of the Holy Spirit that is being discussed by St Hesychios in this chapter and in our commentary on it, it is well to bear in mind this passage, OJW 92, by St Mark the Ascetic:

92 Every person who has been baptized in an Orthodox way has secretly received all Grace. Thereafter, however, he is given inner spiritual assurance according to the practice of the commandments.[6]

St Hesychios continues in the next chapter by reiterating precisely what the practical life, Hesychian sobriety, is. Recall that the guard of the mind is a state that is attained by the constant practice for decades of St Hesychios’ method of sobriety.

105 It is necessary ever to turn round in the space of our heart the name of Jesus Christ just as a bolt of lightning turns round in the air of the firmament when rain is going to fall.

What clearer evidence from the text of OS could one want that St Hesychios means the repetition of a formula in the heart?

The image of lightning turning round in the space of the heart refers to the repetitive play of the mental representations which are cyclically introduced and re‑introduced by the repetition of the words that constitute the formula. As should be evident from an attentive reading of OTT 41, these mental representations do not stand in simple one-to-one correspondence with the words of the formula. Much more is involved. Moreover, it may not be humanly possible to analyse and describe all the mental representations introduced by a particular formula. For it is clear from OTT 41 that there are different orders of mental representations, depending on whether they refer to sensible or intelligible or spiritual realities. Moreover, since the Prayer of Jesus is prayed in the Holy Spirit, the Prayer becomes the bearer of purely spiritual mental representations which cannot be cognized by the Hesychast, but only listened to with the spiritual ear.

However, the image of ‘lightning’ conveys the spiritual illumination of the heart by means of these mental representations.

For those also exactly know this who have experience of the mind (nous) and of the war within.

This is an introductory clause used to prepare the reader for a new summary of the immaterial or intelligible war:

As also in order

Although St Hesychios describes the immaterial or intelligible war as a four-stage procedure, in practice things happen rather more simultaneously. It is necessary for the ascetic to have guidance until he acquire sufficient personal experience: all verbal freezings of the immaterial war, including those of your commentator, are bound to distort one aspect or another of the immaterial war in the interests of verbal clarity. As St Hesychios himself says, such a virtue as this can only be taught be experience—by experience under the guidance of an experienced Elder.

let us thus conduct

For ‘conduct’, read ‘conduct as generals’. Moreover, recall that both in Evagrius (TPL 89) and in St Hesychios (OS 34) this is the task of prudence.

the intelligible war:

The immaterial war, the war of thoughts, sobriety taken as praktike, the keeping of the commandments in thought, the practical life of Evagrius.

first, attention;

This should be clear.

then, knowing the hostile

AlphabeticD’ has ‘shameful’ instead of ‘hostile’; the two words are close in sound and spelling in Greek. ‘Hostile’—or even ‘enemy’—seems to be more consistent with the martial metaphor of the chapter. Moreover, ‘hostile’ has the advantage of not limiting the argument to the thought (logismos) of fornication and of allowing the reader to understand that any of the eight most general thoughts (logismoi) might be involved.

thought (logismos) to be approaching,

In Evagrius, and in St Hesychios in the less advanced stages of the war, this is the inception, in the intellect centred in the heart, of an impassioned mental representation or recollection of an object of sense. In more experienced ascetics, those who have received participation in the charism of clairvoyance, the charism which is also called the discernment of spirits, this perception of the advent of the demon may occur even before the demon has excited the passion so as to cause the inception of the impassioned mental representation or recollection, while the demon is still at a distance.

with anger let us strike it in [our] heart

The battleground is the space of the heart of the ascetic, but this might also be taken to mean ‘the heart of the demon’. No great difference in the sense of the passage would be involved in adopting either reading.

with the words of a curse;

St Hesychios does not play. This is the rebuttal.

third order,

St Hesychios is using language suitable to his martial metaphor.

directly to pray against the thought (logismos),

Or, impassioned mental representation or impassioned recollection or demon. St Hesychios is speaking about the battle at the inception of the thought, not when it has been allowed to take on larger proportions.[7]

collecting the heart with the invocation of Jesus Christ,

This is the adaptation of Evagrian praktike to the use of the Jesus Prayer.

It is important to note that St Hesychios appears to see a role for the repetition of the Jesus Prayer in recollecting the heart from the dispersion of attention occasioned by the demonic assault, by the very inception in the heart of the impassioned mental representation or recollection of the object of sense.

While St Hesychios presents the battle as a serial operation—first the attention, then the rebuttal, then the invocation, and so on—this seriality is a matter of the constraints of the written, verbal formulation. What St Hesychios means is the logical priority of the steps of his method. The Jesus Prayer continues automatically. To try to stop it to make an act of rebuttal ‘the way St Hesychios says’ would be foolish. One simply disconnects his mind or attention from the words of the formula, which continues, and makes the rebuttal, returning after the rebuttal to the words with renewed intensity of supplication, not by changing the rhythm but by attaching to the invocation for a time more temper according to nature, or even more desire according to nature, until things settle down in the space of the heart. This temper attached need not be heavy-handed: experience will teach how much to use.

so that directly the demonic appearance be dissolved

We take this to refer to the impassioned mental representation of an object of sense, but if it actually is a matter of a disturbing apparition in the intellect centred in the heart, or even of an external apparition—say, in the monk’s cell—, the Prayer can be focused on that apparition until the demon withdraws and the image dissolves.[8]

in order for the mind (nous) not to follow behind the appearance as an infant deceived by a certain conjuror.

This is a repetition of the controlling metaphor of OS 43. St Hesychios is referring to the guilelessness of the mind (nous), which, if not restrained, will chase after the impassioned mental representation. This notion can be found in Evagrius in TPL 48 and OTT 25. The image of the infant that follows after the conjuror covers both the notion of the initial attachment, on account of the passion that exists in the Hesychast, to the mental representation that has commenced because of the excitation of the passion by the demon, and the later stage of temptation, the impassioned conversation of the mind (nous) of the ascetic with the mental representation. The latter stage is also called ‘intercourse with the demonic thought’; it is the stage before consent.

Note that, here, St Hesychios is not following the model of St Mark the Ascetic in On the Spiritual Law, which we ourselves quoted in the commentary just before OS 54 but which St Hesychios does not himself quote in OS, which model introduces the notion of guilt whenever there is an image in the intellect on the grounds that consent has already occurred. As we discussed in the place cited, St Hesychios is following the analysis of St Mark in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism.

St John of Sinai, in a passage also quoted in the commentary just before OS 54, says that ‘intercourse’ with the demonic thought is not always entirely guiltless, most likely because there is already a certain amount of consent in the intercourse. However, the initial impulse of the mind (nous) to ‘run after’ the demonic mental representation is most likely guiltless, depending as it does on the underlying passion in the ascetic. This would correspond to the ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’ of St Mark the Ascetic that is discussed by us just before OS 54. The guiltlessness would continue, however, only insofar as the ascetic did not consent in the intellect (dianoia) to the temptation. See the discussion in the place noted and also the works cited there.

106 Let us toil as David, crying the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’.

This seems to suggest that the formula that St Hesychios has in use in his own case and in the case of his immediate circle of disciples contains these words or might even be restricted to these words. However, we think that there is an ecclesiastical shorthand involved here: in ecclesiastical usage, many passages, works and hymns are given by just their opening words. This would probably be the case with the expression here.

Our throat will grow hoarse and our intelligible eyes will fail

Following the reading in AlphabeticD’ for ‘Our throat will grow hoarse and our intelligible eyes will fail’ instead of ‘Our throat will grow hoarse and let not our intelligible eyes fail’ of the main text. A note in the margin of Philokalia G—evidently all these marginal notes are due to St Makarios and St Nikodemos, the original editors of the Philokalia—suggests an emendation so that the text would read ‘Let our throat grow hoarse and let not our intelligible eyes fail’. However, the reading of AlphabeticD’ has the advantage of being closer to the passage of Psalm 68 that provides the controlling image for this chapter of St Hesychios: ‘I toiled, crying; my throat grew hoarse; my eyes failed from my hoping upon my God.’ (Ps. 68, 4.)

from our hoping on the Lord our God. [Cf. Ps. 68, 4.]

The scriptural reference applies to the whole chapter of OS.

We do not think that St Hesychios intends that we say the prayer aloud when he quotes this passage of Psalm 68. Rather, we think, he is emphasizing the toil, weariness and persistence in invocation that is necessary to the Hesychast. It is only in the beginning stages that one prays the Jesus Prayer aloud, and, certainly, the advanced Hesychast will only rarely erupt into vocalized repetition, perhaps because of weariness.

In Ephraim G, Fr Ephraim of Katounakia is quoted to the effect that in accordance with his spiritual condition, the ascetic will or will not use oral prayer: first, he might use oral prayer to raise himself to a spiritual condition in which he can proceed to the silent use of the continual invocation; second, in a condition in which he has received from God spiritual mental representations, he may wish to pray spontaneously, and that orally if it accords with the condition in which he finds himself.[9]

We think that, here, St Hesychios is addressing a different issue: the persistence of the Hesychast who is dedicated to a twenty-four-hour a day program of mental prayer. The program of Fr Ephraim and his disciples is somewhat more active than the program envisaged by St Hesychios. The utter concentration of the full Hesychian Hesychast is much closer to the program envisaged by St Gregory of Sinai in On the Two Methods of Prayer.

Let no one deceive himself. Hesychasm is not a matter of easy visions. It is hard work, very hard work.

St Hesychios continues on the same topic in the next chapter, this time basing his text on the parable of the judge of injustice in the Gospel of Luke.

107 Ever remembering the parable of the judge of injustice that the Lord spoke towards its being necessary for us always to pray and not to be faint-hearted [cf. Luke 18, 1–8], we will find both the profit and the revenge.

Alphabetic M’ joins OS 106 and 107 as follows:

Let us toil as David crying the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Our throat will grow hoarse and our intelligible eyes will fail from our hoping on the Lord our God [cf. Ps. 68, 4] as we ever remember the parable of the judge of injustice, which the Lord spoke towards its being necessary for us always to pray and not to be faint-hearted [cf. Luke 18, 1–8]; and we will find the profit and the revenge.

The unaltered text of Philokalia G has this:

106 Let us toil as David, crying the ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Our throat will grow hoarse; and let not our intelligible eyes fail from our hoping on the Lord our God. [Cf. Ps. 68, 4.]

107 Ever remembering the parable of the judge of injustice which the Lord spoke towards its being necessary for us always to pray and not to be faint-hearted [cf. Luke 18, 1–8], we will find both the profit and the revenge.

The reading of AlphabeticM’ which combines the two chapters into one is preferable, but we have not put it integrally into the main text so as not to disturb the chapter numeration of Philokalia G; rather we have adapted the reading of AlphabeticM’ to the chapter structure of Philokalia G.

Note that there is a slight change in the literal meaning of the text: Alphabetic ‘M’ keeps the paraphrase of Psalm 68 in OS 106 much closer to the psalm as regards the intelligible eyes than does the text of Philokalia G. However, the spiritual meaning is the same: we must exercise ourselves to the point of exhaustion in our task of invocation and sobriety, but with the faith, hope and expectation provided by the parable of the judge of injustice, of our ultimate vindication at the hands of God. The deeper sense of the two chapters in any event is that the work of the Hesychast is not easy, but rather very toilsome, as St Hesychios himself will make clear in OS 148, below. The hope provided by the parable of the judge of injustice is quite necessary to the Hesychast—and, indeed, to all monks and to all men. Without this hope we cannot withstand the pain. This is not a spirituality of the hobbyist. It is a profound appreciation of the human condition, an appreciation that is diminished and lost in the West on account of the West’s affluence, an appreciation that the ideology which the Enlightenment bequeathed to the West seeks to eradicate.

We need not quote the parable of the judge of injustice in full here; it is too well-known for that. Let us simply remark how integrated into the mental representations of the Gospel St Hesychios is. For his text has led up to the reference to the Gospel in such a way that we begin to understand the depth of the parable. The revenge is the revenge against the demons who are fighting with us; the profit is natural contemplation and, ultimately, God himself.

St Hesychios now goes on to explain this profit:

108 Just as it is impossible for him who gazes at the sun not to have his face richly shone upon, thus it is not possible for him who ever stoops down and peeps into the air of his heart not to be illumined.

We can get fed up. The battle seems interminable; progress, impossible. The thought of accidie seems to be natural, not a temptation. Our intelligible throats are hoarse; our intelligible eyes are weary with waiting on our Lord. Here we must remember the parable of the judge of injustice. We must continue in hope, not succumbing to anger, weariness and toil: anger even against God, perhaps, that he allowed the situation to continue so long. Here we must hear what St Hesychios is saying: do not give up. The Gospel promise is good; God cannot be faithless to himself. And it is not possible for him who ever stoops down and peeps into the air of his heart not to be illumined.

There is a danger here of accepting false visions; let us here leave that real danger, since we have already addressed it, aside.

We must have faith that this word of God is true: ‘Will God, then, not make the revenge of his elect, those who are crying out towards him day and night, he who also is long-suffering to them? I say to you that he will make their revenge quickly.’ (Luke 18, 7–8.) But the next sentence underscores the challenge: ‘However, will the Son of Man, coming, find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18, 8.) For the temptation is to lose faith: the Judge has not heard.

It is in this context that St Hesychios has placed his hope-inspiring assertion that he who ever stoops down and peeps into the air of his heart cannot fail to be illumined. We must persevere in the immaterial war and in the guard of the mind.

This is the second time that St Hesychios has alluded to a Hesychast posture. The first time was in OS 23. This is the seated posture of the watchman in the vineyard whom we saw in the commentary on OS 100 in the quotation from St John of Sinai. The Hesychast is peeping into the air of his heart to detect the advent of the thieves—the impassioned mental representation or recollections—who come to steal his grapes. It is clear that this stooping down and peeping into the heart is not a metaphor: the battleground is the space of the heart.

This is also the second time that St Hesychios has used the image of the ‘air of the heart’. The first time was in OS 91, above. What does he mean? The air of the heart is the space of the heart. The mind, being in the heart, sees the space of the heart as an air. This can also be called the air of the intellect: it is the field of consciousness that the ascetic has when, stooped down and peeping into the space of his heart, his mind is in his heart.

The illumination, of course, is intelligible. It requires discernment to distinguish between the illumination of demons and the illumination that comes from the grace of the Holy Spirit. As we have already remarked, the danger for the ascetic who has grown weary is that he might undiscerningly accept illumination which is delusive and not from God.

The next few chapters are really paraphrases of the Maximian material that St Hesychios quoted in OS 67–75.

[1] The Greek word, repeated in several other chapters and always rendered by us ‘small torch’, might also be translated ‘candle’ or ‘oil lamp’.

[2] Mark Volume I.

[3] Diadochos.

[4] Mark Volume I, p. 348, l. 1–p. 350, l. 9.

[5] Silouan.

[6] Philokalia G; = Mark OJW 85.

[7] See OTT 24 and 25 and, especially, the discussion of the models of temptation in the commentary just before OS 54, above.

[8] See OS 98 and 99.

[9] Ephraim G pp. 112–14.


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