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OS (Commentary) -- 21

109 As it is impossible to live the present life without eating and drinking,

Since we are still in the body. This is a remark on the necessity of some food and drink, not a justification for gluttony.

thus it is impossible without guard of the mind (nous) and purity of the heart, which is and is called sobriety,

Again, the clear identification of sobriety with purity of heart. Here, sobriety is identified not with the method of the practical life of Evagrius but with purity of heart, the result of applying the method. The guard of the mind, as we have already seen, corresponds to the exercise of the method of sobriety in the heart without images. This absence of images corresponds to Evagrian dispassion. From that it would be easy to infer that Hesychian purity of heart is equivalent to Evagrian dispassion, but in fact Hesychian purity of heart spans the gamut of contemplation from Evagrian dispassion through to the dispassion of St John of Sinai, which is Theology. One must always assess from the context how St Hesychios intends ‘purity of heart’.

for the soul to arrive at something spiritual and pleasing to God,

Let us take this to mean natural contemplation and Theology.

or to be set free from sin in the intellect (dianoia),

This clearly corresponds to Evagrian dispassion.

even if one forces oneself on account of the fear of hell not to sin.

Here, what is meant is the Christian who makes an effort ‘on account of the fear of hell’ not to sin in act although he has not entered into the exercise of Hesychian sobriety.

This chapter is a summary or paraphrase of OS 68, 69, 70, 73 and 75, above, all quotations from St Maximos the Confessor. Here, the contrast St Maximos drew between the immaterial war, praktike, or sobriety as method—what St Maximos called in OS 68 the making of one’s ‘occupations round those things which are within’—and a mere bodily, external asceticism—what St Maximos called in OS 69 having one’s ‘employment round the flesh’—is made by St Hesychios a contrast between the guard of the mind and purity of heart, or sobriety as result, and the mere avoidance, through the fear of hell, of sins in act.

This is the way that St Hesychios makes the distinction: the cutting off of sin in the intellect versus merely avoiding sin in act without attending to the intellect. We have seen, and will see immediately below, that on this matter St Hesychios draws a parallel between the New and the Old Testaments. This distinction corresponds to St Maximos in the chapters referred to, and the distinction is based on Evagrius. The argument of St Hesychios and St Maximos is against a monasticism that ignores the intellect and attends only to the external acts of sin, against a monasticism that ignores praktike, the practical life, or sobriety taken as a method of fighting the immaterial war.

Now St Hesychios, instead of saying ‘contemplates, theologizes and prays’ as St Maximos said in OS 68, above, says ‘arrive at something spiritual and pleasing to God, or to be set free from sin in the intellect (dianoia)’. The second part of the phrase in St Hesychios can be taken as a metaphor for Evagrian dispassion; the first part of the phrase, as a metaphor for natural contemplation and Theology.

St Maximos spoke of the inner man, which in his own text he clearly defined to be the mind (nous), and the outer man, the man of external asceticism. St Hesychios, in OS 139 and 140, below, will himself adopt these terms, identifying the inner man with Moses and the outer man with Aaron, Mose’s brother. Here, however, he restricts himself to a contrast between the New and Old Testaments, between an inner and an outer asceticism.

Although both St Hesychios and St Maximos are clearly arguing for an inner asceticism, St Hesychios now moderates his own position slightly:

110 However, those also who with a certain violence abstain from sin in act are blessed in the sight of God and angels and men, for they are found to be men who take the Kingdom of the Heavens by violence [cf. Matt. 11, 12].

St Hesychios wants to say—well, even if you do not practise sobriety but you force yourself not to sin in act despite the thoughts and passions which buffet you within, that’s something: you too are blessed, for you have forced yourself not to sin and you have thus taken the Kingdom of the Heavens by violence. St Hesychios does not want to dismiss this level of Christian morality as worthless: it is good but there is something better.

St Hesychios does not adopt the Evagrian distinction ‘Kingdom of the Heavens – Kingdom of God’ of TPL 2 and 3.

111 This is the wonderful thing about the benefit to the mind (nous) from stillness (hesychia):

Here, ‘stillness (hesychia)’ means the broad Hesychast program: seclusion, humility, attention, rebuttal, the continual invocation of Jesus Christ and the memory of death.

all the sins which first knock on the door of the mind (nous) in thoughts (logismoi) only,

St Hesychios has explained this. This is the assault, and all the subsequent stages of temptation and consent before sin in act.

so that they become sensible and gross acts of sin

This is the sin in act of the outer man.

if they be accepted by the intellect (dianoia),

This is consent.

are all of them cut off by the intellectual (dianoetike) and sober (neptike) virtue,

Sobriety here taken as method: this is St Hesychios’ version of the practical life or immaterial war of Evagrius consciously exercised or fought in the depths of the heart. There is also a sense in which the ‘the intellectual (dianoetike) and sober (neptike) virtue’ is the ‘thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ of OS 145, below—that is, the operation of the mind that we call ‘extreme attention’.

which does not allow them to enter into our inner man

Recall that St Maximos has explicitly called the inner man the mind (nous). Recall also from the commentary just before OS 54, above, that, making use of St Mark the Ascetic, St Hesychios has modified the Evagrian system so that according to St Hesychios, the rebuttal blocks the evolution of the impassioned mental representation or recollection of an object of sense and the invocation causes it to dissolve like dust before the wind or smoke in the air. This is the significance of ‘does not allow them to enter into our inner man’. The goal of St Hesychios’ method, based on that of Evagrius and that of St Mark the Ascetic, is to block the demonic assault by rebuttal at its inception in the intellect and to dissipate it by invocation. To be able to do that, however, the Hesychast must have continual attention.

and to be led into wicked works,

This is the multistage process of temptation and sin, variously outlined by Evagrius, St Mark the Ascetic, St John of Sinai and St Hesychios.

by the influence and protection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This, according to St Hesychios, comes to the Hesychast through the continual invocation. This is St Hesychios’ great contribution to ascetical theory, this insistence on the need in the immaterial war for the continual invocation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

St Hesychios now proceeds to a long, dense and difficult analysis of inner and outer asceticism based on the parallel of the New and Old Testaments.

112 The image of the outer and sensible bodily asceticism is the Old Testament. The Holy Gospel, which is the New,


is the image of attention, that is to say, of purity of heart.

Here attention has been associated with purity of heart. ‘Attention’ must be taken to be a synonym for ‘sobriety’ or the ‘guard of the mind’, here taken as the result, purity of heart.

This parallel of the Old Testament with bodily asceticism and the New Testament with sobriety as something that leads to purity of heart is interesting from a dogmatic and soteriological point of view. We are reminded of Luther, the Augustinian monk, who rejected as worthless ‘monkery’ and who, as we ourselves understand him, advocated a doctrine of justification by faith precisely over and against the notion that one was justified by making the inner man free of sin in thought: each man was, Luther thought, justified by the grace of Jesus Christ by imputation despite the presence of the passions within him.

Certainly the Orthodox view traditional Protestantism as being very much a matter of external moral probity, publicly professed faith and external acts of virtue, perhaps joined with a pietistic or sentimental spirituality. Protestantism is not seen as responding to the distinction that St Maximos and St Hesychios are drawing between the inner and the outer asceticism; it is seen as being insensitive to the immaterial war, to the cultivation of attention and sobriety, even apart from the matter of the continual repetition of the Jesus Prayer, a matter which in St Hesychios clearly is joined to the immaterial war.

Hence, we might have here an interesting way to focus on the dogmatic difference between Orthodoxy and Protestantism concerning the significance of the New Testament. For the Orthodox, the New Testament is a call to purity of heart in this world, in this life, as well as in the world to come. It is a call to the cutting off of sin in thought, not merely notionally through the theoretical or abstract recognition or confession that one’s heart is impure—according to Luther’s doctrine, the man is justified despite that impurity by imputation through faith in Jesus Christ—but through the voluntary purification by the man of the passions with the help of Christ. In this view, the Orthodox ascetical tradition is seen not as the elective occupation of men and women having nothing better to do, but as the fullness of the Gospel. This is the ‘monkery’—here, St Maximos and St Hesychios are discussing the nature of this ‘monkery’—that Luther, the monk, rejected as worthless. Here, we might also remark that Luther’s spirituality corresponds to that which St Hesychios praises in OS 110, above, although St Hesychios clearly views it as being inferior to the method that he is teaching.

And just as the Old Testament did not perfect [anything], neither did it give the inner man spiritual assurance in the service of God.

This assessment of the Old Testament is a fundamental aspect of the Apostolic kerygma.

For the Apostle says: ‘The Law made nothing perfect.’ [Heb. 7, 19.] It only forbade the gross acts of sin.

This is fundamental to St Hesychios’ own understanding.

For to cut off thoughts (logismoi) from the heart, which is the command of the Gospel, and wicked remembrances,

This is the method of sobriety that St Hesychios is teaching.

is greater as regards purity of soul than to prevent one from putting out the eye and tooth of his neighbour [cf. Lev. 24, 17–22; etc.].

In Matt. 5, 38–9, we read: ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye” and “Tooth for tooth”. I, then, say to you not to oppose the evil one. But whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other.’

‘Eye for eye’ and ‘Tooth for tooth’ were the injunctions of the Mosaic Law which enjoined retribution for injuries suffered but limited it to equal measure. Certainly, it was forbidden by the Mosaic Law to put out the eye or tooth of one’s neighbour without cause, and that seems to be how St Hesychios is taking the passage of Leviticus here: the Old Testament only hindered the gross acts of sin.

What St Hesychios has in mind as the kernel of the New Testament is that it cuts off thoughts from the heart: not merely do I turn the other cheek, but I keep the commandment ‘Love your enemies’ (Matt. 5, 44), and that not merely in external comportment but in the cutting off of thoughts and passions of anger, hatred and rancour when they first present themselves in my intellect, while my mind is in my heart. This is the ascetical program of which Evagrius is the great theoretician. This is what we have discussed at length in Volume II. This is what we say that St John of Sinai, St Maximos the Confessor, St Hesychios and even St John Cassian have adopted from Evagrius. Moreover, this is also the program that we find in the works of St Mark the Ascetic, although he cannot be considered to be a disciple of Evagrius: it is clear that Evagrius was the theoretician of a method of inner ascesis that Evagrius himself did not necessarily originate; that seems to have been the accomplishment of the Egyptian Fathers before him.

This understanding of the New Testament shows us the significance of the pursuit of dispassion by means of praktike or sobriety: This is the division of the Christian spiritual life into praktike, natural contemplation and Theology. For when you have cut off the passions of anger, hatred and rancour—and not only them but all the eight most general passions—then you have attained to purity of heart and you will see God: you will enter into natural contemplation and then, later, into Theology—either in this life or in the next.

This is St Hesychios’ program.

Thus also concerning bodily justice

External rectitude of conduct. This is not an argument for immorality. It is an argument for something more profound which includes external rectitude of conduct as the fruit of the flower of an inner rectitude of spirit.

and asceticism—

Bodily asceticism.

fasting, I say, and continence, sleeping on the ground, standing, keeping vigil and the rest, which by nature concern the body and make the part of the body which is subject to feeling to be still from sin in act—

Evagrius is a little more precise. The passions of the body are gluttony and fornication; their primary therapy is continence. In Evagrius’ thought, this therapy is surely not merely something that makes the body to be still from sins of gluttony and fornication in act; rather, this therapy actually withers those passions, dependent as they are on the body itself. One could refer to much of TPL to support this. Let us simply quote these passages: ‘Hunger, toil and the anchoretic life wither inflamed desire.’ (TPL 15.) ‘And continence cuts off the passions of the body, while spiritual charity cuts off those of the soul.’ (TPL 35.)

St Hesychios is here minimizing the role of bodily asceticism in order to emphasize the immaterial war: the inner attention and the cutting off of the impassioned mental representations or recollections at the moment of their inception. This is fair. Evagrius said what we have just quoted above in the context of a detailed theoretical analysis of the passions and thoughts and the immaterial war against them.

However, although directly and indirectly Evagrius’ works have played a fundamental role in the definition of the Hesychast program of both St John of Sinai and St Hesychios, there has been a shift in emphasis. Hesychian sobriety is different from Evagrian praktike not just in attaching to Evagrian praktike the Jesus Prayer prayed continually in the heart with extreme attention, but also in the fabric of stillness: Evagrius foresaw contact between hermits. He and the other residents of the Cells gathered on Saturdays and Sundays in the central church of the Cells and celebrated the Divine Liturgy along with other services. They worked with their hands. Evagrius read and wrote books and copied Psalters for a living. St Hesychios, evidently following St John of Sinai, foresees a more secluded, contemplative way of life for the Hesychast.

Moreover, concerning bodily asceticism we also see a change of emphasis in St John of Sinai and, following him as his disciple we think, St Hesychios.

We do know that St John of Sinai ate all that was permitted by the monastic typikon, but very little.

It is evident from the Ladder that St John of Sinai discouraged manual labour for the Hesychast: ‘It is very difficult to shake off the sleep of midday, and certainly in the summertime; for then, and perhaps only then, the work of the hands is not to be rejected.’[1] There are other passages in the Ladder that minimize the role of manual labour for the Hesychast.

We know that manual labour was an integral part of the program of the Egyptian ascetics; the Sayings of the Desert Fathers is replete with stories which manifest this—even in the case of such a resolute Hesychast as St Arsenios the Great, who plaited ropes.

The Syrian tradition, in distinction, minimized the role of manual labour; there are anecdotes in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers which testify to the Egyptians’ refusal to accept the Syrians’ point of view. As a historical matter, it is interesting to wonder how the tradition developed in Sinai—as an influence of the Syrian tradition, or otherwise? For there is a definite change in emphasis.

In St John of Sinai, the Hesychast’s whole life is centred on prayer and worship of God in the intellect, and the practice of the immaterial war in reclusion, absolutely free from distraction.

This would explain the silence of St Hesychios that we earlier remarked concerning such things as manual labour, church services, obediences (jobs) in the monastery and such-like. St Hesychios would be inserted in this tradition, more amply described by St John of Sinai in the Ladder, in Step 27 and other steps, a tradition that has the Hesychast absolutely free from worldly concerns for the sake of the Hesychast program.

Let us return to the text.

these things also being good, as I said regarding the Old Testament.

So St Hesychios does accept bodily asceticism, though, we believe, with a shift of emphasis from Evagrius to put more emphasis on the immaterial war with the continual humble invocation.

They are a training of our outer man and a sentinel over the passions in act—

This clearly minimizes the role of bodily asceticism in comparison with what Evagrius has said in TPL and OTT.

but not sentinels over acts of sin in the intellect (dianoia),

Evagrius, the great theoretician of the immaterial war, would agree, but, as we said above, he would grant bodily asceticism a more positive role in the withering of the passions of the body so that bodily asceticism would more than controlling sins of the bodily passions in act: it is the removing of the material that the demons of gluttony and fornication can excite towards thoughts that if left unchecked will lead to sin in act.

that is to say, they do not prevent them

Acts of sin in the intellect.

so as to be able to free us, with the help of God, of envy, wrath and the rest.

These are the passions of the soul. Evagrius would agree that bodily asceticism does not cure passions of the soul; spiritual charity (TPL) and meekness (OTT) do that.

We remarked that, in the passages quoted by St Hesychios above, St Maximos the Confessor substituted, at least in part, humility for spiritual charity and meekness as the therapy for passions of the soul, and that St Hesychios appears to have followed him on this matter. Curiously, in OJW 91, St Mark the Ascetic makes a remark that includes all three of these virtues:

91 The gnosis of each man happens to be true so much: as much as meekness and humility and spiritual charity confirm it.[2]

It may very well be that St Hesychios’ real argument in this chapter of OS is that bodily asceticism, whatever it may do for the passions of the body, does very little for the passions of the soul: his examples here are of passions of the soul.

It is clear, however, that St Hesychios, evidently following the tradition of Sinai, wants to emphasize the immaterial war: this, according to St Hesychios, is the primary therapy of all the passions. This allows us to situate OS somewhat more clearly: it is a Hesychast program, situated in the Hesychast tradition of Sinai, in which the Hesychast is completely dedicated—normally until death, as it appears from the later parts of the Ladder and OS—to complete solitude, to complete attention, to stillness, to sobriety, to the immaterial war, all without concern for manual labour, all without concern for the satisfaction of bodily needs such as food or clothing, all without church services, all without distractions of any kind.

We are now in a position to see the full force of St Hesychios’ next chapter:

113 Purity of heart, however, that is to say, the keeping and the guard of the mind (nous), of which the model is the New Testament, if, indeed, the mind (nous) is guarded by us as it should be, uproots and cuts out of the heart all the passions and all the evils, and introduces instead joy, good hopes, contrition, mourning, tears, deep knowledge of ourselves and of our acts of sin, the memory of death, true humility, limitless charity towards God and men, and divine Eros (eros) in the heart.

What should be clear is that ‘purity of heart, … that is to say, the keeping and the guard of the mind (nous)’ is conceived by St Hesychios in the Hesychast setting that we have just been discussing. The concept of the keeping and guard of the mind is deeply rooted in the particular style of Hesychasm, that of the School of Sinai, particularly that of St John of Sinai, that St Hesychios seems himself to have lived. This is a Hesychasm of solitude, continual prayer, abstinence from manual labour and all distractions, a solitude interrupted only by the rare arrival of visitors. In this Hesychast context, in the accomplished ascetic, the guard of the mind can be serene, pure, and very strong and focused.

The caution ‘if, indeed, the mind (nous) is guarded by us as it should be’ indicates the role of free will: the Hesychast must apply himself assiduously to the counsels that St Hesychios has been giving all through OS, and especially as concerns the danger of lethe.

The further statement that this keeping and guard of the mind cuts out of the heart all the passions (evidently including the bodily passions) and all the evils is, of course, none other than the Evagrian pursuit of dispassion by means of praktike, where here a much greater weight has been put on solitude, the immaterial war, the continual invocation of Jesus Christ coupled to the breath and, above all, humility.

The catalogue of goods said to come from this practice of the guard of the mind is not put into a framework of the virtues, the operation of the three parts of the soul according to nature: St Hesychios is not the systematic thinker that Evagrius was. Neither does his catalogue correspond to any of St Paul’s various lists in Scripture of the fruits of the Spirit. It seems rather to be a catalogue—undoubtedly born both of St Hesychios’ personal experience and of his observation of other Hesychasts—of Hesychast virtues, or Hesychast fruits of the Spirit.

Before we comment on these Hesychast virtues individually, it is well to note that St Hesychios has just been emphasizing the toil and wearisomeness of the Hesychast spiritual endeavour. These goods we certainly acquire but not overnight. However, here, St Hesychios wants to emphasize that we do acquire them, that we have something to look forward to.

The first is ‘joy’: This of course is the classic virtue of Christians. One recalls the martyr who ran to the place of his own beheading as to his own wedding.

‘Good hopes’: It is clear that the Hesychast is subject to lethe. Hence, this virtue is quite important to him.

‘Tears’: This is one of the few places where St Hesychios mentions tears, along with contrition and mourning. Nowhere, except where he counsels the memory of death, and then only obliquely, does St Hesychios emphasize these particular virtues or Hesychast fruits of the Spirit. Moreover, these things are here considered to be fruits of an intense, advanced sobriety, the guard of the mind: nowhere does St Hesychios counsel the Hesychast to pursue them for their own sake. This is the particular style of St Hesychios’ sobriety. As we mentioned, there is another school, of which Fr Ephraim of Katounakia was an exponent, that emphasizes the pursuit of tears, contrition and mourning as main elements of the spiritual journey.[3]

‘Deep knowledge of ourselves’: It is clear that the hesychia that St Hesychios is teaching is profound, and that it necessarily leads to a complete understanding of who we are. This self-knowledge is intrinsic to the method: on the one hand, the immaterial war, focusing as it does on the thought processes of the Hesychast, necessarily leads to acquisition of a profound self-knowledge; on the other hand, the continual invocation of Jesus Christ in the depths of the heart necessarily leads to a conscious experience on the part of the Hesychast of the deepest aspects of his own personhood. Hence, the two things together, the immaterial war and the Prayer in the depths of the heart, necessarily lead to a profound self-knowledge, without anything yet having being said about the role of Grace: Grace would also increase the Hesychast’s self-knowledge.

‘And of our acts of sin’: This is true self-knowledge, neither delusive nor affected. The Hesychast has a deep knowledge of who he is and therefore of what his sins are.

‘The memory of death’: This is something that St Hesychios clearly wants the Hesychast to cultivate, although, as we have already remarked, he does not spend much time on it in OS and the topic does not seem to be stylistically well-integrated into the rest of OS.

‘True humility’: This deep self-knowledge is rooted in a deep, true humility. For there is no true self-knowledge without humility. The Holy Spirit blows a clear air through the heart of the Hesychast. His faith is true. His humility is true.

‘Limitless charity towards God and man’: The Holy Spirit himself gives this charity to his beloved. This is not human. Recall St Diadochos in GC 89, which we discussed in Chapter V of Volume I:

For the mind (nous), progressing according to a certain measure and an unspeakable rhythm, receives all the virtues by means of this [spiritual] perception (aisthesis); one is not able, however, to acquire spiritual love (pneumatike agape) except if he be illumined with every inner spiritual assurance (plerophoria) by the Holy Spirit. For if the mind (nous) does not receive perfectly the kath’ homoiosin by means of the Divine Light, it can have almost all the other virtues but it still remains without a share in perfect love. For when a man is made like to the virtue of God, as man is able to be made like to God I say, then he also bears the likeness (homoiosis) of the divine love.

‘Divine Eros (eros) in the heart’: The operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul of the Hesychast plays a very important role in the Hesychasm of the School of Sinai. We will note its presence in the passage of the Ladder that St Hesychios will use in OS 200 and 201 to close OS. The sobriety of St Hesychios is a sobriety that in its higher stages is tied to the operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul. Moreover, while St Hesychios emphasizes the practice of intense sobriety or attention, in the later stages of natural contemplation, when the Hesychast is approaching Theology, that intense attention is transfigured by Grace into a divine Eros (eros). This is a profound experience of the human heart under the influence of Grace; it is not merely the operation of the desiring part according to nature. The Hesychast becomes like St John the Evangelist: the Hesychast too says: ‘God is love.’ (1 John 4, 8.) But in the Hesychast this love has become Eros (eros) towards God.

St Hesychios now turns to continue his discussion of the weaknesses of a merely bodily asceticism:

114 As it is not possible for him who walks on the earth not to cut this air, thus it is impossible for the heart of man not to be warred against everlastingly by demons or even to be set into action by them secretly, even if the man should have much bodily ascesis.

In TPL 6, Evagrius states:

The most general thoughts are eight in all… Whether all these thoughts trouble the soul or do not trouble the soul is among those things which are not within our power; for these to persist or not to persist, or to set passions in motion or not to set in motion, is among those things which are within our power.

We think that what St Hesychios means is this: Bodily ascesis cannot stop the attacks of the demons. It cannot prevent the demons from setting the passions in motion by thoughts, since such bodily ascesis does not deal with the thoughts themselves. The implication is that the Hesychast must take up Hesychian sobriety, which is in fact what St Hesychios goes on to say in the next chapter.

But the question arises: We know from Evagrius that the immaterial war cuts off the demonic temptation at the inception of the impassioned mental representation, and, hence, if assiduously applied can prevent the demons from secretly setting the heart in motion towards sin. Does St Hesychios also intend to say that his method of sobriety will prevent even the attacks of the demons? For Evagrius says in TPL 36: ‘Those (demons) which rule over the passions of the soul persist until death; those which rule over the passions of the body retire more quickly.’ And in TPL 77, he says: ‘The virtues do not stop the attacks of the demons but they preserve us unharmed.’

St Hesychios foresees that the guard of the mind will be ‘without images’. Does he mean by this that the demons do not approach to sow demonic mental representations in the mind of the Hesychast? Is this how the third stage of confronting the demons of St John of Sinai that we quoted in the commentary just before OS 87—‘The third (manner – tropos) has spit on the demons once and for all.’—is to be understood? Does it mean that the Hesychast has completely conquered the demons? Or does it merely mean that he has attained to Evagrian dispassion? Or does it mean that the Hesychast is so alert that he rebuts the assault at the earliest instant of inception of the impassioned mental representation, or even just before, when, with the power of clairvoyance that he may have been granted as a gift of the Holy Spirit, he perceives that the demon is approaching to sow such a demonic mental representation? St Hesychios must mean the last of these possibilities, that the Hesychast is so alert that he rebuts the assault at the earliest instant of its inception or even just before.

In the higher states of contemplation it is possible to be troubled by demons who slander one and simply to ignore them.[4] Hence, when the Hesychast has entered into contemplation there is an element of being beyond the reach of the demons—but only until the contemplation ceases. In this regard, we might mention the remark of St Silouan himself concerning the composition of his own writings: he wrote under the influence of Grace, but when Grace left, then the writing stopped and the thoughts (logismoi) started—this is to be understood as the assaults of the demons, not as a subjective phenomenon—, and he was then faced with resuming the immaterial war.[5]

We think that St Hesychios means that the Hesychast rebuts the thought at the earliest possible moment, perhaps even, if the Hesychast is clairvoyant, before the demon has sown the thought; and that in certain stages of contemplation the Hesychast is free of the demons, at least until the contemplation ceases. For no man is free of temptation while he is still in the flesh, no man. This reading would accord with the sense of OS 111, above.

Let us now turn to OS 115.

115 If indeed you want in the Lord not only to appear to be a monk

This is the monk in the outer man, the monk in external behaviour—possibly affected—without regard to the passions and without regard to the thoughts. It corresponds to the passage of St Maximos the Confessor quoted by St Hesychios as OS 70, above.

and good and kind and always united to God,

Are these not, in truth, the characteristics of the true monk?

but you wish also in truth

In the inner man, not only in external, possibly affected, behaviour. In OS 70, above, the outer monk corresponded to the first renunciation of Evagrius; the inner monk, to the second renunciation, the Evagrian practical life, or Hesychian sobriety with its adaptations of the Evagrian practical life that we are in the course of analysing.

to be such a monk,

In fact, good and kind and always united to God in the mind (nous) or inner man.

pursue with all your power uninclining


attentive virtue, which is the guard of the mind (nous) and the keeping and sweet perfection in the heart of the mind (nous), stillness (hesychia) without images, a blessed condition of soul, a thing not found in many.

Following the reading in AlphabeticK’ instead of ‘…such a monk, pursue with all your power attentive virtue, which is guard of the mind, keeping of the mind and perfection in the heart of sweet stillness (hesychia), a blessed condition of the soul without images, a thing not found in many.’ With the exception of the addition of ‘uninclining’ in AlphabeticK’, the difference is a matter of punctuation. With the punctuation of Philokalia G, the italicized phrase is in any event ambiguous and capable of being interpreted in more than one way. We think the reading of AlphabeticK’ is to be preferred, and it is closer to the definition of the guard of the mind in OS 3, above.

Note the list of terms which establishes—according to the reading we have elected, surely—this set of correspondences among St Hesychios’ terms: ‘Uninclining attentive virtue’ is equivalent to the ‘guard of the mind’, which itself is the ‘keeping and sweet perfection in the heart of the mind (nous)’, which itself is ‘stillness (hesychia) without images’.

The deeper sense is this: the key to being a monk in the inner man is to attain to the guard of the mind (nous), which is exercised in the heart. This is an advanced stage of sobriety, preliminary to the entry of the Hesychast into contemplations and to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the soul; it corresponds to Evagrian dispassion. However, this guard of the mind is to be seen not as a transitory state preliminary to ‘spiritual experiences’ but as the proper goal of the Hesychast, as the state to be cultivated for its own sake so that it becomes a fixed habit: this is St Hesychios’ Hesychast program. In fact, in the next two chapters, St Hesychios provides yet another summary of this Hesychast program, complete with a metaphorical description of the Evagrian stages of praktike, second natural contemplation, first natural contemplation and Theology.

Again, we are struck by the degree to which St Hesychios’ doctrine of the guard of the mind is conceived by him as a program of Hesychasm: there is nothing of the cœnobium in this doctrine as it is developed by St Hesychios. This stillness (hesychia) is a stillness attainable in its fullness only in the framework of Hesychast solitude, and that an absolute solitude: there is no sense here of St Gregory of Sinai’s disciple in On the Two Methods of Prayer who will read the service for the Hesychast when the Hesychast is tired. Those who wish to implement St Hesychios’ method in more active contexts will be obliged to modify it according to the requirements of their actual rule or typikon.

Let us now see how St Hesychios repeats the outline of his Hesychast program:

116 For this is also called intelligible philosophy, and travel this in much sobriety and warm willingness together with the prayer (euche) of Jesus, together with humility and density and silence of the sensible and intelligible lips, together with continence in food and drink and every object tending to sin;

This is the ascetical program, summarized for the ascetic at the level of attainment of the guard of the mind. Note that St Hesychios, despite his disparaging comments on a merely bodily asceticism, does counsel ‘continence in food and drink and every object tending to sin’. There is nothing antinomian about this program of ascesis.

‘Density’: This means both focus and heaviness or strength of focus.

‘Silence of the sensible and intelligible lips’: Silence of the sensible lips is just what it says; silence of the intelligible lips is an interior silence: no distractions, no books to be written, no thoughts in the intellect. In this regard it is well to recall the passage of St John of Sinai quoted in the commentary just before OS 87, above, wherein St John speaks of the third stage of the Hesychast’s confrontation with the demons, the one that corresponds to the guard of the mind that St Hesychios is here addressing:

The witness of the third [stage of confrontation with the demons] is he who sang, ‘I was dumb and did not open my mouth,’ [Ps. 38, 10] and ‘I placed a guard on it when the sinner stood opposite me,’ [Ps. 38, 2] and again ‘The proud were transgressing exceedingly much; from thy contemplation, then, I myself did not turn aside.’ [Cf. Ps. 118, 51.]

‘In much sobriety’: This means ‘with much attention’. It means focus and attention; it means the guard of the mind; it also implies the immaterial war for the sake of rebutting the thought at the earliest possible moment. It is also connected with the passage from Psalm 118 just cited that St John has modified: ‘…[F]rom thy contemplation, then, I myself did not turn aside.’

‘Warm willingness’: This should be clear from St Hesychios’ remarks about the toilsome nature of this ‘philosophical’—that is, ascetical—road. We must have the right attitude from the beginning, on account of the toil, the free will and the lethe. This is a stage of Eros (eros), the operation of the desiring part of the soul according to nature.

‘The prayer (euche) of Jesus’: It should be clear that this is just one component of this Hesychast program for the guard of the mind, a component which cannot be separated from the whole framework or context of the immaterial war or, here, guard of the mind.

‘With humility’: This should be clear. This is the main therapy for the passions of the soul in this program.

travel this in the road of the intellect (dianoia) scientifically in prudence;

This should be clear. The intellect is an operation of the mind (nous).

‘The road of the intellect (dianoia)’: This is the road of inner ascesis, the way of the inner monk—St Hesychios’ method of sobriety.

‘Scientifically in prudence’: There is nothing here of the foolishly and naïvely enthusiastic: ‘All I need to do is pray the Jesus Prayer; what need do I have for a theological analysis of the nature of ascesis and of the nature of the immaterial war or guard of the mind?’ The words ‘scientifically in prudence’ on the contrary show that the Hesychast must understand what he is doing quite scientifically and that he must apply his understanding very prudently. Recall that the general in the immaterial war is prudence. The Hesychast must weigh risks; he must assess the consequences of his actions. There is nothing rash in St Hesychios’ Hesychast program.

The next passage begins to address contemplation but in a rather vague way:

and it will teach you, with the help of God, those things which you did not understand,

The reference is clearly to the revelations of natural contemplation, which open to us realities ‘we never even dreamed of’, to use a colloquialism. Consider this passage of St Paul:

What eye did not see and ear did not hear and what did not come into the heart of man, those things that God prepared for those who love him. —To us God has revealed [these things], then, by means of his Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.[6]

and acquaint you and illumine you

This is especially the characteristic of second natural contemplation.

and make you prudent,

Since you will understand many things. However, this prudence is also a charism; it is one of the virtues infused into the Hesychast by the Holy Spirit.

and teach you

Following the reading in AlphabeticK’ for the introduction of ‘you’ as object of each of the four preceding verbs in this clause. This word is missing in Philokalia G.

things which you were unable to receive into [your] mind (nous), walking

That is, ‘when you were walking…’.

in the darkness of the passions

This clearly positions St Hesychios’ present vantage point in the transformation from dispassion to the second natural contemplation.

and of dark works (erga)

St Hesychios’ program is not only for the born saint.

and covered over by insensibility (lethe) and by an abyss of confusion.

This is curious. Neither Evagrius nor St John of Sinai speak like this.

St Hesychios now turns in the next chapter to a broad outline of the stages of praktike, second natural contemplation, first natural contemplation and Theology.

117 Just as the deep valleys multiply grain [Ps. 64, 4],

Just as the deep and fertile valleys produce much grain—a great harvest.

in the same way this

This ‘intelligible philosophy’ that St Hesychios began to refer to in the previous chapter.

The chapter divisions in OS often seem arbitrary. The ‘this’ here indicates a close thematic continuity with the preceding chapter, as if they were really one chapter.

multiplies in your heart every good—

This seems clear enough: the practice of Hesychian sobriety, now taking on the dimensions of an advanced formal method of Hesychasm, the guard of the mind, will produce every spiritual good in your heart. St Hesychios has just listed some of these goods in OS 113. In Evagrius’ writings, which are more analytical, these goods would be classified as the virtues, dispassion, natural contemplation and Theology. Concerning the virtues, we learned in TPL 98, Didymus the Blind, that the virtues were essentially one (i.e. the undifferentiated grace of the Holy Spirit) but that that undifferentiated virtue manifested itself variously in the various powers of the soul. St Mark the Ascetic says essentially the same thing in OSL 195.[7] TPL 89 provides a detailed analysis of the virtues.

rather, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, without whom we are not able to do anything [cf. John 15, 5], will provide these things to you.

They are by grace. Recall OS 79–82, above, which present the opening chapters of On Those Who Think They are Justified by Works by St Mark the Ascetic, wherein St Mark insists that ‘…[T]he Kingdom of the Heavens is not the wage of works (erga) but grace of the Master readied for faithful slaves.’

And first you will find this

This intelligible philosophy, this Hesychian system of sobriety.

to be a ladder,

This is praktike, the practical life.

afterwards a book which is read.

This is second natural contemplation.

Afterwards, progressing, you will find this the City of the Heavenly Jerusalem

This is first natural contemplation.

and Christ the King of the Hosts of Israel

These ‘Hosts’ are the angelic powers contemplated in first natural contemplation; they are the City of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

manifestly, intelligibly

Both adverbs are necessary.

in view

Both ‘manifestly’—that is, really—and intelligibly—that is, not sensibly, but spiritually—in view.

together with his Consubstantial Father and the Holy Spirit worthy of worship.

The formula ‘Holy Spirit Worthy of Worship’ entered into theological language during the Arian controversies of the Fourth Century, when the divinity of the Holy Spirit was questioned. ‘Worthy of worship’ conveys a single Greek word which is used to assert the divinity of the Holy Spirit, given that only the Divinity is ‘worthy of worship’.

‘Consubstantial’ can be seen in the same light; it is an assertion of the divinity of the Word who was made flesh, Jesus Christ. Hence, here, contrary to Evagrius, we have a perfectly Orthodox Trinitarian formula. Moreover, characteristically, St Hesychios centres on Jesus Christ as the person of the Holy Trinity who becomes manifestly, intelligibly in view.

This is Theology.

We have here identified St Hesychios’ phrases with the specific stages of the spiritual journey in the Evagrian system. We also did this earlier, in chapters where the identification might have seemed to the reader a little forced. However, in the earlier chapters, we had in mind this particular chapter of OS, and, in addition, the totality of the Evagrian material in OS. Let us now demonstrate the soundness of the identification in this chapter.

In OS 51, above, we encountered the image of Jacob’s Ladder as an image of sobriety. In our commentary preceding that chapter, we discussed the use by St John of Sinai of the image of the ladder in his own ascetical work, the Ladder of Divine Ascent, which clearly deals with Evagrian praktike, and we also quoted KG IV, 43, which explicitly compares praktike to Jacob’s Ladder, and which might be the literary source of St John of Sinai’s own image of the ladder. We also remarked in that place on the use by St Diadochos of Photike, generally considered to have been influenced by Evagrius Pontikos and to have influenced St John of Sinai and known by us to be quoted by St Hesychios, of the image of Jacob’s Ladder for the ascetical ascent to God. Hence, the identification of the ladder with praktike—Hesychian sobriety taken as the immaterial war together with the continual humble invocation of Jesus Christ and the memory of death—is certain. The only question that would remain would be this one: did St Hesychios take the image of the ladder from St John of Sinai or St Diadochos of Photike, or was he aware of its Evagrian origin?

In TPL 92, Anthony, Evagrius has St Anthony, ‘the first fruit of anchorites’,[8] say to a philosopher: ‘My book, philosopher, is the nature of things which have come to be and it is here present whenever I wish to read the words which are of God.’ It is clear that for Evagrius ‘the nature of things which have come to be’ refers to the reasons (logoi) of created beings, which are precisely the subject matter of second natural contemplation. Hence, the identification of ‘the book which is read’ with second natural contemplation is also certain. Later, we shall see passages in OS that are quotations from TPL, so this identification is strengthened by that evidence that St Hesychios had in fact read TPL.

Let us turn to the ‘City of the Heavenly Jerusalem’. In KG VI, 49, we read:

VI, 49 Egypt signifies vice; the desert, praktike; the land of Judah, the contemplation of bodies; Jerusalem, that of incorporeals, and Zion is the symbol of the Trinity.

In KG V, 6, we find:

V, 6 The contemplation of angels is named the celestial Jerusalem and the Mount of Zion, for if those who have believed in Christ draw near to the Mount of Zion and [to] the City of the Living God, then it is in the contemplation of angels that those who have believed in Christ have been and will be, that contemplation from which their fathers have gone out and descended into Egypt.

In KG V, 88, we find:

V, 88 Zion is the sign of the first gnosis [= Theology[9]], and Egypt is the indication of all vice; but the symbol of the [first] natural contemplation is Jerusalem, where is the Mount of Zion, the summit of the city.

Let us point first out that the last part of KG V, 6 is heterodox: it refers to Evagrius’ heterodox doctrine of the pre-existence of minds (noes) and their descent into human form—here evidently from a contemplation of angels. We have included that chapter solely for its identification of the contemplation of angels with the celestial Jerusalem. That a Hesychast should contemplate angels is not heterodox in itself: see Step 27 of the Ladder:

Participating in the middle [work of tireless prayer], I came to be among the intermediates [the angels]; and he was enlightening me who was thirsty; and Behold! I was again among them.… These things: whether with the dust [the body] I do not know; whether without this [dust, i.e. the body] I do not have anything to say at all.[10]

The last sentence is clearly an allusion to St Paul: ‘Whether in the body I do not know, whether out of the body I do not know, God knows.’ (2 Cor. 12, 2.) St Paul was speaking of his own rapture to the third Heaven, which he also calls Paradise.

Our subject here is the identification of the first natural contemplation, the contemplation of angels, with the image of the celestial Jerusalem. We take for granted St Paul’s admonition in Galatians, to which we have already referred in Volume II in our commentary on OTT 8:

But even if we or an angel from Heaven should preach to you contrary to what we [ourselves] preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, even now I say again: if anyone should preach to you contrary to what you received, let him be accursed.[11]

Hence, our point of view here is that the Hesychast as he ascends towards contemplation of the Holy Trinity will pass through the contemplation of the angelic powers and that this is not in itself heretical or heterodox, but quite sound—only let not the Hesychast accept anything contrary to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, for then it is not an angel but a demon transformed into an angel of light that he has encountered.

To return to the subject at hand, the question is the identification of the celestial Jerusalem with the first natural contemplation, that of the angels. That St Hesychios means this can be ascertained by reference to OS 200 and 201, below, which correspond to a passage of Step 27 of the Ladder that St Hesychios is paraphrasing in those chapters.

Did St Hesychios take this image of the celestial Jerusalem from the Kephalaia Gnostica? We will address this and related questions below.

It remains for us to discuss the identification of ‘Christ the King of the Hosts of Israel manifestly, intelligibly in view together with his Consubstantial Father and the Holy Spirit worthy of worship’ with Theology.

In TPL 3, we read:

3 The Kingdom of God is gnosis of the Holy Trinity coextensive with the constitution of the mind and exceeding its incorruptibility.

It would be silly to suggest that St Hesychios is recommending an ascetical path that culminated in a vision of Jesus Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit that was without substance either with regard to soteriology or with regard to knowledge—real knowledge, gnosis—of God. His asceticism is rather severe—if not in terms of bodily asceticism then in terms of solitude, attention, rebuttal, continual invocation and the memory of death with humility. Why would he counsel others to undertake it if he did not think that he had met, and that those he was teaching would meet, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

So this is Theology.

Let us now broach the broader question: Was St Hesychios just a fellow who wrote a rather obscure, repetitive and difficult treatise about prayer and self-concentration who might have used some rather vague images about seeing the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the celestial Jerusalem, or was he in fact, as we are suggesting, a sophisticated, educated man who understood the Evagrian system?

We have already indicated a number of passages in OS which are quotations or adaptations of passages of works by Evagrius, works which might have come down to St Hesychios either under the name of Evagrius or under the name of St Neilos the Ascetic. OS 2 has such a passage; OS 12; OS 30; OS 34; OS 46; OS 51; the passages quoted from St Maximos are quite Evagrian in content; OS 66; OS 89; OS 100; there are others. We will see as we proceed other direct quotations from Evagrius, including direct quotations from TPL, which seems to have come down to us in the manuscript tradition under the name of Evagrius more clearly than is the case with many of the other works by Evagrius.

St Hesychios is quite closely allied in his theological understanding to St John of Sinai, who, despite his explicit condemnation of Evagrius, is heavily indebted to Evagrius.

We cannot say in every case under whose name St Hesychios read such passages of Evagrius as he has quoted or adapted. We cannot say for sure on the basis of the above passages that he had read the Kephalaia Gnostica of Evagrius Pontikos.

We can say, however, that St Hesychios shows himself to come out of a literary environment heavily influenced by Evagrian thought on asceticism, especially as regards praktike, the practical life, the immaterial war of the thoughts. He shows himself, although he himself is not the systematic thinker that Evagrius is, to understand the material that he is quoting and adapting: despite his very unsystematic approach to composing OS, St Hesychios maintains a coherence of underlying thought: OS is not a pastiche of hastily selected and haphazardly assembled quotations on prayer. St Hesychios understands his material; he seems occasionally to be adapting it to the perceived needs of a reader who he thinks might be ‘more simple’ (OS 13), that is, more uneducated, than Evagrius’ own expected audience.[12]

Certainly, St Hesychios nowhere explicitly discusses second natural contemplation. In general, he is reserved on the subject of contemplation, not, it would appear, because he is unaware of the Evagrian schema, but because he feels that the ascetic must learn that phase of the spiritual life under the tutelage of God himself, when the Holy Spirit hands the torch to the mind (nous) of the ascetic and the ascetic thenceforth sees with unveiled face (OS 29).

As for the specific question posed by the present chapter of OS—did St Hesychios consciously present the Evagrian schema of the spiritual life by means of the literary metaphors he has selected, or did he merely assemble haphazardly some images he found ‘lying about’?—we take the first possibility to be the correct one. For is it not rather striking that all the metaphors in this chapter of OS have their roots in the writings of Evagrius Pontikos, and that, taken as metaphors from Evagrius Pontikos, they together constitute an accurate summary of the stages of the spiritual life in the system of Evagrius Pontikos?

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[1] Ladder G Step 27B, 14; = Ladder E Step 27, 48.

[2] Philokalia G; = Mark OJW 84.

[3] See Ephraim E, F, or G.

[4] KG III, 90, quoted in the commentary before OS 87, above.

[5] Silouan.

[6] 1 Cor. 2, 9–10.

[7] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 196.

[8] OTT 35.

[9] KG VI, 75.

[10] Ladder G Step 27B, 13; = Ladder E Step 27, 47.

[11] Gal. 1, 8–9.

[12] There is no reason to suppose that a Hesychast must have a university degree; most Hesychasts have little formal schooling.


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