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OS (Commentary) -- 22

118 By means of false imagination the demons ever lead us into committing sin.

This is a repetition of St Hesychios’ basic model (OS 2, 46, 89 and so on), where by ‘false imagination’ St Hesychios means the impassioned mental representation whose inception is occasioned by the excitation of the passion by a demon. In this chapter the subject is the difference between what the ‘false imagination’ of the demonic assault holds out to the ascetic as the result to be expected from the sin, and what the sin actually brings about in the ascetic’s life. Here St Hesychios illustrates his point using the passion of avarice, and he brings forward his example in order to show how the demons prepare an end for the Christian entirely contrary to the lying imagination, the assault, that they purvey to him in the beginning. This sense of the ultimate and final deception of the man—the end entirely opposite to that promised by the impassioned mental representation occasioned by the approach of the demon—is an important element both in the demonology and in the psychology of this school.

For also in imagination of avarice and profit they prepared the wretched Judas to deliver the Lord and God of All Things. By means of a lie, then, instead of bodily repose

Following the reading in AlphabeticF’ for ‘By means of a lie, then, instead of bodily repose…’ instead of ‘By means of a lie of worthless bodily repose…’.

and honour and glory,

St Hesychios is positing the nature of the temptation that Judas experienced. We know from St John’s Gospel that Judas was a thief who took what was placed in the common treasury (cf. John 12, 4–6). We also know that Judas betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver (cf. Matt. 26, 15; etc.). The Fathers of the Church and the Services of Wednesday, Thursday and (Good) Friday of the week before Easter are quite clear that Judas’ motive in betraying Christ was avarice. St Hesychios believes that the demonic mental representations that Judas experienced in being tempted promised Judas that he would obtain ‘bodily repose and honour and glory’ with the thirty pieces of silver that he would be given for betraying Jesus Christ—not to mention the money that he was taking from the common treasury.

they threw a noose about him [cf. Matt. 27, 5]

Following the account in the Gospel of Matthew, St Hesychios has Judas hang himself. In an Evagrian analysis, one would say that Judas was delivered by the demon of avarice to the demon of sorrow, which, having such great rights over him because of such a great sin, immediately led Judas to despair and the thought of suicide (see OTT 12 for the relation between the demon of sorrow and suicide).

and purveyed eternal death to him,

The demons purveyed eternal death to Judas first through the sin: ‘The Son of Man goes as it has been written concerning him; woe, then, to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; it were good for him if that man had not been born.’ (Matt. 26, 24.) They also purveyed eternal death to him through the suicide: ‘Do you not know that you are the temple of God and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? If someone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.’ (1 Cor. 3, 16–17.) Judas was an apostle, ‘one of the Twelve’ (Matt. 26, 14). Hence, was he not, before he fell, a ‘temple of God’?

The demons love to lead the man they have deceived to suicide. Hence, the significance of OS 38, above, which cautions the sinner not to despair.

the wretched things having requited him in a manner entirely opposite to their own imagination,

That is, entirely opposite to the impassioned mental representation of ‘bodily repose and honour and glory’ with which they had tempted him. These impassioned mental representations are always false, lying and deceitful. The end of the affair—for any of the eight most general thoughts—is always the opposite of what you expect if you take the impassioned mental representation at its face value.

the assault I say.

This clarifies St Hesychios’ sense when he says ‘to their own imagination’, for the assault is the imagination, the impassioned mental representation or impassioned recollection of an object of sense, the inception of which is due to the excitation of the passion by the spiritual bad odour of the demon when it approaches (TPL 39). See also the analysis of St Mark the Ascetic presented in the commentary just before OS 54.

St Hesychios continues in the same vein, but this time addressing the thought, or passion, of pride:

119 See how by means of imagination

The impassioned mental representation of an object of sense.

and lie

As above in OS 118.

and empty promises

Again, as in OS 118. Every impassioned mental representation is a lie and an empty promise which is never fulfilled—for any of the eight most general thoughts.

the enemies of our salvation make us fall.

St Hesychios has reached the stage of OS where he is addressing full Hesychasts. Hence, what he is saying must be understood at that level of discourse.

And from the heights Satan himself fell thus in ruins as a bolt of lightning [cf. Luke 10, 18], having imagined equality to God.

The caution is to the experienced Hesychast who has ‘something to boast about’ as regards his spiritual attainments.

And thus again he separated Adam from God,

The Original Sin (cf. Gen. 3, 2–25).

showing him an imagination of divine rank [cf. Gen. 3, 5].

A mental representation of equality with God.

Clearly the experienced Hesychast can be tempted by the demon of pride in these ways. It is well to bear in mind that these are temptations, not subjectively generated thoughts: a demonic mind, here, the demon of pride, or the Devil himself, comes and presses the accomplished ascetic to accept the thought that he, the ascetic, is equal to God.

And thus the liar and treacherous enemy

The demon, here more particularly the Devil as exemplar of pride.

is accustomed to deceive all those who sin [cf. 2 Cor. 11, 3].

This is an important analysis in the demonology and psychology of sin: the impassioned mental representation or impassioned recollection of an object of sense is intrinsically deceitful, promising the opposite of what it delivers. Evagrius did not speak of this, merely taking it for granted that it was a bad thing to accept a demonic mental representation.

St Hesychios now turns to a broader issue: the experienced Hesychast has grown negligent and his negligence, on account of lethe (insensibility or accidie), has been destructive of the guard of the mind, that is, attention and the Prayer of Jesus. St Hesychios, quite soberly, discusses both the consequences of this negligence and its therapy.

120 We are embittered in heart by venom and thoughts (logismoi) of wickedness

We have stopped cutting off the impassioned mental representations at their inception. We might not yet have reached the stage of sin in act. See OTT 22 for the consequences of the persistence of demonically sown thoughts in us. It begins: ‘All the unclean thoughts which persist in us on account of the passions lead the mind down to “ruin and destruction” [1 Tim. 6, 9].’

when, neglecting attention and the prayer (euche) of Jesus

This is the guard of the mind. That is, the Hesychast is here supposed to have attained the guard of the mind and then to have grown negligent. Here it might be emphasized that it is indeed possible to grow negligent even at that lofty level of spiritual attainment.

for much time on account of insensibility (lethe),

This lethe has become a chronic condition, and so has the negligence that the Hesychast has fallen into on its account. Hence, this embittering by venom and the thoughts of wickedness may have become a quite serious affair.

we are led astray.

We have become playthings of the demons in our thoughts and, in the matter of our negligence, likely in our practices. Remember, here the Hesychast has attained to the guard of the mind and then grown negligent.

Now the therapy:

We are sweetened again in perception (aisthesis)

We regain a sweet spiritual perception. The Hesychast understands intuitively that he has gone wrong from the ‘spiritual bad taste’ that he has in his ‘spiritual mouth’, if we can put it that way. St Hesychios is saying that the Hesychast can regain the former ‘spiritual good taste’ in his ‘spiritual mouth’ with the measures that he is about to describe.

This use of the term ‘perception (aisthesis)’ seems quite certainly to have its roots in GC. St Diadochos uses the term ‘mental or spiritual perception (noera aisthesis or simply aisthesis)’[1] to refer to a single spiritual sense, with much the same meaning as the five spiritual senses or single spiritual sense that in Volume II we saw in the Kephalaia Gnostica of Evagrius Pontikos. This ‘mental or spiritual perception’ of St Diadochos is the spiritual faculty by which the ascetic intuitively cognizes spiritual realities and the faculty by which he exercises spiritual discernment; it is also the actual experience of this spiritual cognition or discernment. In this, St Diadochos is quite close to KG I, 37:

I, 37 The spiritual sense is the dispassion of the reasonable soul, which is produced by the grace of God.

We have already noted that in St Hesychios this ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ is closely related to ‘extreme attention’ and that in St Diadochos it is closely related to the continual repetition of the Prayer of Jesus and to the ‘memory of Jesus’.

and in a certain sweetness of a blessed exultation

This is a spiritual sweetness and exultation that comes from our again feeling the closeness of Christ to us in our soul.

when we accomplish the aforesaid things

Attention and the Prayer of Jesus—the guard of the mind.

mightily and willingly in the workshop of our intellect (dianoia) harmoniously

Philokalia D and E render the Greek word translated by us ‘harmoniously’ as ‘diligently’, evidently correcting the word for sense. Philokalia F renders it ‘harmoniously’, which is the meaning of the Greek word as found in the text of Philokalia G, Migne[2] and even AlphabeticF’. We think that ‘harmoniously’ may indeed be what St Hesychios intends. What he seems to have in mind is the harmonious articulation in the personal practice of the Hesychast through the grace of God of all the components of Hesychian sobriety, here taken to be the guard of the mind. This harmonious articulation would require spiritual discernment on the part of the Hesychast so that he not force his practice of Hesychian sobriety into a rationally preconceived model crudely derived from book learning. In the case of the beginner, this harmonious articulation is provided by the guidance of the Hesychast’s Elder. Compare OS 160, below, where the same word is used in a similar context.

through divine Eros (eros).

First, St Hesychios is, as always, optimistic. Nothing is lost: all we need do is get back to work on attention and the Prayer of Jesus—the guard of the mind—‘mightily and willingly’. All it takes is an intention buttressed by faith and put into practice.

‘In the workshop of our intellect (dianoia)’: This conveys the attention in the intellect, centred of course in the heart, the watching for the inception of the impassioned mental representation in the field of consciousness, and the continual repetition of the formula of invocation. Since St Hesychios has been discussing the difference between bodily and inner ascesis, this is an allusion to that distinction.

St Hesychios now introduces an important element of his system: the role of divine Eros (eros). In order to understand the significance of this it is well to reflect on the fact that the Hesychast is living in conditions of extreme solitude and is concentrating on a severe program of humility, attention, rebuttal, continual invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the memory of death. One of the dangers of such a way of life, as St John of Sinai, himself a Hesychast for forty years, points out, is accidie, what St Hesychios calls lethe. This divine Eros (eros), then, is to be seen as a therapy for this lethe (insensibility or accidie) in the Hesychast, and, we might say, almost the only therapy, since the Hesychast has a very restricted way of life. It might be emphasized that St Hesychios does not see a departure from the hermitage as a possible therapy.

As we have pointed out, divine Eros (eros) is an operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul: the aspiration for and yearning after God. Here, St Hesychios counsels the faltering, negligent ascetic actively to emphasize this Eros (eros), this operation according to nature of the desiring part of the soul, in order to provide impetus to his recovery from the negligence to which he has succumbed, in order to help him to resume the guard of the mind. That is, the support for the Hesychast in re‑establishing and maintaining the guard of the mind will be this divine Eros (eros).

Lethe is a serious temptation into which the Hesychast can fall, and his negligence is the result of this lethe. This divine Eros (eros) is the therapy. He who is thinking about entering into the Hesychast life should think carefully about what St Hesychios is saying here.

For then we are willing to walk in a stillness (hesychia) of the heart that has a certain Eros (eros)

Following the reading in AlphabeticF’ for ‘that has a certain Eros (eros)’, which phrase is lacking in Philokalia G, but which in our view makes St Hesychios’ sense clearer. ‘That has a certain Eros (eros)’ modifies ‘stillness (hesychia)’, not ‘we’.

What St Hesychios means is that we have attached this divine Eros (eros), the desiring part operating according to nature, to our guard of the mind in the heart. This is a very important passage for an understanding of the psychological role of Eros (eros) in the Hesychasm of St Hesychios, yes, but also that of St John of Sinai, in whose footsteps St Hesychios is following. St Hesychios now explains why this attaching of divine Eros (eros) to the guard of the mind has the effect of curing the Hesychast of his lethe:

for the sake of nothing else except its

The ‘it’ in question is ‘stillness’.

own sweet pleasure and delight in the soul.

In other words, by making this adjustment, the negligent monk will find it easier to return to attention and the Prayer of Jesus, the guard of the mind: the addition of Eros (eros) will make the activity itself sweetly pleasurable and delightful in the soul. The solution to the problem of lethe and its attendant negligence consists in attaching Eros (eros) for God to the practice of the guard of the mind, so that the practice will become pleasant in itself. Recall that the very restricted way of life of the Hesychian Hesychast does not give him much external consolation: the solution is this Eros (eros) for God.

Not a bad psychologist, St Hesychios!

For a modern discussion, although in a broader, not specifically Hesychast context, of the role of Eros (eros) in dispersing depression—which seems to be much what St Hesychios intends by lethe—see the remarks by the Elder Porphyrios (Baïraktares) in Bios kai Logoi.[3]

We have already remarked in OS 113 that there is a form of Eros (eros) which is a charism. Given that the Hesychast is responding to his own negligence, that charism does not seem to be what St Hesychios has in mind in this chapter. However, the afflicted Hesychast might very well wish to pray to receive Eros (eros) sufficient to overcome his negligence and lethe.

Note also that this chapter is to be taken in the context of OS 32, above, where lethe is said by St Hesychios to be ‘healed by an extremely exact guard of the mind (nous) and by continual invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ’: the Hesychast returns to the extreme attention and the continual invocation, but with the addition of Eros (eros).

121 The art of villainous thoughts (logismoi)

This is the art of overcoming demonically sown thoughts (logismoi) or mental representations (noemata). This is the immaterial war, the practical life, Evagrian praktike.

is the science of sciences and the art of arts.

The supreme science and art. Note however, that it is a practical science and a practical art: it aims at practical results.

An excellent way


and art of them

Art of overcoming demonically sown mental representations and thoughts.

is in the Lord

With the grace of the Lord present and supporting and assisting the Hesychast. We do not think that St Hesychios here means precisely the charism of clairvoyance, since here it is a matter of the thoughts, not of seeing the demons approach before they sow the thoughts. However, it is clear that St Hesychios does mean here that the demonic thought is seen with a certain supernatural acuity that is from grace. At the level that the Hesychast is here, the guard of the mind, he has, as we have already remarked, attained an attention in the heart which is charismatically supported by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and that may be the best way to understand what St Hesychios means in this passage.

to see the imagination

The impassioned mental representation or impassioned recollection of an object of sense.

of the assault

The imagination, the impassioned mental representation, is sown by a demon.

and to guard the intellect (dianoia),

Here, St Hesychios is treating the intellect (dianoia) as the ‘eye of the soul’. Normally, the Fathers apply that phrase to the ‘mind (nous)’, but we can take the intellect (dianoia) here to be the eye in the sense of the field of consciousness. Recall that the Hesychast ‘stoops down and peeps into his heart’, so that his intellect is centred in the space of the heart, and that it is in this space that he perceives the inception of the impassioned mental representation of an object of sense.

just as we guard the sensible eye

St Hesychios is here making a comparison between guarding the intellect and guarding the sensible eye.

and with it keenly see him who by chance is coming to wound it

This is St Hesychios’ metaphor for the approach of the demon to sow the impassioned mental representation of an object of sense. Here it does seem to be a matter of a gift of clairvoyance that allows the Hesychast to perceive the approach of the demon even before it has excited the relevant passion with its spiritual bad odour so as to cause the inception of an impassioned mental representation of an object of sense (TPL 39).

There is an obscurity in the text here. In this sentence, St Hesychios, as the text has it, says that we ‘keenly see him who by chance who is coming to wound’ our eye. In the next clause, below, St Hesychios says that ‘with as much strength as we have, we prevent every dry stalk from’ our eye. The ‘him’ here seems to refer to some person who might wound our eye—say, with the fist—and the reading makes a good parallel with the notion that a demon is coming to excite the passion. However, the transition to ‘every dry stalk’ makes the text difficult to construe.

and, with as much strength as we have, we prevent every dry stalk from it.

Certainly what St Hesychios means is that we are alert and by our alertness we prevent any injury to our eye: this is a metaphor of the attention that we are to have in our intellect, centred in our heart, so as to prevent every demonic mental representation from entering our heart. It is not important to the sense of the chapter whether the Hesychast is clairvoyant or not.

The next chapter is important.

122 As snow will not give birth to flame or water bear fire or the box-thorn figs, thus the heart of every man will not be set free from demonic thoughts (logismoi) and words and works, not having purified what is within and not having united sobriety with the prayer (euche) of Jesus and not having achieved humility and stillness (hesychia) of soul and not being urgent with great willingness and not travelling. But it is a necessity to make the careless soul barren of every good and perfect mental representation as a barren mule, in which soul there is no understanding of spiritual prudence [cf. Ps. 31, 9].

Philokalia D construes the last sentence thus: ‘The careless soul, however, will become barren from every good and perfect mental representation, like a barren mule, without understanding and spiritual prudence.’ Philokalia E and F have similar renditions. Our rendition is closer to the original text, whose sense appears to have caused difficulty for the other translators, as seeming absurd.

We think that the sense of the passage is this: As St Hesychios has stated, and will state, in other chapters, the soul must be devoid of all thoughts, good or bad, in order to enter into the guard of the mind (nous). Here, St Hesychios is speaking in particular of the careless soul—and who can say that his soul is not careless?—and indicating that in such a condition, it is wise for the Hesychast not to allow even good mental representations to remain in the heart.

These ‘good mental representations’ might be construed to be demonic mental representations that seem to be good, or mental representations that actually are good, or spiritual, in origin, or even pious thoughts that the Hesychast might himself be thinking, whether in fact grounded in the passions or in the seeds of the virtues, that is, whether in fact demonic or spiritual in origin.

The careless Hesychast must completely empty his heart, his mind (nous), his intellect (dianoia), from all mental representations and thoughts, even good ones, making his careless soul like a barren mule, in which soul there is—in the Hesychast’s sight, on account of his carelessness—no understanding of spiritual prudence.

This practice has the effect of securing the Hesychast from any danger of delusion which might arise from a temptation having its roots in his carelessness; it also has the effect of enabling the Hesychast, in an act of kenotic humility, to enter into the guard of the mind (nous), which, in the Hesychian system, is his proper work (ergon). Hence, the final sentence of this chapter, below, has the sense that the proper road for the Hesychast, having emptied himself of every impassioned mental representation, including every good one, is the guard of the mind with ‘the sweet thing and name of Jesus’. The ‘sweet thing’ is the actual spiritual presence of Jesus in the soul, what St Diadochos calls the ‘memory of Jesus’; the ‘name’ is of course the continual invocation: under no circumstances should the Hesychast think that emptying his mind or heart of all thoughts entails stopping the invocation.

For the chapter to be consistent, we must understand that in the last sentence, below, the impassioned mental representations that the Hesychast discards are tacitly to be understood to include the good mental representations, or else that the good mental representations are to be understood to have been in fact impassioned.

The notion that the soul is careless must be understood in the sense that all souls are careless, for it is St Hesychios’ position that we must at all times avoid all thoughts.

The goal posited in this chapter is the entry into a state of sobriety constituted by the sensible presence of Jesus and the invocation of the name of Jesus without any mental representations at all; this is precisely what guard of the mind (nous) is, when by grace the Hesychast experiences in addition the sensible presence of the Lord. This is very similar to the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’ in OS 7, above. However, we do not think that St Hesychios is here addressing the notion of the full union of the Hesychast with Jesus; that will come later. Here it is more a matter of the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ of the presence of Jesus, or even the ‘memory of Jesus’, that St Diadochos of Photike speaks of in GC.

Really, the peace of the soul is the sweet thing and name of Jesus and the emptying of impassioned mental representations.

Taken as a whole, this chapter of OS seems to be St Hesychios’ reflection on the following chapter of Evagrius, TPL 61:

61 The mind will not advance nor depart that good departure and come to be in the land of the bodiless [powers] if it has not corrected what is within. For the disturbance of the familiar [parts of the soul] is accustomed to return it to those things from which it has departed.

By comparing these two passages, OS 122 of St Hesychios and TPL 61 of Evagrius, we can make some observations concerning the differences between the two systems. Let us assume that both writers are talking about the same thing, and that St Hesychios has adapted the chapter of Evagrius to his own purposes.

We note that Evagrius is speaking about entry into contemplation, in particular into first natural contemplation, the contemplation of the angelic powers. However, as we saw in Volume II, when Evagrius wishes to speak of natural contemplation in a general way he often advances directly to first natural contemplation, ignoring second natural contemplation.

In both cases, the authors speak of the necessity of purifying the passionate part of the soul as a precondition for stability in contemplation. As we have already remarked, in St Hesychios, this purification of the soul is accomplished by means of the practice of his method of sobriety: this sobriety issues in the guard of the mind, the gate to contemplation.

In the case of St Hesychios, let us note how he sees the purification: ‘not having purified what is within and not having united sobriety with the prayer (euche) of Jesus and not having achieved humility and stillness (hesychia) of soul and not being urgent with great willingness and not travelling’. Here we see the main elements of the Hesychian system: sobriety, the continual Prayer of Jesus, humility, stillness of soul, urgency, willingness and effort.

St Hesychios rather emphasizes sobriety or attention: this is a program which is more intellectual than that of Evagrius, as would be appropriate for someone living alone in a cave and applying himself to the method without manual labour or other distraction.

St Hesychios, of course, is far more emphatic than Evagrius on the need for the continual invocation.

St Hesychios is far more Christocentric than Evagrius: both the method of sobriety and contemplation in St Hesychios have in general a more Christocentric character than in Evagrius.

In St Hesychios, there is a much greater emphasis on humility and on not flagging in one’s efforts.

In general, the Hesychian elements are oriented to a more Hesychast program than that foreseen by Evagrius; this is the significance of the stillness of soul and of the emphasis on persistence in applying the method: the first promotes Hesychast progress and the second speaks to the great problem of the solitary, lethe (insensibility or accidie).

Hence, we can see that the purification of the passions that both writers assert is necessary is accomplished in the Hesychian system in the context of greater solitude, greater concentration on the continuous application of the spiritual method to the exclusion of all active occupations and distractions, greater orientation to the person of Jesus Christ, and greater concern for the problem of accidie, insensibility or discouragement (lethe) in the application of the method.

Let us now look at some of these things in a little more detail.

‘Not having united sobriety with the prayer (euche) of Jesus’: This is the Hesychian adaptation of Evagrian praktike.

‘Not having achieved humility’: We encountered humility in the quotations from St Maximos the Confessor in OS 67–75, where it replaced spiritual charity or meekness as the primary therapy of passions of the soul. Here, of course, we cannot restrict St Hesychios to such a narrow understanding of the significance of humility, without for all that ignoring the structural role of humility in his system as the primary therapy of the passions of the soul.

‘Stillness (hesychia) of soul’: It is clear that this is to be interpreted in the framework of Hesychian Hesychasm. It means stillness (hesychia) of the mind in the heart in solitude: the guard of the mind.

‘Not being urgent with great willingness’: This should be clear: the Hesychast, subject as he is to lethe, must force himself to work on his hesychia, at least until such a time as he attains the grace of divine Eros (eros) in the heart, when the task becomes pleasant and enjoyable in itself, and therefore easy.

‘Not travelling’: Not making the effort, not working: the Hesychast has to say the Prayer; he has to attend; he has to rebut the thought.

‘The peace of the soul’: The repose of the Hesychast.

‘The sweet thing’: The reality, the presence, of Jesus in the soul of the Hesychast: the spiritual perception or memory of Jesus.

‘And name of Jesus’: By continual repetition, in the heart, of the formula of the Prayer of Jesus.

‘The emptying of impassioned mental representations’: The goal of the Hesychast is not to have good and perfect mental representations or good and perfect thoughts in his heart, but to have no mental representations or thoughts in his heart at all (OS 89 and 103, above, and OS 163, below, explain why). This is characteristic of St Hesychios’ form of Hesychasm. The truly careless soul, lacking the charism of discernment—‘understanding of spiritual prudence’ conveys this idea—cannot discriminate among the mental representations and is in danger of accepting an impassioned mental representation as a good one: we all have many supposedly ‘good thoughts’ or ‘pious intentions’ that are in fact impassioned with one or another of the eight most general passions. Moreover, as St Hesychios himself states in OS 163, below, the supposedly good thoughts become the entry point for the subsequent bad thoughts. Most importantly, however, for the Hesychast to enter into the guard of the mind, he must, following the prescriptions of Evagrius that St Hesychios himself presents in OS 89, above, completely empty his heart of all mental representations.

In this empty heart, the Hesychast has attention and the eternal repetition of the formula which contains the name and mental representation of Jesus Christ himself. It is clear that St Hesychios expects that Grace itself will make Jesus present within the soul of the Hesychast in a supernatural way: this is the condition that St Hesychios expects to abide in the Hesychast who has attained the guard of the mind and gone beyond it by grace. This is the significance of ‘the sweet thing and name of Jesus’. This is an advanced stage of the guard of the mind.

We can here see the Christocentric orientation of Hesychian contemplation: The Hesychast passes from the kenotic emptying of the mind of all impassioned and unimpassioned mental representations to the guard of the mind, and thence ultimately to a state of supernatural union with Jesus Christ himself, based on the maintenance of this guard of the mind.

The guard of the mind progresses from an attention which is charismatically supported by the Holy Spirit to a guard of the mind that is experienced, in Evagrian language, as contemplation or gnosis, first as the supernatural presence of Jesus in the soul and then as supernatural union with Jesus himself. These two states correspond to the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ and ‘illumination (photismos)’ of St Diadochos in GC 89.[4] This supernatural union is the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’ that St Hesychios spoke of in OS 7, above. However, while this is the path of the Hesychast, and while it defines the character of Hesychian contemplation, we do not think that in this chapter St Hesychios is specifically addressing the full attainment of the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’: rather, he is pointing the way.

In the next chapter, St Hesychios turns to reflect on the Pauline doctrine that the flesh—here called the body, by which we must understand, first, the two passions of the body, gluttony and fornication, and then, by extension, all the eight most general passions—and spirit war against each other. This reflection is attached to images taken from the Genesis account of the building of the Tower of Babel and of the subsequent confusion of tongues. The spirit and flesh are here considered by St Hesychios to enter into a concord like that of the men in the Genesis account to construct a city and a tower (cf. Gen. 11, 4) of pride: ‘Let us make a name for ourselves.’ (Gen. 11, 4.)

St Hesychios continues the metaphor of the Tower of Babel even into his diction: ‘The Lord divides … their unison.’ This unison, which St Hesychios has refer to the unity of soul and body, is a unity of voice, as is quite clear from the Greek word employed by St Hesychios.

123 When the soul

In Evagrian language, the mind (nous).

evilly makes a concord

Follows the desires of the flesh.

with the body,

The passions, or in Pauline terminology, the flesh.

then both build a city of vainglory and a tower of pride and those impious thoughts (logismoi) dwelling in them [cf. Gen. 11, 1–9].

The final phrase ‘and those impious thoughts (logismoi) dwelling in them’ is a syntactical non sequitur. The image that St Hesychios is sketching is of the way the wicked mental representations or thoughts dwell in the person—here an advanced Hesychast—who has made a wicked concord between soul and body, or mind and passions, the way, according to the account in Genesis, the inhabitants of Babel made a wicked concord among themselves and dwelt in Babel.

Then the Lord by means of the fear of Gehenna

St Hesychios has dogmatic sensitivity.

confuses and divides their unison [ibid.],

This is the oneness of voice or concord of the soul and the body, or of the mind and the passions.

compelling the mistress soul to speak and to be minded of things foreign and contrary to the body,

That is, the mistress soul must be minded of the things of the Spirit, the things of God, which things are foreign and contrary to the things of the flesh. This is the Pauline doctrine, as St Hesychios makes clear:

out of which occur fear and dissension, because ‘the mindedness of the flesh is enmity towards God and is not subject to the Law of God’ [cf. Rom. 8, 7].

Why did St Hesychios place this chapter immediately after the preceding chapter? It seems to us that he is drawing a contrast between the Hesychast who makes an effort to follow the method that he is outlining, so as to arrive at the guard of the mind and the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’, and the Hesychast who gives up and, making an evil concord with his flesh, gives himself over to vainglory and pride. Then, St Hesychios seems to be saying, the only thing that will save the Hesychast is the fear of Gehenna, which will oblige him to think of things of the Spirit and to reform his way of life. For in these passages, St Hesychios is addressing not the layman, not the beginner, but the experienced Hesychast.

It is well to remark that our interpretation of the relation of the ‘flesh’—the passions—to the ‘body’ is not precisely that of St Hesychios. The reader is referred to the commentary on OS 164 for a full discussion.

The next chapter, a reflection on the passages of St Basil the Great and St John of Sinai on the daily and hourly examination of conscience that St Hesychios based OS 65 on, now appears as an admonition to the experienced Hesychast to take stock not only every day but every hour which road he is travelling: the road of OS 122, which leads to the guard of the mind and the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’, or the road of OS 123, that of vainglory and pride.

124 It is obligatory that every hour

Recall OS 65: ‘For the daily examinations of accounts illumine the hourly [business transaction].’

we weigh and attend to the works (erga) of the day and it is necessary that in the evening we make them light with as much strength as we have through repentance, if, at any rate, we wish with the help of Christ to overcome the vice.

This is a paraphrase both of the passage of St Basil the Great and of the passage of St John of Sinai that we quoted in the commentary on OS 65, above. St Hesychios is admonishing the Hesychast to conduct an hourly examination of conscience and in the evening to repent—so as to overcome the vice, yes, but above all so as to avoid the pitfall that he has explained in the preceding chapter. We must consider what our goal really is, whether, that is, we truly want to overcome our sins, vices, passions, faults and weaknesses and to travel on the road of the guard of the mind. The remainder of this chapter goes beyond the original passages of St Basil and St John of Sinai, although it is clear that they would agree.

And it is necessary to consider whether we accomplish all our sensible and visible works (erga)

These are actions, not thoughts. It is curious that after such a discussion of stillness St Hesychios would turn to a discussion of our external actions: would not the external actions of a hermit who was following the Hesychian rule or typikon of Hesychasm be rather restrained or restricted? Perhaps even Hesychasts in the desert of Sinai had visitors. However, there is a sense in which even alone in his cave the full Hesychian Hesychast has ‘sensible and visible works’: he has a daily routine, a typikon, which he must by an act of will fulfil.

according to God,

Let us take this to mean, ‘according to the commandments of God’. If my goal is itself not in accordance with the commandments of God, or if I sin, my sensible act is ‘contrary to God’, not ‘according to God’.

before God

This is very important. What this means for the advanced Hesychast is this: He has God before him in his practice of the guard of the mind; this is the ‘sweet thing and name of Jesus’ that we discussed previously; this is his spiritual condition that includes elements of contemplation and the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit; this is the ‘spiritual perception (noera aisthesis)’ of Grace that St Diadochos speaks of. Let us say, now, that the Hesychast is teaching the sinner who has come to his cave: Does he still have God before his eyes? This is especially important to men of prayer, that they teach in accordance with their prayer, with God ever before their eyes, but it is also a matter of justice and honour, that they not teach in a human fashion with godly, pious words but without God before their eyes. The Hesychast must teach as the Spirit gives him to speak, with God before his eyes. And so on for all the other sensible works that he does.

and only for God,

This is very much the topic of OTT 7: how I can start off to offer hospitality, say, for God, and in mid-course consent to an impassioned thought which changes my motive to a motive of vainglory or to a motive of any other of the eight passions—say avarice or fornication.

Evagrius also addressed this matter in OTT 30, which speaks of demonically sown thoughts of vainglory which ‘corrupt our goal or the manner in which the commandment must be kept’. However, there, Evagrius left the matter at vainglory. Here, in a few words, St Hesychios covers a much broader spectrum of thoughts which can corrupt our ostensibly good actions: ‘Only for God’ means ‘in a fashion which is for God and out of love for God’. I can keep a commandment, say to show mercy to the poor, in such a way as to humiliate the poor man; I can care for the sick with contempt; I can convert the sinner with arrogance; I can maintain chastity with self-love and pride and condemnation of others; I can be pious unostentatiously with quiet pride or ostentatiously with vainglory; I can care for the poor according to avarice and ambition. These are all sensible acts not done ‘only for God’: our own passions have entered in, for any of the eight most general passions: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, accidie, vainglory or pride.

What St Hesychios has done in this chapter is to broaden the exercise of the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ (OS 7) outward into the external actions of the Hesychast. That is to say, we are now to exercise that ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ that we are wont to exercise in our heart in the immaterial war and, by now, in the guard of the mind, not only within our heart in regard to our thoughts but also in our external actions. St Hesychios wants us to maintain this attention in our moral acts according to this triple criterion: ‘according to God, before God and only for God’, and for this reason:

so that we not be stolen irrationally by the senses.

So that our works do not become works of the flesh, occasions for the passions to increase. And this is the link with the preceding chapter. Attention will help us to keep our works, works of the Spirit and to prevent them from becoming works of the flesh. That and the hourly examination of our conscience together with the daily examination of conscience and act of repentance recommended by St Basil the Great. St Hesychios wants the Hesychast to be a struggler, but also a painstaking man with exactitude (akribeia) of conscience in thought, word and act. Let us here remember that the Hesychast’s acts include his practice of the immaterial war and his practice of the guard of the mind, his worship of God, his diligence in the maintenance of his typikon, in addition to his words and acts when he has a visitor or occasion of contact with his monastery.

‘Stolen by the senses’: This is another way of saying ‘stolen by the passions’. However, it is well to note that in OS 53, above, St Hesychios himself has remarked concerning the senses that the Hesychast ‘contracts them for the most part within [him]self’. As we have already discussed in Volume II, the transformation from second to first natural contemplation entails the divestiture of the senses. Moreover, in Theology, the contemplation of God, the mind (nous) is distracted by both sense-perception and the light of the day from the mental representation provided to it in contemplation, as Evagrius states in KG V, 42:

V, 42 The world which is erected in the thought is considered as being difficult to see by day because the nous is attracted by the senses and by the sensible light which shines, but it is possible to see it by night, when it is luminously imprinted at the time of prayer.

In this chapter, we have identified the ‘body’ with the ‘flesh’ or the ‘passions’, and the ‘senses’ with the ‘passions’. We must admit, however, that there is a tendency discernible in St Hesychios to disparage both the body and the senses per se. In part this is due to the necessity of the divestiture of the senses in the passage to first natural contemplation, but St Hesychios’ attitude goes somewhat deeper, to a certain hostility to the body. We will encounter this aspect of St Hesychios’ thought more clearly later, especially in OS 164, at which point we will comment on it fully.

St Hesychios now goes on to explain himself, connecting what he has just said to a specific problem of the Hesychast or even monk: precarious encounters. These are damaging encounters with others due to the dangers of distraction, idle talk, condemnation (i.e. the act of condemning others), light talk, or even serious sins. Although the Hesychian Hesychast might be in the desert of Sinai, these dangers are real, and we know that St Hesychios foresees that his Hesychast might be conducting his Hesychast program within the framework of a cœnobium, where the dangers would be more obviously present.

125 For if with the help of God we gain the daily [profit]

Here, St Hesychios is using a metaphor from business. His diction in this chapter is consistently oriented to business.

from our sobriety,

This is clearly a continuation of the thought of OS 65, above, and of the thought of the previous chapter, OS 124, but now the daily and hourly profit from the examination of conscience is extended to the daily and hourly profit from sobriety, of which the examination of conscience can be seen to be a particular component. Here, by sobriety, we must understand the full Hesychian program as St Hesychios has defined it, in particular the guard of the mind and the ‘sweet thing and name of Jesus’. The Hesychast is not a beginner. He has made progress. He is now faced with this temptation:

we do not owe to conduct

This phrasing is in the original.

ourselves indifferently

St Hesychios has been emphasizing the necessity of attention—of extreme attention! Clearly he believes that a foundation stone of the Hesychasm he is teaching is an extreme attention reaching even to an hourly examination of conscience. Now he is emphasizing the fault which is opposed to this practice of attention.

and to suffer loss through precarious encounters,

In terms of St Hesychios’ business metaphor, these precarious encounters can be seen as risky business investments. They are the bane of Hesychasts and cœnobites.

but rather it is necessary to despise vain things

To the Hesychast, experienced as he is, it is by now clear what things are vain; he has sharpened his sensitivity to spiritual things through sobriety and the guard of the mind, from which things he has gained much profit; he now has enough business acumen to know what a bad investment is, especially as regards these precarious encounters.

on account of the lovely and sweet profit

Again the metaphor from business.

and beauty of virtue.

Here, St Hesychios says ‘virtue’. It is clear, however, that by ‘virtue’ he here means his method of sobriety, understood to be practised at the stage of the guard of the mind, perhaps with the beginnings of the perceived supernatural presence of the Lord.

The use of the term ‘virtue’, however, allows St Hesychios in the next chapter to proceed directly to a discussion of the three parts of the soul and of their operations according to nature. We have discussed those matters already: in Volume I, where we looked at the anthropology of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Macrina; in Volume II, where in TPL 86 and 89 we studied Evagrius’ own presentation of the virtues, evidently in an adaptation both of St Gregory the Theologian and of a Peripatetic source; and in this volume in OS 34, where St Hesychios addresses the virtues, basing himself on TPL 89.

The next chapter of St Hesychios contains elements of both TPL 86 and 89. It is a paraphrase of TPL 86, extended, with the fundamental difference that for the operation according to nature of the rational part of the soul, St Hesychios ignores contemplation and uses the virtue of prudence from TPL 89. Of course, the correspondences between the passages of TPL and the next chapter of OS are not so close that we can state with certainty that St Hesychios is here consciously quoting TPL—although later in OS we will see clear evidence that St Hesychios had read TPL. In the latter part of the next chapter of OS, St Hesychios goes on to his own reflection on the role of prudence in governing the soul, making use of a passage from the Epistle of James.

A remark is necessary on that passage from the Epistle: In the Protestant tradition of translation into English of the New Testament, from the King James Version to the Revised Standard Version, in the passage quoted from the Epistle, a key Greek word, ‘logos’, is translated ‘word’ (KJV) or ‘what he says’ (RSV).[5] St Hesychios, however, as we shall see, clearly construes this occurrence of the word ‘logos’ as ‘faculty of reason’, which is one possible acceptation of ‘logos’. One may or may not agree with St Hesychios’ construal, but it is a witness as to how in relatively ancient times a native speaker of Greek understood St James’s sense.

For the rest, St Hesychios clearly shows that he has adopted the anthropology that we have been encountering from St Gregory of Nyssa through Evagrius to now—with some reservations for St Hesychios’ attitude towards the body, which attitude we will discuss later, and for the fact that St Hesychios’ anthropology also shows influences from the Life of Anthony.[6]

126 We owe to set the three parts of the soul in motion justly according to nature just as they were created by God.

This is clearly connected to the doctrine, not clearly expressed in OS, that the ascetical journey is towards the restoration of the likeness to God (kath’ homoiosin) that Adam lost by his sin. This doctrine is very clearly presented in GC 89.[7]

And the temper (thumos), then, against our outer man

Evagrius does not say this, nor does St John of Sinai. This is St Hesychios. He means that we should be angry with ourselves when we sin or fail in our monastic obligations. Elsewhere in OS, he expresses this anger against the outer man with the term ‘self-condemnation’. We do not know where St Hesychios found this use of anger against the outer man.

and against the snake, Satan.

We learned in Volume II in studying Evagrius that this is the operation of the temper according to nature. In TPL 93, Makarios the Egyptian, Evagrius implies that he received it from St Makarios himself—that it is an authentic tradition of the Egyptian Fathers.

He says: ‘Be angry against sin, that is, with yourselves and the Devil.’

This passage is close to the meaning of Psalm 4, 5 but it is not a quotation.

He says: ‘Be angry

Following the reading in AlphabeticS’ for this second occurrence of ‘Be angry’, which is lacking in Philokalia G, so that the text there does not give good sense.

so as not to sin to God.’ [Cf. Ps. 4, 5.]

This passage is somewhat closer to Psalm 4, 5.

Whatever success the reader may feel that St Hesychios has had with this particular reference to Scripture, the sense is clear: the operation of the temper according to nature is, for St Hesychios, against ourselves, our outer man, when we sin, and against the demons.

St Hesychios now turns to the operation according to nature of the desiring part:

It is necessary, moreover, to set the desiring part (epithumitikon) in motion towards God and virtue.

This clearly is in accordance with the sources we studied in Volumes I and II. The only difference in St Hesychios is his greater emphasis on the use, as part of the Hesychast method, of the desiring part operating according to nature: we have already seen, for example, how in the Hesychian system the desiring part operating according to nature is used as a therapy for lethe.

St Hesychios now turns to the rational part of the soul, where, for the operation according to nature, he singles out the virtue of prudence. Evagrius states this in TPL 89:

…[T]he work of prudence is to conduct as general the war against the opposed powers [the demons]; and to defend the virtues, to stand prepared against the vices and to administer neutral things according to the seasons [i.e. circumstances].

Let us appoint the rational part (logistikon), then, to set both of these

The temper and the desiring part operating according to nature.

in battle order

Following AlphabeticS’ for the punctuation, which gives better sense.

with wisdom and science,

A reference to TPL 89 will demonstrate that here St Hesychios has included the other two virtues of the rational part that Evagrius lists, but that what Evagrius calls ‘understanding (sunesis)’ he calls ‘science (episteme)’.

to admonish them, to punish them and to rule them as a king rules slaves.

This must be taken as a bit of hyperbole. While the rational part is to rule the passionate part of the soul, there must be balance and harmony. However, as we have pointed out, in praying the Jesus Prayer, the Hesychast can use the temper and the desiring part as he wishes. What St Hesychios means is that the Hesychast must be in a position to make use as he wishes of the desiring part and the temper, both operating according to nature, and that he must on no account be dominated even momentarily by the desiring part or by the temper. It would be far-fetched to think either that St Hesychios intends that the Hesychast have an extremely severe attitude to the domination of the temper and desiring part by the reason or that St Hesychios intends that the Hesychast conduct an exercise in syllogistic reasoning for his every action: the reason (logos) is the rational part of man, but in these writers its operation is not by means of syllogistic reasoning. However, see our remarks on St Hesychios’ attitude towards the body in the commentary on OS 164, below.

And then

When the rational part rules the temper and the desiring part as a king rules slaves.

the reason (logos)

This is the faculty of reason in us. This is the expression that St Hesychios uses as the basis for his quotation from the Epistle of James just below.

which is in us governs these according to God;

Or, according to nature, as God intended when he created man. This is a basic feature of Orthodox anthropology.

and if the passions should rebel against the reason (logos),

Recall from Evagrius’ anthropology that of the eight most general passions, two, gluttony and fornication, called passions of the body, are passions related to the desiring part of the soul, and the remaining six, called passions of the soul, are passions related to the temper.[8]

The rational part is not subject to any of the eight most general passions, which are moral passions: it can consent or not to any thought which arises from the excitation of any one of these eight passions. This is the basis of the immaterial war against the thoughts, the basis of the attention to the inception of the impassioned mental representation that is followed by rebuttal.

Although St Hesychios does not discuss them, there are also demons which tempt the rational part of the soul, but these demons have to do with deception, false revelation and the prevention of contemplation.[9]

let us take a care that the reason (logos) command them.

This is clear: the mind (nous) must rule the desiring part and the temper. In the anthropology that we have seen since Volume I, this is the theoretical foundation of asceticism having its roots in Plato’s own anthropology.

For the brother of the Lord says: ‘If one does not stumble in reason (logos), he is a perfect man, able to lead with a bridle the whole body…’ [Jas. 3, 2] and the following.

We must say, the passage of St James certainly makes more sense when it is construed as St Hesychios does.

For, to speak truly,

Here, St Hesychios is summarizing the anthropology.

every lawlessness and sin is accomplished through these three things,

The rational part (logistikon) or mind (nous), the desiring part (epithumitikon), and the temper (thumos).

and every virtue and justice, again, is constituted through these three things.

This might be considered to be the fundamental doctrine of the theory of virtue.

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[1] See for example GC 7: Diadochos p. 87, l. 10.

[2] Migne 93, col. 1517A.

[3] Porphyrios G pp. 375–8 (Section: ‘Prayer and the Worship of God Transform Depression and Change it to Joy). (=Porphyrios E pp. 178–9, Section: ‘Prayer and the worship of god gradually transform depression and turn it into joy.’.)

[4] Quoted in Chapter V of Volume I.

[5] See Nestle-Aland.

[6] See OS 179.

[7] Diadochos pp. 149–50; quoted in Chapter V of Volume I.

[8] This is the doctrine of TPL. See the discussions in Section 13, Chapter III, of Volume I and in the commentaries in Volume II on TPL 36 and OTT 18 for problems related to the Evagrian typology of the passions.

[9] TPL 84; Evagrius’ Gnostic, Chapters 42 and 43.


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