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OS (Commentary) -- 25

139 The legislator, Moses, is taken by the Fathers to be an image of the mind (nous): who sees God in the Bush [cf. Exod. 3, 2–6] and the face is glorified [cf. Exod. 32, 30] and who is established by the God of gods as a god to Pharaoh [cf. Exod. 7, 1]; and who scourges Egypt [cf. Exod. 7 et seq.] and who leads Israel out [cf. Exod. 12] and who legislates [cf. Exod. 20]: which very things taken figuratively according to the Spirit

The Holy Spirit of the Living God.

are actions and privileges of the mind (nous).

Let us look at this allegorical interpretation, for what St Hesychios is saying is important.

Let us first remark that St Gregory of Nyssa wrote a whole treatise on Moses as the type of the mind (nous) which makes the mystical ascent.[1]

Let us next note that in OTT 17, Evagrius, presenting his own system by means of an allegory, says:

If, then, something happens to us on account of the toil and the accidie, running back for a bit to the rock of gnosis, let us hold intercourse with the harp [the nous], striking with the virtues the harp strings of gnosis. Let us then again graze the sheep below Mount Sinai [as Moses did] so that the God of our Fathers call also to us out of the Bush [Exod. 3, 1–6] and grant us also the reasons (logoi) of the signs and wonders.

We have already seen, in OS 35 and 131, two theophanies which St Hesychios himself undoubtedly experienced; and we have seen more general discussions of contemplation and Theology in other chapters. St Hesychios is here talking about the mystical ascent, and his is definitely a mysticism of light.

We know that Egypt is the symbol of vice and the demons, that by praktike, the immaterial war, the Hesychast scourges the demons with the name of Jesus continually and repetitively invoked.

We have remarked on the soteriological aspect of Theology in the commentary on OS 131, and elsewhere. Hence we can take ‘who leads Israel out’ in this sense.

But there is another sense of ‘who leads Israel out’, combined with ‘and who legislates’, that deserves comment: this is the charismatic authority of the divinized man in the Church. Let us first take, as an explanation of what is meant, this chapter of the Kephalaia Gnostica:

III, 71 Just as man, after having received the insufflation ‘is become a living soul’ [Gen. 2, 7] so also the nous, when it will have received the Holy Trinity, will become a living nous.

The import of this passage of Evagrius, not in itself heterodox, but succinctly and clearly put, is that, once it has participated in Theology, the nous is not merely enlightened in some abstract way but is indeed spiritually enlivened.

We might explain that in the following way: It is said that adoption as son is merely another name for Theology or divinization. If that is so, then the experience of Theology makes the ascetic a son of God by adoption—by grace. Hence, it is not merely a matter of an isolated spiritual experience but of a transformation of the person into a son of God, and that by adoption, by grace, and not by nature.

Now, if this is so, it might be asserted that the son by adoption receives certain prerogatives: he becomes one ‘who leads Israel out and who legislates’. This is the deepest possible sense of St Hesychios’ passage. That is, this is one certainly possible interpretation of St Hesychios’ meaning in this chapter.

Now there are charisms in the Church and divinely instituted ministries. As is well-known, St Paul at one time lists the charismatic ministries in the Church, at another time, the charisms. The difference is the concept of the person and, perforce, of his authority in the Church. Here, we mean ‘person’ in a simple, straightforward and not theologically elevated sense.

The best place to refer to in St Paul on this topic is 1 Cor. 12 and 13. What we ourselves can say is merely a paraphrase of those two chapters.

Now to return to St Hesychios’ ‘who leads Israel out and who legislates’, we know that ‘governances’[2] is a charismatic ministry in the Church, as are these ministries: ‘first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then…’.[3]

Now what St Hesychios is saying, in the interpretation that interests us, is that the man who participates in Theology perforce takes on some or all of these charismatic ministries: in this interpretation, this is the import of ‘who leads Israel out and who legislates’.

This is the problem. Such an interpretation is perforce dangerous, because the man who thinks—perhaps justly—that he has been divinized may ignore the institutional Church. Moreover, even a holy man with high attainments legitimately working within the institutional Church may be tempted to commit injustices because of his ‘charismatic authority as a divinized man to rule spiritually’. He may become arbitrary and self-centred. For divinization does not free the man of temptations to vainglory, pride and self-love, as we shall see below.

It is well to recall here that he who as man was divinized from the moment of his conception in the womb of Mary, Jesus Christ, said ‘…[L]earn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart.…’[4]

Moreover, although St Paul does say that a common vessel once cleansed becomes suitable for noble use,[5] a doctrine that St Hesychios will echo in OS 171 in reference to the Hesychast, the doctrine of the charismatic ministries and charisms is such that one cannot say that Theology, unitive mystical prayer to the Holy Trinity, although it enlivens the mind spiritually and makes the ascetic a son of God by adoption and a vessel suitable for noble use, necessarily gives the ascetic charismatic authority in the Body of Christ, the Church. There are many saints unknown to men who, divinized more than many, died in their caves without adopting any ministry at all in the Church other than that which they had: their prayer and their ascesis.

There is no reason to suppose that divinization (theosis) per se confers any charismatic ministry at all on the person divinized; the giving of such a ministry is at the sole discretion of the Holy Spirit and is a completely independent issue from the personal holiness of the man.

Hence, we do not think that it can be asserted that charismatic ministries follow automatically on Theology or divinization. They may; they may not. That is a judgement of God into which a man has no authority to pry.

That there are charismatic ministries, however, is clear. That a divinized man might in addition to his divinization receive a charismatic teaching authority is clear. That he might receive the charism of spiritual governance is clear. That he might receive gifts of clairvoyance is quite clear. That he might become a prophet is clear.

However, there is one Spirit and one Body of Christ: the charismatic ministry cannot conflict with the institutional Church, the hierarchy, in any prospectively fundamental way. This is also clear. There is one Body, one Church, and both the charismatic and the institutional ministries have been instituted by God. This is a fundamental dogma concerning the nature of the Church. This is not to suggest that certain great Hesychast saints have not upheld the doctrine of the Church, and suffered, in the face of the opposition of members of the hierarchically senior membership of the Church, the episcopate, who disagreed with them. St Symeon the New Theologian suffered. St Gregory Palamas suffered. But they did not place themselves fundamentally higher than the Church.

What does St Paul say? ‘And I show you a yet surpassing way.… Now, then, faith, hope and love remain, these three things; and the greater of these, then, is love.’[6]

It is well to recall our ultimate vocation in Christ: it is to spiritual love, not to charismatic ministries, although, indeed, they may be given: ‘To each, then, is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit.’[7] Hence, not only is a charismatic ministry itself a ministry of service and love, of whatever sort the charismatic ministry may be, but one is expected to exercise his charismatic ministry in an attitude of humble love for his brother for whom Christ died.

140 The image of the man without: Aaron, the brother of the legislator.


Bringing forth accusations with temper (thumos), as Moses to Aaron when he had fallen [cf. Exod. 32, 1–6],

Pressed by the sons of Israel, Aaron made a molten calf for Israel to worship.

St Hesychios is advancing a doctrine of self-condemnation here: the inner man condemns the outer man for the outer man’s failings. The inner man is clearly the mind (nous). The outer man is construed variously by St Hesychios as the body, the senses, the man of action, or even the passions themselves. This is the basis of many of St Hesychios’ remarks throughout OS.

we also say:

St Hesychios is quoting the passage of Exodus loosely:

‘In what did Israel do you an injustice that you hastened to separate them from the Lord the Living God and Ruler of All?’ [Cf. Exod. 32, 21.]

Through idolatry.

As the reader may recall, St Hesychios asserts in OS 126, above, that the operation of the temper according to nature is ‘against our outer man’—here represented by Aaron—‘and against the snake, Satan’.

This passage is not specifically a caution to the Hesychast against idolatry, although St Hesychios does caution us in OS 25 and 26, above, against making an idol of our own mind (nous), in the sense of depending because of pride on our own strength and not on God. This passage is merely a way of discussing the difference between the inner man, the mind (nous), and the outer man, the man of action, and the necessity that the Hesychast employ self-condemnation. These two chapters taken together describe the inner man and his prerogatives, and the outer man and the necessity for the inner man to rebuke the outer man in self-condemnation in the interests of virtue. This clearly is part of St Hesychios’ spiritual doctrine.

The next chapter is an interesting call for manliness of character. It is based on an interpretation of a phrase in the Johannine account of the raising of Lazarus[8] which is different from the interpretation given to that phrase in the King James Version – Revised Standard Version translation tradition in English. That phrase is in John 11, 33. The RSV reads: ‘When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…’[9] It appears that St Hesychios, adopting another possible interpretation of the underlying Greek words, reads the italicized part: ‘…he urgently admonished himself in the Spirit and troubled himself…’. Now, whatever one thinks of this interpretation, St Hesychios is using it as an illustration of what he wants to convey to the Hesychast: not to be womanish. Moreover, St Hesychios considers this urgent self-admonishment in times of distress to be a form of self-condemnation. That is, the practice of self-condemnation—which indeed is a rebuking of oneself—he believes to have been modelled by Jesus just before the raising of Lazarus when Jesus ‘urgently admonished himself in the Spirit and troubled himself’. St Hesychios wants us to use self-condemnation according to the model he discerns in the Gospel account to control in public our weakness of character. Here is how he puts it:

141 For the Lord exhibited and handed over to us with all the other goods this also when he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead: by means of urgent admonishment [cf. John 11, 33] to keep back the womanishness and gaiety of the soul and to strive after a rough character,

St Hesychios is not counselling us to be savages, but, rather, not to cry in public and not to exhibit other such traits of character.

which very thing—I am saying, truly, self-condemnation—

St Hesychios is saying that we should control ourselves in public and that the basis of this self-control is, in fact, the exercise of self-condemnation.

he knows to redeem the soul from love of self, from vainglory and pride.

That is, self-condemnation is a therapy for self-love, vainglory and pride. Moreover, St Hesychios seems to be implying, public demonstrativeness might contain elements of those passions.

Those who are publicly demonstrative might reflect on this.

OS 141 is in fact a quotation in the form of a brief summary, of the first half of GC 62. So that we might understand just how St Hesychios has approached St Diadochos’ text, it will be well for us to quote the relevant passage of St Diadochos in full:

More than the other passions, the temper (thumos) has the custom to disturb and confuse the soul; there are times, however, when it is of the greatest benefit to the soul. For when we use it in an undisturbed fashion against the impious or against those who are in any way dissolute, so that they might be saved or put to shame, we purvey an addition of meekness to the soul. For when we have been greatly angered against sin, not only do we concur in every way with the goal of justice and goodness, but often we also render manly the womanishness of the soul. We must not doubt, then, that when we are in great faint-heartedness, urgently admonishing the demon of corruption spiritually we are minded above the boast of death. In order to teach us this very thing, the Lord twice having in the Spirit urgently admonished Hades and having disturbed himself [cf. John 11, 33; 11, 38]—although doing all things, as many as he wishes, in an undisturbed way by intention only—thus rendered the soul of Lazarus to the body, so that it would seem to me that the self-controlled temper has been provided to our nature by God who has created us rather as a weapon. If Eve had used this very thing against the serpent, she would not have been set in motion by that impassioned pleasure.…

The rest of GC 62 is important but irrelevant to our purpose here.

Clearly, in this passage, St Diadochos is presenting in his own language the Evagrian teaching on the temper. He differs from Evagrius in accepting the unimpassioned use of anger against the sinner; St Hesychios does not follow him on this point.

We also see in GC 62 the use of the temper against the demon, and the explicit introduction by St Diadochos of the temptation of Eve in Eden as a model of how the ascetic should respond to the impassioned thought.

However, St Hesychios has not only rejected the use of anger against the sinner but also introduced a use of anger that St Diadochos does not discuss: the use of anger in self-condemnation. We see this doctrine of the use of anger in self-condemnation in other chapters of OS: this is the anger against our outer man, against our man of action, even against our own body, as we shall see in OS 164 and 172.

With regard to St Hesychios’ adaptation of St Diadochos’ text, it is well to note that ‘womanishness’ renders the same relatively unusual word used by both St Hesychios and St Diadochos (St Diadochos: to theludriodes; St Hesychios: to theludrodes—we consider the difference to be unimportant), and that ‘urgently admonished’ renders the word that both authors have taken from the scriptural account of the raising of Lazarus.[10] In addition, in the two authors the parallel in the use made of the image of the raising of Lazarus is striking: we are sure that St Hesychios has borrowed both his language and his image from St Diadochos. However, St Diadochos interprets the Gospel passage thus: ‘Jesus urgently admonished Hades in the Spirit and troubled himself.’ In fact, in the Gospel text, ‘admonished’ does not have an object, and the reader must provide his own. Moreover, St Diadochos has the womanishness of soul cured by anger against sin, not anger against oneself.

We find in St Cyril of Alexandria’s (†444) Commentary on the Gospel of John an interpretation of the raising of Lazarus which is very close in spirit if not in diction to St Diadochos’ interpretation.[11] It can even be used to amplify St Diadochos’ own interpretation. St Cyril interprets the passage in question thus: ‘Jesus urgently admonished his own flesh in the Spirit and troubled himself’. This is somewhat closer to St Hesychios’ own interpretation. However, given the close fit between St Hesychios’ diction and St Diadochos’ diction, it seems to us that we are still entitled to consider that St Hesychios is quoting St Diadochos. It is as if St Diadochos is basing himself either on St Cyril or on a tradition of interpretation well represented by St Cyril, and that St Hesychios is following St Diadochos with the differences and adaptations we indicated above.

St John Chrysostom in his own Commentary on the Gospel of John, in his remarks on the passage in question, has a somewhat different orientation from St Cyril or St Diadochos—without for all that disagreeing with them—and he himself interprets the Gospel phrase thus: ‘Jesus rebuked the passion in the Spirit [and troubled himself].’[12] The rather sentimental interpretation of the RSV is not attested in St John Chrysostom, St Cyril of Alexandria, St Diadochos of Photike or St Hesychios.

OS 142–9 form a thematic unity which begins with a detailed discussion, in OS 142–5, of the immaterial war; which then turns, in OS 146–9, to the advantages of contemplation and gnosis in ‘purveying an exact way of life’; and which then culminates, in OS 149, with a discussion of the advantages to the soul, immediately after death, of such an exact way of life, closing that chapter with instructions on how to die well. The material and vocabulary are Evagrian, although it is St Hesychios who is speaking throughout.

142 Just as at all events it is impossible without a great ship to cross the expanse of the sea, thus it is impossible to chase away the assault of a wicked thought (logismos) without invocation of Jesus Christ.

This is clear: it is St Hesychios’ oft-repeated admonition about the necessity of the invocation of Jesus Christ in the immaterial war. He has many such admonitory chapters, each based on a specific metaphor—here invocation is the great ship that enables us to cross the intelligible sea of the immaterial war to contemplation and Jesus himself. Note that on this point St Hesychios differs from Evagrius: Evagrius, as we saw in Volume II in TPL and OTT, clearly takes rebuttal to be the primary way ‘to chase away the assault of a wicked thought (logismos)’, making no reference to invocation except in those exceptional circumstances where it is a matter of extended prayer in duress.[13] We have seen in the commentary before OS 54 that in this matter St Hesychios is basing himself on On Holy Baptism of St Mark the Ascetic.

This short chapter acts as an introduction to the rest of this series.

143 It is the custom of rebuttal, on the one hand, to muzzle the thoughts (logismoi),

To freeze them, to block them, to restrain them from progressing. Here, ‘thoughts (logismoi)’, as in the previous chapter, is an imprecision: St Hesychios is speaking primarily, although not exclusively, of the initial impassioned mental representation or conception sown by the demon, even before it has evolved into a full-blown demonic thought (logismos).

and of invocation, on the other hand, to chase them out of the heart.

This is St Hesychios’ doctrine, which differs from that of Evagrius in its emphasis on the need for the invocation.

Here, it is clear that behind the thought or mental representation or conception is a demonic energy, as we see from OS 47:

47 Mind (nous) is invisibly engaged with mind (nous) for battle: the demonic mind (nous) with our own. And, on account of this, there is a need at each moment to cry out of the depths [cf. Ps. 129, 1] to Christ to drive away, on the one hand, the demonic mind (nous), and to give to us, on the other hand, the prizes of victory as Lover of Mankind.

This is St Hesychios’ modification of the Evagrian system. One might have thought that OS 47 corresponded to the beginner’s stage in the three-stage schema of St John of Sinai that we discussed in the commentary just before OS 87. However, St Hesychios never departs from this insistence on the invocation, and one must conclude that it is his considered opinion.

To make clear the difference, let us present Evagrius’ own doctrine of the sufficiency of the rebuttal from TPL 42:

42 Tempted, do not first pray, before you say certain words with anger towards him [i.e. the demon] who is afflicting you. For when your soul has been conformed by the thoughts, it happens that not even your prayer will be pure. If, however, with anger [according to nature] you say something towards them [i.e. the demons], then you confuse and completely obliterate the mental representations (noemata) of the enemies. For it is the nature of anger to work this very thing even on the better mental representations (noemata).

In both these writers, and indeed in all writers, the rebuttal is tied to the use of the temper according to nature against the demon in a manner that, Evagrius says in TPL 93, was taught to him by St Makarios the Egyptian, surely an authority.

St Hesychios now is going to present the Evagrian immaterial war:

For when the assault formed in the imagination of a sensible object in the soul,

The demon approaches to excite the passion. This is the ‘assault’. This excitation of the passion leads to the inception of an impassioned mental representation of an object of sense, what St Hesychios here calls an ‘imagination of a sensible object in the soul’. Note how St Hesychios presents clearly the Evagrian doctrine even though his terminology has changed.

as the face of him who has sorrowed us,

This is quintessentially an Evagrian expression, as we shall see just below.

the imagination of womanly beauty or of gold or of silver—each one of these things if indeed it should occur in our intellect (dianoia)

This makes more clear just what the intellect (dianoia) is: the field of consciousness in which an object, an impassioned mental representation, appears.

directly, the thoughts (logismoi) of rancour, of fornication and of avarice are convicted of showing an imagination to the heart.

This is a paraphrase, with slight modifications, of the first part of OTT 2:

All demonic thoughts (logismoi) introduce into the soul mental representations (noemata) of sensible objects, being imprinted in which things the mind carries around in itself the forms of those objects. Further, from the object, the mind knows the demon that has approached, as: should the face of him who has injured or dishonoured me occur in my intellect, then the thought of rancour will be convicted of having approached. If, again, a remembrance of money or glory should occur, then manifestly from the object will the thought be recognized which is oppressing us. And in the same way for the other thoughts: from the object you will find the thought which is present and making the suggestion.

Evagrius goes on in OTT 2 to speak of non-demonic thoughts; the interested reader might refer to Volume II.

St Hesychios now takes the positive case:

And if our mind (nous) has been experienced and has been trained,

This is an important concept, this being ‘experienced’ and ‘trained’. There is nothing here of the supposedly spontaneous man being ‘led by the Spirit’. A man learns the ‘science of sciences and the art of arts’ (OS 121) by experience, (OS 90) with a certain evangelical violence (OS 66) and by being trained—in the beginning by his Elder, and later, when he has advanced sufficiently by means of obedience, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

being in the habit

St Hesychios has already emphasized the role of habit.

of the keeping of the mind (nous)

St Hesychios is speaking to the experienced Hesychast, one for whom a discussion of the keeping of the mind is a realistic matter.

and of seeing clearly and under a clear sky

This means that the intellect (dianoia), the ‘sky’, is clear on account of the practice of the guard of the mind, so that, the newly-formed mental representation is immediately spotted by the vigilant ascetic like a fly on a white wall.

the attractive

The attractiveness of the mental representation is a measure of the strength in the ascetic of the related passion, since the mental representation is formed in the intellect when the demon approaches and its spiritual bad odour—its demonic energy or operation (energeia)—excites the relevant passion. If the passion—any of the eight—is dead, then the demon excites a dead body. When the passion is weak, then the mental representation has little attractiveness and can easily be rebutted or refused. However, recall from TPL 36 that the demons which rule over the passions of the soul persist until death.


Mental representations.

and frauds

We take this to be simple pleonasm.

of the wicked ones,

The demons.

easily it directly extinguishes the flaming arrows of the Devil [cf. Eph. 6, 16]

First, the ‘flaming arrows of the Devil’ is an image that is also used in GC for the assaults of the demons.[14] It corresponds to Evagrius’ ‘bad odour which prevails among the demons’ (TPL 39). These are various ways to describe the excitation of the passion by the external agency of the demon, by its demonic energy or operation (energeia).

Second, what is being discussed here is how the temptation is checked, and that in thought.

Third, it is well to remember that this school of asceticism treats ascesis as biblical and evangelical, even when allowance is made for Evagrius’ excesses in applying Origen’s methods of allegorical interpretation. In this school, ascesis is not merely an optional pastime or hobby, but the perfection of the New Testament. That is not to say that we must all be ascetics, but it is to say that these writers view what they are doing and teaching as the complete fulfilment of the biblical precepts: they consider that they are providing a coherent interpretation of the Gospel passages, what those passages mean in their essence and fullness, what they really mean. These men view their methods of ascesis as the fulfilment of the Gospel. This is an important orientation to grasp.

from spreading,

The word used here by St Hesychios that we have translated ‘spreading’, anadosis, is found in On Holy Baptism with the same meaning and grammar as here.[15] This ‘spreading (anadosis)’ is precisely the transition from the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault to the state of ‘much thought (polunoia)’ that in the commentary on OS 44 we ourselves compared to the spreading of a noxious gas through the space of the intellect.

<by means of>

‘<by means of>’: We have emended the ‘and (kai)’ of the text to ‘by means of (dia)’ of the basis of sense and on the basis of a similar passage in OS 46, above. The text is difficult here and may be corrupt. What is meant, as we understand what St Hesychios is trying to say, is that the ascetic achieves the extinction of the ‘flaming arrows of the Devil’, so that they do not spread, by means of the following two things:

rebuttal and the prayer (euche) of Jesus

This is the basic Evagrian method and St Hesychios’ addition to it of the invocation based, as we think, on St Mark the Ascetic’s model of temptation in On Holy Baptism.

not permitting

This modifies ‘our mind (nous)’, above. That is, our mind does not permit—

the impassioned imagination

The impassioned mental representation.

to stir up [our thoughts] at the same time with it,

‘To stir up (our thoughts)’: The text is somewhat difficult to follow here, and we have interpreted it on the basis of the parallel passage in On Holy Baptism that St Hesychios appears to be following:

Whence, in regard to those things we love, we directly stir up our thoughts towards the pattern [i.e. the image seen in the intellect], and in an impassioned way converse in the intellect with the object which has been traced out;…[16]

This is part of the long extract from Question 11 of On Holy Baptism on the process of temptation that we quoted and discussed in the commentary just before OS 54. We have supplied ‘[our thoughts]’ in St Hesychios’ text both on the basis of this passage of St Mark and on the basis of the occurrence of ‘our thoughts’ in St Hesychios’ text immediately following, although St Hesychios’ syntax is difficult.

This chapter, OS 143, seems very much to be influenced by the doctrine of St Mark in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism on the process of temptation; a comparison of this chapter of St Hesychios with the long extract from Question 11 in the commentary before OS 54 will demonstrate that. Such a comparison will also demonstrate that St Hesychios has married St Mark’s analysis to the analysis of Evagrius Pontikos in OTT 2.

The stirring up of the thoughts that St Hesychios is addressing is discussed by St Mark in the extract from Question 11 just before OS 54. St Mark states that we stir up our thoughts towards the impassioned mental representation, not that we allow the impassioned mental representation (the ‘impassioned imagination’ of St Hesychios) to stir up our thoughts, as St Hesychios seems to be saying. The difference is due to St Hesychios’ own understanding of the matter: behind the impassioned mental representation is a demon, and for St Hesychios it is a matter of our allowing the demon to stir up our thoughts. In this, St Hesychios does not strictly follow St Mark, as reference to the extract will demonstrate.

This stirring up of the thoughts can be considered to be either the same thing as the ‘spreading (anadosis)’ that we have just discussed, or a further consequence of that ‘spreading (anadosis)’. We ourselves understand it both in the sense of a disturbing of the ‘air of the heart’ (OS 91) similar to the spreading of a noxious gas through the air of the heart—this is the ‘spreading (anadosis), the transition from the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault to the ‘much thought (polunoia)’—and in the sense of a further exciting of the passion subsequent to the stage of ‘much thought (polunoia)’—this is the stirring up of the thoughts taken to be a further evolution of the temptation subsequent to the ‘spreading (anadosis)’. While the impassioned mental representation begins because of the excitation of the passion by the demon that has approached, allowing the initial assault to proceed to ‘much thought (polunoia)’ and then stirring up one’s own thoughts in regard to the demonic mental representation (or, following St Hesychios, allowing the demon to stir up one’s own thoughts) causes a further excitation of the passion: it is as if one were to throw gasoline on the fire.

The rebuttal of the initial assault prevents a further excitation of the passion by freezing the impassioned mental representation at the stage of the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault, and the invocation completely extinguishes the assault. The more the ascetic allows the temptation to progress, the more difficult it is for him to extinguish the fire.

We remarked before OS 54, above, in discussing the extract from Question 11 of On Holy Baptism, that the doctrine that the rebuttal freezes the evolution of the impassioned mental representation is St Hesychios’ Evagrian modification to the doctrine of St Mark: St Hesychios has replaced St Mark’s hatred in the heart for the impassioned mental representation with Evagrius’ rebuttal. For in the extract from Question 11, St Mark is clear that it is the hatred in the heart that prevents the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault from proceeding to ‘much thought (polunoia)’. Clearly, the essential element of the response to temptation by the Christian is the psychological rejection by him of the assault. The Christian must learn in his ascetical training that he both can and should make at the earliest possible moment an act of psychological rejection of the temptation.

The invocation which causes the impassioned mental representation to dissipate is St Hesychios’ modification to Evagrius’ system: Evagrius’ believed that rebuttal was sufficient. St Hesychios got this modification from St Mark in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism. As we remarked before OS 54, in our discussion of the extract from Question 11, St Hesychios has simplified St Mark’s analysis of the confession of the old ‘prepossession (prolepsis)’, which confession causes the impassioned mental representation that has been frozen by the hatred or the rebuttal to dissipate. He refers only to the invocation as that which causes the frozen impassioned mental representation to dissipate. We can see quite clearly that St Hesychios is taking elements both from Evagrius and from St Mark, according to his judgement both of the proper analysis and of what he can expect his audience to understand.

We also remarked just before OS 54, in our discussion of the extract from Question 11, that St Hesychios had assimilated St Mark’s invocation that causes the frozen impassioned mental representation to dissipate, to the repetition of the Prayer of Jesus. We can see this in this chapter of OS. For in this chapter, St Hesychios refers first to the rebuttal which muzzles the thoughts and the invocation which drives them out of the heart. He then refers to ‘rebuttal and the prayer (euche) of Jesus’ as the means by which the impassioned mental representation is frozen and then dissipated. We know, moreover, that St Hesychios was familiar with GC,[17] where it is clear that the Prayer of Jesus is to be understood as the repetition of a formula leading to automatic repetition of the formula even in sleep.[18]

Hence, in this chapter of OS, we see clearly St Hesychios’ dependence on Evagrius, St Mark the Ascetic and St Diadochos of Photike.

nor that our own thoughts (logismoi) should be conformed to the appearance in an impassioned way,

This is Evagrian. Consider KG VI, 55:

VI, 55 The mind (nous) applies itself to the intelligible things at that very time, when it should no longer be conformed (poiotai) by the thoughts (logismoi) from the passionate part of the soul.

What is important is the notion of the ‘conformation’ of the soul, intellect (dianoia) or, here, thoughts (logismoi) to mental representations either from contemplation or from temptations provided by the demons. The inner world, the consciousness, of the ascetic (or even layman) is ‘conformed’—shaped, given form—by the one or the other. This can be on a variety of levels: spiritual state, psychological state, emotional state, state of consciousness and so on. We discussed the notion of the conformation of the mind (nous) in the commentary on OTT 41 and elsewhere. The Evagrian doctrine is that expressed in KG VI, 55: the ascetic can only attain to contemplation when his mind (nous) is no longer conformed by the thoughts (logismoi) from the passionate part of the soul. St Hesychios is saying the same thing. Here, he is explaining how the advanced Hesychast implements this principle in the very fabric of his conscious experience of temptation.

nor that they should converse in a friendly manner,

This is the intercourse of the ascetic’s mind with the impassioned mental representation whose inception is due to the excitation of the passion by a demon. The model, of course, is Eve’s friendly converse with the serpent, instrument or type of the Devil, in the Genesis account of the Fall.[19]

In the intercourse with the thought, the ascetic, giving himself over to the passion in some degree (that is why St John of Sinai implies that the intercourse in not completely guiltless)[20] has begun to take an interest in the impassioned mental representation, in the very words, so to speak, of the Devil. He has begun to mull over the demon’s proposal. That is why it is important to cut the temptation off at the earliest possible moment.

In general, the air of the intellect or air of the heart (the two being identical since the intellect is centred in the heart) becomes filled with thoughts or impassioned mental representations related to the initial impassioned mental representation that the ascetic did not block by means of rebuttal. This is in part the goal of the demon, since if the ascetic is devoting his time to thinking about the impassioned thought or mental representation, to turning it over in his mind, then the demon has won: the ascetic is no longer guarding his mind or praying. This is the sense of the next phrase:

nor that they should make many ideas

‘Many ideas’: We have used this awkward expression here to convey St Hesychios’ Greek word, polunoia, found also in Question 11 of On Holy Baptism, which we have elsewhere rendered ‘much thought’. If we had maintained consistency in our translation of polunoia, the phrase would have become ‘nor that they give much thought’; however, we feared that the repetition of ‘thought’ might confuse the reader here.

We have discussed this ‘much thought (polunoia)’ both in the commentary just before OS 54 and just above, in the commentary on this chapter of OS. What is meant is a dwelling on the demonic assault, a revolving round in the mind of many thoughts and ideas related to the demonic mental representation.

Strictly speaking, ‘much thought (polunoia)’ is an earlier stage of the evolution of the initial ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault than intercourse: according to the analysis of St Mark in On Holy Baptism, it is the stage where there has been a transition from the initial impassioned mental representation whose appearance in the intellect is characterized by simplicity and localization to a filling of the intellect with thoughts about the initial impassioned mental representation. There then follows the further excitation of the passion and the intercourse with the thought. This analysis holds, of course, for any of the eight most general thoughts, not only for the traditional one of fornication.

This polunoia, this ‘much thought’, is futile. It does not solve the problem. Only prayer and the guard of the mind solve the problem—which is why the demon wants the ascetic to think about the impassioned mental representation: so that he stops praying and guarding his mind. The ascetic grows dizzy, almost, from the many impassioned thoughts running futilely through his mind. It is here that he should put into practice rebuttal and invocation.

or give consent—

As we have said, Evagrius does not explicitly refer to consent when he discusses in OTT 25 the evolution of a demonic mental representation into an act of sin, although he does explicitly refer to consent in his primary schema of temptation and sin in TPL 74 and 75. The reader might refer to our general discussion of the models of temptation and sin in the commentary just prior to OS 54.

from which things follow by a certain necessity,

Psychological necessity.

as nights follow the days, the wicked works.

Compare Evagrius at the end of OTT 24:

Therefore, in times of temptation, it is necessary to attempt to transfer the mind from the unclean thought onto another mental representation and from that to another, thus to escape that evil taskmaster. If, however, the mind, containing the object, does not change course, it is immersed in the passion; and then it is at risk, travelling towards sin in act. And such a mind, really, stands in need of much purification and vigil and prayer.

In this chapter, St Hesychios has covered the good case, the case where the Hesychast is experienced and trained in the immaterial war. He now turns to the bad case:

144 If, however, our mind (nous) is inexperienced in the free exercise of sobriety,

Here, ‘sobriety’ means both the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ (OS 7) and praktike, the immaterial war of Evagrius together with the humble and continual invocation. Note, however, that St Hesychios is at a stage of OS where is he speaking to the experienced Hesychast who is able easily to practise the guard of the mind: this is the sense of ‘the free exercise of sobriety’.

it immediately has intercourse in an impassioned way with that which appeared to it as an imagination,

We are now in St Hesychios’ negative case, that of the Christian who does not know how to wage the immaterial war.

whatever it might be,

That is, to whichever of the eight most general passions it might pertain.

and holds converse,

As above, for the positive case. However, here, in order to understand what St Hesychios is just about to say, one must remember that behind the impassioned mental representation that has appeared in the intellect is a demon, a fallen mind (nous).

receiving unlawful

Following, for ‘unlawful’, the marginal note in Philokalia G, which refers to ‘other manuscripts’, rather than the main text there or AlphabeticX’, both of which have ‘unjust’, a less satisfactory reading.


Evagrius does not refer to this. Fr Sophrony (Sakharov) reports in his introduction to St Silouan’s own writings that the young St Silouan in his naïveté conversed with the demons in this way; Fr Sophrony remarks that this was fraught with peril.[21] In the case of the young St Silouan, the novice had received the charism of the discernment of spirits so that he consciously saw the demons themselves and conversed with them. Here, however, St Hesychios is referring more to the simple case where the ascetic confronts not apparitions of the demons themselves but impassioned mental representations of objects of sense sown in the intellect by those demons, although his text certainly applies to the first case too.

and giving answers;

This is quite different from rebuttal. Rebuttal properly used is good. This, however, is extremely dangerous. It can lead to madness, if not outright possession.

and at that time our own thoughts (logismoi) mix promiscuously with the demonic imagination,

This should not be taken as a figure of speech: behind the demonic imagination or mental representation is a demonic mind; and this promiscuous mixing of our thoughts with the demonic imagination is an intertwining of the workings of our own mind with the operations (energeies) of the demonic mind. This is what St Hesychios means in the metaphor of the lambs and the dog just below.

This allows us to clarify the method that St Hesychios speaks of in OS 44:

When, however, the mind (nous), having persisted in this wonderful work (ergon), should be thoroughly trained and should have discernment and should come to be in uninterrupted habit of the war, of perceiving these truly, and, as the Prophet says, of being itself able easily to seize the little foxes [cf. S. of S. 2, 15], then at that time it ought with science to allow them to come within, and to war against them with the help of Christ, and to cross-examine them, and to lead them down.

In this excerpt, St Hesychios seems to be counselling us to do just what he is counselling us not to do in this chapter. The difference of course is this: In the present chapter it is a matter of someone allowing his mind to intertwine itself promiscuously with the operations (energeies) of the demon. In the case of the method of OS 44, it is a matter of the ascetic’s consciously allowing the demonic imagination or mental representation to enter into his intellect, so as to give battle with it in the reasonable expectation that he will defeat the demonic mind, take it captive, learn from it what he wants to know and then expel it: in this second case it is a matter of battle, not of promiscuous intercourse with the enemy.

which imagination increases and multiplies even more,

St Hesychios, unfortunately, is speaking with accuracy. This is exactly what happens. This, then, is the sense of the spreading of the fire in the preceding chapter, the fire which is properly extinguished by the immediate use of rebuttal and the invocation of Jesus Christ.

so that it quite appears lovely and comely and pleasing to the mind (nous) that is accepting [it] and being despoiled.

This is the sense of what St Hesychios said in OS 118, above, concerning the temptation of Judas to betray the Lord:

By means of a lie, then, instead of bodily repose and honour and glory, they threw a noose about him [cf. Matt. 27, 5] and purveyed eternal death to him, the wretched things having requited him in a manner entirely opposite to their own imagination, the assault I say.

See also OS 119, concerning the temptation to pride, where the deceitful nature of the comeliness of the demonic mental representation is emphasized.

And at that time, the mind (nous) suffers the same thing as if, indeed, there should appear a dog in some level place where there happen to be some lambs, who are guileless and often run towards that which has appeared to them

The image is a metaphor for our mind (nous), which is guileless as a lamb or a small child (OS 43) and which quite imprudently runs towards the demonic mental representation. This very ‘running towards’ is itself a metaphor for the impassioned impulse of the mind (nous) of the ascetic to attach itself to the demonically sown mental representation: recall the passage of Evagrius from OTT 25 that we quoted above, where Evagrius says that ‘the mind is going to seize the figure of its own body, as soon as the demon stands near to it, and, within, to engage in battle with the brother or to touch a woman’. As Evagrius puts it in TPL 48, in a passage that St Hesychios himself will quote in OS 145 and 195, below: ‘For the mind is an easily moved sort of thing and hard to restrain from the lawless imaginations.’

as to their own mother, gaining nothing from the approach to the dog

No milk, no gnosis.

except only to share in its uncleanness and bad odour.

The dog is an image of the mental representation sown by the demon and, indeed, of the demon itself. Recall that St Hesychios said in OS 63 that spiritual uncleanness is pride, the characteristic of the Devil; recall also that Evagrius has remarked in TPL 39 and KG V, 78 that the demon sets the passion in motion by means of its bad odour.

This ‘sharing in the uncleanness and bad odour’ results from the intertwining of the workings of our mind with the operations (energeies) of the demonic mind, just as we discussed above.

In exactly the same way, our own thoughts (logismoi)

Actually, our mind (nous), as manifested in our thoughts.

also run ignorantly towards all the demonic imaginations in the mind (nous); and, as I said, having become promiscuously mixed,

The intertwining we spoke of.

it is possible to see both of them

Our mind and the demonic mind, as manifested in the intertwining of our thoughts with the demonic mental representations, the ‘thoughts’, of the demon.

taking counsel

Following the marginal note in Philokalia G and the reading in AlphabeticX’ for ‘taking counsel’ instead of ‘being willing’, as the main text has. The two words are quite similar.

to destroy Ilium,

That is, Troy.

as Agamemnon with Menelaos.

In the Iliad. St Hesychios is fond of Homeric allusions. He himself explains:

For thus these also

Our mind and the demonic mind, by means of our promiscuously intertwined thoughts.

take counsel what must happen

By this point consent has occurred.

to lead into act (ergon) by means of the body

We can sin in act only by means of the body, whichever of the eight most general passions might have been excited. Hence, having consented to the sin, the mind (nous) considers with the demon how to put it into practice by means of the body.

that which has appeared comely and sweet to them from fraud through the demonic attack.

We have already referred to St Hesychios’ emphasis on the deceitful nature of the temptation, the mental representation generated by the demon’s excitation of the passion.

St Hesychios now speaks quite seriously:

And thus, indeed, are further created within the falls of the soul; and from that time forth there is a necessity

A psychological necessity.

to accomplish

The word used can also be translated ‘to exteriorize’ or ‘to express’ in the sense of ‘to confess’, but we do not think that St Hesychios is here referring to a need for confession to the priest: he is referring to an interior psychological pressure to put into practice the impassioned mental representation whose evolution he has described in such detail. The whole context of OS as a work aimed at the Hesychast, as a work that does not refer explicitly to mysterial (sacramental) confession to the priest at all, militates against the interpretation that St Hesychios here intends mysterial (sacramental) confession.

outside those things that are within the heart.

This is a complete exposition of the psychology of temptation. Since in this school the basis of the ascetical method is, as for Evagrius, the keeping of the commandments in the inner man or mind (nous) or thought, this psychology of temptation has much to do with the psychology of mental prayer in the heart.

The next chapter, OS 145, concludes the present discussion and simultaneously sets the stage for a further development of St Hesychios’ topic.

145 For the mind (nous) is an easy and guileless sort of thing easily following behind the phantasms and hard to restrain from the lawless imaginations,

This passage is a direct quotation from TPL 48, slightly modified. For simply change ‘easy’ to ‘easily moved’, delete ‘and guileless’ and delete ‘easily following behind the phantasms’, and you have this passage from TPL 48: ‘For the mind is an easily moved sort of thing and hard to restrain from the lawless imaginations.’ With exactly the same words, exactly the same grammar and exactly the same word order in both Greek texts.

Moreover, the Greek words rendered by us ‘easy’, eukolon, and ‘easily moved’, eukineton, are quite similar, and the difference in the two texts might be due to a copyist’s error. ‘And guileless’, given the metaphor of the innocent child in OS 43, has the air of being St Hesychios’ addition to Evagrius’ text. Similarly, ‘easily following behind the phantasms’, again, given the metaphor in OS 43 of the child following behind the conjuror from guilelessness, has the air of being St Hesychios’ addition. Next, the Greek word we have rendered ‘hard to restrain’, duskathekton, does not to our amateur eye and ear seem to be such an obvious and common word to be found modifying the ‘easy (easily-moved) sort of thing’, ‘eukolon (eukineton) gar ti … pragma’, the mind (nous), in two ancient ecclesiastical texts without there being some literary connection between the two. Finally, taken as a whole, the expression in question, ‘Eukolon gar ti … pragma o nous … kai pros tas anomous phantasias duskathekton,’ hardly seems to be such a commonplace of Greek ecclesiastical letters as to have been ‘in the air’ when St Hesychios was writing.[22]

These things indicate that St Hesychios had read TPL. We already know that in OS he has quotations from and paraphrases of OTT. But TPL has almost always been transmitted under Evagrius’ own name (see TPL G Tome I, pp. 408–9) whereas a doubt could arise as to the name given for the author in the manuscript that St Hesychios had before him of OTT. In this regard it is well to point out that both St Dorotheos of Gaza and St John of Sinai quote from TPL, referring to Evagrius himself as the author of the passage they are quoting, although not to the name of the work (ibid. p. 402; see also pp. 308–9).

We now know that St Hesychios was familiar with the summary of the Evagrian system that TPL is. The Evagrian content of OS can no longer considered to be a chance affair.

if it does not have hindering it everlastingly and bridling it the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions.

This is very important for Evagrian and Hesychian psychology. For having said that the mind is difficult to restrain, St Hesychios now says—this passage is not quoted from Evagrius although the idea is implicit in Evagrius—that there exists something that can restrain it. St Hesychios calls this ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’. It is clear that this ‘thought’ has nothing to do with either the demonic thought or our own thoughts in the usual sense. We ourselves think that this ‘thought’ is the agent in the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ that St Hesychios refers to in OS 7. We might discuss free will, choice, consent. This is the part of man that has these faculties, and the important thing is that it is the part of man that is morally responsible, that can choose: this is ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’.

This ‘thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ is the mind (nous). It is the mind (nous) taken as person. It might be wondered, however, if it is the mind (nous), how is it that that it can restrain the mind (nous)? Let us say that the ‘thought’ that St Hesychios is referring to is the inner man that can choose, the inner man that is always present even in the most interior states of consciousness. The experience that St Hesychios is referring to is this: in the greatest states of recollection of the mind (nous), in the most interior states of consciousness, the Hesychast always encounters his own person as present in such a way that he can choose whether to accept or reject a thought.[23]

The next chapters, OS 146–9, we take to build on what St Hesychios has just been saying: The mind (nous) is difficult to restrain unless it has ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ bridling it; this ability to bridle the mind (nous) is purveyed to us by gnosis and contemplation. This is a very important idea. The next chapter, OS 146, which introduces this idea, is largely a paraphrase of the greater part of TPL 32, where Evagrius says in reference to the passion of vainglory what St Hesychios here says in general:

146 Contemplation and gnosis have the nature to become the guides and purveyors of an exact way of life

Here, St Hesychios wants to say that contemplation and gnosis solve the problem posed by the last three chapters: how to restrain the mind (nous) from the lawless imaginations: the exact way of life required is purveyed by gnosis and contemplation.

on account of the fact that the intellect (dianoia),

Here, read ‘mind (nous)’.

being raised up by these things, arrives at a contempt for the pleasures and the other sensible things and sweetnesses of the way of life [of the passions] as paltry.

The logic is a little clearer in TPL 32:

32 He who has attained to gnosis and has harvested the pleasure which comes from it will no longer be persuaded by the demon of vainglory even should it present to him all the pleasures of the world—for what could the demon even promise that would be greater than spiritual contemplation? Insofar as we are without a taste of gnosis, let us work on the practical life willingly, showing to God our goal, that we do everything for the sake of his gnosis.

St Hesychios now, in the next chapter, inverts the causal relation, saying, once again, that a careful way of life which is accomplished with the help of Jesus Christ is the cause of contemplation and gnosis; this is the opposite of what he has said here.

147 A careful way of life, however, which is achieved in Christ Jesus

This must be understood as none other than Hesychian sobriety: humility, attention, rebuttal, continual invocation of Jesus Christ and the memory of death. However, since St Hesychios is now discussing contemplation and gnosis, it must be understood that his reader is expected to be at the level of having attained proficiency in the guard of the mind, for the guard of the mind is the gate to contemplation. Indeed, that the guard of the mind is the gate to contemplation might be considered to be the gist of what St Hesychios is saying in this chapter.

becomes again the father of contemplation and gnosis,

Natural contemplation.

the begetter, then, of divine ascents

We saw in Volume II, in the Digression concerning the Evagrian theory of contemplation, that in a certain stage of first natural contemplation, the mind (nous) begins a soaring flight through all the worlds towards God. This is in part what St Hesychios means here, but he is speaking more generally of raptures of the mind both small and great into the spiritual realms both of angels and of God himself, and not only of involuntary raptures but also of voluntary ascents. St Hesychios is discussing precisely how we enter into contemplation: it is through the gate of the guard of the mind.

and of the wisest conceptions (ennoies),

This should now be clear on the basis of our previous discussions of the terms noema and ennoia. These conceptions are the vehicles by means of which the contemplation or gnosis is introduced into the mind (nous); they are the fabric of the gnosis as experienced by the mind (nous). They are the intelligible and spiritual noemata that Evagrius spoke of in OTT 41.

being married to its spouse, humility—

Here we again see St Hesychios’ great emphasis on humility, based in part, we have discovered, on the substitution by St Maximos the Confessor of humility for spiritual love or meekness in the Evagrian system as the primary therapy of the passions of the soul, but also reflecting St Hesychios’ own judgement of the importance, on an absolute basis, of humility in the life of the Christian, and especially in the life of the Hesychast.

as Isaiah the divine Prophet says: ‘Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they will put forth wings;

The wings of the Holy Spirit.

and they will take wing by means of the Lord.’ [Isa. 40, 31.]

In holy contemplations. These are contemplations which the Hesychast experiences through the operations of the Holy Spirit. They include both the soaring ascent in the higher stages of first natural contemplation towards God in Theology that we have just referred to, and the less dramatic raptures that the Hesychast can experience.

St Hesychios now speaks quite frankly:

148 To keep stillness (hesychia) in the soul from every thought (logismos)

Note, once again, this emphasis on having the mind free from every thought (logismos). What St Hesychios means here is this: ‘to maintain the guard of the mind’. This is the Evagrian precondition for entry into the contemplative ascent towards Theology, unitive prayer to the Holy Trinity.[24] St Hesychios himself wholeheartedly accepts the Evagrian notion that the mind must be free from every thought in order to ascend to Theology. ‘Thought (logismos)’ here should not be taken to refer merely to bad or demonically sown thoughts, but to all mental representations of objects of sense of any kind. But this is precisely the guard of the mind, the gate to contemplation. Hence, St Hesychios is here saying that the guard of the mind is difficult to attain and to maintain. From that we can understand why in previous chapters he has so strongly emphasized the dangers and the therapy of lethe (insensibility or accidie).

indeed appears hard and difficult to men.

Note that St Hesychios does not say ‘To repeat the Jesus Prayer twenty-four hours a day seems hard and difficult to men.’ The Jesus Prayer is part of the program—a very important part, surely—but there is more to Hesychasm than the repetition of a formula twenty-four hours a day, even in sleep.

And in very truth, then, it is both troublesome and laborious.

Let no one say that he was not told. There is a temptation here: As can be seen, the Hesychian program is the immaterial war joined to the continual repetition of the formula of invocation until such a time as the ascetic or Hesychast attains to the guard of the mind, which is what is now being discussed. However, once the guard of the mind is attained, it is to be maintained: that is the goal or program of the ascetic, and by St Hesychios’ own admission it is both troublesome and laborious. However, for the zealous or ambitious man who wants spiritual experiences, there is a temptation to want to stop the troublesome and laborious exercise of the guard of the mind in order to enter into exalted contemplations. This, however, exposes him to the temptation of a false vision proffered by the Devil, which would be catastrophic. We cannot emphasize strongly enough that the program is the maintenance of the guard of the mind, not contemplation.

For not only is it burdensome both to enclose and to restrict the bodiless in the bodily house

This is a quotation from the Ladder of Divine Ascent: ‘The Hesychast is he who strives to restrict the bodiless in the bodily house, the most paradoxical thing.’[25] This also convincingly demonstrates that St Hesychios really does mean the keeping of the mind in the heart, which is precisely the sense of St John of Sinai’s saying.

to those only who are uninitiated in the war,

The beginner, but, here, he who has not attained to the guard of the mind.

but even to those who have received experience of the immaterial battle within.

The war is fought after we bring the mind into the heart and restrict it there. This war is the Evagrian immaterial war against the thoughts of the eight most general passions that we studied in Volume II, to which St Hesychios has added the continual invocation in humility, and the memory of death. It is to a certain extent true that the immaterial war can be waged before the mind is in the heart, but the war is waged most effectively when the mind is in the heart, for then the Hesychast has conscious contact with the deepest strata of his own personhood, and a more sensitive awareness of the inception of the demonic or impassioned mental representation or conception.

He, however, who through continual prayer (euche) has clasped the Lord Jesus to his breast

This is not only a charming and astonishing image of intimacy with the Lord Jesus, but it also indicates both that the invocation occurs in the breast, that is, in the space of the heart, and that it is continual. The maintenance of the mind in the heart in an attitude of continual prayer can only be attained by means of the continual repetition of a formula. It would be impossible to maintain and restrict the mind in the heart stably and to fight the immaterial war there continually and to clasp the Lord Jesus to the breast always—and all at the same time—with intermittent ejaculatory prayer. These things can only come about through the continual repetition of a formula of invocation.

Moreover, St Hesychios is saying, only by the continual invocation of Jesus Christ can the Hesychast overcome the burdensomeness and laboriousness that really exist in the practice of Hesychian sobriety, especially in its form of the guard of the mind: there is no other solution.

Recall that Eros (eros) is an important element both of the Hesychian method and of his therapy for lethe: the clasping of the Lord Jesus to one’s breast is an image of Eros (eros).

will not grow weary following behind him, according to the Prophet [cf. Jer. 17, 16], and such a one will not desire the day of man [ibid.] on account of the comeliness and delightfulness and sweetness of Jesus.

It is tiresome, St Hesychios is saying. But if you attach to the practice of the immaterial war the continual invocation in the heart and thus clasp Jesus himself continually to your breast, then, like the Prophet Jeremiah, you will not grow tired of following behind him (Jesus), and because of the sweetness of your experience of Jesus you will not desire the day of man—the day of the passions, the day of ordinary human intercourse. This is the role of Eros (eros) in the maintenance of the Hesychian method.

The next lines, which introduce the subject of death and dying, refer to victory in the immaterial war. These lines have much in common with OS 2–6, above. Recall that the thought ‘which is the emperor of the passions’ (OS 145) stations itself ‘in the gate of the heart’ (OS 6), and that it is there that the immaterial war is fought.

And when he speaks to them in the gate of the heart, he will not be put to shame by his enemies [cf. Ps. 126, 5], the impious demons who walk up and down about him [cf. Ps. 11, 9], and through Jesus

Through the continual invocation, St Hesychios’ addition to the Evagrian system.

he will drive them to flight.

St Hesychios now turns to a subject that he originally introduced in OS 4: the benefits after death of the life he is teaching.

149 A soul through death flying up in the air and having Christ with it and on behalf of it in heavenly gates will not even there be put to shame by its enemies, but at that time too, as now, it will speak with boldness to them in the gates [cf. Ps. 126, 5]—

First let us remark that stylistically the image of the heavenly gates in this chapter is merely a continuation of the psalmic allusion in the preceding chapter to the gate of the city in which the Hesychast speaks to his enemies, an allusion dear to St Hesychios in respect of the immaterial war. Moreover, the image of the gate is structurally parallel in regard to the immaterial war, to the use by St Mark the Ascetic of the image of the narrow mountain pass in Chapter 140 of On the Spiritual Law:

140 Assault is a movement of the heart without image, of the nature of a narrow mountain pass, previously occupied by the experienced.[26]

We discussed this in the commentary just before OS 54.

Next, for the ascent of the soul after death, one need only refer to any edition of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, or even to Chapters 65 and 66 of the Life of Anthony by St Athanasios of Alexandria.[27] The thing to remember is that a man goes to Heaven in an ascent that the Church traditionally holds to take forty days. During that time the soul is free to choose, but cannot avoid the passions that it has, nor, if it has serious sins on its back, can it avoid the demons.

Fr Paisios, the great Starets, is quoted as saying the following about the condition of the soul after the person dies:

Elder, when a person dies, does he immediately realize in what condition he is?

Yes, he comes to and says ‘What have I done?’ but ‘faida yiok’,[28] that is to say, it is of no benefit. Just as someone who is drunk, if, for example, he kills his mother, laughs and sings, since he does not understand what he has done, and, when he sobers up, cries and wails and says ‘What did I do?’, thus also those who in this life have done disorderly acts are like persons who are drunk, they do not perceive their guilt. When they die, however, then that drunkenness leaves and they come to. The eyes of their soul open and they realize their guilt, because the soul, when it goes out of the body, moves, sees, and understands with an inconceivable rapidity.[29]

The important thing to realize is that, after death, the soul of the person ‘comes to’ and immediately realizes with a spiritual cognition its true condition—according, certainly, to the spiritual condition that the person had when he died.

St Hesychios is saying this: If you have Christ with you and on behalf of you in the heavenly gates—during your forty-day ascent to Heaven after death—you will not be put to shame by your enemies, the demons.

That is precisely why the Church wants her children to attend confession and Communion just prior to dying. Moreover, that is in part why the Church counsels routine confession and Communion, so that the soul should have no fear even if it should depart suddenly.

At the Monastery of Simonos Petra, we had the following interesting event: On Palm Sunday of 2002, two friends, visitors, received Communion, the one having gone to confession the evening before, the other two evenings before. After the Divine Liturgy they ate lunch at the monastery and then died twenty minutes later in a car accident.

Did they not have Christ with them? Did they not have Christ on behalf of them in the heavenly gates?

That is why the Church counsels routine confession and Communion.

Now in a situation where the person knows that he is going to die—say, he is ill and knows that it is terminal—then Confession, Communion and the Mystery of Unction are required preparation. The better the confession, the freer the soul in its ascent. (Recall OS 4, referring to men who do not practise sobriety: ‘…[A]nd in their departure such men do not pass by the Tartarean rulers in a free manner.’) The better the Communion, the more Jesus is with the soul, the more he protects the soul, the more he is with and on behalf of the sinner in the heavenly gates, the more he has saved the sinner who has been saved through the Mystery of Holy Communion through repentance. The more effective and humble the Mystery of Unction, the purer and cleaner and brighter spiritually and fresher the soul of the person.

Now St Hesychios himself counsels something else, which, if one is able to do it, is of very great value. The problem is that nowadays very few people die conscious. Either they die suddenly, in a car accident, say, or, having a terminal illness, they enter into a medically-directed method of dying which often, although not always, culminates in a loss of consciousness prior to death. This is not to belittle medicine. It is simply to remark a fact, that modern medicine protracts life, often for months, in such a way that one is often unconscious when one dies. Hence, as will be seen, St Hesychios’ counsel, while valid and useful, cannot be practised always.

only, until its departure, let it not be faint-hearted crying out towards the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, day and night,

This is a counsel for the uninterrupted practice of the Prayer of Jesus day and night in the weeks and days and hours and minutes and seconds leading up to the actual departure of the soul from the body. We introduced Fr Paisios’ remarks concerning the state of the soul immediately after the departure from the body to make it clear that this uninterrupted practice of the Jesus Prayer up to the moment of death should immediately after the departure of the soul from the body have the effect of focusing the person on the Prayer and on Jesus himself. We ourselves think that the soul will then continue the uninterrupted practice of the Jesus Prayer—indeed, with the full apparatus of Hesychian sobriety—as it commences its upward ascent to Heaven, on the principle that what you do after death is pretty much what you were doing before you died. For those cases where the monk, taking stock of his situation—say, he has cancer and has been advised how long he will live by his doctors and knows how such things evolve—expects that he will experience a loss of consciousness prior to dying, then he can only do the possible: pray until he loses consciousness. Now, clearly, to do this, the dying man or woman must be a person of prayer and he or she must be undistracted.

Visits from relatives can distract the monk or nun but they might be necessary. Discretion is necessary.

and he will quickly make the soul’s revenge according to his unlying and divine promise, which he spoke concerning the judge of injustice:

St Hesychios does not speak of that aspect of the continual invocation that we remarked on above, that when the soul ‘comes to’ after death, then it will ‘fall back on’ the continual invocation to centre and orient itself. Rather, he emphasizes that, since the Prayer is an invocation, then Jesus actually hears the ascetic and responds to his prayer in accordance with the parable of the judge of injustice. In cases where the monk or nun expects that he or she will die unconscious, then he or she should continue the Prayer until loss of consciousness with the hope provided by this passage of St Hesychios and the Gospel:

‘Yes, I say to you, he will do it, and in the present life and after the soul’s departure from the body.’ [Cf. Luke 18, 8.]

What is the significance of St Hesychios’ counsel in this chapter? It is a prescription how to die. If the reader can put it into practice, he or she should—but with the Mysteries of the Church.

OS 150–62 go through the material covered by the preceding series of chapters one more time. In this new series of chapters, however, St Hesychios pitches the discussion spiritually one notch higher, so that by the end of the series he has introduced the notion of the union of the Hesychast with the Holy Spirit, which is the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’. This is a spiritual stage after entry into contemplation. The sequence is: guard of the mind – contemplation – union with the Holy Spirit in the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’.

[1] The Life of Moses.

[2] 1 Cor. 12, 28.

[3] 1 Cor. 12, 27.

[4] Matt. 11, 29.

[5] Cf. 2 Tim. 2, 21.

[6] 1 Cor. 12, 31; 1 Cor. 13, 13.

[7] 1 Cor. 12, 7.

[8] John 11, 1–44.

[9] RSV.

[10] Cf. John 11, 33.

[11] Migne 74, cols. 52D–3B.

[12] Migne 59, Homily 73, cols. 349–50.

[13] See, for example, OTT 34.

[14] Diadochos Chapter 85, p. 145, ll. 9–13.

[15] Mark Volume I, p. 322, ll. 105–6. See also OS 44.

[16] Mark Volume I, p. 366, l. 40–p. 368, l. 42.

[17] See OS 4 and 141.

[18] GC 61, quoted in OS 5, above.

[19] Cf. Gen. 3, 1–7.

[20] See the commentary before OS 54.

[21] Silouan.

[22] We have placed ellipses in the quotations from the Greek to mark the places where St Hesychios seems himself to have added ‘and guileless’ and ‘easily following behind the phantasms’.

[23] This ignores such states as a rapture of the mind (arpage tou nou), where for a short time the free will is suspended.

[24] See OTT 40.

[25] Ladder G Step 27, 5; = Ladder E Step 27, 6.

[26] Philokalia G; = Mark OSL 141.

[27] Anthony.

[28] Turkish expression which means ‘there is no benefit’.

[29] Paisios 4 p. 273. This is a book of Fr Paisios’ teachings prepared by his disciples after his death on the basis of recordings of conversations with him and on the basis of written notes prepared after such conversations with him.


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