OS (Commentary) -- 26
150 Sailing the intelligible sea,
Fighting the immaterial war, advancing towards purity of heart, practising the guard of the mind, entering into contemplation and gnosis.
take courage in Jesus.
It is difficult. We must have faith and a living relationship with Jesus.
For within he speaks secretly in your heart: ‘Fear not my servant
St Hesychios is speaking of the plerophoria, the inner spiritual assurance of God’s providence and protection that the ascetic receives. Without this inner divine assurance and providence and protection, the immaterial war is unbearably difficult and burdensome.
—He, then, who has blessed the pure in heart [cf. Matt. 5, 8] and has legislated as wanting to enter divinely and to dwell in hearts that are pure [cf. Rev. 3, 20], sweet Jesus and the only Pure.
First, let us remark that this whole series of chapters is preoccupied with the sensible presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the soul of the Hesychast.
Next, note the emphasis on purity of heart—dispassion in the Evagrian sense—as the goal of ascesis and as the criterion for the indwelling of the Lord Jesus, the only Pure.
Therefore, let us not depart, according to the divine Paul, from exercising the mind (nous) towards piety [cf. 1 Tim. 4, 7].
This of course is Hesychian sobriety—here, the guard of the mind.
For truly piety it has reasonably been called, that which pulls up from the root the seeds
The seedlings which have sprouted from the seeds. These are the impassioned mental representations or conceptions whose inception is due to the operation (energeia) of the demon which has approached the ascetic to excite the relevant passion.
of the wicked one.
This piety which uproots the seeds of the wicked one is the immaterial war, Hesychian sobriety. For St Hesychios, to exercise oneself in piety is to fight the immaterial war in the form that he has adapted it from his sources, especially Evagrius Pontikos and St Mark the Ascetic.
The basis of this chapter and the next is the parable of the wheat and the weeds (cf. Matt. 13, 24–30), as will be made clear in the next chapter.
This is piety; this is the way of reason (logos), that is to say, the road of the rational part, that is, the road of thought (logismos).
We have already encountered this use of ‘thought (logismos)’ both in OS 6 and in OS 145. In OS 145, ‘thought (logismos)’ is called the ‘emperor of the passions’. Here, it is clear that ‘piety’, the immaterial war in its Hesychian form, is the way of ‘reason (logos)’, or of ‘the rational part’ of man. By ‘reason’ or ‘the rational part’, St Hesychios means the part of a man that can choose to accept or to refuse a demonic mental representation: this is the inner man, ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’.
The next sentence, which explains the archaic Greek words that we have here translated ‘way’ and ‘path’ might very well be a marginal gloss which has been absorbed into the main text. Indeed, Alphabetic ‘Q’ treats it as not a part of the original text. But this is not an important matter, and we have left the sentence as a part of the original text.
In the Greek Attic dialect,
That is, in the Classical Greek of Plato, Aristotle and so on.
‘way’ and ‘path’ the road is called, which is thought (logismos).
This is clear, but it must be understood that here ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ (OS 145), the agent behind the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ (OS 7), is to be understood, not the thoughts (logismoi) that might be sown by the demons, nor the ordinary thoughts that a man might have in his mind.
St Hesychios continues:
151 ‘He shall delight in an abundance of peace,’ [cf. Ps. 36, 11] according to David, he who does not receive the face of man [cf. Lev. 19, 15], judging injustice in his heart [ibid.],
The image here is of the judge—‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ (OS 145)—who does not show, in the language of the Old Testament, regard for the face of man, that is, partiality, but who judges impartially. The sense is that ‘the thought (logismos) which is the emperor of the passions’ does not accept the demonic mental representation but judges it justly, in a way that St Hesychios himself now goes on to explain:
that is, not accepting the forms
These are the impassioned mental representations sown by the demons related to any of the eight most general thoughts, not the shapes that in more lurid descriptions the demons are sometimes represented as taking—although the latter case is not excluded, as it sometimes occurs too.
of the wicked spirits and by means of the forms inferring the sin;
This is a paraphrase of the beginning of TPL 43:
It is necessary to know well the differences among the demons and to note their seasons. We will know from the thoughts; the thoughts from the objects; which of the demons are rare and heavier and which unintermitting and lighter and which suddenly leap upon [the man] and seize the mind towards blasphemy.
Where Evagrius says ‘thoughts’ St Hesychios says ‘forms’; where Evagrius says ‘demon’, St Hesychios says ‘sin’.
This doctrine is also found in OTT 2:
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.
This is the doctrine that we know which of the demons has approached to excite which passion from the nature of the sensible object of which we have experienced the impassioned recollection or mental representation.
and judging severely and giving judgement in the land of his own heart [cf. Ps. 57, 12],
Compare Evagrius in Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios):
Judge the thoughts (logismoi) at the bar of your heart, so that the thieves having been destroyed, the ruler of the thieves might fear; for he who is the exact examiner of the thoughts (logismoi) is also truly the lover of the commandments.
giving to sin what it deserves.
This is the rebuttal: ‘…[W]ith anger let us strike it in (our) heart with the words of a curse.’ (OS 105.) ‘In the land of his own heart’ in this chapter of OS makes clear that the battleground is the space of the heart: this is why we must make an effort ‘to enclose and to restrict the bodiless in the bodily house’ (OS 148). This descent of the mind into the heart is facilitated by combining the invocation with the normal breathing, as St Hesychios himself says in OS 182.
For in certain of their writings, the great and gnostic Fathers called even the demons ‘men’ on account of the rational nature, as is also the practice of the Gospel, where the Lord says that a wicked man did this [cf. Matt. 13, 28], and mixed the weeds up with the grain.
This sentence appears to be a paraphrase of OTT 37:
The blessed David also prays, saying ‘Deliver me from the slander of men,’ [Ps. 118, 134] calling the demons also ‘men’ on account of the rationality of their nature. But the Saviour also called the enemy in the Gospels a man, the one who had sowed with seeds the weeds of vice in us [cf. Matt. 13, 25].
There is not a quick rebuttal
Against the demonically sown mental representations.
by those who do wickedness.
That is, those who do wickedness entertain the wicked mental representation in the intellect (dianoia) rather than rebut it with a curse as St Hesychios is counselling; they have impassioned intercourse with it; they arrive at consent; and then they sin in act—and this for any of the eight most general thoughts: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, accidie, vainglory and pride.
For the sake of this
On account of this lack of rebuttal by us.
Note that here, St Hesychios says nothing about the Prayer of Jesus. His is a two-part system: first rebuttal, without which the thought spreads, and then invocation to dissipate the thought or mental representation checked by the rebuttal—see OS 20 for the full method and OS 143 for a full discussion.
we also are devoured by the thoughts (logismoi).
Especially in the ascetic living in solitude, there must be sobriety and the instant rebuttal of the mental representation; otherwise his intellect will be aflame with wicked thoughts: see, for example, OS 43 or even OTT 24: ‘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.’ (OTT 24.)
It must be emphasized that the ascetic or Hesychast at the spiritual level that St Hesychios is here describing is well aware that the thought he has is demonically inspired, and by experience he is well aware that unless he refuses intercourse with the thought it will fill the air of his intellect (dianoia) like a noxious gas and be that much more difficult to expel. Why then might he not expel the thought? It might be hard work. The thought might be attractive. It might seem pleasant and not very dangerous. A flirtation might seem a harmless diversion from the hard work of sobriety. Hence St Hesychios’ admonitions against flagging in one’s efforts and his remark here that ‘we are devoured by the thoughts (logismoi)’. Hence his preoccupation with lethe.
152 Having begun to live the life of attention of the mind (nous),
The life of praktike, of the immaterial war of Hesychian sobriety using the full Hesychian method, but here taken at the spiritual stage of the guard of the mind.
if, on the one hand, we join humility to sobriety
Again, the necessity of humility. Here, for stylistic reasons, we take this instance of ‘sobriety’ to refer to attention.
and glue together the prayer (euche) to rebuttal,
The two must be inseparable and hence continual. Of course we do not continually issue rebuttals; that would be foolish: we must be continually ready to issue a rebuttal to block the demonically inspired mental representation or conception. Recall that according to the analysis of St Mark the Ascetic in On Holy Baptism, the most important thing is the psychological rejection by the ascetic of the initial impassioned mental representation, the ‘one-worded (monologistos)’ assault.
we will travel well the road of the intellect (dianoia),
Following the reading in Alphabetic ‘N’ for ‘the road of the intellect (dianoia)’ instead of ‘road of repentance (metanoia)’. As can be seen, the two words are quite similar. Were we to accept the reading of the main text, this would be one of St Hesychios’ very few references to his method as a road of repentance. St Hesychios does not emphasize repentance, compunction and tears except as fruits of his method, although he does emphasize the memory of death, which may very well bring the ascetic to tears of repentance and compunction. St Hesychios’ way is the way of humility, attention, rebuttal, the continual invocation of Jesus Christ and the memory of death—just what he expounded in OS 13–18 and summarized in OS 20.
beautifying, as it were,
The descriptions that now begin with ‘beautifying’ are important for our grasp of what is involved in the Evagrian immaterial war when it is joined (‘glued’) to the Prayer of Jesus.
and sweeping and adorning and cleaning out the house of our heart from wickedness with the small torch of light of the worshipful and holy name of Jesus Christ.
‘Worshipful’: This means ‘worthy to be worshipped or venerated’. There is nothing here of worshipping the name of Jesus in the sense that the Holy Spirit was called ‘worthy of worship’ in OS 117, above, although the words are the same in Greek. The sacredness of ‘Jesus’, the name, derives from its being the name of ‘Jesus’, the person, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word, made flesh. However, as we pointed out in our commentary on OS 134, in accordance with the analysis of Evagrius in OTT 41, the repetition of the name, ‘Jesus’, as part of the formula of invocation introduces the mental representation of the person, ‘Jesus’, into the heart, intellect or mind.
St Hesychios first used the image of the name of Jesus as a small torch of light in OS 102, where he says: ‘For the prayer (euche) has need of sobriety, just as a small torch has need of the light of a lamp.’
Why should St Hesychios use this image for the Prayer, or name, of Jesus repeated in the heart? We think that it is because of the spiritual mental representations cyclically introduced into the heart by the repetition of the formula. These spiritual mental representations are focused like the light of a small torch because of the focused nature of the words of the formula. The words take up a small space, being words, but they bear spiritual mental representations—light—into the heart. Hence the image. Moreover, this light, like the light of a small torch, can be moved here and there, just as someone would do who was cleaning out his house with the help of a small torch.
Moreover, St Hesychios seems here to be asserting in addition that apart from the role of the invocation—the sincere, heartfelt invocation—of Jesus Christ in dissipating the demonically sown noemata or mental representations, the ‘worshipful and holy name of Jesus Christ’ has another role to play. The noema or mental representation of Jesus himself conveyed by the repetition of the name—or by the repetition of the full formula; St Hesychios is most likely speaking metonymically here—acts directly on the wickedness which is in our heart, so as to purify our heart. It is not clear stylistically how the ‘small torch of light’ directly helps us to sweep and adorn and clean out the house of our heart from wickedness, but St Hesychios is often ambiguous in his use of images and often mixes his metaphors.
Finally, if we take St Hesychios to be speaking metonymically in saying the ‘name of Jesus Christ’ instead of saying the ‘formula of invocation’, as we do take him, then we can say that it is not only the noema or mental representation of Jesus Christ himself, as important and central as that is, that would be involved in this process of purification of the heart, but all the spiritual noemata or mental representations that would be introduced into the heart by the formula in use.
If, on the other hand, we take courage
Here, ‘if … we take courage’ could well be rendered ‘if … we have confidence’.
only in our sobriety or attention,
Here, again, St Hesychios insists on his modification to the Evagrian system: invocation, that other aspect of the Prayer of Jesus apart from the repetitive play of spiritual mental representations, is an absolute necessity, and that, St Hesychios insists, although not in this chapter, with humility. While we have asserted that St Hesychios has drawn on St Mark the Ascetic for the importance of invocation, his insistence on the necessity of the invocation is clearly not merely a matter of his having read On Holy Baptism: it is based on his other sources, including GC, and on his own experience.
We ourselves would remark that what St Hesychios is saying about the dangers of reliance only on ‘our sobriety or attention’ would apply just as well in the case of someone who relied on the formula of invocation only as a vehicle to introduce ‘spiritual mental representations’ into his intellect without using it as a means of sincere and heartfelt invocation of the objectively real person, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. In both cases, the person would be courting disaster.
However, it must be said that in what follows in this chapter, St Hesychios does seem to be emphasizing the repetitive play of spiritual mental representations. If that is indeed so, then this chapter must be taken in the context of all the other chapters of OS, including the next one, which very strongly emphasize the necessity of the humble, sincere and heartfelt invocation.
quickly being pushed by the enemies,
They are intelligent, if depraved, these demons.
we will fall having been overturned
We will sin.
and the crafty of counsel
They are cunning—‘prudent in doing evil’, as St Hesychios has already said in OS 42, above.
and most treacherous
Even if they befriend you, they are not to be, and cannot be, trusted.
will overthrow us, and we will become more entangled in their nets, the wicked considerations,
The demonically sown mental representations and the demonic thoughts that develop from them.
or we will even readily be slain by them,
Deceived, possessed or led into serious sin. However, stylistically, St Hesychios is working under the constraints of a martial metaphor.
not having the mighty spear, the name of Jesus Christ.
This emphasizes, seemingly, the spiritual mental representations, but can also be considered to include the aspect of invocation. We think that St Hesychios is speaking metonymically in this reference to the ‘name’: he means the formula of invocation.
For only this venerable sword very densely turned round in a solitary heart
Here we see St Hesychios to mix his metaphor.
This is a very clear image of the continual, rapid repetition of the formula in the space of the heart. ‘Very densely turned around’ has that import.
The import of ‘solitary heart’ is, of course, Hesychast solitude.
Here, the emphasis is on the actual repetition of the Prayer. St Hesychios does not here stop to discuss invocation. Much of the cutting down that he refers to below has to do with the impact of the spiritual mental representations introduced by the rapid repetition of the formula on the impassioned mental representation of the object of sense generated by the demon’s excitation of the passion. There is a battle going on here: mind is fighting with mind (OS 47). This is apart from the effect of the humble invocation, which is in no way being dismissed by what is being said here.
knows to gather them up
‘To gather them up’: The word in the text (sustrephein) is somewhat difficult to interpret, and our rendering is according to what seems to be the sense of the passage.
The syntax from the beginning of this phrase to the end of the chapter is difficult, and the text may have suffered damage in transmission. For it seems to us that ‘knows’ should apply to the mind wielding the sword, not to the sword itself.
and to cut them down and to burn them up and to conceal them, as fire, reed.
Again, if the subject is the mind wielding the sword, the imagery is much clearer. The sense of ‘as fire, reed’ is that the mind wielding the sword is as effective at destroying the demonic mental representations as fire is at burning up dry reeds, that is, very effective indeed.
Alphabetic ‘N’ adds the following sentence at the end of the chapter:
For it will also at that time be in sufficient perception, knowing the greatly experienced heart of the struggler, because, indeed, he who helps and purifies [it] from every demonic imagination is God, to whom everything gives way and is subject.
This does not seem to shed much light. The content indeed seems to be Hesychian, especially in the phrase ‘sufficient perception’ and in its emphasis that he who helps the Hesychast is God, but despite the fact that the passage is from a critical edition, the sense seems confused: whatever problems this chapter of the main text has textually seem to antedate the derivation of the alphabetic version of OS from the main text, and the ancient redactor of the alphabetic version evidently did not see fit to change St Hesychios’ passage as he found it in the manuscript before him—or else he added the final passage in a clumsy attempt to improve St Hesychios’ chapter.
If in this chapter, St Hesychios has emphasized, as we think, the aspect of the formula which is its spiritual mental representations, in the next chapter he speaks clearly about the invocation.
153 The work (ergon)
Following the reading in Alphabetic ‘N’ for ‘work (ergon)’ instead of ‘limit (orion)’.
of unceasing sobriety,
Here, ‘sobriety’ is the ‘superintending continuity of attention in the ruling part of man’ of OS 7.
verily gain and great profit of soul, is directly to see the imaginations of thoughts (logismoi) figured in the mind (nous).
This should be clear. These are the initial impassioned mental representations of objects of sense sown by the demons.
Of rebuttal, utterly to refute and to disclose the thought (logismos)
We have already seen this: it is the principle that we know the thought, or demon, from the sensible object represented; we discussed this in the commentary on OS 143, with quotations from the relevant chapters of TPL and OTT. The disclosure that St Hesychios discusses here as part of the rebuttal has great importance to the psychology of the immaterial war: When the ascetic rebuts the thought he utters an appropriate line of Scripture, or similar. However, St Hesychios is saying something more here: as part of the rebuttal the ascetic ‘names’ or ‘discloses’ the demon that is sowing the thought: he says, as it were, ‘You are a demon of fornication; you are a demon of avarice,’ as the case may be. This very act of disclosing or naming the demon has a very important effect on the ascetic himself: it strengthens him against the assault; it creates a barrier between him and the thought or demon; it helps him to accomplish the psychological rejection of the assault. Now Evagrius himself emphasized the disclosure of the demon, but to a certain extent as an intellectual endeavour by means of which the ascetic increased his understanding of the operation of the demons, and, hence, of his own psychology. Evagrius did not emphasize the aspect of the naming or disclosing that St Hesychios is emphasizing here: the strengthening of the ascetic against the demon, the rejecting by the ascetic, in the very act of identifying the demon, of the demonic assault. Recall that in accordance with the analysis of St Mark in On Holy Baptism, the psychological rejection of the assault by the ascetic is the key to blocking the evolution of the assault. ‘Naming’ or ‘disclosing’ the demon helps the ascetic do that.
which is attempting to enter into the air of our mind (nous)
The air of the intellect (dianoia) centred in the heart.
by means of the imagination of some sensible object.
This is Hesychian language for the impassioned mental representation of an object of sense.
To extinguish and directly to reduce to naught every mental representation, every word (logos), every phantasm, every image, every wicked pillar,
This image of the pillar can also be found in OS 6.
of the enemies is [the work] of the invocation of the Lord.
Here the separation of duties between the rebuttal and the invocation is this: rebuttal refutes and discloses the demonically sown mental representation—with the result of checking it and blocking it from spreading through the air of the intellect and advancing to the stage of ‘much thought (polunoia)’ and intercourse—; the invocation extinguishes and destroys all trace of the demonically sown mental representation.
We take this to be the result of invoking Jesus Christ, not the result of the play of the spiritual mental representations introduced by the repetition of the formula; this interpretation accords with St Hesychios’ own insistence that we not depend on our own strength but on the strength of Jesus coming to us by invocation.
For we ourselves also see in the mind (nous) their defeat by main force—
The demons’ defeat; this is central. And by main force—by the mighty hand of our Lord Jesus Christ.
the defeat which is through Jesus our great God—and our revenge,
Recall St Hesychios’ use of the term ‘revenge’ in his allusions to the parable of the judge of injustice in OS 107 and 149. That parable is very important for an understanding of St Hesychios’ concept of the continual invocation.
we who are lowly and poor and unfit for war.
Humility. But with a great truth: we ourselves cannot defeat the demons by our own strength. Only Jesus can defeat the demons, when he is called upon by us ‘in a loud voice’—silently but intensely.
The next chapter summarizes the preceding chapters of this series.
154 Most of us do not know that all thoughts (logismoi)
Here, read ‘demonically sown thoughts (logismoi)’ instead of ‘thoughts (logismoi)’. In Evagrian psychology, there are distinctions, and the doctrine of Evagrius that the mind must divest itself of all mental representations of sensible objects in order to enter into contemplation does not abolish these distinctions.
are nothing other than imaginations
That is, mental representations.
alone of sensible and worldly objects.
The Evagrian doctrine.
If, in fact, we persist in prayer (euche) keeping sobriety,
This refers primarily to attention in the sense of the guard of the mind, but can also be taken to refer to all the components of Hesychian sobriety other than the Prayer: humility, attention, rebuttal and the memory of death.
the prayer (euche) on the one hand deprives the intellect (dianoia) of every turbid imagination of wicked thoughts (logismoi)
By the methods outlined in the previous chapters, especially the immediately preceding chapter.
and on the other hand it also makes known to the intellect (dianoia) the reasons (logoi) of the enemies
Here, the Prayer of Jesus is seen not only as dissipating the demonic mental representations but also as elevating the mind to contemplations, here contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the enemies. This is the gnosis of the immaterial war referred to in TPL 83 and OTT 25, and also the gnosis of discernment described elliptically in OTT 26. It is the spiritual understanding or discernment of the demons and of their stratagems and ruses given in contemplation by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
This is second natural contemplation. Evagrius clearly positions the acquisition of the gnosis of the immaterial war at the beginning of second natural contemplation: see TPL 83 and OTT 25. Moreover, here, the language—‘the reasons (logoi) of the enemies’—is clearly Evagrian.
and the great profit of prayer (euche) and sobriety.
This does not merely mean a conscious realization on the part of the Hesychast that prayer and sobriety are useful; it means contemplation and the gnosis that the ascetic receives from that contemplation.
‘However, with your eyes
In contemplation. This is the intelligible eye of the soul, the left eye, Evagrius says in OTT 42.
you will perceive, and intelligibly you yourself also will see and understand, the recompense of intelligible sinners,’ says David, the divine melodist [cf. Ps. 90, 8].
The actual passage of Psalm 90 is this: ‘However, with your eyes you will perceive and you will see the recompense of sinners.’ (Ps. 90, 8.)
We do not think that St Hesychios is here speaking merely of the dissipation of a demonic mental representation; we think that he is referring to the stage where the Hesychast ‘has spit on the demons once and for all’. That is, St Hesychios is here holding out hope to the Hesychast of a definitive victory over the demons (although, as we have remarked, that cannot be taken to be immunity from temptation). That this is the correct interpretation of this passage can be seen from the last part of OS 186, below.
St Hesychios now turns to the memory of death.
155 If possible, let us remember death unceasingly, through which memory are engendered in us the putting off of cares and all vanities, guarding of the mind (nous) and unbroken entreaty, an unimpassioned attitude to the body, disgust for sin—and almost to say, if it is necessary, the truth, every virtue flowing out of this gushes forth. Therefore, let us make use of the thing as of our own breath.
St Hesychios does not often turn to the memory of death. His references to it have none of the frequency of his references to humility, attention, rebuttal and invocation. Stylistically, this gives us the impression that St Hesychios has not fully integrated the memory of death into the presentation of his system.
We think, however, that St Hesychios realizes that the full five-part system is extraordinarily difficult and that it is only for the very accomplished and experienced Hesychast, although we are equally convinced that he does want us to practise the memory of death.
Hence, the introductory ‘if possible’. What St Hesychios is counselling is this: In the extreme stillness, once you have established unceasing attention and the unceasing Prayer, bring also the charism—not, indeed, thoughts and reflections of a human origin!—of the memory of death unceasingly into play. As it were, we attach the memory of death to our breath and the memory of death flavours or alters the texture of our attention, so that we have a continuous awareness of death, not morbidly, but as the charism of the Holy Spirit gives us. This is in addition to the other aspects of the Hesychian system: humility, attention rebuttal and the continual invocation.
To practise the full five-part system consistently would require much hesychia—stillness—and extreme attention.
The benefits that St Hesychios says derive from this unceasing memory of death seem clear enough, except perhaps for the phrase ‘unimpassioned attitude to the body, disgust for sin’.
The ‘unimpassioned attitude to the body’ is that detachment from our body which comes from our awareness of our departure. It does not mean disgust or hatred of our body—since in the General Resurrection we will again take up our body—but neither it does not mean attachment to the body or self-love expressed by love for the body.
The ‘disgust for sin’ flows from the memory of death through the realization that all the evil that has been done in the world since Adam has been done through and on account of sin. Hence, a sober awareness of death as given in the charism of the Holy Spirit called the memory of death, because it is spiritual and contains spiritual love for God, is disgusted with sin for what it has done to man since the Fall of Adam, by which Fall death was introduced.
St Hesychios now introduces the subject of the union of the Hesychast to the Holy Spirit:
156 A heart that has been emptied
Following the marginal note in Philokalia G for ‘emptied (kenotheisa)’ as being closer to St Hesychios’ theology, instead of ‘alienated (xenotheisa)’. The two words differ by one very similar letter.
completely from imaginations
These are impassioned mental representations of objects of sense. Recall that the full Evagrian doctrine of OTT 40 refers not only to such impassioned mental representations but also to the unimpassioned mental representations of objects of sense. In St Hesychios, this emptying of the heart from all impassioned mental representations—and all unimpassioned mental representations; since St Hesychios clearly follows Evagrius’ doctrine on this point, we must take him to be speaking imprecisely here—is the beginning of the guard of the mind. For the importance of OTT 40 to St Hesychios’ own doctrine, recall that OS 89 is substantially based on OTT 40.
will give birth inside itself to divine and mysterious mental representations that leap in the way that fish leap and dolphins turn somersaults when the sea is still.
Compare Evagrius in On the Eight Thoughts of Malice 4, 8:
4, 8 A calm sea is a delight to contemplate, but there is nothing more delightful than a state of peace. For dolphins go diving in a sea that is calm; thoughts worthy of God swim in a state of peace.
And the sea, on the one hand, is fanned by a fine breeze; the abyss of the heart, on the other hand, by the Holy Spirit. He says: ‘Because, then, you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in your hearts, crying “Abba, Father!”.’ [Cf. Gal. 4, 6.]
Let us now turn to the content of this very charming passage of St Hesychios.
The image of the fish jumping and the dolphins turning somersaults in a still sea fanned by a fine breeze is certainly consistent with St Hesychios’ having had some experience with spring and summer on the Mediterranean, for what he is describing is a common sight on the northern Mediterranean from May to the end of June.
We have already encountered St Hesychios’ insistence on the emptying of the heart from all mental representations for the sake of the dawning of the light of Divinity, in OS 89, where he paraphrased Evagrius in OTT 2 and OTT 40. In OS 91, St Hesychios evoked a certain yearning filled with sweetness and joy similar to the spiritual condition that he is evoking in this chapter. And in OS 104, St Hesychios used much the same presuppositions as this chapter, of the emptying of the heart from imaginations, to say that the heart would bring out of itself thoughts in the form of light—much the same thing that he is saying here more poetically and more in relation to the Person and operations of the Holy Spirit. In OS 131, St Hesychios used the rather more robust image of the spirited and haughty horse to describe the entry of the mind which has been set free from mental representations into the light of the Lord, Theology.
The present chapter of St Hesychios is a theophany of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the Hesychast. The ‘divine and mysterious mental representations’ are what St Paul calls the unspeakable sighs with which the Holy Spirit intercedes on behalf of those who love God. They are operations (energeies) of the Holy Spirit, spiritual mental representations which the Holy Spirit engenders, operations of the Person of the Holy Spirit, who fans the abyss of the heart of the ascetic. One could recall the theophany of the Prophet Elijah on Horeb: God was not in the storm, nor in the earthquake but in the voice of a fine breeze; the same Greek word aura for ‘fine breeze’ in used here as well as there.
May the Lord grant us all to live such a theophany.
In the next chapter, we encounter sobriety of mind precisely as the reception of the Holy Spirit, as union with the Holy Spirit, and that forms its thematic link with the present chapter. When we receive this sobriety of mind, this union with the Holy Spirit, we are thenceforth ‘led by the Spirit’: ‘As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.’ (
157 Every monk will be perplexed and of two minds concerning his spiritual work (ergon) until he has received sobriety of mind (nous),
The chapter to here is very difficult to construe. It admits of three different interpretations, all consistent with the syntax.
We have given the first. Philokalia E and F, with some differences, give this interpretation. Here, ‘spiritual work’ means ‘spiritual accomplishments or attainments’ and ‘sobriety of mind’ means the conscious, habitual advent of the Holy Spirit on the ascetic.
The second is given by Philokalia D: ‘Every monk who will attempt to undertake a spiritual work before [attaining to] sobriety of the mind will find himself at a dead end and division of mind.’ Here ‘spiritual work’ means some sort of active endeavour and ‘sobriety of mind’ is left ambiguous. The sense is that only after he attains to sobriety of mind can a monk undertake an active spiritual endeavour involving other men.
If we take ‘spiritual work’ to mean ‘formal pastoral charge’ in this interpretation, then there is a variant in which ‘spiritual work’ is replaced by ‘formal pastoral charge’. In the case that ‘spiritual work’ as a formal pastoral charge and ‘sobriety of mind’ as the advent of the Holy Spirit are to be understood—we have seen this interpretation—, then the sense very much is as in Catechism 33 of St Symeon the New Theologian, to which the reader is courteously referred.
The third possible interpretation is this: ‘Every monk will be perplexed and of two minds in undertaking a spiritual work in preference to sobriety of mind.’ Here, ‘a spiritual work’ means ‘some sort of ascesis’ and ‘sobriety of mind’ is construed to mean praktike, the immaterial war, and not sobriety as the advent of the Holy Spirit. No recorded translation has this interpretation.
Much of the difficulty, apart from the syntactical ambiguity, arises from how to construe ‘sobriety of mind’—whether as praktike or as the advent on the Hesychast of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, ‘spiritual work’ is ambiguous: does it mean the spiritual ascesis of the monk, or his spiritual condition or accomplishments, or a formal pastoral charge?
We have decided that the best interpretation is the one we have given. In this interpretation, the ‘spiritual work’ of the Hesychast is his spiritual ascesis; the ‘sobriety of mind’ is the advent on the Hesychast and conscious presence in an habitual way of the Holy Spirit—again in the sense of St Symeon the New Theologian—and the connection is temporal, not preferential, between the ‘spiritual work’ and ‘sobriety of mind’—that is, the monk has doubts about the quality of his spiritual ascesis until, temporally, he has attained to the habitual, conscious presence of and union with the Holy Spirit in his soul.
This interpretation fits somewhat more easily with the remainder of this chapter, which is difficult to interpret in such a way as to produce a coherent train of thought throughout.
The sense, then, in the interpretation that we have elected, is that the monk will not be certain how much real progress in the Lord he has made or is making in his ascesis, in his Hesychast or monastic program of ascesis, until he has received the Holy Spirit in a conscious, habitual way, so that he have the divine and mysterious mental representations of the previous chapter leaping in his heart under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, this is a very advanced stage of the Hesychast journey, for it corresponds to the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’ (OS 7): it comes after the guard of the mind, which corresponds to Evagrian dispassion, and after the entry into contemplation.
either not knowing the beauty of this or knowing but not being able because of negligence.
In the first instance, the monk has not had experience of the conscious, habitual presence of and union with the Holy Spirit. In the second instance, he has had experience of the conscious, habitual presence of Grace but he has lost it through negligence. This should give us pause: St Hesychios is quite clear that even at this stage we can err through negligence.
This part of the chapter is the first instance of a difficulty in keeping in the interpretation a consistent train of thought throughout the chapter. For it seems to fit better with the third interpretation that we gave above, that the ‘spiritual work’ of the monk is his ascesis and that ‘sobriety of mind’ is praktike. However, we shall see that that interpretation would create problems further on in the chapter, for below it is clear that ‘sobriety of mind’ is intended as the conscious, habitual presence of the Holy Spirit.
One possible explanation for the confusion is this: For St Hesychios, sobriety of mind in this passage might mean the advent of the Holy Spirit so that it abides in the ascetic in conscious, habitual way, but not necessarily dispassion in the sense of St John of Sinai, divinization or the adoption as son. Recall that in our commentary on OS 131, above, we asserted that the vision of Christ presented there which saved the Hesychast and which, we took it, granted him divinization or adoption as son, also conferred on him the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’. Now the reader will see that below we are obliged to say that this chapter clearly is describing the entry into the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’. Hence, what we would have to say is this: the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’ is prior to the vision that St Hesychios is referring to in OS 131, above. When we say in the commentary on OS 131, above, that the vision confers on the Hesychast the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’ we would mean, then, that by then the Hesychast had surely attained to the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’. It is here, in the experience described in this chapter, however, that he would first enter into the ‘condition constituted from Jesus’.
The general sense of this passage seems to be that the monk will be uncertain about the worth of his ascesis until he has received conscious union with the Holy Spirit, either not knowing what that union means existentially, or knowing, but not having been able to retain the Holy Spirit because of his negligence. This departure of the Holy Spirit, or Grace, can occur, although it is never complete and utter except in cases of the denial of Christ. What is meant in this passage is the withdrawal of the conscious presence and assistance of Grace due to negligence, not a complete sundering from the Body of Christ. This withdrawal of the conscious presence of Grace has much to do with the abandonments that we have already seen in earlier passages of OS and in Evagrius in Volume II.
He will undoubtedly be freed of perplexity when he has acquired keeping of the mind (nous)—
This is the guard of the mind understood not only as habitual sobriety in the heart, free of images but additionally as attainment to a condition of conscious, habitual union with the Holy Spirit. We doubt that ‘keeping (teresis) of the mind (nous)’ is intended by St Hesychios as a technical term different from the ‘guard (phulake) of the mind (nous)’, so that the guard of the mind would be sobriety in the heart without images and the keeping of the mind would be the guard of the mind with the additional conscious, habitual union with the Holy Spirit. We think that St Hesychios is simply not paying attention to his terminology.
which is and is said to be intellectual philosophy
We encountered ‘intellectual philosophy’ in OS 116, where it referred to what is described in OS 115: ‘uninclining attentive virtue, which is the guard of the mind (nous) and the keeping and sweet perfection in the heart of the mind (nous), stillness (hesychia) without images, a blessed condition of soul, a thing not found in many’. That is clearly the guard of the mind. However, the guard of the mind as St Hesychios has defined it does not necessarily imply conscious, habitual union with the Holy Spirit. That must be considered to be a further stage on the spiritual journey, and one, from the context and from what we have seen, that occurs after the ascetic passes from the guard of the mind to contemplation.
or practical philosophy of mind (nous)—
This practical philosophy is in Greek ‘praktike philosophia’. We encountered this term originally in OS 131, where it seemed to have more the sense of Evagrian praktike. But as we commented in the commentary on that chapter, the context of the present chapter clearly gives a more spiritually advanced sense to the term, that of a guard of the mind which has passed through natural contemplation to the habitual, conscious union of the ascetic with the Holy Spirit:
as having found the Way who said ‘I am the Way, the Resurrection and the Life.’ [Cf. John 11, 25; 14, 6.]
This quotation is a conflation of John 14, 6—‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’—and of John 11, 25—‘I am the Resurrection and the Life.’ We believe that St Hesychios is referring to the conscious advent and the continuing conscious presence and sustenance and assistance of the Holy Spirit in the Hesychast, to the conscious, habitual union of the ascetic with the Holy Spirit. We take this advent of the Holy Spirit to confer ‘the condition constituted from Jesus’ that we encountered in OS 7, above.
We gave a quotation from
A perplexing chapter about perplexities, all of which will be loosed when the Holy Spirit comes upon the author and remains with him.
The next chapter is also about perplexities.
158 Again, he will be perplexed, seeing an abyss of thoughts (logismoi)
Being assailed by many demonic thoughts.
and a multitude of Babylonian infants.
‘Babylonian infants’ usually refers to the thoughts sown by the Babylonians, the demons. If that is what is meant, then this phrase is pleonastic; otherwise it refers to apparitions of the demons themselves: St Hesychios might be referring to serious apparitions which are disturbing the peace of the Hesychast.
But Christ also solves this very perplexity if truly we stand upon him continually with the base of the intellect (dianoia).
It is clear that these chapters are aimed the Hesychast who easily can contemplate, and who therefore can easily fix the base of his intellect (dianoia) upon the Rock—this is the sense of the passage—who is Christ himself.
The significance of the fixing of the base of the intellect (dianoia) on Christ the Rock is that the Hesychast, being proficient in contemplation and being able easily to direct his mind into various contemplations, directs his mind, in the case of a plethora of demonic thoughts or even in the case of demonic apparitions, to Christ himself, so that the Hesychast is continually before Christ despite the concerted attacks of the demons: ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken.’ This clearly is a matter of the Hesychast who has attained to the guard of the mind and who has acquired proficiency in contemplation. Recall the third stage that St John of Sinai lists of confronting the demons:
The witness of the third is he who sang, ‘I was dumb and did not open my mouth,’ [Ps. 38, 10] and ‘I placed a guard on it when the sinner stood opposite me,’ [Ps. 38, 2] and again ‘The proud were transgressing exceedingly much; from thy contemplation, then, I myself did not turn aside.’ [Cf. Ps. 118, 51.]
We will then beat off short all the Babylonian infants,
The thoughts sown by the demons, or even the apparitions of the demons themselves.
casting them to the ground on this very Rock [cf. Ps. 136, 8–9; cf. 1 Cor. 10, 4],
The Rock is Christ, of course: see 1 Cor. 10, 4.
fulfilling our desire from them, according to the saying. For he says: ‘Whoever guards the commandment
Recall that the basis of praktike, the immaterial war of the thoughts, is the keeping of the commandments of God in thought, with the presupposition of course that one is already keeping them in action.
will not know a wicked word.’ [Eccl. 8, 5.]
St Hesychios takes this to mean that whoever practises praktike, the immaterial war, Hesychian sobriety, will not accept an impassioned or demonic mental representation of an object of sense.
For he says: ‘Without me you can do nothing.’ [John 15, 5.]
Clearly, here, St Hesychios is referring not only to the invocation but also to the fixing of the mind on Christ in contemplation during the time of temptation just as he has described in this chapter. In regard to this, it is well for the reader to contemplate the heights to which the battle can attain. In OS 98, above, we quoted a passage from Pros Eulogion (Towards Eulogios) which shows quite graphically and dramatically how serious and dangerous the battle can be, and the reader is encouraged to study that passage again in connection with this chapter of OS.
In the next chapter, we take St Hesychios to be continuing to discuss the same level of attainment: the guard of the mind exercised habitually, contemplation entered into with proficiency, and sobriety of mind as the conscious, habitual union of the monk with the Holy Spirit. As we have remarked, this is a high level of spiritual attainment indeed.
159 Such a one is a true monk in very reality—he who achieves sobriety. And such a one is truly sober—he who is a monk in heart.
This is really a paraphrase of the passage from St Maximos the Confessor that is quoted by St Hesychios as OS 71. Indeed, OS 71 clarifies St Hesychios’ meaning:
71 Who, therefore, is there in this generation who has been entirely freed of impassioned mental representations and who has been found worthy of pure and completely immaterial prayer (proseuche), which very thing is the token of the inner monk?
The reference of St Maximos to ‘pure and completely immaterial prayer (proseuche)’ shows at just how high a level St Hesychios is now speaking in this section of OS. For as we pointed out in our commentary on OS 71, St Maximos himself is alluding to Theology, unitive prayer to the Holy Trinity. However, for the sake of consistency, we do not take St Hesychios to be pitched at quite so high a level yet; we take him to be speaking here at the level of natural contemplation.
This high level of spiritual discourse of St Hesychios explains the meditations on death in the next three chapters: the Hesychast is assumed to have attained to a spiritual condition where he can speak frankly about death and the Judgement.
The first meditation is on the passage of time, how we must exercise our Hesychast vocation over the cyclic span of time. St Hesychios does not foresee a return from the hermitage before death for the sake of ecclesiastical dignities, mission work, preaching or the exercise of a pastoral charge. The journey of the Hesychast is inward and upward.
160 Among men, life is extended over years, over months, over weeks, over days and nights and hours and moments, thus revolving. It is necessary, then, that we also extend our virtuous labours—I say, in truth, sobriety and prayer (euche) and sweetness of heart, [all] for the sake of a harmonious
Philokalia D and E translate this as ‘diligent’, evidently correcting the word for sense. Philokalia F retains ‘harmonious’, which is the meaning of the word as found in the text of Philokalia G and Migne (Alphabetic does not include this chapter). Compare OS 120, above.
St Hesychios’ parenthetical remark clearly constitutes instructions for an experienced and proficient Hesychast.
until our departure.
We are to practise our harmonious hesychia until our departure.
161 The hour of death will come upon us; it will come and it is not possible to escape. And may the ruler of the world [cf. John 14, 30] and of the air [cf. Eph. 2, 2],
when then he comes, find our iniquities
These are what give the Devil his rights over us.
few and insignificant,
A humble man, St Hesychios does not dare to suggest that we might be spotless: compare 1 John 1, 8: ‘If we say that we do not have sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’
so that he will not accuse [us] speaking truth, and then will we cry profitlessly.
After death. If we have serious iniquities that are unrepented and unconfessed, it is too late. We must hope for the prayers and acts of mercy on behalf of our salvation of those we have left behind in this life—but will they remember us?
For he says: ‘The slave who knew the will of his Lord and did not do it as a slave will be beaten much.’ [Cf. Luke 12, 47.]
‘As a slave’: This phrase is an addition of St Hesychios to the Gospel text. Nestle-Aland does not show this phrase to be part of the manuscript tradition of Scripture.
‘Beaten much’: This is clear.
Once again, St Hesychios has used a passage of Scripture to insist to the Hesychast that he has a divine obligation to practise his Hesychasm and not to slacken in his efforts: it is well to reflect that lethe (insensibility or accidie) is a passion, and that lethe in act is therefore a serious sin.
In this context, the next chapter needs no commentary:
162 ‘Woe to those who have lost the heart,’
Thus the text of St Hesychios. The scriptural text, Sir. 2, 14, has: ‘Woe to those who have lost patience…’
We think that St Hesychios means not ‘who have grown discouraged’ but ‘who no longer have stillness of heart, that is, who, as Hesychasts, have lost possession of their heart, and control over the demonic thoughts in it’.
he says, ‘and what will they do when the Lord shall make his visitation?’ [Cf. Sir. 2, 14.] Wherefore we must be zealous, brothers.
This visitation, of course, is the hour of our death.
The next chapters, up to OS 170, which provides a conclusion to this section, are a discussion of attainment to the guard of the mind, and then of contemplation and Theology.
 Sinkewicz p. 317 (Greek); = Migne 79, col. 1108D; our translation.
 Ladder G Step 26, 51; = Ladder E Step 26, 79, quoted in the commentary before OS 87.
 Sinkewicz p. 80; = Migne 79, col. 1153C; Sinkewicz’ translation.
 Cf. Rom. 8, 26–8.
 Cf. 3 Kgs. 19, 11–12.
 Symeon Volume III; = Homily 59 in Zagoraios.
 Rom. 8, 11.
 Ps. 15, 8.
 Ladder G Step 26, 51; = Ladder E Step 26, 79.
 Sinkewicz p. 329–30 (Greek); = Migne 79, col. 1132A–D.
 Migne 93, cols. 1529D–32A.