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OS (Commentary) -- 30

190 The Lord said ‘Learn from me for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find repose for your souls.’ [Matt. 11, 29.]

Not only is this a caution about pride to him who has been adopted as son—a serious caution—but it also introduces the concept of ‘repose’. The reader may recall, in OS 42, above, St Hesychios’ following cryptic remark: ‘In the experienced, on the other hand, the practice and the assaying and the repose of the good are an excellent way and teacher.’ There we suggested that the repose was the repose of contemplation. At the stage of purity of heart, however, this repose, while it includes the notion of contemplation, has a broader meaning than merely contemplation.

What is this repose? It is the repose of the ‘disciple … whom Jesus loved’.[1] It is the repose of love. It is contemplation in Jesus. It is the repose of the child in its mother’s arms.[2] It is the repose of him who ‘was reclined … in the lap of Jesus’.[3]

191 The Lord said ‘Whoever will humble himself as this child shall be exalted; he, then, who exalts himself shall be humbled.’ [Cf. Matt. 18, 4; 23, 12.]

This quotation is a conflation of the two Gospel passages cited.

He says: ‘Learn from me.’ [Matt. 11, 29.]

St Hesychios has given the full quotation in the last chapter. This chapter is a thematic continuation of the last. Recall that in OS 186, Christ is presented as the Teacher of purity of heart, and that in OS 187, the Hesychast is presented as being instructed in wisdom in his own heart by God himself. We can now see the full force of what St Hesychios says next in addressing the man, the Hesychast, who has attained to sonship by grace:

Do you see that humility is instruction?

In other words, the divinized man must have the attitude of the humble disciple.

For his commandment is eternal life [cf. John 12, 50].

For I have not spoken from myself, but the Father who sent me has given me a commandment what I will say and what I will speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Those things, therefore, that I speak, as the Father has said to me, thus I speak.[4]

The humility of Christ Jesus our Lord can be seen in the above lines, for he himself, equal to the Father in all things, except that he is Son and the Father, Father, spoke only what the Father instructed him to say and did only what the Father instructed him to do. St Paul expresses it this way:

He who was in the form of God did not reckon it booty to be equal with God, but he emptied himself, taking the form of slave, coming to be in the similarity of men; and having been found in form as man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient up to death, death, then, on a cross.[5]

This then is humility.

We should act in the same manner that Jesus did, and does, even when we have attained to purity of heart.

He, therefore, who is not humble has slipped away


from Life,

From Jesus. You can lose purity of heart.

and he will be found, manifestly, in the opposite.

This is a bitter but true statement. We cannot take the adoption as son for granted. Recall that adoption as son is granted not as the wage of works but as grace to a faithful slave:

The Lord, wishing to show that every commandment is obligatory and that the adoption as son has been given in his own blood, says: ‘When you do those things which have been commanded you, say that we are worthless slaves and what we owe to do we have done.’ [Luke 17, 10.][6]

It would be useful to the reader at this point to reread St Hesychios’ quotations from St Mark in OS 79–82, above.

In the next chapter, St Hesychios turns, in what is undoubtedly the most impassioned exhortation in OS, to discuss humility and pride.

192 For if every virtue is constructed by means of soul and body—both the soul and body are the creation of God, by means of which things, as I said, virtue is constituted—

First of all, this chapter contains a more positive attitude towards the body than we encountered in OS 164 and 172.

The passage to this point is utterly consistent with Evagrius’ doctrine concerning the body: one need only refer to TPL 53 and TPL 29.

It is through the body that we practise either acts of virtue or acts of sin.

Now St Hesychios makes his point:

how are we not utterly mad boasting of alien adornments of both body and soul, showing vainglory, being supported upon pride as upon a rod of reed

Such a rod cannot support anything.

and rousing up against our heads God, who surpasses us with limitless size, on account of—the most terrible thing!—our great lawlessness and folly?

First of all, we are creatures and necessarily finite. God, uncreated, is infinite.

St Hesychios now explains:

For ‘The Lord meets the proud in battle’ [Prov. 3, 34; Jas. 4, 6],

The full quotation is this: ‘The Lord meets the proud in battle; to the humble he gives grace.’ (Prov. 3, 34.) In his Epistle, St James quotes the proverb in full.

and instead of imitating the Lord in humility,

As above, OS 190 and 191.

we make friends with the proud demon,

This suggests a conscious volition, a conscious act of will, a choice, on the part of the Hesychast who has attained to adoption as son.

enemy of the Lord,

Contrary to many religions, the Gospel is crystal clear that the Devil is enemy of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.

from a vainglorious and proud mindedness.

St Hesychios is clear what the problem is. It is still possible to sin even after adoption as son, and the sin is the thought of pride sown by the Devil. There is a great danger to the Hesychast who is divinized, who has received adoption as son, that he might be tempted by the Devil to pride. For was not the Devil the most beautiful angel before he fell?

On account of this, the Apostle used to say: ‘For what do you have that you did not receive?

This is why St Hesychios first established that every virtue is constituted by means of soul and body and that both soul and body are the creation of God—to set the stage for the next lines:

Perhaps you created yourself? If, then, you received from God body and soul, from which things and in which things and by means of which things every virtue is constituted, why do you boast as not having received?’ [Cf. 1 Cor. 4, 7.]

And the heaviest line:

For the Lord it is who granted you these things.

Truly, we must beware of pride.

St Hesychios now turns to the therapy:

193 No other thing at all, then, constitutes purification of heart, through which both humility and every good

Every virtue. See the last chapter for the significance of this phrase.

are found in us descending from on high [cf. Jas. 1, 17], if it is not this: not to permit in any way at all the thoughts which arise

Or, ascend. Recall from TPL 74 that the thought (logismos) ascends through the passionate part of the soul—the desiring part and the temper taken together—; recall also from St Hesychios as we discussed him in OS 177, that the thought comes to consciousness in the gate of the heart.

to enter into the soul.

This is the fundamental doctrine.

We could insert here a reiteration of the basic method of Hesychian sobriety: humility, attention, rebuttal, continual invocation and the memory of death. But St Hesychios, skipping over such a reiteration, proceeds directly to the guard of the mind, as is appropriate. For as we have commented, once he has attained to the guard of the mind, the ascetic maintains it as his ground state even if he progresses, as here, much higher, even if he progresses to adoption as son. For in his everyday activity, the Hesychast must have his mind somewhere, and that somewhere is in the guard of the mind, along the pattern that Evagrius describes in OTT 17.

194 For the guard of the mind (nous), with the help of God

After OS 192, this should be clearer than it might otherwise have been.

and for God alone,

The only other time St Hesychios has been this emphatic has been in OS 124. However, here, he is speaking to the man who has received adoption as son, and he is insisting—insisting—that the man force himself to keep the guard of the mind for God alone.

remaining for much time in the soul

In OS 1 and elsewhere, St Hesychios spoke of sobriety persisting in the soul. Here he means something much higher. Let us recall a passage from the Ladder:

26, 50 One thing is the guard of the thoughts (logismoi) [here, the basic method of Hesychian sobriety] and another the keeping of the mind (nous) [here, the guard of the mind]. As far as the east is distant from the west, the second is established more sublimely and with more hardship than the first.[7]

It is this keeping or guard of the mind which must persist for much time in the soul.

provides prudence

This prudence is also known as discernment or discretion. It is the charism of being able to weigh what is best in the given situation. It is often used to counsel kings in difficult circumstances, and to counsel lesser men in the difficulties of their lives, in questions of vocation, marriage, how to handle difficult family situations, job, health, sickness and the approach of death. Fr Paisios, the great Starets, was renowned for his charism of prudence. Here, speaking to the Hesychast who does not yet have starchestvo, the public ministry of the Starets, St Hesychios restricts the scope of his discourse:

to the ruling part

The ruling part of the soul, the mind (nous).

in the struggles

Evidently the ascetical struggles.

according to God.

A very important qualification. We are led by the Spirit because we are sons, but we must act as the Spirit wants. We have not lost our freedom, but we should not do whatever we want.

This prudence, then, dispenses not a little ability

That is, it dispenses much ability.

to its participant

The Fathers universally use the term ‘participation’ for the relation between the recipient of a charism and the charism.

in managing

This is the characteristic of prudence.

the works (erga)


and the words

Speech, whether private counsel to a visitor or public preaching to a multitude.

in judgement acceptable according to the Lord.

That is, the participant in the charism of prudence can weigh with judgements acceptable to God what to do and what to say—and what the party asking his counsel should do and say in the situation that confronts him. Note that as a participant in the charism, the Hesychast gives an answer in proportion to his spiritual condition and illumination: it is much the same as Evagrius says concerning the intuitive apprehension in second natural contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created things:

40 Take care to the fact that, for each created thing, there is not just one reason, but a great number, and according to the measure of each person. The holy powers alone attain to the true reasons of objects, but not the first, that which is known only by the Christ.[8]

Hence, although this prudence is a genuine charism of the Holy Spirit, the quality of the Hesychast’s judgement and counsel will depend on his spiritual condition and his level of spiritual attainment. The more pure he is in heart, the better will be his judgement and counsel.

The next chapter of OS is interesting. In the Fourth Century of the Kephalaia Gnostica, Evagrius has a thematic chain of short chapters dedicated to allegorical interpretations of the vestments of the Old Testament High Priest in Exodus. The chapter of that series that is relevant here is KG IV, 52:

IV, 52 The intelligible ‘plate’ [Exod. 28, 32] is the gnosis of the Holy Trinity.

In Exod. 28, 32, we read: ‘And thou shalt make a plate, pure gold; and thou shalt stamp in it the stamp of a seal: ‘Sanctification of the Lord’.

The important thing to realize here is that ‘gnosis of the Holy Trinity’ is precisely Theology, what St Hesychios calls purity of heart. Did St Hesychios take the following from the Kephalaia Gnostica?

195 The tokens of the priest

The High Priest.

in the Old [Testament] were foretypes of a pure heart, so that we also should attend to the plate

The same word in the Greek text of St Hesychios as in the Septuagint.

of our heart [cf. Exod. 28, 32], lest it should have been blackened from sin,

St Hesychios is not going back to the beginning. He is speaking to the Hesychast who has attained purity of heart, adoption as son, Theology, gnosis of the Holy Trinity.

in order that with tears and repentance and prayer (proseuche) we wipe off the dirt.

St Hesychios is saying: ‘Be careful; you can sin—but if you do sin, you can repent; you can weep; and you can pray that your sin be forgiven. It is never too late. The good thief repented on the cross; so can you.’ Recall from OTT 36 that the accomplished ascetic who sins can be grievously afflicted by the demon of sorrow which at the time of prayer is ever bringing the sin before his mind’s eye. Hence, it is well to reflect on this: that with tears, repentance and prayer, we can wipe the dirt of sin from the ‘plate’ of our heart. St Hesychios is always optimistic.

St Hesychios again quotes the passage from Evagrius’ TPL 48 that he originally quoted in OS 145, and on which we commented in that place:

For the mind (nous) is an easy sort of thing and hard to restrain from the lawless remembrances,

Here, the quotation from TPL 48 is exact with only these two differences: First, instead of ‘easily moved (eukineton)’, St Hesychios again has ‘easy (eukolon)’. Perhaps that was how the manuscript of TPL read that he had before him. Second, instead of ‘imaginations (phantasias)’, which he used when he quoted this passage in OS 145, he has ‘remembrances (enthumeseis)’. This might be due to a copyist. It is clear, however, that St Hesychios had a manuscript of TPL before him.

in a similar manner easily following out after evil imaginations

The impassioned mental representations of objects of sense sown by the demons.

and good, rational imaginations.

Good, angelic, spiritual mental representations. It is well to remark once again that St Hesychios is addressing the man who has received dispassion in the sense of St John of Sinai: divinization (theosis). Even then he can be deceived by the Devil and fall into sin. Hence the therapy: tears, repentance and prayer.

In the next chapter, St Hesychios makes clear what he has in mind, what the proper precaution is.

196 Blessed, really, is he who has glued the prayer (euche) of Jesus in the intellect (dianoia) and who calls him unceasingly in the heart,

This is very clear: Unceasing repetition of the formula of invocation in the intellect—that is, mentally. And in the heart—that is, with the intellect, the mind’s operation, in the heart. There is also a sense in which ‘in the heart’ is to be construed ‘with the heart, in a heartfelt, sincere way’. However, St Hesychios is here emphasizing that unceasing repetition of the Prayer of Jesus which is a charism of the Holy Spirit.

just as the air is joined to our bodies

This is also very clear, both as a metaphor for the union of the Prayer with our intellect and for its allusion to the use of the natural breathing.

or as flame to wax.

What could be more clear as a metaphor for that unceasing mental prayer in the heart which is a charism of the Holy Spirit?

And the sun, on the one hand, passing through over the earth will make the day; the holy and venerable name of the Lord Jesus, on the other hand, shining in the intellect (dianoia) with continuity

That is, through unceasing invocation.

will engender numberless conceptions (ennoies)

We already discussed this term, which corresponds in Evagrius to ‘spiritual mental representations’, in the commentary on OS 134.

having the form of the sun.

This is also clear: these conceptions or spiritual mental representations greatly illumine the mind with the gnosis of God. We are at the stage of unitive prayer to the Holy Trinity, Theology. These contemplations are those of Theology.

197 And the clouds having been scattered, the air is shown to be pure. Having been scattered by the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, however, imaginations of the passions

These are the impassioned mental representations of objects of sense. See the commentary on OS 134 for a discussion of the terminology.

have the nature continually to give birth to

This is best understood as ‘are by nature replaced by continual’. We have seen this already. This is the Evagrian doctrine of OTT that the light of the Divinity is manifested to the mind only through the divestiture by the mind of the impassioned mental representations, which are replaced by the spiritual mental representations of natural contemplation, which themselves are in turn replaced in Theology by the mental representation of the Divinity, which mental representation is experienced as light.[9]

radiant and starlike mental representations in the heart, the air of the heart being illumined by Jesus.

These could be construed to be mental representations which derive from natural contemplation, although it seems much more likely that St Hesychios intends the contemplations of Theology, as in OS 166, above. Note that here the divestiture is seen by St Hesychios to be accomplished by Jesus Christ himself, and not by the efforts of the Hesychast, just as he remarked in OS 91 concerning the final purification of heart. This is consistent with the doctrine of St Diadochos in GC, for example in GC 28.[10] Moreover, as we remarked in the commentary on OS 102, this image of ‘starlike mental representations’ is very similar to Evagrius’ language in OTT 43.

For the Ecclesiast says: ‘Those who have trusted on the Lord will understand the truth and the faithful will cleave to him in love.’ [Wisd. 3, 9.]

This clearly is referring to Theology, unitive prayer to the Holy Trinity, with allowance being made for St Hesychios’ Christocentric orientation.

198 One of the saints

We do not know whom. But see just below.

said: ‘Showing rancour, show it to the demons; and, having enmity, have it for the body continually.’

As concerns St Hesychios’ attachment of anger against the outer man to anger against the demons, see OS 126. For his extension of anger against the outer man to anger against the body, see OS 164. For anger against the demons, see TPL 93.

The flesh is a treacherous friend and being waited upon, wars the more strongly.

See OS 33. Here, the flesh is the body—see OS 164.

And again: ‘Acquire enmity towards the body and [acquire] battle against the belly.’

Compare the Ladder: ‘Certain gnostics, defining [it] well, call renunciation this: enmity towards the body and battle towards the belly.’[11]

199 In the previous words (logoi), those in the first [century] and [in the] second century, we collected the works of the sacred stillness (hesychia) of mind (nous),

‘Stillness (hesychia) of mind (nous)’ should be taken as a synonym for Hesychian sobriety. This is a treatise on Hesychasm.

not the fruit of our intellect (dianoia) only,

We are certain that the theophanies are his own.

but those very things also that the divine words of the divinely wise Fathers teach us concerning purity of mind (nous).

We ourselves have emphasized the Evagrian aspects of OS.

Now, then, saying a few things, as much as will show the profit of the guard of the mind (nous),

The highest form of the practice of sobriety. The states of contemplation and mystical union with God in Jesus Christ come after, but they build on the foundation of the guard of the mind.

we will cease from speaking.

OS 200 and 201 constitute an adaptation of a passage of the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai.[12] That a man of St Hesychios’ own spiritual attainments—OS is not a mere anthology but a well-crafted and difficult work by a man who understands Hesychasm and who has already put into the text his own experiences of God in the mystical ascent—that such a man would have the humility to close his work not with his own mystical experience but with the paean of his master, as we believe, St John of Sinai, to the Hesychast is astonishing.

200 Come, truly, then, and follow me towards the union of the blessed keeping of the mind (nous), whoever you may be, yearning in spirit to see good days [cf. Ps. 33, 13], and I will teach you in the Lord the labour and way of life of the mental powers (noeres dunameis),

Or, ‘spiritual powers’ or ‘angelic powers’.

as is seen.

St John of Sinai, as elsewhere in the Ladder, is speaking of the angels from personal experience.

For the angels will not be satiated hymning the Creator, neither the mind (nous) purely rivalling them.

This means: ‘the mind (nous) rivalling them in purity’. It could also mean, however: ‘the mind (nous) having in a holy way rivalry with the angels’. This is the doctrine of the ascent through first natural contemplation to Theology accomplished by progressive purification of the mind. The paean rests at the level of first natural contemplation in the sense that the mind becomes like the object of contemplation, the angels. However, later in the passage, St Hesychios, quoting St John with slight modifications, will speak of the Hesychast’s reaching the rank of the Seraphim, which, given that the Seraphim are the highest rank of the angelic and bodiless powers, must mean contemplation of the Holy Trinity, and that at a very high level indeed.

The ascent is consummated, and never consummated, in this life in the temporary departure from the body by rapture of the mind (arpage tou nou), and consummated and never consummated in the next life after the permanent departure from the body in death, when freed from the flesh, the ascetic ascends continually until the trumpet sound and he be raised as son by adoption of the Most High.

And just as the immaterial ones

The angelic powers.

do not take care for food, thus neither do the material immaterial ones

The Hesychasts.

take care for it,

Fr Paisios, the great Starets, also remarks that after experience of God the monk loses interest in material food.[13]

Recall from Chapter V of Volume I that St John of Damascus treated the ideal of the life of the contemplation of God by Adam and Eve in Paradise as a life free both from care and from sensible food. It seems to us that this passage reflects both the sentiment of St John of Damascus[14] and the spirituality of the School of Sinai. In this tradition, the ascetic leaves himself completely in the hands of God concerning his bodily sustenance. In this, the School of Sinai, as in the matter of abstention from manual labour, is closer to the spirituality of the Syrians than to the spirituality of Egypt. This can be seen in the Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian.[15] Mount Athos has always followed the Egyptians, preferring work over divine idleness, even among such Athonite ascetics as follow St Isaac.[16]

if indeed they will enter into the Heaven of stillness (hesychia) of the mind (nous).

201 Just as the Higher Powers, therefore, do not take care for money or possessions, thus neither will those who cleansed the sight of the soul and who come into the habit of virtue

AlphabeticW’ omits ‘and’, significantly changing the sense, so that the meaning becomes ‘…who cleansed the sight of the soul, coming into the habit of virtue’, where the ‘coming into the habit of virtue’ is to be seen as causative of the cleansing of the sight of the soul. In the reading of the main text, the two things are seen as parallel, independent developments, or even as two things with the reverse causal order: the cleansing of the sight of the soul would lead to the coming into the habit of virtue. However, the passage as we now find it in both the alphabetic and the main versions of OS is so far removed from the actual text of the Ladder that we cannot refer to the Ladder to obtain the more probable reading.

‘Who cleansed the sight of the soul’: This should be clear: this is the purification of the mind (nous) by means of the whole system of Hesychian sobriety, especially in the stages leading up to the guard of the mind and after.

‘And who come into the habit of virtue’: This does not refer to the psychology of someone who makes a habit of acting externally according to certain norms of virtuous behaviour, but much more: dispassion both in the sense of Evagrius and in the sense of St John of Sinai, where the virtues are now the inalienable possession, subject to sin, of the ascetic according to the grace of the Holy Spirit. The virtues here are the habitual operations of the parts of the soul according to nature by the grace of God.

take care concerning the ill-treatment of the wicked spirits.

Recall that this is the third and final stage of St John of Sinai’s schema of the stages of the war against the demons that we quoted in the commentary before OS 87. St Hesychios himself referred at the end of OS 186 to this stage of having surpassed the demons: ‘And then their wounds will be reckoned by us as the arrows of infants.’

And as in those [i.e. the angels], the wealth of their progress in God is evident, thus in these [i.e. the Hesychasts], the evident Eros (eros) towards God

In this paean to the Hesychasts, we see as a central feature the operation in the Hesychast of the desiring part of the soul according to nature—‘the evident Eros (eros) towards God’.

and the earnest gaze

This conveys the desiring part operating according to nature, but also the temper operating according to nature.

and ascent of charity to the Divine.

This is the temper according to nature, since charity is a virtue of the temper,[17] although it must be admitted that there is strong flavour of the desiring part here, in which case this phrase would be pleonastic.

We are following the reading in AlphabeticW’ instead of ‘…the evident Eros (eros) towards God and the charity; the earnest gaze and the ascent to the Divine’ of the main text. The reading in the alphabetic version seems to be clearer. However, again, the text as we now find it in the alphabetic and main versions of OS is so far removed from the actual text of the Ladder that we cannot use the Ladder to provide us with the more certain reading.

Still, with Eros (eros) and insatiably extended in the ascent from the divine taste and intense yearning, then, they will not stop until they reach the Seraphim; neither will they grow weary of the sobriety of mind (nous)

The guard of the mind. It is wearisome.

and the elevation with Eros (eros) until they should become angels in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As is his custom immediately after such a theophany or, here, portrait, St Hesychios provides a caution against sin. Here is his final caution:

202 There is no venom worse than the venom of the viper and basilisk, and there is no vice worse than the vice of self-love.

This is clear: the great danger for all men is self-love.

The children of self-love you have flying,

We are following the main text, although the sense is unclear—unless, of course, St Hesychios means the demons flying about one’s head.

Evagrius has an isolated remark on self-love in Skemmata 53:

53 The first of all the thoughts is the thought of self-love (philautia), after which the eight.

then, which are these:

What follow are clearly demons, thoughts or passions.

praises in the heart,

That is, praises of oneself in one’s own heart.

being pleasing to oneself,

Doing what is convenient, pleasing or pleasurable to oneself, not acting according to the commandments.

gluttony, fornication, vainglory, envy, and the crown of all, pride, which knows how to pull down not only men but also angels from the Heavens and to clothe [them] with gloom instead of light [cf. 2 Pet. 2, 4; Jude 6].

This should be clear.

The next and final chapter:

203 These things [I have given] to you Theodoulos, [I] who bear the name of stillness (hesychia),

St Hesychios bears the name of hesychia—stillness.

even if in practice it is contradicted. But perhaps not completely,

Perhaps I, Hesychios, have some experience of stillness (hesychia).

but what God has given,

St Hesychios gives the glory to God.

who in Father, Son and Holy Spirit is praised and glorified by every rational nature, angels and men, and all creation which the Unspeakable Trinity has created, the One God, the bright Kingdom of which may we also attain through the prayers of the most pure Theotokos

‘Theotokos’: This means ‘she who gave birth to God’—Mary, the Mother of God.

and of our Holy Fathers, to which Unattainable God, eternal glory. Amen.

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[1] John 19, 26.

[2] Cf. Ps. 130, 2.

[3] John 13, 23.

[4] John 12, 49–51.

[5] Phil. 2, 6–8.

[6] See OS 79, which is a quotation of Chapter 2 of On Those Who Think They are Justified by Works by St Mark the Ascetic.

[7] Originally quoted in the commentary just before OS 87, above.

[8] Gnostic 40.

[9] OTT 39–41.

[10] Diadochos p. 99.

[11] Ladder G Step 15, 15; = Ladder E Step 15, 19.

[12] Ladder G Step 27, 26; = Ladder E Step 27, 28.

[13] Paisios 4.

[14] Not as a temporal matter, surely.

[15] Isaac.

[16] This can be seen, for example, in Charalambos.

[17] KG I, 84.


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