Archive for category Patristic Pearls
The Philokalia (Ancient Greek: φιλοκαλία “love of the beautiful, the good) is “a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters” of the Eastern Orthodox Church mystical hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in “the practice of the contemplative life.” The publishers of the current English translation state that “the Philokalia has exercised an influence far greater than that of any book other than the Bible in the recent history of the Orthodox Church.”
The Philokalia is the foundational text of hesychasm (“quietness”), the inner spiritual tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church dating back to the Desert Fathers of the 4th century. Hesychastic practices include contemplative prayer; quiet sitting, inner stillness, and repetitive recitation of the Jesus Prayer. While traditionally taught and practiced in monasteries, hesychasm teachings have spread over the years to include laymen.
Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), one of the editors of the current English translation, believes that the Philokalia is a:
“Book for all Christians
In the year 1782 a massive folio volume was published in Greek at the city of Venice, bearing the title Φιλοκαλία τῶν Ἱερῶν Νηπτικῶν, Philiokalia of the Holy Neptic Fathers. At the time of its first appearance this book seems to have had only a limited impact upon the Greek Orthodox world, while in the West it remained for a long time totally
unknown. Yet in retrospect it is clear that the Philokalia was one of the most significant Greek books to be published during the whole period of the four centuries of the Turcocratia; indeed, arguably it was the most significant and influential of all. Today, after two centuries, it is still in print, both in the original Patristic Greek and in a modern Greek version; and it is available in translation, not only in most of the languages used in countries that are traditionally Orthodox, but also in virtually all the languages of Western Europe. Alike in the original and in translation, it has been regularly reprinted in the past forty years, and in Britain and the United States, not to mention other countries, the sales are increasing every year. In many circles, non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox, it has become customary to speak of a characteristically ‘Philokalic’ approach to theology and prayer, and many regard this ‘Philokalic’ standpoint as the most creative element in contemporary Orthodoxy.
There are some books which seem to have been composed not so much for their own age as for subsequent generations. Little noticed at the time of their initial publication, they only attain their full influence two or more centuries afterwards. The Philokalia is precisely such a work.
What kind of a book is the Philokalia? In the original edition of 1782, there is a final page in Italian: this is a licenza, a permission to publish, issued by the Roman Catholic censors at the University of Padua. In this they state that the volume contains nothing ‘contrary to the Holy Catholic Faith’ (contro la Santa Fede Cattolica), and nothing ‘contrary to good principles and practices’ (contro principi, e buoni costumi). But, though bearing a Roman Catholic imprimatur, the Philokalia is in fact entirely an Orthodox book. Of the thirty-six different authors whose writings it contains -dating from the fourth to the fifteenth century- all are Greek, apart from one, who wrote in Latin, St John Cassian (d. circa 430) or ‘Cassian the Roman’ as he is styled in the Philokalia; and this exception is more apparent than real, for Cassian grew up in the Christian East and received his teaching from Evagrios of Pontus, the disciple of the Cappadocian Fathers.
Who are the editors of the Philokalia? The 1782 title page bears in large letters the name of the benefactor who financed the publication of the book: … διὰ δαπάνης τοῦ Τιμιωτάτου, καὶ Θεοσεβεστάτου Κυρίου Ἰωάννου Μαυρογορδάτου (this is perhaps the John Mavrogordato who was Prince of Moldavia during 1743 – 47). But neither on the title page nor anywhere in the 1.206 pages of the original edition are the names of the editors mentioned. There is in fact no doubt about their identity: they are St Makarios of Corinth (1731-1805) and St Nikodimos the Hagiorite (1749-1809), who were both associated with the group known collectively as the Kollyvades.
What was the purpose of St Makarios and St Nikodimos in issuing this vast collection of Patristic texts on prayer and the spiritual life? The second half of the eighteenth century constitutes a crucial turning-point in Greek cultural history. Even though the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, it can justly be claimed that the Byzantine -or, more exactly, the Romaic- period of Orthodox history continued uninterrupted until the late eighteenth century. The Church, that is to say, continued to play a central role in the life of the people; despite Western influences, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, theology continued to be carried out in a spirit that was basically Patristic, and most Greeks, when looking back to the past, took as their ideal the Christian Empire of Byzantium.
During the later decades of the eighteenth century, however, a new spirit began to prevail among educated Greeks, the spirit of modern Hellenism. This was more secular in its outlook than was Romaic culture, although -initially, at any rate- it was not explicitly anti-religious. Its protagonists looked back, beyond the Byzantine period, to ancient Greece, taking as their ideal the Athens of Pericles that was so greatly admired in the West, and their models were not the Greek Fathers but the authors of the classical period. These exponents of modern Hellenism were inspired, however, not simply by the Western reverence for classical studies, but more broadly by the mentality of the Enlightenment (Aufklärung), by the principles of Voltaire and the French Encyclopedists, by the ideologists of the French Revolution (which began only seven years after the publication of the Philokalia), and by the pseudo-mysticism of Freemasonry.
Needless to say, we are not to imagine that at the end of the eighteenth century there was a simple transition, with the Romaic tradition drawing abruptly to an end, and being totally replaced by the outlook of Neohellenism. On the contrary, the Romaic standpoint has continued to coexist, side by side with Neohellenism, in nineteenth and twentieth century Greece. The two approaches overlap, and there has always been – and still exists today – a subtle and complex interaction between the two. Alexander Solzenitsyn remarks in The Gulag Archipelago that the line of demarcation separating good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. By the same token it can be said that the line of demarcation between the Romaios and the Hellene runs through the middle of the heart of each one of us.
If Adamantios Korais is the outstanding representative of modern Hellenism at the end of the eighteenth century, then the outstanding spokesmen of the Romaic or traditional Orthodox spirit during the same epoch are the editors of the Philokalia, St Nikodimos and St Makarios. They and the other Kollyvades were profoundly disturbed by the growing infiltration of the ideas of the Western Aufklärung among their fellow-countrymen. They believed that the regeneration of the Greek Church and nation could come about only through a recovery of the neptic and mystical theology of the Fathers ‘Do not set your hope in the new secularism of the West; that will prove nothing but a deceit and a disappointment’, they said in effect to their fellow-Greeks. ‘Our only true hope of renewal is to rediscover our authentic root in the Patristic and Byzantine past’. Is not their message as timely today as ever it was in the eighteenth century?
The Kollyvades proposed, therefore, a far-reaching and radical programme of ressourcement, a return to the authentic sources of Orthodox Christianity. This programme had three primary features. First, the Kollyvades insisted, in the field of worship, upon a faithful observance of the Orthodox liturgical tradition. Among other things, they urged that memorial services should be celebrated on the correct day,
Saturday (not Sunday); hence the sobriquet ‘Kollyvades’. But this was far from being their main liturgical concern. Much more important was their firm and unwavering advocacy of frequent communion; this proved to be highly controversial, and brought upon them persecution and exile. Secondly, they sought to bring about in theology a Patristic renaissance; and in this connection they undertook an ambitious programme of publications, in which the Philokalia played a central role. Thirdly, within the Patristic heritage, they emphasized above all else the teachings of Hesychasm, as represented in particular by St Symeon the New Theologian in the eleventh century and by St Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth. It is precisely this Hesychast tradition that forms the living heart of the Philokalia, and that gives to its varied contents a single unity.
Such, then, is the cultural context of the Philokalia. It forms part -a fundamental and primary part- of the Patristic ressourcement that the Kollyvades sought to promote. The Kollyvades looked upon the Fathers, not simply as an archeological relic from the distant past, but as a living guide for contemporary Christians. They therefore hoped that the Philokalia would not gather dust on the shelves of scholars, but that it would alter people’s lives. They meant it to have a supremely practical purpose.
In this connection it is significant that St Nicodimos and St Makarios intended the Philokalia to be a book not just for monks but for the laity, not just for specialists but for all Christians. The book is intended, so its title page explicitly states, ‘for the general benefit of the Orthodox’ (εἰς κοινὴν τῶν Ὀρθοδόξων ὠφέλειαν). It is true that virtually all the texts included were written by monks, with a monastic readership in mind. It is also true that, with the exception of seven short pieces at the end of the volume, the material is given in the original Patristic Greek, and is not translated into the Demotic, even though St Nikodimos and St Makarios used the Demotic in most of their other publications. Nevertheless, despite the linguistic difficulties in many Philokalic texts, more especially in the writings of St Maximos the Confessor and St Gregory Palamas, the editors leave no doubt concerning their purpose and their hopes. In his preface St Nikodimos affirms unambiguously that the book is addressed ‘to all of you who share the Orthodox calling, laity and monks alike’. In particular, St Nikodimos maintains, the Pauline injunction, ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17), is intended not just for hermits in caves and on mountain-tops but for married Christians with responsibilities for a family, for farmers, merchants and lawyers, even for ‘kings and courtiers living in palaces’. It is a universal command. The best belongs to everyone.
St Nikodimos recognized that, in thus making Hesychast texts available to the general reader, he was exposing himself to possible misunderstanding and criticism. Thus he writes in the preface:
Here someone might object that it is not right to publish certain of the texts included in this volume, since they will sound strange to the ears of most people, and may even prove harmful to them.
Indeed, is there not a risk that, if these texts are made readily accessible for all to read in a printed edition, certain people may go astray because they lack personal guidance from an experienced spiritual father? This was an objection to which St Nikodimos’ contemporary, St Paissy Velichkovsky (1722-94), was keenly sensitive. For a long time he would not allow his Slavonic translation of the Philokalia to appear in print, precisely because he feared that the book might fall into the wrong hands; and it was only under pressure from Metropolitan Gabriel of St Petersburg that he eventually agreed to its publication. St Makarios and St Nikodimos were in full agreement with St Paissy about the immense importance of obedience to a spiritual father. But at the same time they were prepared to take the risk of printing the Philokalia. Even if a few people go astray because of their conceit and pride, says St Nikodimos, yet many will derive deep benefit, provided that they read the Philokalic texts ‘with all humility and in a spirit of mourning’. If we lack a geronta, then let us trust to the Holy Spirit; for in the last resort He is the one true spiritual guide.”
~ Met. Kallistos (Ware) from “The Inner Unity of the Philokalia and its Influence in East and West”
St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.
“Since the Son of God, in his incomparable love for man, did not only unite His divine Hypostasis with our nature, by clothing Himself in a living body and a soul gifted with intelligence… but also united himself… with the human hypostases themselves, in mingling himself with each of the faithful by communion with his Holy Body, and since he becomes one single body with us (cf. Eph. 3:6), and makes us a temple of the undivided Divinity, for in the very body of Christ dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), how should he not illuminate those who commune worthily with the divine ray of His Body which is within us, lightening their souls, as He illumined the very bodies of the disciples on Mount Thabor? For, on the day of the Transfiguration, that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies, it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by an intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within.” ~St Gregory Palamas, from Triads I.iii.38.
St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.
“In mystical contemplation a man sees neither with the intellect nor with the body, but with the Spirit; and with full certainty he knows that he beholds supernaturally a light which surpasses all other light. But he does not know through what organ he beholds this light, nor can he analyze the nature of the organ; for the ways of the Spirit, through which he sees, are unsearchable. And this is what St Paul affirmed, when he heard things which it is not lawful for man to utter and saw things which none can behold: ‘ … whether in the body or whether out of the body, I cannot tell’ (2 Cor. l2:3) – that is, he did not know whether it was his intellect or his body which saw them. For he did not perceive these things by sensation, yet his vision was as clear as that whereby we see the objects of sense perception, and even clearer still. He saw himself carried out of himself through the mysterious sweetness of his vision; he was transported not only outside every object and thought but even outside himself.
This happy and joyful experience which seized upon Paul and caused his intellect to pass beyond all things in ecstasy, which made him turn entirely in upon himself, this experience took the form of light – a light of revelation, but such as did not reveal to him the objects of sense perception. It was a light without bounds or termination below or above or to the sides; he saw no limit whatever to the light which appeared to him and shone around him, but it was like a sun infinitely brighter and larger than the universe: and in the midst of this light he himself stood, having become nothing but eye. Such, more or less, was his vision.” ~ St. Gregory Palamas in Triads, I.iii. 21
The Jesus Prayer (Greek: Η Προσευχή του Ιησού, i prosefchí tou iisoú); or “The Prayer” (Greek: Η Ευχή, i efchí̱ – literally “The Wish”) is a short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church. The prayer has been widely taught and discussed beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχάζω, isycházo, “to keep stillness”). The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition (see Philokalia) as a method of opening up the heart (kardia) and bringing about the Prayer of the Heart (Καρδιακή Προσευχή). The Prayer of The Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:17).
Methods and Steps
Practical Steps for the Jesus Prayer
1. Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place.
2. Recollect yourself.
3. With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention.
4. Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me
5. Quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently.
6. As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in.
7. Be patient and peaceful.
8. Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep.
9. Learn to love silence.
10. Read the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer.
11. As much as possible avoid distracting occupations.
(From the “Life of Abba Philemon” (6th Century book about Paul’s disciple))
Spiritual Levels of Prayer
It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation defined as a verbal expression. Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s heart and mind.
As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. At this point, the mind is focused upon the words of the prayer, speaking them as if they were ones own.
The third level, is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer, which is a gift of the Spirit, is to return to the Father as did the prodigal son. The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)
(From the “Reflections of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
Stages of Growth in the Prayer of the Heart
1. Try to…enclose your thought in the words of the [Jesus] prayer. If on account of its [the mind’s] infancy it wearies and wanders lead it in again. The mind is naturally unstable. But He Who orders all things can control it.
2. The beginning of prayer consists in banishing the thoughts that come to us at their very appearance…
3. Quantity is the cause of quality. The Lord gives pure prayer [prayer of the mind in the heart] to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention.
4. …the middle [of prayer] is when the mind stays solely in the words pronounced vocally or mentally…If, therefore, you tirelessly train your mind never to stray from the words of the prayer, it will be there even at mealtime.
5. The spiritual land of a man pure in soul is within him…Try to enter the cell within you and you will see the heavenly cell. They are one and the same…The ladder to the Heavenly Kingdom is within you. [Luke 17:21]
(St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867) relating the teachings of St. John Climacus (d. 606) in “On the Prayer of Jesus”)
Using a Prayer Rope (Komboskini or Chotki) with the Jesus Prayer
…those who excelled in prayer, in order to avoid being subject to this self-deception, invented the prayer rope, which they proposed for the use of those who seek to pray not with written prayers, but on their own. They used it as follows:
1. They said, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” and moved one knot with their fingers;
2. Then, they said this again and moved another, and so on;
3. Between each short prayer they made a bow from the waist** or a prostration,* as desired, or…
4. Between small knots they made a bow from the waist and at the larger knots or beads a complete prostration.*
(From the “Letters of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
* A prostration consists of dropping to both knees and leaning forward on the hands until the head touches the ground.
** Saint Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (d. 1779) suggested the Sign of the Cross: …hold it [prayer rope] in your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’
Copyright 2016 Ancient Christian Foundation
Saint Pachomius (Greek: Παχώμιος, Coptic: Ⲡⲁϩⲱⲙ ca. 292–348) – was an early and important Desert Father. He is generally recognized as the founder of Christian cenobitic (communal) monasticism. By the time Pachomius died (c. 345) eight monasteries in Upper Egypt and several hundred monks followed his guidance. Within a generation, cenobic practices spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe.
The Prayer Rule of St. Pachomius
Note: This order was given to Desert Father St. Pachomius of Egypt in the 4th Century by an Angel, and was the rule he used at each hour of the day and night . It is a prayer rule that especially lends itself to memorization, and as such is one that can be done in situations in which it is impractical for one to pray using a prayer book.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us, and cleanse us of all impurity, and save our souls, O Good One.
Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3X) >Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.
O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us. O Lord, blot out our sins. O Master, pardon our iniquities. O Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name’s sake.
Lord have mercy. (3X)
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Our Father, Who art in the Heavens, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Lord, Have mercy. (12X) >Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the unto the ages of ages. Amen.
O come, let us worship God our King.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
O come, let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee only have I sinned and done this evil before Thee, that Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged. For behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me. For behold, Thou hast loved truth; the hidden and secret things of Thy wisdom hast Thou made manifest unto me. Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made clean; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow. Thou shalt make me to hear joy and gladness; the bones that be humbled, they shall rejoice. Turn Thy face away from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation, and with Thy governing Spirit establish me. I shall teach transgressors Thy ways, and the ungodly shall turn back unto Thee. Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, Thou God of my salvation; my tongue shall rejoice in Thy righteousness. O Lord, Thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Thy praise. For if Thou hadst desired sacrifice, I had given it; with whole-burnt offerings Thou shalt not be pleased. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit; a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise. Do good, O Lord, in Thy good pleasure unto Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be builded. Then shalt Thou be pleased with a sacrifice of righteousness, with oblation and whole-burnt offerings. Then shall they offer bullocks upon Thine altar.
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from the heavens, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man; And was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And arose again on the third day according to the Scriptures; And ascended into the heavens, and sitteth at the right hand of the Father; And shall come again, with glory, to judge both the living and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end. And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life; Who proceedeth from the Father; Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; Who spake by the prophets. In One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, And the life of the age to come. Amen.
The Jesus Prayer
O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (100X)
It is truly meet to bless thee, the Theotokos, ever blessed and most blameless, and Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, who without corruption gavest birth to God the Word, the very Theotokos, thee do we magnify.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Lord, have mercy. (3X)
O Lord, Bless.
O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, for the sake of the prayers of Thy most pure Mother, of our holy and God-bearing fathers, and all the saints, have mercy on us and save us, for Thou art good and the Lover of mankind. Amen.
Hesychasm (from the Greek for “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”) is a mystical tradition and movement that originated with the Desert Fathers and was central to their practice of prayer. Hesychasm for the Desert Fathers was primarily the practice of “interior silence and continual prayer.” It did not become a formal movement of specific practices until the fourteenth century Byzantine meditative prayer techniques, when it was more closely identified with the Prayer of the Heart, or “Jesus Prayer.” That prayer’s origin is also traced back to the Desert Fathers—the Prayer of the Heart was found inscribed in the ruins of a cell from that period in the Egyptian desert. The earliest written reference to the practice of the Prayer of the Heart may be in a discourse collected in the Philokalia on Abba Philimon, a Desert Father. Hesychast prayer was a meditative practice that was traditionally done in silence and with eyes closed—”empty of mental pictures” and visual concepts, but with the intense consciousness of God’s presence.
The words hesychast and hesychia were frequently used in 4th and 5th century writings of Desert Fathers such as Macarius of Egypt, Evagrius Ponticus, and of Gregory of Nyssa. The title hesychast was used in early times synonymously with “hermit,” as compared to a cenobite who lived in community. Hesychasm can refer to inner or outer stillness, though in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers it referred to inner tranquility. ~Wikipedia “Desert Fathers”
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) – One of the great Orthodox mystics and hesychasts explains his experience and encounter of God as light.
“This, invariably, is just what occurs concerning the invisible God. Whenever someone sees Him revealed, he sees light. While on the one hand he is amazed at what he has seen, on the other he does not know immediately who it is who has appeared, yet he dares not ask Him. And how could he? He is unable even to lift up his eyes and look on that grandeur. With fear and trembling he looks instead, as it were, at his own feet, knowing fully only that it is Someone Who has appeared before his face.
And if there happens to be some other man who has told him beforehand about such things, as having known God from before, he goes to this man [St Symeon’s elder] and says: “I have seen.” And the other says: “What did you see, child?” “Light, O my father, so sweet, sweet! So much so, father, that my reason has not the strength to tell you.”
And, while he is saying this, his heart leaps and pounds, and catches on fire with longing for what he has seen. Then, with many warm tears, he begins to say again: “That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.”
The other then answers and says: “It is He, child.” And, at this word, he sees Him again and, little by little, comes to be completely purified and, purified, grows bold and asks that One Himself, and says: “My God, is it You?”
And He answers and says: ‘Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god’.”
~ St Symeon the New Theologian, from On the Mystical Life (Vol. 2), pp. 53-54
The following excerpt is from an anonymous 1851 manuscript called The Watchful Mind. It was penned by an unknown monk on Mount Athos, the “Holy Mountain”, the continuous home of the “hesychastic” contemplative Christian prayer tradition for more than a thousand years.
“Beloved, when you wish to pray noetically from your depths, let the prayer of your heart imitate the sound of the cicada. When the cicada chirps, it does so in two ways. At first, it softly chirps five to ten times, but then its ending chirps are more pronounced, drawn out, and melodic. And so, beloved when you pray noetically within your heart, pray in the following manner: First say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” about ten times, forcefully from your heart and clearly with your intellect from your depths, one time with each breath. Restrain your breath a little each time you say the prayer as your heart meditates from its depth on the words. Once you have said the prayer in this fashion ten times or more until that place within you has become warm where you meditate upon the prayer, then say the prayer more forcefully, with greater tension and forcefulness of heart, just as the cicada ends its song with a more pronounced and melodic voice.
This prayer, which is referred to principally as noetic prayer, is also called prayer of the heart and watchful prayer. When you say the prayer with your intellect and repeat it mystically within you in stillness, using your inner voice, it is referred to as noetic prayer. When you say the prayer from the depths of your heart with great tension and inner force, then it is referred to as prayer of the heart. It is referred to as watchful prayer when, because of your prayer or because of the infinite goodness of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul and touches your heart, or you are granted a divine vision, upon which your mind’s eye becomes watchful and fixed.
When you practice noetic prayer and reverently repeat it as you should, and the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul, then the name of Christ that you are meditating upon with your intellect becomes greatly consoling and sweet to your mind and soul, so much that you could never repeat it enough.
When you practice prayer of the heart and the grace of God touches your heart (that is, when your heart happens upon it), causing it to conceive compunction, as the Lady Theotokos [“God Bearer”, the Virgin Mary] conceived the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, then the name of divine Jesus, and all of Holy Scripture, becomes ineffable sweetness to the heart, and every spiritual notion of the heart (if I may put it this way) becomes a sweet flowing river of divine compunction that sweetens the heart and wondrously makes it fervent in eros and love for it Creator and God.
Sometimes, when you practice prayer of the heart with pain of an enfeebled heart and with sorrow of a humbled soul, then your soul clearly feels the consolation and visitation of the Lord. This is what the prophet says: “The Lord is near those who are brokenhearted.” The Lord invisibly draws near you when you crush your heart with the prayer, as we said, in order to show you some mystical revelation. He shows you some vision in order to make you more fervent in the spiritual work of your heart.
And so, beloved, when, by the grace of Christ, your soul beholds some vision and is filled with compunction because of your prayer, then you understand that watchful prayer is nothing other than divine grace; it is the noetic and divine vision your mind beholds, your intellect firmly fixed upon, and your soul watches. And that the divine grace of the Holy Spirit visited your soul, gently touched your heart, and ineffably sweetened your mind, only you can understand and comprehend within yourself, because compunction ceaselessly from your heart as from an ever-flowing spring, while your mind experiences an inexpressible sweetness and your soul consolation. At that moment your soul possesses some spiritual boldness and mystically supplicates God, its Fashioner and Creator saying, “Remember me, Oh Lord, in your Kingdom,” or some other verse of Holy Scripture.
This holy and pure supplication that takes place within the soul has such power that it penetrates the heavens and reaches the throne of the Holy Trinity, before whom it stands like sweet-smelling and fragrant incense. The prophet said about this prayer, “Let my prayer arise as incense before you.” The God in Trinity receives this holy supplication in an inexpressible and wondrous manner, and the supplication in turn receives the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This fruit, received reverently and modestly, is offered and sent to the soul as a priceless and heavenly gift from the God of all as a pledge of the future kingdom and adoption. The soul that receives the heavenly and divine fruit of the Holy Spirit because of its supplication, that is, from pure prayer, acquires divine love, spiritual joy, peace of heart, and great patience during the hardships and temptations of this age, excellence and goodness in everything, unwavering faith, Christ’s meekness, and passion-killing self-control. All of these are called “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” To our God be glory and power unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ The Watchful Mind, pp 123-125.
From “The Writings of Maximus the Confessor” by Saint Maximus –
“Perfect silence alone proclaims Him, and total and transcendent unknowing brings us into His presence.”
Macarius the Great (the Egyptian) (c. AD 300 -390) was one of the most famous Desert Fathers, and one of the pioneers of Scetis.
“The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there likewise are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.” (Homilies 43:7)