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Author Topic: The importance of Hesychasm  (Read 744 times) Average Rating: 0
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Armchair Theologian
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« on: December 06, 2012, 04:23:05 PM »

OK, so as I've said in other posts, I'm an inquirer, tempted to join the church, liking a lot of what I see from visiting a local parish and talking to people there, and likeing a lot of what I'm learning, but not sure about some of it. I'm just kind of praying my way through it and seeking the truth.

I've read a bit about the Orthodox tradition of Hesychasm. I don't have time to go into what I've learned about it, but I think I understand the idea. It sounds interesting, but I'm reading certain things that give me the impression that many Orthodox Christians feel that it's a necessary part of Theosis, basically along the lines of, "to be saved you must be deified, to be deified you must achieve Theoria, to achieve Theoria you must achieve the unceacing prayer of the heart, and to achieve this you must practice the Hesychastic techniques, and so forth". And yet at the Orthodox parish I'm going to, it's never talked about, and more often than not it's not even mentioned. These forums for example--there are like two or three threads on the subject of Hesychasm.

My question: How important is Hesychasm in the life of the average Orthodox layman? Is it something taught as essential to spiritual life, or is it thought of as a tool that could be helpful to some, but not needed by all? How do you look at this?

Thanks in advance!
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 04:32:01 PM by Armchair Theologian » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2012, 04:38:13 PM »

Hesychasm - and the essence-energies distinction and the Jesus prayer which are inseperable from it - is at the very core of all theology.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 04:38:28 PM by Cyrillic » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2012, 04:48:42 PM »

So it's dogma? I would have to use the Jesus prayer specifically and practice these sort of inward prayer techniques to be a true Christian then, in your estimation?
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« Reply #3 on: December 06, 2012, 04:54:14 PM »

So it's dogma? I would have to use the Jesus prayer specifically and practice these sort of inward prayer techniques to be a true Christian then, in your estimation?
No. However St. Paul says we should pray unceasingly and Christ says you should go to your closet to pray, which the Hesychastists would say means an inward withdrawl for inner stillness for prayer.

How do you define what a "true Christian" is anyway?
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 04:54:31 PM by Achronos » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: December 06, 2012, 04:55:51 PM »

So it's dogma?

Yes. Since the Fifth Council of Constantinople

I would have to use the Jesus prayer specifically and practice these sort of inward prayer techniques to be a true Christian then, in your estimation?

You don't have to practice all those techniques (in fact, it is often warned against if you don't have a good - monastic - spiritual father)
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 04:56:10 PM by Cyrillic » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: December 06, 2012, 04:58:57 PM »

sorry, but i disagree on the centrality of it.
the way i understand it (and there are many threads here on it - do a search), it is about achieving an unceasing prayer, a constant awareness of the presence of God, which only comes after many years of regular Bible study, a disciplined prayer life, frequent fasting and giving to the poor. many people who practice it have given all they own to the poor and taken on a wandering life of a labourer, always either working (to have enough to give to the poor) or praying.
most ordinary orthodox Christians die before we achieve this state.

this is why we should not focus on it too much.
come back in 10 years when you are fasting every church fast, praying every day and happily poor, and ask me more.
by then, i probably won't know any more answers, but i may have met someone who did, or maybe, if i escape from all my pride, i may have retired to the desert to do aid work and live like a peasant, renouncing all technology (or died trying to get there!)

seriously though, i suggest you start with praying the Lord's prayer every day, reading a few psalms and attending church, earnestly asking God to change you through your acceptance of the difficulties of life to be full of His love and grace to all you meet.
may God guide you.
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« Reply #6 on: December 06, 2012, 05:00:11 PM »

You don't have to practice all those techniques (in fact, it is often warned against if you don't have a good - monastic - spiritual father)

Well it's like reading St. John Climacus' Ladder of Divine Ascent if you aren't "spiritually mature" or an inquirer/catechumen/newly illumined because it can be dangerous.

I have a long way to go on my spiritual journey before I take on things in the Philokalia, let alone read about it. I can't even fast properly at the moment.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 05:01:13 PM by Achronos » Logged

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« Reply #7 on: December 06, 2012, 05:12:21 PM »

OK, I just called the Priest from my local parish to ask about this, and he told me that Hesychasm and specifically the techniques and so forth associated with it are to be thought of as tools which a person can make use of, but which should not apply to all. He said that everyone comes to Christ in different ways within Orthodoxy, some primarily through giving to the poor and doing charitable deeds, some primarily though very deep, inward prayer and contemplation, like the monastic practices, and so forth... he said that I should beware of anyone claiming Orthodoxy who declares the absolute supremacy of any one particular tool or set of tools, because there are fanatics and fringe groups out there who do not necessarily represent the spirit of Orthodoxy. He also told me that there were other prayers and other ways of praying besides repetitious use of the Jesus Prayer that can be used to develup the Prayer of the Heart. I found his answer very enlightening and helpful.  
« Last Edit: December 06, 2012, 05:14:16 PM by Armchair Theologian » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2012, 05:14:42 PM »

OK, I just called the Priest from my local parish to ask about this, and he told me that Hesychasm and specifically the techniques and so forth associated with it are to be thought of as tools which a person can make use of, but which should not apply to all. He said that everyone comes to Christ in different ways within Orthodoxy, some primarily through giving to the poor and doing charitable deeds, some primarily though in very deep, inward prayer and contemplations, like monastic practices and so forth... he said that I should beware of anyone claiming Orthodoxy who declares the absolute supremacy of any one particular tool or set of tools, because there are fanatics and fringe groups out there who do not necessarily represent the spirit of Orthodoxy. He also told me that there were other prayers and other ways of praying besides the repetitious use of the Jesus Prayer that can be used to develup the Prayer of the Heart. I found his answer very enlightening and helpful.   
That's a good answer.
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« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2012, 05:53:45 PM »

That's good to know, Armchair Theologian. Thank you!

I don't practice the repetitious use of the Jesus Prayer, but say it a few times a day when I sense I'm being a jerk of some sort.  Smiley It helps put me in my place.
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2012, 08:37:47 AM »

Hesychasm is a tool, a tradition of prayer, not an end in itself. To me, the most important things about it is that it helps us develop watchfulness over our thoughts, to understand where they come from, to understand ourselves (basically), and at the same time focus entirely and always on Christ, which is absolutely necessary, if we are to achieve theosis (or sainthood). So, I'd recommend to focus on the essence of why we do things, and not see them as if they only have a surface meaning.

I can always recommend the following book, as it deals with all that is needed for our spiritual development. Try to read it all, or as much as you can because things can get a bit complex, and they need to be done in a certain order: http://orthodoxwayoflife.blogspot.ro/2010/07/orthodox-spirituality-by-fr-dimitru.html
« Last Edit: December 07, 2012, 08:38:04 AM by IoanC » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2012, 12:45:47 PM »

This book, Orthodox Spirituality by Fr. Dimitru Staniloae, appears to be wonderful! Thank you very much, IoanC.

I'm an older woman and enjoy a very simple & basic lifestyle. Thank you, again, for suggesting this book.
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« Reply #12 on: December 12, 2012, 11:19:35 AM »

Indeed, many saints of the undivided Church did not practice the Jesus Prayer or the developed techniques of later Hesychasts, and were still able to achieve theosis. Our Holy Father Benedict, for example, saw the Uncreated Light and set forth in his Rule the method of lectio divina as a means to foster inner stillness (which is all "hesychasm" means, anyway). St. Cuthbert was so full of the Spirit that his relics remained uncorrupted for almost 1,000 years and there is no evidence that he was even aware the Jesus Prayer existed. Even within the Byzantine tradition, you have St. Tikhon of Zadonsk. As Fr. Georges Florovsky in On the Ways of Russian Theology says, "There is no denying...the fact that St. Tikhon was not a 'Hesychast,' strictly speaking; at least not according to any strict kind of 'Palamite' or 'Paisiian' formation. The two were 'akin' to each other, which implies an obvious difference; such as the absence of any reference to the Jesus Prayer. Yet, there is little doubt but that he lived a 'transfigured' life, and had a perfect knowledge of God, achieved through the labor of unceasing prayer. Thus, the conclusion of this is that Orthodox spirituality has more than a single expression or form; perhaps even a few."

Prayer of the heart and a ceaseless remembrance of God are, of course, scriptural commandments, but the means by which that is achieved have varied over the centuries. In the wisdom of St. Seraphim of Sarov, find what works for you to acquire the Spirit and focus on doing that Smiley
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« Reply #13 on: December 12, 2012, 04:06:56 PM »

Thank you for that! I've actually read The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit. About 3 times in fact. I found it very profound and insightful, and I remember having similar thoughts about what St Seraphim said about doing those things that were most profitable in acquiring the grace of the Spirit. It seems to me that Orthodoxy is all about learning through experience what benefits us the most as individuals in our spiritual lives and working from there, and I find that encouraging because it is very different from what I'm use to from my own religious background.

I'm curious, I once read an old Protestant book called Abiding in Christ by Andrew Murray. It's been a while, but the whole idea behind the book was about like this: When people first come to Christ, they usually find themselves invigorated by a profound experience of His love and peace, and at first it is easy to keep away from sins and temptations, and to have a sense of closeness with him throughout the whole day and even in the midst of difficulties, but in most cases sooner or later we begin to drift away from this, we forget and lose sight of the Savior, become discouraged at difficulties, secretly feel that it is beyond our grasp to live a life of unceasing communion with Him. Before we even know it we've lost it and begin again to slip away into sin and slothfulness. He said the reason for this is that we've neglected His command to abide in Him. The same savior who out of pure love invites us to come to Him, also invites us to abide and remain IN HIM, and Andrew Murray even goes so far as to say that this abiding in Him part is just as important to salvation as the coming to Him part. He describes the abiding as a ceaseless communion with him, where He is always in our hearts and in our minds, at every hour, every minute, always our heart is reaching out to Him, and only by achieving this abiding can we hope to escape the entanglements of sin. The book then proceeds to offer practical instructions on how the achieve said communion.

My curiosity is, would you say that what Mr Murray described is similar to the orthodox idea of ceaseless prayer or remembrance of God? I'm still trying to understand it, honestly, but when I read about it it always reminds me of what I read in that old book. Smiley    
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« Reply #14 on: December 12, 2012, 04:25:05 PM »

as a former protestant, i think it is similar, but usually not as deep, and i think the reason some people find it so hard is that they do not have the sacraments to help them become close to God.

this reminds me of that moment i sat in my 'home' orthodox church in south england, looking at the people going up for Holy Communion.
suddenly i knew for sure they had something i did not have.
i was deeply surprised and moved.
it was no coincidence that the priest said to me the same day how he was waiting for me to make that step and sad to see me 'missing out'.

i think u need the sacraments and a disciplined spiritual life. there is no 'fast food' route to Godliness.
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« Reply #15 on: December 12, 2012, 07:25:32 PM »

OK, I just called the Priest from my local parish to ask about this, and he told me that Hesychasm and specifically the techniques and so forth associated with it are to be thought of as tools which a person can make use of, but which should not apply to all. He said that everyone comes to Christ in different ways within Orthodoxy, some primarily through giving to the poor and doing charitable deeds, some primarily though very deep, inward prayer and contemplation, like the monastic practices, and so forth... he said that I should beware of anyone claiming Orthodoxy who declares the absolute supremacy of any one particular tool or set of tools, because there are fanatics and fringe groups out there who do not necessarily represent the spirit of Orthodoxy. He also told me that there were other prayers and other ways of praying besides repetitious use of the Jesus Prayer that can be used to develup the Prayer of the Heart. I found his answer very enlightening and helpful.  
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« Reply #16 on: December 13, 2012, 03:20:23 AM »

Thanks ialmisry, now that you mention it, I actually remember reading the story of St. Anthony, as well as St Seraphim, and a lot of other things Orthodox. When I investigate something concerning faith, I INVESTIGATE. lol I read about him in the Prologue from Ohrid, which I have been reading every morning for about a couple months now, trying to get a handle, as much as possible from an outsider, on the spirituality of Orthodoxy, but I hadn't recalled that particular story.

I think what it boils down to is what Paul the Apostle said: "But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk." 1 Cor 7:17.

mabsoota: I agree. When I was a die-hard protestant, I tried to content myself with the notion that baptism and communion were just symbolic gestures, but I couldn't escape the sneaking suspicion I got when reading the scriptures that these things were something more, and when I began to read the writings of the early church fathers I just couldn't deny it anymore. I wanted and still want to be re-baptised, this time properly and in the name of the Trinity, and to find a place where the the communion was understood as a real participation in the body and blood of the Lord.

I think in spite of all my questionings, I will eventually become Orthodox. The road seems to be leading me there. But I need to look out for the spiritual needs of my wife, as well as myself, and I also had to promise my mother-in-law that I would really pray and seek Gods will before I decided anything. She is an extremely devout protestant, and I can tell she's not trilled about the idea of us becoming Orthodox. I sense a great struggle ahead with that, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, thank you everyone here for your thoughtful consideration and help!

Blessings in Christ. Smiley   
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« Reply #17 on: December 13, 2012, 01:35:51 PM »

top tip from my 'only orthodox Christian in the family' perspective:
take it slowly, and share your journey with the close family / friends as you go.
be very patient with all the questions and accusations of idol worship etc.
show lots of love, and don't be ashamed to say you don't know and find the answers for them.
show lots of love in all your dealings with them and patience and they will be reassured by your kind words.
this way they will be with you on your journey, even if they are many steps behind.
above all, show lots of love (i may have mentioned this already!)
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« Reply #18 on: December 16, 2012, 10:59:23 AM »


I'm curious, I once read an old Protestant book called Abiding in Christ by Andrew Murray. It's been a while, but the whole idea behind the book was about like this: When people first come to Christ, they usually find themselves invigorated by a profound experience of His love and peace, and at first it is easy to keep away from sins and temptations, and to have a sense of closeness with him throughout the whole day and even in the midst of difficulties, but in most cases sooner or later we begin to drift away from this, we forget and lose sight of the Savior, become discouraged at difficulties, secretly feel that it is beyond our grasp to live a life of unceasing communion with Him. Before we even know it we've lost it and begin again to slip away into sin and slothfulness. He said the reason for this is that we've neglected His command to abide in Him. The same savior who out of pure love invites us to come to Him, also invites us to abide and remain IN HIM, and Andrew Murray even goes so far as to say that this abiding in Him part is just as important to salvation as the coming to Him part. He describes the abiding as a ceaseless communion with him, where He is always in our hearts and in our minds, at every hour, every minute, always our heart is reaching out to Him, and only by achieving this abiding can we hope to escape the entanglements of sin. The book then proceeds to offer practical instructions on how the achieve said communion.

My curiosity is, would you say that what Mr Murray described is similar to the orthodox idea of ceaseless prayer or remembrance of God? I'm still trying to understand it, honestly, but when I read about it it always reminds me of what I read in that old book. Smiley    


n interesting insight.  I have enjoyed reading many of Murray's books in the past.
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