Wednesday, March 24, 2010

State of Hesychia

When we discuss Orthodox prayer we are often led to a discussion of  hesychia.  This is a very advanced form of Orthodox spirituality.  It makes up one of the last chapters in Saint Theophan's book, Path to Salvation.  What is it?

Hesychia is a state when there is a an inner stillness and one abides alone in spirit with God.
Saint John Climacus says,
"A hesychast is one who strives to confine his incorporeal being within his bodily house."
Saint Theophan says the hesychast is one who is,
entirely occupied with being with the one Lord, with Whom he converses face to face, like as a favorite emperor speaks into his ear.  This activity of the heart is surrounded and guarded by preserving stillness of thought.
This level of spiritual effort is very advanced and cannot be attained without first conquering our passions  This is an absolute prerequisite.  Hesychia only develops in those who have tasted the "sweetness of God," says Saint Theophan.  He warns us,
"neither earnest prayer nor inviolable activity of the heart can ever be achieved if the heart is not first completely disengaged from affairs."
Note that he says, "completely disengaged." Its perfection usually requires a period of isolation from worldly affairs in a monastic cell where we can be "completely disengaged." He continues highlighting the path and our need to remember that on the path the first steps must be directed to the taming of our passions.,
The path to this requires purifying from the passions by means of all the ascetic labors that strengthen goodness and exhaust evil in us.... Its essence is a completely undisturbed prayerful standing before God in the mind and the heart, by which fire is added to fire.
Saint John Climacus clearly warns us of taking any shortcuts. He says,
"He who is sick in soul from some passion and attempts stillness is like a man who has jumped from a ship into the sea and thinks that he will reach the shore safely on a lank."
Many of us pick up the Philokalia, which contains primarily advice to monks who are in a very advanced place along the spiritual path, and seek advice from these writers before we have mastered our passions.  In other words we attempt to take a shortcut along this path. Saint Theophan is trying to warn us against this temptation.  This is why a good spiritual guide is so important before entering into the practices of the hesychasts.  They will only be beneficial to us if we are properly prepared.

When we do develop the capability of Hesychia we become what is termed dispassionate.  Nothing will arouse our passions.  It is only one who is dispassionate can say, not I , but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20), I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the [Orthodox] faith. (2 Tim 4:7)

Those who are able to perfect themselves like the hesychasts are those who are worthy of sincere communion with God.  These are  the people who we call saints.  Once achieving this state, they do not normally remain in an isolated state, but are sent by God to serve others who are seeking salvation.  They become guides and work miracles.

The last sentence in the last chapter on the ascent in the Path to Salvation reads as follows:
We know nothing higher or earth than this Apostolic state.  Here we conclude our overview of the order of a God-pleasing life. The next level of text of instruction would be the Philokalia and the Ladder of Divine Ascent.

May you all become a saint!

Now back to the work most of us need to do, so we can advance to this advanced state.  It is a narrow path demanding heroic struggles. May God support you in your journey.

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