The Mystery of Hesychia
After publishing something about the Elder Ephraim I am now returning to sharing more from the writings of Archimandrite Zacharias on topics which I have found quite edifying. In his book The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart he has a Chapter entitled: “The Mystery of Hesychia”. As a subtitle he quotes the Psalms (46:10), “Be ye still and know that I am God”. And so, he writes:
Sunday is the day of the Lord. It was prescribed in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New, that on one day we should rest from all other work, abiding in the presence of God in prayer and contemplation of His word. Through this we gather the strength and grace of the Holy Spirit necessary to perform our earthly activities during the rest of the week. The same occurs at every feast. The center of the feast is the saint whom we honour, before whom we stand in prayer, and from whom we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.
It is precisely for this reason that the Church has appointed Sundays and feasts. Of course, Sundays have more consequence than all other feasts, except those of the Lord Himself. However, Just as Sundays were established so that we might draw strength for the rest of the week and perform our work in a way that is pleasing to God, so the Church also instituted feasts throughout the year in order to intensify this phenomenon. Otherwise, submerged as we are in the turmoil of this world as in a sea of cares, we easily lose the strength and inspiration that we have received from God. We have feasts, therefore, so as to give ourselves over to the same endeavour which we undertake every Sunday, that is, to be still and keep this precious time of stillness, so as to receive God’s help and to be able to know Him more deeply. (pp. 264-5)
Making use of Father’s words as a foundation I would like to comment further about the need of stillness. Although it is Sundays and feasts that point the way for us, we all, of course, need some quiet time each day to take a rest from “the cares of life” (Luke 21:34). We need to empty ourselves of the things of this world so that we can become more open and receptive to God. It is interesting to take note of the Slavonic word for “be ye still”, it is one word oupraznityesya. It does literally mean to be empty or vacant, and the word Russians use for feast is a form of this word “praznik”. And when they greet each other on a feast it is again a form of this word: “spraznikom” which literally translated means, “with the feast”. Yet not only feast days but each day of our lives we should try to find time to “be still” or empty of the cares of this life so that we may become receptive to God.
We see the same thought in one of the desert fathers, Abba Cronius:
A brother said to Abba Cronius, ‘Speak a word to me.’ He said to him, ‘When Elisha came to the Sunamite, he did not find her busy with anyone else. So she conceived and bore a child through the coming of Elisha.’ (2Kings 4) The brother said to him, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it and it can conceive because it is free to do so.’ (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers translated by Benedicta Ward, Mowbrays London and Oxford 1975, p.98)
Let us keep this in mind—that to be still and receptive to God is our aim as we set aside some personal quiet time each day for prayer and the reading of books of the Church. Although for “the spirit of God to invade the soul” is rare, and happens to the advanced, yet we should hope to develop an awareness or remembrance of God. This should grow within us and become more and more an everyday part of our lives; we should carry away within us the remembrance of God when we depart from our quiet time. So let us end with a few more words of Fr. Zacharias to inspire us to run in this direction:
One monk used to say: ‘From the beginning of my monastic life, I never envied the Apostles, I never envied the holy Hierarchs of the Church, not even the Martyrs, although it is so great to give your whole life in one moment in exchange for the life of God. I have only envied those holy monks who lived all their life with their mind in their heart. They live a continuous miracle day and night, the miracle of the changes of the heart. This is true inspiration, plentitude and abundance of life. This, above all else, is befitting to God. All the saints are great in the sight of God, but I only envied those holy monks who were able to live their whole life in God’s presence with their mind united to their heart. May God grant us, even in part, such a state.’ (The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart p. 276)