Hesychasm: The Principle Fruit
What is on our mind when we think of Hesychasm or someone we could call a hesychast? What do we imagine the fruit to be that a hesychast acquires? In the last post we read a comment of Archimandrite Peter: “The essence of Hesychasm lies in the guarding of the heart from all alien influence.” What does “guarding the heart from all alien influence” lead to? The Psalmist tell us: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psa. 45:11). If one “guards the heart from all alien influence” and “becomes still” then a place is made ready for God to manifest Himself and act within a person, within his heart. The person is then able to progress in acquiring knowledge of God, not through intellectual study but through a participation of God’s action within, again, within the heart. Such a man acquires “actual” not “factual” knowledge of God. For true theology is “the narration of important occurrence which is the encounter between the spirit of man and the living God.” 1 But what is the knowledge one will acquire? In short St. John the Theologian tells us “God is love” (I John 4:8).
What is it then, that comes to pass within a man who has “actual” knowledge of the love of God, who has come ‘to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19)? What is the content of his heart? In order to make an attempt to answer this we must refer to those who have had such an experience. So I will go on to refer to both Sts. Silouan the Athonite, his spiritual child, Sophrony of Essex, and—continuing this spiritual family line—his spiritual child, Archimandrite Zacharias. In addition I will also refer to St. Joseph the Hesychast his spiritual child Joseph the Younger—or of Vatopedi.
Over and over again in the writings of St. Silouan he tells us that he knows the love of God through the Holy Spirit. He experienced a vision of our Lord Jesus Christ early on in his monastic life and St. Sophrony relates of this, “the gentle gaze of the joyous, all-forgiving, boundlessly-loving Christ drew Simeon’s (St. Silouan’s name before his monastic tonsure) entire being to Himself.” St. Silouan experienced the “love of Christ which surpasses knowledge”. Concerning “the love of Christ”, Archimandrite Zacharias writes:
“It is this love that is expressed in hypostatic prayer for the salvation of the whole world, which follows the example of the Lord, the New Adam, which He prayed in Gethsemane before going to His voluntary and saving Passion. If, by the grace of Christ, man embraces the entire world in prayer and brings every creature before God in intercession, it is a sign that God’s pre-eternal plan has been accomplished in a complete and perfect fashion, and that he is now ‘in the image and likeness of God’.” 2
Based on his own experience of knowing Christ as a Person, St. Sophrony tells us something about Him, that is, the Person of Christ. Only a few days before his repose he stated:
“The content of the Person of Christ is His self-emptying love unto the end by which He accomplished the salvation of the world.
“Man likewise proves himself a person when he acquires love for God to the point of self-hatred,3 pure prayer which accompanies this, and prayer for the world similar to Christ’s prayer at Gethsemane.”
Fr. Zacharias comments on this as follows:
“In this state of hypostatic prayer or prayer for the world, the mind of Christ is transmitted to man and his heart is enlarged to embrace heaven and earth and to bring before God every creature. Thus the true calling of man is to become a true hypostasis, a true person in the image of Christ’s Person, a new Adam bearing in himself the whole of humanity and presenting it before God in intercession for salvation.” 4
So to become a true person or hypostasis in the image of Christ’s Person (or Hypostasis) is to acquire His self-emptying love unto the end. Hypostatic prayer then, is the prayer of a person who has lulled the passions, and undergone a divine transformation to the point that he is in the image of Christ’s Person, the content of Whom is self-emptying love unto the end. How does such a person pray? He bears in himself the whole of humanity presenting it before God in intercession for salvation. When he prays he holds all of mankind in his heart. St. Sophrony, of course, experienced this and so he used the term “hypostatic prayer” to express this experience of his. In St. Silouan we see a superlative example of this. Archimandrite Zacharias writes of him:
“There could be no distinction between enemies and friends for Saint Silouan, as the Lord imparted to him the ‘enlargement’ of His love when He appeared to him. Thus he could not bear that even one person, even one creature, be absent from his heart, in which case he would have considered his hypostasis mutilated and without any likeness to that of the Lord of Glory as he had known Him at the time of his vision. All the peoples of the earth, the whole Adam, from the beginning of time to the end of the world, were the content of his heart and their salvation was the entreaty of his unceasing prayer.” 5
Accordingly St. Sophrony in instructing his monastics has “said that even one evil thought against our brother ‘causes a crack in the wall of our spiritual stronghold.’” Fr. Zacharias comments on this: “Why is it that, as Elder Sophrony drew to our attention, one evil thought causes a crack in the wall of our spiritual fortification? It is because when we stir up negative thoughts about our brother and we remove him from our heart then we mutilate our being. Our unity is contained in this understanding: to hold all in our heart and avoid even the least negative thought for our fellows.” 6
In the teaching of St. Sophrony, as related by Fr. Zacharias, this should be our common aim: “each of us when we stand before God, should carry in our hearts all of our brethren.” 7 (to be continued…)
1. Man the Target of God, Archimandrite Zacharias, Mount Thabor Publishing 2016, pp100-101
2. The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, Archimandrite Zacharias, Monastery of St. John the Baptist Essex, 2017, p. 61
3. Love of God is mentioned first and then “self-hatred” as its offspring. This is sometimes manifested in neglecting bodily needs or stricter asceticism. The utmost manifestation of this is what we see in the Holy Apostle Paul, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.” (Rom. 9:3) There is no longer a desire for one’s own salvation but one could wish (or pray) that he would be lost and another saved in his place.
4. Man the Target of God p. 147
5. The Engraving of Christ in Man’s Heart, p. 54
6. ibid. p. 20
7. ibid. p. 20