Hesychasm: The Principle Fruit (conclusion)

Hesychasm: The Principle Fruit (Conclusion)

On this subject of the fruit of hesychasm—as was stated in the first part of this article—we will now turn to the experience of St. Joseph the Hesychast and his disciple Joseph the Younger. In relating his Elder’s teaching on prayer he emphasizes the experience of love for God and neighbor as a characteristic of “the grace of true prayer”. I believe this emphasis had its source in the fruit he himself experienced in prayer. The seed of this was planted early in his monastic life through the prayers of St. Joseph as he has related.

In the summer of 1947 Joseph the Younger made a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain. It was then that he met St. Joseph the Hesychast and asked to be received as a disciple. At first St. Joseph refused him, but when he continued begging with tears, the elder decided to pray about it and did accept him. Two years later, in August of 1949, one day after lunch St. Joseph said to him with a smile, “Tonight I will send you a little parcel. Make sure you don’t lose it!” Joseph’s fellow disciple, Elder Ephraim, recorded what he said about that night:

“I do not remember how I started off, but I know very well that I had just begun and had not pronounced the name of our Christ many times before my heart was filled with love for God. Suddenly it increased so much that I was no longer praying, but wondering in amazement at this outpouring of love. I wanted to embrace and kiss all people and the whole of creation, and at the same time I was so humble in my thoughts that I felt I was the lowest of all creatures. But the fullness of the flame of love was for Christ, whom I experienced as present.”1

The young Monk Joseph tells us what happened when he met his Elder after this:

As soon as he saw me he began to smile, and before I could make a reverence he said, “You see how sweet our Christ is? Do you understand in practice what it is that you keep asking me about? Now exert yourself forcibly to make this grace your possession, and don’t let negligence steal it away from you.” At once I fell at his feet and said with tears: “I’ve seen it Geronta; unworthy as I am of all creation, I have seen the grace and love of our Christ, and now I understand the boldness of the Fathers and the power of prayers.” 2

St. Joseph told his young disciple, “exert yourself forcibly to make this grace your possession” because such grace is received, “in earthen vessels” (IICor. 4:7) which are subject to sin and passions. It takes years even decades for one to be purified and then, to the degree that one is free from the dominion of sin over him, the grace one has received becomes manifest and active within. 3

Joseph the Younger writes about progress in prayer and the fruit thereof in the chapter, “On prayer”, in his book concerning his elder, St. Joseph the Hesychast. So he tells us:

“Protracted and Uninterrupted prayerful attention of the heart—which is the most difficult of all ascetic exercises and struggles—produces permanent sensation within the heart. In parallel, the mind with its incessant mourning also regains its natural illumination, becoming a ‘Christ-mind’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16); upon which the experience of God abiding and acting within him, transports the small and limited human being to the sphere of Godlikeness. ‘I say, You are gods and sons of the Most High, all of you’ (Ps. 82:6). In consequence, as an ecumenical totality (or “as an all inclusive completeness”) he contains his neighbor within himself and communes with him, ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep’, as the Apostle puts it.” (Rom. 12:15) 4

Elsewhere he writes:

“The paternal quality (or “characteristic”) of the grace of true prayer experienced by the Elder was crowned by his communion with the suffering of all mankind, something that we saw him living out intensely and almost continuously. Many times we would see him immersed calmly in himself and he seemed not to be with us; then his expression would change, and in a sorrowful manner he would sigh gently. ‘What the matter Elder?’ we would ask out of youthful curiosity. ‘Someone is suffering children’, he would say. The confirmation of this would come a few days later, when we received a letter describing some incident that had occurred. ‘How does it happen Elder, that those who pray more are more communal that other people?’—because we could see that such people felt everyone to be their neighbor and communed with each person in a very practical way, despite the fact that these men of prayer are virtually hidden and unknown. He then gave us to understand, in his own words, the universality of prayer, the chief bearer of ecumenicity (this term is superlative in the Greek and implies the bringing together or connecting the universe). Through prayer the unity of all in God is realized in a more prefect way as everything is brought to unity with Christ and to communion with God. Perhaps at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself in the subtle philosophical terms of theology when speaking of these subjects which he ‘underwent’.” 5

Although Joseph the Younger says, “at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself” I believe, “the universality of prayer” is further explained in the following excerpt:

“The Elder used to tell us that the experience of love for one’s neighbor is revealed to him who prays in truth; and more specifically, ‘When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God so that he can no longer bear what he experiences. Afterwards this love turns toward the world and man, whom he comes to love so much that he seeks to take upon himself the whole of human pain and misfortune so that everyone else might be freed from it. In general he suffers with every grief and misery, and even for dumb animals, so that he weeps when he thinks that they are suffering. These are the properties of love, but it is prayer that activates them and calls them forth. This is why those who are advanced in prayer do not cease to pray for the world. To them belongs the continuation of life, however strange and audacious this may seem. And you should know that if such people disappear, then the end of this world will come.’” 6

Joseph the Younger concludes this Chapter as follows:

“Prayer alone can include within it and encompass what is far off and what is scattered, making them one (cf. John 17:22), and can bind together members that are at odds with each other, that they may recognize his neighbor as members of one another who nevertheless live separately. Prayer for human suffering in general shows love, as does prayer for the enlightenment of those who have gone astray and for their return and repentance and knowledge of God. But prayer for enemies is the climax of the rational perfection of beings in whom ‘what is mortal is swallowed up by life’ (cf. 1Cor. 15:54). Those who pray for their enemies, becoming and remaining deified, reflect in their godlike character that godly property of praying ‘if it were possible, to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of these brethren who have wronged me!’ (cf. Rom. 9:3). This also is the last word of our Lord on the Cross, as He prays for those who have crucified Him”. (cf. Luke 23:34)7

We can see a parallel between Saint Joseph the Hesychast and his disciple Joseph the Younger; and St. Silouan the Athonite and his disciple St. Sophrony the Athonite who reposed in Essex, England. Again and again, St. Silouan says that he was taught the love of God by the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph says, “When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God.” St. Sophrony affirmed that love for enemies and prayer for enemies is criteria for truth. Fr. Zacharias has further commented: “This shows that we are progressing properly in the spiritual life.” Likewise Jospeh the Younger verifies: “prayer for enemies is the climax of the rational perfection of beings in whom ‘what is mortal is swallowed up by life’”. Therefore we could conclude that love in a reason endowed creature in a fallen world takes the form of intercession. So let us examine ourselves to see what state we find ourselves in a life in Christ and ever strive for that which is higher. Amen.

1. My Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Ephraim, p. 299
2. ibid. pp. 299-300
3. St. Sophrony explains this magnificently in the chapter “Grace and Consequent Dogmatic Consciousness” in his book on St. Silouan
4. Elder Joseph the Hesychast by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, 1999 The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, p. 202
5. ibid. pp. 200-201
6. ibid. pp. 206-7
7. ibid. pp. 208