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October 16, 2009

On Vigils and Sleep

- When the righteous Akakios, who did his ascesis in a desolate skete of Kafsokalyvia (Mount Athos), was asked to speak on sleep and vigil, he replied: "Half an hour of sleep is enough for a true monk!" He himself either stood up all night long or knelt, praying and chanting with great courage, in spite of the fact that he suffered from a hernia and was very old. He would sleep very little in the mornings, sometimes leaning on his arm or on anything else, long enough not to lose clarity of mind from extreme sleeplessness. He viewed sleep as a treacherous and undermining enemy of the soul. He said that nothing increases sinful desires more than excessive sleep. And nothing subdues them as much as sleeplessness.

- One monk made a bed with thick, knotted tree branches nailed sparsely together, without a mattress, so that he could not rest his body as well as it would have liked, and so that he could be awakened easily. He slept no more than four hours a day.

- Even the blessed St. Gregory Palamas had an ongoing battle against the flesh and sleep. For three whole months in his hermitage above the Holy Monastery of Lavra he remained sleepless and in prayer. He did, however, then interrupt this ascetic labour so that his mind might not be harmed by too extended a vigil.

- The Athonite Russian, St. Silouan the New, who was canonized in 1987, was born in 1866 and died in 1938. He was a monk of St. Panteleimon's Monastery. He lived a righteous and pure life of universal love, unceasing prayer, and humility. His life came to a peaceful end in peace, and he left behind the memory of a holy man. His biography was written by Archimandrite Sophronios, the hegumen of the Holy Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of the Honoured Forerunner in England.

St. Silouanos, among his many virtues, laboured especially for sleeplessness, as he knew from experience how much it contributes to attaining cleansing of mind, uplifting in prayer and cultivation of joyful mourning. He would not lie on a bed to sleep; instead he would spend the entire night praying, either standing up or sitting on a stool. He would sleep for only fifteen to twenty minutes and then rise again to pray. He would rest again later, intermittently. His entire sleep in twenty-four hours would total only two hours.

- We asked the blind elder Simeon the Kafsokalyvitan: "How can the soul be cleansed from impure thoughts, desires and other passions?" and he replied: "By not knowing what it is like to get any sleep."

- In an Iviritan skete there lived a most pious hieromonk, Gerasimos the Hymnographer. When he was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy the next day, he would stay awake all night long in reading and in prayer. God took him away at a young age. His brief life had been very full, for he had pleased the Lord.

- A struggling hermit said: "By sleeping a lot, our mind becomes opaque."

- Hadji-Giorgis rested standing up at his bench in the church all night long. He hardly knew his cell. He devoted his entire days to his suffering brothers and his nights to prayer.

- One day a young monk asked Father N., who was 86 years old: "Elder, how many hours should a monk sleep?"

"Listen, my brother: St. Theodore the Studite and St. Symeon the New Theologian say that four to five hours a day should be enough sleep. But Abba Arsenios in the Gerontikon declares that for a labouring monk, one hour of sleep should be sufficient. St. Akakios the Kafsokalyvitan used to say that 'I find half an hour of sleep not enough, but if the saints say so ... we should try it'."

"And you, how long do you rest?"

"My brother, what is the need for such a question?"

"For my benefit and for the love of Christ, tell me."

"I'll tell you. One hour in twenty-four is enough."

"Do you sleep one hour through or with interruptions?"

"With interruptions of course! A quarter of an hour, here or there."

"And how is your time spent?"

"Unfortunately, now that I have a double hernia, I do not stand to read the Psalter or the Gospels and to say the Jesus Prayer."

"The entire Psalter and New Testament?"

"Naturally, the entire ones."

"Every day?"

"Every day, every day. The only thing is, I cannot read standing up any more. That is what happens with old age."

- An elder said: "Sleep should become a servant, not a master."

- An Hagiorite conclusion:
It is not possible for a spiritual life to exist without vigil. According to his contemporaries, Elder Artemios the Gregoriatan never sat down on his chair during any service, including the all-night vigils. Until his death, he remained an upstanding steadfast pillar of the Church and of prayer.