June 13, 2015

Athonite Neo-Hesychast Fathers (1 of 3)

By Monk Moses the Athonite

After the 18th century revival, with the actions of the neo-hesychast movement of the so-called Kollyvades, and its venerable pioneers, such as Paisius Velichkovsky (+ 1794), another Gregory of Sinai (+ 1346) that occupied himself with translations and missionary work throughout the Balkans; Nikodemos the Hagiorite (+ 1809), the wise teacher and new Gregory Palamas (+ 1359); Makarios Notaras and former Metropolitan of Corinth (+ 1805), another Holy Photios (+ 899); and Athanasios Parios (+ 1813), the irresistible defender of correct doctrine who was like another Mark the Evgenikos (+ 1445), we have a chorus of virtuous friends of noetic prayer.

First of all there were the exiled and revered Kollyvades who labored richly in the Aegean islands and other places and brought to many people the fragrance of the Athonite scent, called noetic exercise, noetic prayer, the prayer of Jesus, namely the repetition of the name "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me," with some minor variations. Below we will present some of the Athonite neo-hesychast fathers.

In 1851 the book Neptic Theoria was published, which comprises of "twenty discourses by an anonymous Athonite who is called Hopeless, to be precise, describing through experience what he learned and did, the manner of initiation and instruction towards progress and non-delusional perfection and unfinished noetic work, which according to the exquisite Venerable Fathers was sent from above, called noetic prayer, to have it handy for all those who desire to enter into this sacred struggle which will quickly (through struggle) introduce us into the heavenly Kingdom of Christ God." With a simple but eloquent way, the unaspiring, humble, anonymous author - some identify him with the famous hesychast Papa Chariton the Hermit (+ 1906) - wants to help the workers of prayer and informs how to prepare for this: "With everlasting fasting, immeasurable suffering and discomfort of the body, and excessive humility." The humble, he says and insists, "has a heart that is humbled and crushed from the violence of the prayer, whereupon he willingly enters into the church, and immediately is grabbed and encompassed by a real and lively reverence towards God and to the divine, and divine reverence encompasses him to such an extent, that he himself understands its energy, because it appears to him and he is convinced that he stands not in this earthly church, but it seems from his joy that he is standing in the Jerusalem above."

The hieromonk Arsenios the Spiritual Father (+ 1846) was from Russia and lived twenty-five years with rigorous asceticism in cells of Iveron Monastery and others. Wednesday and Friday he would completely starve, the other days he would eat alone, and for many years he never partook of food with oil. At night he would sleep very few hours, and even then he would sleep while sitting. He performed noetic prayer elaborately. His Divine Liturgies were always full of tears. He loved to speak, if he ever spoke, only about prayer. He preferred to give rather than take. When people honored him he truly suffered. His submissive Nicholas (+ 1840) lived the same way of life and asceticism. His disciples could not bear his great poverty. The only thing he insisted on was the observation of the rule of prayer, continuous remembrance of God, and the invocation of His holy Name. He had a venerable repose.

Elder John (+ 1843) was also Russian in origin. He learned under the famous starets Paisius Velichkovsky in Neamt Monastery in Moldavia, which contained nearly a thousand monks. The Starets would accept near him anyone who could endure his privations, just to increase mouths that would prayerfully sing to God. The primary work of the Starets, as Elder John said, was teaching the purification of the heart and nous, through the unceasing prayer of Jesus. John cut off his finger, in order not to be ordained and thus lose the tranquility of his beloved prayer. For years he lived in the Athonite wilderness doing his handiwork and praying. Here is how he describes his state: "My heart was encompassed with unspeakable joy and the prayer began to act on its own. It brought me such sweetness, that it would not let me sleep. I would sleep one hour a day, and even then while sitting - and then I would get up as if I didn't need sleep - 'I slept but my heart was awake' (Song of Songs 5:2). ... Inexpressible love was born within me - if I wanted, I could weep without stopping ... Often at night I would get up to read the Psalms, saying the prayer of Jesus and falling into ecstasy. I didn't know if I was inside the body or outside the body, I don't know; only God knows. When I recovered it was already dawn."

Elder Daniel (+ 1879) lived in secluded parts of Mount Athos with a very stubborn and difficult Elder and had many privations, to whom he was completely obedient. To his few visitors, after the death of his Elder, he would say: "I only hope in the mercy of God and the prayers of my Elder. How else can I be justified?" He would often say: "I only ask for the mercy of God and therein do I only hope." To those who would insist on receiving his advice, he would say: "When a person is found in difficulty, they turn to God with tears and He comforts them." Once he said: "Whoever has tasted the fruits of quietude is able to stay in meditation and prayer for more than three days."

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.