I’ve been immersing myself in the Orthodox hesychast tradition lately. The hesychast tradition has been one of my interests since converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, but as of late I’ve focused particularly on hesychia as a method of prayer, meditation, and physical and mental discipline. What makes the hesychast tradition unique in Christianity is that its history is not defined by theological discourse and abstraction, but by praxis. A theological justification for hesychasm came much later, and only due to necessity as its Orthodoxy was called into question by the philosopher Barlaam among others. My next few posts will highlight some of the wisdom passed down from some of the great teachers of hesychasm. It is noteworthy that in the Patristic tradition the word usually translated into English as “mind” is the Greek word nous. I find our modern use of “mind” to be very heady and intellectual and not helpful in understanding what the Fathers were getting at when they referred to the nous. A more precise translation of nous would be “the eye of the heart” or “the eye of the soul.”

Evagrius of Pontus (346-349)

“Prayer is continual intercourse of the mind with God.”
“Pray first for the gift of tears so that by means of sorrow you may soften your native rudeness. Then having confessed your sins to the Lord you will obtain pardon for them.”

“Stand resolute, fully intent on your prayer. Pay no heed to the concerns and thoughts that might arise the while. They do nothing better than disturb and upset you so as to dissolve the fixity of your purpose.”
“When the devils see that you are really fervent in our prayer they suggest certain matters to your mind, giving you the impression that there are pressing concerns demanding attention. In a little while they stir up your memory of these matters and move your mind to search into them.”

“Strive to render your mind deaf and dumb at the time of prayer and then you will be able to pray.”

“Pray not to this end, that your own desires be fulfilled. You can be sure they do not fully accord with the will of God.”

“Undistracted prayer is the highest act of the mind.”

“Prayer is an ascent of the mind to God . . .”

“First of all pray to be purified from your passions. Secondly, pray to be delivered from ignorance. Thirdly, pray to be freed from all temptation and abandonment.”

“If your mind still looks around at the time of prayer then it does not yet pray as a monk. You are no better than a man of affairs engaged in a kind of landscape gardening.”

“The state of prayer can be aptly described as a habitual state of imperturbable calm. It snatches to the heights of intelligible reality the mind which loves wisdom and which is truly spiritualized by the most intense love.”

“When you are praying do not fancy the Divinity like some image formed within yourself. Avoid also allowing your mind to be impressed with the seal of some particular shape, but rather, free from all matter, draw near to the immaterial Being and you will attain to understanding.”

“You will not be able to pray purely if you are all involved with material affairs and agitated with unremitting concerns. For prayer is the rejection of concepts.”

“The singing of Psalms quiets the passions and calms the intemperance of the body. Prayer, on the other hand, prepares the mind to put its own powers in operation.”

“A monk is a man who considers himself one with all men because he seems constantly to see himself in every man.”