Friday, June 1, 2012

The New Hesychasm (An Introduction)

     The Hesychasm of our fathers worked well for those in their time and circumstances. This does not mean it will work well for us. Even though the principles in Hesychasm remain the same we find that the way we experience life continues to change. This can often be discouraging for those looking for that deep relationship with God that their fathers had in the tradition. Also, most of what is written about Hesychasm comes from monastic perspectives that many can't relate to. On the other hand, there is nothing restricting the Hesychasm of our fathers to certain ways, times or a special class of people. As a result, we need to continually look for ways to bring the Hesychasm of our fathers into our modern experience.
     Hesychasm as it is defined in the Philokalia is “The science of sciences and art of arts (V1 pg.183). Being a science or an art opens Hesychasm to many different modes or applications. This is essential to understand if we want bring Hesychasm into our modern life experience. Even many of the fathers who practiced this tradition gave it their own personal flavor. There is even a great diversity on the meaning of the word. In our days most of Hesychasm is associated with the practices surrounding the Jesus Prayer and even in that there is a plentitude of diversity . Based on this, there is nothing stopping us from finding new ways to achieve our own Hesychia(stillness) as long as we keep to the same principles of the tradition.
      In trying to keep the principles of the tradition we need to look to the life of Christ.The Lord was the greatest Hesychast for stillness (hesychia) was a natural experience in his life. Many do not consider the fact that the Master assumed a human nature that was weakened and subjected to the consequences of sin, even though He never sinned. In embracing all that was truly human our Lord becomes a Hesychast. St. Maximos in the Philokalia demonstrates this when he speaks about the Lord having to ascetically adapt his humanity to his divinity(v2. pgs.146-147).This is where we find the basic principles in Hesychasm, which is conforming our human nature to the divine nature. However, what was natural for Christ becomes an act of Grace for us. It is through this grace that we learn the various ways to achieve godly Hesychia.
     In the human nature of Christ we find a constant state of Hesychia . There was no part of his human nature that was separated from his divine nature. However, this is not the case with us. Diadochos of Photiki explains this best when he teaches that the reality of the divine nature is fully available to us by grace, as it is "hidden" in the heart, but we are constantly distracted from our weak and sinful condition.(Philokalia v1 pg. 279).Consequently, the Hesychia necessary for encountering the divine nature will require an ongoing effort of purification. However, we are not without constant help and encouragement from God to find him in our hearts. There is no moment, event, or experience that can separate us from the opportunity of knowing the riches of the love of God that we experience through Hesychia(Romans 8:38-39).
     The challenge that we have in seeking Hesychia is how to do it. As I said what might of worked for our fathers might not work for us. Even sometimes certain ascetical practices associated with Hesychasm can be constrictive for certain people. For instance, in trying to help a 90 year old living on an oxygen tank it might not be a good idea for them to keep all night vigil, sleep on the ground, and use controlled breathing exercises. You probably would end up killing them. The same thing would go for someone who might be working 3 jobs to survive but desires to get the most out of the tradition. It is possible to discourage them with practices impossible for their circumstances. In contrast, God can use just about any effort we make to achieve stillness and certain traditions associated with Hesychasm are not always effective or needed. In fact, Nikolai Sorsky, who brought Hesychasm to modern Russia, instructed his monks to cease doing many of the practices associated with Hesychasm, even when others fathers of the past said not to. He recognized that Hesychia can be achieved in various ways and once the experience is achieved the work is no longer needed. His example is what we need to apply in our own practice of Hesychasm.
     Based on what we find in Hesychasm you could say we are all called to it. From the perspective of a spiritual science you can see a broad stream of its elements spread across all Christian spirituality. In its own context it has become one of the most developed of all Christian spiritual traditions and it continues to evolve. In its evolution we find it now being renewed. It's no doubt that modern media like the internet has made the tradition more accessible and provided ways for it to be rediscovered in our modern experience. As Byzantines we should learn to take advantage of this tradition, which is an essential part of our patrimony. For it is the time of The New Hesychasm, the time where the everyday man , just like the Hesychast of old, becomes the man who experiences the deep things of God.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Ric. We are all called to Holy Stillness indeed!

  2. Nil Sorsky, not Nikolai