Kallistos Ware on Hesychia and the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is one of the world's preeminent Eastern Orthodox spiritual writers.  He often deals with the place of the Jesus Prayer in spiritual practice.  In his essay "Silence in Prayer:  the Meaning of Hesychia" he addresses the cultivation of interior stillness--that's basically what hesychia means--and how frequent recitation of the Jesus Prayer can contribute to achieving this stillness.  The essay is included in The Inner Kingdom:  Volume I of the Collected Works (2000, St Vladimir's Seminary Press), pp 99-102.


Prayer, it was said, is a "laying aside of thoughts," a return from multiplicity to unity.  Now when we first make a serious effort to pray inwardly, standing before God with the mind in the heart, immediately we become conscious of our inward disintegration--of our powerlessness to concentrate ourselves in the present moment, in the kairos.  Thoughts move restlessly through our head, like the buzzing of flies (St Theophan)or the capricious leaping of monkeys from branch to branch (Ramakrishna).  This lack of concentration, this inability to be here and now with the whole of our being, is one of the most tragic consequences of the Fall.

What is to be done?  The Orthodox ascetic tradition distinguishes two main methods of overcoming "thoughts".  The first is direct, to "contradict" our logismoi [errant thoughts], to meet them face to face, attempting to expel them by an effort of will...It is safer to employ the second method...we can seek to direct our attention away from them and to look elsewhere...our immediate objective is not to empty our mind of what is evil but rather to fill it with what is good.

...Although we cannot make the never-idle mind desist altogether from its restlessness, what we can do is to simplify and unify its activity by continually repeating a short formula of prayer.  The flow of images and thoughts will persist, but we shall be enabled gradually to detach ourselves from it...

...This, then, is the ascetic strategy presupposed in the use of the Jesus Prayer.  It assists us in applying the second or oblique method of combating  thoughts:  instead of trying to obliterate our corrupt or trivial imaginings by a direct confrontation, we turn aside and look at the Lord Jesus; instead of relying on our own power, we take refuge in the power and grace that act through the Divine Name.  The repeated invocation helps us to detach ourselves from the ceaseless chattering of our logismoi.

...First, to achieve its purpose the invocation should be rhythmical and regular...

In the second place, during the recitation of the Jesus Prayer the mind should be so far as possible empty of mental pictures.

Bulgakov on the Sanctification of the Cosmos  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944) was a Russian Orthodox priest and theologian.  The son of a priest, he went through an atheist phase during his university days--his degree was in economics--but was later reconciled to the Church.  Shortly after his ordination he was expelled from Russia by the Bolshevik regime.  He eventually made his way to Paris, where there was a thriving White Russian exile community, and helped establish the Institute St Serge, an Orthodox theological school.  His theological writings are often complex and sometimes controversial.  He survived an accusation of heresy over his concept of "sophiology".  Bulgakov's intriguing ideas on eschatology are more accessible and can be found in his book The Bride of the Lamb.  They are discussed in some detail on the excellent Eclectic Orthodoxy site.  Bulgakov is quite clear that at the end of the age not only will people be resurrected and deified, but that the physical universe will in some sense be divinized as well (though this should not be taken to imply pantheism).  The quote below comes from pp 404-405 of the book. 


...prior to the parousia this sanctification and deification remain incomplete and preliminary, for the action of the Holy spirit ends with the parousia; the whole power of the Pentecost is revealed to the world.  The world is sanctified, deified, and glorified by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the parousia arrives by virtue of this action of the Pentecost.  It is impossible to say what comes before and what after, for this is a single act that occurs both in heaven and on earth, signifying the end of God's kenosis and the beginning of the world's deification.  The Father sends the Son into the world and, secondarily as it were, He sends with Him the Holy Spirit for the joint accomplishment of the parousia and the transfiguration of the world.  The Son wills again to carry out the will of the Father, this time by a conclusive and universal act, in order to accomplish the salvation of the world and to "unite the things of earth with those of heaven", as the liturgical hymn says.

The Abbot as Spiritual Father in Benedict's Rule  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The abbot looms very large in Benedict's monastic Rule.  Rather than a mere ecclesiastical administrator, he is expected to act as a spiritual father to all of his monks.  This is acknowledged to be a very heavy burden, for which the abbot will be held to account after his death.  Chapters 2 and 64 of the Rule deal specifically with the abbot's authority and responsibilities, but his functions are referred to throughout the document.  His role as spiritual father has deep roots in the New Testament and in earlier monastic writers.  This is discussed in some detail in Appendix 2 of RB 1980:  The Rule of St Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, Timothy Fry, OSB, ed., Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, 1981.  The excerpt is found on pp 355-356.


Clearly, the RB and the [Rule of the Master] are in the tradition of spiritual fatherhood.  We have seen that this, and the use of the title abba to designate the bearer of it, originated in Egypt, so far as our documentation permits us to judge, and first flourished among the semi-anchoritic elders.  It is probably the full-blown development of the charisms of prophecy and teaching that had been exercised by holy men in Christian communities from the beginning.  When cenobitism developed, the spiritual fatherhood of the abba was extended to a greater number of disciples.  In the Pachomian institute, new elements were added, notably the emphasis upon the importance of the koinonia, and adjustments such as the introduction of subordinates had to be made when the number of disciples increased.  But, while these differences may have altered the manner in which the abba's fatherhood was actually exercised, they did not change the essential relationship between abbot and monk-disciple.  The coenobium was an extension of the elder-disciple relationship on a scale that inevitably produced alterations, but this relationship remained the very essence of the cenobitic life.

The first thing that defines an abbot, then, is not his position at the head of a community or an institution but his relationship to persons.  He is a mediator between Christ and each of his monk-disciples.  It is through him that Christ reaches into the life of the monk:  his word and command come to the monk through the abbot's voice.  In him the monk must--by faith--see Christ personified and, as it were, newly made incarnate in quasi-sacramental fashion.  The entire purpose of this relationship is educative, in the sense of total spiritual formation.  The monastic tradition knew by experience how difficult it is for a Christian, despite good will, to follow God's law and come to salvation unaided.  The normal way of working out one's salvation is to learn from another human being who has himself made the journey and is able to guide another along the right path.  The abbot is primarily the spiritual father who provides such direction--this is his chief reason for being.  He is seen in terms of the biblical tradition of wisdom teacher, prophet and apostle, and of the concept of spiritual fatherhood that grew out of it in the early Church.

Since the father-analogy rests upon the transmission of teaching as primary analogue, the abbot's relationship to Christ, on the one hand, and to each monk, on the other, can also be described as doctor, 'teacher', but one who teaches a doctrine that he has himself received from Christ, the real Teacher.  The abbot is only a mediator.  The same may be said of the images of shepherd and steward:  these biblical metaphors also underscore the abbot's position as mediator.  His authority is delegated; he is functioning on another's behalf.  The coenobium exists in order to lead men to salvation by showing them Christ, his teaching and his will.  Any other goal it sets for itself is secondary and must remain subordinate to this supreme end.  It is a school, a place where people come together for their own formation at the hands of a master, a teacher qualified to guide them.  Its purpose is achieved to the extent that the ideal is realized in practice.  On the one hand, the abbot must be another Christ, a man of authentic and profound Christian conviction and experience, so thoroughly molded by the Word of God that his very being as well as his speech proclaims it unceasingly; a man with a clear understanding that his essential task is the formation of his disciples.  The monk, on the other hand, must not only come with this purpose in view but maintain it throughout his life, and, through all the dura et aspera, keep firm his faith that the abbot represents and functions as Christ for him.