Wisdom from Mount Athos

Silouan the Athonite To believe in a God is one thing, to know God another.  ~ Silouan the Athonite



Badri Bajaj


Neerja Pande

“Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally),” they write. “Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting drawn into wallowing in a setback.”  ~  Badri Bajaj & Neerja Pande

I am one of those who hears Bajaj and Pande voicing important psychosocial aspects of the Jesus prayer. In my eyes, their points are not complete, nonetheless, their words express essential aspects of what the hesychastic traditions teach us. Their words voice part of what we are to express to those around us. Our forgiving, weeping and in our prays bearing up under the load of everyones need of joy in Christ is, in part, expressed by those researchers words.

Put another way, mindfulness “weakens the chain of associations that keep people obsessing about” their problems or failures, which increases the likelihood they will try again.  ~  Tom Jacobs

Tom Jacobs

Tom Jacobs

…contemplation is not a relaxation exercise


Fr. Carl Arico

…contemplation is not a relaxation exercise.”  ~  Fr. Carl J. Arico

 Nonetheless, my periods of awkwardly praying the Jesus Prayer are incredibly relaxing. As my body and mind calm, sleep isn’t a risk. Well, it does become a wonderful benefit when I pick up on this prayer as I lay down for the night. It is a powerful sleep aid to practice between 30 minutes on toward the hour before drifting into sleep. So then, am I violating what he voiced in, “The Cloud of Unknowing”?

Even as the soul of Christ had to descend into hell, before it ascended into heaven, so must the soul of man”  ~  Theologia Germanica

So then, where is this “hell” as I drift off into sleep, those evenings I prayer the Jesus prayer after laying down? My being lulled off to sleep as the prayer is repeated, in my eyes, isn’t a violation of Fr. Arico’s words, but rather is akin to Archimandrite Sophrony.

staretz-6The Lord taught me to stay my mind in hell and not despair.”  ~  Archimandrite Sophrony

Imagine Silouan’s statement, personally, There you are suffering in whatever your hell looks like, but are you doing so without any sense of self-abasement? Perhaps, you are condemning someone else for causing some kind of suffering. Should you be deriding yourself or blaming anyone else, in any fashion, for being there, then you don’t understand any of those quotes. None of life’s hellacious suffering or conflict are the problem. It is in this point that I have lived the least.

With those words, let me add what was built around that quote from “His Life is Mine”:

“There are two kinds of humility: human and divine.  The first finds expression in the ascetic’s conviction, ‘I am worse than all other men,’ and lies at the root of our prayer-life in the Name of Christ.  Without this humility the second kind, that of Christ and proper to God, will remain for ever out of reach.  Of this divine humility Staretz Silouan writes:

Archimandrite Sophrony

Archimandrite Sophrony

‘The Lord taught me to stay my mind in hell and not despair.  And thus my soul humbles herself; but this is not yet true humility, which there are no words to describe.  When the soul approaches the Lord she is afraid; but when she sees the Lord the beauty of His glory fills her with ineffable joy, and in the love of God and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit the earth is quite forgot.  This is the paradise of the Lord: all will live in love and their Christ-like humility will make every man happy to see others in greater glory.  The humility of Christ dwells in the lowly ones: they are glad to be the least of men.  The Lord gave me understanding of this.”  ~ Archimandrite Sophrony

Prayer in time

Raised, thinking of prayer as focused only in the immediate, I had no means of understanding that inadequacy. And so, better than 90% of my time in prayer was spent looking at my own and everyone else’s needs. I was understanding the idea of asking God for things, but no further. Only as I made it through most of my teenage years, did I begin comprehending the possibility that I might be wrong.

monk-praying-in-sunsetEvery bit of my future oriented prayers were cemented into how I was trained to understand what had yet to happen. Of course, those expectations were solidly seated in what I had been taught. Now, most of those teachings in one fashion or another are still present. My desires of those years past, I now see this childish. Asking of God that specific events work out in way I had learned to see in that way, now make little sense to me.

Then, somewhere during my Bible college years I began reading outside the norm. At first all I read were the Protestant academic critiques of the Roman Catholic Church’s fashions of prayer. It was the aesthetic styles of prayer which caught my attention. I still had no idea of what it meant to let go of my projections onto God’s creation and so onto myself. On top of that, I had no idea how to recognize my projections onto God versus God, Himself.

Only after my brief run as a self-proclaimed agnostic/atheist in the late 1980s did the ascetic lifestyle begin to sink in through the cracks. His fracking into my pretensions of self were causing unanticipated changes. At that level, I  am honestly grateful for that three or so year run as an agnostic/atheist.

In the early 1990s, as I began reentering Christendom, I discovered the Eastern Orthodox Church and the hesychastic styles of prayer. This discovery came as I read works by Keating, Merton, Pennington and Vogel. At first, I wasn’t conscious of the transformation, but have since become aware of those changes. This refashioning of the relationship, I thought, I had with God seemed easy, at first. However, as I attempted this entry through the contemplative prayer fashions of the Anglican and Roman Catholic fashions of faith I discovered a whole new problem. I discovered that it is difficult to let go of the pretense we all call self.

Saint Gregory Palamas

“Contemplation, then, is not simply abstraction and negation; it is a union and a divinisation which occurs mystically and ineffably by the grace of God, after the stripping away of everything from here below which imprints itself on the mind, or rather after the cessation of all intellectual activity; it is something which goes beyond abstraction (which is only the outward mark of the cessation).”  – Gregory Palamas, “The Triads”