Orthodox Hesychasm and Prayer of the Heart.

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Hesychia, stillness, empties us of all that is not God so that the Holy Name of God can unite us to God.  

The Hesycahast turns to see and sees to be the union that wisdom discerns when the eye of the heart is awake.  

Hesychast elders transmit this prayer of the Spirit in the heart, which the Apostle calls unceasing prayer.  This is not verbal prayer said without stopping but the Spirit’s unceasing prayer, bearing witness to Christ in our midst.

Hesychasm transmits prayer of the heart in the desert through purification, illumination and deification, turning the mind back into the seeing heart where God sees God in God, Holy Trinity dwelling in uncreated light of glory.  The holy fathers of the fourth century introduced verbal prayers and Church services when unceasing prayer of the heart was ceasing to be the norm and Pentecostal fire in the hearts of elders and saints was being lost or forgotten.  Although verbal prayer was continued in the monasteries long after prayer of the heart was forgotten, Hesychast elders never forgot that Church services were not pure prayer, nor were verbal prayers to be confused with prayer in Spirit and Truth.   Archimandrite Sophrony once said that when prayer of the heart wains, it is time for verbal prayer to return until the Spirit restores the heart to pure prayer.

The Palamite Councils of Constantinople in 1341, 1347 and 1351 canonised Orthodox Hesychasm but the Hagiorite Tome of August 1351 never condemned verbal prayer.  There is no war between prayer of the heart and verbal prayer because spiritual prayer is the fulfilment of literal prayer, not its enemy.  There has always been a place in Orthodox monasticism for both letter and spirit although persecution of hesychast saints by sincere orthodox fills many pages of the Synaxarion.  Orthodox saints have always known that love of enemies is the deep criterion of true Orthodoxy, as Saint Silouan the Athonite reminded us, so they pray for those who persecute them.  But wise Hesychasts step back from the compulsive drama of persecution and the persecuted when Name and Wisdom wed in the luminous stillness of God’s Holiest of Holies at centre.