A spiritual discipline that prepares the body and soul for union with God,
hesychasm, if followed correctly, conquers the passions. A theology and
discipline of the Eastern church, its practices are rooted in the
traditions of the The Desert Fathers and its theology in the writings of
fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa. The fullest
expression of the theology of hesychasm is found in the writings of
Hesychasm is also called the prayer of the heart because the constant
awareness of God joins mind and heart; the repetition of the Jesus prayer
ceases to be a conscious mental activity and becomes as autonomic as one's
heartbeat. Hesychasts also control their breathing while praying so that
body and soul are united in prayer. The involvement of body and soul is
important because man was created whole; the enmity of soul and body is a
result of the fall of man. To its opponents, hesychasm seems mechanistic,
but heschasts themselves say the process is not automatic or magical. The
fruits are a gift from God; experience of the uncreated light or union
with God depends upon the free will of both in the relationship.
Karen Rae Keck
- See also:
Way of a Pilgrim;
The Place of the Heart --
An Introduction to Orthodox Spirituality, (1989).
Fr. Olivier Clément:
The Roots of Christian Mysticism, (1995).
New York: New City, 1995.
More than the title suggests: a guide to
ascetical and spiritual practice.
- Vladimir Lossky:
Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, (1944).
Crestwood: SVS, 1976.
The most important XX Century work on apophatic theology in
general and St. Dionysius in particular; considered by many to be
an example of a modern text which will eventually be viewed as
patristic in its own right.
- Violet MacDermot:
The Cult of the Seer in the Ancient Middle East --
A Contribution to Current Research on Hallucinations Drawn
from Coptic and Other Texts,
A very peculiar book with a completely misleading title:
it is concerned almost exclusively with the spiritual
practice of the Desert Fathers, and nearly half the book
is primary sources in translation. Written at the height
of XX Century scientific interest in "altered states of
awareness", it cautions against assuming that one can milk the
patristic literature for tips on how such states may be
attained. The emphasis on ascetic experience as part of
the "history of medicine" gives the book a rather odd
flavour, but it is interesting nonetheless. Read with caution.
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