[St. Pachomius Library]


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 Gregory Palamas.

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


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