The Jesus Prayer: Hesychaism for the rest of us



Hesychia is the Greek word often translated into English to mean the spiritual stillness necessary for prayer. Archimandrite Vlachos, in his book Orthodox Psychotherapy, defines a hesychast as, “A person who is struggling in an atmosphere of stillness.”[1] The Philokalia defines hesychia as, “a state of inner tranquility or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of the heart and intellect. Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him.”[2] This kind of listening prayer is hesychastic because it requires a silencing of the mind. Bishop KALLISTOS says again, “True inner prayer is to stop talking and to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart; it is to cease doing things on our own and to enter into the action of God.”[3] He further develops the importance of listening in silence as prayer when he says,

To achieve silence: This is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer. Silence is not merely negative – a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech – but, properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive alertness of vigilance, and above all listening. The hesychast, the person who has attained hesychia, inner stillness or silence, is par excellence, the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his own but that of Another speaking within him.[4]

Some teachers suggest that if we are able, we spend a half hour of wordless sitting, begun by asking God to teach us to pray, or a Bible quote. Usually this is best done in the morning, upon rising or before noon. If the person is able, a block of the some quiet time is also recommended for the evening. Hopefully, all this is worked out with the direction of a spiritual guide.

It is well attested in the Philokalia, and other more modern works on the Jesus Prayer, that there is an automatic component to the prayer where the repeating continues on a sub-conscious level.[5] The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of silent listening where there can be an awareness of God’s presence. This silent attention required to pray the Jesus Prayer can be at times gentle and at other times more akin to a wrestling match.

The Jesus Prayer does not harbor any secrets in itself, nor does its practice reveal any esoteric truths.[20] Instead, as a hesychastic practice, it demands setting the mind apart from rational activities and ignoring the physical senses for the experiential knowledge of God. It stands along with the regular expected actions of the believer (prayer, almsgiving, repentance, fasting etc.) as the response of the Orthodox Tradition to St. Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).[6][9] It is also linked to the Song of Solomon’s passage from the Old Testament: “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2) [5]. The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God’s presence in their lives.

COMING UP NEXT: The Jesus Prayer: Breathing and Posture

[1] Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Psychotherapy: Science of the Fathers. Birth of the Theotokos Monastery: Levadia, Greece. 1994. Page 326.

[2] St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain, The Philokalia: Volume Four. Faber and Faber Limited, London. 1995. Page 435.

[3] KALLISTOS, Page 2.

[4] Bishop KALLISTOS, The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality. SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation: Fairacres, Oxford. Page 1. Also found in his Inner Kingdom. St. Vladimir’s Press: Crestwood, NY.2000. Page 97.


1 Comment

Filed under Contemplative Prayer, The Jesus Prayer

One response to “The Jesus Prayer: Hesychaism for the rest of us

  1. More about the prayer of silence by Metropolitan JONAH:

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