HESYCHIA — “WATCHFUL, INNER STILLNESS IN PRAYER”
by Fr. Jonathan Hemmings
The monks of the Holy Mountain teach us that through ascetic practices we are able to perfect quietude of body and mind and to arrive at a vision of the Uncreated Light of the Godhead. The use of our prayer rope together with the Jesus prayer "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" is a means to achieve peace and sorrowful joy within the Christian Life.
We should use our sword or prayer rope at every opportunity because as Christian soldiers we fight on three fronts against the world, the flesh and the devil. When we mention the name of Jesus, (the name which is above all names), in faith we draw upon the Divine energy of God to calm our fears and to heal our troubled minds.
It may be that we are waiting at a bus stop and rather than wait with idle frustration we can use the time positively by employing our prayer rope in prayer — not in an ostentatious way but in order to quell our impatience, to bless God and to remember others who have asked us to pray for them. When we go to bed at night, before we lay ourselves down to sleep, then we can use our prayer rope again; offering all the unresolved conflicts, our missed opportunities, our failures … but also our thanks to God so that we may take our rest in peace. It is particularly beneficial for the soul to combine our prayer with fasting as it is so much more availing of the quiet we seek in our pressured and busy lives. We become more aware of God's time (chairos) which is infinite and are not so worried about man's time (chronos) which is created.
We say in the Holy Liturgy before the Great Entrance: "Let us now lay aside all the cares of this world." So much of our anxiety is caused through the fact that we want to put ourselves first and at the centre of God's universe. We want to follow our own desires, we want for ourselves power, status, money and those things which the evil one convinces us are necessary but as Christ said to Martha when she was anxious and fretful: "one thing is needful and Mary has chosen that greater part which shall not be taken away from her."
Even those who affirm Christ find it difficult to be his forgiven creatures-others find excuses for their sins, wanting to justify their selfish actions. We must recognise two things
The satan will use any means to do this, even, as the desert fathers teach us by appearing as an angel of light. We must allow God to be God, not to make the Almighty Creator in our image but to realise that we are made in His, with all the privileges and responsibilities that brings. Until we recognise these fundamental truths our strivings for hesychia will be in vain.
The Fathers teach us that the true theologian is the one who prays. Sometimes we find it difficult to pray but try … God listens to the broken hearted. If we find it impossible, ask someone to pray for you, go to the Icon of your patron saint or to the Panagia — the power of prayer and intercession is real and the response is quite disproportionate to our meagre offering or request. Prayer is that vital link with God our Creator, that intimate relationship which brings us life and which bears much fruit. Remember how our Lord Jesus says: "I am the Vine, you are the branches." The closer we are brought to Christ the greater our strength for we draw upon the Source of all Life … "Holy God, Holy and Strong, Holy and Immortal have mercy upon us." Then we will have strength to withstand the world the flesh and the devil.
So stay close to God through attending the Holy Liturgy, through prayer and fasting and by making use of your prayer rope and God will give you the peace which passes all understanding and the strength to face the problems of life.
One last thing … we cannot achieve holiness and quietude overnight. The desert fathers said that "if you see a young man ascending to heaven catch him by the heels and bring him down to earth. Remember, you were nine months in the womb of your mother before you saw the light of day, and even then you depended upon her to feed you, to care for you and to protect you: her nurturing and love is constant up until the present day. How much more does Our Heavenly Father feed us and keep us until we grow into the likeness of Christ His Son who is the Light of the World."