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Hesychasm, Orthodox tradition

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    Posted: 15 Jun 2019 at 08:55
I am taking an online course on Hesychasm right now, Hesychia means stillness or silence.  The major work for (Orthodox Christian) Hesychasm is the Philokalia "love of beauty" in 5 volumes, written between the 3rd c AD and the 14 c. AD.
There was also a pagan Hesychia which is mentioned as something Ameinias taught Parmenides, Parmenides is the 5th c. BC, Ameinias and Hesychia is only known from a mention in "Lives of Eminent Philosophers" by Diogenes Laertius.  Diogenes Laertius is 1st or 2nd c. BC, and is our only 'dictionary of philosophers' surviving from antiquity.
To me, it validates that Hesychia was not just an Orthodox Christian phenomenon, but a wider human phenomenon.
Pagan religion in the 5th century BC, referred to daimons, which were spirits mainly of heroes, and could be positive and negative.  Those change to demons in the Orthodox religion, and of course, angels.  I am not sure how you get from one to the other.

The Hesychasts were mainly in the Palestine desert.


Edited by franciscosan - 30 Jun 2019 at 10:53
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Jun 2019 at 14:31
Stillness and silence will be effective and intensify the humble prayers. Chanting and the rhythmic breathing is gonna take you up out 'yo head, in a very kool way. The postures that I just read about seem a bit punishing. You are expected to deny some comfort and ignoring the cramping is possible and ads to the intensity and rewards.
Do they instruct you on releasing all the electricity that's created along your spine when you breath and chant/pray? IMHO-It's like a steam valve, the energy is beautiful it just has to be directed. 

Do you think Jesus prayed this way? 

Did ascesis go underground during the Byzantine Empire?
Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate. (J. R. R. Tolkien)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25 Jun 2019 at 15:07
So far, it is just reading, but the teacher intends to get into practice, we're in the 2nd out of 7 weeks.  The Philokalia (love of beauty), is the primary source for Hesychasm.  It is a collection of writers going from the 4th c. to the 14th c. (?).  We're talking about monks and hermits in the Palestinian desert, maybe Mt. Athos later on.

I don't know if Jesus prayed that way, but Hesychasm in some form was around since at least Parmenides and probably to Pythagoras.  Parmenides' teacher Ameinias was a Pythagorean, and taught Parmenides Hesychia, when Ameinias died, Parmenides built a hero shrine to him.  That is 5th c. BC in South Italian Greek city-states.  The Philokalia is Greek Orthodox, and other Orthodox have some practice of it too, out of the Greek tradition.  I don't know if there is anything similar anywhere in the Holy Bible.

Parmenides was a priest and healer of Apollo Oileus (sp?), an iatromantis who helped people in the practice of incubation.  There is an inscription found, about Parmenides.  Short but revealing the iatromantis tradition.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Basileos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26 Jun 2019 at 15:07
So, a general comment, as an Orthodox Priest:

franciscoan: I think we can assume that Christ prayer that way, based on what we see when he goes apart from the people. It is certainly likely that he stood in silence with the Father, enjoying the communion that is naturally inherent in the Trinity. The purpose of hesychasm is to fill the self with that same communion, rather than to empty the self as in Eastern meditation. And the practice certainly predates Christianity in many forms. I would say that it finds its perfection in Christianity, as we now have the revealed knowledge of the object with which we are trying to fill ourselves, as well as the vehicle by which to do so (the God-Man, Jesuc Christ). That said, that is a dogmatic rather than a philosophical pronouncement.

Vanuatu: Many gerontes/ staretz (unsure of the Slavic plural), and almost every parish priest would say not to concern oneself with the postures and such, if one lives in the world. The reason is simple: When we read or hear hagiographic tales about those trying to behold the Uncreated Light, we are reading about men and women who have devoted their entire lives to prayerful discipline. We who live in the world, as a general rule, have not done so. In parish life, I often run into people who want to engage in the same prayer practices they read about in the lives of the saints, and when we discuss their current prayer lives, I often find that they are unfamiliar with the concept of a basic prayer rule. Monasticism is a sacred vocation, but it is meant to be practiced in the monastery. Outside of the monastery, attempts to ape the monastic life generally engender pride. Few are those who will gain more benefit than condemnation from trying to practice hesychasm outside of an environment of strict, monastic obedience and the context of a stringent basic rule of prayer and hourly liturgical life.

Just my two cents. This is actually a rather large pastoral issue for us, especially amongst converts to Orthodoxy.

-Akolouthos
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jun 2019 at 08:52
But, I don't want to assume, this is a new way of looking at Jesus for me and so it is important to not just assume it is there, especially since I don't know what 'it' is.  As an Orthodox Priest, you probably have a strong Biblical, the Church Father and the Orthodox tradition to draw upon.  I don't.  For example, the only two verses of the Bible I remember are John 1.1 (btw my name is John), and "And he wept." the shortest verse in the Bible.  So if I say 'we don't know' Jesus prayed that way, I am not referring to Orthodox dogma, I am really saying I have not tasted that before, but my palate may be changing.
But, subtlely, I am not going searching for signs as if they are easter eggs, or prizes for the taking.

One book posted for the class was Saint Seraphim of Sarov, I forget the author.  I did not read the whole thing, (too much reading for a course), but what I got out of it was that he was a hermit in the woods and the 'abbot' ordered him to be at the monastery.  He did not want to do that, but he was bound by obedience to do what the 'abbot' said, so he decided to be a solitary _at_ the monastery, outwardly conforming, but inwardly as hermit.  I took that as a way that perhaps my friend looked at his own interest in Hesychasm.  An inward calm(ing), while the world goes on outside with hustle and bustle.  (btw that is my reading not necessarily his). 

You are right, and as a Protestant and a 'reluctant' Pythagorean, I should not be messing with this stuff, but you might say it is too late and started long ago, in a different 'incarnation' with Pythagorean mysticism.
He is my friend and I follow where he leads.  Not all the time, but yes in this and now.  It is not a new development but rather a conclusion or transition of 25 years of dwelling with stuff (but also dwelling with a wife and kids).  Not an ideal situation as he is well aware and will admit.  But, it is fascinating, and wondrous and very relevant to Pythagoras, in deep ways that academics are probably not aware of.  But, I don't necessarily have any attention to illuminate them.  Unless of course, they stumble onto this thread.  even then they probably do not have eyes to see.


Edited by franciscosan - 28 Jun 2019 at 06:27
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Jun 2019 at 13:02
Originally posted by Basileos Basileos wrote:

So, a general comment, as an Orthodox Priest:

Vanuatu: Many gerontes/ staretz (unsure of the Slavic plural), and almost every parish priest would say not to concern oneself with the postures and such, if one lives in the world. The reason is simple: When we read or hear hagiographic tales about those trying to behold the Uncreated Light, we are reading about men and women who have devoted their entire lives to prayerful discipline. We who live in the world, as a general rule, have not done so. In parish life, I often run into people who want to engage in the same prayer practices they read about in the lives of the saints, and when we discuss their current prayer lives, I often find that they are unfamiliar with the concept of a basic prayer rule. Monasticism is a sacred vocation, but it is meant to be practiced in the monastery. Outside of the monastery, attempts to ape the monastic life generally engender pride. Few are those who will gain more benefit than condemnation from trying to practice hesychasm outside of an environment of strict, monastic obedience and the context of a stringent basic rule of prayer and hourly liturgical life.

Just my two cents. This is actually a rather large pastoral issue for us, especially amongst converts to Orthodoxy.

-Akolouthos
Hello Akolouthos, respectfully I am not surprised that you say this at all. I grew up in a religious home and we were all very conscious of devotion to the Christian faith. As I grew older I simply tried new things to further my progress, understanding that intense prayer sessions, such as the Stations of the Cross produced an altered state. So I read about these alternate states and what causes them neurologically, biologically and then meditated on All That Is. I have no regrets, it has enriched my life.
Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate. (J. R. R. Tolkien)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jun 2019 at 12:53
Akolouthos

 Not to address Hesychia directly, but give some background, as far as I understand.  The Philokalia was compiled from manuscripts basically after or in response (reaction) to the Enlightenment.  in compiling it from manuscripts for publication, not all the desired manuscripts could be found at Mt. Athos.  I assume that they had to go elsewhere for them.  As far as I understand, this was a push to make the Philokalia available (and reverse the creeping disappearance of ms.), including to ordinary Orthodox parishioners.  This was as far as I know, one purpose of the compilers, not just to make it survive, but also (as part of the survival make it interested to the greater Orthodox community.

But one question that _perhaps_ seemed to present itself to the compilers, Enlightenment _or_ Orthodox tradition?  Another possible question, can the Hesychastic tradition survive in only manuscript form, or does it have to (also) make the transition to print?  Another question sort of related to the second, can the Hesychastic tradition survive only amongst an elite, or does that circle need to be expanded?  Not for the purpose making people feel good, but for the purpose of survival of the tradition.  It is best that hesychia is studied in the monastic environs, but don't events begrudgingly make the Orthodox elite admit that the circle needed to be expanded, or whither away.  At least at that time after the onslaught of the enlightenment, it seems to me that there was a perceived danger (perceived) that it might become nothing altogether.  Perhaps that is an exaggeration, and perhaps the tides had already turned on the enlightenment.  Converts (let alone non_orthodox like me) should as a rule probably not mess with Hesychasm, but an interesting question is could there be exceptions?  Now, note I am not asking you to admit that possibility.  In fact, I wouldn't want you to admit it, just please mull over it for a second.

It is interesting to me that the hesychastic tradition is wider than just Orthodoxy.  Not just the ancient Greek, or the ancient Hebrew, or Jesus but also John Cassian who went to the West.  There is actually a pagan text in the compilation (Philokalia), like there is in the Nag Hammadi Codices, 'the Allegory of the Cave.'  I don't know what is in the pagan text or whether it really has anything to do with Hesychasm.
From reading the introduction, it sounds like it is eclectic, mentioning both stoic and epicurean.  Perhaps it is like Dionysus the Aereopagate, maybe.

St Nikodemos and St. Makarios collated the Greek version of the Philokalia.  Nikodemos was part of the Kollyvades movement, advocating a return to traditional Orthodox and Patristic spirituality.  Nikodemos died in 1809(?) and Makarios in 1805(?) which gives one an idea of when they were active.  Again, I think one could consider it spurred by a reaction to the Enlightenment.  However, at the same time it is not merely an embrace of old Greek culture.  In some ways, (in my opinion), Orthodox has some continuity with the ancient Greeks, at the same time it is quite different.  There is a difference between the Orthodox tradition and the celebration of the "re"-discovery of Hellenic tradition which arose with the rise of the Greek nation state.

  


Edited by franciscosan - 29 Jun 2019 at 11:19
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jul 2019 at 03:27
St Nicolas Cabasilas, lived the monastic life although he was a layman of the 14th century. 

"And everyone should keep his art or profession.
The General should continue to command; the farmer to till the land, the artisan to produce his craft. 
And I will tell you why. It is not necessary to retire into the desert, to take unpalatable food, to alter one's dress, to compromise one's health or to do anything unwise because it is quite possible to remain in one's own home without giving up all one's possessions and yet to practice continued meditation."

Do you think there is a contrast in opening to boundless oneness vs going to the never ending interior?


Edited by Vanuatu - 06 Jul 2019 at 04:22
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Jul 2019 at 11:01
Most Orthodox monks, from my understanding, are layman.

St Nicolas Cabasilas supported the Hesychasts, like St. Gregory Palamas, at Mt. Athos.  He also supported a Roman Emperor, John ?Paleologos? who eventually retired to a monastery with him.  It is an interesting quote, but I would like to hear from the Hesychasts what their response would be.  But, we should understand that he is talking to Emperors, aristocrats and ordinary people, not (just) to the monks.

I believe that this is a time (14th century) that Greek Orthodoxy is being squeezed by the Muslims (Turks and Arabs) in the East and the Catholic Church in the West.  Catholic Church adopted the filioque "and Son", (implying more than one in the trinity, which is unpalatable to the Orthodox), causing a schism.  Catholics would have loved to get back together with the Orthodox, on Catholic terms that is.  Some people want to reunite so badly that they want to give away everything for security, (Baalram?).  But, I think that the quote below has this setting in its background.  He is saying perhaps, that this rather esoteric tradition is part of the ordinary Orthodox's tradition too.

"And everyone should keep his art or profession.
The General should continue to command; the farmer to till the land, the artisan to produce his craft. 
And I will tell you why. It is not necessary to retire into the desert, to take unpalatable food, to alter one's dress, to compromise one's health or to do anything unwise because it is quite possible to remain in one's own home without giving up all one's possessions and yet to practice continued meditation."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Vanuatu Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jul 2019 at 04:25
Any comment on interior/exterior boundlessness?
Still round the corner there may wait, a new road or a secret gate. (J. R. R. Tolkien)
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 06 Jul 2019 at 05:56
It seems like it would be a variation on the old micro reflects macro (and macro reflects micro) theme.  But the Pythagoreans and ancient Greeks in general believed that the universe was limited and bounded, there were some Greeks (Atomists) that believed in multiple worlds, but I don't think it was an infinite number.

Limitation tended to hold things in place.  The unlimited for the ancient Greeks tended to be chaos.  That probably was still true with the church fathers, man and the material world were creatures and thus limited, God on the other hand was uncreated.  Every thing had its "place." 

But, I cannot comment from a personal perspective.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Aug 2019 at 12:59
The Philokalia is probably the most important Greek language text to come out of the Turcocratia (the Time of Turkish rule).  It was compiled from texts dating back to the 3rd or 4th century AD to the 17th(?) century, by St. Nikodemos and St. Makarios of Corinth during the later part of the 18th century, from texts from Mt. Athos.  In some ways, it is in response to the Enlightenment, but in being in response to the Enlightenment, such a printed publication, and compilation is perhaps very appropriate for the enlightenment as well.  Both Makarios and Nikodemos had some familiarity with happenings in the West.  The work was published in Venice, which owned territories such as Ionia in the Greek (Turkish) region.  When Napoleon conquered Venice, the dependencies came under the power of France, and c. 1800 Ionia became the first independent region of Greece, starting off Greek Independence in general.

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