Hesychasm and Theology: A Contribution to the Dialogue concerning the Great and Holy Synod

Hesychasm and Theology: A Contribution to the Dialogue concerning the Great and Holy Synod

43 views
0

On the occasion of the convocation of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, we are publishing a text by George Mantzaridis, Emeritus Professor of Theology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, which deals with the manner in which Orthodox Theology is produced. This text is a contribution to the more general dialogue which is preceding the discussions of the Pan-Orthodox Synod.

Hesychasm is not merely a theological school or ecclesiastical system, but rather a phenomenon which transcends the various schools and systems. It is even more true that hesychasm is not restricted to a particular period in the history of monasticism, such as that of the fourteenth century, when the erudite monk, Barlaam the Calabrian, attacked the Athonite monks and provoked the well-known hesychast dispute. Hesychasm is the cultivation of the tranquillity which is the enduring characteristic of Orthodox monasticism. But what is this tranquillity and of what does it consist?

In the usual sense, ‘hesychia’ (tranquillity) is equated with lack of movement, as opposed to motion; or is considered as being identifiable with rest, in contradistinction to work or occupation. In other words, tranquillity is understood as an external and, in the main, a corporeal state, without any particular spiritual content or any direct connection with people’s inner life. It coincides with what the Fathers call ‘argia’ (inaction).

But in the Orthodox tradition, tranquillity has a very different meaning. It does not equate to immobility, nor with rest. Nor is it treated as some sort of conventional diversion or virtue. Tranquillity is the ‘most sublime insouciance’ [1] and ‘the most perfect virtue’ [2]. It is the path of knowledge of God, which culminates in ‘the vision of God’. The other virtues, which ‘are accomplished through work- by observing the commandments- are the first stage, and are a required condition if we are to continue our progress towards the ‘vision of God’.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian, the great hesychast saint, puts it succinctly when he says: ‘None of the apostles or the God-bearing Fathers promote tranquillity above pleasing works, but in observing the commandments they knowingly show the faith of the love of God’ [3].

Never in the life of the Church has tranquillity been considered preferable to the observance of the commandments. Wilful non-compliance to the commandments is the very opposite of tranquillity. Because of their love for God, hesychasts faithfully observe His commandments and are thus enabled to become acquainted with Him. It is their desire to remain with Him that allows them to pass through the stage of turmoil and anxiety and to embrace the ‘divine fire’ of tranquillity, so that ‘they can hear the tranquillity of Christ’ [4]. This is why the model of tranquillity and of the hesychast life in Orthodox hesychasm is Our Most Holy Lady, who bears ‘the divine Fire’ in her arms [5].

Through the observance of the commandments, we show our love of God and approach knowledge of Him. ‘They who have my commandments and keep them, are those who love me. And they who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and manifest myself to them’ [6]. But the state of prayer of the heart transcends the observance of the commandments. Whereas the observance of the commandments, which is more generally called ‘action’ in the ascetic tradition, leads to ‘contemplation’ tranquillity of the mind is the locus where divine contemplation takes place.

Naturally, before people reach the level of tranquillity of the mind, they have to try to concentrate their intellect, to free it from concerns and remove it from worldly cares. In this way, avoidance of the things of this world is promoted as a way of ascetic cleansing and a process of elevation towards tranquillity of the mind. This is why Saint John the Sinaïte, the master of hesychasm, places renunciation as the first rung of the Ladder, his manual of hesychasm. He says that no-one will enter the heavenly bridal-chamber with a crown unless they perform the triple renunciation: of things and other people; of the severance of the personal will; and of the rejection of vainglory [7].

30 May 2016

(To be continued)

[1] See Gregory the Theologian, Λόγος εις εαυτόν 26,7, PG 35,1237B.
[2] See Symeon the New Theologian, Ηθικά 15,1, ed. J. Darrouzès, Syméon le Nouveau Théologien, Traités Théologiques et Éthiques, Sources Chrétiennes, vol. 129, Paris 1967, p. 444.
[3] ibid. pp. 454-6.
[4] Ignatios of Antioch Προς Εφεσίους 15, 2.
[5] Dismissal Hymn of Our Lady the Consolation.
[6] Jn. 14, 21.
[7] John the Sinaïte, Ladder 2,14, PG 88, 657Α.

Click here to see more at Pemptousia.

 

pemptousiaocn-5

About Pemptousia: Contemporary post-modern man does understand what man is. Through its presence in the internet world, Pemptousia, with its spirit of respect for beauty that characterizes it, wishes to contribute to the presentation of a better meaning of life for man, to the search for the ontological dimension of man, and to the awareness of the unfathomable mystery of man who is always in Christ in the process of becoming, of man who is in the image of divine beauty. And the beauty of man springs from the beauty of the Triune God. In the end, “beauty will save the world”.  Learn More. 

ABOUT THE ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN NETWORK

The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the United States of America, originally commissioned by SCOBA to create a national, sustainable, and effective media witness for Orthodox Christianity and seekers around the world through media ministry.  CLICK HERE to download our brochure.

This 501(c)3 is recognized as a leader in the Orthodox Media field and has sustained consistent growth over twenty years. OCN shares the timeless faith of Orthodoxy with the contemporary world through modern media. We are on a mission to inspire Orthodox Christians Worldwide. We have reached 5.7 Million People in One Week. Much like public radio, the Orthodox Christian Network relies on the support of our listeners, readers, and fans. If you are interested in supporting our work, you can send your gift by direct mail, over the phone, or on our website. Your gift will ensure that OCN may continue to offer free, high-quality, Orthodox media.

Do you find it hard to keep focused on Christ when you’re on the go? OCN makes it easy!  Give today to help you and your Orthodox community stay connected no matter the location.

donate now

ORTHODOX MOBILE APPS ARE HERE!

Spark OCN app is an Orthodox Christian News portal that allows you to take action. Spark provides daily devotions, live Bible study, and you can read and learn about events going on in the Orthodox Christian world, especially those concerning persecuted Christians. In addition to making it easy to share news and articles with friends, Spark allows you make prayer requests for those who are suffering.

Orthodox Prayer Book is the ultimate prayer assistant for Orthodox Christians. Not only does it allow you to carry your prayers around, it was designed from the ground-up for the iPhone to allow you to pray in the least distracting manner possible. Carry all the prayers, information about daily saints and fasting schedules with you throughout your day. Keep a list of people you want to pray for and have them automatically embedded into the prayers.

Click here to download the Spark OCN and Orthodox Prayer Book.

_______________________________________________________________________________
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. OCN is on Social Media! Follow us on TwitterFacebookYouTube, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram

About author
avatar

Pemptousia Partnership

Pemptousia and OCN have entered a strategic partnership to bring Orthodoxy Worldwide. Greek philosophers from Ionia considered held that there were four elements or essences (ousies) in nature: earth, water, fire and air. Aristotle added ether to this foursome, which would make it the fifth (pempto) essence, pemptousia, or quintessence. The incarnation of God the Word found fertile ground in man’s proclivity to beauty, to goodness, to truth and to the eternal. Orthodoxy has not functioned as some religion or sect. It was not the movement of the human spirit towards God but the revelation of the true God, Jesus Christ, to man. A basic precept of Orthodoxy is that of the person ­– the personhood of God and of man. Orthodoxy is not a religious philosophy or way of thinking but revelation and life standing on the foundations of divine experience; it is the transcendence of the created and the intimacy of the Uncreated. Orthodox theology is drawn to genuine beauty; it is the theology of the One “fairer than the sons of men”. So in "Pemptousia", we just want to declare this "fifth essence", the divine beaut in our life. Please note, not all Pemptousia articles have bylines. If the author is known, he or she is listed in the article above.