Monasteries of the Heart

Philokalia: St. Hesychios the Priest -- "A still soul"

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[Facing toward the east, we begin this entry concerning St. Hesychios' counsels in The Philokalia by lifting our hands, with palms open wide, and praying aloud Come, Holy Spirit::]

+ Heavenly Sovereign and Comforter, Holy Spirit of Truth,
You are present in all places and
You dwell in all things;
You are the Treasury of blessings and
You are the Giver of Life;
Come and dwell in us,
and cleanse us from every stain (of sin),
and save our souls, O Good and Gracious One.

Watchful and ready, let us pray.
R: Lord, have mercy.

For this holy monastery and for those who have pitched their tent as members in it by faith, reverence and godly fear, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord...

That we may be spared all affliction, wrath, danger and want, let us pray to the Lord.
R: Lord...

Help us, save us, have mercy on us and keep us, O God, in Your grace.

That this day may be perfect, holy, peaceful and free of sin, let us ask of the Lord.
R: Grant this, O Lord.

An angel of peace, a faithful guide, a guardian of our souls and bodies, let us ask of the Lord.
R: Grant...

All that is good and profitable for our souls, and peace in the world, let us ask of the Lord.
R: Grant...

That we may live out our lives in peace and repentance, let us ask of the Lord.
R: Grant...

A Christian end to our lives, peaceful, free of shame and suffering, and for a good defence before the awesome judgment seat of Christ, let us ask of the Lord.
R: Grant...

Calling to mind our most holy, pure, blessed and glorious Leader among the Saints, the Mother of God and ever-virgin Mary, with St. Symeon the New Theologian along with all the Saints and bodiless powers devoted to the Holy One, let us commend ourselves and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.
R: To You, O Lord.

___________ + + + __________________

"Much water makes up the sea," so begins our holy Father Hesychios the Priest in #10 [page 164] of his 203 sayings entitled "On Watchfulness and Holiness," as appear in Volume 1 of The Philokalia (translated; pages 162-198, in pleno).

Taken in a literal way, Hesychios' opening sentence to #10 sounds like anything that is true at face value, and derived from common, everyday sense and observation.

It could well go without saying, in other words.

Of course! The sea is filled with a lot of water! So what else is new? -- a smart-mouthed but bright teenager might respond to a teacher reading the sentence aloud in a secondary-school classroom. What else would fill the sea but water? -- yes, this imaginary teen now lets the sarcasm roll!

Of course, a literal interpretation of Hesychios' opening sentence misses the mark. This holy father sets his sights higher and deeper than the secondary-schooler perceives at first blush. A literal approach to understanding the opening sentence may even strike prayerful readers on the nose with the very first word, "But," of the next sentence. It not only doesn't feel right. It hurts.


A literal interpretation distracts and/or dulls the discerning sensibility of the human intellect, which resembles the physical, olfactory sense. When our spiritual sense of smell --namely, our ability by birth and by regeneration or new birth in Christ to sniff out a problem in the soul-- is not suffering a blow or other temporary malady causing its sensory fibers not to work at their best, we should be able to identify and trace the smell of the holy. This means that we should be able to differentiate the scent of the holy from the waste products of sin. Just to be clear, waste products of sin leave a stench the more we pursue pleasure for its own sake. Whatever feels good, in other words, may not end up smelling holy.

Pee-hew! Whew!

Once we take a good hit on the (metaphorical) nose, we become attentive to the immediate pain and perhaps residual suffering which ensue. Residual suffering can be illustrated by scheming --"thoughts"-- to strike back whoever/whatever threw the first punch. Nevertheless, retaliation always stinks, doesn't it? Test this fact in your own memories. Once you've 'gotten even,' has the matter ever been resolved with your retaliatory blow? Not in my experience. 'Getting even' -- thinking and acting with revenge-- becomes a malodorous stain, leaving a mark which no amount of washing and perfume can rid entirely.

The sense of smell directed toward the holy becomes numb, rendering it insensible even if but for a limited time. Without this capability to locate the holy while avoiding the odor of putrefaction in certain "thoughts" and related "passions," we could well ignore Saint Hesychios' simple cure and prevention which utilize two essential elements: (A) Watchfulness and (B) the Jesus Prayer.

Together, watchfulness over "thoughts" and conscious repetition of the Jesus Prayer shape Saint Hesychios' practical approach to restoring and refining our natural sense of sniffing out whatever leads us home safely to heavens' shore. In the Saint's own words, the safety of heavens' shore is represented by the end result of "intense, concentrated and unremitting" "inner vigilance" and praying the Jesus Prayer: "unfathomable stillness of soul."

How do you understand the unfathomable stillness of soul?"

Maybe I should ask, how do you sniff it out?

Watch and pray.

How to interpret the "But" at the start of the second sentence in #10? In my opinion, the key is to understand Hesychios' use of "thoughts" after the "But" as metaphors, resembling "much water" which "makes up the sea." One can drown in such "thoughts," or else sail across them in the ship of watchfulness and the Jesus Prayer, all the while plumbing the "unfathomable stillness of soul."

Let's go home in this ship...together.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

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