On Hesychia and the Cleansing of the Mind and Heart

A proven lover of the desert was the blessed Russian hieromonk Father Serapios, who visited the great hesychast and recluse Kallinikos in 1912-13, to ask his blessing that he might depart and join those athletes who contended in the field of the desert.
Elder Kallinikos, an experienced teacher of the Jesus Prayer, described to the Russian monk the dangers, traps and delusions which the enemy of our salvation uses to attack those who live in seclusion, especially those without a spiritual guide. But when he saw Father Serapion's wounded heart, burning with divine desire, he gave in, on condition that he could be his guide. Father Serapios celebrated the liturgy in St. Gerasimos' chapel and then, with the prayers tid blessing of his coach and elder Kallinikos, left to go toward Athos' peak.
Twelve years passed since that meeting. Then one night, around midnight, the great hesychast's disciple came to his teacher's remote hut and knocked on the door. Elder Kallinikos, thinking that the knock might be a delusion from the devil, asked, before he opened the door, for the Symbol of Faith to be recited. Father Serapios obeyed, even adding the "Our Father" and the "One is Holy, One is the Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father." At this, Elder Kallinikos opened the door, threw his arms around him and asked, "Where have you been all these years, my brother? Believe me, I thought you were lost, although I never stopped praying for you. Where did you stay? What was your food?"
"Holy Father," replied Father Serapios in a weak voice, "after you blessed me, I went to the peak of Athos. I stayed three days and nights, but not being able to endure the cold, I went to Panagia.1 I tried to stay there, but I could not find my beloved hesychia, because many pilgrims visited there.
"A bit farther down, I discovered a cave. Not even the shepherds of Lavra when herding their sheep could see me there, because I hung an old cassock over the cave's opening. I ate the things I found in the forest: chestnuts, shoots, acorns, roots and bulbs. I drew water from the well near Panagia's hut. Day and night my soul was filled with ineffable bliss coming from the Jesus Prayer and visions.
"I lived constantly contemplating our God's mysteries. Forgive me, my elder, you know better than I what it is like, that light which warms up and illuminates all within me. I desired nothing else. Paradise was there. I lacked only one thing. The Holy Communion. And that is why I have finally come here: to receive your blessing; for the time of my repose is near, and I do not want to depart without the Holy Mysteries."
That very day the Divine Liturgy was served, and they communicated. Afterwards the disciple had a bit of dry bread and greens together with his teacher and guide. Thus full of bliss, Father Serapios departed for his beloved desert.
The great hesychastic father Daniel the Hosiopetritan, after the daily liturgy would withdraw into his cell for an hour of silence. It was an hour dedicated to tears and compunction. He would always say that "The lantern illuminates the world around it, but buries its mouth . . . ."
There have been many ascetic fathers on the Holy Mountain who were dedicated totally to prayer, vision, and practising all the virtues. That is why they received divine consolations from heaven, illuminations from above. Such was the Romanian hermit Theophylaktos, who came from Vatopedi to St. Basil's desert with three monks under obedience to him. Frequently he stayed in caves, in which it was possible to attain greater hesychia, clearer watchfulness of mind, and higher exaltation of soul. He used to say that in one of the caves of this desert, the idolaters who had inhabited the Athonite peninsula prior to the monks' arrival had hidden a statue which had once stood on the peak of Mount Athos and served as a lighthouse. There was a large diamond on the statue's head which was used as a sort of lamp to guide travelers by sea.
At one time Theophylaktos, who prayed unceasingly, did not go to the cave as was his usual habit. He stayed in his hut by himself instead. During his prayer an angel of the Lord appeared and conversed with him. Coming back from accomplishing a task which had been assigned to him, one of the elder's monks in obedience passed by the hut and heard a discussion. He wondered who the visitor was to whom his elder was talking. With curiosity he entered, calling "Elder! are you here?" At that very moment the angel disappeared.
"O, my son," the elder sadly replied, he who was such a great runner in the heavenly race. "I wish you had not come .... I have lost a great blessing." And he explained the visitation.
He is the same father who took care of the wounded roader, and his face shone with light shortly before his falling asleep.
I once had the blessing of meeting the elder Christodoulos, who had been a monk under obedience to the great neptic2 father of Katounakia, Kallinikos the Recluse. In the course of one day's polite hospitality to me, the unworthy, in his remote hermitage, Father Christodoulos told me much about his ever memorable elder, some of which is included in the third edition of Contemporary Agioritan Profiles.
Elder Kallinikos was a teacher of the Jesus Prayer and visions who for fifty-five years had confined himself within the limits of his hut, which measured twenty metres in all.
That is why he was called a recluse. He was born in 1853 and reposed in 1930.
A friend and lover of hesychia, of vigilance and of noetic3 prayer was Dionysios from Cyprus, who as an ascetic remained in Kafsokalyvia's skete and then returned to Stavrovouniou in Cyprus in 1875, where he became the father of many spiritual children.
There is a prayerful, eremitic breeze which often blows over the blessed Katounakia. There many years ago I met the hesychastic elder Anthimos. He struggled in ascesis in a hut above where the Danielites were located. He was a man of silence. Whenever he did talk, he almost always spoke about the ceaseless prayer of the heart, noetic prayer. "The Jesus Prayer deifies man, while praying to the Theotokos prepares one for deification," he used to say.
"All Holy Mother of God, help me. My blessed Panagia . . ." a monk would say, and his voice echoed sweetly from the depths of his heart as he walked on the paths of St. Anne's skete. "We place all our hope in her, and we are consoled by her," he continued. "She is our mother, our heart's salvation. Otherwise we are following a route which we do not know where it is leading."

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