Table of Contents

  • On struggles and perseverance
  • On faith
  • Who is the spiritual man
  • The author’s vision and experience of Elder Joseph
  • Freedom from possessions
  • Elder Josephs’ Motto
  • Of man’s freedom
  • The action of real knowledge

“Elder Joseph the Hesychast:

Struggles -Experiences - Teachings (1898-1959)”

Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi; Mount Athos, Greece

On Struggles and Perseverance

    “’With the addition of divine grace and aid there are necessarily greater temptations added too, according to all the testimony of our Fathers.  Here one can apply that wisest of sayings, “Take the fault upon yourself, and expect temptation unto your last breath.” “Fighting without and fear within” (2 Cor. 7:5) is the continuous state of one who is at the stage of warfare’; and as the ever memorable Elder told us, ‘no occasion was missed for a cross.  My body, exhausted from the hardship of the long war of the flesh, became as easy target for illness and fatigue.  Then, as I said,people with their own mentalities and demands created problems, even those who showed some intention of staying with us.  This tried us spiritually and put pressure on us to change our rule of life, and tended to hinder me in particular from stillness and prayer.  On these matters, of course, I did not give way at all; but the war pressed me sorely.  Faith and prayer remained my constant consolation.  But by some ineffable economy, through the successive changes which we undergo, these too are withheld.  That is the low point, when one comes close to St. Paul’s saying that “if it were possible we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8)’” (p. 96-97)

On Faith

    “’In all three areas which make up the human being - soul,body and environment, or the inner, the outer and the surroundings - we find the enemy dug in and fully armed.  In all man’s thoughts or actions, the enemy does not let slip any occasion or pretext to harry him or try his faith.  The diabolical war does not spare member or place or situation,but according to the circumstances it attacks and resists our own decisions.  But its paramount aim is to strike at a person’s faith, and thus ridicule him for his treachery and denial.  If it manages this, it deals us a grievous blow because it cuts off our eagerness and fervor, which is the head, and so can capture the whole of the body with no trouble. Everything happens for the sake of faith, but it is also faith that is in overall command.  If faith is knocked down, then everything is shaken and the front line crumbles.’

    “When we asked him to explain why he laid so much stress on faith and made everything dependent upon it, he told us, ‘Because speaking for myself, I will refer you to what Scripture says: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gal. 3:6).  Well, did Abraham just believe and not do anything else?  He had so many trials in his life, as Genesis tells us, that it is hard to believe, and yet was God not so well pleased  with any of them as with his faith? “He believed”, it says; and,as you will remember, Paul lays great stress on this.  Of course all the trials resulted from his faith.  But in any event, in order to keep his faith totally, he rejected everything and sacrificed everything.  It was precisely this faith that was the well-spring of all his actions.  We believe in our Christ: not just in His godly majesty and the various other dogmatic points of our faith, but also in His divine commandments.  Yet the commandments in themselves are of no value if they are not carried out in the name of Him who ordered them.  Have there not been righteous actions in the world before,or now, or in the future?  Who has gained anything from them, if they were not done in the Name of God and for Him alone?  So it is not the doing of the commandments but the faith in God - for whose sake one has made a decision and acted - that is honored and rewarded.  If God has no need of our good things (Ps. 16:2, LXX) and salvation is not a matter of exchange but of grace(Eph 2:5) and a free gift, then what is it in human activity apart from faith that is taken into account? Rightly, then, has the justification of all the saints been ascribed to faith and not to their works, which were also themselves perfected by faith.  Believing in the beginning, we set out in subjection to His will, the will of our Christ, and in the course of obedience to Him “we keep to difficult paths” (Ps. _:4, LXX), as David says.  But the Lord tells us, “When you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk. 17:10).  This shows us what brings about salvation is not the quantity and quality of the works,which are simply a duty, but it is faith that counts, and the Lord praises faith, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:25).  Abba Mark says that the Lord will repay each one precisely according to his faith or lack of faith.

    “’As I said, we have set out by faith and on the basis of this faith we continue on our spiritual contest.  The devil who wars against us and opposes us tries to show us faithless at the judgment and deprive us of the promise “Well done, faithful servant!”, and to relegate us to the place of him who was cut in pieces and put with the unfaithful (Lk. 12:46). The key to the mysteries is faith, and this is what our Jesus required as a pledge from all who sought His gifts.  In His general invitation to all people he demanded faith, even though faith also entails both law and obedience.  And when they sought some specific gift from Him, He would answer, “If you can believe” and declared that “all things are possible to him who believes” (Mk. 9:23).  As for those who immediately obtained their request and received the answer they sought for their need, he would praise them, saying, “Take heart, child; your faith has saved you” (Mt. 9:22). As for those who came to Him established in ardent faith in His godly greatness, He would reveal to them in admiration, “not even in Israel have I found such faith”(Mt. 8:10).  And elsewhere it says, “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic…” (Mt. 9:2).  In general, the whole of sacred revelation testifies to faith as the means whereby the divine gifts are imparted and the mysteries are interpreted’.” (p.94-96)

Who is the Spiritual Man

    “No one should ever imagine that he can describe the life ofa spiritual person, however much he may have heard him or seen him or lived with him.  A soul set on fire with divine love, a mind illumined with divine radiance and a body which has taken on to the full the marks of comprehensive self-denial and been dyed in the pain which strictness of conscience demands, and the fountains of his tears have become ‘meat and drink’ for him day and night - such a soul transcends natural laws and norms, and cannot be interpreted according to ordinary human criteria.  And rightly does St. Paul say that ‘the spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one’ (1 Cor. 2:15).”

The Author’s Vision and Experience of Elder Joseph

    “The Elder was profound, thoughtful and experienced. He had no need to ask in order to analyze problems and respond: I was at a loss as to how he knew in such detail what I had within me, when I would have had difficulty describing it myself!  When I went there, right from the first day he explained to me in detail the meaning of the spiritual life.  In particular he attempted to explain to us about Grace, how this is the chief element that should concern us because without it man can achieve nothing. Gradually I grasped the meaning of his words, helped by my earlier study and advice, but in practical terms I was ignorant of both the manner and form of the operation of grace.

    “I was living with them permanently by the time the Elder left the cell where he had been staying and went 200 meters further away to another cell that I had prepared for him, and lived thee on his own. After our vigil up to midnight we would go to the Elder, because he never received people earlier.  One afternoon after our meals, as I made a reverence to him in order to go to my cell as usual, he clasped my hand and said to me, smiling, ‘Tonight I’m going to send you a parcel, and you must take care not to lose it.’  I did not understand what he meant and did not think about it at all, and I went off.  After our rest, as always, we began our vigil and I prepared to begin my prayer as he had shown me, keeping hold of my mind as best I could, and I forgot all about the parcel.

    “I do not remember how I started off, but I know very well that I had just begun and had not pronounced the Name of our Christ many times before my heart was filled with love for God.  Suddenly it increased so much that I was no longer praying, but wondering in amazement at this outpouring of love.  I wanted to embrace and kiss all people and the whole of creation and at the same time I was so humble in my thoughts that I felt I was the lowest of all creatures.  But the fullness and the flame of love was for our Christ, whom I experienced as present, although I could not see Him to fall at His spotless feet and ask Him how He could set hearts on fire like this and remain hidden and unknown.  Then I had a subtle assurance that this was the Grace of the Holy Spirit and that this was the Kingdom of Heaven,which our Lord says is within us (Lk 17:21), and I said, ‘Let me stay like this, my Lord, and I won’t need anything else.’  This went on fro quite a time, and gradually I came back again to my former state and waited in an agony of impatience for the time to come when I could go to the Elder and ask him what this was all about and how it had happened.

    “It was about 20 August and the moon was very bright, when Iran down and found him outside his cell, walking in his little courtyard. As soon as he saw me he began to smile, and before I could make a reverence he said, ‘You see how sweet our Christ is?  Do you understand in practice what it is you keep asking me about?  Now exert yourself forcibly to make this grace your possession, and don’t let negligence steal it away from you.’  At once I fell at his feet and said with tears, ‘I’ve seen it,Elder; unworthy as I am of all creation, I have seen the grace and love of our Christ, and now I understand the boldness of the Fathers and the power of prayers.’ When I told him exactly what had happened and asked for details about how this had come about, he refused, out of humility, to tell me; so he said, ‘God had compassion and mercy upon you, showing you His grace by anticipation, so that you won’t doubt the counsels of the Fathers and lose heart.’  I then understood the meaning of the common custom of asking other people to pray for us, with full faith and trust: ‘Pray for me, Father.  Say a prayer for me,Father.  Remember me in your prayers, Father.’

    “There are many ways, of course, in which we Christians seek the assistance of the righteous in our needs, and each receives a response accordingly.  But for a spiritual man to understand the need of a soul whose state he clearly discerns, and to instruct someone, ‘Go and mind that you receive what I’m going to send to you - what you need’, and to know what he is sending and whether it has been received - all this exceeds the bounds of the natural and belongs to those who have gone ‘beyond nature’. (p.116-119)

Freedom From Possessions

    “He was a great believer in freedom from possessions, not so much as an exercise in self-denial and poverty but more as a way to be free from care and to live without distractions, which greatly assisted the mind in inwardness and prayer.” (p. 140)

Elder Josephs’ Motto

    “The Fathers’ saying ‘give blood and receive the spirit’ could be described as the ever-memorable Elder’s permanent motto. Intrepid and courageous as he was, he left no room for queries or doubts in his life.  But his ardent faith also contributed to this excellent combination, and so the results were always positive.” (p. 178)

Of Man’s Freedom

    “Resolve and daring are the chief characteristics of man’s freedom which manifests his will, and with faith in God - which is all that is asked of our rational nature - they arouse and bring down upon us the divine energy which heals what is infirm and completes what is wanting.” (p. 178)

The Action of Real Knowledge

    “…Abba Mark says, ‘Real knowledge is patiently to accept affliction and not to blame others for our own misfortunes.’” (p. 179-180)

The picture used as a header is from Patrick Barnes' Web Album found HERE
Thank-you for all your work Patrick and your immense contribution to "world Orthodoxy"



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