Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Elder Ephraim, Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Glossary, Hieromonk Alexios (Trader), Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, My Elder Joseph the Hesychast, Orthodox Psychotherapy, passions
My dearest brother in Christ, may the grace of the Holy Spirit always protect you. I receive your letter yesterday and greatly rejoiced to see that you have grasped the true essence of monasticism and that you are well. My health is poor, as God wills. What I meant about quenching grace is that if a person remains and lingers for two or three years in the world, his zeal is cooled and then he loses his vigor towards monasticism, for the grace of the fervency withdraws because of his negligence to fulfill his goal. “Thorns and thistles will the earth bring forth to you” (Gen. 3:18 ) say the Scriptures. Thorns and thistles: that is, passions and bad habits arise in the earth of the heart. With much toil and sweat and tears the thorny roots of the passions and bad habits are plucked out in order to clear the heart’s earth where the seed, the word of God, will be sown. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. According to the Watchful Fathers*, the prayer is the seed which is sown in the heart of the novice with much labor and struggling in the beginning, until it sprouts, grows, is reaped, and made into bread, the bread of life; in other words, so that he may eat the fruit of his labor which is the sweetness of the prayer, the love of Christ. This is the living water that waters the heart, refreshes it, and makes it flourish; things which I, the indolent one, lack. “The hour is coming when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth” (cf. Jn.4:23 ). How beautifully the Lord clarifies noetic prayer! While you remain in the world, struggle, read, pray, and say the prayer as much as you can, for its power is enormous. Pursue almsgiving; great is the power of almsgiving. I, too, when I was in the world, gave alms as much as I could, even though I was poor, so that God would help me achieve my goal. Have you noticed how God glorifies the merciful? An angel of the Lord appeared to Cornelius the centurion and said to him: “Your alms and your prayers have come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4 ). Likewise the Prophet Daniel said to the King: “O King, atone for your sins by alms and for your iniquities by compassion on the poor” (Dan. 4:24 ). Brother, let us –and first of all me, the senseless one—bear in mind the fearful reckoning before the dreadful tribunal of God, just as the holy ascetics did. Abba Agathon wept when he was about to die, and his monks asked him: “Are you also weeping, Abba?” “Believe me, my children, I strove to please God with all my strength, but I do not know if my deeds are pleasing to God!” Saint Anthony the Great also wept when he approached death. “Are you also weeping, Abba?” “Believe me, my children, ever since I became a monk, the fear of death has never left me!”
So I think about myself as well; what defense shall I give to God?—I, the indolent and filthy one, whose passions have stripped me of my wedding garment! You will encounter, my brother, many obstacles along your path, but do not lose your courage. Avoid everything that hinders you on the path of God. Cut off all friendships with worldly youths. Do not fear; when God is with us, no one is against us. My little cell is very hesychastic. When you come, you will be very pleased. I live in profound stillness and freedom from care. My Elder gave me a blessing to eat something in the morning by myself in peace. Rarely does someone pass by. I eat my meager food by myself. I strive with the help of God to keep saying the prayer. I wake up by myself; I keep vigil by myself. So anyone who longs to live in stillness, prayer, and freedom from care will love it here.
I await you with much joy, and I beg that you do not hesitate to write. I am praying for you with love in Christ.
—Lowly Papa-Ephraim of Joseph (Mt. Athos, November 1957)
*Watchfulness (νήψις) is unceasing attentiveness, alertness, or vigilance whereby one keeps watch over one’s inward thoughts and fantasies, so that they do not enter the heart; it is only the nous which must be within the heart (Glossary)