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Letter Four

Elder Joseph the HesychastMy child, if you pay attention to everything I write to you and compel yourself, you will find great benefit. All these things are happening to you because you are not forcing yourself to say the prayer (The Jesus Prayer). So force yourself to say the prayer unceasingly; don’t let your mouth stop at all. In this way you will grow accustomed to it within yourself, and then the nous will take over. Do not become overconfident with your thoughts for you will be weakened and defiled. If you pray and continuously force yourself to pray, you will see how much grace you will receive.

My child, man’s life is full of sorrow because he is in exile. Do not seek perfect rest. Since our Christ bore His Cross, we shall bear ours, too. If we endure all afflictions, we shall receive grace from the Lord. The Lord allows us to be tempted, so that He can test the zeal and love we have for Him. Therefore, patience is needed. Without patience a person does not obtain experience, acquire spiritual knowledge, or attain any measure of virtue and perfection.

Love Jesus and say the prayer unceasingly, and it will enlighten you on His path.

Be careful not to judge, because then God will allow grace to withdraw and will let you fall and be humbled so that you can see your own faults.


Everything that you wrote about is good. The first things that you are feeling are due to God’s grace; when it comes, it makes a man spiritual and makes everything seem fine and beautiful. Then he loves everyone and has compunction, tears, and a fervent soul. However, when grace withdraws to test a man, everything becomes carnal and the soul falls. Do not lose your eagerness at this point, but force yourself to cry out the prayer continuously with distress, with might and main, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!”

Say the same thing continually, over and over again. And as if you were noetically gazing at Christ, say to Him, “I thank Thee, my dear Christ, for all the good things which Thou hast given me and for all the hardships that I suffer. Glory to Thee, glory to Thee my God.” And if you are patient, grace and joy will come once more. However, temptations, sorrow, agitation, and irritability will come again; then struggle, victory, and thanksgiving follow. This recurs until little by little you are cleansed from the passions and become spiritual. With time, as you grow older, you attain dispassion*

However, you must struggle. Don’t expect good things to come by themselves. One does not become a monk through luxury and comforts. A monk must be insulted, derided, tested. He must fall and then get up so that he can become a true person. He must not be cuddled in his mother’s arms. Who ever heard of someone becoming a monk by his mother’s side? As soon as he cries out, “Oh!” she would say, “Eat, so you don’t get sick!”

Ascesis, * my son, requires deprivation. You cannot obtain virtues through luxury and the easy life. It takes a struggle and much labor. It takes crying out to Christ day and night. It takes patience in all temptations and afflictions. It takes supressing your anger and desires.

You will fatigue greatly until you realize that prayer without attention and watchfulness* is a waste of time; work without pay. You must set attention as a vigilant guard over all your inner and outer senses. Without attention, both the nous and the powers of the soul are diffused in vain and ordinary things, like useless water running down the streets. No one has ever found prayer without attention and watchfulness. No one was ever counted worthy to ascend to the things above without having despised the things below. Many times you pray and your mind wanders here and there, wherever it pleases, to everything that attracts it out of habit. It takes considerable force and a struggle to break the mind away from there so that it pays attention to the words of the prayer.

Many times the enemy craftily creeps into your thoughts, your words, your hearing, your eyes, and you are unaware of it. When you do realize it later on, you need to struggle greatly to be cleansed. However, don’t give up fighting against the evil spirits. By the grace of God, you will be victorious, and then you will rejoice for all you had suffered.

In addition, be careful—and tell the others, too—not to compliment one another in each other’s presence, for if compliments harm the perfect, how much more harmful they will be to you who are still weak.

There was once a saint who had a visitor. Three times he told the saint that he was doing his handicraft well. After the third time, the saint replied, “Since you came here, you have driven God away from me!”

Do you see how precise the saints were? For this reason, great caution is necessary in everything. Only reproaches and insults benefit a man spiritually, because they give birth to humility. He gains crowns, and by enduring, he crushes his egotism and vainglory. Therefore, when they insult you, “You arrogant egotist, you impatient hypocrite,” etc., it is a time for patience. If you respond, you lose.

So always have the fear of God. Have love for everyone and be careful not to sadden or hurt anyone in any way, because your brother’s grief will serve as an obstacle when you pray. Be a good example to everyone in word and deed, and divine grace will always help you and protect you.

And be careful, my child; don’t ever forget throughout your entire life that a monk must be a good example to lay people and not behave scandalously, just as angels are an example to him.1 Therefore, it is his duty to be very careful lest Satan cheat him.

If it is necessary for a monk to go out into the world, let him go. However, he must be all eyes and all light: he must see very clearly, so that he doesn’t suffer any harm while trying to benefit others. Young monks and nuns, who are still in the prime of life, are particularly endangered when they go out into the world, since they are walking in the midst of many snares. As for those who have somewhat matured in age and have become withered through ascesis, there is not so much danger. They are not harmed so much as they benefit others, if they have experience and knowledge. But in general, a monk does not obtain any benefit from the world—only praises and glory, which clean him out and leave him bare. And woe to him, if divine grace does not protect him according to the need and purpose for which he went out.

 —The Holy Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Elder Joseph Hesychast and Synodia