Thursday, October 19, 2006

St. Maximos Kafsokalyvites: On Self-Impelled Prayer

What Hesychast prayer actually signified to Maximos is revealed most fully in the long conversation between him and Gregory the Sinaite ... Gregory, so we are told, having learnt about Maximos' fame and wishing to meet him, sent his disciples to seek out the hermit. But Maximos was still in his nomadic phase; he had recently burnt his cell, and no one knew where he had gone. The disciples searched in vain for two days, suffering severely from the winter cold. Eventually Maximos came out from hiding of his own accord, and agreed to meet Gregory. The Sinaite pressed Maximos to tell him about his spiritual life. Initially he refused, claiming that his wits were deranged: πεπλανημένος ειμί. As ever, folly serves as a mask behind which to shelter, as a way of avoiding praise. Under pressure he then consented to give a full answer. He began by telling Gregory about his youthful experiences, about his "feigned madness and folly", his vision of the Mother of God, and the divine light that encircled him then and on other occasions. "Tell me", asked Gregory, "do you possess inner prayer (νοερά προσευχή)?" "Yes," Maximos answered with a smile, "Ι have possessed it from my youth." And, stressing once more his special love for the Mother of God, he went on to describe an experience that had happened to him before he became a hermit. One day he was praying to the Virgin with tear for the grace of inner prayer:

And when with longing Ι kissed her most pure icon, suddenly Ι felt within my chest (στήθος) and in my heart (καρδία) a great warmth (θέρμη), not burning me up but filling me with refreshment and sweetness and deep compunction (κατάνυξις). From that moment, father, my heart began to say the prayer inwardly; and at the same time my reason (λογιστικόν), together with my intellect (νους), holds fast to the memory of Jesus and of my Theotokos, and it has never left me.

This remarkable passage contains several features characteristic of St Maximos, in particular his love for the Mother of God and the strongly affective note that distinguishes his spiritual personality. By the phrases "the prayer" and, still more clearly, "the memory of Jesus", Maximos evidently means the Jesus Prayer, the repeated invocation of the name of Jesus, although there is no indication what precise form of words he employed. As a hermit Maximos would not have recited the Divine Office -the outward conditions of his life clearly rendered this impossible- but would have replaced it by the Jesus Prayer. In saying, "it has never left me", Maximos implies that this "memory" or "remembrance" (μνήμη) has become somehow continuous, not a periodic activity but an uninterrupted state conferred by divine grace. He has attained what the Russian writer Theophan the Recluse (1815-92) terms unceasing "self-impelled" or "self acting" prayer.

[Excerpted from “St Maximos of Kapsokalyvia and Fourteenth-Century Athonite Hesychasm” by Bishop Kallistos Ware in Kathegetria: Essays Presented to Joan Hussey for her 80th Birthday, ed. Julian Chrysostomides (Camberley 1988)]


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