sexta-feira, 21 de julho de 2017

Hesychasm and Orthodoxy

We are here at the heart of ascetical psychology. We have a tripartite structure of the soul; we are going to free (or, cure) the soul from being dominated by the passions of two parts, anger and desire. Evagrius will mention that the mind (nous) is subject to its own passions of ignorance and delusion, although he does not call them ‘passions’.

Now, the important thing is this: the ascetical program is being set: we are to free ourselves from anger and desire—in what sense, we will see as we proceed. It should be understood that both the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment rejected this program—vehemently. They do not accept the underlying anthropology and soteriology. This is the significance of Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith: a rejection of the ascetical theology that is based on the anthropology that we are discussing. The Enlightenment, of course, went further, rejecting revealed religion; we saw this in the last chapter. In the West, only the Roman Catholic Church, until our own day, maintained, in its religious orders, this understanding. Here we see a fundamental point on which the Orthodox Church maintains a stance foreign to the wisdom of the West today. It is the Orthodox Church’s understanding of human nature and of the goal of the Christian: what the Christian does from the time of his conversion to Christ, from the time of his Baptism, until he dies. [...]

We say this to indicate the seriousness of what is here being asserted by St Macrina. Taking her to say that it is necessary for the ascetic to remove the passions of the irascible and desiring parts of the soul, to remove their operations contrary to nature, then we have a certain attitude towards those very passions, an attitude that many non-Orthodox Christians, and many non-Christians, do not share. Moreover, we view the difference between the Orthodox doctrine and the non-Orthodox doctrines that would be opposed to it as being fundamental aspects of different anthropologies, different images of the person in each of those doctrines.Moreover, those different anthropologies are tied to different soteriologies, different doctrines of what salvation is and how it is to be accomplished or attained.

We are here at the root of Orthodox anthropology, and any attempt to recast Orthodox prayer of the basis of another anthropology—perhaps a modern post-Enlightenment or post-Freudian or post-Jungian psychological system, or even a Protestant or Roman Catholic anthropology—is going to produce a man or monk quite different from the traditional Orthodox man or monk if the attempt does not respect this fundamental structure of Orthodox anthropology. In other words, an attempt to break off the methods of Hesychasm and plant them in a different philosophical or theological setting that does not respect the basic orientation of Orthodox anthropology is going to produce results quite different from those which are produced in the Orthodox ascetical tradition. [...]

And here is the problem for Western adepts of other faiths, to see that what St Hesychios is addressing in his discussion of sobriety and mental prayer in the heart flows out of Orthodox Baptism[9] and Orthodox Faith. To continue our metaphor, yes, we too, the Orthodox, have five fingers on each of our hands. But we worship God and what we build has a distinctly Orthodox character. Here, the rebuttal is normally: ‘It’s all the same; these are cultural differences in the architectural style of the temple you build.’ We say: ‘No. We receive the Holy Spirit in Baptism; it enlivens, quickens, enlightens, cleanses our mind (nous) and heart, so that we find our mind (nous) and heart different, and when we descend with our mind (nous) into our heart, that mind (nous) has been enlivened, quickened, enlightened and cleansed by Baptism, so that we see things differently. Moreover, when we are with our mind (nous) in our heart, the problem for us Orthodox is no longer to activate an innate structure so as automatically to undergo an experience of light, but, on the one hand, to pray in a certain way, and, on the other hand, to cultivate sobriety—this is the topic of St Hesychios’ work—which sobriety is bound up with the rebuttal of temptation that we have just outlined. So we, as Orthodox, with our mind (nous) in our heart have an Orthodox activity; we build an Orthodox building with our hands of five fingers.’


St Macrina uses the excellent metaphor of the iron moulded by the artisan: the iron is moulded towards whatever the consideration or judgement of the artisan who is executing the work would wish, becoming either a sword or an agricultural implement.

Earlier, in connection with the use of the Prayer of Jesus, we referred to innate structures of the human soul, taken in reference both to God and to the body, and alluded to the use of mantras in Hinduism and Buddhism, and even to the use of zikr in Sufism. Here we have an answer to the claim that all these methods are equivalent: it is the judgement or consideration of him who executes the work that determines whether the iron will become a sword or a ploughshare. Similarly, there may be innate structures that support the use of a mantra in Buddhism or of the Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox Church: that is the iron, these innate structures. But it is the judgement or consideration of him who executes the work that determines what will become of the iron: this is the Orthodox Faith, the Hindu belief system, the Buddhist belief system, the Sufi belief system. These differ. And what is made of the iron differs according to the judgement of him who executes the work: what is made of the Jesus Prayer, the mantra of Hinduism, the mantra of Buddhism, the zikr of Sufism, depends on the judgement—the faith, the belief system—of him who prays the Jesus Prayer, uses the mantra and so on. Hence, to say that all religions are the same, that they all lead to the same result, that they all do the same things to the same innate structures, is to say that all iron implements are the same, that they differ only in shape according to the culture of the artisan. The intention, belief and judgement of the artisan play their role however, and that is the difference among the religions of mankind.

The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart
Volume I: The Orthodox Doctrine of the Person
Fr Theophanes (Constantine)

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