Hesychasm: What It Is and How to Pray

By Charalampos •  Updated: 05/30/22 •  8 min read

Hesychasm is a prayer and spiritual practice that has been around for centuries in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

It is a form of contemplative prayer that helps us to connect with God and to experience His presence in our lives.

In this article, we will discuss what Hesychasm is, how to pray hesychastically, and the benefits of this type of prayer.

What is Hesychasm?

What is Hesychasm?

Hesychasm is a Greek word that means “stillness” or “silence.”

It is a type of contemplative or mystical prayer that allows us to focus on God and experience His presence in our lives.

Hesychasm is not about stopping our thoughts or trying to empty our minds, but rather it is about redirecting our attention to God.

This type of prayer helps us to focus on God’s presence in our lives and to experience His love, peace, and joy.

The Early Church Fathers, such as St. Augustine and St. Gregory of Nyssa, wrote about Hesychasm and its benefits.

In the fourteenth century, a monk named St. Gregory Palamas wrote about Hesychasm and how it can help us to experience the presence of God.

This is the Palamite Theology which we will talk about later.

This mystical tradition has been passed down through the centuries and is still practiced today by monks and nuns in the Orthodox Church, especially on Mount Athos in Greece.

Palamism or Palamite Theology.

Palamite Theology
Saint Gregory Palamas Church

In the fourteenth century, St. Gregory Palamas created the theological system known as Palamism or the Palamite Theology.

His writings were developed to defend the Orthodox Hesychasm prayer against the attack of Barlaam.

Palamism is based on the distinction between the energies and essence of God. The essence of God is unknowable and unapproachable, while His energies are His divine activities that are seen and communicated to us.

Palamite Theology has the ultimate goal of man’s Theosis or Deification.

Theosis is the process of man becoming more like God and is accomplished through the practice of Hesychasm. The Eastern Orthodox Church views Theosis as the purpose of man’s existence.

We already covered Theosis in another article which you can read: What is Theosis? Everything About Orthodox Deification.

How The Doctrine Was Developed?

Since Palamas was an Athonite ascetic, he was well-acquainted with the Hesychast Fathers and their ascetic practice of prayer. In Mount Athos, the monks would spend long hours in prayer and contemplation of God.

It was during these times of prayer that they would experience the Uncreated Light of God.

St. Gregory Palamas used these experiences of the Hesychast Fathers to develop his doctrine on the energies and essence of God.

It wasn’t until 1351 that the Palamite Theology became a canonized Dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

As Palamas said, to be an authentic Christian you must experience the Truth, which is God Himself. And this experience comes through Hesychasm.

Hesychasm Practice – How to Do Hesychasm.

Although the ascetical and spiritual practice of Hesychasm is not easy, any Christian can do it.

The first step is to find a spiritual father who is an expert in the Hesychasm practice. Your spiritual father will then help guide and direct you in your journey of Hesychasm.

Pray in Secrecy.

One of the main aspects of Hesychasm is to pray in secrecy. This means that you should find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.

You can pray in your room, in the basement, in the attic, in the forest, anywhere where you will not be disturbed.

God can see you anywhere you pray, but it is important to find a place where you can focus solely on your prayer.

The Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is the most important part of Hesychasm. The Jesus Prayer is simply the invocation of the name of Jesus.

The simplest form of the prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

But there are many other variations of the prayer as well.

One other variation is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

The Jesus Prayer is the most important prayer because it is an invocation of the name of Jesus. And as we know, the name of Jesus is above all names (Philippians).

When you pray the Jesus Prayer, you are invoking the name of Jesus and asking for His mercy. This eliminated every other thought from your mind and allows you to focus solely on Jesus.

It is through the Jesus Prayer that we experience the Uncreated Light of God.

The Divine Light is not something that we see with our physical eyes, but rather it is something that we see with our spiritual eyes.

Note: Both the Jesus Prayer and privacy are essential for the practice of Hesychasm. Your mind, thoughts, and body should be focused on God and nothing else.

Benefits of Hesychasm.

When one enters into hesychasm, or “stillness,” several things happen. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits:

1. It helps us to become more aware of God’s presence in our lives.

When we are constantly bombarded with the noise and distractions of the world, it can be difficult to remember that God is always with us. By taking some time each day to sit in silence and stillness, we are reminded of His presence and learn to become more aware of Him throughout our day.

2. Theosis.

One of the goals of Hesychasm is Theosis or becoming more like God. This is achieved through our relationship with Him and growing closer to Him through prayer and contemplation.

As we become more like God, we can see the world from His perspective and better understand His will for us.

3. It can help to heal our bodies and minds.

Through Hesychasm, we learn to quiet our minds and focus on God. This can lead to a sense of inner peace and calmness that can be beneficial for our physical and mental health.

In addition, the practice of Hesychasm can also help us to let go of grudges, resentments, and other negative emotions that can weigh us down.

4. It can deepen our relationship with God.

Prayer is one of the main ways we grow closer to God and Hesychasm is a type of prayer that can be very beneficial in this regard.

By taking the time to focus on God and commune with Him, we can develop a deeper relationship with Him. This can lead to a greater understanding of His will for our lives and a stronger sense of guidance from Him.

If you’ve never tried Hesychasm before, I encourage you to give it a try. It may not be easy at first, but the benefits are well worth the effort.

Important: Orthodox Tradition warns against seeking ecstasy or “unnatural mental states” during prayer. The goal is to still the mind, not to empty it. Hesychasm is a tool to help us focus on God, not a means to achieve some sort of altered state of consciousness.

Hesychasm Controversy.

During the Byzantine Civil War in 1341-1347, there was much controversy surrounding the practice of Hesychasm.

Some people believed that it was a heretical practice and should be banned. Others believed that it was a valid form of Christian worship and should be allowed to continue.

The supporters and opponents of Gregory Palamas, the chief defender of Hesychasm, engaged in a heated debate that came to be known as the Hesychast Controversy.

Palamas defended Hesychasm at a series of Synods in Constantinople in 1341 and 1347. In the end, the practice of Hesychasm was upheld and continues to be practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Church today.

The Roman Catholic Church also has a tradition of Hesychasm, but it is not as well-known or widely practiced as it is in the East.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hesychasm - FAQs

Is Hesychasm Dangerous?

No, Hesychasm is not dangerous. It is a tool to help us focus on God and grow closer to Him. Eastern Orthodox Christians have been practicing Hesychasm for centuries with great benefit.

Is Hesychasm Heretical?

No, Hesychasm is not heretical. The Eastern Orthodox Church has always been very clear that Hesychasm is a valid and beneficial way to pray.

Final Thoughts

Hesychasm is a practice that can be difficult to do, but it has many benefits. It is a way to get closer to God and have an intimate relationship with Him.

It can also help us focus on what is important in life and make better decisions. The controversy around Hesychasm is because some people don’t understand it and think it is dangerous.

But if we pray the Jesus Prayer correctly, we will see all the benefits that come from this prayerful practice.

This is not the final version of the article, it will be updated regularly with more information about the topic!

Charalampos

Charalampos is an Orthodox Christian who wants to help others learn about Christianity. His main goal is to help people understand the Bible and how to apply its teachings in their everyday lives. He also enjoys spending time with his family, playing sports, and hiking.

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