the second practice requires the mind to keep tight control over the senses and to examine all incoming thoughts for possible demonic interference.18 Followers of the third practice, which represents the hesychastic method, are told to sit down and direct their inner and their outer eyes to the region of the navel and to search for the place of the heart inside. They are told that they will first experience darkness but that eventually the mind 'sees the air inside the heart and itself as being completely light and full of discretion. And from then on, when a thought arises, the mind expels it and eliminates it through the invocation of Jesus Christ, before it has been completed and shaped into an image.'19
The first practice is declared worst: it does not lead to virtue and dispassion and it may result in madness because its followers do not learn to distinguish true visions from demonic illusions. By comparison the second practice is seen in much more positive terms. According to the author it is not so much wrong as incomplete since it focuses on the rebuttal of demonic thoughts coming from the outside and neglects to deal with the thoughts that are already in the heart. As a consequence it remains ineffective and can never rid the monk entirely of his passions. Not surprisingly this is the achievement of the third practice, where according to the author focus on the heart leads to discretion because the practitioner sees all that is in his heart and can therefore easily identify and destroy through prayer all demonic thoughts, not only those coming from the outside but also those that are already inside.
At first, the author's argument seems straightforward enough but a closer look reveals significant anomalies. From his ranking one would expect the hesychastic method to show greater affinity with the second practice. Instead it shows striking similarities with the first: in both cases the author states that the practitioners assume a particular posture, that they direct both their imagination and their bodily senses to the same object, and that they expect mystical experiences. None of these features can be found in the second practice, where the body and sense perception are not given a positive role and where there is no visionary component. As we have seen, the author does create a linkbetween the hesychastic method and the second practice through the common theme of discretion, which then permits him to compare his own position favourably with the first practice. However, the overlaps with the second practice are exclusively found in the latter part of the description of the hesychastic method for which there is no longer a counterpart in the first
Was this article helpful?