shutting out such thoughts altogether thanks to the exercise of intense imagination, which takes the place of all other mental activity.27
The treatise of Pseudo-Symeon gives us an insight into the earliest stage of the hesychastic movement when it was not yet widespread and had to fight for acceptance. The late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries saw the rapid expansion of hesychasm on Mount Athos. Nikephoros is said to have attracted numerous disciples, among them Theoleptos of Philadelphia (f c. 1325), one of the leading religious authorities of his time.28 However, the most important figure of the next generation was without doubt Gregory the Sinaite. Caught up in the Turkish conquest of western Asia Minor, Gregory became a monk and then spent several years on Mount Sinai before departing to Mount Athos, where he lived as a hermit. Later he founded a monastery in Thrace, which attracted the patronage of the Bulgarian ruler Ivan Alexander (1331-71). When he died in 1346 he had a great number of disciples, including many Slavs who introduced hesychasm to Bulgaria and Serbia.29 Gregory propagated the hesychastic method in several prayer manuals, which he addressed to various Athonite monks.30 In these texts he refers to both earlier treatises but it is clear that his own teachings owe more to Nikephoros than to Pseudo-Symeon: the focus is on breathing and the Jesus Prayer whereas navel-gazing is never mentioned. His own experience is reflected in a strong interest in physical reactions such as trembling and feelings of joy.
Gregory's prayer manuals are evidence for the spread ofhesychasm on Mount Athos and elsewhere. However, they also showthat this spread did not take the form of simple imposition but was rather a process of mutual accommodation. There can be no doubt that in its earliest form hesychasm posed great dangers to traditional monastic life. Nikephoros not only sets out techniques that make visions accessible to 'ordinary' monks but also maintains that these techniques can be learnt without the help of a spiritual father.31 If taken at face value this
27 Cf. Nikephoros, On sobriety, in PG 147, 964B-965A.
28 See however R. E. Sinkewicz, Theoleptos of Philadelphia, The Monastic Discourses. A critical edition, translation and study [Studies and Texts 111] (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1992), 2-5.
29 On Gregory's biography cf.A. Rigo, 'Gregorio il Sinaita', La theologie byzantine, ed. G. Conticello and V Conticello (Turnhout: Brepols, 2002), ii, 30-130, esp. 35-83. On his influence on Bulgaria cf.G. Podskalsky, Theologische Literatur des Mittelalters in Bulgarien und Serbien 865-1459 (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2000), 299.
30 See Rigo, 'Gregorio il Sinaita', 106-19.
31 Nikephoros, On sobriety, in PG 147, 963A.
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