First attested in the thirteenth century, this method enjoyed great popularity among Byzantine monks throughout the fourteenth century, in particular on Mount Athos, which after the loss of Asia Minor had become the most important centre of Orthodox monasticism. The proponents of hesychasm saw themselves as the true heirs of the monastic tradition of the Orthodox east and in particular of the school that stressed the need to be on constant guard against sinful thoughts.2 At the same time they disapproved of other models of monastic life. Two groups of monks in particular attracted their criticism: those who focused on asceticism and psalm singing and those who, like Palamas's adversary Barlaam, stressed the importance of intellectual activity for monks. The hesychasts accused the former group of neglecting the inner man and disparaged the latter as pursuing worldly wisdom, which distracted them from the quest for the divine. The self-portrayal of the hesychasts and their criticism of the two alternative models proved so efficacious that their point of view has become the canonical narrative of late Byzantine spirituality.3 The following discussion explores the processes that led to the construction of this narrative. It seeks to clarify the linkbetween hesychasm and the Byzantine spiritual tradition and to determine the nature of the debates between hesy-chasts and non-hesychasts in order to arrive at a more balanced understanding of the rise of the new movement.
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