Guide Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

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  • Man is unable to distinguish himself. It is just like iron: before it is thrown into the fire it is called iron, but once it ignites and becomes red-hot, it is one with the fire. Having being reborn spiritually himself, he sees the renewal of the whole of creation. The beautiful rocks theologize like voiceless theologians, as does all of nature. A theological atmosphere, and the fact that his very existence speaks theology, permeate the letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast from the great gift of grace that he possesses: the gift of discerning spirits. Here we see a discerning monk, theologian and Father.

    Monastic Wisdom – Monastery of the Virgin Mary the Consolatory

    This is important on two accounts. Firstly, because theology is primarily prayer and the theoria of God. Someone who does not pray cannot theologise, even if he writes theological treatises. Secondly, because the spiritual father who is also a theologian is able to identify the spiritual illnesses of his spiritual children, and to cure them through his wise and experienced guidance, with the Christian remaining, of course, within the sacramental and ascetic life of the Church.

    This discerning pastoral guidance offered by spiritual fathers who are also theologians is clearly evident in the Gerontikon Sayings of the Desert Fathers.


    Every word uttered by the great Abbas was theological and healed the spiritual ailments of Christians, because their sayings were the energy of God. There are many examples that we could use from the writings of the great Elder Joseph of blessed memory. They all spring from the same source, but each one differs from the other in eminence and glory.

    Elder Joseph of blessed memory knew personally all the subtle inner processes, so he is an experienced teacher of the spiritual life. He is very familiar with the changes that take place in the soul and body during the spiritual struggle. When the Elder analyses the subject of delusion he makes the surprising statement that a person falls into delusion mainly by overemphasising one spiritual gift, such as fasting, vigil, tears, prayer, hesychia or the monastic schema.

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    It could be emphasised that it is the best introduction to interpreting the Philokalia. I remember that from the first times I read this book I realised how valuable it was for understanding the vocabulary of the patristic and neptic tradition. In his texts Elder Joseph explains terms with amazing aptitude and unusual ease, in a way that shows he has completely assimilated them. Exalted concepts become easy to understand, and these moving texts actually lead the reader to experience such concepts within the furnace of longing and love for God.

    The first stage is called purification, during which a person is cleansed. What you have now is called the grace of purification. This form of grace leads one to repentance…The second form of grace is called the grace of illumination.

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    • Monastic Wisdom the Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, First Edition.
    • During this stage, one re ceives the light of knowledge and is raised to the vision of God. This does not mean seeing lights, fantasies, and im ages, but it means clarity of the nous, clearness of thoughts, and depth of cognition…The third stage — when grace over shadows — is the grace of perfection, truly a great gift.

      Monastic Wisdom Elder Joseph hardcover

      I shall not write to you about this now, since it is unneces sary. Sometimes it purifies, sometimes it illumines and sometimes it makes perfect and deifies, and so it takes the corresponding names. The Elder is plainly aware of which state the recipient of his letter is in. On the one hand he puts the spiritual life in perspective for him, without restricting him to low spiritual levels, because otherwise he would just be moralising.

      Often in his writings he speaks about noetic prayer, the circular prayer within the heart, which is superior to rational prayer but inferior to theoria. When the ascetic attains to theoria of God, noetic prayer ceases. The words of saints, however, cannot be analysed by inexperienced people, but must be studied from the perspective of prayer and in a prayerful atmosphere. In addition to all this, it is clear from the writings of Elder Joseph contained in the book Monastic Wisdom that he possesses a sensitive heart full of paternal affection and love, a love that melts even the hardest and coarsest of hearts.

      Like a physician, I am able to cure your passion of agitation and grief which now has laid a strong hold of you. Come and see that I shall change the tune. We shall chant plagal of the first tone which is joyous. I shall slay the fatted calf and we shall make merry.

      The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast

      I am full of love and forgiveness. As a loving father, I shall receive you in my arms, like the son in the parable ,.. My mind stops; my tongue is silent, and my hand grows numb for you…Oh, my child, if you could only see my pain and the tears that I shed for you! How much I worry until I hear that you have risen and slapped the adversary! These things happen to everyone.

      It is a war of the tempter that will pass. I am like a paralytic. Be cause of this and everything else, I am dead tired. Please, I ask that you pray for me, because I have many souls that seek my help. And believe me, my fathers and brethren, for every single soul that is helped, I go through the warfare he has. This is also why your elder is constantly ill. Then he is able to tread the path to Gethsemane, Golgotha, and even the Cross.

      Only someone who has received from God the same grace as the Martyrs can have such a compassionate heart and sacrificial love. However many analyses are made of the wonderful book by Elder Joseph the Hesychast, they cannot adequately describe its great value for the spiritual life, because it shows the heights of divine vision, but also the many-sided struggle needed to ascend eagerly the ladder leading up to God. It can help all categories of monks and Christians engaged in this struggle.

      It points out to monks what genuine monastic life means, which is essential in our day, when we see the monastic way of life being distorted.