by Andrea Elizabeth
“The concept of hesychia [stillness] includes practices designed to focus the self entirely upon God.[…] The ideal practice of the ‘Jesus Prayer’ is much more than repetition of prayer (Maloney, 2003). It involves the practices of nepsis and ascesis. This could include, but is not limited to, prayer, fasting, the reading of Holy Scripture, Divine worship, participation in the Holy Mysteries, and the eschatological principles of the remembrance of death and the final judgment (Bouton, 2004).” From Orthodox Interventions, p. 81.
I can see how the above can be taken as monastic escapism. In reality, unless they are hermits, even monks have to focus on people sometimes. To me there is a simultaneous hierarchy. If one is properly ordered, all thoughts and actions involving other people are in submission to (and not monergistically controlled by) God. God is concerned with other people, so he wants a simultaneous focus. It is our interactions with other people that reflect our relationship to God. Other people are our testing ground. If one has learned to control their thoughts in their cell, what happens when they encounter another person? Are they tempted by their beauty? Are they provoked to anger or envy? If so, then they are not strong enough. Focus that can only exist in isolation isn’t good enough, I’m thinking.
Dealing with people is very complicated. Discerning one’s thoughts when with them, or as a result of being with them, takes great concentration. People can help us see how deluded we are about ourselves and our prayer life. If they aren’t convinced of our spirituality, then maybe we’re not as spiritual as we think we are. Most people believe themselves to be persecuted if they aren’t held up as spiritually directed. This could be true, but I think the odds are that we minimize our own sins and overly aggrandize our rightness. Feedback from other people can be helpful. Unless they are trying to ingratiate themselves or are co-dependent with our self-delusion. If one prays for humility and to be made truly right, then I think God uses other people to bring that about. Of course private study and prayer are also involved, but even then, I feel like I need to get my relationships right and to pray more for those God has entrusted to me, than to privately levitate and glow right now. Stillness in relating to others is what I’m working on, but it involves putting God first in the relationship.