Saturday, August 15, 2009

Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Cave-dweller (+1959)

Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Cave-dweller (+1959). August 15th 2009 is the 50th anniversary since his righteous dormition (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/osios-iosif-o-isihastis.jpg)
    
"Early life
Francis was born in Paros to George and Maria in 1898. In his teens, he went to work in Piraeus. At twenty-three he began to read the lives of the Fathers, a spiritual turning point for him. These lives, particularly those of the strict ascetics, and a dream he had, gave him the desire to enter into monasticism. He responded to this desire by fasting and praying in the nearby countryside, which was uninhabited, and then going to Mount Athos.

Athonite
The future Elder yearned to pray unceasingly, but had great troubles - he could not find a spiritual father, and the indifference of many monks towards unceasing prayer.
"I was inconsolable because I was longing so ardently to find what I had set out for in search of God; and not only was I not finding it, but people would not even being helpful."

In the midst of this experience, however, he was granted a vision of the uncreated light, and the gift of ceaseless prayer was given to him.

"At once I was completely changed and forgot myself. I was filled with light in my heart and outside and everywhere, not being aware that I even had a body. The prayer began to say itself within me... "

During this time, he spent time in remote places to recite the Jesus Prayer. Eventually he met Fr Arsenios, who was to become his co-struggler, and found that they shared a common desire for hesychasm, and decided to find an experienced elder. They found Elder Ephraim the Barrel-Maker, and they arranged their lives to provide the maximum silence for praying the Jesus Prayer. In addition to his work and his prayer rule, Fr Joseph went to a cave at sunset to recite the Jesus Prayer for six hours.

After Elder Ephraim the Barrel-Maker's repose, Frs Joseph and Arsenios spent summers moving from place to place around the peak of Mount Athos, so as to be unknown and to find and learn from spiritual monks. In winter, however, they returned to their hut in the wilderness at St Basil's. They possessed only their tattered monastic garments, and Fr Joseph ate three ounces of rusks (dried bread) a day, sometimes with an amount of boiled wild greens. They spoke little so that they could pray more. Fr Joseph was assailed by the demon of fornication around this time, and he would battle this great temptation for eight years, using as weapons extended vigils and using, instead of a bed, a chair to sleep on. Finally, Frs Joseph and Arsenios discovered an experienced ascetic and spiritual father, Elder Daniel.
  
Little St Anne's
Time passed, and the fame of Elder Joseph began to spread. After Fr Arsenios ceded the eldership that was his right by length of time in monasticism, Elder Joseph accepted three brothers to live with them, with others living with them for short periods of time. In 1938, seeking solitude from the increasing number of monks who sought his advice, he went to a cave at Little St Anne's, where the brotherhood grew to seven monks.

["On one occasion it was a feast of the Lord, I think Epiphany, and Father Arsenios and the Elder Ephrem went to a vigil nearby, as was their custom. Our Elder, however, did not go, but stayed in his artificial cave occupied with inwardness and prayer. ‘As I was sitting there immersed in myself,’ he told us, ‘and noticing the sweetness of the prayer, all of a sudden I was filled with light – not like the daylight we see, of course – and then it grew so that the whole place became light. Suddenly there appeared three little children, about six to eight years old, completely alike in appearance so that it was impossible to make out any distinguishing feature. They were so charming and so lovely that the sight of them captivated all my senses. I did not feel anything else, I just admired them. They were a short distance from me, a few yards away, walking towards me with the same rhythm, the same step, the same movement. All their movements and their features were as if they were one, and yet they were three. And they were singing, very melodiously, the verse, ‘As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ, alleluia’. When they were very close to me, so close that I thought I could have touched them if I had stretched out my hands, they moved rhythmically back again, without turning their backs, and continued the same hymn; and at the alleluia they blessed me with their little hands, as a priest does’.


When I asked him, out of curiosity, what he was thinking during those moments, he told me that there are no thoughts or questions at that time, because the mind that is held captive by contemplation and suffused with light by divine grace does not have any activity of its own. ‘The only thing I remember’, the Elder went on, ‘is that I was in such a state of bliss that I felt something akin to what Peter said, “It is good for us to be here” (Mt 17:4), and I was wondering, how do they know how to bless when they are so young? This lasted as long as the divine grace and love for mankind wished it, and then the light went away along with the trio of little boys; then I came to myself and saw that my usual time had gone past, because the alarm had gone off a long time before without my hearing it.’" (http://www.manastir-lepavina.org/vijest.php?&id=4195&page=3)]

[Elder Joseph has been walking in prayer on Mount Athos. Suddenly, the landscape becomes white as snow, and the Elder, anxious that he is trespassing, looks for a way out.

"I saw a basement door and entered there. It was a temple [the Greek word for a church] of our Most Holy Theotokos.

Some beautiful youths were sitting there dressed with splendid garments and had a red cross on their chests and on their foreheads.

One of them, who wore a brighter garment and looked like a general, arose from his throne and said to me, “Come. We are waiting for you.” Then he urged me to sit down.

“Forgive me,” I said, “I am unworthy to sit there, but it is enough for me to stand here at your feet.”

He smiled, left me, and went in front of the iconostasis to the icon of the Panagia and said,

“Lady and Mistress of all, Queen of the angels, Immaculate Virgin Theotokos! Show thy grace to this thy servant who suffers so much for thy love, so that he be not engulfed by sorrow.”

And suddenly, so much brilliance came out from her divine icon and the Panagia looked so beautiful, in full length, that from the extreme beauty – a million times brighter than the sun – I fell down at her feet unable to gaze at her and cried out in tears,

“Forgive me, my dear Mother, because out of ignorance I sadden you!” And crying thus in reality, I came to myself soaked in tears and full of joy." (http://gabrielsmessage.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/it-is-enough-for-me-to-stand-here-at-your-feet/)]


After approximately 13 years, the large amount of physical labour required to live there became too much, making most of the fathers ill. Elder Joseph moved the community further down the mountain, nearer the sea, to New Skete.
  
Elder Joseph reposed on August 15, 1959.

Relics
Elder Joseph has been 'locally' canonized in several places, including the Holy Mountain, Greece and Romania. However, this is not the official canonization of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This 'local' recognition of being a Saint is a prelude to the full canonization. Archimandrite Sophrony (+1993) knew Elder Joseph well and in his book about Saint Silouan the Athonite, Elder Joseph is one of the monks mentioned who was granted the gift of the 'Uncreated Light'.

The relic of the Elder's head is kept in St. Anthony's monastery, in Arizona (USA), while the rest or his relics are kept in the Vatopedi monastery. Many visitors to Athos report that his relics give off a divine fragrance. The abbot of Vatopedi monastery, Fr. Ephraim, spoke publicly in Athens about miracles performed through the intercession of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and even about miraculous appearances of him.
(http://orthodoxwiki.org/Joseph_the_Hesychast)
  
For another, more in-depth version of the Elder's life and miracles, see here.
   
The Holy Relics of St. Panteleimon the Great-Martyr (right) and the Sacred Skull of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, treasured in St. Anthony's Monastery, Arizona (taken from: http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/images/hmstanthony/slides/1-33.html)
  
Writings
-Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, by Elder Joseph the Hesychast, 1998. Published by St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery, Arizona. ISBN 0-9667000-0-7 (HB), ISBN 0-9667000-1-5 (PB)
-Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles, Experiences, Teachings, by Elder Joseph, 1999. Published by the Holy Monastery of Vatopaidi, Mount Athos. ISBN 960-7735-12-9 (SB)."
A new, extensive biography of Elder Joseph the Hesychast has been published by St. Anthony's Monastery in Greek and English. The following is the description from their website:
My Elder Joseph the Hesychast and Cave-Dweller (1897-1959) (in Greek),
Ο ΓΕΡΟΝΤΑΣ ΜΟΥ ΙΩΣΗΦ Ο ΗΣΥΧΑΣΤΗΣ ΚΑΙ ΣΠΗΛΑΙΩΤΗΣ (1897-1959)
by Elder Ephraim
This is the most complete biography of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, one of the most important figures of Athonite monasticism in the twentieth century. The book presents previously unpublished stories about Elder Josephs’ brotherhood and his other spiritual children, his spiritual counsels, struggles, and miracles after his holy repose. Includes B/W and color photographs.

New narrative biography of Elder Joseph the Hesychast for children (published in Greek) (http://www.stamoulis.gr/OpenImage.aspx?Image=Images/Products/2310.jpg)

The Radio Operators of God: Elder Joseph the Hesychast (amateur translation)
from the Monastery of the Precious Forerunner, Mesa Potamou (2011)

Does God have radio operators [i.e. that help facilitate communication with Him]?

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain confirms that He does.

They are the monks who send our messages to God through their prayer, and the messages of God to people.

A great radio operator of God that lived in our days is Elder Joseph the Hesychast.

The young Francisco, later Elder Joseph, had his dream all planned out: to become a rich importer. However, this suddenly changed one night when he saw in a dream that he was called to the service of a supernatural king. It was Christ! He left everything and hastened to Mount Athos, where he became a monk. There he experienced divine things. He was communed by the hand of an angel, and was embraced by Panagia and the divine Child-Christ Himself-who touched him on the head!

Learn about his struggles and how he managed to keep strong his great love for Christ.
(http://www.stamoulis.gr/ViewShopProduct.aspx?ProductId=402145)
  
Photograph of Elder Joseph the Hesychast (seated) along with his synodeia. This includes Elder Ephraim Philotheitis, Elder Arsenios, Elder Joseph of Vatopedi, Elder Charalambos of Dionysiou, etc. (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/elder-joseph1.jpg)
  
"Elder Joseph the Hesychast and the teaching of mental prayer which flowed from his letters
by Abbot Ephraim of Vatopaidi Monastery
The blessed elder Joseph the Hesychast is one of the most important figures of contemporary Athonite monasticism. This monk is sanctified. His life is truly that of a contemporary saint and his disciples have today inhabited nearly half of the Holy Mountain and are responsible for so many other women’s monastery both within and outside of the Greek land.
  
It is said today by a pious mouth, which speaks the language of the Holy Spirit, that today’s blessed renewal of the Holy Mountain is primarily the common work of Elder Sophrony, elder of the Monastery of the Forerunner in Essex with his excellent book concerning St. Silouan the Athonite, Elder Paisios the ascetic with his blessed presence of the Holy Land, and the disciples of the blessed Elder Joseph the Hesychast. The tree is known by its fruits.
  
We firmly believe that the return of Athos to interiority and prayer and generally to Hesychast Theology is due largely to the presence of the sanctified Elder Joseph the Hesychast. As you will know from all that has circulated up to now about the blessed Elder Joseph, he was a man who did not possess the skill of worldly things, was not even a beginner among them. He studied to the second grade. And it is easy to see this if you look at a copy of one of his handwritten letters. But as a possessor of the fullness of divine grace, having achieved by full enlightenment of his grace-filled mind to ascend to the highest steps of Theology and become a perfected theologian. For we know that a theologian is not one who has studied in the modern Theological Schools but one in whom speaks God the Logos. Theology is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The blessed elder wrote concerning this, “When in obedience and stillness one purifies the senses and calms the mind and cleanses the heart, then he receives grace and enlightenment of knowledge. He becomes all nous, all clarity, and filled with theology such that if three were writing they could not keep up with the flow. He spreads peace and complete inactivity of the passions throughout the body.”
  
Theology according to the venerable Elder and generally in the Holy Fathers is a fruit of the divine Grace within us. Therefore the Holy Fathers view the monasteries of the desert as universities. The letters of the venerable Elder are true theological essays but are written without the canons of syntax and orthography. Searching the letters of the blessed Elder Joseph, anyone can well comprehend the great grace with which this perfected Athonite monk sent them. All the more so we who are his spiritual descendants and have the further fortune to have among us our Elder. He was among the spiritual children of the ever-memorable Elder and very often brings up something spiritual concerning his elder, Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
  
And we find ourselves in the place above all of the Orthodox Tradition, the Sacred Athos, where the love of the Mother of God pleads for us. We who live in the Theotokos-protected Monastery of Vatopaidi by the extreme tolerance of the great God, live the true meaning of the Orthodox Tradition.
  
Today much is said and emphasized concerning the Orthodox Tradition, and rightly so. But it is difficult in our days to find traditional people according to the fullness of the Orthodox sense. It is said that traditional people are those who study traditional - patristic books, and this is not wrong. But truly traditional people are those who have received the Orthodox life from people who possess it and can pass it on simply and unmistakingly.
  
Thus, for all our baseness, we experience this situation and we know personally the great blessing it is to receive directly the experience and skill of the Orthodox life. When our Elder narrates something to us of his spiritual father, our ‘papou’ as we call him, that is for us a great blessing, a spiritual harmony; it is a joy and happiness.
  
When one receives first hand the experience of the Holy Spirit, he senses in a intense manner that the Gospel is not something that happened ‘at that time’ but is a continuous life, in which is confirmed that ‘Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and to the ages.’
  
As one studies the correspondence of the blessed Elder Joseph, the first thing noticed is his desire, his nostalgia, his pure wish to tell his fellowman to concern himself with the prayer of Jesus. Because when he came to Athos, he set as his aim to live like the old ascetics as he had read in the book of that day, Kalokairini, containing the lives of the saints.
  
The whole of the venerable Elder’s life was his continual meditation in the Prayer of Jesus. He tried to apply the command of Paul, “pray without ceasing”.
  
Every evening he had as his rule to occupy himself with the prayer of Jesus unwaveringly for six continuous hours. He left this precise method in one of his letters. “I knew a brother, who for six hours brought his mind down into his heart and did not permit it to go out from the ninth hour of the afternoon (about 3 pm) until the third hour of the night (about nine pm). He had a clock that struck the hours. And he became drenched in sweat. When he got up, he worked our the remainder of his debt.” This manner of spiritual work, learned from the Fathers, shows great mental strength and a high spiritual condition. For it is truly rare, especially in our days, to find a mind that can pray unwaveringly for such a long time. The blessed Elder said that to accomplish such a great spiritual feat a person must compel himself in prayer and he emphasized: “Say the prayer all the time. don’t rest your mouth at all. Thus it will become habitual in you and the mind will receive it.
  
The Hesychast Elder is one of the contemporary Athonite Elders who taught the details of the practice of noetic prayer, not only to monastics but also to the laity. According to the Elder, all people, without reference to their way of life, wherever they find themselves, and whatever they do, can undertake noetic prayer. The blessed elder wrote concerning this, “The practice of noetic prayer is to constrain yourself to say continually the prayer unceasingly with the mouth. Attend only to the words - ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’. And you will experience sweetness as if you had honey in your mouth.”
  
One who wants to practice noetic prayer systematically should not wait for particular moments which he sets aside for the prayer. The sanctified Elder, as a teacher of prayer, empha sizes: “Always say the prayer: sitting or in your bed or walking or standing. ‘Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things,’ says the Apostle. You should not only pray when you lie down. It wants struggle: standing, sitting. When you tire, sit down, and then stand again. If you eat or work, don’t stop the prayer.”
  
The prayer, according to the blessed Elder, is the breath of life for the soul. And he advised concerning it: “Let ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me’ be as your breath” (Presuppositions of the Prayer: The Warfare of the Devil in this Work).
  
Therefore, great are the gifts, great the consolation, outstanding the sweetness, indescribable the happiness, inexpressible the joy, deep the peace, infinite the love which are received on account of the prayer of Jesus.
The chief message of the Holy Mountain to the pious people of God is: As much as you can, say the prayer. Whatever we say, whatever we explain, is incapable by words to express the depth and breadth of the good results of the prayer of Jesus. To whom is due all glory, honor and worship to the ages. Amen!"
Elder Paisios on Elder Joseph the Hesychast (amateur translation)
Elder Paisios admired the life and struggles of our ever-to-be-remembered Elder, Fr. Joseph. He told us:
-"Oh, what I lost! When I came to the Holy Mountain the blessed Elder was living. I heard of his reputation and one of my acquaintances said to me: 'Don't listen. They are all lies. They are in error [πλανεμένοι]'. I believed him and did not go to get to know him and benefit from him. However, when his letters were published and I read them, then I understood what a rare person this was, and what a great treasure I lost."
(amateur translation from a Greek book on Elder Arsenios the Cave-dweller: http://www.pigizois.net/pneumatikoi_logoi/ger_arsenios_spilaiotis/ger_arsenios_spileotis.pdf)
  
Drawing of Elder Joseph in the Light of Christ's Transfiguration (http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/gerontas-iosif-hsyhastis-71.jpg)

Selected quotes from Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast
"God, my child, is everywhere, and His eye observes everything, but He overlooks our sins because He awaits our repentance. When we are at fault, whether slightly or greatly, He sees it because He is present, but we do not see Him because we are infants in knowledge. And when He punishes us so that we may turn towards Him, we think that we are suffering unjustly. However, when we humble ourselves, then the eyes of our soul are opened and we realize that everything the Lord does is very good. Then we look upon Him as Father abundant in mercy and overflowing with perfect love and kindness."
  
"Christ does not demand anything from you to give you His holy gifts other than to acknowledge that anything good you happen to have belongs to Him."
  
"Our Panagia hastens everywhere. She bestows her grace abundantly upon anyone who fervently cries out to her. She is a mediatress to Christ for everyone, because she was deemed worthy to give birth to the Lord and to become the Mother of God. She carries Him in Her arms and continuously entreats Him. Since we sinners do not have the boldness to run directly to God from the start, we cry out to His Mother. She regenerates us; she intercedes; she anticipates all our afflictions. She is our protectress and helper, more honorable than all the angels, beyond compare more glorious than the Cherubim and Seraphim, second in rank only to the Holy Trinity. Oh, but she is so good, so sweet, that you want to embrace her at every moment and obtain consoling grace. The more you love, the more you are loved."
  
"The time of this present life is a time for harvesting, and each person gathers spiritual food - as pure as possible - and stores it up for the other life. It is not the clever, the noble, the polished speakers, or the rich who win, but whoever is insulted and forbears, whoever is wronged and forgives, whoever is slandered and endures, whoever becomes a sponge and mops up whatever they might say to him. Such a person is cleansed and polished even more. He reaches great heights. He delights in the theoria of mysteries. And finally, it is he who is already inside paradise, while still in this life."
Elder Joseph "has wide acclaim for being the spiritual father or grandfather of Elders Ephrem of Philotheou, Joseph of Vatopedi, Charalampus of Dionysiou and others, who are directly credited for revitalising six of the twenty monasteries on Mount Athos." (http://orthodoxwiki.org/Joseph_the_Hesychast) In addition, the monasteries under the spiritual direction of Elder Ephraim in the United States, Canada and Greece consider Elder Joseph to be their spiritual grandfather (see: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/map.php). May we all have his blessing!
  
Another picture of Elder Joseph and his synodeia (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/brotherhood.png)

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

2 comments:

Kathy AE said...

How blessed I feel to have found your website. I have been attracted to the Jesus Prayer all my life. Although I am a Roman Catholic, I practice the prayer all through the day and deep into the night. I maintain a personal website (www.livingchrist.webs.com) where I post orthodox teachings, esp. on the Jesus prayer, and my parish website (www.stpaulbr.webs.com) where I try to share the teachings as well (RETREAT page). I love Elder Joseph, and reverence also the humble Coptic priest, Father Lazarus El Anthony. What a treasure we have in the desert and on the holy mountain. Christ longed for his church to be one. May the Holy Spirit and our holy mother Theotokos make it so.

Agioi_Anargyroi said...

I thank God that many are coming to know the great Saint of our days and teacher of noetic prayer: Elder Joseph the Hesychast.

I do think however that it is important to emphasize (as the Elder would) that hesychasm should never be divorced from the truth of Orthodox dogma. As such, while I am glad that other Christian denominations are finding useful material on this site, I urge all to also read about Orthodox dogma, and the major differences between Orthodoxy and the heterodox. The grace of the Holy Spirit, working through the Holy Fathers, continues to bear witness to the unadulterated truth of Orthodoxy.

Christ's Church is and will always be one. I pray that we all be granted the repentance, humility, love and obedience to follow Christ, the Way the Truth and the Life.