The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (21)

Γέρων Ιωσήφ ο Ησυχαστής 01

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5. The Differences between the Trials

Trials (peirasmoi) are so called because they engender experience (peira), since in the unseen war they do indeed afford spiritual knowledge to those who are attentive. Anything is called a trial if it is in opposition to our struggle for faith and true piety while we are pressing on towards submission to God, but they are subdivided into various kinds, according to the understanding of the Fathers. There are the trials of those taking part in the struggle, so that they may make additional gains and progress in their struggle. There are the trials of the slothful and unwilling, to make them beware of things that are harmful and dangerous. There are the trials of those who are drowsy or sleeping, in order to wake them up. Then again there are the trials of those who have distanced themselves and gone astray, to make them draw near to God. Different again are the trials of the righteous and friends of God, so that they may inherit the promise. There are also trials of the perfect, which God permits in order to bring them forward in the Church for the strengthening of the faithful and as an example to be emulated. There is also another kind of trial, again of the perfect, such as those endured by our Lord and the Apostles, who fulfilled the law of communion with the world by taking up the trials which are ours.

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The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (20)

Athos

Continued from (19)

4. On Trials and the Spiritual Law

The Fathers’ saying ‘spill your blood and receive the spirit’ could be described as the ever-memorable Elder’s permanent motto. Intrepid and courageous as he was, he left no room for queries or doubts in his life. But his ardent faith also contributed to this excellent combination, and so the results were always positive. Resolve and daring are the chief characteristics of man’s freedom which manifest his will, and with faith in God – which is all that is asked of our rational nature – they arouse and bring down upon us the divine energy which heals what is infirm and completes what is wanting.

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Message of the day

My child wake up and don’t waste your time on nonsense!

Elder Joseph of Vatopedi

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The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (19)

athos

Continued from (18)

3. On Regime and Disorder

Among the duties which the ever-memorable Elder taught us during the first days of our life under him was that of good order and keeping to a regime, while he described disorder to us in the blackest of colours. He often quoted to us the saying of St Ephrem the Syrian, ‘Those who have no guidance fall like leaves’ – which signifies, as he told us, the lack of any regime. He was also in the habit of referring to various incidents in the lives of more recent Elders and particularly of the Elder Theophylact from the hermitage of St Artemios, who was renowned for his virtue and spiritual gifts.

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The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (18)

Joseph-JosephContinued from (17)

2. On Discovering the Will of God

Our life with the Elder had the character of childhood rather than a mature state. Our effort, in basic terms, was directed towards the monastic tradition, and we exerted ourselves as forcibly as possible in the obligations of our rule. What we lacked, essentially, was the discernment of an experience in discrimination so as to evaluate the situation, so that the spiritual scope of the Elder did not elude us in its depth and breadth and height. But is it perhaps usual and inevitable for disciples to discover their teacher ‘when he is taken from them’? (cf. Lk 24:31). Untiringly, the Elder made a constant effort to pass on to us everything that is spiritual and he did not fail in his aim, because ‘the wise man has his eyes in his head’ (Eccl. 2:14). It is true, however, that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter’ (Eccl. 3:1).

At a mature age, when the Elder was no longer with us, we understood the depth of his words and his actions even down to the details, whereas while he lived they seemed, to our inexperience, riddles that made no sense. We put all our meagre powers into our effort to be obedient and not to grieve the Elder. But we had virtually no comprehension of the meaning and main aim of the spiritual law which the Elder passed on to us with such fervour. I will not go into biographical details again, but I want to comment a little on the aforementioned subject of the spiritual law, which is what chiefly governs human beings.

We observed that the Elder never embarked on anything without first praying. We would ask him about something in the future or for the next day, and his reply was that he would tell us tomorrow. The object was so that he could pray first.

Our desire focussed on knowledge of the divine will: how should one recognise the divine will? He would say, ‘Are you asking about this, boys, when it is the most basic thing?’ We would encourage him with increased curiosity, ‘But, Elder, isn’t God’s will known in general terms through the Scriptures and the whole of divine revelation? Since everything in our life is regulated – what other question should we monks have?’ And the Elder replied, ‘May God give you “understanding in everything” (2 Tim. 2:7). St Nilus the Calabrian prayed that he might be granted “to think and speak according to

the divine will.”

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The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (17)

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Part Two: Teaching

1. On Sanctification and Dispassion

We have already said how difficult it is to describe spiritual figures. We repeat this once again, adding that it is a very bold undertaking to try to enter into the depths and breadth of illumined minds and spirit-bearing beings. But this attempt becomes even harder when the person undertaking it is ignorant and inadequate to the task. We have therefore ‘cast our anxiety upon the Lord’ (1 Peter 5:7) in order that ‘in the riches of His kindness’ (Rom. 2:4) He may make known to the hearts of our readers ‘what is the breadth and depth and height’ (Eph. 3:18) of the spiritual realm into which ‘all who are led by the Spirit of God’ (Rom. 8:14) enter and and in which they move, becoming and remaining sons of God. ‘For to all who received Him… He gave power to become children of God’ (Jn 1:12).

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The Elder Joseph the Hesychast (+1959) Strugles, Experiences, Teachings (16)

Athos

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It would be an omission not to speak of the other basic characteristic of our ever-memorable Elder, the great love and sympathy he had for his neighbour. In particular he loved the poor and those in trouble, and even more those who were suffering in soul, and for this reason they never stopped visiting us.

His last days were very painful, because his advanced heart condition interfered with his breathing and he got very tired. For us, however, this was a lesson and an opportunity to practice patient endurance. We were aware of his struggle, and while we tried to give him some relief, he would console us in appropriate ways with practical examples, speaking especially of the vanity of the world. He told us, ‘The day for me to leave is getting near. The way I am now, I’m not good for anything, and I can’t struggle any more either.’ The ever-memorable Elder did not in the least forget his aim; and with various contrivances, at every pretext life provided he found a means to struggle and bring forth fruit. Being unable to move or to lie down because of his illness, he sat in a makeshift armchair – a folding one – and wept constantly for the vanity of life. He awaited his release from this life as the greatest happiness that could befall him and murmured troparia for the departed, when he was not having too much difficulty breathing. ‘Arsenios,’ he said jokingly, ‘When are we leaving? You’re not praying, it seems, and we’re delayed.’ For almost forty days, his last days, he ate nothing: he just received Communion every day and took a little water-melon.

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