Elder Joseph – The Hesychast (1898- 1959)
(Written By his spiritual child – Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi – Mt Athos – 1999)
Reviewed by Emmanuel N. Stamatiou
1. Brief Biography
• Elder Joseph was born in a small village on the island of Paros in 1898.
• He worked in Piraeus and Lavrio as a salesman and merchant.
• At 23 years of age he settled in Katounakia on Mt Athos under the spiritual guidance of Elder Daniel.
• Later he went to live in the wilderness with Elder Kalinikos in strict asceticism.
• He moved to Viglia near Great Lavra and then settled in Katounakia with his spiritual brother, Elder Arsenios under the guidance of Elders Ephrem and Joseph.
• He was tonsured a monk by Elder Ephrem in the cave of St Athanasius.
• They then moved to St Basil where they constructed a small hut and laboured assiduously at stillness and prayer.
• After Elder Ephrem fell asleep Joseph and Arsenios settled in a cave in the wilderness of Little St Anne in January 1938.
• They were joined by their spiritual children – Joseph (the author), Charalambos and Ephrem.
• In June 1951 they all moved to New Skete and Theophylaclos joined them.
• On 15 August 1959, the day of the Dormition of Our Lady, Elder Joseph fell asleep.
2. Spiritual Gifts
As a result of steadfastness in the ascetic life, his great love for Christ and the Holy Mother of God, he was endowed with many spiritual gifts such as:- prophecy, visions and the ability to read the hearts, souls and thoughts of others for their spiritual benefit.
1. Man’s life long aim is sanctification – fullness and perfection of God. The road that leads to sanctification and perfection in Christ is Repentance.
2. We lack discernment gained through experience in discrimination. So when we want to find out the will of God, we need to abandon our own will completely and with great humility ask for this knowledge in prayer or seek guidance of a spiritual father.
3. Unexpected trials are sent by God to teach us to practise the ascetic life, and to lead us to repentance, even when we are reluctant. The afflictions that come upon us are the result of our sins, which darken the mind so that we lose the power of discrimination altogether. Then idiotic thoughts abound, an intense war of the flesh, pressing the will to move in a manner contrary to nature, anger for no reason, quarrelling on the spur of the moment and rebuking at random, blasphemous thoughts against God. All these are the consequences of the sin of pride and come upon the person who has been led astray into believing in himself.
4. “Where there is love and self-control and repentance and prayer, every difficulty and perplexity evaporates.”
5. Listlessness (Acedia), negligence and sloth, which all mean the same thing, confuse and entangle its victims resulting in spiritual death. “Self-esteem damages those who have fruit, who have made progress, whereas negligence impedes those who want to make a start. It prevents those who have gone astray from returning. It does not permit the fallen to get up.
6. The beginning of the path to pure prayer is the battle against the passions. There can be no progress in prayer while the passions are active. When someone is tripped up by the passions as a result of negligence or self-esteem, it is impossible for grace to be present.
7. When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God, so that he can no longer bear what he experiences. Afterwards this love turns towards the world and man.
8. Once Elder Joseph was asked, “What is discernment of spirit?” He replied, “It means distinguishing the spiritual gifts and when each one is active, what is conducive to it and what conspires against it, when it appears and what is then required of man, and when it is withdrawn, what one should be aware of and how one should act. A person who has this gift also recognizes the form of delusion, which strives through preferences to present itself as grace, using masks which are hard to distinguish and angelic appearances. It is extremely difficult and requires a better struggle to regain this gift in the case where it is withdrawn.”
9. Obedience is a mystery (sacrament) because of the supernatural qualities it imparts on a person. “Why the submission of God the Word to His Father Who is equal with Him in Honour, if not because obedience is a mystery.” “Obedience is not like the other virtues, most of which belong to man’s will, or at other times arise out of the necessity to come to grips with a corresponding vice. Obedience is the first thing that God requires from His creation.”
10. True contemplation is that which through its fullness causes utter forgetfulness of this created world, showing only the supernatural mysteries of eternal life. These things take place during prayer. When one prays with a pure mind and heart, he is surrounded by the immaterial uncreated light, ethereal and purest white, which floods the person inside and out. The light transfigures him and changes him into its own supernatural subtlety, whereupon he feels neither weight nor bulk, nor even any blameless person, then contemplation snatches up his mind wherever it wishes, while his senses cease to function, not even the mind itself, but simply follows the course of the Holy Light, and just marvels and feels amazement.
Elder Joseph was uneducated as far as his secular schooling was concerned. He had only completed his second year in elementary school. But he was wise in things divine, for he was tutored by God.
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