A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain

Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos
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A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountainis a book which brings to light the quintessence of Orthodox spiritual life: the Jesus prayer or prayer of the heart and how it can be practised by both monks-nuns and lay people. The discussion flows in a spontaneous and immediate way--the dialogue form of the book helping in that. The reader enjoys the simple presentation of all the teaching of the Church on the Jesus prayer through the authentic experience of an Authonite hermit. And "when a hermit's mouth opens it will fill you with fragrance." The book has been a classic of its kind in Greece where it is now in its twelfth edition.

...Therefore, there is no salvation except through the God-man Christ without Him there is only alienation and dehumanisation. He who does not live in Christ is estranged from God, from himself and from his neighbour. God is a stranger and unknown to him. He himself is like a brutish beast. According to St. Maximos, "when the mind of man departs from God, it becomes pleasure-loving and even brutal or wild, the enemy of other people". His neighbour is not his joy but his Hell.

So, man far away from the God-man, is destroyed and degenerate; or becomes like legion, formed in the image of the beast of revelation, of the devil; he reaches a state contrary to nature, and that is non-being. Man, separated from the God-man Christ, is ac cording to the mystical theologian Kavasilas, "a non-being", a zero, because he is deprived of a life in Christ. Only he who lives in the God-man is a real man.

We can say, then, that each person can either become a god-man or a beastly man. That will be the end of history. It is necessary that we live in Christ, the Word of God and become Christ and the Word of God by grace. This is achieved when we live in the Church and participate in its holy mysteries, for, the "Church is manifested in the holy mysteries, not as in symbols, but rather like the members of the body in the heart and like the branches of the plant in the root and, as the Lord said, like the vine branches in the vineyard" (Kavasilas).

This is achieved with the invocation of the name of Jesus and the reciting of the Jesus prayer. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner", especially as the Jesus prayer is very closely associated with Holy Communion. All of the theology of our holy Orthodox Church is hidden in this small prayer. That is why we would always meditate on the sweetest and most joy-producing name of Jesus.

The Jesus prayer is not only for monks. Of course, they have the opportunity to live continually within it. However, we, who are sinners, can also recite it. Let us set aside a certain time for this purpose and begin by saying the prayer for ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes at night, as undistractedly as possible. It is very important to set aside a fixed time (even if a very short one) where there are no interruptions. With the passage of time this certain hour will become longer and will sweeten the soul, the lips...

Let us say it even when we walk in the street as well as before falling asleep, whenever we have spare time. Let husband and wife or all the family say it in the morning and in the evening for a few minutes. One of them should recite it calmly and peacefully and the rest of them listen to it. Much grace will come then to the family. There are many couples and families that have practised it and have seen miracles in their lives...

Those who want to go deeper in prayer need an experienced spiritual guide. At the same time let us live our lives in harmony with the commandments of Christ. For the follower of Christ associates himself with His work and His teaching. By keeping the commandments, we also receive grace, the complete Holy Trinity. According to St. Maximos, "He who has received and has kept one commandment possesses mystically, the Holy Trinity...

- p. 185, A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain

1 review

  • 5
    A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain

    Posted by Kevin Beary on 20th Aug 2022

    A very interesting book written in the form of a dialogue. Contains many very significant observations on the Jesus prayer.