Now let me tell you how they pray on Mount Athos.
An Athonite ascetic said, "Lord, I pray twenty-four hours a day, and I cannot pray enough!" Do you now have an idea how he prayed? Can you appreciate the spiritual height he reached? Can you understand how sweet it must have been for him to have his eyes and heart turned unceasingly toward the Lord? You have to experience the sweetness of God to say these words.
They know how to pray on the Holy Mountain, at its monasteries and beyond. The Blessed Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller did not even let himself sleep - he tied himself up with a rope to a block of wood and prayed leaning against it. Many ascetics would do the same. In prayer and penance, Elder Arsenios struck his head on the floor saying, "I am a terrible sinner. If God cannot hear my prayer, at least He will see me bowing to Him. My sin is so grave that I cannot make the words of my prayer come out of my mouth!" He prayed incessantly! If you ever saw his face when he rested, you would say, "Blessed is the death of a saint!" Another ascetic of our day took endless hours to serve liturgy because all the saints would come to assist him. He never hurried, or asked the monks to leave lest they be dazzled by what they saw; he prayed alone. When his wondrous state passed, he opened the door and let the monks back, "Let us continue, shall we?"
Another monk praying at the night vigil parted with his mind and left to the sea, mountains, and groves. He admired the flowers, trees, sea fish, mountains, and islands; he visited Heaven and earth, witnessing and hearing the universal praise of the Lord. From that day on he could no longer stand on his feet, tears streamed unceasingly from his eyes. He said: "The spiritless world is in tears sending praise to the Lord, while I, a man with a soul, am living in sin!" The Holy Mountain has many great fasters and Hesychasts. In his advanced years, the Elder Joseph the Cave-Dweller († 1959) came to prominence for his prayer. His prayer came from the depth of his heart, it became his power, he lived by its heavenly sweetness that filled him from within. Many monks still pray like him.
The mind practices of the Holy Mountain have spread across the world. St Paisii Velichkovski (+ 1794) brought its traditions to the Slavs, and Father Sophronii (Sakharov) (+ 1993) to Europe.
The traditions of Mount Athos have influenced Athanasius of Meteora and St Dionysius of Olympia, who in turn inspired countless others. Athonite prayer practices have travelled around the world. Russia has its Holy Mountain, and so does Serbia. Mount Athos is everywhere. There are Athos-style monasteries in Europe that practice incessant saying of Jesus' Prayer.
Archimandrite Emilian (Vafidis)
"Jesus' Prayer is your ultimate knowledge, my child. You cannot describe or define it precisely, at risk of being misunderstood by the inexperienced. Still, it is a genuine accomplishment. One may call it the most perfect form of theology, or, more precisely, of seeing God. Pure prayer is the origin of theology and also its product. It is its blessed fruit. Yet the environment that gives the prayer such vitality is the sweet silence of the desert (and its dynamism), and the eschewal of passions."
Metropolitan Hierotheus (Vlachos)
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