Evagrios the Solitary and the Philokalia

 The Philokalia (from the Greek – “love of the beautiful”) is a collection of texts written between the fourth and fifteenth centuries mostly by monastic writers of the Christian hesychast tradition. It was compiled by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, two monks of the Greek Orthodox Church, and first published in 1782. The book is a principal spiritual text for all the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In the last century its popularity has spread to include Western Christians, due to the growing interest in contemplative prayer.  In it we find the Christianity of the Desert Fathers, and its growing popularity beyond the Orthodox Church suggests that this form of Christianity and its practices has more appeal to a modern mind than a theism  that derives from the Old Testament.  Here is Evagrios clarifying some of the rules for progressing beyond the exoteric literalism of dogmatic theism.

Evagrios the Solitary – On Prayer

4. When Moses tried to draw near the burning bush he was forbidden to approach until he had loosed his sandals from his feet. If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense-perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.

11. Try to make your intellect deaf and dumb during prayer; you will then be able to pray.

44. If your intellect is still distracted during prayer, you do not know what it is like to pray as a monk; but your prayer is still wordly, embellishing the outer tabernacle.

56. One who has attained dispassion has not necessarily achieved pure prayer. For he may still be occupied with thoughts which, though dispassionate, distract him and keep him far from God.

57. When the intellect no longer dallies with dispassionate thoughts about various things, it has not necessarily reached the realm of prayer; for it may still be contemplating the inner essences of these things. And though such contemplation is dispassionate, yet since it is of created things, it impresses their forms upon the intellect and keeps it away from God.

73. When the intellect attains prayer that is pure and free from passion, the demons attack no longer with sinister thoughts but with thoughts of what is good. For they suggest to it an illusion of God’s glory in a form pleasing to the senses, so as to make it think it has realised the final aim of prayer. A man who possesses spiritual knowledge has said that this illusion results from the passion of self-esteem and from the demon’s touch of certain areas of the brain.

74. I think that the demon, by touching this area, changes the light surrounding the intellect as he likes. In this way he uses the passion of self-esteem to stir up in the intellect a thought which fatuously attributes form and location to divine principial knowledge. Not being disturbed by impure and carnal passions, but supposing itself to be in a state of purity, the intellect imagines that there is no longer any adverse energy within it. It then mistakes for a divine manifestation the appearance produced in it by the demon, who cunningly manipulates the brain and converts the light surrounding the intellect into a form, as we have described.

67. When you are praying. Do not shape within yourself any image of the Deity, and do not let your intellect be stamped with the impress of any form; but approach the Immaterial in an immaterial manner, and then you will understand.

68. Be on your guard against the tricks of the demons. While you are praying purely and calmly, sometimes they suddenly bring before you some strange and alien form, making you imagine in your conceit that the Deity is there. They are trying to persuade you that the object suddenly disclosed to you is the Deity, whereas the Deity does not possess quantity and form.

114. Never try to see a form or shape during prayer.

115. Do not long to have a sensory image of angels or powers or Christ, for this would be madness: it would be to take a wolf as your shepherd and to worship your enemies, the demons.

116. Self-esteem is the start of illusions in the intellect. Under its impulse, the intellect attempts to enclose the Deity in shapes and forms.

117. I shall say again what I have said elsewhere: blessed is the intellect that is completely free from forms during prayer.

118. Blessed is the intellect that, undistracted in its prayer, acquires an ever greater longing for God.

119. Blessed is the intellect that during prayer is free from materiality and stripped of all possessions.

120. Blessed is the intellect that has acquired complete freedom from sensations during prayer.

121. Blessed is the monk who regards every man as God after God.

122. Blessed is the monk who looks with great joy on everyone’s salvation and progress as if they were his own.

125. A monk is one who regards himself as linked with every man, through always seeing himself in each.

This topic continues here with some explication of Evagrios’ approach from Plotinus and Hongzhi – https://theworldknot.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/duality-unity-and-realisation/

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11 Responses to Evagrios the Solitary and the Philokalia

  1. johsh says:

    Devotion, reverence and pure prayer can be very powerful. There are some similarities to sufism(islam) and bhakti (hindu/budhhist).

    As modern human is inundated with questions (with internet, information age), I am not sure if this approach is better than a more logical, rational, and practical approach like some buddhist stuff.

    I am not discounting the power of this approach, actually it has been claimed this is an easier approach , as you do not need extensive explorations like in the other.

  2. PeterJ says:

    Hi Josh. I would agree with you about this. I would not say,’there are some similarities’, but that they are essentially the same. I think you’re right about the analytical approach. It seems necessary in tis day and age, but the other way would be the more important and effective one.

    • johsh says:

      Indeed. I always thought indoctrination of society (religion is an excellent example) is not such a bad idea, it “lifts” most of the adherants up, who would otherwise be confused (to put it mildly). This prayer approach is another example of indoctrination (good kind).

      Lot of atheists do not see this power of religion. The power to shape entire society’s thoughts, morals, culture, discipline etc. There is no other approach that is as effective as religion, in this sense. Also one of the reason why buddhism, though based on analytical/logical approach, never managed to fully convince 80% of non-buddhists on this planet.

      But we all know the problems with blind faith and religions – based on current state around the world. They are easy to be hijacked (unintentional of course). Its like history books … the winners always decide what is history. The bias is inescapable.

      In summary, prayer works but its for sheep, the nature allows humans to be sheep and lion at the same time.

  3. PeterJ says:

    I’m not in full agreement this time, Josh. . Perhaps some official methods of prayer can be indoctrination, but does the prayer recommended by Evagrios seem like indoctrination to you? To me it seems more like de-programming.

    Also it would be very misleading to say that Buddhism is based on an analytical/logical approach, It is based on empiricism. It makes full use of analysis and logic, however, and encourages us all to do the same. .

    Where I would strongly agree is over the importance of religion to society. We throw it away at our peril.

    • johsh says:

      I used “indoctrination” little bit differently. We are not born with any knowledge, and everything we “learn” (or see with mind) is indoctrination of some kind. At-least initially, and until one fully sees which things(teaching) do what. There is what dependent-origination in Buddhism is about. In that sense, buddhism is analytic/logical in its applying of methods. Empiricism is suggested for people progressing on the path, as not everybody can see it as logical/analytical in the beginning, but surely/certainly they will eventually (if they want). The concept of karma , for example, can be fully accounted/understood logically/analytically.

      So, Until one sees the full power of prayer (and its implications), how can one say it is not indoctrination (with full confidence). Evagrios (or advanced persons like you) can say to me its not indoctrination, and I would agree with you because you fully see what its results are, what it does. But realistically, most humans (as much as 80% or more) who read that notes by Evagrios will only have the bookish interpretation.

      either way, indoctrination (aka “skillful means”>/b>) is the humanity’s savior.

      • PeterJ says:

        I find your use of ‘indoctrination’ confusing. to the point where I’m not sure quite what you’re saying. How can a form of prayer for which it would be necessary to abandon all reference to shape and form, and thus all thoughts and concepts, be indoctrination? I would see it as de-programming to combat former indoctrination.

        Is there a ‘bookish’ interpretation of Evagrios? As far as I can see he speaks plainly enough. His words are not complicated. just a bit of advice about how to travel beyond the phenomenal world in prayer. .

      • johsh says:

        Its indoctrination in the sense we are telling a person what the concept of “prayer” is, what to expect out of it, and to blindly believe it until said expectations become apparent.

        Evagrios prose is not bookish, i was just pointing that its interpretation is like ‘reading about love’ (the experience of somebody who fully comprehends what “love” is, is totally different from somebody to whom we had to explain what “real love” (in this case “real prayer”) is.

        the simple fact that currently 80% (or more) of humans simply do not pray like what Evagrios talks about is proof enough. Just like how humans can be shaped(indoctrinated) to be better lovers, they can be indoctrinated to be better prayer’ers.

      • PeterJ says:

        So, helping someone to improve their tennis backhand would be indoctrination? Would every instance of learning count as indoctrination? That not everyone prays like Evagrios is ‘proof enough’ of what?

        At this point I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Are you a fan of Evagrios or a critic?

      • johsh says:

        As I mentioned in my first comment, I appreciate the power of prayer and what Evagrios says.

        How do we get what Evagrios says to be adopted by most humans (> 80%) ? That was the crux of my past few comments. Religion is a form of indoctrination, and its one of the most successful in turning “state of mind” of a society (even entire continents), and thus its people’s.

        the word Indoctrination means lot of things, unfortunately it mostly has negative connotations due to the way its been used in popular media/parlance.

        I particularly prefer to use the word “indoctrination” when we are talking about larger than life things like prayer. Unlike tennis, where “learning” is enough of a word (though, you will get better results if you make tennis a religion/indoctrination 🙂 )

      • PeterJ says:

        Fair enough. I get where you’re coming from.

  4. Pingback: Duality, Unity and Realisation | The World Knot

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