Kallistos Ware: Word And Silence in the Philokalia

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

Word And Silence in the Philokalia

Personal notes during a talk delivered on 2/22/2011

at North Park University, IL

You can now listen online to this talk!


Before the talk, a student gave a short presentation showing how the Philokalia helps him in his daily life.

Note: these are just limited notes, I did not write down about things I already knew about the Philokalia

It contains 36 authors from the 4th to the 16th century

It is chiefly about inner prayer, the kingdom of the heart

There’s one leitmotiv: the Jesus Prayer

At the Burning Bush, God said to Moses: take of your shoes

Shoes symbolize here the deadness of boredom, or repetition.

Free yourself of what is lifeless, enslavement

Shake off the deadness of boredom

Come to yourself

Wake up

Open your spiritual eyes = nepsis [the full title of the work is the Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers]

Look and see

Our problem is that we are bored, and so we are fragmented

We use a very little proportion of our own spiritual potential

We do not use the sacrament of the present moment

The God said to Moses: The place where you stand is holy ground

Bare feet, we become sensitive

We free ourselves of inner deadness

We realize the world around us is holy

Each thing, each person becomes a sacrament of God’s presence

We know that God is before and in us

How can we experience this?

How to enter the prayer of the heart?

The Philokalia answers: use the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me/on us

About “have mercy on us”:

Story of the onion in The Brothers Karamazov: when the lady said it was her onion, she was denied her essential humanity and fell back in the lake of fire

The invocation of the Holy Name is a way of waking up, of realizing we are on holy ground.

There are other ways. Prayer is personal; it is a dialogue between the Trinity and us. Each person is unique

The heart of the Jesus Prayer is the Holy Name of Jesus

It sums up the double reality of Christ, fully God and fully man

It is a source of grace and power

It has a sacramental value

It is a visible sign of spiritual grace

The Jesus Prayer can be used in 2 ways

The free use: at passing times, when we are busy with daily tasks.

It enables us to find Christ everywhere

“The Christian is the one who sees Christ everywhere and rejoices in Him.” Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

The Jesus Prayer is powerful, simple and direct

It is flexible and resilient

It does not require any preparation: just begin!

It is especially appropriate in our age of anxiety, and it is probably more used today than ever before

It unites our prayer time and our work time.

It turns our work into prayer, our secular into sacredness

When we get used to the free use of the Jesus Prayer, our prayer goes deeper and deeper. We get “a sense of presence” (Gregory of Nyssa)

1 Th 5,17: “Pray without ceasing” = preserve in you an increasing sense of the divine presence

The fixed use: we make it part of our regular time of prayer, when not engaged in any other activity.

It creates a sacred time

It is traditionally practiced alone, seated, eyes closed; said, not chanted, inwardly, sometimes with the breathing

Begin 10 to 15 mn, longer if you are experienced

The inner aim of the fixed use is to create silence (hesychia), stillness of the heart

“Man is what he does with his silence”

Silence is the essential component of genuine humanhood

How much silence is there in my life? = How human am I?

The Jesus Prayer is entry into real silence

What is silence?

Not an absence of sound, a void, but a fullness, a presence. It is not negative, but positive. It is the awareness of the other.

“Be still AND know that I am God.” Ps 85

Stillness goes with the presence of God

True silence is different from isolation. It is a relationship, an openness, it is losing and finding oneself in the other, it is being with in an alert manner, it is creative listening

Silence is waiting upon God – cf The Mother of God icon her hands raised in prayer (platytera)

It is a contemplative prayer, a prayer of simple gazing  – cf The Curé of Ars: “I look at Him and He looks at me.”

If we pray in silence and say nothing, we become victims of distractions, of irrelevant thoughts that keep coming; instead, give to your mind the repetitive invocation of the Hoy Name.

It is a prayer that leads through the word/Word into silence

“Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation”, Seraphim of Sarov

“Understand through the stillness,

Act out of the stillness,

Conquer in the stillness”

Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings

“Jesus Christ, the Word that came out of stillness” Ignatius of Antioch.

It makes this prayer source of power and Transfiguration

It combines contemplation and action

It makes our contemplation active,

And our action contemplative

*** *** ***

During Q&A

The contribution of the Philokalia, through its teaching on creating silence is essential to our world today. It teaches how silence can transform our life in the world

It is possible to say The Jesus Prayer in small groups, no need of liturgical setting, of presence of a priest. There’s a real power of practicing silence together

There are clear similarities between the Jesus Prayer and the invocation of the name in yoga, islam, and breathing techniques, but the central element in s the invocation of the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Fasting alone has only a limited value; it needs to be joined with prayer. Fasting is involving the body, the whole person in the act of prayer

Gather all your attention on the person of Jesus

Be conscious only of Jesus, not of invocating His Name

Concentrate on His Presence

Let the images go, turn to His simple Presence

A prayer is only a means to an end

Be personally aware of the love and saving Grace of Jesus

Do not objectify the presence of God, but think in terms of living communion with God, person to person, it is a personal encounter

Personal ref:

Buber: I and Thou / Tales of the Hasidim

For the Life of The World

Mark the Monk: meditation on the Cross

Nicodemos translated Ignatius of Loyola in Greek


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