Saint Gregory the Dialogist
10. These two ways of life were, as was also said before us, symbolized by Blessed Jacob’s two wives, viz. Leah and Rachel. For Leah is interpreted as meaning laborious and Rachel truly as a sheep, or a manifest beginning. Then the active life is laborious because it is fatiguing in work, but the simple contemplative strives also to see its beginning, viz. Him Who said: ‘I am the beginning, for which reason I speak to you’ (Jh. 8:25). Then Blessed Jacob had indeed desired Rachel but in the night accepted Leah because all who are turned to the Lord have desired the contemplative life and seek the quiet of the Eternal Kingdom, but must first in the night of this present life perform the works which they can, sweat with effort, i.e. accept Leah in order that they afterward rest in the arms of Rachel, in order to see the beginning. Then Rachel was a seer, and sterile, Leah truly purblind, but fertile, Rachel beautiful and barren, because the contemplative life is splendid in the spirit but, whereas it seeks to rest in silence, it does not produce sons from preaching. It sees and does not bring forth, because in zeal for its quiet it is less kindled in the collection of others, and does not suffice to reveal to others by preaching how much it inwardly perceives. Leah truly is purblind and fertile because the active life, while it is engaged in labor, sees less but when, now by word now by example, it kindles its neighbors to follow suit, it produces many sons in the good work. And if it does not avail to stretch its mind in contemplation yet it is able to beget followers from that which it does outwardly.
Excerpt from The Homilies of Saint Gregory the Great,the Dialogist ,On the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel , translated by Theodosia Gray, ed. Presbytera Juliana Cownie (Etna, CA: CTOS, 1990), pp. 175-6.
Rachel is found in the heart of the Blessed Jacob,as Hesychasm is the shrine and the heart of the Eastern monasticism
St Augustine asks the following question. ‘Wherecan we find God?’, and continues in answer, ‘not on earth, for He is not here. And not in heaven, for we are nothere. But in our own hearts we can find Him.’
According to the Father Sophrony Sakharov, Hesychasm is such arich and splendid ‘culture’ that any description of it sounds incoherent and incomplete. Palamas refers to it as ἱερή ἡσυχία (holy silence) and calls it, ‘the art of arts’.
Orthodox monasticism is at the same time Hesychasm. Some Hesychasts, and indeed Palamas himself, claimed that they would experience a vision of thedivine light, that same divine light that shone on Mount Tabor, bringing about union with God.
A Hesychast does not try to run away from temptation, but rather, seeks toobtain that inner strength that enables him to bear it. In deed, the Fathers knew that temptations wereunavoidable, but also salutary. According to St Anthony the Great, ‘whoever has not experienced temptationcannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven. Without temptation no one can be saved’.
In the Bible, the heart plays an essential role. It is portrayed as the deep content of man and hisinnermost being. The heart, according to Palamas is the inner man, the centre of the soul, and its pre-eminent power.The heart is the place of prayer par-excellence and the abode of true faith.The essence of the mind is found in the heart. According to Palamas, the heart is the shrine of the mind and the chief intellectual organ of the body. In the heart are found the mind and the thoughts. St John Climacus says, ‘Let the memory of Jesus cling to your breath, and then youwill know the benefit of ἡσυχία (stillness).
For the Desert Fathers, salvation was equivalent to the ‘finding of the heart’. Abba Pambo is quoted assaying, ‘εἰ ἔχεις καρδίαν, δύνασαι σωθῆναι’ (‘if you have a heart, you can be saved’). To have a heart isunderstood as obtaining life-giving grace in the heart.
St. Macarius the Egyptian says ‘For the heart governs and reigns over the whole bodilyorganism, and when grace possesses the ranges of the heart, it reigns over all the members and the thoughts.…on the other hand, as many as are sons of darkness, sin reigns over their hearts, and penetrates to all theirmembers…as water runs through a pipe, so does sin through the heart and thoughts’… thatman’s thoughts must be, ‘taken captive to divine and heavenly things’.
It is, therefore, of utmost importance for the monk to take care what thoughts he entertains in hisheart, ‘For where your treasure is, as the Gospel says, there will your heart be also.’
‘Our one purpose must be to reach the point when weperceive the love of God fully and consciously in our heart’. St.Diadochus of Photiki