Letters: Elder Joseph the Hesychast

Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast on Patience and Endurance

Fortieth Letter
God always helps. He always comes in time, but patience is necessary.

Come, my good and beloved sister. Come and I shall comfort your sorrow once again. Come and we shall bless God with the sweet voice of our heart, intoned through our mouth, and resonating in our nous, saying, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name." [1]

Do you see how much the Lord loves us? Do you see how fortunate we ungrateful ones are for everything that His goodness gives us every day? But the time of the real harvest still awaits us: that blessed moment when we shall leave everything here and depart to the other homeland—the true one—the blessed life, the certain joy, so that each one of us receives the portion that the munificent, sweetest Jesus will give him.

O joy! O gratitude! O love of the heavenly Father! He cleanses us from all defilement, honors us, enriches us, bestowing His riches! There, my golden sister, there are no crafty people to wrong us. Envy and jealousy will have disappeared. There are no passions there whatsoever; those who have them have remained on the other side of the bridge. For a great gulf is fixed between here and there. [2]

But, O sweet love of Christ, what good didst Thou see in us that Thou didst lead us along Thy divine path?

So rejoice and exult, my beloved sister. Thank and glorify God, and behold, the time draws near. The time will soon come for us to hear the blessed voice, "Come unto me." [3] And as soon as these bodily eyes close, the noetic eyes of the soul will open. Then as if from sleep we shall wake up into the other life. Then you will see parents, brothers, relatives. Then you will see angels, saints, and the blessed Mother of all, the pure Virgin Theotokos, whom we all call upon at every moment and to whom, after God, we owe everything. Then, whom shall we speak with first, who will kiss us first, whom shall we kiss? With all purity, with all modesty, with all holiness. So who, expecting such blessings, would not endure every sorrow here of this present life?

Therefore, my good beloved sister, make a review of your life. Examine in what manner you have passed your life. Recall the innumerable benefactions of our Savior Jesus Christ and His sweetest Mother, and be patient in the temptations that come.

God always helps. He always comes in time, but patience is necessary. He hears us immediately when we cry out to Him, but not in accordance with our own way of thinking.

You think that your voice did not immediately reach the saints, our Panagia, and Christ. On the contrary, even before you cried out, the saints rushed to your aid, knowing that you would call upon them and seek their God-given protection. However, since you do not see beyond what is apparent and do not know how God governs the world, you want your request to be fulfilled like lightning. But this is not how things are. The Lord wants patience. He wants you to show your faith. You cannot just pray like a parrot. It is necessary also to work towards whatever one prays for, and then to learn to wait. You see that what you longed for in the past has finally happened. However, you were harmed because you didnt have the patience to wait, in which case you would have gained both the one and the other: both the temporal and the eternal.

Now you become angry and fainthearted and grieved, thinking that the heavenly Father is slow in answering. But I tell you that this will also happen as you desire—it will definitely happen—but first it takes prayer with all your soul, and then you must wait. And when you have forgotten your request and have ceased asking for it, it will come to you as a reward for your patience and endurance. When you reach the verge of despair while praying and seeking, then the fulfillment of your request is near. Christ wants to heal some hidden passion within you, and this is why He delays in granting your request. If you obtain it sooner, when you demand it, your passion remains uncured within you. If you wait, you obtain your request and the cure of the passion. And then you rejoice exceedingly and give warm thanks to God Who arranges all things in wisdom and does everything for our benefit.

So then, there is no point in losing heart, getting upset, complaining. You must close your mouth. Let no one perceive that you are disturbed. Dont fume with anger, as if to work it out of your system, but rather be calm. Burn the devil through patience and forbearance.

The Lord, Who destroys all who speak lies, is my witness that I have greatly benefited by the advice I am giving you. The temptations I had were strong enough to make you think that your soul would depart due to the pain, as if from a flaming furnace. Nevertheless, once the trial is over, so much consolation comes that you feel as if you were in paradise without a body. Then Christ loves you, our Panagia loves you, the saints praise you, and the angels admire you.

Do you see how many good things temptations and afflictions cause? So if you too want to see, to taste the love of Christ, endure whatever comes upon you—not whatever you like, but whatever the Lord wants to test you with. What we buffer voluntarily is absolutely nothing in comparison with the trials the Lord sends us against our will. The hostile devil fights us bone against bone and blood against blood, as much as God allows. He fights so much, that one melts and flows like wax before the fire. [4] But when the trial passes, you are totally filled with joy. You are encompassed with extraordinary light and see mysteries which the human tongue is unable to utter. And henceforth you thirst for more temptations, when they will come again, since you have already learned how salutary they are.

This is truly the road, my sister, and the one writing to you bears witness to the truth out of his own experience. So be brave and strong in the Lord, enduring whatever comes to you, expecting, along with the pain, the peace and grace of God. Be strong and give courage to your soul, considering that the lame and the maimed do not enter into these good things. Christ allows temptations so that we may be purified of our predispositions. Temptations are like soap and a mallet which hits us and whitens us. All the clothes that are firm are useful for the Bridegroom. But those which do not endure the mallet are torn and thrown out in the trash.

Therefore, let us exert ourselves a little bit here, for the time draws near. Keep the letters I send you, so that you will have them when afflictions trouble you, because it seems to me that I shall soon leave you. The more that time passes, the more seriously ill I become. I am like a paralytic now.

Postscript: I dont have time to write to you about the miracle that the Lord showed me to correct a mistake I was making out of ignorance, as you know. So, do you see the great goodness of our Lord? Do you see that He even works miracles when His divine providence deems it suitable? Many times a person is deluded out of ignorance or because others mislead him. But when he has an upright soul and good intentions, the Lord does not abandon him, but will bring him enlightenment in various ways. This makes me feel like dirt, ash, and a worm of the earth.

Most truly, great is the mercy of the Lord. The Psalmist is right in saying, "Not according to our sins hath He dealt with us, nor according to our iniquities hath He rewarded us." [5]

So then, why shouldnt you thank God? Why should you grumble? If I were to write to you the temptations I undergo, you would not be able to bear it. Nevertheless, the grace of Christ and our Panagia dispels them all. Have patience, for the Theotokos, the Queen and Lady of all, does not abandon us. She prays for us.

Fiftieth Letter
Who knows, my child, the judgments of God?

Who knows, my child, the judgments of God? Everything is known to Him. He sees everything and nothing escapes His notice, but no one knows His will. The works of Satan are nothing next to the power of God. So when the Lord tests us as He knows best, we should show our patience and thankfulness.

Now then, my child, if His divine will is in accordance to our desire, certainly you will get well. But if He foresees something that we do not know—since as God He sees and judges differently from above—then you will not get well. Nevertheless, we do not lose our reward: it is stored up in His kingdom. So be patient and struggle.

Just recently, on the eve of St. Catherines, I had a great struggle with Satan because of you. A visible fight. I was wondering if perhaps you had gotten well. He was furious, screaming. I stood at prayer all night for you and all day as well, so that God might show mercy. Finally he left and did not come back. So tell me how you are doing, how you are getting along. Is Satan troubling you? Have patience.

It is in this manner that you should pray: "I, my dear God, I want You to make me well so that I may bless and glorify You. But on the other hand, if You know differently what is profitable for the salvation of my soul, may Your will be done."

The All-good God, my good child, does not do anything that is not for the benefit of our soul. Whether it be an illness or a temptation, whatever He lets happen to us, He does for our benefit. Many times we grumble, become indignant, and do many bad things. Whereas He, out of His great love, has only our souls best interest in mind. For He knows that we are here temporarily and that everything will soon pass. When this exile of ours ends and the true eyes of our soul open, then we shall gratefully thank Him for everything.

So then, my good child, always have patience. I am informed that God gave you this trial because of your kindness. But whenever He wills, He can take it away.

When I saw your parents, I told them to go to their spiritual father; to confess everything which they have never yet confessed, to say everything clearly, to remember any sinful thing since childhood that they have forgotten. For without frank confession, neither are you helped, nor do they go to paradise. In confession, your father should tell about the oath took, your mother should tell about the burden she carries since the first years of her marriage, and likewise, all your siblings should confess everything. Everyone in the house should make a general confession—to be cleansed, unburdened, and to become children of eternal life.

And you, my child, write to me about whatever happens to you, and do not be afraid of the tempter. Just say the prayer without ceasing. He, my dear child, is the tempter—the devil—and only the prayer burns him, and fasting severs his nerves; it unnerves him.

So, have infinite patience and thanksgiving; pray and fast intensely, and may God destroy him. I am praying for your health, for your happiness, as well as for your parents and siblings. Let them be careful; let them exert themselves; let them take care of their salvation.

Fifty-fourth Letter
Living in the wilderness has its own struggles, whereas living in the world has many other different kinds of struggles.

You yourself know from experience that wherever we may be, my son, we need much patience. Living in the wilderness has its own struggles, whereas living in the world has many other different kinds of struggles. So be brave. And since you have chosen this burden, bear it with fear of God.

And believe me, my child, I shall forcibly gather my strength, weakened and deadened from the toils, to entreat God that you suffer no harm from the foolish plots of the enemies of our faith. However, if it is written from above you will undergo some trial for the benefit of your soul, I shall beseech God to grant you patience and bravery of soul.

Do not fear. The Masons are devising many plans and want many things, but only if the Lord of all allows them to. Without His will, as He said, neither a hair nor a leaf falls. [6] He shall disperse their counsels. [7] For the time being, this is sufficient for us. As for later, let God, Who keeps us alive, take care of it.

Your endeavors should begin with God and end with God, and do not fear the temptations that come. For, by the grace of Christ, they dissipate like smoke.

As for that temptation of yours that you mentioned, I think this is the truth: for that demon to trouble you, it seems that something good is happening that bothers him. But you also gain much when you are tempted. In addition to the reward for patience, you become practiced and learn about people. If a stone does not strike against another stone, no spark is produced. An untried man is completely worthless.

You learned much when you were here, and now you are learning much there. But be prudent from now on and walk with caution "understanding what the will of the Lord is, because the days are evil." [8] Learn to redeem the time [9] and the circumstances.

The temptation you have now will pass, but another one will come, because the enemy never rests. Didnt you see what he said to God when He asked him about Job? [10] It is the same for all of us. The temptation comes in accordance with ones stature. And you must endure in order to emerge victorious. Christ, Who sets the contest, allows temptations for this reason: so that we may gain victories against the enemy, be purged from passions, and be perfected.

So, struggle and be patient. Do not grow weary. Do not turn back. When you see that you are exhausted, make a trip here and rest. You will regain your strength and then return once again to struggle. The struggle lasts for life, and the tempter, wherever you are, wherever you go, is beside you.

You thought that by departing from here the pressure of the spiritual warfare would cease. But now you fully realize that there is no such thing as a place without temptation. A person needs to win in the place where he is being fought, as to bring sorrow and shame to the devil, and joy and glory to God.

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As for your nervous condition—the anger you mentioned—say the prayer constantly. In this way grace will settle your nerves. And do not grieve, for the entire world suffers from such things....

When you say, "Everyone else is happy. Why are we the ones sad?"—this shows that your life is pleasing to God. For the Lord sends afflictions only when a person does the will of God. For afflictions are a grace and gift from the Lord. So you are inadvertently confessing that you are elect children of God. "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth."* So take courage, or rather rejoice, because the Lord loves you very much. Dont be sad anymore.

* Heb. 12:6.

1. Ps. 102:1
2. cf. Lk. 16:26
3. Mt. 11:28
4. Ps. 67:2
5. Ps. 102:9
6. cf. Mt. 10:29-30
7. cf. Ps. 32:10
8. Eph. 5:16-17
9. cf. Eph. 5:16
10. vid. Job 1:6-12

From Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast (Florence, AZ: St. Anthonys Greek Orthodox Monastery, 1998), pp. 213-216, 246-248, 257-259, 298-299.

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Extra notes on Patience and Endurance.

"And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope." (Romans 5:3-4)

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:2-4)

"Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6-7)

"Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." (1 Thess. 5:17-18)

"For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure (experience) chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" (Hebrews 12:7)

"Strive hard for patient endurance! Do not weaken. Hourly thank God for all. And He will see to it that good comes of your right attitude." (St. Macarius of Optina)

"Be patient! All will passmay the Good Lord grant you patience! Remember that patience is baked at midnight (prayer) and is eaten in the daytime. If you did not pray at midnight, you will not be patient in the daytime. The Holy Apostles were unable to keep vigil together with the Savior Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and thats why they did not have the Divine power to resist the temptations of the next day. A little patience! In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19).... Being humble-minded, praying, and having discernment, a man draws near to God with spiritual joy. Thus, he will have many temptations, especially so as to be humbled." (Elder Dionysios of Kolitsou Skete; from The Orthodox Word [Vol. 41, No. 1 (240), pp. 14-15])