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(from the Greek hesychia, “quiet,” “silence,” “detachment”), a mystic trend in Byzantium.
Hesychasm is used in two senses. In the more general meaning, hesychasm is an ethicoascetic teaching on the path of man to union with god through “purification of the heart” by tears and through concentration of consciousness within itself; to achieve this, a set of techniques for psychophysical self-control was devised, which bears some outward resemblance to the methods of Yoga (the inclined sitting posture, regulation of breathing and circulation, constant mistrust of spontaneous “wishes,” and the practice of the so-called Jesus Prayer, entailing single-minded repetition of the very same phrase several thousand times in succession). The teaching was created by Egyptian and Sinaitic ascetics of the fourth through seventh centuries (Macarius the Egyptian, Evagrius, and John Climacus). During the religious restoration of the 14th century it underwent renewal and development; by no means was this an original creation. Only in this sense can one speak of the hesychasm of Gregory Sinaites and of his Russian followers (Nil Sorskii, for example).
In the narrower sense hesychasm is taken to mean the religio-philosophical teaching that Gregorius Palamas elaborated in disputes with spokesmen for theological rationalism, a teaching that included the thesis of the distinction between the essence and the energies of god (the doctrine of the uncreated nature of the “light of Mount Tabor”). Palamism, which historically was combined with a sociopolitical position supporting Emperor John Cantacuzenus, was after a prolonged struggle declared official Orthodox teaching at the local Blachernae Synod in 1351.
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Ostrogorskii, G. “Afonskie isikhasty i ikh protivniki.” Zapiski Russkogo nauchnogo in-ta v Belgrade, 1931 [issue 5].
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S. S. AVERINTSEV