By : Fr. Eusebios Vittis
Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries (photo from here)
In Greek: here & here
Translated by: K. N.
Today's man is afraid of loneliness; he cannot be alone. He is
afraid, even in overpopulated cities, in villages and in the
strange fact: if you are going to head for the forest, my
brother, why don’t you “forsake” your cell phone, radio or TV?
Go there, to savour
solitude! Focus on the sounds of rustling leaves, the songs of
birds, the babbling brook... you will hear the sounds of the
wind whistling through the trees, cleansing and refreshing them,
and making them sing as it passes through their branches
(provided it is not a storm or a hurricane, but a gentle breeze
that reminds us of God).
Man is afraid of remaining alone, because he doesn’t have Christ
with him. Even the
greatest hermit is not literally alone. Many people ask: “How do
you get along, without any TV?”
Well, I ask them: “How do you get along, without
any solitude? Without any peace and quiet?”
Let's take a moment to ponder isolation, stillness, calm, and
silence, where there is a huge lesson to be learnt…
We simply cannot remain calm In the world, without a river of
utterances beginning to gush forth. Even in places of
(respectful) quiet such as Churches, we cannot stay silent; one
will inevitably hear a steady droning of churchgoers’ voices, as
if they are in a public square (naturally before the
commencement of the Liturgy and not during!)
Silence is the opposite of utterance. Man is a rational being;
inner utterances can also form articulated utterances, that is,
speech. But oftentimes, speaking becomes an unstoppable flow of
utterances - sheer chatter that can be very tiring. It is a
vacuous utterance, not constructive, lacking in content, and not
an enriched utterance “irrigated” by the divine Spirit.
Utterance is a gift. But at times it becomes a torment, making
others say: “Doesn’t that person ever stop?
There is a time for speaking and a time to remain
silent.” What time would
that be? Difficult
to determine. Let’s see how the holy Fathers describe this in
their homilies – themselves having lived in noiselessness, in
silence – and let’s learn from them. Let’s find ways to learn in
silence the things that the Lord wants from us.
However, we don’t imply the cases where some people become
silent when they are offended, when they quarrel, when they’re
angry, when they’re jealous and bitter, when they’re in a lot of
pain, when they’re afraid, when they dislike, when they secretly
prepare malevolent intentions and do not speak. These cases of
silence (“silent treatment”) are not representative of virtue.
We... “don’t have time” to focus on our deeper self, which is
why, during confession when we prostrate ourselves before the
Lord with our Spiritual Father as witness, our confession is
sadly deficient; it doesn’t bear fruit, because we have never
learnt how to practice inner silence.
“Virtue is silence in words”, as the fathers
say. Silence is spiritual; it is that which begins from within,
then moves outwards. If
the inside is not silent - the inner man, the inner world - if
there is dizziness on account of passions such as self
indulgence, avarice, envy, greed etc – then you can’t remain
calm. Your inside will gnaw at you…
When there is revengefulness, when you believe that you have
been misunderstood, that you have been slandered by others, then
you are inclined to talk continuously, to get involved in
everything around you and eventually become boisterous.
Spiritual silence is a virtue that helps us in the balanced use
of articulated utterances and in non-spoken quietude.
Silence is an opportunity to talk with oneself. We are not given
this opportunity, my brethren, and we also do not seek the
opportunity to discover who we are: “this is me... this is how I
am...”. But this can only be done in quietude and not hurriedly.
Silence presupposes ascesis. Ascesis presupposes insulation. But
where can we find insulation, when in the cities that we live
in, noise never ceases? Well,
even if we are unable to have uninterrupted silence like a
hermit, we can establish zones of silence: we can dedicate 15 to
20 minutes in our daily schedule, telling ourselves: “Now, I can
remain silent”. When our children are away we should also seek
silence by switching off the TVs that are nothing more than
invaders in our homes - which also display a lack of respect for
man. So, let's
establish zones of silence, as much as we possibly can, at least
an elementary degree thereof.
Let's now see what the Holy Fathers say on this matter:
The blessed Nikitas Stethatos writes:
with human events and things is spiritual quietude”.
This quietude frees the soul from the shackles of the senses and
the passions; by converting the powers of the soul, it recalls
it to its natural state - that is, we return to the way
the Lord had made us.
We are currently living unnaturally; we are inclined
towards the natural, in order to reach the supra-natural
by the grace of God, which transcends what we currently are.
Another saint says:
“Quietude is a state of mind; it is the peace of inner freedom,
a rejoicing soul, a soul that is not perturbed by anything. It
is the deeper knowledge of the mystery of God, it is
companionship with God, it is conversing with God - the union
and the close bond with God '.
If this doesn’t exist, then we are doing nothing; in other
words, quietude is not merely an external display, it is also an
internal function. Lacking that, we will have a vacant space in
us that will need to be filled. When there is no internal bond
with the Lord, quietude probably sounds like something foolish
Saint Thalassios says:
“Enclose your senses inside the fortress of quietude, so that
they don’t create distractions because of your desires”,
in other words, a cessation of our unceasing desires.
Saint Basil says:
“In life, I abandoned my relations with the world because they
were an occasion for myriad evils; but, it was not possible to
Indeed, when we find ourselves in a marketplace that is very
noisy, even when we return home, the noise still resonates in
our ears, which is why the effort for quietude must be an
Saint John Chrysostom says:
“There are cases when silence benefits more than words – and
vice-versa. That is, there will be an instance when you will
speak: for example, when you are about to save someone, you will
break the silence”.
“Proper silence produces proper offspring: temperance, love,
What is a “clean prayer”? It
is a prayer without any musings, without distractions. For
example, when I begin to say the Lord’s Prayer...
and my thought drifts to the rent I must pay; then, 'Who are
and my thought goes to the electricity bill... or, what the
neighbour said the other day, making me tremble in anger etc….
well, my prayer is demolished! Gone is “Our Father”!
Quietude is gone!
One must not pray
after being upset about something; one must first calm down.
When entering a house, we
do not burst into its private quarters (i.e. the bedroom)
normally pass through an entrance hall first, then a corridor...
Everything presupposes some preparation - especially in prayer.
If I am not calm and prepared, I should read from a spiritual
book, prepare myself, and then talk to God.
and prayer, love and temperance comprise the four-wheeled
chariot that leads to the heavens”,
that is, a chariot with four wheels that lifts the mind
Says St. John Chrysostom, “Many were the things that could
have held back Pilate and the Jews: miracles, Christ’s
tolerance; but above all, it was His ineffable silence.”
If only we could be silent like the Lord!
“Jesus remained silent”
– even during the most difficult moments!
Thus, the long-suffering, the forgiving, and those who
know how to be silent will be safe when walking steadily on
their path, and also be pleasant to everyone.