My friend, Jim Forest, sent me this sermon with this note: “An excellent sermon on the importance of finding quiet periods each day. This comes from a Russian Orthodox priest, Alexander Menn, who was murdered in 1990. I know a number of his spiritual children. He has occasionally been described as ‘the Thomas Merton of Russia.’”
by Archpriest Alexander Men (+1990)
The Church dedicates the second Sunday of Great Lent to the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, the patron of those Christians who practice silence and prayer, who in olden times were called keepers of stillness and ascetic strugglers . They strove to preserve quietness in their hearts, hiding in the remote monasteries of Mt. Athos, cut off from the entire world by the sea and cliffs. Many live to this day in the caves in which they lived. But why do we glorify namely this saint, this patron of keepers of silence, on this day of Great Lent? It is because now is precisely the time that it is important for us to learn, or to recall, the meaning of silence and stillness.
What is our life like? It always goes by in endless noise and bustle. The entirety of modern human existence is accompanied by a mass of sounds; our lives are surrounded by noise. People, especially those living in cities, are constantly hearing noise: cars roaring by, crowds walking along. Doctors say this is ruinous for one’s health. But we have something else in mind here. This noise dispels our spiritual concentration; we have already lost the habit of quietude. Many of us, finding ourselves at home in momentary quiet, already begin to feel awkward and uneasy. Our heads are constantly full of idle thoughts and, at the same time, we cannot simply be quiet – how many needless words! And all this turmoil and bustle that accompany our lives do not permit us to turn to ourselves, to remember what is truly important, to come to our senses. The hubbub continues to our very last breath.
Sometimes, when the cruel hand of illness puts a stop to our rush and confines us to bed, suddenly cutting us off from the general rush, we manage to be alone with ourselves. At such moments we begin to think. What have we really been living for? Where have we been hurrying? Why such a rush? Where is this noise in our hearts, in our thoughts, and all around us coming from? Should we not have at least occasionally sought out a few minutes of inner rest and inner quiet? How can Divine grace come to man, how can it touch and illumine him, when he is blindly rushing about, giving no thought to where and why he is hurrying, not hearing the voice of God? The voice of God is always heard in quietness. If you want to hear it, try to wrest at least a few moments from the day. The Church gives us a rule for this: take several moments to read your prayers, to come to yourself, and to think of how the past day has been. What will my next day be like? What is this all for? This is important, so important! Whoever wants to know God’s will, seek out quietness?
Whoever wants to collect his thoughts and feelings, seek out quietness, because our thoughts and feelings run away from us; we are always living absent-mindedly. But true spiritual life always takes place in collectedness. One needs to collect one’s thoughts and feelings into the quiet center in the depths of one’s heart to allow that silence into which God can speak his word to us to come to pass. If we do not force ourselves, if we do not compel ourselves, to be silent; if we remain under the control of worldly noise and endless rushing about, then our entire lives will pass by superficially, without profundity, without spirituality, without a real encounter with the Lord.
This is why we should remember those keepers of silence; this is why the Church calls us to struggle against empty words, idle talk, useless chatter, and the use of the gift of language for our own harm. The Holy Scripture tells us: Set, O Lord, a watch before my mouth, and a door of enclosure round about my lips [Psalm 140:3, LXX]. This is what we are praying for, this is what we are asking of the Lord – and He is waiting for us to participate in this, and to desire this, so that we would receive this gift of God: silence in the quietness of His blessing.
Translated from Russian.
Translator’s note:  The author uses the words bezmolvniki and podvizhniki; the former is the Slavonic equivalent of the word “hesychasts.”.