Once I asked an elder, “Why do you flee to the desert? Why don’t you remain in the world where you can benefit and be of benefit?”
The elder replied, “If a person does not become like an angel, then he will not gain anything from the world. As for me, a wretched son of Adam, when I see the fruit of sin I desire it, I eat it and I die.”
What did the Lord Jesus do?
“When He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matthew 14:23). This is to teach us that if we want to turn to God with a pure heart, we must remove ourselves a little from the din of the crowd.
Solitude helps us to be continually united to God. It helps one who prays to be more united to the hidden world within himself, so that he can struggle against various thoughts and inner temptations, imitating Christ in the salvific confrontation with temptations.
It is difficult for contemporary man to attain such inner experience while he is occupied with various outward concerns that prevent him from securing this outward tranquility as a prelude to attaining inner tranquility through prayer without distraction.
Attention to the inside produces inner wakefulness where the Holy Spirit becomes the starting-point for all activities and “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:`4).
The spiritual father possesses the virtue of discerning spirits.
This gift causes one to no longer regard the self as the center of the world, but to look to the other and become a being of communion.
Saint Macarius the Egyptian describes hell as “no longer being able to see the face of the other.”
The work of the hesychast in his prayer is to unite the body to the soul under divine watch. Purity of heart in the ascetic struggle and hesychastic prayer do not aim to mortify sensation and erase the will, but just the opposite, to tame the human animal nature.
In this way savage beasts become tame and prayer causes man’s passions to transform into a capacity for love of God and the neighbor.