The great monastic movement which began with St. Sergius, the great Abba of the Northern Thebaid, came to an end with the conclusion of the 17th century. New historical conditions – chiefly the Old Believer schism and the Westernizing reforms of Peter I – made no longer possible that harmony between the ascetic fervor of the best sons and daughters of Russia, and the profound piety of the believing Russian people, which led to the creation of innumerable new monasteries and convents under the inspiration of the Byzantine monastic ideal. We have seen, indeed, that the end of the period of the Northern Thebaid is one of decline – but it is a decline only by comparison with the astonishing monastic blossoming of the 14th to 16th centuries; by comparison with almost any other Orthodox land or period, the 17th century Russian monastic movement would have to be called a ﬂourishing one that produced at least 45 canonized Saints1 (and many were never canonized owing to 18th-century conditions) and a large number of new monasteries.
At the end of the 18th century, a new great epoch of monasticism began with the great Elder Paisius Velichkovsky, the Abba of a new monastic movement whose current has not entirely died out even in our own times. That must be the subject of another book.
The following article is condensed from a lecture delivered at the St. Herman Summer Pilgrimage, August, 1982).
On May 29, 1453, the troops of the Moslem leader, Mohammed II, took the great city of Constantinople. For more than 1000 years Orthodox Christians had assumed that the Byzantine Christian Empire would stand until the Second Coming of Christ. They had always called their city the “God-protected City,” and indeed, until now it had been protected by Heaven. But when their Emperor, Constantine XI, fell in battle, the holy city of Byzantium became the capital of a new empire, the Ottoman Empire, ruled by a pagan people, enemies of Christ and Christianity, the Moslems. It was a dark, dark time for Orthodox Christians in that part of the world.
Hieroschemamonk Anthony Bulatovich’s booklet differs significantly from Schemamonk Ilarion’s book, Na Gorakh Kavkaza (In the Mountains of Caucasia), in the defense of which it is written. Schemamonk Ilarion had as his primary intention to praise the "Jesus Prayer"and to convince his contemporary ascetics to practise this monastic activity, which is so often neglected today. This intention is altogether praiseworthy. Everything that has been written by the fathers on the Jesus Prayer is beneficial, as Christians should be reminded. Those monks who would want to lessen the significance of the Jesus Prayer and all other spiritual activities passed down by the fathers are worthy of reproach. Nonetheless, a correct undertaking does not stand in need of incorrect means, and the patristic tradition of the Jesus Prayer has sufficient sound reasons in its favour so that one need not resort to superstitious arguments. Unfortunately the Elder Ilarion did not avoid this and he added his own sophistries to the many patristic and salvific reflections on the benefit and meaning of the Jesus Prayer. He took it into his mind to argue that the name of Jesus is God Himself.