As Orthodox, we need to be cautious. If we are not careful, we might miss something that God is trying to tell us. One case of that are some similarities between hesychasm and the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. Look at the video above and ask yourself, what is hesychasm or hesychastic theology? The Wikipedia says:
Hesychasm is an eremitic tradition of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some of the Eastern Catholic Churches, such as the Byzantine Rite, practised by the hesychast .
Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray”, hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.
I want to you hang on to the words, “… of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God.” Because, in much of Pentecostal / Charismatic singing, the very aim of the singing is to so lose yourself that you “cease to register the senses, in order to achieve and experiential knowledge of God.” Look at the video above and you can see a clear example of that. What the hesychast accomplishes by long silences and prayer, the Pentecostal / Charismatic accomplishes by singing. Saint Augustine says that, “he who sings prays twice.” In the Book of the Kings, it is well recorded, more than once, that singing opened people to the Spirit of God. So it was that when King Saul was troubled, it was the future King David’s songs on the psalter that brought peace to King Saul. It was in the midst of the singing of the choir that Solomon’s Temple was consecrated, and it was during that same chanting by the choir that the presence of God made itself both obvious and felt to the entire congregation.
Which of you have not been chanting the Trisagion Hymn and suddenly realized that you were shaken by the presence of God? When the Kievan representatives came to visit Constantinople near the end of the first millennium, they said that they did not know whether they were on heaven or on earth. They were not simply talking about seeing rich vestments or a complex liturgy. These were embassadors from a country which had a king and knew about rich dress and ceremonial. No, it was not simply vestments and liturgy that attracted them. Rather, it was precisely what they said, they did not know whether they were in heaven or on earth. It was the presence of God in the midst of the liturgy, as the choirs sang, as the priests chanted, as the incense flowed, as the faith of the fathers was kept in liturgical worship, but it was the presence of God that hit them with power. We need to be cautious that we do not make it seem as though the reason the Kievans “liked” what they saw was simply because they saw a well a “well-performed” rich liturgy. If we say that, we are in deep danger of depreciating any liturgy celebrated in a small parish, with a poor choir, as though the Kievans would not have assented to Orthodoxy in that setting. Do we really wish to say that?
It is the experience of that presence of God that Pentecostals / Charismatics, along with the hesychasts, desire. Do not miss that desire. It is a holy desire. It is a right desire. And, it is a desire which God has answered over and over from the times of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc., all the way through today. It is a desire which God used in this country, and in many others, to call the Church back to itself, to its duties, to its responsibilities, to its call to reach outwards in missions and social care, to realize that it is poor, weak, and in need of cleansing.
So, let us be very cautious when we speak of Pentecostals and Charismatics. Many of us who are Orthodox today came through the cleansing fire of the Charismatic Movement which called us back to the experience of God. It was that perceived presence of God that broke us out of our molds and forced us to realize that what we had taken for granted about God was not fully true. Yes, it is true that there were some terrific lacks in theology. It is true that some weirdos sprang up and caused problems. But, it was that very movement, with its not-Apostles that first taught us that there was an apostolic succession. It was that movement that first said to us that we could so lose ourselves that in the silence that had been occupied by us, we could experience God. In fact, many of us would not be open to hesychasm and the Orthodox Church had it not been for that experience.
So, let those of us who are Orthodox and were Pentecostal / Charismatic thank the Lord that in his grace he saw fit to work through that movement to reach ever so many of us, who were sunk in ever so many wrong directions. And let us freely honor those movements, even while we must say that they were ever so mistaken in so many ways. They were mistaken in so many ways, but they opened the doors to the Kingdom to ever so many. So, thank you Lord God for what you have done in so many countries in so many ways.