The following humorous event became my first acquintance with the spiritual riches of Fr. Arsenios, who was simple but holy. After a few days had passed since my arrival from the world, Fr. Arsenios said to me: "Come here, Koutsiko (ie. little one), and I'll teach you how to pray." I didn't know noetic prayer then. "Come into my cell."
But his cell was as small as a grave. How could we both fit inside? Since there wasn't enough room, he said, "I will stand on the floor, and you will stand on my bed. We will put our nous into our heart, and we will keep saying, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,' and we'll see what happens. Understand?"
"But be careful; say it with your nous, not your mouth. And make sure you don't get sleepy!"
"No, I won't get sleepy."
I tried to pray with the little understanding I had about noetic prayer, but I didn't accomplish anything. I was making a good effort, but my nous kept wandering here and there. After a little while had passed, he asked: "Did you experience anything? Did you feel the grace of God?"
"No, my dear father."
"Get out! After all this time you didn't experience anything? Every time I say the prayer, it's as sweet as eating a loukoumi. My heart became so luminous and joyful, and you felt nothing? What are you, an ox? What are you doing?"
"I have no idea what I'm doing."
He was so simple and holy! He thought that just anyone could attain his state instantly. But he was unequalled. His unshakeable faith and his iron obedience to Elder Joseph had filled him with spiritual gifts. How could anyone be a match for him?
So he abruptly said to me: "Get along; go to your cell and say the prayer there!" I went to my cell, which was right next to his, and began saying the prayer out loud, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."
Tak-tak. He knocked on the wall and called out to me: "Don't say it out loud! Pray with your nous. You're distracting me!"
I tried to, but I couldn't; my mind kept wandering. My inner voice was not working, my nous was stuck, and even sleep was fighting me. It wasn't possible to move around in that cage to fight against sleep. I was afraid that the sleepiness would make me fall over and hit myself! So in order to stay awake I began whispering: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."
But Fr. Arsenios had extremely sharp hearing until the day he died at the age of ninety-seven. So he heard me and knocked on the wall again: tak-tak. I understood that he wanted me again so I went to him.
"Why are you saying it out loud?"
Oh, no! "I'm sorry, Father."
I went back to my cell and started praying with my inner voice so that I wouldn't disturb the old man. But my nous was stuck and could not say the prayer. I started feeling drowsy again, and I was forced to start whispering the prayer very quietly. But that little old monk still heard me! He knocked again on the wall: tak-tak!
"I told you! Say it with your nous!"
The next day Geronda told me: "Keep whispering it, my child. Some day you will grow up!..."
Elder Ephraim: My Elder Joseph the Hesycast,