He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12). That’s the foundation and the beginning of our all-night vigils. The heat of prayer drives away somnolence, and spiritual zeal prevents us from feeling the flow of time. True men of prayer never notice the flow of time: it seems to them that they barely started praying when they already see the light of day. However, before you achieve this level of perfection, you’ve got to work really hard.
It is this work of praying all night long that hermits take on; that coenobitic monks do; that godly and pious lay people carry out. Although all-night prayer is difficult, its fruit — the peace of the soul and warmth in spite of exhaustion of the body — remains in one’s soul forever. It is a precious feeling for those who are willing to succeed in spiritual living!
That is why people don’t want to discontinue the all-night vigils in places like Mount Athos. They are aware of the fact that it is hard to stay awake at night but they are reluctant to put an end to this tradition because it is beneficial for the soul. Sleep makes one’s flesh inert and sluggish; vigilance makes one’s flesh humble. A person who gets enough sleep will hardly engage in spiritual exercise because he doesn’t like it; a vigilant person is quick like a chamois and ardent in the spirit. If you want to teach your flesh to do good, like a slave, there is no better method to achieve good results than frequent wakefulness. It is during those times that your flesh can fully feel the domination of the spirit and learn to obey it; it is thanks to vigils that your spirit can pick up the skill of governing your flesh.
Translated by The Catalog of Good Deed