2nd Sunday of Great Lent/ St. Gregory Palamas/ March 19th

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nick cobb

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Mar 18, 2006, 12:01:15 PM3/18/06
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St Gregory Palamas (~1359 AD)
Memory Celebrated March 27

St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessaloniki, was the
defender of the Hesychasts. He upheld the doctrine that the human body
played an important part in prayer, and he argued that the Hesychasts
did indeed experience the Divine and Uncreated Light of Tabor. To
explain how this was possible, St. Gregory developed the distinction
between the essence and the energies of God. He set Hesychasm on a firm
dogmatic basis, by integrating it into Orthodox theology, and by showing
how the Hesychast vision of Divine Light in no way undermined the
doctrine that God can not be comprehended. His teachings were confirmed
by the local councils held in Constantinople in 1341 and 1351.

St. Gregory began by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of man and of the
Incarnation; i.e. the whole man, united in body and soul, was created in
the image of God, and Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation,
has 'made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification'. The
Hesychasts, so he argued, in placing emphasis on the body's part in
prayer, are not guilty of a gross materialism but are simply remaining
faithful to the Biblical doctrine of man as a unity. Christ took human
flesh and saved the whole man; therefore it is the whole man that prays
to God.

How is it possible for man to know God and, at the same time, affirm
that God is by nature unknowable? St. Gregory answered this question by
quoting St. Basil the Great who said "We know our God from His energies,
but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His
energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable". St.
Gregory added "God is not a nature, for He is above all beings.... No
single thing of all that is created has or ever will have even the
slightest communion with the supreme nature, or nearness to it". Even
though God's essence may be remote from us, He has revealed Himself
through His energies (or grace). These energies do not exist apart from
God, but are God Himself in His action and revelation to the world. It
is through these energies that God enters into a direct and immediate
relationship with us. When we say that the saints are 'deified' by the
grace of God, we mean that they have a direct experience of God Himself
through his energies (or grace), not in His essence.

The vision of Light that Hesychasts receive is the same Light that
surrounded Christ on Mount Tabor. It is a true vision of God in His
divine energies.

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