Gregory Palamas was born in 1296. He was originally from Asia Minor but
later was driven by the
Turks to Constantinople. In 1316, Gregory decided to become a monk. He
went to Mt. Athos for
the next twenty years. In the 14th C. Mt. Athos was the center of all
Orthodox monasticism. From
1368, this Sunday has been designated to the memory of St. Gregory of
Palamas, Archbishop of
Meditation from St. Gregory: His defense of hesychasm
1. In Christ man is given the power to become spirit.
"When spiritual joy comes into the body from the mind...it transfigures
the body, spiritualizing it. For
then rejecting all the evil desires of the flesh, it no longer weighs
down the soul but rises up with it,
the whole man becomes spirit, as it is written, 'He who is born of the
spirit is spirit' (John 3:6,8).
2. "Knowledge of God" (i.e. Transfiguration) is experienced inwardly.
"This knowledge is the common possession of all those who believe in
Christ...Christ will come in
the glory of the Father and ...in that glory "the just will shine as the
Sun" (Matt. 13:43). They will be
light and they will see light, a blessed and sacred vision, that is the
portion of the purified heart alone.
3. The spiritual life is Christ centered.
"God reveals himself 'face to face'...he unites himself to those who are
worthy as to his own
members, as soul is united to body; he unites himself coming to dwell in
his wholeness in the whole
of their being, so that they may in turn dwell in him; through the Son,
the spirit is poured out
abundantly upon us."
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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.