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Dr. Paul Kymisis-Some Psychological Labeling in the Work of St. Gregory Palamas

Dr. Paul Kymisis-Some Psychological Labeling in the Work of St. Gregory Palamas

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Published by SymeonM33
Translated from Greek. This is a speech given at a symposium on St. Gregory Palamas. It examines some modern findings in behavioural sciences and how they coincide with what St. Gregory Palamas wrote over 6 centuries ago.
Translated from Greek. This is a speech given at a symposium on St. Gregory Palamas. It examines some modern findings in behavioural sciences and how they coincide with what St. Gregory Palamas wrote over 6 centuries ago.

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Published by: SymeonM33 on Dec 04, 2012
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12/05/2012

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Some Psychological Labeling in the work of the St. Gregory Palamas
Dr. Paul Kymisis
1
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences & Pediatrics at New York Medical College
At first, I would like to say that I have mixed feelings as a speaker in this congress: feelings of fear,awe, and gratitude. I feel fear because I
’m
attempting to describe themes exceeding academic andscientific thought, and are only understood as personal spiritual experiences. I personally do notparticipate in such experiences. I look with awe at the giants of the Spirit, such as St. Gregory Palamas,who not only spoke and wrote about God, but also had direct personal experience of the divine presence.
2
 It is characteristic that St. Gregory emphasized the distinction between theology which refers to the studyof God, and the vision of God that is linked to the experience of God.But I also feel gratitude towards the Organizing Committee, and especially towards the respected andbeloved Father Ephraim, because they gave me the opportunity to attend and speak on the subject of:
“Some
Psychological Labeling in the w
ork of St. Gregory Palamas.”
 So I am here doing obedience to Elder Ephraim, but I am also encouraged by
St. Gregory’s
exhortation:that noetic prayer and the experience of God is not only the task of monks but also possible for the laity inthe world.The great Russian Orthodox theologian, Fr. Georges Florovsky,
wrote that there is a “
hunger fortheology
” in our time
both among clergy and laity. This hunger comes to satisfy this conference, which isan important link in the chain of 
Vatopaidi’s offerings to our church.
 In supporting
the hesychasts and interpreting the Church’s tradition
Palamas rejected the philosopherBarlaam, who was tied to the chariot of Western anthropocentric humanism.
3
Barlaam was influenced bythe philosophy of the West, which had been strongly colored by Platonic thought. He tried to ridicule thehesychasts, claiming their experiences were the result of fantasies or simple displays of natural createdphenomena. We should point out that Barlaamism also comprises a modern phenomenon, this is why the
 presentation of St. Gregory’s
work today is timely, useful and instructive.In our time, there is a vigorous attempt for dialogue and cooperation between religion and the science of psychology. The thoughts and work of St. Gregory can become instructions so that such a dialogue
won’t
create more confusion, misunderstanding and problems.In the Western world, the concept of religion has become a simple choice or preference. It compareswith a visit to the supermarket, where you choose whatever you prefer. In one of the latest syanxis inConstantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew
4
stressed that Western Scholasticism has reduced the divine truthsto concepts. So God becomes perceived as an idea or concept. But the West loses its ability to participatein God
’s uncreated energies with this approach
. Thus, in the West we see talk about the metaphysicalexperiences of various religions associated with hallucinations, hypnotic phenomena or fantasy.Some even said that quantum mechanics would be the religion of the future. Others tried toscientifically explain miracles according to the laws of nature. They said that wind opened the Red Sea, a
 
resurrected dead man was in a catatonic state, the manna was airborne fungus and the demon-possessedwere hysterical individuals.One other parallel modern phenomenon is the religionization of public opinion. Public opinion becomesthe ultimate criterion for what man believes, what his values should be and what his ethics are. Whateveris commonly generally accepted, enters the framework of a blessed moral or creates a new hierarchy of values. So the rationalist sees religious faith as a product and creation of human needs. The late Orthodoxtheologian in New York, Fr. John Meyendorff 
5
, who was particularly occupied with Palamas, wrote thatthe conflict between Palamas and Barlaam was a symbol of the differences between the Bible and Greek thought, between Jerusalem and Athens, between the Apostles and the Philosophers, between the religionof the Incarnation and the Resurrection and between the religion of perdition and the destruction of theuniverse. The basis of Palamic thought is not limited to
know thyself,
” but is determined by the “come to
himself 
, where the union of man with God becomes the ultimate purpose of human existence.It is a fact is that in recent decades a huge leap occurred in the area of behavioural sciences. Through theadvances in genetics, we see the important role of heredity in many psychological and psychopathologicalconditions. We can see the importance of neurology, where chemical processes and neuro-imaging reflectsentiments and mental conditions and functions.It is known that mental illnesses associated with neurological disorders may manifest with visual orauditory hallucinations. Individuals also under stringent stress conditions (psychosomatic stress) mayhave delusions or hallucinations. As well, people who use chemical substances such as drugs, LSD,cocaine, etc., may have auditory, visual or uncreated hallucinations. A clear distinction should be madebetween these experiences, that have natural origins and can be explained scientifically, and supernaturalexperiences, which have nothing to do with the physical chemistry of the organism. St. Gregory of Sinaiwarns his disciples with the following admonition
“When you see a light or flame
within or outsideyou...reject it.
6
Many fathers stressed the danger of imagination. It can be the most dangerous enemy of union with God. At this point I would like to emphasize the role of suggestion in the creation of pseudo-metaphysical experiences.Many modern philosophical-religious systems present such phenomena and promise tranquility, peaceof mind, physical and mental health.
7
The interest in certain Eastern religions observed in the West
 — 
such as Buddhism
 — 
is a characteristicexample of such modern phenomenon. The Buddha was an Indian monk who lived in the 5
th
century BC.He practised ascesis for seven years. Through ascesis and meditation he came to ecstasy under a fig tree.His biography mentions that for seven days he lost touch with the world and climbed the stairs of Nirvana. There,
according to his biography, “He remembered his
reincarnations and understood the lawsof the order of the universe.
Namely, he began without God and eventually reached pantheism. InBuddhism,
salvation
comes from man and not from outside.The Bishop of Pittsburgh, Maximus
8
, in his introduction on the subject of metaphysical experienceswithin and outside of the Church, refers to the role of autosuggestion and the possible side effects of experiences based on Eastern philosophies, including depression, suicide, and even demonic influence.There are many endeavours that, while starting from a simple physiological or philosophical principle,turn out to be saturated by Hindu and pantheistic ideas.
 
The Harvard Professor, H. Benson
9
, has proposed a more scientific method for relaxation. His book,
“The Relaxation Response”
broke record sales in America when was first published.It describes a very simple technique without metaphysical elements. This technique involves a quietenvironment, repetition of a word (neutral or even prayer) and a passive attitude. He describes it as
follows: “Sit
quietly in a comfortable position, close your eyes, relax your muscles, breathe through thenose and repeat a word with each breath. Continue for 15-20 minutes and then sit quietly for a fewminutes. It is a medical method that has no religious presuppositions. It was found through systematicstudies that when this relaxation is applied twice a day for a number of days, it can reduce muscle tension,blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and improve the
individual’s
resistance to stress.Here we should point out that the hesychastic method
 — 
from which Benson borrowed some elements
 — 
can also have the same beneficial psycho-physiological results. However, the difference rests on the fact
that the hesychast method doesn’t remain a simple psycho
-physiological relaxation technique, but
constitutes an element of man’s general attempt to approach God and be united with Him.
10
I mentionedthis in response
to Benson’s relaxation because
s there is a tendency both in the rational West and in theEast to interpret all experiences, even those of the Saints, based on rational and pseudo-scientific criteria.
It’s the modern temptation of Barlaamism; i.e. imitationg Barlaam and Akindynos’ rationalistic stance
against the hesychast experience.
This was St. Gregory Palamas’ great contribution: he stressed that while God’s nature is inaccessible,
God can be known to men through His energies. These energies
 — 
divine revelations and presences
 — 
arefree acts of the living God and are not controlled by human logic. These energies neither obey nor areconstrained by any physical law. In the ascetic life man acts but there is divine energy in the mystical life.Palamas also emphasized the uncreated light is a phenomena that transcends natural laws and is beyondany rational, scientific or experimental experience.
11
The hesychastic method includes four basicelements
12
:a)
 
The move towards a state of complete peace and tranquility which does not include reading orpsalmody.b)
 
Ascesis in concentration of the nous, physical immobilization, breathe control, fixing the eyes inthe heart or stomach.c)
 
Feeling of an inner warmth or vision of the uncreated light. This vision is neither an illusion, noran atmospheric phenomenon. This vision is neither controlled nor determined by physical laws.d)
 
The eyes of man are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit and in this way theyexperience the uncreated light.
13
 The hesychast starts from tranquility and proceeds to ecstatic union. It becomes a circular motion thatbrings the soul back to God. Noetic prayer is used both as a starting point and an ongoing support in thismystical journey.One is impressed studying Palamas and seeing the ideas he described 6-7 centuries ago coincide withcurrent Psychology data.He referred to child sexuality centuries before any mention was made on this subject in psychoanalysis.

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