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© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
Preface to the English edition
Introduction 1. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEACHING OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
For the Holy Mountain
In place of an epilogue
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A few of the Greek words in the original text have been left in the original and are listed with explanations in the glossary at the back of the book. The ﬁrst use of each of these words is marked with an asterisk. The translator is very grateful to Efﬁe Mavromichali, who has taken time from her full programme of work to check the whole translation with the original Greek. The translator is also grateful to Bishop Hierotheos and to Abbess Photini and all the sisters at the Birth of the Theotokos Monastery who have published this book, for their friendship, help and encouragement. [ BACK ]
Preface to the English edition
I consider it a great blessing that my work "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite" is published in English, for many reasons, but mainly because a signiﬁcant turn can be observed nowdays in the West. It is a turn towards orthodox life in its authentic expression, just as the holy Fathers lived it and formulated it, and particularly St. Gregory Palamas, who is the summation of all patristic teaching and orthodox life.
The reader will see in the pages to follow the importance of the subject and the reason why I have dealt with it, a serious subject for our days as it is and why I tried to see St. Gregory Palamas within the perspective of the Holy Mountain. What should be pointed out here is that many people today are studying the orthodox life and teaching, and enter the Orthodox Church. There is indeed a great zeal for inner neptic and hesychastic life. I believe that this book will answer to this search and will be a help. The life, the conduct and the teaching of this great hagiorite Father will guide all those who come to Orthodoxy in the right and orthodox way. They will be taught authentically and genuinely the mysteries of the spirit. Apart from this I believe that the life and the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, will set out the limits and the great difference which exists between the abstract and impersonal life of Eastern religions and the Orthodox Tradition as well as between Barlaam's scholasticism - moralism and Orthodox spiritual life. And this is important precisely because tendancies which we have already referred to prevail in the West today, such as the impersonal way of life and scholasticism together with moralism, a fact that creates a deep despair and speculation. Moreover the reading of this book will show the particular features of Byzantium, which used to be called Romania (Roman Empire) as it is preserved and kept even in our days on the Holy Mountain. Nowdays many people admire the art which developed in the Byzantium (Roman Empire) but in the ﬁnal analysis this art was the outcome of a holy life, it was the fruit of a way of life, as we can see in the life and the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. I glorify God for this new gift that He granted me. I also owe a great gratitude to Mrs. Esther Williams, who undertook this translation with zeal and love and with Rosslyn's moral support. I remember that when she saw this book in its Greek edition, she took it in her hands, kissed the icon of St. Gregory on the cover -the same one with that of the
English edition- held the book and said: "I love St. Gregory Palamas very much". And this book is the fruit of this love of hers. I also thank a lot Efﬁe Mavromichali who went through the English text in combination with the Greek one, because she is an expert in the orthodox neptic and hesychastic terminology and edited this publication. Thanks are due to the Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos of the Thebes and Levadia Diocese, which undertook the publication. It would be an omission if I did not thank Fr. Nicholas Palis, priest in the Holy Church of Dormition, Aliquippa Pennsylvania for the love he has for orthodox neptic books and for his zeal in distributing this book also. I pray that St. Gregory Palamas, this great hesychast Father, who in his amazing strength and wisdom expanded on the orthodox theological frameworks of hesychasm, may become the guide of all Christians, who living in the West, they turn to the East, they seek Orthodoxy and who most of all are led towards the "East of the East", which is Christ, as he is experienced and interpreted authentically in the Orthodox Church. Written in the bishopric, in Nafpaktos, on June 22nd 1997, Sunday of All Saints [ BACK ]
Many discerning fathers have discovered that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas is quite contemporary. Contemporary man, characterised by anthropocentrism and conjecture, should study and listen to the teaching of St. Gregory, defender of the theologians and herald of divine Grace, a man who saw God. St. Gregory is the theologian of the uncreated Light. His teaching is quite timely now, because Barlaamism is alive in many aspects of our life. Hesychasm, or the hesychastic life, which is entirely traditional and forms the backbone of Orthodox life, is being undervalued, not to say opposed. It is true that at many points we are seeing an improvement over former times, but there is still the underlying problem of antihesychasm. One hears a great amount of conjecture and human dialectics. Yet I have observed that, amid so many analyses of the saint's teachings, one important aspect has not received attention: that St. Gregory was a Hagiorite and that in his teaching he expressed the life which he met on the Holy Mountain. I do not believe that the Holy Mountain is something different from the Church, and I am ﬁrmly convinced that on the Holy Mountain, as well as in every Monastery living in the Orthodox Tradition, the Church's traditional therapeutic way of life is still going on. On the Holy Mountain we see how the early Christians lived and how the apostolic Churches were organised. St. Gregory was already living the life of the Holy Mountain from his childhood, being brought up by his holy parents and in close contact with the teachers and spiritual fathers who came from the Holy Mountain. Afterwards he lived on the Holy Mountain for many years and rose to great spiritual stature. As a Hagiorite he confronted the heresy of Barlaam and Akindynos. He guided the ﬂock in Thessaloniki as a true monk of the Holy Mountain. And his death was glorious. Like
many Hagiorite fathers, he had foreknowledge of the time of his soul's departure from his body. But the signs that he was recognised by God are those which we also ﬁnd in many Hagorite fathers. Therefore I believe that the subject "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite" deserves special attention. And we should notice particularly the way of life that is being preserved and cherished on the Holy Mountain. This way is the deepest essence of our tradition. This book is a fruit of about twenty-ﬁve years' study. Ever since my student days I have been reading nearly all the works of St. Gregory Palamas, as well as various books that analyse his life and teaching. I am grateful to Professor Panagiotis Christou at the theological school of the University of Thessaloniki, because it was he who introduced me to the theology of St. Gregory Palamas and guided me in the study of the works of this great Hagiorite hesychast saint. I am grateful to him for having included me in a small group of students who, because we had attended special classes in paleography, were put to work under his personal guidance one summer in the monastery libraries on the Holy Mountain, listing and describing the existing manuscripts. Thus, apart from the fact that this professor is an outstanding patrologist, he is at the same time a great teacher who introduced us to the thought and life of the Fathers. Indeed we owe grateful thanks to this Professor for making that great personality known, for with his staff of co-workers he has devoted himself to the publication of St. Gregory's unpublished works and thereby made a great contribution to the revival of theological writings and of Orthodox life. When he turned over to me, then a third year student, the work of tracing the passages of St. Gregory the Theologian used by St. Gregory Palamas in his texts, as part of the preparation of the second volume of his collected works, I was impelled at a young age toward the study of these two great Fathers.
I remember with great feeling the trials and dangers of a tempestuous sea one time when in the winter of 1966, with a theologian who is today a university professor, we went to the Holy Mountain to ﬁnd a manuscript of St. Gregory's. I regard it as a special blessing and an action symbolic for the subsequent pursuit of his life in his texts and works. I must mention further the importance and value of Professor John Romanides for the orthodox understanding of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. In his study published as an introduction to his book "Greeks and Greek Fathers of the Church" * , Vol. I, he analyses in depth the orthodox preconditions for interpreting the works of St. Gregory Palamas, and he also criticises the contemporary interpretations which have been put forward about the dialogue between St. Gregory and Barlaam. The thirteen chapters deal with many aspects of the life and teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. We can see the saint as a hesychast, as a theologian, as a pastor, as a ﬁghter against the heresies, as a sociologist a great Hagiorite who is theologising, teaching, guiding his ﬂock, opposing the heresies. Some repetitions in the chapters were unavoidable and necessary because of the connections between topics. I feel the need to seek St. Gregory Palamas's blessing. I feel him to be my patron saint. I beg him to intercede with God for me and for all my brothers. May God grant, through the entreaties of the saint, that we may acquire this traditional way of life, which is the only path to our cure and deiﬁcation. God grant that we may follow this path and turn away from the impasse of other roads that are being opened by contemporary 'machines', which in reality are alienating and worrying man, with the direct result that the whole of society is worried.
Written in Athens 29 August 1991 on the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, Forerunner of the Lord and of the Monks. Archim. Hierotheos S. Vlachos back * Romanides, Fr. John: Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ecclesias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1984. [ BACK ]
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEACHING OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
In our days there are many editions of the works of saint Gregory Palamas, as well as many studies relating to his life and teaching. This is God's special blessing to our time. For although St. Gregory lived in the 14th century, he has a great deal to say to our time, because, as we know, the same philosophical, theological and even social currents which prevailed in his epoch also predominate in our own. The 14th century has features in common with the 20th. That is why the discussion which went on between St. Gregory Palamas and the philosophers of that time are of considerable interest now. He has much to teach contemporary man.
We shall be able to establish the great importance of St. Gregory Palamas for Orthodoxy, that is for the triumph of the true faith, in monasticism and on the Holy Mountain. [ BACK ]
1. For Orthodoxy
We can see quite clearly the great signiﬁcance of his teaching for Orthodoxy on the important question of epistemology. When we say epistemology we mean the knowledge of God and, to be precise, we mean the way which we pursue in order to attain knowledge of God. The situation in St. Gregory's time was that Orthodoxy was being debased; it was becoming worldly and being changed into either pantheism or agnosticism. Pantheism believed and taught that God in his essence was to be found in all nature, and so when we look at nature we can acquire knowledge of God. Agnosticism believed and taught that it was utterly impossible for us to know God, just because He is God and man is limited, and therefore man was completely incapable of attaining a real knowledge of God. In the face of this great danger St. Gregory Palamas developed the fundamental teaching of the Church concerning the great mystery of the indivisible distinction between the essence and energy of God. We must underline that this is not the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas alone, but
of the Orthodox Church, and therefore this theology cannot be called Palamism. Many fathers have referred to the distinction between essence and energy. We ﬁnd it in the Bible, in the ﬁrst Apostolic Fathers, in the Cappadocian Fathers, and especially in Basil the Great and that great dogmatic theologian of the Church, St. John of Damascus. St. Gregory Palamas, with his outstanding theological ability, developed further this already existing teaching and put forward its practical consequences and dimensions. It is very characteristic that this distinction began to be noted in discussions about the Holy Spirit. The Calabrian philosopher Barlaam maintained that we could not know just what the Holy Spirit is, especially His procession and His being sent by the Son. In the face of the danger of agnosticism St. Gregory Palamas taught that the actual procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father is a different thing from His being sent by the Son. Thus while we do not know the essence of the Holy Spirit, we do know His energy. All spiritual life is a result and fruit of the energy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the saint taught, we cannot participate in God's essence, but we can know and participate in His energies. As the great dogmatic theologian St. John of Damascus teaches, we can see His three unions: union in essence, of the Persons of the Holy Trinity; union in substance, in the Person of Christ between the divine and human natures; and union in energy, between God and man. In this way St. Gregory preserves the true teaching of the Church. If in the time of Athanasios the Great, men doubted the divinity of Christ, in St. Gregory's time they had doubts about God's energies. They said that His energies are created. Therefore in the dismissal hymn of the saint we sing: "Illuminator of Orthodoxy, supporter and teacher of the Church, spiritual beauty of the monastics, irrefutable champion of the theologians...".
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2. For Monasticism
The teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, has great signiﬁcance for monasticism as well. In the dismissal hymn referred to above, we sing: "spiritual beauty of the monastics". In his time the philosophers, led by Barlaam, doubted the value of traditional monasticism and the monks' way of life, especially that of the so-called hesychasts*. This was due to a difference of theological assumptions. Barlaam maintained that the noblest part of man, through the help of which he can acquire knowledge of God, is reason, and that reason is the only instrument by which one can attain knowledge of God. So he came to the conclusion that the ancient Greek philosophers, who used a great deal of reasoning, attained a greater knowledge of God than the Prophets, who were looking at external things, revelations and visions. He laid great stress on the value of the philosophers as against the Prophets, the value of human thought as against the vision of the uncreated Light which the three Apostles had on Mt. Tabor. This naturally had implications for orthodox and traditional monasticism. If Barlaam's teaching was right and succeeded in prevailing in the Church, priority would be given to reason and philosophy, traditional monasticism would be disregarded and we would arrive at agnosticism.
But St. Gregory showed in his teaching that the Prophets and Apostles were higher than the philosophers, that the instrument for acquiring knowledge of God is not reason, but the heart in its full biblical meaning: that God is not discovered through human reasoning, but reveals Himself in a man's heart and that the real way of knowing God is the hesychastic way, which is described in the Holy Scripture and experienced by all the saints. So he made it very clear that the monks' way of life, that is to say, the method of prayer which they were following, leads to true knowledge of God. It is characteristic that one of St. Gregory's ﬁrst writings, which is also his main work and bears the title "On the holy hesychasts" - refers to the three basic topics which were being pondered at that time. One is the great subject of education, which confronts the question of whether the philosophers are higher than the Prophets and whether philosophy is the real road to the knowledge of God. The second is the theme of noetic prayer and deals with everything connected with that, while the third is the subject of the uncreated Light. The crucial theological view is expounded that the Light which the saints see is uncreated. That is to say, it is not a matter of creation, but of the uncreated energy of God. The basis of this writing is traditional orthodox monasticism, and so it is entitled "On the holy hesychasts". Thus we see the great importance of St. Gregory's teaching for Orthodox Monasticism. [ BACK ]
3. For the Holy Mountain
At the same time St. Gregory's teaching has great importance for the Holy Mountain. For he himself was a Hagiorite. He lived on the Holy Mountain, experienced its life and then expressed it. Through his writings he showed that the Holy Mountain is a place of life and, above all, a way of life. The Holy Mountain expresses the Orthodox Tradition, it is an expression of the life which exists in the Orthodox Church. As we shall see in what follows, St. Gregory went to the Holy Mountain as a student and lay brother, not as a teacher. He went in order to study his Orthodox tradition. Day and night he prayed to God, crying "lighten my darkness". He put himself under obedience to confessors and deiﬁed monks. He gained many experiences of the spiritual life. He attained a high degree of holiness. He kept silence for many years. And when he was required to speak, he spoke and expressed his experience. Therefore his teaching is an expression of the life of the Holy Mountain, but in a wider sense it is an expression of the life of the Church, because the Holy Mountain is not absolute or autonomous. The Holy Mountain expresses the life of the Orthodox Church. Thus we can see its great importance. We said at the beginning that the time of St. Gregory Palamas is parallel to our own time. This is very important and we want to emphasise it particularly. In the ﬁrst place we see that men's search for God is increasing day by day. Many people are seeking to ﬁnd and possess real knowledge of God. Some, since they are not following the true way to knowing God, become discouraged and come to deny God. Others, instead of ﬁnding the true God, ﬁnd various idols of God, which they worship. Consequently idolatry is prevalent even in our time. Then we notice that even among Orthodox Christians there are two great trends. People are divided into two large categories.
The ﬁrst category includes those who can rightly be called followers of Barlaam, who give priority to reason and depend mainly on man. They believe that in this way they will solve many problems, including of course the ﬁrst and principal one, which is the knowledge of God. The second category includes those who, like St. Gregory Palamas, have their heart at the centre of their spiritual life -the heart in the full sense given to the word by the Biblico-patristic Tradition. They follow the method which has been followed by all the saints of our Church. They have been counted worthy of attaining a true knowledge of God and, of course, true communion with God. Thus today there are two large streams, two ways of life. And since the Church recognises St. Gregory Palamas as a great theologian, and his teaching is the teaching of the Church, we are called to walk this path. All that follows will present the life and teaching of the saint, the true way of life and St. Gregory's theology, which in reality is the Church's theology. When we follow the teaching of St. Gregory we shall solve many existential problems which are troubling us. [ BACK ]
In place of an epilogue
Stichera* in honour of St. Gregory Palamas What hymns of praise shall we sing in honour of the holy bishop? He is the trumpet of theology, the herald of the ﬁre of grace, the honoured vessel of the Spirit, the unshaken pillar of the Church, the great joy of the inhabited earth, the river of wisdom, the candlestick of the light, the shining star that makes glorious the whole creation. What words of song shall we weave as a garland, to crown the holy bishop? He is the champion of true devotion and the adversary of ungodliness, the fervent protector of the Faith, the great guide and teacher, the well-tuned harp of the Spirit, the golden tongue, the fountain that ﬂows with waters of healing for the faithful, Gregory the great and marvellous. With what words shall we who dwell on earth praise the holy bishop? He is the teacher of the Church, the herald of the light of God, the initiate of the heavenly mysteries of the Trinity, the chief adornment of the monastic life, renowned alike in action and in contemplation, the glory of Thessaloniki, and now he dwells in heaven with the great and glorious martyr Demetrios, whose relics ﬂow with holy oil. Kontakion* Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology, with one accord we sing thy praises, O Gregory inspired by God. But since thou standest now in mind and spirit before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O father, that we may cry to thee: Hail, preacher of grace. Exapostilarion* of St. Gregory
Hail, glory of the fathers, voice of the theologians, tabernacle of inward stillness, dwelling-place of wisdom, greatest of teachers, deep ocean of the word. Hail, thou who hast practised the virtues of the active life and ascended to the height of contemplation; hail, healer of man's sickness. Hail, shrine of the Spirit; hail, father who though dead art still alive. [ BACK ]
Frontisterion: a place established for learning and practising hesychasm. See chapter 5 above footnote 25. Galata: a suburb of Constantinople. Gerondas: A title of dignity for an elder, senior monk. From 'geron', old man; the familiar Russian translation is 'staretz'. Hagiorite: One whose ascetic life is established on the Holy Mountain; from 'hagios'= 'holy', and 'oros'= 'mountain'. Mount Athos is called the Holy Mountain. Hesychia, Hesychasm, Hesychast: Hesychia means stillness. Hesychasm is the practice of stillness in the presence of God. Those who practise hesychasm are called hesychasts.
Irmos: In the canon sung in Matins an irmos is a stanza setting the pattern for those following it. 'Eirmos' = 'series'. Kontakion: a liturgical hymn. 'Kontos' = 'shaft', referring to the stick around which a vellum roll was wound. Monydrion: monastic establishment; 'idrysis' = 'establishment'. Nepsis: the kind of sober-minded vigilance that characterises the ascetic life. It is usually translated as watchfulness. The adjective is NEPTIC. Nous: 'The eye of the heart'. See St. Basil the Great's explanation of it in chapter 13 above footnote 14. The adjective is NOETIC (Greek 'noeros'). Panagia: the All-holy one, the name most used for the Mother of God. Stichiron: A stanza inserted between verses from Psalms. 'Stichoi' = 'verses'. Theotokos: the Mother of God, literally, the birth-giver of God. [ BACK ]
Aggelopoulou, Athanasios: Nikolaos Kabasilas, o Chamaetos, biographika problimata. In a volume celebrating the memory of Nicholas Cabasilas, ed. I.M. Thessalonikis. Arsenios the Cappadocian, Monastery of the Evangelist John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki, 1975. Barsanouphios and John: Answers to questions. Greek text, edited by Nicodemos the Hagiorite. Vas. Rigopoulou, Thessaloniki 1974. Basil the Great: Ascetical works. FC vol. 9, 1962. Basil the Great: Asketika. EPE vol. 8 and 9. Basil the Great: Letters. LCL vol. 1, 1926. Basil the Great: Letters. EPE 1 Christou Panagiotis: To agion oros. Epopteia, Athens 1987. Christou, Panagiotis: To mystirio tou Theou. PIPM, Thessaloniki 1983. Christou, Panagiotis: Theologika meletimata, niptika kai isychastika 3, PIPM, Thessaloniki 1975. Christou, Panagiotis, ed.: Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Greek). Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. NPNF vol. 10, reprinted 1991. Dorotheos the Monk: To Agion Oros, vol. l. Tertios, Katerini Gregory Palamas: Homilies. EPE vol. 9-11. Gregory Palamas: Letters. EPE vol. 4.
Gregory Palamas: Omiliai. ed. Oikonomou. Gregory Palamas: Syggrammata, ed. Pan. Christou, vol. 1-4, Thessaloniki 1962. Gregory Palamas: The Triads. EPE vol. 2 Gregory Palamas: The Triads. SPCK, London, 1983. Isaac the Syrian: Ascetical Homilies. Holy Transﬁguration Monastery, Boston, Mass. 1984. Istoria tou Ellenikou Ethnous, vol. 9. John Climacos: The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Faber, London, 1959. John of Damascus: Writings. FC vol. 37, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D. C., 1958 Joseph: Ekphrasis Monachikis Empeirias. Philotheos Monastery, Holy Mountain, 4th ed., 1994. Kordatos, Yannis: Ta teleutaia chronia tis Byzantinis autokratorias. Ed. D. Mpoukoumani, Athens. Lenten Triodion. ET by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware. Faber and Faber, London 1978. Mantzarides, George: Thessaloniki, 1979. Methexis theou. ed. Orthod. Kypseli,
Nikodemos the Hagiorite: Eortodromion. Venice, 1836. Nikodemos the Hagiorite: Ermeneia eis tas 14 Epistolas tou Apost. Paulou. Vol. 1, ed. Ag. Nikodimos, Athens 1971.
The Philokalia: The Complete Text. ET Vol. 4. Faber and Faber, London, 1995. Philotheos Kokkinos: Bios Grigoriou Palama. EPE 70. Paterikai Ekdoseis "Grigorios o Palamas", Thessaloniki 1984. Philotheos Kokkinos: Akolouthia tou en agiois Patros imon Grigoriou, Archiepiskopou Thessalonikis tou Palama. Athos, Peiraias 1978. Rantosavlievits, Artemios: The Mystery of Salvation according to St. Maximos the Confessor. Athens 1975 (in Greek). Romanides, Fr. John: Jesus Christ - the life of the world (Gk. phototype). Romanides, Fr. John: Keimena Dogmatikis kai Symbolikis theologias tis Orth. Katholikis Ekklisias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1972. Romanides, Fr. John: Kritikos elenkhos ton epharmogon tis theologias, eis Kharistiria eis timin tou Mitropolitou Gerontos Khalkidonos Melitonos, PIPM, Thessaloniki, 1977. Romanides, Fr. John: Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ecclesias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1984. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The alphabetical collection. Mowbrays, Oxford 1975. Archim. Sophrony (Sakharov): Saint Silouan the Athonite. ET. Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist. Essex, 1991. Archim. Sophrony: We shall see Him as He is. Ibid. Essex, 1988. Stogioglou, Georgiou: I en Thessaloniki Patriarchiki Moni ton Vlatadon. PIPM, Thessaloniki 1971
Symeon the New Theologian: Theological and ethical treatises. SC 122, Paris, 1966-7. Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: I Apokalipsi tou Theou, Birth of the Theotokos Manstery, 1987 (Greek). Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: Ekklisiastiko phronima. Ibid. 1990 (Greek). Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos: The illness and cure of the soul in the Orthodox tradition. Ibid. 1993. Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: Kairos tou poisai. Ibid. 1990 (Greek). Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos: Orthodox Psychotherapy. Ibid. 1994.
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© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
3. ONE WHO EXPRESSED THE HESYCHASTIC LIFE OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
The Holy Mountain and the Orthodox Church
Expression of the hesychastic life
His "dispute" with Barlaam
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3. ONE WHO EXPRESSED THE HESYCHASTIC LIFE OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
In the preceding chapter we looked at the life of St. Gregory Palamas as analysed by his fellow-monk St. Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople, a man who expressed the same tradition and who entered St. Gregory in the hagiology of the Church, writing his biography and the service in his honour. The biography, whose author was a saint as well, is a patristic text distinguished by plainness of speech, orthodoxy and a neptic atmosphere.
We have seen analytically that St. Gregory was a Hagiorite. He lived on the Holy Mountain and experienced all of its life. He is a vivid sample of the life which existed on the Holy Mountain. As we read all the works of St. Gregory we see the Hagiorite spirit rising like a fragrant incense. Therefore we can say with certainty that St. Gregory Palamas and the Holy Mountain are very closely linked together. And no one can separate them without running the risk of one of them being distorted. If anyone looks at this saint apart from the hesychastic tradition of the Holy Mountain, he will not be able to interpret him. And if anyone looks at the Holy Mountain apart from the life and teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, he will not understand it but will idolise it. So in what follows we must look at the inﬂuence of the Holy Mountain on the teaching of St. Gregory, or rather see that the saint was expressing the hesychastic life that prevailed on the Holy Mountain. [ BACK ]
1. The Holy Mountain and the Orthodox Church
In the ﬁrst place, it must be said that the Holy Mountain is not independent of the Church. It is not a place set apart from the Church and made autonomous, but it is the way of life of the Orthodox Christian and the expression of the evangelical life in the Holy Spirit which exists
in the Church of Christ. In his work "On the Holy Hesychasts" St. Gregory, speaking of the holy confessor Nicephoros, who lived ascetically on the Holy Mountain and who professed orthodoxy and was therefore exiled by the ﬁrst king of the House of the Palaeologues, writes characteristically: "He adopted the most rigorous way of life, that of the monks, and chose to live in the place which bears the name of holiness, Athos, on the border between the world and the supranatural, Athos being the home of virtue". In this passage St. Gregory's conception of the Holy Mountain can be seen clearly. It bears the name of holiness, it is at the border between the world and the supranatural, it is the home of virtue. Therefore we see the Holy Mountain as the home of virtue, as the place where the evangelical life is lived and expressed, which is the essence of our Tradition. If the holy Fathers teach that monasticism is the apostolic life and the life of the martyrs because the whole apostolic life and the witness of the holy martyrs is preserved in it, then we can understand that the Holy Mountain is the place where this apostolic and martyric life is lived. In order to conﬁrm this truth, we need to look at the stages of the spiritual life according to the holy Fathers of the Church. St. Dionysios the Areopagite says in his writings that according to the holy Fathers the spiritual life has three stages: puriﬁcation, illumination and perfection. We ﬁnd this in the teaching of all the holy Fathers of the Church. St. Symeon the New Theologian divided his chapters into three groups: practical, gnostic and theological. St. Gregory Palamas did the same. He divided them into ethical (which is puriﬁcation), natural and theological. This division showed the stages of the spiritual life as we ﬁnd them in the teaching of St. Dionysios the Areopagite. But the same division is to be found in the teaching of St. Maximos the Confessor. St. Maximos speaks clearly about practical philosophy, which is primarily puriﬁcation of the heart, about natural vision, which is illumination of the nous, and about mystical theology, which is vision of the uncreated Light. And St.
Nicodemos the Hagiorite, editing the Philokalia, gave it the following subtitle which interprets its content: "in which through the practice and vision of ethical philosophy the nous is puriﬁed, illumined and made perfect". In this elucidation we see the stages of the spiritual life: man's puriﬁcation, illumination and deiﬁcation. Parallel with this the holy Fathers also divide the spiritual life in another way, into action and vision (theoria). However this is not a matter of another division clearly opposed to the preceding, but is the same thing. For action is puriﬁcation of the heart and vision is illumination of the nous and communion with God. In other words, when a man's heart is puriﬁed, which is the ﬁrst stage of the spiritual life, this is followed by vision. Vision includes both illumination of the nous and vision of the uncreated light. In any case action precedes vision of God. For, according to St. Gregory the Theologian, "action is the patron of contemplation". We have made this analysis in order to emphasise that on the Holy Mountain both during the period when St. Gregory Palamas was living and in our time, as well as in every part of the world where the Orthodox Tradition is lived in the right way, there are these stages of spiritual perfection. Everyone who comes to the Holy Mountain in order to live in seclusion begins by purifying his heart, and this comes about and is completed through deep repentance. After this he progresses to the illumination of his nous, which is unceasing inner noetic prayer. At such time as God wills, the person can also attain the vision of God. We have seen this in the life of St. Gregory Palamas as St. Philotheos Kokkinos describes it to us. We see it also in the works of St. Gregory himself. For instance, in the example which we mentioned before, speaking of the holy confessor Nicephoros, he tells the story of his life. That is to say, he describes how he reached the point of becoming a saint and confessor: First of all St. Nicephoros performed his obedience to the distinguished and discerning fathers. By his obedience he let them
experience his humility, and in return he acquired the experience of the art of arts, which is orthodox hesychia. After that he became a leader for those who were struggling against the evil spirits. Here we see clearly the path followed by one who goes to the Holy Mountain in order to live in seclusion. First he ﬁnds a spiritual guide to whom he gives obedience, and this is how puriﬁcation of the heart begins. Through this effort of wise and discreet guidance on the part of his spiritual father, but chieﬂy through the help of divine Grace, he receives the great gift of hesychia, which is unceasing prayer, liberating his nous from the onslaught of reason and the passions. And when this succeeds, he is indeed the possessor of knowledge of God and becomes an unerring teacher and guide to other men. This whole process, which is still taking place on the Holy Mountain as well as in every monastery that is living the Orthodox Tradition, is the evangelic and apostolic life. The Apostles followed Christ for three years, cleansed of their passions and of the inﬂuence of the demons; and then on the day of Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit, becoming members of the Body of Christ and true theologians, who spoke about God. Therefore the Holy Mountain is an expression of the life of the Church, and every Hagiorite, like every monk, lives the apostolic life. So the Holy Mountain is not only a place, but also a way of life. In this spirit we can characterise St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, and with this interpretation we maintain that he is one who expresses the life of the Holy Mountain, and more generally that of the Church. In this spirit again we can interpret all the saint's works.
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2. Orthodox hesychia
However, in saying that St. Gregory is one who expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain, we must examine just what hesychia is according to the orthodox teaching. Hesychia, stillness, is essential for man's puriﬁcation and perfection, which means his salvation. St. Gregory the Theologian says epigrammatically: "One must be still in order to have clear converse with God and to bring the nous a little away from those wandering in error". Through hesychia a man puriﬁes his heart and nous from passions and thus attains communion and union with God. This communion with God, precisely because it is man's union with God, also constitutes man's salvation. Hesychia is nothing other than "keeping one's heart away from giving and taking and pleasing people, and the other activities". When a person frees his heart from thoughts and passions, when all the powers of his soul are transformed and turned away from earthly things and towards God, then he is experiencing orthodox hesychia. St. John of the Ladder writes that stillness of soul is "the accurate knowledge of one's thoughts and is an unassailable mind". Therefore hesychia is an inner state; it is "dwelling in God". Of course the holy Fathers distinguish between external and internal stillness. External stillness is liberation of the senses and the body from sights, and particularly from the bondage which the world imposes, while inner stillness is liberation of the heart from images, fantasies and worries. Hesychia of the body is usually the hesychastic position and the person's attempt to limit as far as possible external representations, the images which our sensations receive and offer to the soul. Hesychia of
the soul implies that the nous is able not to accept any temptations to stray. In this way man's nous escapes from the outer world and enters his heart, which is where it really belongs. Thus a person acquires peace in his heart, and there God Himself is revealed. As we have seen, St. Gregory Palamas lived this orthodox hesychia. At ﬁrst he looked for a secluded spot on the Holy Mountain and prayed to God night and day. Then he attained inner hesychia as well. Within this spiritual hesychastic atmosphere he acquired the knowledge of God, at the time when the heresy appeared which sought to unsettle the fundamental aspects of the Church's teaching. It was just then, since he had experience of this life, that he expressed it. It is only in this light that we must look at the life of St. Gregory. He was not just a student of the holy Fathers, but one who had the same life, and therefore also the same teaching as they. [ BACK ]
3. Expression of the hesychastic life
In all his teaching we see the Hagiorite hesychast father who knows what hesychasm is, but above all, lives it. We can see this more analytically at two main points. First, in his dispute with Barlaam, and secondly in his homilies to the Flock of Thessaloniki, when he was made Archbishop of Thessaloniki, as well as in other related homilies.
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a) His "dispute" with Barlaam
It was with difﬁculty that the saint began this "dispute", because he did not wish to abandon the stillness of his life on the Holy Mountain. But when he was asked by his spiritual brothers, and when he himself realised that the faith was in danger of being altered, which would also have resulted in altering the means of man's cure, of losing the way of salvation, then he began his struggle. At ﬁrst he did it with great humility and discretion. He ﬁnished one of his letters to Barlaam by saying that in spite of the reproach that he felt against Barlaam for his erroneous ideas on serious theological questions, he still maintained the same love for him. He called him a very wise man, the best of those who loved and were loved, and he emphasised that in spite of the dispute, the state of peace would be maintained. At the same time he expressed the desire that they should meet to embrace with a holy kiss. All these things imply a soul that has peace and stillness. Because of this hesychastic life he could criticise the erroneous belief and at the same time keep peace and love. But also on the matters which were in dispute with Barlaam we can see the hesychastic life of St. Gregory Palamas. He expresses the whole Tradition of the Orthodox Church. At this point we would like to look at several characteristic views taken from the ﬁrst triad of his well known
work "On the holy hesychasts". Three topics are raised. The ﬁrst one is the relationship between the two wisdoms, worldly and godly. The second is about noetic prayer, the return of the nous to abide in the heart, and the third is about vision of the uncreated Light. In the ﬁrst part he opposes Barlaam's view that human knowledge is a gift of God, and indeed of equal or higher value than the knowledge of the Apostles and the Prophets. This was why Barlaam had come to wrong conclusions. One of these was that the monks should pursue human education and human knowledge in order to be perfected. In answer to this view, St. Gregory maintains that man's aim is to progress from the image to the likeness of God. In his fall man lost his direction toward the likeness, and the image was darkened. Therefore he must now purify the image. But this does not come about through "carnal wisdom". Since the darkening of the image happens through sin, this means that when sin is removed, when man attains inner prayer, when his life is harmonised with Christ's commandments, and when he attains vision of God, then he is in fact in the image of God. Therefore the philosophers' teaching is different from that of the Christians. St. Gregory emphasises particularly that man puriﬁes the image through Christ's commandments and the power of the Cross of Christ. He refers to the cases of St. John the Forerunner and of Christ Himself. The Forerunner, he who is greater than the Prophets, lived from his early years in the desert, where, he points out, there was no education nor any of what Barlaam called saving philosophy. There were no books there, and no teachers of worldly wisdom. And we ﬁnd the same thing in the life of Christ. When a young man asked what he should do to attain salvation and eternal life, he did not say: "If you want to be perfect, take up outward education, hasten to assimilate the sciences, acquire for yourself the science of beings", but he said: "Sell your possessions and give to the poor, take up the cross and be willing to follow me".
Therefore in order to shame the outwardly wise the Lord took on uneducated ﬁshermen. At this point St. Gregory refers to passages from the epistles of the Apostle Paul, mainly from the ﬁrst letter to the Corinthians, where it says that Christ took unlettered men "in order to shame the outwardly wise", that God made foolish the wisdom of the world, that "the world through its wisdom did not know God" and that "through the foolishness of what was preached He was pleased to save those who believe". Then, taking passages from Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, he makes the distinction between demonic human knowledge and knowledge from the Holy Spirit, and naturally he prevents the monks from acquiring that worldly wisdom and knowledge. He ends his ﬁrst section by saying that outward wisdom, meaning philosophy, "appeared futile and contemptible to our holy Fathers and especially to those who had had experience of it". In the second part he refers to the vast subject of prayer, and especially to what is called noetic prayer, where the nous is centred in the heart. Barlaam and his followers had said that it was not right to take our nous into the body, particularly into the heart. They said that the right thing was to take the nous out of the body. In reply to this view, which presupposes Plato's philosophi-cal conceptions that the body is the prison of the soul and man's salvation is the soul's liberation from the body, he ﬁrst uses the Apostle Paul's three passages: "Through Holy Baptism the body became the temple of the Holy Spirit in us"; the body is the "house of God", and ﬁnally God gave his promise "I will live with them and walk with them, and I will be their God". He emphasises that the body is not evil, but it is the carnal attitude that is evil. When a person puriﬁes his body through self-control, and the irascible and appetitive parts of the soul with self-control and love, and when he further makes his intelligence secure with prayer, then he sees divine Grace in his heart.
In what follows he makes excellent anthropological analyses. He analyses just what man's nous is, that the heart is the place of the rational faculty, the ﬁrst rational organ of the body, that the nous is in the bodily organ of the heart, not as in a receptacle, but as in an organ which directs the entire body. Thus we must struggle to bring the nous back into the heart, where its natural place is. Being a great and holy hesychast the saint brings into the soul that which also exists in God. Just as God has essence and energy, so also the soul has essence and energy. The soul's energy which ﬁnds itself in the rational part and is ﬂowing out through the senses towards creation must return to the heart. Beginners in the spiritual life can succeed in this by controlling their breathing.* When Barlaam and those who agreed with him scoffed at this method used by beginners, St. Gregory made very correct and very theological observations. The circular motion of the nous, that is to say its return from the outside world to the heart and its ascent from there to God, is the unerring method and the only way for man to acquire pure knowledge of God. But St. Gregory also made orthodox observations about the body's participation in prayer, as well as in the path to sanctity. The circularity of the body too is essential for the return of the nous to the heart. He says all these things because the Barlaamites mock the hesychasts, who at the beginning of their spiritual life also make use of the circular pattern of the body (omphalopsychoi). The saint cites the case of the Prophet Elijah, who used the circularity of his body to bring his nous back into his heart and thus relieved the drought. In the third part he refers to the fruits of prayer, which are the uncreated Light and divine Knowledge. Barlaam maintained that any light which is accessible to the senses is created and therefore is lower than thought, man's rational faculty. So, with his view that all external light is created and symbolic, he went so far as to consider the philosophers superior to the Prophets and Apostles, who saw the uncreated Light.
This part touches on many other topics as well that relate to this and other accusations by the Barlaamites. First he cites various patristic passages according to which at the beginning of the spiritual life the study of Holy Scripture is reduced, not in disparagement of it, but because we must ﬁrst be puriﬁed through prayer, and then we will understand the spirit of the Scriptures. He cites other patristic passages as well, in order to show how the body participates in noetic prayer, because often the heart itself leaps with joy at the coming of Grace, and frequently a pleasant taste is created in the mouths of those who pray and sing, and this is the energy of divine Grace. Then he makes the distinction between the light of natural knowledge and the Light of the uncreated energies of the Holy Spirit. He concludes that natural knowledge is not the light of the soul. Thus when the saints see the uncreated Light, they see the garment of deiﬁcation. He cites many patristic passages -and he surely interprets them within his own spiritual experience, which is the same as that of the holy Fathers- that say that man can attain vision of the uncreated Light. This Light is not symbolic and created, but the shining of hypostatic light; it is divinity itself. The light on Mt. Tabor is not a third hidden nature in Christ, but divinity itself. And towards the end of the third section he refers to the great difference between the theologian and one who has seen God. A theologian can also be said to be one who speaks about God without even having his own personal experience, but a 'theoptis' is one who sees God. Theology differs from the vision of God in the same way as the knowledge of a thing differs from the possession of it. There are other places as well in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas where he refers to the great subject of the knowledge of God. He afﬁrms that vision of the uncreated Light is union with God. Union is communion, and this communion offers knowledge of God. True knowledge of God is superior to human created knowledge. And the
saint demonstrates that in the Orthodox Church we teach that the Prophets are incomparably higher than the philosophers, for the Prophets of both the Old and New Testaments attained the vision of God, while the philosophers were making conjectures about God. In this analysis of the ﬁrst triad of St. Gregory's work "On the holy hesychasts" he is clearly shown to be a hesychast father, expressing the genuine hesychasm which is experienced on the Holy Mountain. [ BACK ]
b) His homilies
Apart from the polemical writings which have survived, there are also homilies by St. Gregory which show that he expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain. Some of these were addressed to the monks on the Holy Mountain on various feast days, and the rest were spoken to his Flock in Thessaloniki. It is characteristic that in speaking to his Christians, he teaches noetic prayer and thus shows that there is not a great contrast between monastic life and married life. From the abundance of passages which St. Gregory interprets hesychastically I would like to select four in particular. The ﬁrst refers to the interpretation of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, and chieﬂy to the analysis of the prayer of the Publican, which he presents as a type of hesychastic prayer. In this parable the
Lord, introducing the Publican, said: "But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said: 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner'" (Lk. 18, 13). St. Gregory says: "Do you see the amount of humility, and faith and self-reproach: Do you see the extreme contraction of his reason and senses, and at the same time the brokenness of heart mingled with the prayer of this publican?". The words "at a distance" manifest humility and self-reproach. That he "stood" indicates "the long continuation of his standing... as well as the persistence of his entreaty". That "he would not even look up to heaven" is "both standing and submission, the portrayal not only of a lowly servant, but also that of one condemned". This way of praying and the position of his body shows "right condemnation and self-reproach". That "he beat his breast" manifests his great contrition and deep mourning. "God have mercy on me, a sinner" shows the value of the prayer of a single phrase. Pleading nothing else, thinking of nothing else, he was paying attention only to himself and God, rotating and multiplying this prayer of a single phrase, which is the most effective kind of prayer". The second passage is about the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here too St. Gregory interprets the parable hesychastically. St. Luke the Evangelist presents Christ's parable, in which we read: "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living" (Lk. 15, 13). St. Gregory does not analyse the parable in terms of morals, but theologically. He sets forth its true dimensions. Having the mind of Christ, experiencing the mystery of the spirit, he grasps its true meaning. Belonging organically, as he does, to the Orthodox Tradition, he realises that the fall of man, the so-called ancestral sin, is in reality a darkening, obscuring and deadening of the nous, whereas the resurrection of man is the vitalisation of the dead nous. It is in this light that he also interprets the parable of the prodigal son.
The nous is man's real wealth. "Above all else the nous is our innate essence and wealth". As long as we remain on the ways of salvation "we have our nous gathered in itself and in the ﬁrst and highest nous, God". Our salvation is that we have our nous in God. But when we open a door to the passions, then our nous "is immediately scattered, wandering all the time around things that are carnal and worldly, around the manifold pleasures and passionate thoughts about them". Then a man's nous becomes prodigal, and in general he is called prodigal. The wealth of the nous is prudence, and it distinguishes good from evil as long as we continue to keep Christ's commandments. But when the nous withdraws from God, then prudence too is scattered into prostitution and imprudence. Man's soul has not only a rational aspect but also appetitive and incensive aspects. In its natural condition man's nous "directs desire towards the one and truly existing God, the only good one, the only judge, the only one who provides pleasure unmixed with any pain. "But when the nous is in the unnatural state, when it departs from God and is darkened, then desire is dispersed into many self-indulgent appetites: "drawn on the one hand towards a desire for foods that are not needed, secondly towards the desire for unnecessary things, and thirdly towards the desire for vain and inglorious glory". This comes about through desire. But when the nous is being deadened, the incensive power too is similarly taken captive. When the nous is in its natural state, when, that is to say, it is united with God, then it rouses the incensive power only against the devil and utilises the soul's courage against the devil and the passions. But when it disregards the divine commandments, then "one ﬁghts against one's neighbour, rages against those of the same race, is infuriated with those who do not assent to one's irrational appetites, and alas, one becomes a homicidal man...". The third passage is from the analysis which he gives of the Panagia's sojourn in the Holy of Holies. It is true that her entry into the Holy of Holies is not described in the Scriptures, but it is an organic part of
Orthodox Tradition. The Church has established this whole teaching about the entry of the Panagia into the Temple, and in fact it has a feast day for it. St. Gregory Palamas accepts this teaching of the Church and analyses it theologically. In the Temple the Theotokos lived in Paradise. "She lived her life without equipment, unworried, carefree, without grief, having no part in base passions, above the pleasure that is not without pain, living only for God, seen only by God, nourished by God, guarded only by God, who was to dwell among us through her, she looking only at God, making God her delight, constantly devoted to God". Since the Theotokos had been freed of any material tie and had even thrown off the relationship of sympathy towards her body, "she attached her nous to turning towards itself in both attention and unceasing divine prayer. And as she had come completely to herself through this and had overcome the multiform rabble of thoughts, she discerned a new and ineffable way to heaven, which I would call intelligible silence. And ﬁxing the attention of her nous on this, she soared above all created things and saw God's glory better than Moses and kept an eye on divine grace...". In the holy of holies the Theotokos busied herself with noetic prayer and in this way attained intelligible silence. In this way she saw the glory of God better than Moses did. In other words, she attained the vision of God. And since this vision of God is union with God, therefore even before she conceived Christ, the Theotokos was united with the Trinitarian God. St. Gregory also takes this opportunity to give an account of the method of acquiring true theology. First he says that speaking about God and meeting God Himself are two different things. In order to speak about God one needs to have speech, perhaps also art. Reasoning too is needed, and earthly examples offered by the senses. That is a way in which even many wise people of the world can speak about God, even men who have not undergone puriﬁcation. But it is impossible to unite
with God through reasonings and examples afforded by the bodily senses. One does not attain communion with God "unless in addition to puriﬁcation we go beyond, or rather above ourselves, leaving everything perceived by the senses, as well as sensation, rising high above thoughts and reasonings and all knowledge, and thought itself, wholly surrendered to the energy of noetic sensation, which Solomon forenamed a sense of the divine". When a person rises above thoughts and reason itself, then he can be united with God. The Theotokos chose this way to attain communion with God. She followed the way of hesychia. Noetic hesychia is nothing other than the standing still of the nous and the world. "Seeking holy stillness the virgin found a guide: stillness of the nous, the world standing still, things below forgotten, sharing the secrets above, laying aside conceptual images for what is better". This stillness is the entrance to the true vision of God, which "is the only example of a truly healthy soul". Virtue is a medicine for the ills of the soul and for the passions, while the vision of God is a fruit of the healthy soul. It is through the vision of God that a man is deiﬁed. He is deiﬁed not through conjectural analogy... but through a hesychastic way of life". The Theotokos achieved hesychia and the vision of God in the Temple and she attained communion with the Triune God. And anyone who wants to achieve this vision of God, which is man's salvation, must follow the way of life of the Theotokos. The only way is the way of hesychia. Finally, a fourth example of hesychastic teaching is the meaning in a passage of the Old Testament. There it says: "On the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done" (Gen. 2:2-3). Interpreting this the saint writes that there are works of God "which He neither began to do nor ceased doing". He did not begin to act because He is without beginning, since, as Christ Himself said, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I am working" (John 5, 17).
God's work without beginning is the knowledge of beings and the foreknowledge of things which are to be. Also God's work without beginning and without ceasing is judgement and providence. In order to be created, beings need judgement and providence, but after creation they need judgement and providence as well, "so that they may not disappear unseasonably: or some may change with time for the beneﬁt of themselves or of the whole, and others may remain unchangeable". In other words, God, with His uncreated energy, which is called providence, continues to direct the whole creation for the fulﬁlment of His purpose. God directs creation by His providence. Another of God's works without beginning is "the return to Himself, for He moved without beginning in self-contemplation, the vision of Himself". Since God "neither began to do nor ceased doing", what then is God's rest? Why does Moses say that God rested after his labours? Rest is the way back "from the things below to those things that are greater and supracosmic". In His creation in six days God was "outside Himself through His extreme goodness" - He condescended in His love for mankind. On the seventh day, after the creation of the whole world of the senses, he returned, as beﬁts Him, to his own height, which He had never left. And God blessed this rest in order to show us that we should value the knowledge of the beings of nature more highly than the things of the senses; also to indicate to us, to teach us and ask us to enter as far as we can into that rest ourselves, "which is our noetic vision of God, and through it the movement upwards towards God". This is the framework in which these things are interpreted by St. Gregory and the Apostolic words: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest..." (Heb. 4, 9-11). In reality our own rest is hesychasm, noetic stillness, which is rest from the world and the return of the nous to the heart. In analysing this rest,
the saint says that we ﬁrst pay heed to the teaching of the Spirit, since we are ridding ourselves of the lower ceaseless and toilsome cares and laying aside the works connected with them. Then we prefer these words of the Holy Spirit to every passionate and worldly thought and we ponder them in our nous, which is to say our heart. After that, if we remove every thought, even if it be a good one, from our nous, and through constant attention and unceasing prayer the nous returns to itself, then we enter the divine rest, which is the vision of God. All this noetic hesychia, as described by the holy Fathers, who are basically hesychasts, is the way which leads to the divine rest -to the vision of God. And we believe that the hesychastic way of life is what makes a person Orthodox. It is the basis of the dogmas and all the truths of the faith. Apart from this there is no true theology. After all this it is clear that St. Gregory Palamas is one who expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain. His stay on the Holy Mountain, his obedience to the discerning spiritual Fathers and the experience which he acquired, made him a true theologian, a great Father of the Church. In all his works, whether polemics or homilies, his hesychastic life is seen. He lived the life of the Holy Mountain and became a Hagiorite. And this of course is identical with being "Orthodox".
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4
6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · o © Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
5. MONASTICISM AND MONKS
Monasticism as prophetic, apostolic and a martyr’s life
The Holy Mountain at the time of St. Gregory Palamas
Monasteries and the monastic life
Naming of the places of ascetic exercises
Monks and those in the world
Two categories of nuns
Monks and education
Different types and methods of asceticism
The purpose of withdrawal
The way of monastic life
Monks and reading
Moving of monks in the world
Imitation of the Forerunner
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5. MONASTICISM AND MONKS
St. Gregory Palamas was a true Hagiorite monk, who not only lived on the Holy Mountain for a great length of time as a monk, an abbot and a hesychast, but at the same time lived the true monastic practice. His life, as St. Philotheos describes it, calls to mind great personalities of the monastic life. Later he was to speak constantly of the monastic life and ways. Thus the homilies intended for monks as well as those spoken to his Flock in Thessaloniki often refer to the monastic life and how it is lived. Therefore in what follows we shall look at his teaching about the monastic way of life. We should emphasise that we are not going to exhaust the subject here, for in other chapters of the book much will be said about just what the monastic life is and how it is lived. But here we shall stress the fact that the monastic life in reality is a prophetic, apostolic and martyric mode of life, and we shall cite a number of general elements in it which are found scattered through the saint's homilies. First we make a few general remarks about how monasticism made its appearance, because, unfortunately, some people are dominated by certain erroneous conceptions and views on this subject.
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1. Monasticism as prophetic, apostolic and a martyr's life
The impression exists that monasticism developed in the fourth century, and therefore some people are led to the conclusion that it is a later manifestation of life, which, as they maintain, altered the simplicity of the Gospel. On these grounds the Protestants effaced monasticism from the life of their "Church", as did the protestantising "Orthodox" Christians, essentially denying its value and signiﬁcance for the life of the Church as a whole. However, monasticism, although it developed in the fourth century as a special form of life -as anchorites- nevertheless as a way of life it existed from the beginning of the appearance of the Church. The whole of Holy Scripture describes the life of the righteous and the Christians as a monastic life. The original condition of Adam and Eve in Paradise was essentially an experience of the angelic way of life, of the monastic life. The description given in the Old Testament and in the interpretive analysis by the Fathers shows that Adam and Eve lived in the pure and holy monastic way. St. John Chrysostom gives an analytical description of the life of Adam and Eve as an angelic life. St. John of Damascus teaches that in that ﬁrst sensible Paradise Adam and Eve experienced even the intelligible Paradise, that they lived in the state of illumination of their nous and of deiﬁcation. St. Nicetas Stethatos says the same. It is a common patristic tradition that the Paradise of Eden was a blessed place
in which Adam and Eve lived in communion with God, having an illumined nous and a vision of God. Moreover St. Gregory Palamas relates the life of the monks in the monasteries to the life of Adam and Eve in Paradise. In the holy monasteries, which are places of Paradise, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is not absent, nor is the evil lecturer, the devil, who is ready to guide the monk into sin, as he guided Adam and Eve then. Therefore he advises the monks to be very watchful, because they may fall into sin as Adam and Eve did, through the cunning of the devil, who took advantage of their carelessness, even if they were not subject to passion, but dispassionate, and went round "in a place free of passions". Thus he advised the monks to avoid the company of worldly people. So the monastic life is the life and condition of Paradise before the fall, and no doubt Adam and Eve were the ﬁrst monks. The Old Testament Prophets really lived the life which the monks live today. The circles of the Prophets as they are described in the books of the Old Testament were groups which formed around a man enlightened by God and were being taught about living a life devoted to God. If we give careful study to these groups of Prophets, we shall see that they do not differ essentially from the holy gatherings of monks today, who have an abbot, practise obedience and prayer and are being cured so that they too may be found worthy of becoming Prophets. We know very well that even in the Old Testament one ﬁnds the stages of spiritual perfection: puriﬁcation of the heart, illumination of the nous and deiﬁcation. So the great prophetic personalities of the Old Testament lived in this monastic way. The life of the Prophet Elijah was not very different from that of the hermits and ascetics. The only difference is that he lived in the period before the incarnation of Christ, whereas the ascetics today are members of the Body of Christ. Likewise we know very well that the Forerunner, who lived in the desert from an early age, lived in the monastic way. The
Evangelist Luke writes plainly: "So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the desert till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Lk. 1, 80). His life in the desert, when he "was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey" (Matt. 3, 4), his message and his whole way of life, even his death, call to mind the life of monks, and especially of the solitary monks, who sacriﬁce themselves every day for the love of God, in order to keep the commandments of Christ in their daily life. The composition and life of the apostolic group calls to mind the monastic communities. The Disciples left everything to follow Christ. Their submission was preceded by leaving their material goods and departing from their families, just as Abraham did, and then submission followed. As we read the Gospels we see the Twelve Apostles and Matthew as subordinates to their great spiritual Father, Christ. For three years they were being puriﬁed of their passions, receiving the cure through Christ's words, then a few of them attained the vision of the uncreated glory of God in the human nature of the Word, on Mt. Tabor, and ﬁnally all the Disciples were found worthy of Pentecost, received the Holy Spirit and became members of the Body of Christ. In Christ's teaching the Christian life appears as a monastic life. The beatitudes show clearly that the Christian life is the monastic life. The ﬁrst beatitude refers to the poor in spirit, to the awareness of the sin and passions within us. The second beatitude speaks of godly mourning, for when through the Holy Spirit a person has become aware of the existence within him of the "old" man, he weeps and mourns. The third beatitude refers to meekness, which is a fruit and result of godly mourning. The fourth beatitude is about hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, for keeping God's commandments in daily life. The ﬁfth beatitude refers to the sense of God's mercy, for when the Christian weeps for his sins, he experiences God's mercy. The sixth beatitude speaks about purity of heart, which is a fruit of mourning and of the experience of God's mercy. The seventh beatitude refers to peace,
which is a fruit of purity of heart. And the last beatitude shows the end of the spiritual life, which is the persecution and martyrdom which the deiﬁed person undergoes. This is why the martyrdom of the saints is not a matter of a strong will, but a fruit of seeing God (Matt. 5, 112). The Christian life is seen in Christ's beatitudes. But this also constitutes the monastic path and way of life. Someone asked me to explain just what monasticism is and what the work of a monk is. I told him that if we read Christ's beatitudes in the interpretive tradition of the Church, we will understand very well what the monastic life is. The way in which the Apostolic Churches are organised is very suggestive of the way in which contemporary monasteries are organised. Common uses among the ﬁrst Christians in Jerusalem are reminiscent of the monks' common use, common ownership and total shedding of possessions. Moreover, the renunciation of material goods is for the sake of a person's puriﬁcation and his attaining an illuminated nous and noetic prayer. It is only in this light that we should examine the problem of common use. It is not simply a sociological fact, but a purely ascetic and spiritual one. In the Apostle Paul's epistles to the Churches we see clearly the frameworks within which the ﬁrst Christians lived, and their aims as well. They had to die to the passions, live the Cross of Christ in their daily lives, since it is by the cross that man is made dead to the world and as a result the world is dead to man. Those who had wives should be "as though they had none", and in general all had to keep the commandments of God in their daily lives. Apart from these things in the epistles of the Apostle Paul it is evident that the ﬁrst Christians had noetic prayer in their hearts: "speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord" (Eph. 5, 19). Likewise it is clear that in the Apostolic Churches there were Christians who belonged to all the ranks of the saved, that is to say they were puriﬁed, illuminated and deiﬁed. I do not
intend to list all the passages which make this reality clear. What I wanted to emphasise is that in the texts of the New Testament the Christian life is presented in the way which we recognise as the monastic life. Essentially the ﬁrst Apostolic Churches were therapeutic communities in the Orthodox sense of the term, when the Christians were puriﬁed of passions, illuminated and climbed the mountain of the vision of God. If we look carefully into the tradition of the Church, we will ﬁnd that the testing which one undergoes today in order to become a monk is the same as was the practice for becoming a Christian. The novices of each monastery are the catechumens of the early Church and the monks are the "illuminated" Christians. This is said from the point of view of the interior spiritual life. In the early Church Baptism was preceded by catechism, which in reality was the method for purifying the heart of passions, freeing the nous from the passions, logic and the conditions of the environment. This same thing is being continued in monasteries today by the order of novices. The novice goes through the stage of repentance and puriﬁcation. When the repentance is completed, then the "second baptism" is received, the person discovers what the coming of the Holy Spirit means, and God permitting, he can ascend to higher degrees of the spiritual life. By studying the order of novices in monasteries today we can be helped to understand how the Catechumens are prepared for membership in the Church. And the study of orthodox monasticism in its genuine expression can guide us to an understanding of the functioning of the ﬁrst Apostolic Churches. The monastic life is an evangelical life, a life of repentance and keeping Christ's commandments, an effort towards purity of heart and illumination of the nous. This comes about through God's energy and man's synergy. The life which Christ offered to the world is for all men. Moreover, as we have seen, St. Gregory Palamas lived in a family which had the evangelic-monastic way of life; he grew through prayers and lived essentially as a monk. He had attained the life of a monk before
going to the Holy Mountain, while he was living in Constantinople and was still studying. What we are going to say about his teaching should be seen in this light. The fact that the monastic life is the evangelic life and conduct, and the fact that everyone can live it, can also be seen, among other things, from the teaching of St. Symeon the New Theologian which no one can doubt, because it is expressed by this leading teacher of the Church, and there are many persons in the Bible who conﬁrm it. St. Symeon teaches that it is possible for all, monks and lay people, constantly to weep, repent and pray to God. It is possible to have a wife and children, a multitude of servants, much property and many cares in life, and not only to weep and pray every day, but even to reach perfect virtue. He writes characteristically: "So it is possible for all men, brethren, not only for monks but for laymen as well, to be penitent at all times and continually, and to weep and entreat God, and by such practices to acquire all other virtues as well". He cites as witnesses John Chrysostom and the Prophet King David, according to whom it is possible for a person "who has a wife and children, men and women servants, a large household, and great possessions, and who is prominent in worldly affairs not only daily to weep and pray and repent; he can also attain to perfection of virtue if he so wishes. He can receive the Holy Spirit and become a friend of God and enjoy the vision of Him". As examples he takes Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Lot at Sodom, Moses, David and the Apostle Peter, who was unlettered, a ﬁsherman and married. St. Symeon cites the example of a young man by the name of George, who was granted to have an experience of the vision of the glory of God. This was Symeon himself, when he was still young. Living in Constantinople, about twenty years of age, after great ascetic prayer, while he was performing his usual tasks -"during the day he managed a patrician's household and daily went to the palace engaged in worldly affairs..."- he saw the uncreated Light. When he was noetically saying
the prayer "God, have mercy upon me a sinner", "suddenly a ﬂood of divine radiance appeared from above and ﬁlled the room". He looked around him and did not know if he was standing on the ground. He thought that he himself had become that light. His nous then ascended to heaven "and beheld yet another light, which was clearer than the one close at hand". Referring to this experience, he goes on to say: "Have you learned that living in the midst of the city does not hinder us from practising the commandments of God as long as we are zealous and vigilant, and that solitude and retirement from the world are useless if we are slack and careless?". So the monastic life is the prophetic and apostolic life, which in reality is the life of repentance, purifying one's heart, keeping Christ's commandments. It is not alien to the life of the Church nor is it a life which developed much later, in the fourth century, and crept into the life of the Church, but it is the new life which Christ brought into the world by becoming man. In the ﬁrst apostolic period all the Christians lived like monks, and therefore there was no need to go out of the world and journey to special places. During the persecutions the apostolic life was also expressed in the form of martyrdom, because, as we said before, the end of the beatitudes is persecution and martyrdom for the glory of Christ. So just as the apostolic life is at the same time prophetic and that of a martyr, so also the life of the martyr is simultaneously prophetic and apostolic. However, when after the cessation of the persecutions Christianity became worldly and lost the prophetic, apostolic and martyr's experience, then the Christians who wanted to live more profoundly by Christ's commandments left the world in order to live God's will in the highest degree. So we have the ﬁrst phase of monasticism as anachoretism with the great personality of St. Antony, the desert teacher. He was followed by other Christians as well, and so the Sketes and Monasteries were created. However, this is not a question of a new form of Christianity, but of living true Christianity by the prophets', apostles'
and martyrs' experience. The monastic life, then, is the sequel to that of the Prophets, Apostles and martyrs of the ﬁrst Church, it is life in harmony with the keeping of Christ's commandments. The fact that it is only in this light that we can look at monasticism is clear from St. Symeon the New Theologian, who declares that "if instead of being timid, slothful, and despisers of God's commandments, we were zealous, watchful, and sober, we should have no need of renunciation or tonsure or the ﬂight from the world". Therefore, slothfulness, laziness and despising Christ's commandments, and more generally, Christianity's becoming worldly brought renunciation, tonsure and ﬂight from the world. This shows that the monastic life is the life of the Gospel, which can be lived even in the midst of the world if one follows the traditional teaching given by the Church. Moreover, the homilies addressed by St. Gregory Palamas to his Flock in Thessaloniki manifest this truth. When one reads these homilies one will ﬁnd that they are distinguished by their theology and their ascetic tradition. He explains ascetic themes to his Christians: how will they get rid of their passions, their thoughts; how will they be cured; how will they experience the hesychastic way of life? They are not at all like some of the spiritless, social and moral sermons of our time. They are homilies which can very well also be read by monks; they can be read in monastic dining halls; that is to say, they meet monastic standards. This makes evident the truth that Christ's teaching is common to all men and that there is kinship between the Christian and monastic lives, since the latter is experience of the former, and the Christian life is in reality a monastic life with appropriate adaptations. The facts that the monastic life is the evangelic life and that a monk is one who lives evangelically can also be seen in St. Gregory Palamas's homily on St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, in which St. Demetrios is presented as a monk. Naturally in the time of St. Demetrios there was no
monasticism as we know it today, but every Christian who kept the will of God was essentially a monk. In his homily on St. Demetrios the divine Gregory puts in relief the chastity of his body and soul. He lived in general chastity even though he was the highest ofﬁcer in the Roman army. According to St. Gregory Palamas, St. Demetrios was graced with splendid prophetic power and was counted worthy of "the apostolic and teaching diaconate and a high position". He was full of virtues and was not inferior to the saints in asceticism "and in their radiance of life". But he was behind some, was like others; superior to some and surpassing others. He possessed many gifts. The warfare which St. Demetrios waged within his heart was comparable to the warfare of the great ascetics. He kept his nous pure of any unseemly thought, protecting the immaculate Grace of holy Baptism, had a will that harmonised with God's law "like a book of God and a tablet and plaque engraved by God or a writing tablet written by the ﬁnger of God and placed before all for the common use". In this way St. Demetrios was chaste in both body and soul. He had his citizenship in heaven and walked on an equal footing with the angels, having a body as well. So St. Demetrios seems to have had an angelic life and citizenship. The patron saint of Thessaloniki was "both a teacher and an apostle, wise and chaste and holy, and we may say very beautiful and spotless, and made radiant by nature, zeal and grace". Comparing St. Demetrios with Job of the Old Testament, St. Gregory says that while Job was blameless, righteous and pious, just as Demetrios was, Job was not praised by God for chastity, something which St. Demetrios had. His chastity showed St. Demetrios to be higher than nature and on a par with the angels.
From this example it can be seen on the one hand that the monastic life is in reality the evangelical life, and on the other hand that the monk who practises chastity of body and soul is a Prophet, Apostle and witness of Christ. [ BACK ]
2. The Holy Mountain at the time of St. Gregory Palamas
We cannot examine the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas about monasticism and monks unless we have knowledge about the Hagiorite monasticism of his time. This will be the subject of this section. We should point out beforehand that in the fourteenth century there was a great ﬂowering of Hagiorite monasticism. This played an important role in the theological writings and in the whole theological movement which took place in the fourteenth century within the area of the then Roman Empire (Romanity)*. It seems that there was monasticism on the Holy Mountain at a very early time, but in the ninth century we have witness of the presence of monasticism in the person of St. Peter the Athonite. St. Peter is considered the ﬁrst inhabitant of the Holy Mountain, since there is written evidence and it is conﬁrmed by St. Gregory Palamas in his writing about him.
The Holy Mountain was originally supervised by the emperor, then the supervision was transferred to the Patriarch and from him to the Metropolitan of Hierissos. Finally it was transferred back to the emperor. Thus Mount Athos was sometimes under the Patriarch and sometimes under the emperor. So in the fourteenth century the Holy Mountain was closely linked to Constantinople. The great peak of Hagiorite monasticism began with the founding of the Great Lavra by St. Athanasios the Athonite and continued with the founding of other Monasteries. The peak of Hagiorite monasticism, which began in the tenth century, continued and grew into the eleventh, during which many monks came to the Holy Mountain and created many monydria*. There were more than 180 of them. At that time the great Monasteries of Lavra, Vatopedi, Iveron, Xeropotamou, Zographou, Docheiariou, Philotheou, Esphigmenou, Rossikon, and Amalphinon were created. Apart from the building of Holy Monasteries, the Hagiorite lifestyle and life were also organised, and matters relating to the administration of the Government of Athos were regulated. After a period of suspension, during which there were many invasions on the Holy Mountain with dreadful consequences for its monasticism, the growth of monasticism began again, chieﬂy in the fourteenth century. During this time new Monasteries were built, such as Pantokratoros, Simonos Petra, Dionysiou, Gregoriou, and St. Paul's, and all the holy dwellings of the Mountain were surrounded with walls. The Monasteries built in that time have the form of fortresses, with "tower, fortress, small windows, narrow doors and no drying-yards". Of course this form of construction was largely due to the invasions to which the Hagiorite monks had been subjected from many directions in the preceding ages. Therefore during the time when St. Gregory Palamas lived on the Holy Mountain there was a burst of building activity, but also intense spiritual life, which made the Holy Mountain a central point in the Byzantine
Empire. At that time on the Holy Mountain there were monks with great radiance and intensity of spiritual life. Of course St. Gregory Palamas made all these things productive and developed them further, when he was led by the hesychast monks to express and formulate the life and experience of the Holy Mountain, which is the experience and life of the Orthodox Church. It is worth while to mention among others St. Gregory of Sinai and his disciples, who lived in holy silence on Athos, St. Theoleptos of Philadelphia, who was the teacher of St. Gregory Palamas in Constantinople and introduced him to the mystical theology of the Church, St. Sabbas of Vatopedi, and so forth. Here we must also mention the ﬁrst spiritual father of St. Gregory Palamas, St. Nicodemos, who excelled in conduct and in the vision of God. He lived in the Lavra of Vatopedi, to which St. Gregory came in order to practise holy hesychasm. St. Philotheos Kokkinos, writing about St. Nicodemos, whose feast is the 11th of July, writes: "After arriving at the Lavra of Vatopedi, Gregory became the pupil of the noble Nicodemos, a man wonderful in both his ascetic practice and his vision of God, as all but a few of those who lived near him on Athos had discovered, ... who had previously reached the height of every path of virtue and had come later to Vatopedi, where, after for a long time performing the same feats with the same zeal and the same eagerness, he blessedly found there the wonderful and blessed ending of his life for Christ". This sanctiﬁed place with such famous monks, with the hesychastic tradition, was of course to have a great inﬂuence on the young saint Gregory, who had already lived this angelic life in Constantinople and had been fed from the springs of the hesychastic life. All through his struggles for the orthodox teaching of hesychasm St. Gregory Palamas certainly received great help from the hesychast Fathers and from the experience which he himself acquired on the Holy Mountain.
We must make special mention of St. Nicephoros the Solitary, who was in his prime a little before 1340 and who in practising noetic stillness and prayer used the psychophysical method of inhaling and exhaling while constantly calling on the name of Christ, so as to concentrate the nous in the heart. It is well known that the philosopher Barlaam opposed this method of hesychastic life, considering it erroneous. However, St. Gregory Palamas fortiﬁed this method theologically; it is used chieﬂy by novices for concentrating the nous in the heart. It is a fact that in the time of St. Gregory there was vigorous spiritual and neptic life on the Holy Mountain. In this period the Holy Mountain had great authority, chieﬂy through the theological presence of St. Gregory Palamas but also through the vigorous presence of great personalities who were living the monastic life there. As evidence for this we should mention, on the one hand, the "Hagiorite Tome", an apologia which was signed by the eminent fathers of the Mountain and played an important part in all the phases of the hesychastic disputes. On the other hand we should mention that in the dispute between John Cantacuzene and John Palaeologos a committee of Hagiorite Fathers headed by Isaac, the most important monk on the Mountain, went to Constantinople to reconcile the two factions. It is noteworthy that from the middle of the fourteenth century until the Council of Florence, almost one hundred years, seven of the ten Patriarchs who ascended the throne of Constantinople were Hagiorites and defenders of the hesychastic way of life. But even before this period hesychasts had ascended the patriarchal throne. And the victory of hesychasm was complete in that almost until the captivity the patriarchs were hesychasts. This was a ﬁne preparation for helping the Greek People endure the long night of Turkish rule, for it is well known that hesychasm sustained our People in the Greek Orthodox Tradition in Romanity.
In this period the radiance of the Holy Mountain extended even beyond the borders of the Byzantine empire. The monks from foreign lands who were living in solitude on Athos and had adopted all its ascetic life, carried to their countries both hesychasm and "all the forms of the Byzantine tradition". Consequently the Holy Mountain "established a focus of radiation and transmission of the social traditions of Byzantium towards the lands of the North. It was a school in which, apart from progressing in spiritual asceticism, people were trained to be translators and transcribers of the products of the Greek Christian spirit into Slavonic, Old Serbian, Middle Bulgarian, Iberian and other languages, enlighteners and leaders of the Orthodox in those lands". The Hagiorite monk Sabbas laid "the foundations of the ecclesiastical and monastic organisation in Serbia". Almost all the archbishops of Serbia were from the Chilandari monastery. St. Gregory of Sinai brought Hesychasm to Bulgaria. Hagiorite monks brought the monastic life and organised the church life in Wallachia and Russia". Thus monasticism on the Holy Mountain in the time of St. Gregory Palamas was in great ﬂowering and vigour. The fourteenth century was a period of rebirth, if we can use this expression, for the Holy Mountain. Its authority extended not only to the whole area of the then Byzantine Empire, Greece, but spread beyond it. We can note, however, that Thessaloniki received the greatest inﬂuence, which is not unrelated to the fact that it was there that the reaction of the philosophers against the hesychast Fathers was ﬁrst manifested. In order to have a small taste of the life of the Monasteries of the Holy Mountain at the time of St. Gregory Palamas, we shall offer some data from the period when the saint was Abbot at the monastery of Esphigmenou, as described by St. Philotheos Kokkinos in the biography written by him.
He was chosen abbot of the Monastery of Esphigmenou by a common vote by the leader and patron of the Mountain (this clearly means the Protos, the head of the Mountain), who resided at Karyes, and by those fathers of the Monastery distinguished by their virtue and their age, as St. Philotheos writes. St. Gregory is believed to have been led in taking up the abbacy of the Monastery "by those from on high rather than by human votes". The common vote of the fathers of the Monastery and the Protos, or Head of the Holy Mountain shows that there was a procedure for selection at that time, but also that St. Gregory was recognised by the Hagiorite monks even before the hesychastic dispute began. The Holy Monastery of Esphigmenou at the time of the saint's abbacy numbered about two hundred monks. This number is really large in comparison with today, when no monastery on the Holy Mountain has more than one hundred monks. St. Philotheos writes: "When he arrived there and took up the chair and the abbacy of the brothers, whose numbers had risen to two hundred...". We can also see from the way in which he administered the Monastery that the Holy Monastery was a completely cenobitic community which had divine services and demanded spiritual guidance and general care for all questions. The saint taught the monks, had the care and adornment of the holy Temple, as well as "the holy works and rites of the wonderful and most profound mysteries". He was likewise concerned with raising the level of liturgical celebrations. The monastery was functioning very well as a hospital of the soul, and the monks had found a real father, a physician, and therefore after his departure some sought greater stillness and others more exact obedience and asceticism. This shows that during the Abbacy of St. Gregory, the Monastery was a real spiritual dispensary, a school of virtue and a sacred place. As Abbot of the Monastery of Esphigmenou St. Gregory also performed three miracles.
The ﬁrst miracle was that he cured a monk who had fallen into delusion. This monk was engaged in noetic prayer, attempting to concentrate his nous, but since he was not watchful, the devil led him into deceit, presenting him with apparitions and deceptive images, suggesting to him that he should think they were holy. Soon he had him seduced, and he would shortly have led him into madness and ultimate withdrawal from God, "if Gregory with that divine wisdom and those medicines of the Spirit had not been present". The devil had convinced this monk, who was called Eudokimos, that Gregory was great and wonderful in learning and culture, but he was completely ignorant and lacking in any "mystical vision of God and moral virtue of his own". St. Gregory cured him, sometimes using holy teachings, patristic instructions and advice, sometimes mystical prayers and tears, and sometimes common prayers and supplications of the Church on behalf of the ailing brother, prayers led by the saint himself. The deluded monk Eudokimos was freed from his error and was very successful in his monastic life through the Grace and power of the Holy Spirit. The second miracle which he performed had to do with the miracleworking discovery of oil. The monks had no oil for their food. Because there was a need, he asked them to take him to the storeroom where the empty vessels were. He stood beside one jug of oil, prayed fervently to God - Who created all things out of nothing - and after blessing it with his hand with the sign of the cross, he repeated the miracle performed by the Prophet Elijah: the vessel was not empty of oil for the whole year, although he and the other monks gave generously to those both inside and outside the Monastery. The third miracle was related to the preceding one. When he had been informed that the shortage of oil was due to a disease of the olive trees, he went to the olive grove to pray with the elders of the Monastery and the monks. First he prayed, blessed the trees in the form of the Precious Cross, and sanctiﬁed the area "with holy supplications and entreaties and sprinkling of holy water". After the litany and the blessing he spoke to
them about how they should avoid barrenness of soul, as the Worthy Forerunner had done. Then he returned to the Monastery. When the fruit-bearing season came, the unhealthy plants produced fruits beyond all hope. In order that the miracle might shine more brightly and that the power of Christ might act in the divine Gregory, God permitted more fruits to be borne by those trees which he came near as he passed or stood nearer in conversation or under whose shade he sat. This small presentation of extracts from St. Gregory, the way in which he directed the Esphigmenou Monastery and guided the monks, as well as the miracles which he performed, demonstrate the life of one Monastery on the Holy Mountain in St. Gregory's time. The hesychastic life of the monks, the litanies and prayers, the sanctiﬁcations on the premises of the Monastery, the patristic teaching, and so forth, were the spiritual atmosphere of the Monks of the Holy Mountain. Of course they were not without errors, which were the result of egoism and pride, but also of the work of demons who, however, were opposed by discerning fathers. All the things that we have mentioned in this section are necessary for the understanding of what is said in this book about the value of the Holy Mountain, monasticism and the hesychastic tradition. It is true that St. Gregory Palamas found a suitable climate, he became more of a man on the Holy Mountain, he lived its hesychastic atmosphere and life, but it was he who lifted it further and made it known, because he developed theologically the hesychastic method of the monks and safeguarded it through the church tradition. This is why the title of Hagiorite is eminently ﬁtting for the divine Gregory.
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3. Monasteries and the monastic life
In all his works, in his polemical works, his letters, the confessional works, his homilies, St. Gregory Palamas is only presenting the monastic life in its authentic expression. Indeed he links the monastic life with the theology of our Church, for as we know, theology in the Orthodox Church is not logical knowledge and thought, but experience and life, and consequently it is closely linked with asceticism. In what follows we shall emphasise general points about monasticism and the monastic life as St. Gregory Palamas presents them, for we shall make extended analyses of this topic in other chapters. [ BACK ]
a) Naming of the places of ascetic exercises
In his homilies he calls the Monasteries holy frontisteria. The word 'frontisterion' is used in the early church tradition to refer to monasteries where the monks are learning to practise ascetically the life in Christ. This term was also used in ancient Greece for the school of Socrates to
mean a workroom for the concerns or thoughts of the reading room. Since asceticism in the Christian life is philosophy par excellence, because it unites man with God, that is why the monasteries are called holy frontisteria. In one of his homilies he writes: "Therefore we ﬂee the world and ﬁnd a refuge in these institutes devoted to the God of virtue". The monk who ﬂees to these frontisteria does not do it in order to lead a carefree and indifferent life, but in order to learn how he can be united with God. The true monk is "one who loves to be with God". He takes refuge in these holy places in order to make his way from the image to the likeness. He calls them holy sanctuaries, that is to say holy enclosures, holy sheepfolds. "We are surrounded by these holy enclosures". In one of his homilies to the monks, on the subject of the Entrance of the Most Holy Mother of God, he refers to them by the following phrases: "Forward, then, army of God, holy theatre, chorus harmonised by the heavenly spirit...". In another homily he calls the holy Monasteries "holy sacred places". [ BACK ]
b) Monks and those in the world
While the Christian life, the attaining communion with God, is common to all men, yet, as the divine Gregory teaches, there is a difference between the anchorite and the man in the world as to his manner of living.
In speaking of dispassion -that it does not consist in mortifying the passionate part of the soul, but transforms it- he says that those who have come out of the world have more time to acquire communion with God with an unclouded nous, since they will free it from the refuse of the evil passions and thus arrive at real love. Those living in the world use the things of the world, but they force themselves to do it in conformity with Christ's commandments". So there is this difference in their way of life: those who have come out of the world abandon everything in order to arrive at love through purity of their nous, while those living in the world arrive at love through keeping Christ's commandments, using all the material goods of the world ascetically. [ BACK ]
c) Two categories of nuns
In a homily of St. Gregory we ﬁnd an interesting detail, which shows the catholicity of the monastic life. He refers to two categories of nuns. First, to those women who chose the monastic life from the beginning, and second, to those who came from married life to a common life in chastity. In both cases the essential precondition is that they desire to live in repentance, which is the basis of monasticism.
He writes incisively: The virgins and those who have promised themselves to the monastic life and those of you who have done well to come back from marriage to a common life in chastity, and in general all you who through a longing for repentance have chosen to live in community...". This passage shows a long tradition of the Church, according to which even married women are accepted into the monastic way of life, either after the death of their husband or by common consent. To be sure, this must be done with great care so as not to create other problems. In any case what St. Gregory says is important, that those who have come back from marriage are coming back "into living a common life in chastity". Thus they too can acquire spiritual chastity. The term spiritual chastity can create some doubts and hesitations. In a conference someone said to me that the term spiritual chastity is not found in the Fathers, but that we ﬁnd the term chastity of soul. And it is true that there are many texts in which the term chastity of soul is used, but we know that no chastity can be considered right without the presence of the Holy Spirit. Therefore the true chastity of soul is and is called spiritual. Moreover the Epistles of the Apostle Paul speak of the natural man, which is the man of ﬂesh, and of the spiritual man, which is the man who partakes of the Holy Spirit. Thus since chastity of soul comes only by the energy of the Holy Spirit, that is why it is called spiritual chastity. It is signiﬁcant that when he refers to the nuns who have chosen the monastic life from the start, and to those who became nuns after coming out of married life, St. Gregory exhorts them to live in prayer, compunction, and so forth, so as to be "holy and chaste in both body and soul" in both their senses and their minds, "and in everything showing themselves to be spiritual and chaste in both thought and community life". Thus the thought and community life of the true nuns is
characterised as both spiritual and chaste. Universal chastity, of body and soul, is a work of the Holy Spirit and is therefore a spiritual gift. [ BACK ]
d) Monks and education
One of the topics which occupied St. Gregory Palamas in his dialogue with Barlaam was that of the two wisdoms, the two educations and the two knowledges. He said that there is godly education on the one hand, and worldly education on the other. This distinction arises because Barlaam maintained that the philosophers were higher than the Prophets and that the monks should learn human wisdom and knowledge. Developing this theme, St. Gregory said that we do not hinder those who have not chosen the monastic life from learning worldly education, but still we do not advise anyone to devote himself entirely to it. And this is because it can teach no one anything sure about God. So we forbid anyone to expect any precise information about divine things from outward education. From this it is clear that the monks are acquiring divine wisdom throughout their life. The knowledge of God is not a fruit of rational occupations, but a revelation of God Himself. The monks should not expect anything from outward education, particularly not from philosophy. If before becoming a monk anyone wishes to take it up and
inform himself about it, it is not forbidden, but certainly it should not be made an absolute and deiﬁed. [ BACK ]
e) Different types and methods of asceticism
In the works of St. Gregory Palamas we ﬁnd that there are many ways of living the monastic life. In fact we see this even today on the Holy Mountain. There are cenobitic monks who live in the Monasteries and practise obedience and the common life. There are skete monks who live in Sketes in communities, and there are hermits who live alone in inaccessible areas, in what they call the desert. All are struggling to do the will of God, but each in a different way. Among these modes of living there are other forms as well, such as living in a type of hermitage called a kathisma, living in a kellion in cells as 'kelliots', and so forth. St. Gregory says that the monks who imitate the Worthy Forerunner renounce the world, and some of them have "dwelt in the desert and attracted to it many from later generations", and others "trained themselves within the walls of holy enclosures and held spiritual gatherings in them". Thus there is a variety of forms of ascetic practice, but the method is the same.
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f) The purpose of withdrawal
Withdrawal from the world is not out of self love and timidity about taking up worldly responsibilities, but from a holy desire for a heart puriﬁed of passions. Men withdraw from the world in order to remove themselves from what incites the passions, for through that comes the death which separates them from God. Death enters "through the doors in us, that is to say the passions". It was through these doors that Adam also died. Eve in Paradise "saw, suffered passion, ate, died, attracted the man, shared with him the tasting and the fall". The monks try to avoid that death, which comes from all the passions and allurements which exist in the world. St. Gregory teaches that if a monk has property which he has brought from the world or has acquired in the Monastery, he actually never withdraws from the world. And indeed St. Gregory maintains that even if that monk is still living on the Holy Mountain in the Monasteries which represent the heavenly realm, he is in fact deﬁling the place. These words of the saint are dreadful to hear. When the Hagiorite's life is not in keeping with the evangelical and monastic life, he deﬁles the Holy Mountain. He himself practically loses the possibility of becoming a saint. So it is not a matter of living in a place, but of a way of life.
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g) The way of monastic life
St. Gregory Palamas attaches great importance to the way of the monastic life. It is not enough to live in the Monasteries, but one must live in the way of the holy Fathers. The monastery resembles the ﬁrst Paradise, where Adam and Eve dwelt. Just as there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil there, and just as there was the cunning devil, it is the same now in the Monasteries. So the monks are in great danger of falling, even within their holy walls. Therefore constant readiness and attention are needed. The aspiration of the monk is to make the inner man a monk. An outward sojourn in a holy place is not enough, but what is needed is an effort to live monasticism inwardly. The saint asks: "how could the inner man become a monk" if he did not ﬁrst overcome the acquired world and all human learning? This is symbolised by the tonsure, cutting the hair of the head. Likewise St. Gregory has preserved information that is still true even today among many ascetic Fathers who are wholly devoted to God: some Fathers even do not allow baths and forbid receiving help from medical science in cases of illness. Of course they do this not out of scorn for medical science, but out of deep faith in God. Therefore they do not consider outrageous those monks who do not attain such a height of faith as to rest their cure upon God alone.
Of course this will have to be done with discrimination and humility. It is necessary for the monk to have spiritual guidance, because it is possible that he will be led astray by the tempting devil. An essential prerequisite for the monk in this holy struggle, especially for the novice, is that he has a spiritual father to guide him on his spiritual journey. He cites the example of Nicephoros the Solitary, who practised holy hesychia. He chose the strictest life when he came to the Holy Mountain. He began his struggle by doing obedience to the most distinguished of the Fathers. And after having given them the experience of his humility for a very long time, he received from them "the experience of the art of arts, that is to say of stillness, and became a leader of those struggling in the world of the mind to battle against the spirits of cunning...". As a result, since he saw that the novices could not even moderately support the unsteadiness of their nous, he also proposed a special method, which is the psychotechnical method. The monastic life, as we said in the beginning, is an apostolic way of life. The asceticism in the Monasteries is like the asceticism and life of the early Christians. In Jerusalem the Christians "were continually in the temple persevering in prayer and entreaty". In this way those early Christians were "clarifying beforehand and actually describing this truly monastic, heavenly and most holy life". The monks do this. They try by their way of living to remove all distraction and fantasy from their lives, and through the unifying commandments to rise to the unique theosophy, which is higher than any philosophy. This is the all-holy life and way of the monks. They do nothing else but follow the life of the apostolic men. The method, as it is described in many places by St. Gregory, is the method which the true monks still follow today. The lover of union with God enters the sanctuary of holy stillness, when he withdraws from the blameworthy life. This means that when he ﬁrst liberates his soul from every bond, he then joins his nous to God with unceasing prayer, and in this way his nous enters his heart and from there ﬁnds the ineffable path to heaven and is granted the divine and holy vision of God in the Light.
We shall analyse this liberation and ecstasy of the nous in other places. Here we simply point out the basis of the monastic life, which is liberation and illumination of the nous. This struggle is common to monks and nuns. There are not separate commandments for men and women. Therefore in one of his homilies he enjoins the nuns to follow the same manner of life in order to live in the true evangelical way. The nous should be turned to God alone: "look to God alone, make Him your only delight, rejoicing in hope, patient in afﬂiction, obedient to those in charge, serving one another, seeing to the peace among you, always being devoted to attention and prayer and compunction of soul, to psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, being holy and chaste in body and soul, in all your senses and your mind, and manifesting what is spiritual and chaste with all your mind and conduct". [ BACK ]
h) Monks and reading
The anti-hesychasts accused the hesychast fathers of advising the monks "to give up all reading of Holy Scripture as wrong, and to devote themselves to prayer alone". In answering this accusation St. Gregory Palamas said that this advice is given to novices. To be sure, there are many Fathers, such as St. Diadochos of Photike, the Great Philemon, St. Neilos, St. John of the Ladder, who advised novices "to keep silence from long reading and give their attention to prayer of a single phrase",
until they acquired the habit of praying unceasingly, even if their body was doing something else. However, this does not mean that they regarded reading Scriptures as useless and wrong. Therefore the novices chieﬂy devoted themselves to prayer in order to fasten their nous to God, without overlooking the Scriptures. Thus, when they acquired an illuminated nous, they could better understand the spirit of the Scriptures, the deepest sense of the scriptural passages, because they had spiritual kinship with the Apostles and Evangelists. [ BACK ]
i) Moving of monks in the world
We have said before that St. Gregory called the Monasteries "the institutes devoted to God", because the monks in them are instructed in godly wisdom and come to possess knowledge of God. In one of his homilies on the passage about the curing of the man possessed, which he apparently spoke in the Temple of St. Demetrios, as it seems from the sentence "let us too approach well and rightly "the spring of aromatic oils which God has granted us and is poured forth, as you see, by the reliquary from the body of our native martyr for Christ", he was directing his words to the monks who were leaving the institutes devoted to God and running to the cities. It seems that St. Gregory saw many monks coming into Thessaloniki without a reason and putting themselves to the test of the various temptations.
The saint advises: "But let us also, especially the monks, ﬂee from association and life with the swine in the wilds. And he goes on to say: "What is the use of your ﬂeeing the world once for all and seeking out the institutes devoted to God as your refuge and then going out of them, back and forth into the world every day? How, tell me, when you go around in the market places will you escape the fomentings of passions through which comes the death of the soul that separates man from God?". The monks who left the world chose the path of purity of the senses, reason and imagination. Thus there are many dangers in uselessly going out of the Monastery and especially in moving about every day without the blessing of the Abbot. This is natural, because, as the discerning spiritual fathers know, when a monk lives for a time in purity of the senses and before he is yet conﬁrmed in this life, he is subject to temptations. Prayer, and especially inner prayer of the heart, doing away with thoughts and fantasies makes the heart of man sensitive, and this can be an occasion for falling into sentimental states, which are occasions of great temptation. That is why great care is needed and especially blessings from the spiritual father, the Abbot, for these movements. [ BACK ]
j) Imitation of the Forerunner
In his homilies St. Gregory Palamas often emphasises the truth that the monastic way of life is an imitation of the life of the Forerunner, the Baptist of Christ. In his homily on the Forerunner he says that the Fathers who ﬂed to the wilderness did it in imitation of John the Baptist: "Therefore the fathers imitating the forerunner of grace renounced the world and left the company of those near them, either to live in the desert or in holy walled enclosures". In the same homily he advises the monks to strive to imitate the life of the Forerunner, since the monks' life approaches in some way the solitary desert life of the Forerunner. He writes: "Let us hasten as best we can to imitate the forerunner of grace, and most of all those of us who have a monastic life, whose life is secluded from the customs and things of the world and in some way approaches the solitary desert life of the prophet and baptist". He says particularly that the Forerunner, since he foresaw, Prophet that he was, that the monks would some day be able to imitate him in some measure, let his head be cut off, suffering not out of godliness but out of virtue, so that the monks might be ready to stand up against sin unto death, knowing "that he who puts the passions to ﬂight through virtue will receive a martyr's crown". And here too we see the element of martyrdom in the life of the monks. [ BACK ]
In conclusion we can say that monasticism is not alien to the Church, it is not a life which came in much later, but it is the prophetic, apostolic and martyr's life. Every true monk who belongs to the Tradition of the Church is at the same time a Prophet, Apostle and Martyr of Christ, who lives the life of Christ, gives witness of the new life which Christ brought into the world and is ready to endure martyrdom for the glory of Christ. Moreover, the true monk bears witness to the struggle for purity of heart and soul and to the ﬁght against the demons. The monastery is "the sacred places", the institutes of virtue in which the monks practise holy hesychia, which is the real road to participation in the deifying energy of God. Thus the monks preserve the authentic life of man, his natural journey and life, but also they offer true knowledge of God to the people. In speaking of monasticism St. Gregory Palamas places it within the Orthodox theological framework. Orthodox monasticism is not enclosed within an abstract ascetic practice nor in a rational knowledge about God, but it breathes real theology. It is the theological life and conduct par excellence. And this is seen from the fact that the whole monastic life, as also St. Gregory Palamas expresses it, answers the basic questions: what is God, what is natural man, to what did man come through the fall, what sort of ruin did he suffer, where should he be led and how will he be cured in order to attain union with God, which is the deepest purpose of his existence. The theology of Orthodox monasticism seems to have answers to these questions. The orthodox monk is intensely occupied with this problem. Therefore he is authentic. We see this also in the contemporary Hagiorite monks. Some of them may be illiterate and uneducated in the way of the world, but as they have the Holy Spirit, they are Apostles of Jesus Christ. As St. Gregory the Theologian says, the Apostles do not theologise in an Aristotelian way, that is to say, by thinking, imagination and logic, but as ﬁshermen, with the experience of Pentecost. So also contemporary Hagiorite monks
who are in the orthodox ecclesiastical tradition are prophets, apostles and martyrs of Jesus Christ. Since they are prophets and apostles, they bear witness to the life which the Church has. That is why they are a light to the men of the world, a spiritual boundary mark, pointers of the way to spiritual perfection.
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 7 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
7. THE ESSENCE OF ORTHODOX MONASTICISM 1. Concern and writing 2. Passions and cure of the tripartite soul 3. Spiritual poverty 4. Blessed grief
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7. THE ESSENCE OF ORTHODOX MONASTICISM
A monk's prayer, in particular noetic prayer of the heart, is an indication that his heart has been puriﬁed of all thoughts; that his nous has been liberated from fantasy, logic and the passions and has returned to the heart and been united with it in the Holy Spirit. This is how prayer takes place, how noetic energy develops in the heart. It is the illumination of the nous, about which a great deal is said in the patristic texts. Noetic prayer must, however, take place within the climate of the Orthodox Tradition and in the framework of the asceticism of the Orthodox Church. I say this because some people are cutting noetic prayer away from the whole asceticism of the Church, with the result that it is being presented as a Christian yoga. Actually when prayer is cut off from repentance and godly mourning, from the keeping of Christ's commandments, by which the tripartite soul is puriﬁed, from the sacramental life of the Church, then it loses its value from the orthodox point of view, since it is done mechanistically, exoterically, in the manner of the Buddhistic exercises. The fact that prayer is linked with the whole ascetic life of the Church is shown to us in the works of St. Gregory Palamas. The concise presentation of this teaching is to be found in a letter of his "to the most reverend nun Xeni", in which he speaks "about passions and virtues and what is born of noetic attention".
In this letter we see the essence of Orthodox monasticism, and of course how it differs from any other "monasticism". It is seen clearly that Orthodox monasticism aims at the cure of man, and not at the salvation of the Church or at ﬁnding the suitable persons for mission. Of course we do not deny that at times when the person is cured he does missionary work, but the primary thing is that orthodox monasticism aims at the cure of man. The monks in the Orthodox Church are struggling to save their souls, and this means ﬁrst of all bringing the nous back into the heart and from there to God, whereupon they enjoy the whole creation purely and clearly. From this point of view we say that the Monasteries are hospitals of the soul. This is mainly what is experienced on the Holy Mountain. They live in a simple manner. They renounce everything, then they are obedient to the Abbot so that their heart may be puriﬁed from passions, they pass through blessed mourning and so experience the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. This life and the path which leads to real life is not a hypothesis derived from studies and scientiﬁc occupations, but a fruit of repentance, obedience and humility. This life is described in St. Gregory Palamas' letter to the nun Xenia and we shall undertake a small analysis. I recognise that it is difﬁcult to make a full interpretation, and therefore I shall set out the most central points in it, which will show the essence of orthodox monasticism. [ BACK ]
1. Concern and writing
In the beginning of his letter St. Gregory admits that he was reluctant to write, because the heretics had twisted his words. The saint was already in the midst of the hesychastic disputes, after his victory in the Synod of 1341, in particular after his four-year imprisonment. So he wrote "after the year 1345". From this we observe that, although he was in great difﬁculty, still he was occupied with such a serious monastic subject. His letter turns out to be a small treatise which presents the essence and substance of orthodox monasticism. It also appears from this that the saint was carrying on his struggles for the truth in deep stillness, as a hagiorite monk in the true sense of the word. He did not lose his monastic quality, and therefore he wrote about mourning and godly progress. It is the offering of the Holy Mountain to the Church and the world. It shows us how we can practise our pastoral service, our anti-heretical struggles and all the work of the Church in general. In order for all these things to be orthodox, our nous must be as pure as possible and oriented towards God. We must also point out that the nun Xenia was a remarkable nun who was acquainted with St. Gregory and who most warmly requested him to write to her about monasticism. St. Gregory called her "most reverend mother". The saint confessed that it was not necessary to give advice about the monastic life, since by the Grace of Christ, along with old age she had gained an understanding of the law of the commandments through many years' practice, exercising obedience and stillness. In this way she had reached a measure of spiritual perfection, since her soul had become capable of receiving what God had written on it. However, she had a longing for spiritual teaching, as the soul of man is never sated
with this spiritual nourishment. Thus the nun Xenia was asking him to give her advice about the life of the monks, and he replied: "Through your constant requests in letters and messages you have persuaded me once again to write words of counsel, though indeed you have no great need of counsel". So the insistent requests of this holy nun were the reason for his writing this inspired text, which presents the essence of monasticism and expresses the life of St. Gregory as well as the life of the Hagiorite Fathers, who are a pattern of life for every monk and, with suitable adaptations, for every Christian. [ BACK ]
2. Passions and cure of the tripartite soul
In beginning his work St. Gregory Palamas emphasises that a true monk is one who keeps his nous single, not scattered and dispersed in many things: "that one-pointed concentration of the nous which constitutes the inward and true Monk". A true monk is one whose nous is uniﬁed in his heart. In order to bring this about, the ascetic decides to live the hesychastic life and feels a distaste for everything which disunites his nous. This scattering can happen through being with many people, monks as well, or even through writing. "If you write, you burden your nous with even more demanding worries". Those who have a healthy
soul are an exception to this. However, even their love for God is not pure. This is much more so if the person is full of passions, in which case he should not write. The hesychast should be free from worries, and therefore many of the Fathers who reached a high degree of hesychia did not write, even though they could have written great and proﬁtable things. When he deﬁnes what is a true monk, and says that in order to keep the nous uniﬁed one must avoid cares, he goes on to analyse just what is the death of the soul. Citing many Bible passages, he says that sin is the real death of the soul, in the sense that when the soul loses the Grace of God, it is deadened. The separation of the soul from the body is the death of the body and separation of the soul from God "is the death of the soul". This is the true death. In Paradise the death of the soul came ﬁrst and the death of the body followed. By violating the will of God the soul lost its communion with God and rendered "the body subject to fatigue, suffering and corruptibility" and naturally handed it over to death. There is a ﬁrst death and a second death. The second death is a person's last and deﬁnitive withdrawal from God, which will happen in those who have not repented, after the resurrection of the dead. "Death, properly speaking, is this: for the soul to be unharnessed from divine grace and to be yoked to sin. So whoever fears this second death and has the true life in him is not afraid of bodily death. Just as the life of the body is its union with the soul, so also the life of the soul is its union with God. The life of the soul does not refer exclusively to the soul, but also to the body, since man is both together. Death resulted from the transgression of the commandment, and life is experienced through God's commandment. The body tastes the life of the soul and is freed from death and eternal hell in those who live by Christ's commandments. Thus upon the body too "is bestowed everlasting life in Christ, free of pain, sickness and sorrow, and truly
immortal". Just as in Adam the death of his soul preceded the death of his body, so also now the life of the soul precedes the life of the body. In Christ through his death on the Cross his soul was separated from his body, while neither was separated from the godhead, and later the resurrection of his Body took place. The same happens also with man. Even if the souls of the righteous are separated from the body prematurely, still, since they themselves are not separated from God, there will be resurrection and ascension of their bodies. All will be resurrected, righteous and sinners, but only the righteous will be taken up. The attainment of life, which is a cause of immortality and true life, should begin now. Towards this aim God has accorded us this present life as "a place for repentance". Repentance is required. There is no need for despair, which the devil suggests not only to those who live carelessly, but also to those who practise the ascetic life. Repentance is closely linked with man's free will, that is to say with his freedom of choice. God in his love for mankind gives man time to repent, but if he does not want to repent and return, "He does not take away the power that He gave us". Nevertheless he continues to invite man to engage in the works of life. This is made clear in the parable of the vineyard. Our heavenly Father calls us through His Son and reconciles us to Himself, "not taking into account our offences". Yet He not only calls us, but He even promises a reward, and indeed "an inexpressible reward". Christ Himself says: "I came that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness". The fullness to which Christ refers not only signiﬁes being together and living together, but also the fact that He made us brethren and co-heirs. In order to acquire this fullness, man must give up all that stands in its way, that is to say, wealth, soft living, vain honours, all things that are transitory and every sly and abominable passion of soul and body, all the litter gathered while daydreaming, everything heard, seen and spoken that can bring injury to the soul. Therefore, repentance is the return of the nous to God, the attainment of life through repentance.
Repentance and the giving up of all those things which cause harm can be experienced by all people, but especially by monks. It is possible also for married people to look after the purity of their soul, but this is done with very great difﬁculty. Therefore those who love salvation, who are looking to the next life, choose the virgin life. Since also this body of ours is "hard to harness and hard to lead towards virtue" this means that it is worse when we are bound up with many bodies. It is difﬁcult to avoid cares when one has the care of many people. For married people care is not blameworthy, but it is forbidden completely to those who are living the celibate life. Clearly St. Gregory Palamas is expounding this teaching in this letter because it refers to nuns who have chosen the life of virginity, and for them he wants to emphasise freedom from care and purity of soul. It does not at all mean a disparagement of marriage in Christ. Moreover, in his homilies given in Thessaloniki he refers to marriage in Christ and underlines its asceticism. But also in this letter which he is sending to the nuns, saying the things to which we have referred, he recalls the passage in St. Paul: "The time is short; so let those who have wives live as though they had none and those involved in worldly affairs as though they were not involved". Interpreting this passage, he says that the struggle of a married Christian, as St. Paul advises it, "is more difﬁcult to accomplish than that of a virgin, I think". The asceticism of the married Christian is more difﬁcult than that of a monk. This is demonstrated by the fact that fasting is easier than self-control in eating and drinking. After choosing a life of virginity she must live it diligently and fruitfully. He reminds her of Christ's words: "I am the vine, you are the branches. My Father is the vine-dresser. He prunes every branch in Me that bears fruit, so that it may bring forth more fruit". The virgin is a bride of Christ, a branch of the vine of life, and therefore, on the one hand, she must rejoice in the love of the Bridegroom, and on the other hand, she must respond to it with obedience. The virgin should not desire the
worldly life, because that is a disgrace. The people of the world are dead to God, and so "What kinship can the bride of life have with the dead?". According to Christ's words, there is a narrow gate and a strait way, but there is also a wide and broad one. The former belongs to monks who cannot pass through it with a load of self-glory, an outpouring of selfindulgence, or the burden of money and possessions. This way of life appears dull, but it also brings solace, confers the Kingdom of Heaven and fosters salvation. The second way, the wide and broad one, belongs to the worldly, but it is not free from sorrow. On the contrary it is "ﬁlled with many oppressive misfortunes". The narrow and strait way is not independent of poverty of spirit. The Lord blessed poverty, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit". It is not a question of poverty of body alone, but of poverty of body which is accomplished in accordance with the soul's humility. This humility is essential, because it is possible for someone to choose to shed possessions, and to be frugal and abstinent, simply in order to be praised by other people. This is not being poor in spirit, because self-conceit is contrary to being poor in spirit. He who has a contrite spirit regards himself as completely unworthy of praise, prosperity and comfort. While thus far St. Gregory has been laying the foundation of the monastic life, now he goes on to develop the subject of curing man of his passions. From this point onward he makes a wonderful analysis of the passions and their cure, because orthodox monasticism aims at the cure of man. Man's soul is tripartite, in other words it has three powers, the intelligent, the incensive and the appetitive. When the soul is ill, its three powers are also ill. Christ began his cure of the soul with the appetitive power. For desire unsatisﬁed fuels the incensive power, and then the intelligence too is ill. Therefore the incensive power of the soul cannot
be cured before the appetitive power is cured, nor can the intelligence be cured until the other two powers have been cured. Therefore the appetitive power must be cured. The ﬁrst offspring of the appetitive power from babyhood is love of material possessions, and avarice comes a little later, although still in childhood. At ﬁrst children want to possess various objects, and avarice appears later, because avarice does not have its ground in nature, but in choice. The passions of avarice spring from disbelief in God's providence. Love of material possessions and avarice produce many evils, such as greeds, covetousness, thievery, and so forth. Not only are many passions derived from avarice and love of possessions, but so is the lack of any inclination to do good. The nous of a living pinchpenny is dead and in reality it is buried in the dust and earth of gold, just as the dead are buried in the earth. The grave of the avaricious person smells worse than the tombs of the dead. Voluntary poverty delivers men from this foul-smelling and deadly passion of avarice. A monk who has the passion of love of possessions and avarice is unable to be obedient. Therefore renunciation precedes obedience. A monk who does not wish to be freed from this deadly passion is likely to fall into bodily illnesses. After having analysed the fact that the ﬁrst passion of the appetitive power of the soul which must be cured is love of possessions, love for material things, St. Gregory then goes on to the second passion, which is self-ﬂattery. This passion develops in the person before the passion of love of the ﬂesh, while the person is still quite young. There are two kinds of self-ﬂattery. One is worldly vanity, which is connected with beautifying the body and having expensive clothing, and the other kind is the self-ﬂattery which afﬂicts those noted for their virtue and is accompanied by hypocrisy and self-conceit.
This passion can be cured by a longing for divine glory, by a sense of one's own unworthiness, and by patiently enduring people's scorn, esteeming God's glory above one's own. If there is any virtue, one should attribute it to God and have one's attention on Him. A great help in curing this passion is "withdrawal from the world and living a life of solitude, keeping yourself to your cell". Likewise one can avoid selfconceit when one sees the disgrace which this passion brings. A passion related to self-ﬂattery is the desire to win men's esteem. This passion "is the subtlest of all the passions". And since it is the subtlest passion, one must not merely be on guard against coupling with it or avoid assenting to it, but also regard the very provocation of the thought as assent to it and must shield oneself from it. The desire to win men's esteem is a disastrous passion. It leads the person further to lack of faith. The enjoyment of praise from people generates envy, which is potentially murder, "the cause of the ﬁrst murder and then of the slaying of God". Finally the passion of self-ﬂattery leads a person to great improprieties. The third passion, which is the offspring of desire, is gluttony, from which arises every kind of impurity. Gluttony is closely connected with ﬂeshliness and it comes third in the series in man as he grows older. However, it is inborn in us. How is this to be explained? St. Gregory Palamas makes excellent observations on this crucial point, which is a concern of contemporary psychology. He says that not only this passion, "but also the natural motions related to the begetting of children, can be detected in infants that are still at the breast". In other words, both gluttony and the natural motions related to the begetting of children appear even from infancy with the infants' desire to suck from their mother's breast. But we say that they appear more slowly in man because in infancy these passions are natural, and therefore not indictable, not blameworthy. These passions in infancy "do not indicate illness of soul". But they become evidence of such illness in those who
misuse them. "When we coddle the ﬂesh in order to foster its desires", the passion becomes evil and then self-indulgence is a beginning of carnal passions and an illness of the soul. This teaching of St. Gregory is important because it shows the attitude of the Church towards all those psychological analyses of the reactions of infants' and children's souls analyses which create more problems. St. Gregory calls to mind that the nous is the ﬁrst victim of these passions. The nous is moved by passion, since it collects the imagination of sensory things through the senses and uses them in a passionate way. It is shown from the example of Eve that this happens chieﬂy through the eyes. Therefore much attention needs to be given to the senses and the nous. Thus although the passions are regarded as existing in childhood, they do not conduce to sin, but to the sustaining of nature, "before the mind becomes embroiled with them". In children the natural movements towards childbearing are not sin, unless the nous is passionately involved. At all events, a person who wants to be free of passions must give great attention to the impassioned nous. To extinguish a raging ﬁre, it is no use to ﬁght the ﬂame, but one has to pull away the material that is causing it. The same thing is true in spiritual matters. For the passions of prostitution, it is not enough to fast and to make the body suffer, but the most important thing is for the sources of inner thoughts to be dried up through prayer and humility. St. Gregory is a hesychast in all his homilies, but much more so on the subject of curing the soul. He emphasises the need for curing the nous. We ﬁnd in the teaching of the Fathers that the soul's contemplative faculty tightly surrounds the appetitive faculty and the sexual passions. This is why the cure should be localised there. Bodily hardship and moderate abstention from food are needed as well, but what cures the passions of the ﬂesh is "bodily hardship and prayer issuing from a humble heart".
Thus the monk should cultivate the contemplative faculty, stillness, he should remain in his cell "enduring hardship and praying with humility". The cell of one who is rightly pursuing the monastic life "is a haven of self-restraint". It is possible within one's cell to live in solitude and acquire spiritual poverty. [ BACK ]
3. Spiritual poverty
The nous and the passions are cured by means of spiritual poverty. Therefore the holy hesychast advises: "Let us, then, also become poor in spirit by being humble, by submitting our unregenerate self to hardship and by shedding all possessions". Man's whole spiritual life is an experience of spiritual poverty. The saint previously emphasised the blessedness of poverty, and now he undertakes a broad analysis of it. First he emphasises the link between spiritual poverty and the temptations. Just as plants, in order to bear fruits, have to go through winter and endure the conditions of every season, the same thing has to happen with the person struggling on the path of virtue. "For it is through patient endurance of afﬂictions deliberately entered into and those that are unsought, that each person is made perfect". The soul cannot bear fruit
unless the winter's hardships come ﬁrst. Unless we bear with patience the afﬂictions that come to us unsought, we cannot receive a blessing for what we do by our will. This means that if we cannot endure the trials of life, we cannot receive blessing from the ascetic effort and hardship which we ourselves choose and practise. A person who lives in repentance expects every afﬂiction, accepts every temptation and is glad of it, because it is purifying for the soul, productive of prayer and a protector of the soul's health. Blessed grief is connected with spiritual poverty. Sorrow for worldly poverty brings death, while the sorrow of godly poverty leads to repentance, as the Apostle Paul says. St. Gregory analyses in a wonderful way the beneﬁt of godly grief, which is an element of man's rebirth and essential for the spiritual life. There are four types of spiritual poverty. First, poverty "in our way of thinking", second "in body", third "in worldly goods", and fourth "through trials and temptations that come to us from without". Since he has already analysed the poverty that comes from temptations, the other three types of poverty are dealt with thoroughly in what follows. Every experience of poverty generates the corresponding grief and solace. Bodily poverty and humiliation willingly suffered include hunger, thirst, vigils and in general the body's suffering and hardship as well as a reasonable restraint of the senses. This bodily poverty gives birth to the grief and tears which bring contrition of heart. When the soul is freed from evils and bitterness through contrition, then it enjoys solace. Poverty in how we think is closely connected with self-reproach, which is essential for the cure of the soul. In the beginning self-reproach leads to fear of punishment, especially eternal punishment, with all that is connected with it. This grief, as long as we still live it, is very useful, because it attracts God's mercy and brings us consolation. But this selfreproach in itself is an intelligible weight lying on the soul's thoughts; it
presses and squeezes out the saving wine that gladdens the heart of man, that is to say "our inner self". Poverty in worldly goods constitutes the virtue of holy poverty. This shedding of possessions has to be conjoined with poverty in spirit in order to be pleasing to God. From this spiritual poverty come grief and consolation from God. It happens in the following way: When the nous is withdrawn from all material things and from the turbulence they generate, and "becomes aware of its inner self", then ﬁrst of all it sees "the ugly mask it has wrought for itself as a result of its wanderings among worldly things". This means that when the nous is diffused among the sensations in the surrounding world, the person ceases to be a person. Seeing this ugly and formless mask, it strives to wash it away through grief. After the nous has puriﬁed and rid itself of the covering of passions it enters into its treasure-house and prays to the Father. Then God gives gifts, such as peace of thoughts and the humility which is the begetter and sustainer of every virtue. Here is the noetic Paradise, in which are all the trees of virtue. In the midst stands the sacred palace of love, and in the forecourt of this palace there blossoms ineffable and inalienable joy, which is the harbinger of the age to come. The results of spiritual poverty are very many. The shedding of possessions gives birth to freedom from anxiety, which then gives birth to attentiveness and prayer. From these virtues come grief and tears, which wipe away the soul's prejudices. Then the path to virtue is easier, the conscience becomes blameless, and from there spring joy and blessed laughter of the soul. Now the tears of tribulation are transformed into tears of delight and the person enjoys the gifts of the betrothal. But it is also demanded to see the Bridegroom and not only to receive gifts of betrothal; both communion and union with the Bridegroom are necessary. This takes place as the nous continues its journey. When the nous, along with the other powers, returns to the heart and is puriﬁed of every idea and fantasy, then it will stand before God deaf and
speechless. When it has ascended to God, in truth, not in imagination, it becomes an overseer of various things in the light, without being separated from the body. Then truly by the ineffable power of the spirit "it hears unutterable words and sees invisible things". It becomes an angel on earth, "and through itself it brings every created thing closer to Him". Thus the person becomes natural, since he unites all creation, and proves himself to be the microcosm in the macrocosm. Then St. Gregory cites passages from the holy Fathers which explain this state of the nous and the results of the vision of God, such as those of St. Neilos, who says that the light of the Holy Trinity shines in the nous; of St. Diadochos of Photike, who says that in the state of illumination divine Grace paints the likeness over the image in us; and of St. Isaac the Syrian, who says that purity of the nous is that which the light of the Holy Trinity illumines within us. The nous illuminated and uniﬁed by the light of the Holy Trinity transmits to the body united with it many tokens of the divine beauty as well. So then the body also is in the stable state of virtue and becomes disinclined or has little inclination towards evil. The Word enables it to perceive clearly the inner essences -the logoi- of nature. One apprehends the supranatural realities, and naturally then all the gifts of grace are given: "various miraculous effects, such as visionary insight, the seeing of things to come, and the experience of things happening afar off as though they were occurring before one's very eyes", and in general all the gifts which God gives. St. Gregory insists on the point that the thing which has great importance is the return of the nous to itself with all the other powers: "the return of the nous to itself and its concentration on itself, or, rather, the reconvergence of all the soul's powers in the intellect -however strange this may sound- and the attaining of the state in which both the nous in itself and God work together". This is essential, for prayer alone is not
enough unless all the powers of the soul, including the appetitive and incensive powers, are working together. [ BACK ]
4. Blessed grief
After developing the theme of godly poverty and describing its therapeutic consequences for man's nous, inasmuch as it leads to the vision of the uncreated Light, he comes back again to his favourite theme, which is spiritual grief. First he emphasises the fact that there is worldly grief which accompanies unsolicited worldly poverty. This grief lacks all consolation, for it does not give consolation to the soul, especially when the sufferer lacks true knowledge. He has no consolation because he increases his pains, since he lets his reason be subject to the pleasures and pains of the senses and does not subject the latter to reason. Thus grief about worldly poverty is a worldly sorrowfulness that leads to the death which is an evil darkening of the soul. Next he refers to passages in the Fathers concerning the darkness that sin creates in the soul, about the effort to purify the heart from passions and the fact that worldly sorrow is connected with all the passions of man.
The passages cited are from St. Basil the Great, St. Mark the Ascetic and St. Macarios of Egypt. The attainment of this blessed spiritual grief is necessary. Without grief, even if a person makes himself poor, he can too easily return to that which he has abandoned. Thus the grief which the Lord blessed not only brings solace and provides a foretaste of eternal joy, "but it also protects virtue". So a person gains stability on his spiritual journey. When one experiences grief one gains another good thing as well. Not only does he become disinclined to evil and does not return to those things which he did in the past, "but it makes them as though they had never existed". St. Gregory's words are astonishing because they show that grief puriﬁes a man completely and brings him back to the state in which he was before he sinned. So he becomes completely pure. When he grieves over his sins, God regards them as unintentional and therefore without guilt. Anyone who has sinned but continues to grieve, his sins will be regarded by God as unintentional and he will enjoy eternal life with those who have not sinned. "If a person who has sinned against God continues to grieve over his sins, his sins will be justly regarded as unintentional, and along with people who have not sinned he will journey without stumbling on the path leading to eternal life". Grief at ﬁrst is painful, because it is conjoined with the fear of God. In the course of time it becomes united with love and brings the sweetness and sacred solace of the Comforter's blessing. Only those who know from their experience can conﬁrm the sweetness of godly grief. The sweetness of grief is described by two examples. One is taken from betrothal and marriage. The beginning of grief is like a petition for betrothal to God, which seems almost unattainable. The grief which comes resembles words of courtship, which are offered by the soul which wants to be united with the most pure Bridegroom, but it does not see his presence and is not hoping that he will come. So it weeps,
grieves and mourns. But the consummation of grief is "a pure bridal union". Just as the partners unite in one ﬂesh, so also the grieving soul is united with God in "one spirit". The other example is from the parable of the prodigal son. The beginning of his grief is like the return to the father with the words "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son". But the consummation of the grief resembles the moment when the Father goes to meet him and embraces him. In the Father's embrace of compassion the son "is embraced and embraces back". Then after going back with his Father, "he feasts with his Father, sharing with Him the joy of heaven". "Let us, then, in blessed poverty also fall down and weep before the Lord our God, so that we may wash away our former sins, make ourselves impervious to evil and, receiving the blessings and solace of the Comforter, glorify Him and the unoriginate Father and the Onlybegotten Son, now and always and throughout the ages. Amen". [ BACK ]
This text of St. Gregory Palamas is astonishing, God-inspired and authentic concerning man's journey towards deiﬁcation and salvation.
He was writing for monks, but by analogy it is valid for all Christians. The Lord was addressing all his disciples when he spoke of the blessedness of poverty and grief. The same framework remained, but the depth and measure of the grief and purity changed. We can come to certain conclusions. a) St. Gregory Palamas's writing demonstrates that orthodox theology is a therapeutic science and way of life. This means that it leads to communion and union with God. The Church is a hospital of the soul. Thus all the patristic texts are therapeutic and we should interpret them in this light. b) When we speak of therapy we mean chieﬂy therapy of the nous and the heart. St. Gregory made a thorough analysis of the fact that the nous falls ill when it is diffused into the surroundings through the senses, and it is cured when it returns to itself, descends into the heart and then rises to God. This constitutes man's journey from the image to the likeness, from "the hideous mask" to the person par excellence. In the Orthodox Church we cannot accept person-centred theories apart from orthodox asceticism. We are not concerned with an abstract philosophical view, but with the orthodox view of the person. c) The struggle and effort to be rid of passions should be associated with the return of the nous to the heart. A therapeutic treatment which is limited to the surface, without also being aimed at curing the nous is only moralisation. Here we see the value of the neptic theology of our Church. To eliminate hesychasm from Christian living is to make Orthodoxy worldly. This is why we must adapt the therapeutic treatment to curing the nous. Any spiritual fathers who do not know this method are unable to cure their spiritual children, leaving them without a cure or in spiritual narcissism and spiritual self-sufﬁciency. The teaching about inward grief will make the treatment orthodox and ecclesiastical. Otherwise it will be humanistic, Western.
d) The cure which is recommended by the Church as analysed here by St. Gregory Palamas, is very realistic and natural. He knows the tragic condition caused by the passions, and he cures the nous and the senses, the soul and body, man and society. There is no one-sidedness, no making autonomous, no overvaluation of one thing at the expense of another. The whole man is healed, sanctiﬁed, becomes God by Grace and, being sanctiﬁed, also sanctiﬁes creation. e) Orthodox spirituality, whose centre is the heart, solves all the social, political and ecological problems in a realistic way. And this is because when the nous is cured and the passions of love of possessions, love of glory and self-indulgence are cured, man becomes sociable and kind to his fellowmen and his environment. Therefore the cure of the nous is a solution to all the great problems of our time. f) This paradise as described by St. Gregory Palamas is still preserved on the Holy Mountain today. The Hagiorite monks are struggling to be cured, and many of them have been cured. Thus they manifest the dynamic quality of the Orthodox Tradition and its timeliness. They show in practice that Orthodoxy is not an ethical and philosophical system, it is not a human and social organisation, but the Divine-human Body of Christ. The participation of the uncreated Grace of God at different depths cures man and unites him to God. Thus the Orthodox Church is a sanatorium, a spiritual hospital. The message of St. Gregory Palamas and the Holy Mountain, whose spiritual child he was, is a message of life, hope and optimism for contemporary wearied, beleaguered and oppressed man.
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 9 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
9. THE KEEPER OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN 1. The Hagiorites and the Theotokos 2. Personal relationship of St. Gregory with the Theotokos 3. St. Gregory’s teaching about the Theotokos a. The Birth of the Most holy Theotokos b. The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple c. The Annunciation of the Theotokos d. The Theotokos at the resurrection of Christ e. The Dormition and assumption of the Theotokos
Characterisations of the Theotokos
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9. THE KEEPER OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
A characteristic mark of all the saints is their Theotokophilia, their inordinate love for the Most holy Theotokos. The saints' love for the Theotokos is either a fruit of their love for Christ, who was born of her, or a condition for attaining love for her Son. Consequently the saints' love for the Panagia is very closely connected with love for Christ. Theotokology is closely connected with Christology. Referring to the Panagia, and indeed to the fact that she is rightly and truly called Theotokos, St. John of Damascus writes "for this name expresses the entire mystery of the Incarnation". And that is true, because the Word of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, assumed human nature from the pure blood of the Most holy Theotokos. This unity came into being in her womb, and there the assumed human nature was made divine by the divine nature. Thus, as our Church sings, "Paradise and her womb, in which the divine child was intelligibly manifested". The honour paid to the Most holy Theotokos is referred in reality "to Him who was incarnate of her". According to the teaching of St. Symeon the New Theologian, the saints are related to the Theotokos in three ways. First, they are related because of human nature, since both they and she come from the same clay and the same breath. The Panagia was the
Mother of God, but at the same time she was also a human being as we all are. Secondly, they are related "because it is through the ﬂesh taken from her that they have a part in common with her". When we commune of the sacraments, of the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune of the deiﬁed ﬂesh of the Word which He assumed from the Virgin. Therefore, as St. Symeon teaches, in communing of the Body and Blood of Christ, we commune also of the ﬂesh of the Theotokos. Thirdly, the saints are related to the Panagia "because through the holiness in spirit which came to them thanks to her, each one conceives and also possesses in himself the God of all, just as she possessed Him within herself". Although the Theotokos gave birth to Christ in the ﬂesh, she is united with Christ and has God inseparably within her for ever. Thus the saints are, on the one hand, her servants in that she is the Mother of God, and on the other hand, they are her children, "in that they commune of the all-pure ﬂesh of her Son". [ BACK ]
1. The Hagiorites and the Theotokos
The Hagiorite Fathers feel a close communion with the Theotokos and have a special love for her. I remember that when I went for the ﬁrst
time to the Holy Mountain, I expressed to various monks whom I met my puzzlement over the fact that the Holy Mountain was closed to women visitors in particular. Almost all of them connected this tradition of closure with love for the Panagia. They told me that this was in order to give special and rich honour to the Panagia, whose "garden" is the Holy Mountain. Perhaps some women are indignant at not being allowed to visit the Holy Mountain, but nevertheless it is true that nowhere else is woman in the Person of the Panagia so much honoured as on the Holy Mountain. Every icon of the Panagia has a special name as well, because it is connected with a miraculous event or a sign. When a visitor comes to the Holy Mountain, he encounters many such icons, and he sees the great reverence which the monks have for this great person, who is the end of the preparative period of the Old Testament and the beginning of the new creation in Christ. I shall mention a few names of icons: the famous icon "Axion esti" (It is meet), "Kukuzelissa"(the name of a chanter), "Economissa" (Stewardess), "Ktitorissa or Vematarissa" (Sacristan), "Paramythia" (Consolation), "Esphagmeni"(Slain), "Elaiovrytissa" (She who ﬂows with oil), "Pyrovolitheissa" (She who was shot), "Portaitissa" (She who guards the gate), "Tricherousa" (With three hands), Panagia ton chairetismon (Salutations), "Myrovlytissa" (Full of fragrance), "Phobera prostasia", (Awe-inspiring protection), "Gerontissa" (Elder), "Epakouousa" (Listening), "Gorgoepikoos" (Quick to help), "Hodigitria" (Guide), "Antiphonitria" (Responsive). These names alone show the great love of the Hagiorite Fathers for the Panagia, as well as special protection of the Hagiorite monk by the Theotokos. Anyone speaking with the old Hagiorite monks would hear many stories about appearances of the Theotokos and would see their expression of gratitude for her love. Some of them live with the assurance that the Panagia brought them to the Holy Mountain, that it is
her land, others that they have saw her comforting them and protecting them from various dangers, others that she will save them on the day of Judgement if they remain in her "garden". They live intensely with the Panagia and her presence. The words of a contemporary Hagiorite, St. Silouan the Athonite, are characteristic. "Many are the marvels and mercies that I have witnessed at the hands of the Lord and of the Theotokos but there is naught I can render in return for this love of theirs. "What could I give our most holy Theotokos for coming to me and bringing enlightenment, instead of turning away in loathing for my sin? I did not behold her with my eyes but the Holy Spirit gave me to know her through her words, which were ﬁlled with grace, and my spirit rejoices and my soul leaps to her in love, so that the mere invocation of her name is sweet to my heart. "Once when I was a young novice I was praying before an icon of the Mother of God, and the Jesus Prayer entered into my heart and there began to repeat itself of its own accord. And another time in church I was listening to a reading from the prophet Isaiah, and at the words, 'Wash you, make you clean' (Is. 1, 16), I reﬂected, 'Maybe the Panagia sinned at one time or another, if only in thought. 'And marvellous to relate, in unison with my prayer a voice sounded in my heart, saying clearly, 'The Theotokos never sinned even in thought. 'Thus did the Holy Spirit bear witness in my heart to her purity". Likewise at another point St. Silouan writes very expressively. "O, if we might only know the love of the Panagia for all who keep the commandments of Christ, and how she pities and sorrows over sinners who do not reform! I had experience of this myself.
"Of a truth I say, speaking before God, Whom my soul knoweth: in spirit I know the Most Pure Virgin. I never beheld her but the Holy Spirit gave me to know her and her love for us. Were it not for her compassion I would have perished long ago but she was minded to come to me and enlighten me, so that I should not sin. This is what she said: 'It is painful for me to look upon thee, at what thou doest. 'And her words, soft, quiet and gentle, wrought upon my soul. Over forty years have gone by since then but my soul can never forget those sweet words, and I know not what return to make for such love towards my sinful self, nor how to give thanks to the good and forbearing Mother of God. "Verily is she our advocate before God, and alone the sound of her name rejoices the soul, But all heaven and earth too rejoice in her love. "Here is a wonderful thing which passes understanding: she dwells in heaven and ever beholds the glory of God, yet she does not forget us, poor wretches that we are, and spreads her compassion over the whole earth, over all peoples. "And this most pure Mother of His the Lord has bestowed on us. She is our joy and expectation. She is our Mother in the spirit, and kin to us by nature, as a human being, and every Christian soul leaps to her in love". The fact that the Holy Mountain is the "Garden of the Panagia", the place given wholly to her, and that those who live there are the special objects of the affection amd dread protection of the Mother of God, is seen from the assurance which the holy Theotokos gave to St. Peter the Athonite, who was the ﬁrst inhabitant of the Holy Mountain, as St. Gregory Palamas has recorded. We have spoken of this whole assurance in the chapter entitled "The ﬁrst settler on the Holy Mountain". There it appears that the Theotokos herself informed St. Peter that the land would be dedicated to her, it would be called holy, and she herself would protect all who led the ascetic life there, since she would be guardian, physician and nourisher.
Early Hagiorite monks preserved the information which came to them from their elders, that all the empresses who undertook to pass the barrier of the Holy Mountain were prevented by the Panagia. Thus the barrier to the Holy Mountain has a peculiarity, it is connected with the personal intervention of the Theotokos, and the monks are dedicated soul and body to her. It is in this framework that we should look at St. Gregory's teaching about the Theotokos. As a saint and a Hagiorite he bears unlimited love and respect for her sanctiﬁed and all-pure person. St. Gregory Palamas is akin to the Theotokos, apart from the three reasons which we have mentioned already, according to the teaching of Saint Symeon the New Theologian and for two other reasons as well. First because the Panagia was his godmother all his life, and he was her protégé, and secondly because he was a Hagiorite in the full sense of the word. This explains St. Gregory's love for the Panagia as expressed in many sermons. What will follow, little as it may be, will manifest the great love of St. Gregory for the Panagia. [ BACK ]
2. Personal relationship of St. Gregory with the Theotokos
We have said before that every saint loves the Panagia. Sainthood is not understood without this Theotokophilia. And it occurs because the saints, after tasting the love of God, communing of the Body and Blood of Christ, and experiencing the gifts of the incarnation of Christ, feel the need to give thanks also to that Person who was the cause of this great joy. It is well known that the saints are very sensitive and are therefore grateful for even the smallest gifts which they receive, and much more for the great gift of the deiﬁcation of human nature, which came about in the womb of the Theotokos. She gave her ﬂesh to the Son and Word of God for his incarnation. This is also the case with St. Gregory Palamas. However, the saint felt love for the Panagia also for other reasons. He was granted to see her in his life, he was her protégé. We shall give some details to demonstrate this truth, as his biographer and fellow monk, Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople, describes them. The ﬁrst indication is the fact that from an early age he was given into the protection of the Theotokos by his father. Before his father died, St. Gregory's mother asked him to ask the emperor to protect his children. That saintly man not only did not accept her words, but rebuked her in a way and said to her: "I do not leave my children to some earthly rulers, but I leave my children to this Mistress of all, the mother of the king of heaven". He did not want to leave his children to the protection of the earthly kings, but to the mother of the king of heaven. And indeed at the time when he said these things he was looking at the icon of the Theotokos which was in front of him. St. Philotheos says in his biography of St. Gregory that the words of his holy father came true, because the Theotokos herself persuaded the emperor to take care of the orphan children, but also later "she was seen to be their protectress and guide, and in every way the saviour of both their souls and their bodies". The second circumstance which shows that his father's prophetic words were actually fulﬁlled and the Theotokos was a wonderful sponsor,
governess and doyen, came from the period of his studies. At the beginning of his studies the saint had difﬁculty in memorising. Then he placed a restriction on himself not to come near the books and not to begin reading without ﬁrst having knelt three time before the icon of the Theotokos, saying a prayer at the same time. When he did this work every day he succeeded very easily in memorising and reciting the lessons. But if he sometimes forgot to follow this rule, "even the recitation failed right away". At the same time, as St. Philotheos says, the Panagia persuaded the emperor to be the guardian of the children and to assume all their personal expenses. Furthermore the emperor showed particular sympathy, for he invited them to come to see him and talked with them in a kind and loving way. The third sign is from the period of his asceticism on Mount Athos. Immediately after he came to the Holy Mountain he gave himself over with great zeal to ascesis, fasting, vigil and unceasing prayer. It is signiﬁcant, according to the information of St. Philotheos Kokkinos, that he prayed unceasingly to the Theotokos. He prayed day and night to God, projecting the Mother of God "as guide, protector and mediator, all the time bringing before his eyes her aid and her countenance, with words and prayers and noetic movements, and pondering the way of obedience with her guidance". So in the ﬁrst two years the saint was praying constantly to God, with the Panagia as his guide and mediator. The prayer which he was saying at that time was "enlighten my darkness". During a great stillness, while his nous had turned inward and to God, John the Evangelist appeared to him, not in a dream, but in a vision, and assured him that he had been sent "as a messenger from the Queen beyond", to ﬁnd out why he was constantly praying: "enlighten my darkness, enlighten my darkness". St. Gregory replied that, since he is a passionate man, he was praying to be enlightened by God to be conformed to His saving will. Then John the Evangelist said: "Do not be afraid, do not doubt... the Queen of all is giving the order through us: 'I
myself will be your help'". And when again St. Gregory asked when the Theotokos would be his help and ally, in the present or future life, then the Evangelist replied: "both before and now, in both the present and the future". This appearance of St. John the Evangelist, sent by the Most holy Theotokos, was revealed by St. Gregory himself years later to his fellow-monk Dorotheos, later Metropolitan of Thessaloniki. It is characteristic that the Theotokos heard the prayer and assured him that, just as longer ago, so also now and in the future, she would be his helper and defender, and moreover, that she was ﬁlling him with divine gifts. The fourth sign is the revelation which the Theotokos herself made to St. Gregory. It was at the time when he had returned to the Lavra, but he was staying at St. Sabbas frontisterion outside the Monastery of the Great Lavra. He once prayed for himself and his escort to the Panagia, "the usual governor and deliverer", that both their guidance and their journey toward God might be unimpeded, but also that they might have what they needed for their nourishment, in order not to be very much occupied with collecting supplies and neglect prayer. Then the Panagia, the Queen of all, appeared in a vision, "dressed modestly and purely", just as the holy icons present her. Many saints had appeared and were following her. Then the Theotokos turned and gave them the order to serve St. Gregory and his escort: "From now on you are to be stewards and distributors of the necessities for Gregory and his escort". And St. Gregory was assured that from then on "all that was necessary for our bodily needs was offered us without effort wherever we happened to be". From what we have said it is clear that St. Gregory Palamas had a close relationship and communion with the Theotokos. All the things that he writes about her, which we shall see further on, are obviously not dry, intellectual thoughts and reasoning conjectures, but experiences of the Panagia. This explains his great love for her. We can also see the
progressive manifestation and revelation of the Theotokos. At ﬁrst, through his father's prayer she took up his protection. Then she showed him clearly that he must trust in her, for she would protect him throughout his studies. Then, through John the Evangelist she assured him that she would be his helper and protector, and ﬁnally she herself was revealed personally. Throughout his life the saint was convinced that he had the protection and help of the Theotokos, and therefore he struggled with strength and courage, expounded the theology of the Church in an orthodox way and defeated the heresies of his time. [ BACK ]
3. St. Gregory's teaching about the Theotokos
In a short chapter it will not be easy to present the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas about the Panagia. However, we shall set out the most central points in this theology as they are presented in his sermons on various feasts of the Mother of God. We usually know St. Gregory as a teacher of prayer and as a theologian of divine Grace, since for almost all his life he devoted himself to analysing the Church's teaching about the uncreated essence and uncreated energy of God and about participation in deifying Grace. In what follows we shall look at his central teachings about the Panagia.
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a) The Birth of the Most holy Theotokos
In his sermon on the Birth of the Most holy Theotokos St. Gregory Palamas also presents the theology of the Church about orthodox marriage. In explaining the meaning of the feast he says that it is the ﬁrst feast of the remaking and renewal of man, and that is why it is the ﬁrst feast of the Church year, which begins on the 1 of September. The year's time denotes the life of man and the life of the whole world, and this time also becomes saving when it is combined with the events of the divine Economy. The birth of the Theotokos is the beginning of the salvation of man. The Panagia, who was born of the blessed couple Joachim and Anna, is characterised by many ornamental epithets, which show at the same time the great work which she accomplished by becoming the Mother of the Son and Word of God. The Theotokos is "the new world, the strange paradise, the miraculous book, the spiritual tent and ark of God, the truth from the earth, the much-sung rod of Jesse". From the Orthodox Tradition we know that the Theotokos was a child of devout parents who lived godly lives and conceived her with prayer, abstinence and fasting. St. Gregory Palamas attaches great signiﬁcance to this point. He says that the wise Joachim went to the desert to fast and pray in order to become a father. He returned to his home only when he
had been informed that he would have a child. Anna, being of the same mind, enclosed herself in the nearest garden "and with aching heart cried out to the Lord". The Lord heard their prayer and gave them a girl, the most wonderful of all the wonders that ever happened, this birth-giver of the creator of all, who deiﬁed the human race and made the earth heavenly, who made the son of man God and the son of God man...". The Theotokos is a fruit of holy parents, who lived in ascesis and prayer, who conceived her in fasting and prayer. St. Gregory Palamas says that just as the Panagia alone, and no one else, dwelt in the holy of holies, so naturally "neither before nor after, was that maternal womb seen to carry any other embryo". Everyone should honour the feast of the Birth of the All holy Theotokos - both monks and married persons, rich people, rulers and poor people, and in general all Christians. All should offer holy water "and purity of body through abstinence and prayer" as a gift to the Panagia. Fasting and prayer joined with devoutness marked out Joachim and Anna to be the parents of the Theotokos, "instruments, indeed such chosen instruments". [ BACK ]
b) The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple
According to the tradition of the Church, the Theotokos spent three years in the Temple and only she entered the holy of holies, just as once
a year the High Priest did, and there she stayed until the year of her betrothal to Joseph. St. Gregory Palamas devoted two sermons to the feast of the Entry, in which he describes her stay in the Temple and the way which she followed in order to attain deiﬁcation by Grace. These homilies are excellent, and the second in particular is very theological and constitutes the basis of the hesychastic life. The signiﬁcance of this sermon lies in the following points. First, it presents the whole majesty of our Panagia, for whom all races of men were waiting. Secondly, it expresses the great love which St. Gregory Palamas had for the Panagia. Thirdly, the means of deiﬁcation is described, and this is the hesychastic way of life. Thus the Panagia is a type of a genuine hesychast. Fourthly, along with the description of hesychasm, at the same time the life of the true Hagiorite who practises hesychasm is described, as well as the personal experience of St. Gregory Palamas. It is very striking to say that the method used by our Panagia to attain deiﬁcation is still preserved to this day on the Holy Mountain by the genuine Hagiorites. It seems, then, that hesychasm is the true orthodox life, which differs from the way of conjecture and is the essence of the Orthodox Tradition. At the beginning of his homily St. Gregory Palamas explains why he wrote it. He could not do otherwise in order to satisfy his longing for her, in order to ﬁll his need, and also to confess his joy at the gifts which he has received from her. This is why he extols her. He confesses that the gifts which he received from God, he received through her. The Panagia lived in the holy of holies as in paradise. And not only was she living outwardly as in a blessed place, but also her way of life was free of any slavery. For certainly it is not enough to live in hesychastic places, but one must live the inner hesychastic life. He writes: "She lived an ascetic, carefree, unbusied life, devoid of sorrow, having no part in
base passions, above the pleasure that is not without pain, living only by God, seen only by God, nourished by God, upheld only by God... and she was looking only at God, making God her noursihment, constantly devoted to God". Anyone who has visited the Holy Mountain, and especially the Fathers who live in desert and hesychastic places, can understand that in describing the life of the Theotokos in the Temple, St. Gregory Palamas is essentially describing his own life. Moreover this is natural, because the hesychast Hagiorite Fathers are aware that they are imitating the Panagia and are living in accordance with her own way of life. The saints have a common relationship in the way which they use in order to attain deiﬁcation, union with the Triune God. According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, the Panagia, full of wisdom as she was, "searched the powers of her soul if she might discover the means for being one with God. St. Gregory calls this oneness a holy and divine eros. In her attempt the Theotokos herself understood that union with God cannot be attained through sensation, imagination, doctrine and reason. These constitute the so-called irrational powers of the soul and do not lead a person to God. This communion takes place only through the nous. If one turns wholly to God through the nous, one can reach the longed-for union. When the nous withdraws from God and wanders in search of sensory things, it is ill, and this in reality is man's illness. The nous needs to be cured ﬁrst: to be freed from all its slavery to created things, and to be liberated from all the sensations of created things. There must be forgetfulness of things below, laying aside of all concepts, and then initiation into the things above. This is called hesychia of the nous and is also called "the way of hesychia" and "holy hesychia". In attaining health of his soul through holy hesychia a person attains the vision of God, by which he is "deiﬁed". Using this method" we are relieved of lower things and turn towards God". Our Panagia used precisely the
same method, according to St. Gregory Palamas, and in the holy of holies she attained deiﬁcation by Grace and became a borderline between uncreated and created. Naturally this did not happen in an abstract way. It is not a matter of an abstract ascent which happened in a philosophical and buddhistic way, but of the method used by all the saints, those of the Old as well as the New Testament. The Panagia freed herself ﬁrst from every material tie and relationship, raised herself above sympathy for the body, that is riddance of any material object and every pleasure, and then "annexed her nous by turning towards herself and by attention and unceasing divine prayer". In this way the Panagia was blessed with the vision of God and therefore "saw the glory of God and kept an eye on divine grace". And naturally this did not happen simply by her own struggle alone, but also by the energy of divine Grace. For no one can arrive at union with God only by his own human effort. Therefore we are not dealing with an abstract state, with conjecture and meditation of an oriental type, but with a healthy state, since there is prayer, the coming of Grace, union with the Personal God. It is clear from this analysis of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos and the way used by the Panagia to attain deiﬁcation by Grace, that this is essentailly a description of the orthodox way of life toward salvation, but also the Hagioritic hesychastic way of life. And today the true Hagiorites live in the same way and therefore feel themselves to be children of the Panagia. It is not only a matter of their staying in one place, but of the use of the same mode of life.
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c) The Annunciation of the Theotokos
In the holy of holies the Panagia attained deiﬁcation by Grace, she became a habitation of the living God. Having this grace, transforming herself, she was found worthy of becoming the mother of Christ. In the homily on the Annunciation of the Most holy Theotokos St. Gregory Palamas presents several distinguishing marks which extol the person of the Most pure Mother. After the fall of Adam and the inheritance of the results of the fall, which is identiﬁed in the Orthodox Tradition with the illness of human nature, God in his love for mankind came down from heaven "and assuming our human nature from a holy virgin, he renewed it and brought it back, or rather brought it up to a divine and heavenly height". The Virgin's name was Mariam. The word Mariam is interpreted to mean Mistress. Therefore, the Panagia was really Mistress. St. Gregory Palamas examines all the meanings of this quality of the Panagia. She is called Mistress as the Virgin, for the certainty of her virginity, for her transformed and prudent life, which was immaculate. She was a virgin because she had virginity in both body and soul. Likewise the Panagia is called Mistress as "the one who holds sway over all things, both conceiving by nature in virginity and divinely giving birth to the lord of all". Likewise she is called Mistress because she is "the source and root of the freedom of the race". The archangel Gabriel calls her "highly favoured" and at the same time announces to her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you" (Luke 1, 35). He calls her highly favoured, because she was really holy. But she will also receive the Holy Spirit "to prepare and work out the divine action in you (her)". The
power of the Most High will overshadow her in order to empower her and to form humanity to be holy, "Son of God and the power of the Most High formed as a man". At the end of the homily on the Annunciation of the Most Holy Theotokos St. Gregory extols her in a godly and worthy manner. Among other things he says that this Virgin Mother "alone is the borderline between created and uncreated nature". All who know God will know that she is a place of the uncontainable and "she will be extolled by all who extol God". The Panagia is the cause of those before her, protectress of those after her and bringer of eternal blessings. She is the hypothesis of the Prophets, principle of the Apostles, foundation of the martyrs, platform of the teachers. She is the glory of those on earth, the delight of heaven, the ornament of all creation. She is the beginning and source and root of the hope that is stored up for us in heaven. [ BACK ]
d) The Theotokos at the resurrection of Christ
In the homily of St. Gregory Palamas for the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women, analysing the holy texts of the Scriptures with many reasonings, he ends by concluding that the Theotokos saw the Risen Christ and indeed saw him before the other women, and she alone was granted to clasp his feet. But let us look more analytically at this teaching.
The Myrrh-bearing Women followed Christ "with the Mother of the Lord" and remained with her and made ready to anoint the Body of Christ with spices. According to Mark the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat in front of the tomb and watched the burial of Christ. The phrase 'the other Mary' meant "the Mother of God herself in any case". The Panagia was also called Mary the mother of James and Joses, who were children of Joseph her betrothed, by another woman. According to St. Gregory Palamas, the Panagia was the ﬁrst to come to the tomb with Mary Magdalene. "First of all the Theotokos came to the tomb of the Son of God...". The other Mary "was the Mother of God in any case". All the other myrrh-bearing women went to the tomb after the earthquake and the ﬂight of the guards, and therefore they found the tomb opened and the stone rolled away. However, "the Virgin Mother was present when the earthquake took place, and when the stone was rolled away and the tomb opened, and the guards were present". The guards ﬂed after the earthquake, "but the Mother of God was elated at the sight". At the same time St. Gregory Palamas teaches that that lifebearing tomb was opened for the Theotokos and it was also for her that the angel of the Lord ﬂashed like lightning because it is for the Theotokos and through the Theotokos that all the good things were opened. According to St. Gregory, this angel was the archangel Gabriel, the one who at the Annunciation said to her: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God" (Luke 1, 30). As soon as he saw her hastening to the tomb, he too hastened to announce to her the resurrection of her Son. The women ﬂeeing from the tomb were seized with fear and great joy. According to St Gregory Palamas, fear was in the other women and Mary Magdalene, while the word joy is said about the Mother of God "because she understood the words of the angel and surrendered completely to the light, being completely puriﬁed and divinely favoured, and with all these things she knew the truth and believed in the archangel since he had for a long time appeared credible to her because
of his deeds". The Panagia was favoured, she had been made pure and had attained deiﬁcation; she had also seen the archangel Gabriel and been assured at that time of the credibility of his word, and therefore also now she was granted this great experience. With the information about the resurrection of Christ which was given by the archangel Gabriel, the Panagia, "joined by the other women", went back to where she had been. Then Christ appeared and said "Greetings". The Evangelist says: "They came to him, clasped his feet, and worshipped him" (Matt. 28, 9). St. Gregory Palamas says that just as the Theotokos alone of all the women understood the meaning of the angel's words, so also she was the ﬁrst of the women "both to see and to know the risen one, and she was the ﬁrst to fall down and clasp his feet and become his apostle to the Apostles". Mary Magdalene was not with the Mother of Christ when the Lord met her. This is seen ﬁrst from the fact that when Mary Magdalene had just met the Apostle Peter she said to him: "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him"; second from the fact that she was weeping, because she thought that they had taken Christ, she did not recognise Christ, and Christ did not let her come near Him. So therefore the ever-virgin Mary was the ﬁrst to come to the tomb and she ﬁrst received the message of the resurrection. Then came the other myrrh-bearers as well. St. Gregory Palamas uses all these things to interpret the related accounts of the Evangelists. But he adds that the Panagia was the ﬁrst to see the resurrected Christ, was counted worthy of divine conversation, became an ear-witness of his, touched him with her hands, "as was right and just". Actually this is right and just. For, on the one hand, we cannot believe that all the other women went to the tomb but not His Mother, nor that Christ gave the joy of his appearance to all the others ﬁrst and not to His Mother. Therefore it was both "right" and "just" that his ﬁrst appearance was to be to the Panagia.
But the point is why did the Evangelists not speak clearly, but wrote it in a shadowy way. And at this point St. Gregory indicates that the Evangelists did not refer to it openly, "not wanting to offer the Mother as witness, lest they give unbelievers reason for suspicion". There was a possibility that the unbelievers, as soon as they heard that the Mother of Christ saw Him ﬁrst, might doubt the resurrection. St. Gregory says that now that is not the case, because this is being said to the faithful. [ BACK ]
e) The Dormition and assumption of the Theotokos
After the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ into heaven the Panagia was the comfort and consolation of the whole Church. She was in the midst of the Church, offering her help to all. St. Gregory Palamas mentions three characteristic services of our Panagia. First, her glory, which had come to her because of the Birth of the Son and Word of God, was in competition with the most persevering and varied asceticism". In spite of the great grace which the Panagia had, she practised great asceticism after the Ascension of Christ. Second, she prayed for all the world and attended to various needs. Third, the Theotokos was a support and comfort to the holy Apostles who were preaching the Gospel to all creation. This aspect of the help
given by the Theotokos is very important, and it is not usually mentioned. It is clear that the silence and stillness which the Panagia chose as her part in the subsequent life of the Church was a support for the spiritual "action" and the preaching. St. Gregory writes: "and by the advice and exhortations to the preachers of God who travelled everywhere, she was a support as well as a comfort to all, being heard and seen and collaborating in every way with the preaching of the Gospel". The Dormition of the Most holy Theotokos is familiar. Her dormition was glorious and famous, commensurate with her life. For man's end will be commensurate with the glory of his earthly life. At the beginning of his sermon on the Dormition of the Theotokos St. Gregory Palamas says that more than anything else he is obliged to and loves to tell the Church the greatness of the ever-virgin Mother of God". And then he points out that if the death of the saints is honourable and the righteous should be remembered with praise, this should be the case much more with the Theotokos, who is the saint of saints and through whom the holiness comes to the saints. But speaking of the Dormition of the Theotokos, he not only calls it glorious, but at the same time names it decease. "... celebrating as we do today the anniversary of her holy dormition or decease". Her death is life-bearing, conveying life to heaven and immortality". This so-called decease is the resurrection and ascension of the body of the Panagia. According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas as well as of other saints, we celebrate not only the ascension to heaven of the soul of the Theotokos, but also that of her body. He writes that the Theotokos went to heaven to the "ﬁtting kingdom" and took her place at the right hand of the king of all, dressed "in an embroidered garment interwoven with gold". The "garment... interwoven with gold" means "that transluscent body", and "embroidered" indicates being adorned with "all
kinds of virtues". Thus she ascended to Heaven with her body, and she is the only one who is in the heavenly place with her body with her Son. Explaining this point he says that the tomb and death could not hold her life-giving and life-receiving body, which is a beloved dwelling-place of the heaven of heavens. If a soul which has received divine Grace ascends to heaven after departing from the body, much more was this the case with the body of the Panagia, who received within her the preeternal only-begotten Son of God, who is the everlasting source of Grace, and not only did she receive Him within her, but she also was the producer. Thus we speak of the resurrection and ascension of the body of the Theotokos. That is to say, the Panagia, according to St. Gregory Palamas, is in heaven with her body. Indeed the saint writes: "Therefore the body which gave birth is justiﬁably gloriﬁed with a glory worthy of God, along with that which was born and, in accordance with the prophetic song, is raised together...". Just as her Son, who assumed ﬂesh from her, could not remain in the earth and was resurrected and taken up, the same should be the case with the Panagia. "Therefore she was taken up directly from the tomb to the supra-celestial place...". Thus by her assumption she united the things above with those below. And the Theotokos, who had room in her for him who ﬁlls all things, must have been above all things and transcended all things with her virtues. The fact that she is above all things and higher than the saints and the angels is seen from the taking up of her body into heaven. That is to say, it is seen from the fact that she was made immortal after her death and she alone with her body dwells in heaven with the Son and God, and from there she also pours out abundantly the richest grace to those worthy of it...". This teaching of St. Gregory Palamas about the resurrection and assumption of the Theotokos, which came through the Grace and energy of her Son, is a teaching of the Church. St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite
collected passages from the Fathers, both from their teachings and from their troparia, such as those of St. Cosmas, St. Andrew, Bishop of Crete, St. John of Damascus, St. Mark Eugenicos, as well as other troparia in which we can see the teaching of the Church that the change in the Theotokos is an ascension of her soul, but also a resurrection and assumption of her body, so that the Theotokos is bodily in heaven. The words of St. Gregory Palamas can bring to mind that only the Theotokos is in heaven with Christ, and bodily, in connection with the taking up of the Prophet Elijah, since we know from the Bible that Elijah too was taken up to heaven with his body. But St. Gregory amazingly interprets this point as well. Speaking of the Ascension of Christ and especially saying that while there are many ascensions, Christ's ascension is unique, he also refers to the case of the Prophet Elijah. He writes: "But neither did he exceed the bounds of the earth's atmosphere; the ascension of each of them was a raising from the earth without being taken from the surroundings of the earth...". From this interpretation it appears that the taking up of the Prophet Elijah was in some way a translocation, we could say that it was a kind of death, and that of course in being taken up he did not go beyond the limits of the earth's atmosphere. Therefore only the Panagia was resurrected and taken up bodily into heaven, and is gloriﬁed with her Son, as His mother, in her human nature. [ BACK ]
4. Characterisations of the Theotokos
The teaching of St. Gregory Palamas has not been exhausted in what we have said so far. Thus far we have simply presented the main points in the feasts of the Theotokos. But we would like next to give some phrases, images and decorative epithets which are applied to the Panagia and which show her greatness, her glory and the work which she achieved and is achieving in the human race. We have said that in the holy of holies the Panagia attained deiﬁcation by Grace and became a dwelling place of the living God. Therefore she acquired purity of soul and body. St. Gregory writes about this point: "...a dwelling place not of bodiless forms or containing ﬁrst-fruits of embodied forms, but bearing within it marvellous and ineffable lightning ﬂashes of noetic purity, a godlike mind, the lustre of virginity pleasing to God, the shinings beﬁtting God of all that is good... truly the place of God who contains all things". The Panagia had within her the lofty and ineffable lightning ﬂashes of purity, the godlike mind, the illuminations worthy of God, the brightness of virginity. Within this framework she is called "virgin treasure". The worth of the Theotokos is in the fact that she became the Mother of Christ, that she gave her ﬂesh in order for Christ to be born and to save the human race. The fruit of her womb is her chief greatness and glory. St. Gregory speaks of this many times in his homilies, thus expressing his love for the Theotokos. "...standing between God and the whole human race, she made God a son of man, and men sons of God. She alone showed herself to be supranaturally the mother of God by nature and through her ineffable childbirth became queen of every earthly and heavenly creature". Since the divine united with human nature in her womb, she is the atonement of the whole human race: "...the common reconciliation of the whole race of men". It was through the Theotokos that the renewal of
the human race came about, since it was through her that the gates of heaven were opened. "Now in her time and through her the renewal of the world was made manifest and through her heaven opened its gates again for us, not in order to send a violent and terrible and devastating deluge with a violent blast, but the dew of the Spirit, the sweetness shared by our souls, the great and 'unapproachable light' which passes understanding". The Panagia did the work of greatest social beneﬁt to mankind. It is not a matter of a superﬁcial and temporary deed, but of the eternal salvation of man, of the fact that she brought life into the world. "For she performed a miracle of miracles on earth and a public beneﬁt greater than any in history...". The work of the Panagia was tremendous. She gave meaning to man and to his life. And this is because she gave substance, shape and form to man. These words of St. Gregory Palamas are characteristic: "Mother of God, you joined your nous with God; you joined God with ﬂesh; you made God a son of man and man a son of God; you made the world a friend of the maker of the world; you taught us by works that vision of God is not given to real people just through sensation or even through thought (because then they would be only a little better than horses), but much more through puriﬁcation of the nous and participation in divine grace, in which we delight in godlike beauty not through thoughts but through immaterial touches". Thus on the one hand she united God with man, and on the other hand she preserved the method which we must use in order to reach participation in God. By giving herself to God and becoming His mother she made the earth heaven. By her prayer she did not bring the clouds, but the Lord of the clouds himself, and thus she bore the source of life. "...she made the whole earth heaven, not calling forth clouds, which many times have obeyed many people, but him who lifts clouds from the ends of the earth; and she did not call forth temporary relief with rain, but brought
us the very treasure of all blessings, the eternal source which is opened up in the paternal bosom by eternal generation, the Word who is established upon the vaults of heaven. He brought us living water from there and offered sustenance which makes all who receive it immortal and sons of God...". In this way the body of the Theotokos became the saving medicine of our race. "...that life-giving and God-receiving body, the true medicine of our race, the boast of all creation". All the events of the Old Testament preﬁgure the Panagia. In reality she was "the tent of the Logos not made with hands", the "spiritual and living ark" which contained the jar of manna, "the book of life", the unfading plant, from which came the incorruptible ﬂower which offered us incorruption". In all these characterisations that express the work of the Theotokos, we can see her glory, which is incomparably higher than the Seraphim and Cherubim. The characterisation by the archangel Gabriel is striking. He calls her Highly Favoured. According to St. Gregory Palamas, highly favoured points to her "being for ever adorned with the gifts of the Holy Spirit" and having the treasure of all things within her. Christ made the Panagia "his palace". And indeed the Panagia not only seemed able to contain "the fullness of divinity bodily by reason of her extreme purity", but also to be productive and creative "of divine kinship with all people before and after her time". The coming of the Grace of God is conveyed by St. Gregory through the word "ordination", and that is why she became the highest queen and most blessed of all the blessed. "...since she had a higher share of worth and superior power and ordination from the heavens, she became the highest queen of the high and most blessed of the blessed...".
As we have emphasised before, the Panagia became a place of all the blessings of the Spirit: "For you are also a place of all the graces, and a fullness of every sort of goodness, and a spiritual catalogue of every virtue and kindness, as the only one of all who was found worthy of all the gifts of the Spirit, or rather as the only one who, surprisingly, accepted into your womb the one who contains the treasuries of all these things, and you became his surprising dwelling place, it seems...". The Panagia was lacking in nothing. "...being the divine abode of all together and each separately of the things that are ﬁne and good. She alone of the people from the beginning did not seem to be lacking in anything at all, but she far surpassed all in every way, as much as heaven differs from earth...". By the way and method which she followed, by placing her nous completely in God's care, she attained abundant wisdom, "and in this way received abundant wisdom from above...". So she was a treasury of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit". The Theotokos is the angels' food and the place of propitiation for the race of man. The Theotokos is "the table of the angels' delight, the ploughed land of the undying plant, the common delight of the whole race of man...". Her glory is very great. She is brighter than light, more blossoming than paradise, more beautifully adorned than the whole world, seen and unseen". Because she became the mother of Christ, when she gave her ﬂesh to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity to become incarnate, therefore, on the one hand she is a holy of all that is holy, above all the saints, and on the other hand she gives gifts to the saints, since she is the treasurer of the wealth of the goodness of the Lord. On this point St. Gregory Palamas is astonishing. Truly the Panagia is the crowning height of the saints. "In the case of the crowning extreme of all the saints... in the case of her who is higher even than the saints of heaven...". In another place St. Gregory writes: "The
eternal holy of holies entered into the temporary holy of holies". And again in another of his homilies he says: "...how much more the remembrance of the holy of holies through which all the holiness comes to the saints". She transmits grace to the saints. "in order that as in charge of the ofﬁce where holiness is given, she may convey gifts of holiness to all without exception, without leaving anyone without a share, even of the hidden things of the universe, that is to say of those inaccessible things". This is because the Theotokos is not only holy, but she "alone is the boundary between created and uncreated nature". And therefore no one can come to God without her and through the mediation which has come from her; and none of the gifts from God could have been given to angels and men except through her". Indeed, making use of the example of the lamps, where no one can see in the direction of the light or receive its rays without the means of the lamps, it means that this is so in the case of the Panagia: "So also it is unfeasible to gaze towards God and proceed from him towards anything unless it is through this Godbearing and truly godenlightened lamp, the ever-Virgin". The granting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is not only given by the Panagia to the saints now, while they are living, but they will receive gifts through her also in the age to come. We know well that the saints will have progress towards holiness during the age to come, that is to say, the saints will progress from glory to glory and from strength to strength. This will happen, according to St. Gregory Palamas, through the Theotokos. "... and so also in the coming unending age every advance in divine illumination and every revelation of the most divine mysteries and every idea of spiritual gifts is impossible to contain without her. She, having ﬁrst received the fullness of that which ﬁlls the universe, made it containable to all, bestowing on each according to the ability and measure of his purity". This is and will be, because the Panagia is "both treasury and ofﬁce for granting the wealth of the divinity".
Indeed, as we have said before, this happens because the Theotokos is united with God, because the Logos Christ, who received human ﬂesh from her, gave her great glory. Therefore all who recognise the glory of God and all who partake of the glory of God will also partake of and know the glory of the Theotokos. St. Gregory writes: " All who partake of God partake through her, and all who know God will recognise her as a place of the inﬁnite, and all who praise God will praise her with God". St. Gregory knows from experience that even just to remember the Panagia is a blessing. The recollection of her name gives great grace. The saint writes: "Even just remembering you blessed the deﬁled one; a nod towards you made the nous clearer, raising it straight towards the divine height; in you the eye of the mind is clariﬁed; in you the spirit is illuminated by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, because you became a keeper and place of graces, not in order to possess them in yourself, but to ﬁll the universe with grace. For the treasurer of the inexhaustible treasures is the manager of the distribution. What could your wealth do if entirely shut up, since it does not decrease? So transmit it richly to us, O Mistress, even if we cannot contain it, make us more spacious and thus add to it; for only you have not received by measure, since all things have been given into your hands". St. Gregory's love for the Panagia came from his personal partaking of the Grace of God, as he felt gratitude for her who was the cause of Grace, and from the deep feeling that he was living in her 'Garden' on the Holy Mountain and was its citizen. As a Hagiorite he cherished great reverence and love for the Panagia. He regarded her as his patron and benefactress. He received rich gifts from her. For she is "the summit and completion of every saint". In conclusion I would like to quote a saying of St. Gregory Palamas which is very expressive and characteristic:
"She also is a cause of those before her and patron of those after her and a cause of things eternal; she is a promise of the prophets, foundation of the Apostles, support of the martyrs, platform of the teachers; she is the glory of those on earth, the delight of those in heaven, the adornment of all creation; she is also the principle and source and root of the ineffable good things, she is the summit and completion of every saint".
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 10 11 · 12 · 13 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
10. THE "HAGIORITE TOME" 1. Introduction 2. Summary 3. Analysis of the work a. Essence - energy
Nous and heart
Man’s union with God
Deiﬁcation of the body
The experienced saints
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10. THE "HAGIORITE TOME"
In studying the subject "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite" we cannot neglect an excellent declaration which bears the title "Hagiorite Tome". We shall examine it in this chapter, where we can see the value of this tome, the importance of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, and also the value of the writer of this declaration. [ BACK ]
St. Gregory Palamas was a true Hagiorite. He lived a large part of his life on the Holy Mountain, was connected with the holy Fathers who lived the ascetic life with him, and therefore expressed the experience of the Hagiorite Fathers, which in reality is experience of the Orthodox Church. As we see from other writings of St. Gregory, there were hesychastic Fathers living on the Holy Mountain who were preserving the essence of the monastic and Christian life, which is participation in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. It is in this light that we should look at the important role of the Hagiorite Fathers in presenting the orthodox theology about the essence and energy of God and about participation in divine energy. In all this theological discussion with Barlaam the philosopher, St. Gregory Palamas also had, apart from his personal experience, the help of the leading Hagiorite Fathers. In this sense the Holy Mountain is of great signiﬁcance. The "Hagiorite Tome" is the work of St. Gregory Palamas. True, it has been claimed that its probable writer is St. Philotheos Kokkinos, who was afterwards Patriarch of Constantinople, but this is clearly mistaken. The real writer of this declaration is St. Gregory Palamas himself1. There are many witnesses to the works of St. Gregory in which it is clear that he drafted the "Hagiorite Tome". But I shall mention only one. The monk Arsenios the Studite sent a letter to St. Gregory asking him to give some explanations about his teaching on the subjects that were occupying the Church at that time. In his letter St. Gregory replied that his answer "lies written in our words". He refers him to his written texts. And of course among these written texts is listed the "Hagiorite Tome" about which he says clearly: "In the Hagiorite Tome, which was written by me two years ago, we speak thus, word for word..."2. And from this
passage alone it is clear that St. Gregory is the author of this famous declaration. In all probability he wrote this text in November, 1340, and became an important element at the Council of 1341, which took place in Constantinople in favour of the views of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory later referred repeatedly to points in the text3. While the writer of the text that we are studying is St. Gregory Palamas, nevertheless it is signed by the leading Fathers who were living ascetically on the Holy Mountain and was attested by Metropolitan Iakovos of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain. Speciﬁcally, it was signed by "the Protos of the venerable monasteries on the Holy Mountain", many abbots of the Holy Mountain, several in their "own language" – which means that it had catholicity– by ascetics and hermits, spiritual fathers, the monk Mark "of Sinai", an elder and hesychast "from "Syria" and "the lowly and least of monks Gregory of Stravolangado, and perhaps a hesychast", who had also been a teacher of neptic theology to St. Gregory Palamas. As we have mentioned, it was testiﬁed by the Metropolitan of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain, who bore witness that the entire Holy Mountain was in agreement with this text and himself wanted to make a personal addition to this witness, which is quite characteristic and enlightening. "I Iakovos, the humble bishop of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain, who was reared on the traditions of the Holy Mountain and the fathers, testify that by the signatures of these select men the entire Holy Mountain has undersigned with one accord, and I myself, assenting to these things and putting my seal thereto, have undersigned. I add furthermore, together with all the rest, that we shall have no communion with anyone who is not in agreement with the saints, as we are, and as were the fathers who immediately preceded us"4.
With these presuppositions, this declaration is called, and truly is a "Hagiorite Tome", for it expressed and expresses the experience of the Holy Mountain, which in reality is the experience of the Orthodox Church. This is why it is an important text. [ BACK ]
The prologue of this text refers to the truth which is hidden in the Prophets and the saints, and which however is not heard and does not become accepted by those people who do not listen with reverence to the revelations of the Spirit. All that the Old Testament Prophets saw and all the mysteries of the Mosaic Law, which now are accepted by all, probably were not accepted by the Jews of that time. The same thing could also be suffered by the men of the New Testament who do not accept the mysteries of the Spirit that are offered to the puriﬁed in heart and to those who already see the future good things as a pledge5. In writing these things he emphasises the truth that in every age there are Prophets who see the future. In the Old Testament the Prophets saw clearly what was to happen later, and the New Testament Prophets see clearly the good things to come, the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. So it is necessary for us to trust these Prophets. Thus some are
Prophets and are initiated into these truths and others respect, honour and listen to those who have experienced them6. This prologue is essential for every statement of the faith and is used also by St. Gregory the Theologian at the beginning of his famous theological writings. He too, that is to say, presents the nature of true and unalloyed theology. The Prophet who in the Holy Spirit is found worthy of experiencing God is a theologian. Essentially the theologian is identiﬁed with the Prophet. Thus there exist Prophets, who have been found worthy of the experience of God, and there are people who revere the Prophets. These two are both to be found in orthodoxy. Therefore either we will have our own personal experience or we will trust those who have it7. It is in this light that we must also see the presumptions of orthodox theology. If we do not speak of these we cannot theologise truly. After this necessary prologue, which describes the framework of orthodox theology and the difference between the Prophet and the conjecturer, St. Gregory Palamas takes up the views of those of contrary opinion –and he is thinking ﬁrst and foremost of Barlaam, since we are still in the beginning of the hesychastic dispute– with six proposals, each starting with the words ‘anyone who’. Anyone is opposed to the Fathers –and this means opposed to the teaching of the Church and to the experience of revelation, about which St. Gregory made the prologue cited above– ﬁrst, if he condemns as Messalians and ditheists those who call the deifying grace of God uncreated, ungenerated and really existent; second, if he declares that union with God comes about only by imitation and relationship with Him, without the deifying grace of the Spirit; third, if he asserts that those who say that the nous has its seat in the heart or the head are Messalians; fourth, if he calls the Light of Tabor the sort of apparition and symbol that now is and now is not; ﬁfth, if he calls uncreated only the divine essence but not the eternal energies of God; and sixth, if he
does not acknowledge that even the bodies of those advancing on the spiritual path receive from their souls the energies of the Holy Spirit. All those who essentially agree with Barlaam’s teaching are opposing the holy Fathers of the Church and of course, since they do not abide by the teaching of those who have experience of divine things, they cannot belong to the Church of Christ and give sound teaching about God. The subtitle of the "Hagiorite Tome" is also characteristic. It is written for "those who, because of their inexperience and their insubordination to the saints, reject the mystical energies of the Holy Spirit, which work better than reason in those who live spiritually and which are manifested through actions but are not demonstrated through words"8. And in conclusion, witness is given to the fact that all these things have been taught by the Scriptures and by the preceding Fathers and have become known through experience which at the same time conﬁrms the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. The prevailing idea of the "Hagiorite Tome" is that the holy Fathers are the trustworthy teachers of the Church and unalloyed theologians; they know the truth through revelation, because they have previously puriﬁed themselves and become suitable receptacles for the energy of the Holy Spirit. If anyone denies this teaching of the deiﬁed saints, and especially if he confronts it with his own view, his is not genuine but false theology. It is also said that this teaching of those who have experience is conﬁrmed by the people of every period, if they have followed the same method and path. And if, indeed, we do not have our own experience of these things, we should then in any case respect the teaching and view of those with experience. This is credible legitimacy. Otherwise theology becomes conjecture and ends in heresy, which creates problems for the members of the Church of Christ.
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3. Analysis of the work
The summary of the "Hagiorite tome" has given us a general picture of this Hagiorite declaration and has shown us the content of the text in general outlines. But we must make a broader analysis of the text in order to understand better its great signiﬁcance and importance. However, it must be pointed out that it will not be analysed in the order in which St. Gregory Palamas wrote it, but according to its theological concepts. I do not think that this will be unjust to the text, because in the summary we have already given the order, the prologue, the main theme and the epilogue. It is only for more systematic reasons that we shall proceed to this operation, holding the text up and not misrepresenting its teaching and its importance. With this broader analysis we shall also be able to give a summary of all the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, for I believe that the "Hagiorite tome" is such a summary.
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a) Essence - energy
One of the most basic teachings of St. Gregory Palamas is that of the essence and energy of God. To be sure, this did not originate with St. Gregory but is the teaching of the entire Orthodox Tradition, for the Apostolic Fathers referred to the subject of the distinction between essence and energy in God, and we see it again in the teaching of St. Basil the Great. Basil the Great was looking at this subject in relation to the heresy of the Eunomians. St. Gregory laid great emphasis on the uncreatedness of the divine essence and the uncreatedness of God’s energy (activity). The word ‘uncreated’, is applied to God. God is uncreated, He has not been created, but is before all the ages. There is no beginning in God. Man and the entire creation were created by God, and are therefore created. Hence the uncreated is identiﬁed with the divine. According to Barlaam, to whom St. Gregory Palamas is referring, only God’s essence is uncreated, but not His energy as well. According to the saint, he who regards only the essence as created, "but not also his eternal energies", is going against the Holy Fathers of the Church9. At this point St. Gregory Palamas is using a passage from St. Maximos the Confessor about the works of God saying that some of them "began to be in time" and others "did not begin to be in time". The former include the immortal, the living, and so forth, and the latter include immortality, life, that is to say the uncreated and eternal energies of God. Moreover, here the uncreated energies of God are characterised as
eternal, for the eternal is beyond time and duration. And what is beyond time and duration is divine, uncreated. This passage of St. Maximos the Confessor is the following: "All immortal things and immortality itself, all living things and life itself, all holy things and holiness itself, all good things and goodness itself, all blessings and blessedness itself, all beings and being itself are manifestly works of God. Some began to be in time, for they have not always existed. Others did not begin to be in time, for goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality have always existed"10. It is clear, then, that goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality are energies of God, which are eternal and uncreated. There is a difference between the uncreated energy of God and the things created. Goodness is an uncreated energy of God, but the good things are created. Life is the uncreated energy of God, but the living are created things, effects of the uncreated energy. According to another passage from St. Maximos the Confessor which St. Gregory quotes, goodness, life, immortality, simplicity, immutability and inﬁnity, and in general whatever "contemplative vision perceives as substantively appertaining to God are works of God and did not begin to be in time"11. So then, God’s uncreated energies, which proceed from His essence, are without beginning, of course without thereby impairing God’s supranatural and incomprehensible simplicity and His triadic unity, which alone is intrinsically without beginning12. Therefore God’s energies are without beginning, eternal and uncreated. And, as God’s essence is divine, so are His energies as well. This is important for orthodox theology. For if we regard God’s energies as created, then we make it impossible for man to be deiﬁed. That is to say, if God communicates with the world through created energies, then we can attain union and communion with God only through created energies, which makes salvation impossible. God then remains entirely
unknown to man, or if we commune with the essence of God, then the difference between created and uncreated is lost. Barlaam was maintaining that all who speak of uncreated essence and uncreated energies are Messalians and believers in two gods. St. Gregory writes that whoever puts forward such theories is going against the holy Fathers of the Church and excluding himself from the inheritance of the saved, since salvation is attained in communion through the uncreated energies. So if he does not repent, he himself is falling away from "Him who by nature is the one and only God professed by the saints". We must accept this mystery, but if we do not know the way of the mystery, we must seek to learn from those who have experience, from those who know it personally13. For in reality the saints, through deiﬁcation and the vision of God, know from their experience that the energy of God is uncreated, ungenerated and enhypostatic. They have no doubt that it is a matter of divine and not created energy. Indeed the teaching about uncreated essence and uncreated energy in God is not ditheism, since the energy is always connected with god’s essence, and of course this distinction does not do away with the divine simplicity, just as the three Persons of God do not do away with God’s oneness. Just as we cannot accuse Athanasios the Great of ditheism when he speaks of the uncreatedness of the Logos, or the other holy Fathers of being tritheites when they speak of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity being of one substance, in the same way St. Gregory Palamas cannot be accused of being a ditheite when he speaks of the uncreated essence and uncreated energy of God. Moreover there is no essence without energy or energy without essence. The difference lies in the fact that when the essence is uncreated its energy is also uncreated, and when the essence is created, then its energy is also created. In the "Hagiorite tome" the deifying Grace of God which is His energy, apart from the fact that it is characterised as uncreated and ungenerated,
at the same time it is called enhypostatic. This constitutes the basic teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, just as it is seen also in his other works, since the energy of God is not self-subsistent, that is to say, it does not exist on its own, but is hypostatic, which means that it is connected with the divine Hypostases, without being identiﬁed with them. We know from the teaching of the Holy Fathers that energy is the essential movement of nature, that is to say the active thing is nature, but that which acts is the Person or Hypostasis. It is true that the energies of God are common to the Persons of the Holy Trinity, but without having hypostatic qualities. But what should be emphasised, commenting on the term "enhypostatised" for deifying Grace, is that the uncreated energy is not understood and interpreted independently of the divine Hypostases. And at this point one can see the great value and signiﬁcance of the teaching of the Hagiorite saint Gregory Palamas for our time. [ BACK ]
b) Uncreated Light
The saints know from their experience, from participation in Pentecost, that the energy of God is uncreated, because they are granted several times in their life to see this energy as Light. And of course they are well aware that this Light is uncreated, not created, not an apparition. This is seen clearly in the Gospel passage about the Transﬁguration of Christ on
Mt. Tabor, which was the central theme in this whole conﬂict and the point of presenting the teaching about the uncreated energy of God. Barlaam maintained that the Light of Tabor, the Light which the Apostles were found worthy of seeing on Mt. Tabor, was an apparition and outward symbol, something which now is and now is not, like lightning, and therefore it was energy from noetic understanding. With these presuppositions he maintained that the philosophers, who made conjectures through their noetic understanding and reason, were higher than the Prophets, who were looking at this apparition and symbol, which, as St. Augustine and all the scholastic philosophers said, now is and now is not, that is to say, is created. According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, all who maintain such theories are going against the holy Fathers of the Church, which is to say against those who are bearers of the Orthodox Tradition. For the holy Fathers, both in the hymns which they composed and in their writings, call it "ineffable, uncreated, eternal, timeless, unapproachable, boundless, inﬁnite, limitless, invisible to angels and men, archetypal and unchanging beauty, the glory of God, the glory of Christ, the glory of the Spirit, ray of Divinity and so forth..."14. The ﬂesh of the Logos was gloriﬁed immediately through its assumption by the divine nature and this glory of the body "becomes the glory of divinity". However, although the human nature had been gloriﬁed by its assumption, "the glory was invisible in the visible body", to those who could not see that which is invisible even to the angels. Thus in the Transﬁguration Christ did not assume what he did not previously have, nor did he change into something He had not previously been, but what appeared to His Disciples was what He was, opening their eyes. This passage cited by St. Gregory Palamas is from St. John of Damascus, who goes on to say: "While He remained the same, they could now see Him as other than He had appeared to them formerly". And the Disciples were granted to see a faint image, for what is uncreated cannot be portrayed in creation exactly as it is15.
Therefore the vision of the uncreated Light is the vision of the glory of God in the deiﬁed ﬂesh of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It is not inferior to intelligence. This is why the Prophets are superior to the philosophers, who make conjectures about God. It also shows the purpose of the spiritual life. The vision of the uncreated Light constitutes the deiﬁcation of man, because it comes about through the transformation of man, and naturally it is man’s communion with God. In the holy Fathers the terms deiﬁcation and union are interchanged, because they refer to the same thing. [ BACK ]
c) Nous and heart
Barlaam accused the monks, who said that the nous is in the heart, of being Messalians, because the latter maintained that the devil and divine Grace are found in the heart at the same time. But St. Gregory Palamas says that all who maintain these things and make accusation against the monks are in opposition to the holy Fathers, who speak of the presence of the energy of the nous in the heart. First of all it must be said that in the Tradition of the Church a clear distinction is made between the nous and the intelligence. When the nous is functioning according to nature, it acts in the heart, and that is where it should be. Because of the fall of man, the nous instead of being in the heart spreads out into the surroundings and becomes enslaved to
created things. Moreover this is what constitutes the fall of man, and this truly is sin. Hesychasm, orthodox asceticism, is the theological movement and attempt by which the nous tries to go back to the heart again from its diffusion into the surroundings and its confusion with intelligence. In that way man is functioning physiologically and is fulﬁlling the purpose of his existence. This theological truth also clariﬁes the value of the hesychastic way of life and its superiority to platonic philosophy. According to platonic philosophy, man’s purpose is to liberate his nous from his body, which he regards as a prison of his soul. However, as St. Gregory Palamas says, for the nous to go out of the body is a "discovery of the demons and a lesson taught by pagans". On the contrary, our own effort lies in the return of the nous to the heart, for the body is not a prison of the soul, but a positive work of creation by God. For this reason in the "Hagiorite Tome" St. Gregory presents two passages from the holy Fathers of the Church. One is from Athanasios the Great and says that the seat of the intelligence of the soul is in the brain, and the other from Macarios the Great says that the seat of the energy of the nous is in the heart. The saying of St. Gregory of Nyssa that the nous "being bodiless, is neither inside nor outside the body" is not contrary to the teaching of the holy Fathers since when the Fathers say that the nous is in the body, they mean that it is joined to it. Just as the entrance of the Word of God into the womb of the Panagia is not contrary to the fact that the Word, being bodiless, is not in a place, for the Word entered the womb and united with our own mixture above any word and according to the ineffable philanthropy of God, the same can be said about the nous as well. Anyway, the nous in its natural condition is in the heart as in an organ and not as in a vessel and it manifests the completed and mature person. The entrance of the nous into the heart manifests its purity and the fact
that it is capable of receiving Revelation, since man’s nous is the organ of the vision of God. In the Orthodox Tradition, moreover, apart from the fact that there is a distinction between nous and intelligence, at the same time there is a distinction between nous and sense perception, and of course a distinction between the knowledge which the nous possesses and the knowledge which the senses possess. This is very important because, on the one hand, the difference between human and divine education is seen, and on the other hand because through puriﬁcation of the nous we acquire divine knowledge and the saints are granted to see God. In the "Hagiorite Tome" it is said clearly that the nous perceives one light and the senses another. The senses perceive the sensible light and the nous the uncreated Light and knowledge in conceptual images. The nous, then, is the organ through which man sees the divine Light, which is the Kingdom of God and the food of the angels, but since the nous is joined to the body, therefore when the saints attain divine Grace, then by its power they see "with the sense of sight and with the nous that which surpasses both sense and nous"16. Thus man sees the divine Light also with the eyes of his sense of sight, but this is because these have previously been transformed and empowered by the uncreated Grace of God. Moreover, it is known that uncreated Grace is also transmitted by the soul to the bodies of the deiﬁed. [ BACK ]
d) Man’s union with God
In the fourteenth century, which was dominated by humanism, just as it is today, there were those who maintained that man’s union with Christ is through external imitation of the life of Christ, by an external conforming of our life to the commandments of Christ, without looking to Grace, which exists through doing the commandments, and without looking for an inner transformation, which the commandments constitute; it takes place through a development of man’s rational nature, through ﬁne thoughts, without God’s deifying energy. In the "Hagiorite tome", which is a confessional text and received catholic and conciliar recognition, the teaching of the Church is presented as saying that man’s communion with God is not a human achievement, it is not a work of human nature, but a fruit of participation in the deifying energy of God. The deiﬁcation of man and his union with God is above human intelligence and knowledge and above even the virtues themselves. In the "Hagiorite Tome" St. Gregory Palamas teaches that all who maintain that man’s union with God comes about only through imitation and relationship, as happens in the union of people who love one another, "without the deifying grace of the Spirit" are mistaken. Likewise mistaken are those who consider "the deifying grace of God as a state of our intellectual nature" acquired through imitation alone, and do not regard it as "a supranatural illumination and an ineffable and divine energy beheld invisibly and conceived inconceivably". If anyone declares something of this sort he has fallen into the delusion of the Messalians. Therefore if deiﬁcation is a natural power and a development of nature and not a gift of the uncreated Grace of God, then the person deiﬁed is by nature God17. Unfortunately, such views also exist today in some humanists and anthropists who exalt the human factor and human nature. There are also views today which are more anthropocentric and in that way unacceptable to orthodoxy. Man is the crown of creation, for he was
created by God and is being directed towards unity with Him. Man’s centre of reference is God. When he is alienated from this centre, then man and humanism do not exist. Today people are speaking of the person and personality. But if we look at this subject without reference to God, we are making man an absolute, and we fall into anthropocentric notions. This is not unconnected with the original sin of man, who precisely wanted to become God apart from the path which God set, that is to say without the Grace of God. St. Gregory Palamas, using a passage from St. Maximos the Confessor clearly deﬁnes and teaches that the Grace of deiﬁcation is completely incomprehensible and there is no faculty in nature which can receive it, for otherwise it would not be Grace, but a manifestation of the operation of a natural capacity. God manifests Himself according to the natural capacity of each person. Deiﬁcation is not a work of nature, but a gift of God which is offered to those who have the appropriate preconditions for receiving it. Thus the Grace of deiﬁcation is above nature, virtue and knowledge, and naturally all such things fall short of it. Virtue and the imitation of God make a man ﬁt for union with the Deity, "but it is through Grace that this ineffable union is accomplished". Therefore it is not by virtue that we acquire union with God, but it is accomplished through the uncreated deifying energy of God. Through deifying Grace God in His entirety penetrates the saints in their entirety, and the saints in their entirety penetrate God entirely, in the way that the soul embraces the body18. This is genuine orthodox anthropology, which is not isolated and alienated from God. Orthodox anthropology is theanthropocentric. Therefore to refer to a good and ethical life without there being at the same time a reason for the deiﬁcation of man, which is accomplished not through good and rational thoughts nor through conjectures, but through the deifying energy of God, is unorthodox and anti-traditional. And this must be said within the essential preconditions for participation in the deifying operations of God, that is to say purity of heart, illumination of
the nous and deiﬁcation, which are the stages of spiritual perfection, the orthodox method of devotion and the tradition. [ BACK ]
e) Deiﬁcation of the body
Barlaam, using Platonic and stoic philosophy, undervalued the human body and called dispassion of the soul the deadening of its passible aspect. It is a familiar fact that the soul has three powers: intelligence, the desiring aspect, and the incensive aspect. The desiring and incensive aspects are called the passible part of the soul. According to Platonic philosophy, both the desiring and incensive aspects entered into man with his fall from the archetype. And according to stoic philosophy, and for the Platonic as well, the salvation of man lies in the deadening of the passible aspect of the soul. This heretical asceticism is also known in neo-platonism. With this conception of things people are led into scorning and rejecting the body and all the bodily asceticisms, and discarding tears and sorrow during prayer. This constituted a naive spirituality and essentially unsettled all the foundations of man, soul and body. In the "Hagiorite Tome" the orthodox teaching about the transformation of the passible aspect of the soul and the deiﬁcation of the human body is also presented. Therefore all the energies of the soul participate in the journey towards deiﬁcation, including man’s body itself.
Thus, while Barlaam, speaking of dispassion, deﬁning it as "the habitual deadening of the passible aspect, St. Gregory deﬁnes it as "a habitual directing of energy towards higher things by completely spurning what is evil and espousing the good". So we cannot speak of deadening the passible aspect of the soul, but of its transformation; instead, that is, of functioning contrary to nature, it is necessary to function according to nature and above nature19. Anyone who refuses to accept the orthodox view of dispassion and accepts the heretical teaching about dispassion as a deadening of the passible aspect, is essentially also refusing to accept that we can enjoy an embodied life in the age of incorruption that is to come. For if in the age to come the body is to share with the soul in all the blessings, then it is evident that in this world as well it will also share "according to its capacity in the grace mystically and ineffably bestowed by God upon the puriﬁed nous"20. In other words, deifying Grace is conveyed by the pure nous to the body as well. The body receives a sensation of divine Grace and becomes a sharer in the deifying energy of God. This is accomplished through the transformation of the passible part of the soul and not through its deadening, since in any case the passible part is common to body and soul"21. Thus asceticism, repentance, contrition, tears, and grieving are essential for the deiﬁcation of man. They are not inferior to a simple happiness of the soul, they are the way and path of deiﬁcation. Therefore in godly asceticism, as it is presented by the Orthodox Tradition, the body too partakes of the Grace of God which comes to the puriﬁed nous. St. Gregory Palamas refers also to a passage in St. Diadochos of Photike which says that the nous transmits ineffable divine virtue to the body as well, whereupon the joy which is then communicated to the soul and the body is a true recalling of incorruptible life22.
While Orthodox hesychasm appears to be an abstract, unpractical and utopian state, it is in essence very practical, true and realistic, precisely because it speaks of the transformation of man’s body and, of course, of the whole man. Its veracity is seen in the bodies of the saints, which receive the deifying energies of God, and in the relics of the saints, in which the presence of the uncreated deifying energy is manifest. Moreover, the relics manifest the deiﬁcation of the body as well, and this is proof of the existence of the deifying energy also in the person’s soul. Therefore we can say that a purpose and work of the Church is to make relics. [ BACK ]
f) The experienced saints
All that we have said so far in analysing the "Hagiorite tome" shows that what is said in this declaration which we are studying is the experience of the Church of Christ. It is not a matter of ideologies and logical constructions, but true life. And there are sure "signs" and unshakeable proofs of these things which are being said. These "signs" are the saints, who have received knowledge of these truths from experience. For an ending this declaration offers its witness of the truth: "These things we have been taught by the Scriptures, these things we have received from our fathers, these things we have come to know from our own small experience. Having seen them set down in the treatise of our
brother, the most reverend Hieromonk Gregory, In defence of those who devoutly practise a life of stillness, and acknowledging them to be fully consistent with the traditions of the saints, we have adjoined our signature for the assurance of those who read this present document"23. This testimony is very important, for it shows clearly that the truth of the Gospel and of the holy Fathers is conﬁrmed by the experience of the contemporary saints. Therefore in every epoch there is conﬁrmation of the revelation, since in each period of time there live men who share the same revealing experience. All the distinguished Hagiorite Fathers who signed this text, the monastics, the hermits, the hesychasts, give testimony about what is the purpose of the spiritual life, what is the way to attain it and what are the effects of deiﬁcation. Likewise the conﬁrmation of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas by the Hagiorites shows that it is not enough for us to theologise, but that we need to have the conﬁrmation of the experienced saints, if the theology which we express or the work which we achieve is to be blessed by God. The presence even today of such holy ﬁgures on the Holy Mountain is a blessing for Orthodoxy and for the whole world, because they are living the same revealing experience, sharing Pentecost. In this sense we respect and revere the Mountain of holy name. There is unity between the Prophets of the Old Testament and the saints of the Church. The dogmas were "mysteries foreseen in the Spirit by the prophets alone". The Prophets saw the mysteries by the Holy Spirit. But even the blessings of the age to come which are promised to the saints are mysteries of the Gospel life and conduct which are now seen in part and are given as a pledge "to those whom the Spirit accounts worthy"24. Thus the Grace of God accounts the holy Prophets of the Old and New Testaments worthy of seeing the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every era has witnesses of these mysteries, which are hidden from the majority of people.
There are two categories of people in the Church. Belonging to the ﬁrst are "those who have been initiated by actual experience". This category includes those who, in order to put the gospel into practice, have renounced the possession of wealth, human glory and the wrong pleasures of the body. And they were not satisﬁed only to have renounced these things, but they assured this renunciation by their obedience to those who were more advanced in spiritual age and experience, that is to say, to elders, to guide them to the experience of the mysteries. This shows that renunciation has no great meaning and value unless it is followed by submission in Christ to spiritual fathers. Thus with the help of these spiritual fathers and living the hesychastic method, which consists in undistracted stillness and sincere prayer, they surpassed themselves and united with God "through their mystical union with Him that surpasses the nous". In this way "they were initiated into what surpasses the nous". Thus the ﬁrst category includes those "initiated by experience", who have followed the appropriate way and the appropriate method which belongs to the Orthodox Church. And the second category includes those who, since they do not have their own personal experience of this revealing truth, revere and honour those with experience: "Others again have learnt about these things through their reverence, faith and love for such persons"25. Anyone who does not belong to either of these two categories is a conjecturer, and therefore his quality as a theologian and as a real member of the Church is called in question. This observation of St. Gregory Palamas is worthy of note. In the Church and in orthodox theology the same thing goes on as we ﬁnd in every real science. A true scientist is one who has made the experiment and arrived at the theory, and then this theory can be veriﬁed and conﬁrmed by other people as well. Thus the research scientist develops the science. But at the same time anyone is also called a scientist who accepts the ﬁndings of the true research scientists. The very same thing goes on in the Church as well. If we do not have our own personal revelation, as the saints do after a legitimate struggle, then we must
accept the experiences of the saints, until such time as God may grant us to conﬁrm this experience ourselves, even if gradually. [ BACK ]
This declaration is very signiﬁcant. The fact that it was written by St. Gregory Palamas, signed by the experienced holy monks who know from experience what is divine, that it was adopted by the councils of the fourteenth century, that such great use has been made of it –for one can assert that it is also a summary of the whole teaching of the Church which has been given expression by St. Gregory Palamas– establishes its great importance. In a few words it points out the truth that man’s aim is deiﬁcation, his union with God, which is the vision of the uncreated Light, which is divine. St. Macarios would call it "the nourishment of the bodiless, the glory of the divine nature, the beauty of the age to come, divine and celestial ﬁre, inexpressible noetic light, foretaste and pledge of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying oil of gladness"26. He also makes known the truth that the path of deiﬁcation consists in the transformation of the passible part of the soul, in godly stillness and unceasing prayer, which is the work of divine Grace. And he emphasises that the experienced saints, the
Old and New Testament Prophets in particular, are teachers of Orthodox theology. The "Hagiorite Tome makes known the great contribution given by the Holy Mountain to the world by its life and expression of revealed truth, but also the great commendation by the contemporary Fathers, who conﬁrm the witness of the "Hagiorite Tome". Along with all these things we should not forget the great personality of St. Gregory Palamas, who as a Hagiorite expressed the experience of the Holy Mountain, which is essential experience of the Orthodox Church.
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 11 12 · 13 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
11. THE VISION OF GOD ON THE MOUNTAIN
Contemporary Hagiorite witnesses of deiﬁcation
The Transﬁguration of Christ
The passage on the Transﬁguration and interpretive commentaries
Kingdom of God and uncreated Light
The three Disciples
Transﬁguration of Christ and transﬁguration of the Disciples
The brightness of the clothes
Moses and Elijah
The word of the Father
The path of deiﬁcation
General theological comments
The purpose of deiﬁcation in the Christian life
Degrees of the vision of God
The ascetic method
[ BACK ]
11. THE VISION OF GOD ON THE MOUNTAIN
The title of this chapter indicates that it will be concerned with the vision of the uncreated Light in the human nature of the Word, whom the Disciples saw on Mt. Tabor, but it suggests that there will be special reference to the vision of God which is attained by the Hagiorite fathers who live the ascetic life on the Holy Mountain. The event of the Transﬁguration did not happen just once in history. Of course this particular event took place once, because Christ wanted to prepare His Disciples to face the Passion and His Cross with faith, but it is repeated and experienced by the deiﬁed in all ages. The holy hymnographer prays to God: "Make thy eternal light shine also for us sinners". On the Holy Mountain both in the desert and in the Monasteries there are monks in all the stages of the spiritual life, that is, in purity of heart, illumination of the nous and deiﬁcation. Some are struggling to cleanse their hearts of the passions and are living in deepest repentance, others have attained illumination of their nous and have unceasing prayer in their hearts, and others have attained the vision of God and have seen the uncreated Light. During the twenty-ﬁve years when I was making regular visits to the Holy Mountain, God granted me to meet monks belonging to all the stages of the spiritual life. I found monks who told me about noetic prayer and the vision of the uncreated Light, and therefore I have certainty about these realities. Since this chapter will deal with the vision of the Uncreated Light on Mt. Tabor I want ﬁrst to speak of the monks who saw the Light. I met a monk who, though he was blind, saw priests in bright robes, and he asked whether they were priests of that cell, without thinking that he was blind. Essentially, this is a matter of saints appearing, but in his very deep repentance and humility he could not become aware of it. I also
met a monk who several times answered the question "how is it going" by saying "I am living in darkness", for he was not seeing the uncreated light, which means that he had experience of God in the Light. They also tell about monks whose faces shine, gleaming with the glory of God during their sleep. I recall a striking case. After the publication of the book "A Night in the desert of the Holy Mountain" I visited a Hagiorite monk. He said to me: "Many people ask me whether I am the monk with whom you were talking. I answer them: Do not try to ﬁnd out who it is. Try to take the advice and live the prayer about which the book is speaking". And then he said to me: "Come and I’ll tell you several other things so that you may know and can add them later". And to my endless surprise he began to tell me experiences of the uncreated Light, what comes before the vision, what follows it, in what state the person is, what tears have to do with the vision of God, and so forth. I was left astonished and thanked God for this great gift which He is giving to the Holy Mountain and to His Church and was also giving to me personally, that I should meet such great personalities, who are even today still living in our midst. Therefore I can exclaim with certainty: "And we have heard and seen, and our hands have touched". [ BACK ]
1. Contemporary Hagiorite witnesses of deiﬁcation
But fortunately we have written testimonies about vision of the uncreated Light. Several Hagiorite monks, for many reasons, chieﬂy to help the Christians whose faith was wavering, came to the point of revealing their experiences. Thus we have written testimonies of this life. In what follows I should like to mention four such testimonies, which show the value and importance of the Mountain of holy name. The ﬁrst is the witness of father Paisios. He describes how St. Arsenios of Cappadocia appeared to him at the moment when he had ﬁnished writing his biography. It was an experience of God, for saints appear in the uncreated Light. Moreover the saints enjoyed Paradise and the Kingdom of God, which is the vision of the uncreated Light. It is very characteristic that on Mt. Tabor the Prophet Elijah and the Prophet Moses appeared in God’s Light. Paisios writes: "The Father also has other such garments, but my own spiritual hands have been paralysed by my many sins and I cannot loose them for the present to pray. May the good Father forgive me for this and for the fact that I have deﬁled his name, which he gave me. It is true also that I have not imitated him in any way. And while I was regarded as a young scamp the indulgent Father Arsenios, as an imitator of Christ, was vindicating me by his love. It seems that for years he was collecting all his love for me in order to give it to me at one time and to jolt me, careless and insensitive as I am, into recovering my senses. "It was the day of the Saints Theodoros, the twenty-ﬁrst of February, 1971, All Souls’ Day. I had written his biography for the ﬁrst time, from the materials which I had then and was reading it, in case I might have happened to make any mistake in the translation of the Pharasiotiki which I had heard from the elders.
"It was two hours before sunset, and while I was reading, Father Arsenios visited me; and just as a teacher caresses his pupil who has written the lesson well, he himself did the same thing to me. Along with this, he allowed me an inexpressible sweetness and heavenly elation in my heart, which was impossible to endure. Then I ran out to the grounds surrounding my Cell like a fool and called out to him, because I thought that I would ﬁnd him. (Fortunately no visitor had come, because he too would have been troubled and I could not have told him the reason for this holy madness in order to reassure him). Sometimes I was calling out loudly: "My Father, my Father!" And sometimes I was calling more softly: "My God, my God, hold my heart quite tightly until I see what is going to happen tonight!" For my heart of clay could not possibly endure that great Paradisal sweetness unless God helped me. "When night had already fallen and my hopes had subsided –for I had thought that I would ﬁnd him– I no longer looked to Heaven. What made me go back into my cell was when I remembered the day of the Lord’s Ascension. When after forty days Christ visited the Panagia with His disciples for a moment on Ascension Day they saw Him being taken up into the Heavens before their eyes. "When I came to my cell afterwards, I felt that sweetness again and on into the night. But this set me thinking. Had the Good and Just God perhaps sent Father Arsenios to settle with me in this life for the ﬁve or six prayer ropes which I had done as a monk, by sending this Paradisal sweetness, since my sins are many and great? I do not know, so I beg you to pray for me, pray for the love of Christ that God may have mercy on me"1. The second testimony comes from another Hagiorite, who died in 1959, Gerontas Joseph Spilaioti. He lived the full hesychastic life; he had noetic prayer of the heart, and in his personal life he experienced the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God, such as miracles which he describes in various letters that were sent to his spiritual
children and have been collected in a special volume. In one letter he writes: "And one day many experiences happened to me. All that day I was crying out with quite great pain. And already in the evening at sunset I was resting: fasting, exhausted from the tears. I was looking at the church with the Transﬁguration at the top, and, wilting and wounded, I was calling on the Lord. And it seemed to me that a strong wind was coming to me from there. And my soul was ﬁlled with an ineffable fragrance. And at once my heart began to say the prayer like a clock noetically. I got up then full of grace and immense joy and went into the cave. And bending my chin to my breast I began to say the prayer. "And no sooner had I said the prayer a few times than I was caught up into a vision of God. And while I was in the cave –and its door was barred– I found myself outside in heaven, in a wonderful place in profound peace and calm of soul. Complete rest. I thought only this: My God, let me not return to the world, to the wounded life any more, but let me stay here. Next, after I had been rested as the Lord wished, I came to myself again and found myself in the cave"2. Gerontas Joseph had visions of the uncreated Light, and that is why he describes this state wonderfully. In one letter of his he says characteristically: "The true monk is a product of the Holy Spirit. "And when in the stillness the nous puriﬁes the senses and becomes calm and the heart is puriﬁed, then one receives grace and illumination of knowledge. And one becomes light, all nous, all clarity. And one pours forth theology - where three write they do not overtake the current which wells forth in waves and spreads peace and utter motionlessness of passions through the whole body. The heart is set aﬂame by divine love and cries out: "My Jesus, control the waves of thy grace, for I am
melting like wax". And indeed it cannot help melting. And the nous is caught up into the vision of God. And there is blending into union. And the person is transubstantiated and becomes one with God, so that he does not know or contain himself, like iron in the ﬁre when it is ignited and is assimilated to the ﬁre"3. The third testimony comes from St. Silouan the Athonite, who fell asleep in the Lord in 1938. He describes a vision of God which he had, when he was granted to see the living Christ. All his life he remembered Christ’s sweetness and humility. St. Silouan writes with great simplicity, which is an expression of truth, humility and life: "At one time the spirit of despair laid hold of me - it seemed to me that God had ﬁnally rejected me, and there was no salvation for men, that, on the contrary, my soul bore evidence of everlasting damnation. And I felt in my soul that God was merciless and deaf to entreaty. This lasted an hour or a little over. A humour of this kind is so oppressive, so harrowing, that even to recall it terriﬁes. The soul cannot bear it for long. In moments such as these man may well be lost for all eternity. Such was the battle which the Merciful Lord allowed the spirit of evil to wage with my soul. "A short time elapsed. I went into church, to Vespers, and looking at the icon of the Saviour, I cried: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner’. "And as I uttered these words I saw the living Lord in the place where the icon was, and the grace of the Holy Spirit ﬂooded my soul and my whole body. And so it was I came to know through the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is God; and I was ﬁlled with a sweet longing to endure suffering for His sake.
"Since that day when I came to know the Lord, my soul is drawn to Him, and the earth holds no delight for me. God is my only gladness. He is my joy and my strength, my wisdom and my treasure"4. And the fourth testimony belongs to Father Sophrony, who, as he describes in his book, experienced such blessed states. To be sure, he writes them with deepest humility, in order to help the world and to support the orthodox faith, living in a country which has different opinions about Christ. Father Sophrony describes with great humility: "Early in the 1930’s –I was a deacon then– for two weeks God’s tender mercy rested on me. At dusk, when the sun was sinking behind the mountains of Olympus, I would sit on the balcony near my cell, face turned to the dying light. In those days I contemplated the evening light of the sun and at the same time another Light which softly enveloped me and gently invaded my heart, in some curious fashion making me feel compassionate and loving towards people who treated me harshly. I would feel quite a sympathy for all creatures in general. When the sun had set I would return to my cell as usual to perform the devotions preparatory to celebrating the Liturgy, and the Light did not leave me while I prayed. "One evening a monk from a cell near mine came to me and said, ‘I have just been reading the hymns of St. Simeon the New Theologian. Tell me –what do you make of his description of his vision of the Uncreated Light?’ Up to that moment I had lived with grateful heart the Lord’s blessing upon me but had not posed any question about the occurrence my thoughts were ﬁxed upon God to the exclusion of self. In order to answer Father Juvenaly I reﬂected on what was happening to me at the time. Trying to cover up, I answered evasively. ‘It is not for me to pronounce upon St. Simeon’s experience... But perhaps when grace was with him he was conscious of it as Light. I don’t know. ‘I had the impression that Father Juvenaly retired to his cell without suspecting
anything more than I had said. But soon after this brief exchange I began to pray as usual. Light and love were no longer with me. "Thus over and over again I learned from bitter experience that pure prayer happens only when our spirit is completely absorbed in God without any reverting to self. It is curious - when I was talking to Father Juvenaly I was not aware of conceit stirring in me... And yet... But could I not have foreseen that my continuing vision of Light in the evenings and at night at that time (the beginning of my priesthood) might lead to pride? If such a misfortune lay on my path the Lord found an excellent way of humbling me by taking away the gift. Glory be to Him for ever and ever"5. He saw the uncreated Light many times. He describes one more such vision of God: "On Easter Saturday, in 1924 perhaps, the Light visited me after I had taken communion, and I felt it like the touch of Divine Eternity on my spirit. Gentle, full of peace and love, the Light remained with me for three days. It drove away the darkness of non-existence that had engulfed me. I was resurrected, and in me and with me the whole world was resurrected. The words of St. John Chrysostom at the end of the Easter Liturgy struck me with overwhelming force: ‘Christ is risen and there are no dead in the grave’. Tormented hitherto by the spectre of universal death, I now felt that my soul too was resurrected and there were no more dead..."6. I have presented these four written testimonies from the Hagiorite fathers themselves in order to show that in each epoch, and so today as well, on the Holy Mountain there are witnesses to seeing the Light of divine glory. Of course there are others who see God and whom we do not know, on the one hand because they themselves wish to live in obscurity, on the other hand because God has not mainfested them. If there are special reasons, God will reveal them.
St. Gregory Palamas also belongs to the category of those Hagiorite Fathers who see God. He himself, as St. Philotheos Kokkinos describes, had experiences of God many times, but also participation in the deifying energy of God. His way of writing and the way in which he analyses the texts of the holy Fathers manifest his personal participation in the uncreated glory of God. Therefore it is very meaningful how he himself describes the Transﬁguration of Christ and the vision of God which the Disciples had on Mount Tabor. I think that it is a pattern of interpretive language, because the Transﬁguration of Christ is being analysed by a saint who has been deemed worthy of having this same vision of God. Thus the interpretive analysis is authentic. We shall look at this interpretation offered by the Hagiorite saint who himself has seen God. [ BACK ]
2. The Transﬁguration of Christ
The Transﬁguration of Christ is one of the central places in the life of Christ, which took place a little before His Passion and had the purpose of supporting His Disciples in view of the great events which were to follow. In the Kontakion of the feast the following things are also mentioned: "Upon the Mount wast thou transﬁgured... that when they should see thee cruciﬁed they might comprehend that thy suffering was
voluntary, and proclaim it to the world: For thou art, of a truth, the effulgence of the Father". In the fourteenth century there was a great discussion between St. Gregory Palamas and the philosopher Barlaam about the nature of the Light of the Transﬁguration. At ﬁrst Barlaam maintained that we do not know exactly who the Holy Spirit is, since we cannot know what God is. He said this in discussing the subject of the ‘ﬁlioque’. Then St. Gregory Palamas, recognising that this position would end in agnosticism, maintained that there is essence and energy in God, and that we do not know what the essence of God is, but we know and experience His energies. It is impossible for us to participate in the knowledge of God’s essence, but we can know and acquire experience of His energies. Likewise the Holy Spirit as essence proceeds from the Father alone, but as energy He is sent by the Son and also from the Son. The existence of the Holy Spirit, His manner of being, is one thing, and His disclosure is another. In this way they came from the teaching about the Holy Spirit to the subject of the essence and energy of God, which formed the basis of all the discussions. St. Gregory Palamas supported the orthodox view that not only the essence of God is uncreated, but His energy too is uncreated. Thus the three Disciples saw the divine energy of God in the Person of the Word on Mt. Tabor, since the Light of the Transﬁguration is God’s energy appearing as Light, and therefore this Light is the Light of divinity and is uncreated. Barlaam stood against this, as we shall see in what follows. Naturally the discussion also turned to the way of participating in the uncreated Light, God’s uncreated energy –to the way that is orthodox hesychasm. Therefore the event of the Transﬁguration of Christ on Tabor came to form the axis of the theological discussions between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam, because it is an event which gives many answers to Barlaam’s heretical views.
Before we go on to examine the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, I think that we would do well to see what were the views of Barlaam the philosopher which St. Gregory opposed. We can ﬁnd them concentrated in the question formulated by St. Gregory in the ﬁrst part of the so-called hesychastic disputes, as preserved in the saint’s work "On the holy Hesychasts". On this question he says that some people who are possessed by presumption and speak of things of which they have no personal knowledge, have strayed from the straight road and are making accusations against the wise and God-bearing Fathers also on the subject of the Light. In other words they consider "as illusion any illumination which is accessible to the senses". They regard it as activity of the demons. And indeed these heretics place the experiences of the Prophets and in general those of the deiﬁed saints in this category. They call the illuminations in the Old Testament symbolic and say that the Light of the Transﬁguration of Christ is sensory. On the other hand, they give the name of suprasensory enlightenment to spiritual knowledge derived from reasoning and they call this rational knowledge higher than the light or any vision of God. In this sense the philosophers, according to Barlaam, are higher than the Prophets and the Apostles7. Likewise St. Gregory, who was staying on the Holy Mountain, learned that these heretics, that is to say Barlaam and those of the same mind, were saying that to be occupied with prayer and the seeing of various lights, as the monks professed, was a demonic state8. So Barlaam thought that the Light of the Transﬁguration was created and naturally inferior to the reasonings and conjectures of the philosophers, and this was why the philosophers were higher than the Prophets and the Apostles. In the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas we see these erroneous and deluded theories and teachings refuted. In general he says that the Light is God’s energy, which is uncreated, as is the essence as well. There is
no essence which is without energy. In what follows we shall look at the analysis of this teaching. In any case it should be pointed out here that the distinction between the created and uncreated energies is what constitutes orthodox theology. Orthodox theology is the theology which can make the clear distinction between the energies. Moreover, to attribute God’s energies to the devil and the devil’s energies to God constitutes the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory Palamas is called a herald of Grace, because all his life he was speaking of the Grace of God, which is the uncreated energy of God, and which from time to time, when a person is suitably prepared, he can see as Light. So he is a theologian and a herald of the uncreated Light. We shall not here make a full analysis of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas as it appears in all his works, but we shall analyse the event of the Transﬁguration of Christ as he interprets it in his sermons. This will be important also because we shall see how the saint guides his ﬂock on the serious theological topic of his time. Barlaam with his heretical beliefs was upsetting the Christians of Thessaloniki. When St. Gregory became Bishop of Thessaloniki, he wanted to restore things. His theological penetration is also seen in the sermons which he gave. St. Gregory was a great Father of the Church, who analysed these major theological questions, because he himself had previously acquired experiences of that life on the Holy Mountain. When someone acquires personal knowledge of these truths, then even his theology becomes a narration. He is not doing acrobatics on the theological questions, but he is expressing them without error, because he possesses personal knowledge of these truths.
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3. The passage on the Transﬁguration and interpretive commentaries
The Evangelists describe the event of the Transﬁguration of Christ with great simplicity, which shows its authenticity. Even the Apostle Peter speaks of this event, at which he was found worthy to be present. But we shall make more use of the text of Mark the Evangelist and our analysis will refer to it. And He said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power. "Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transﬁgured before them. His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" –because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid. And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!" Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one any more, but only Jesus with themselves. Interpretive commentaries
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a) Kingdom of God and uncreated Light
Many things are said about what the Kingdom of God is. If one reads protestant views about the subject, one will be told very strange things. Many people speak of the Kingdom of God as if it were a created reality. But in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, as it is also expressed in the teaching of the Church, the vision of the uncreated Light is the Kingdom of God. The holy Evangelist reports that Christ said to His Disciples: "there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God present with power" (Mark 9, 1). And just after that Jesus took the three Disciples and led them up on Mount Tabor, and there He was transﬁgured before them. Therefore to see the uncreated Light is the Kingdom of God. On this subject St. Gregory is clear and categorical. He writes: "Here he calls the light of his own transﬁguration the glory of the Father and of his kingdom"9. In another place he interprets: "For the great spectacle of the light of the transﬁguration of the Lord is the mystery of the eighth day"10. So the Kingdom of God is the mystery of the eighth day. The six days indicate the world. The overcoming of the world and of the ﬁve senses –which work in sixes, because also the word spoken to the senses is added– is the divine Sabbath, which leads to the mystery of the eighth
age. Therefore the Kingdom of God is above sensation and above the word. The suspension of the senses and of the spoken word, which constitutes the seventh day, leads to participation in the Kingdom of God11. Thus the Kingdom of God is the uncreated Light, which is the food of the celestial beings, the substance of the good things to come, the enhypostatic kingdom. Participation in this Light is participation in the Kingdom of God. Interpreting more analytically the passage: "there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power", means that the King is everywhere, and His Kingdom is also everywhere. The "coming of the Kingdom of God" does not mean that the Kingdom of God is coming from some other place, "but that it appears by the power of the Spirit of God". This suggests that the Kingdom of God is coming "with power". It is only by the Grace of God that we can come to see Grace as Light. "In thy light shall we see light". This is the basic teaching of the holy Fathers of the Church. But this power is not received by chance, but comes to those who are with the Lord and are supported by faith in Him and are lifted up with the three Disciples above natural humbleness. This means that when a person overcomes his fallen state, when he is puriﬁed and illuminated, then he is found worthy of participating in the Kingdom of God. God descends from His own height, but also a man must rise high from his fallen condition, "so that the uncontainable may be contained in generated nature fairly naturally and as safely as possible12. Participation in the uncreated Light is participation in the uncreated energy of the Holy Trinity. On Mt. Tabor we have the manifestation of the Persons of the Holy Trinity as Light. And this Light is "uniﬁed and single". Therefore the Kingdom of God is participation in the Triune God.
On the mount of Transﬁguration we have the manifestation of the Word in the Person of Christ. Christ revealed and displayed some rays of His divinity. Likewise we even have a presence –a manifestation of the Father by the voice which was heard: "This is My beloved Son: hear Him". Likewise we have the presence of the Holy Spirit by the luminous cloud which overshadowed the Disciples. St. Gregory Palamas interprets: "But in any case both the Father and the Holy Spirit were invisibly with the Lord, the one witnessing with his voice that this was his beloved Son, the other shining forth together with him through the luminous cloud and indicating the uniﬁed oneness of the light of the Son both with him and with the Father"13. In the whole teaching of the Church this truth can be seen, that the Father is Light, the Logos is Light and the All-holy Spirit is Light. It can also be seen that when people are granted to see God, they see Him as Light. Therefore the Light of Christ is the Light of His divinity. It is not a question of something created but of the Light which always issues forth from the human nature of the Logos, which the Disciples were granted to see on Mt. Tabor. The light of Christ was not something that comes and goes, as Barlaam said, following Augustine, it was not something which Christ assumed, nor a third, hidden nature in Christ, it was not a phantom and a lightning ﬂash which shone brilliantly and then ceased to shine, but it was this same divinity of Christ. St. Gregory is clear on this point as well, expressing the whole teaching of the Church. "Therefore the light of the transﬁguration of the Lord certainly does not come about and cease to be, nor is it circumscribed, nor does it fall under the heading of a sensory power"14. It takes place because it is the Light of divinity. When Moses entered the darkness and his very body was changed, he did not "initiate" the Transﬁguration, but he "suffered" Transﬁguration, which means that he came to the vision of the Light and experienced deiﬁcation through God’s blessing and His
Grace, and it was not a natural capacity of his. That is to say, his body was not a source of uncreated Grace precisely as it happened in Christ. "Our Lord Jesus Christ had that brightness of himself"15. Therefore Christ "effected" the Transﬁguration and did not "suffer" it, while Moses and all those who see God "suffer" transﬁguration and deiﬁcation and do not "make" or effect deiﬁcation. This is the difference between the Transﬁguration of Christ and that of the saints. It is not unrelated to the saying that Christ is God by nature, while men become Gods by Grace. Barlaam and those who shared his opinions said that Christ at that moment assumed something which he did not have. But St. Gregory, rejecting these views, made many precise objections. He said that this was a real blasphemy. To afﬁrm such a thing is like supposing that there were three natures in Christ: the divine, the human, and that of the light which was revealed. But Christ had two natures, and the brightness of his divine nature was hidden by his ﬂesh. At that moment Christ manifested the brightness of his divine nature, which he had always had invisibly. Therefore "that light is the light of divinity and is uncreated". Thus Christ was transﬁgured "not assuming what he was not, nor changing into what he was not, but manifesting to his intimate disciples what he was"16. Christ neither assumed nor was changed into what He was not, but at that moment he manifested to His Disciples what He was. We have, then, a manifestation and revelation rather than an assumption and change. So the Light of Christ is uncreated. It is a basic teaching of the holy Fathers that whenever the essence is created, the energy is also created, and whenever the essence is uncreated, then its energy is also uncreated. The angels and the saints participate in this Kingdom of God, this Light. It means that the Triune God has this glory and kingdom by nature, while "the holy angels and men are in happy possession of it by grace, having received illumination from there"17.
Therefore the Kingdom of God is participation in the uncreated glory of the Triune God, vision of the uncreated Light. The experience of the uncreated Light is a taste of eternal life. There are, however, many manners and degrees of this participation. Sometimes we feel divine Grace burning the passions and sins, like a ﬁre which is purifying our heart of passions, sometimes like a light which is illuminating our nous and revealing to it mysteries hidden from carnal men. Sometimes we feel the Grace of God as joy and comfort, as a movement of everlasting life within us, as a sense of love for the whole world, as uninterrupted mindfulness of God, which is to be unceasingly in the company of God. There are various manners and degrees of the vision of God, which indicate a person’s spiritual condition. [ BACK ]
b) The three Disciples
Christ selected the three Disciples Peter, James and John in order to reveal His divinity, because he considered them to be those most suited for tasting this experience. The Fathers teach that the three Disciples had several characteristics very essential for this experience. Peter was selected for his love of Christ, John for being loved by Christ, and James because he was to become the ﬁrst of the circle of Christ’s disciples to be martyred for Him.
The preference and selection of these three Disciples should not be interpreted in terms of anthropocentric motives and criteria, but in terms of God’s energy and the men’s capability and possibility. Interpreting this passage, St. Gregory says that participation in the glory of God, the vision of the uncreated Light, does not come to people by chance, but to those who have two basic characteristics. First, they take their stand and are present with Christ, that is to say they are grounded in faith in Him, and secondly, that they, like the Disciples Peter and James and John, "themselves have previously been taken up on to the high mountain by the word, that is to say, they have been taken above our natural lowness"18. This means that there is need for faith in Christ –that He is the one and only God– a desire to follow Him, communion and unity with the Apostles, being within the Church, and a heart puriﬁed of passions. For man to be taken up on to a high mountain means his journey from purity of heart to the illumination of his nous, and this is orthodox hesychasm. So this choice is made with the freedom of both God and man as criteria. The sun in the sky does not appear to whoever wishes it and in the way that he wishes, since it does not have freedom, but Christ the sun of righteousness has not only a nature and natural warmth, but also a will, and therefore He shines providentially and savingly "on whomever He wishes and as much as He wishes". He shines on them where and as He wishes, with the aim of their salvation. But also the depth of the shining is according to His good pleasure and His will. Therefore while at ﬁrst He appeared like the sun, then He shone more brightly, and then He remained invisible to the eyes of the Apostles, "by extreme brightness"19. At this point we can see the love of God, since He appears to men according to their advantage. The sight of God in men impure from passions works in a punishing and penalising way. Thus God’s illumination depends also on the will and freedom of the person, since
Paradise and Hell do not exist from God’s point of view but from man’s point of view. This means that those who are unclean experience the Grace of God as ﬁre, which is Hell, and those puriﬁed, according to the degree of their purity, experience the Grace of God as Light, and this is Paradise, the Kingdom of God. [ BACK ]
c) Transﬁguration of Christ and transﬁguration of the Disciples
The transﬁguration of Christ is not independent of the transﬁguration of the Disciples. This is clear also from what has been said, but we shall undertake a greater analysis, as St. Gregory Palamas presents it. The vision of the uncreated glory of God did not happen simply to the natural eyes and the natural sensation, because that light was not natural. We said before that the Light was the Light of divinity and not something created. However, the disciples saw the glory of Christ even with their eyes, which had previously been transﬁgured and had been deemed worthy of this vision of God. Therefore we also have the transﬁguration of the Disciples on Mt. Tabor and not only that of Christ. St. Gregory stresses emphatically that God even opened the eyes of blind people who were made capable of seeing these mysteries. That light was not sensible, nor did those who saw it see with simple eyes of
the senses, "but they were changed by the power of the divine Spirit". The eyes of the Disciples were changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. For "the eyes which see according to nature are blind" to the vision of that Light. That is why the Disciples "were changed, and thus they saw the change"20. So we have a transﬁguration of the Disciples as well, in order for them to be granted to see the glory of God in the human nature of the Logos. There are, to be sure, different degrees of the vision of God, even with respect to the Transﬁguration of Christ. At ﬁrst the Disciples were seeing the Person of Christ as a sun, and then the cloud overshadowed them. At ﬁrst the Light shone rather dimly, and that is why "it provided vision". But when it shone more, "it was invisible to them because of its surpassing brightness". Indeed the bright cloud, which is the brightest manifestation of the glory of God, overshadowed even Christ, "the source of the divine and eternal light, the sun of righteousness"21. This was not independent of the grace of God, nor of the preparation and capability of the Disciples. Moreover, the same thing also happens when we view the sensible sun. Its light provides the sight but also takes it away when we look directly and stare at it, because its brightness exceeds the capacity of our eyes22. Christ’s Transﬁguration took place during prayer. The information given by Luke the Evangelist is very characteristic: "As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered..." (Lk. 9, 29). To be sure, we must say from the beginning that Christ had no need of prayer in order to be transﬁgured, for Christ does not "suffer" deiﬁcation, but He "effects" deiﬁcation, He effects the transﬁguration and the manifestation. As St. Gregory Palamas says, "it goes without saying that our Lord Jesus Christ of Himself had that shining". Therefore Christ did not have need of the prayer which makes the body shine, "but He was indicating to the Disciples from where this shining would come,
and how it would be seen by them23. In this way Christ wanted to show His Disciples that through prayer they would be able to reach the reality of this great experience and revelation. Thus we see the value of prayer, and especially of what is called unceasing noetic prayer, since through this a man is found worthy of participating in the Kingdom of God and ﬁnding eternal life. When, through welldoing and prayer, a person attains noetic prayer, then he also reaches the vision of God and ineffable mysteries. St. Gregory Palamas observes that he manifested His glory during prayer "in order to show that prayer is an occasion for that blessed vision of God, and for us to learn that it is through approaching God with virtue and noetic unity with Him that that shining is called forth and emerges"24. What we require, then, is virtue, which is nothing else but the fruits of the Holy Spirit as a result of our puriﬁcation, and unceasing prayer. It is in this way, chieﬂy through noetic prayer, that man’s union with God is reached. It is also the stage before the vision of God. In fact, what is required is purity of heart, riddance of all the intrusive thoughts in the heart, and illumination of the nous, which is manifested by unceasing prayer. As a result, the person reaches the vision of God. St. Gregory, citing Chrysostom, writes: "For, he says, the true and most enchanting beauty, seen only by one whose nous is puriﬁed, is that which is related to the divine and blessed nature"25. The beauty of God is His uncreated energy, which is God’s essential energy and is seen by those who purify their nous of passions and thoughts, who have freed it from all admixtures and enslavements. The holy Fathers teach that when man attains illumination of his nous and prays noetically, then at unexpected moments this prayer is turned into vision of the uncreated Light.
It seems that on Tabor the very Body of Christ was a source of uncreated glory, since Christ’s face "shone like the sun". Likewise, as we said before, even the bodies of the Disciples were altered, changed by the energy of the Holy Spirit. In the saints who attain deiﬁcation, their bodies too are transformed and deiﬁed. In the experience of deiﬁcation the physical functions of the body are suspended, as we see in the case of Moses, who remained on Mt. Sinai forty days and forty nights without feeling the need for food and sleep. A man’s soul is closely connected with his body and therefore the experiences of deiﬁcation are transmitted to the body as well. The relics of saints are a tangible example. The saints attained deiﬁcation and thus their bodies were deiﬁed. Therefore we see that in the relics of the saints as well, the physical processes are suspended. St. Gregory Palamas also refers to this fact in another analysis which he makes. He writes: "Even the body somehow partakes of the grace activated in the nous and is oriented towards it and itself receives some sense of the ineffable mystery ﬂowing from it in the soul". Not only is the body brightened, but this also becomes manifest even to the people who see it from outside. Then he mentions the case of Moses, whose body shone so brightly that the Israelites could not meet his face, and he therefore used a veil, as also happened in the case of the protomartyr Stephen, whose face they all saw as if it were the face of an angel"26. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers we read about how someone met Abba Silouan. "And he saw his face and body shining like an angel and he fell with his face to the ground"27. It is the teaching of the Church that the righteous will shine as the sun in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ said: "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13, 43). And the Apostle Paul refers to this reality when he writes: "There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for
one star differs from another star in glory" (I Cor. 15, 41). This future glory and shining of men is essentially participation in the glory of God. The saints are already experiencing the Kingdom of God, and this is seen clearly in iconography, when a halo, a crown of light, is placed on the heads of the saints. The holy Fathers, speaking of the glory of the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, make divinely inspired analyses. St. Gregory the Theologian says: "with those who have stood and not fallen we shall be small lights going round the great light". St. Cyril of Jerusalem says that because God foresaw men’s faithlessness, He put light into the small insects which ﬂy in summer, so that from what was seen, that which was awaited would be believable. The God who made one part can also provide the whole. He Who made the worm (the ﬁreﬂy) shine, "much more can illuminate a righteous man". Macarios of Egypt explains that the Kingdom of the Light, Jesus Christ, is now mystically illuminating the soul and reigning in the souls of the saints, hidden from the eyes of men, until the day of the resurrection, "when the body itself will also be covered and gloriﬁed by the light of the Lord", which henceforth is in the souls of men, so that it too may reign with the soul28. [ BACK ]
d) The brightness of the clothes
Apart from the brightness of His face and in general of his body, Christ’s clothing also shone. The holy Evangelist points out: "His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them". St. Gregory Palamas, interpreting this passage, says that it was with the same light that the venerated Body of Christ and His clothes were made bright, but "not equally", because even the Body of Christ was a source of His uncreated glory. But His clothes became luminous "because they were close to his body". By the illumination of the clothes during the Transﬁguration, God showed what the vestments of glory will be like with which the saints will be clothed in the age to come and what sort of garments the sinless wore who, when Adam fell, found themselves naked and were ashamed29. The patristic teaching is well known that the uncreated Grace which comes to the soul of man is transmitted to the body as well, and then it is conveyed also to irrational creation. Thus the whole of creation receives the beneﬁcial results of the deiﬁcation of man. Therefore, just as the fall of man also had cosmological extensions, in the same way also the regeneration and deiﬁcation of man has universal and cosmological dimensions. St. Gregory Palamas interprets the fact that Christ’s clothes also became luminous and white like light, with reference to the Bible. He says that the pre-eternal Word of God which became ﬂesh also carries within Himself the word of the gospel proclamation. The writing of the gospel proclamation is white and clear, and at the same time brilliant and shining like pearl, or rather it is majestic and inspired by God, just as Christ’s clothes were. But this brightness of the writing of the gospel proclamation is seen by those who see in spirit the things of the spirit and interpret the words of the texts in a way worthy of God. No conjecturing man of this age can interpret the words of the gospel
proclamation, nor can he understand when someone else interprets them30. We must examine this subject within the perspective that, according to St. Gregory Palamas, there are two wisdoms and two educations. The wisdom of God is offered apocalyptically to the deiﬁed Prophets, Apostles and saints. There is no confusion between the two wisdoms and the two educations. No one, by means of reasoning and his senses, can understand the mysteries of the spirit that are beyond nous and word. This confusion is brought on by people inexperienced in divine matters. The philosophers think that through logic they can understand what is beyond reason and intellect. Here St. Gregory is referring to Barlaam, Akindynos and all those of the same mind. Therefore, with that interpretation in mind, he says: "So let us avoid those who do not accept the patristic interpretations but of their own accord undertake to introduce the opposite". These heretics often pretend that they are using the words to the letter, but in reality they are dismissing their godly mind, that is to say the deeper sense of the things that are being said in the patristic passages. Those heretics should be avoided more than snakes31. This exhortation is given at the beginning of the saint’s sermon about the Transﬁguration and is related to the things that are to follow. He has before him a people who had been thrown into confusion by Barlaam’s heretical teachings. So he advises them to avoid those men who do not acknowledge the patristic words and are explaining the patristic writings by their own reasoning and their own conjecture. Only the deiﬁed can understand the words of the deiﬁed. It is substantially with this exhortation that he condemns the theology of conjecture and recommends accepting the theology of the men of experience.
Actually there is an enormous difference between the theology of conjecture and orthodox theology. The former uses imagination and conjecture, while the latter uses experience. [ BACK ]
e) Moses and Elijah
On Tabor we also have the appearance of the Old Testament Prophets Moses and Elijah. The appearance of these particular Prophets is related to the fact that they were prophesying about Christ and had seen the Word without ﬂesh during their lives. For, according to the teaching of the saints, all the revelations of God in the Old Testament were revelations of the Word without ﬂesh. However there are some points which show the difference between the Prophets and Christ, just as there is also a difference between the Prophets of the Old and New Testaments. A difference exists between the Prophets and Christ. The Prophets appeared and were revealed "in his glory". And Christ does not "suffer" deiﬁcation, but he "does" deiﬁcation, while the Prophets "suffer" deiﬁcation. The Word of God is uncreated, while the Prophets are created and receive the energy of the uncreated glory of God. The Logos is Son of God by nature, while the Prophets and all the deiﬁed are sons of God by Grace.
Moreover the Prophets saw the Word without ﬂesh during their lives, while now they see the glory of the incarnate Word. And naturally this is the basic difference between the Revelations of God in the Old and New Testaments. The vision of God which both Moses and Elijah were granted to see during their lives, came about through their deiﬁcation, and this deiﬁcation was temporary, because death had not yet been ontologically overcome. On Tabor the Light of divinity of the Logos poured forth from the deiﬁed ﬂesh of the Logos, when even His body was a source of uncreated Grace, but this body was still external to the Disciples. In the period of the New Testament after Pentecost the deiﬁed were granted vision of the uncreated Light because of their deiﬁcation, and as members of the Body of Christ. It was not vision of the unincarnate Logos, it was not vision of the uncreated glory of God pouring forth from the ﬂesh of the Logos, ﬂesh which was external to them, but it was vision of the glory of Christ because they were members of the Body of Christ. Therefore the vision of the uncreated Light comes from within, that is to say, through deiﬁcation and from within the Divine-human Body of Christ. [ BACK ]
f) The word of the Father
From the cloud which overshadowed the Disciples on Tabor there came a voice: "This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!" St. Gregory Palamas makes several divinely inspired analyses of this event. First he says that it was not a simple voice, nor did the Disciples fall to the ground from this voice of itself. And at another time a voice was heard from heaven. John the Evangelist describes such a scene. Christ was praying to His Father, saying: Father, glorify Your name". And then "a voice came from heaven, saying: I have both gloriﬁed it and will glorify it again" (Jn. 12, 28). St. Gregory says that this voice was heard by "the whole crowd, and not one of them fell". On Tabor the Disciples fell to the ground, because "not only a voice but also an incomprehensible light shone forth with the voice". Therefore the holy Fathers explain that they fell on their faces "not because of the voice, but because of the change and marvel of the light"32. Therefore this voice was a vision of God. And actually, as the holy Fathers explain, both the seeing of God is a Revelation, and the hearing is a Revelation of God. All these experiences are united during the experience. Therefore sometimes the hearing is called seeing and sometimes the seeing is called hearing. The voice of the Father was telling them to obey His Son. The Disciples must obey Christ because he is the Word of the Father, the true Son of God. The Father rests in Him. As St. Gregory Palamas says, this voice taught that all that happened in the Old Testament, that is to say the sacriﬁces, laws and adoptions, were incomplete and were not according to the former will of God, that is to say His gracious will, but according to God’s concession. Thus all that went on in the Old Testament "was forgiven by this later presence and manifestation of the Lord"33. Since the Father rests in Him, that is why the Father "tells us to hear and obey him". And when Christ exhorts the Disciples to enter by the narrow
gate, they have to obey - also when he says "this light is the kingdom of God, hear and believe him and make yourselves worthy of this light"34. [ BACK ]
g) The path of deiﬁcation
The whole text that describes the Transﬁguration of Christ, but also all that preceded the event point out to us the path of deiﬁcation, which is also the path to vision of the uncreated Light. We shall try to describe some steps in this journey as it appears in the gospel texts and as Archimandrite Sophrony analyses it in an unpublished sermon of his on the Transﬁguration of Christ. The Transﬁguration of Christ was preceded by the confession of the Apostle Peter. Christ asked His Disciples what opinion people had of Him. They replied that some thought that He was Elijah, others Jeremiah, John the Baptist or one of the Prophets. Then Christ asked them what they themselves thought about Him. In the name of the Disciples the Apostle replied: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16, 16). Christ conﬁrmed this confession by His Transﬁguration. The signiﬁcant thing is that it was preceded by the confession that Christ is not a man or a Prophet, but the son of the living God. The moment when the voice of the Father is heard saying "This is My beloved Son" is the greatest moment in the Revelation on Tabor.
The confession was followed by silence. After the words: "there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power", the Evangelists immediately went on to say: "Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up on a high mountain". Between these words and the Transﬁguration a week of stillness intervened. He was preparing them with silence, for no other event intervened. Christ’s Transﬁguration, in other words, took place during prayer. Analysing the text, we can certify that the prayer of the Lord on Tabor is similar to His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane. Luke the Evangelist observes: "And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem" (Luke 9, 30-31). The fact that they were talking about Christ’s departure, about His Passion, shows that the prayer is connected with the prayer in Gethsemane. And of course it was a prayer for the whole world. Christ then embraced the whole world with His love, and His Disciples as well, in order that their faith in Him and their unity together might be strengthened. These things show us the path of deiﬁcation. There is need for confession of Christ, certainty and confession that He is the one and only Redeemer. It is within the unshakeable faith in Christ that the prerequisites for the vision of God are created. Then follows silence, the effort to abide by the will of God, the ascetic life through which a person’s heart is puriﬁed of passions and evil thoughts. Basically it is a struggle for purity, which proceeds through patience, perseverance and hope in God. In this state human dialectics are not needed. In reality this silence is orthodox hesychia in the full meaning of the word –bodily stillness and noetic stillness. And of course the person comes to the vision of God in an atmosphere of prayer, and especially prayer which is for the whole world. It is only such complete and universal prayer that takes the nous to the vision of God.
St. Gregory Palamas also points to this path in his analyses of the Transﬁguration of Christ. We have seen previously that the uncreated Light is the mystery of the age to come, and it is also the Kingdom of God. In order to reach it there must be confession that Christ is true God, steadfastness of faith, staying in the Church, and obedience to the words of the deiﬁed and God-bearing holy Fathers. There also must be abeyance of the senses and of the spoken word, observance of the Sabbath, which means entering into the seventh day, which is man’s life beyond words, overcoming the rule of logic, and then a person experiences the eighth day, that is to say, he attains vision of the uncreated Light, which is the Kingdom of God itself35. [ BACK ]
4. General theological comments
After the interpretive analysis of the passage about the Transﬁguration as St. Gregory Palamas sees it, we should also look at some general theological comments bearing on the Transﬁguration of Christ. It is true that the basic theological points were indicated in the analysis of the passage, but I think that we may well extend it further.
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a) The purpose of deiﬁcation in the Christian life
Man was made in the image and likeness of God. In the teaching of the holy Fathers the likeness is equivalent to the deiﬁcation of man. Therefore the purpose of man is to attain deiﬁcation. However, in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas deiﬁcation is not an abstract state, it is not an intellectual elaboration of thoughts and imagination, it is not a moral life, but the vision of the uncreated Light. When a person attains the vision of the uncreated Light in the Person of the Logos, he is deiﬁed. The vision of the uncreated Light is "union and deiﬁcation" of a person, "participation and deifying communion". During deiﬁcation a person is united with God. St. Gregory is clear: "So the contemplation of this light is a union... but is the union with this light other than a vision?" Man’s vision of God and deiﬁcation offer the true knowledge of God. The knowledge of God and theology are not a development of reasoning, but a life beyond reasoning. They surpass human seeing and knowing and of course are "superior to the light of knowledge". Therefore the vision of God in the Person of the Logos is the deiﬁcation of man, deiﬁcation is man’s union with God and this union offers divine knowledge, which surpasses human knowledge36.
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b) Degrees of the vision of God
There are many degrees of vision of the Light. We gave a few preliminary hints. But here we wish to add that there is no ending to this perfection. In patristic theology standing still is regarded as falling. St. Gregory Palamas writes about this point: "This vision of God has both a beginning and things after the beginning, varying in darkness and clarity; but there is no end at all, for its progress is inﬁnite, like that of the ravishment in revelation". So there is no end to this vision of God, but an endless progression. Therefore "illumination is a different thing from a steady sight of light, and both differ from seeing things in the light..."37. Vision of the uncreated Light has many degrees. It depends on the person’s spiritual condition and God’s gift. The experience of God’s purifying, enlightening and deifying energy operates in accordance with the degree of one’s participation in divine Grace. [ BACK ]
c) The ascetic method
The holy Fathers, like St. Gregory Palamas here, are not satisﬁed to present the goal of the spiritual life, but they also show the unerring path in that direction. And in this their love and philanthropy can be seen. The only method which leads to deiﬁcation and vision of the uncreated Light is the ascetic way that is Christlike and in Christ. No one who rejects this method can ever reach the goal for which he was created. And the sad but even tragic thing is that many people in our days speak of the deiﬁcation of man, of the deiﬁcation of the human body, of the holy Fathers, but they do not speak about the way and the method which they must follow. This is a fundamental error. For, just as in all human sciences if the method is abolished, there cannot be results, the same is true in orthodox theology. When theology does not point out the way and the method, which is the ascetic-hesychastic method, it can never lead man to the ﬁnal goal. Such a theology is non-existent and dangerous. This hesychastic method is still being maintained today on the Holy Mountain. We shall look very brieﬂy at just a few elements in this ascetic method, which constitutes what is called hesychasm. First. It is a clear teaching of the Fathers that there are three stages of spiritual perfection: puriﬁcation of the heart, illumination of the nous and deiﬁcation. Puriﬁcation of the heart is its release from all evil thoughts, the person’s disengagement from pleasure and pain. Illumination of the nous is the attainment of unceasing noetic prayer, through which a person does away with ignorance and forgetfulness and therefore has constant mindfulness of God. And the vision of God is man’s discarding of fantasy and seeing God.
Second. A leading role in man’s effort at puriﬁcation is played by the separation of the nous from reasoning. With the fall of man his nous became identiﬁed with and subservient to reasoning and the passions. These two centres of knowing are not identical, but they function in parallel. Identifying them causes darkening of the nous and the fall of man. They are separated by means of hesychasm, a temporary limitation of the senses and reasoning, the cultivation of rational prayer and the use of unceasing prayer of the nous and heart. Third. In this way one lives noetic hesychia, which is simply that one dwells in God. This means that the nous is pure of thoughts, it has only one word, that of unceasing prayer. Noetic hesychia in the teaching of the Fathers is called "knowledge of thoughts". Fourth. An intensive effort is made to free the person from imagination as well. This does not mean that the person discards the imaginary, but it becomes inactive. Furthermore, fantasies are the scales on the nous, the eye of the mind, that prevent it from seeing the glory of God. Fifth. The basic struggle is against thoughts. Thoughts are simple and compound. Simple thoughts are not a sin, whereas the compound thoughts, which are about persons or things, thoughts of them, and about the passions, are sins and create the conditions for committing sins. The thoughts are developed and arrive at passion. There is the suggestion of sin, there is the coupling, the desire, the act and the passion. The passions are unnatural movements of the soul. Therefore sobriety and prayer free a person from thoughts and their terrible consequences. Sixth. The passions are cured by repentance, confession, the struggle which one makes, and by the guidance of an experienced spiritual father. A person cannot live the spiritual life without guidance. We praise God and owe great thanks to the contemporary saints and monks who are men of violence living on the Holy Mountain and
elsewhere, who pursue this method and are a consolation for the people of God. We owe them our gratitude, because they show us the way of puriﬁcation, sanctiﬁcation and deiﬁcation. [ BACK ]
The Transﬁguration is a great event in the life of Christ, but especially in the lives of the Disciples. It points to the height of the spiritual life, reveals the meaning of our existence, shows the path we should take in order to become real human beings. St. Gregory Palamas, completing his two sermons on the Transﬁguration of Christ, ends in exhortations. I shall present some of them in what follows. In one sermon he urges us to use our inner eyes to see this great sight, that is to say our nature which Christ assumed and lives eternally with the ﬁre of divinity. And comprehending this gift, let us discard the garments of skin in which we were clothed through transgression and disobedience, that is to say, our "material and carnal thoughts", and "stand on holy ground", which is our struggle for virtue and our lifting up towards God. And when we have this boldness, then "since God dwells in the light, let us also run to be illuminated, and let us remain
forever illuminated to the glory of the tri-solar splendour which rules as one"38. In another sermon of his he ends with almost the same exhortations, because he is analysing them still further. We must trust in order to be taught by those who are illuminated by God and have experience of these subjects. Trusting, then, in their teaching, "let us journey towards the gleam of that light". Here, as it appears, he is advising us to journey towards that Light, that is to say towards the vision of the uncreated Light. It is not a luxury for our life, but the purpose of our existence. Wearing ourselves out in the lower stages of the spiritual life is called moralism. When we love the beauty of unchangeable glory we will purify the eyes of our minds from material thoughts, scorning everything delightful and very lovely which is not permanent. This, even if it is sweet, leads to eternal suffering, and even if it brings beauty to the body, it clothes the soul in the ugly garment of sin. This is absolutely necessary, because if we do not have the garment of divine glory, we shall not be able to enter the heavenly wedding, but shall be led "to that ﬁre and outer darkness"39. And St. Gregory ﬁnishes: "from which (the eternal ﬁre of Hell) may we all be saved by illumination and spiritual knowledge of the immaterial and eternal light of the transﬁguration of the Lord unto his glory and that of his eternal Father and the life-giving Spirit, who have one and the same splendour and divinity and glory and kingdom and power, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen"40. It is signiﬁcant that these exhortations of his to discard material thoughts, to purify the heart and to travel towards the uncreated Light are not addressed to a gathering of monks, but to his Flock in Thessaloniki, to the unmarried and the married, and he shows that the path is common which we all must follow in order to attain the vision of the uncreated Light, which is the beauty of the age to come, the foundation of the blessings to come, the Kingdom of Heaven.
All who are not in tune with the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas are moved by Barlaam’s heretical ideas and show that they do not have the conviction of the Orthodox Church.
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 12 13 · o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
12. EMPIRICAL THEOLOGY 1. The presuppositions of the theology of St. Gregory 2. Elements from the theology of St. Gregory Palamas a. The two wisdoms b. Truth and Church c. The cure of the soul d. The interpretation of the Scriptures
e. The knowledge of God
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12. EMPIRICAL THEOLOGY
The theology of St. Gregory Palamas is theology of the Orthodox Church. He was not himself introducing a new system of teaching and knowledge of God, but he lived and then expressed what he met in the Church and on the Holy Mountain, having been trained in the life in Christ. It is well known that orthodox theology is empirical. This means that the holy Fathers theologised not in conjecture and philosophy, but through experience, through the Revelation. God revealed His truth to the Prophets, Apostles and saints, and through this revelation they guided the Lord's people. St. Gregory the Theologian says that the saints speak of God like ﬁshermen and not in an Aristotelian way. That is to say, they speak of God in the manner of the Apostles, not in the manner of Aristotle through imagination and conjecture. This is just what we also ﬁnd in the theology of St. Gregory Palamas. The source of his theology was God's Revelation, and therefore his whole theology is experiential. Two striking passages of his on this subject are characteristic. In the ﬁrst he indicates that all the heresies come out of philosophy and are based on philosophical principles. "And if you were to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies originate in this source". Actually there are enormous differences between philosophy and theology. St. Gregory several times calls even Barlaam a
theologian because he is concerned with God, but in the end he says that "theology" is one thing and the vision of God is another. The second passage is about the terms which are used by both the philosophers and the holy Fathers of the Church. The Fathers use some philosophical terms, but with a different meaning and another content. This has to be said, because unfortunately some people, seeing the same terminology, confuse matters, with the result that they identify theology with philosophy. St. Gregory observes: "Even if any of the fathers says the same things as the outwardly wise, this is true only of the words, but the meanings are far apart; for according to Paul the latter have the nous of Christ, but the former, if nothing worse, are speaking from a human mind". The meaning of this passage is that there is a difference between the Fathers and the philosophers, even in the use of the terms. It is also said here that the philosophers are speaking either from their human mind or else by the energy of the demons. This is the sense of "if nothing worse, they are speaking from a human mind". [ BACK ]
1. The presuppositions of the theology of St. Gregory
What we have said by way of introduction will, I think, help us to proceed to developing the topic of the presuppositions of St. Gregory's
theology. It is true that other chapters of this book which speak of the saint's ascetic way of life point to the presuppositions of his theology. But here I would like to go on to analyse another aspect, for us to see the difference between Barlaam's "theology" and the theology of St. Gregory. This aspect of the subject is necessary because today a number of theories have been brought forward about the theology of St. Gregory Palamas which distort both his teaching and the theology of the Orthodox Church, and they are creating dreadful confusion, with unexpected consequences. Finally, of course, these views also end in defamation of the saint himself. These contemporary views are analysed and opposed by Father John Romanides in an excellent study of his, which is an introduction, on the one hand, to an understanding of St. Gregory's teaching, and on the other hand, to placing his theology, which, as we have said, is a theology of the Orthodox Church, in its proper framework. I would like to underline only two such views, suggesting to the reader that he study this admirable introduction thoroughly and carefully. According to the ﬁrst view there are two patristic traditions in the history of the Orthodox Church. One is called a hellenising patristic tradition and the other a biblical and patristic tradition. Thus Barlaam is regarded as an adherent of the ﬁrst tradition, while St. Gregory is a champion of the second. The hesychastic struggles resulted in the biblical hesychastic tradition prevailing at the expense of the hellenising patristic tradition. This view is unacceptable to the orthodox side, because there is no such distinction in patristic theology. The holy Fathers were hesychasts, they lived God experientially, they puriﬁed their hearts of passions, experienced illumination of the nous and then arrived at the vision of God, Pentecost, which is the greatest moment of Revelation. Thus the
saints received the Revelation and transmitted it to the people in the terms of their time, giving a different content to these terms. As an example I will mention that the term 'ecstasy' has one meaning in the stoic and platonic philosophy and another in the Orthodox Tradition. In the former it meant the mortiﬁcation of the passible part of the soul, while in the latter it meant and still means the transformation of the passible part of the soul. So the heretics through the ages who used hellenic philosophy did not belong to any patristic tradition, but they introduced heresies which have been condemned by the Church. Anyone who reads the "Synodical of Orthodoxy" will ﬁnd out that the heretics based themselves on hellenic philosophy and therefore both they and the philosophical ideas on which they based themselves are condemned. Therefore Barlaam belonged, not to any hellenising tradition, since there is no such thing, but to the Franco-Latin theological tradition. "Our accepted church Tradition is absolutely right that Barlaam belonged to the Franco-Latin theological Tradition. Not one of Barlaam's condemned heresies is contained in the teaching of any of the so-called Hellenising Fathers of the Church. On the contrary, all of Barlaam's heresies are found at the centre of the Franco-Latin theological Tradition". According to the second contemporary theory about Barlaam's theology, this Calabrian philosopher does not express western scholastic theology, that is to say he is not a scholastic theologian, but an advocate of nominalism. This view has been expressed because Barlaam found fault with the doyen of Franco-Latin theologians, Thomas Aquinas. But this theory too fails to put things right and creates confusion for the correct understanding of Barlaam's presuppositions, and therefore of the presuppositions for understanding the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. All who maintain that Barlaam was a nominalist theologian and opponent of scholastic theology are in reality unaware that in FrancoLatin theology there are three positions about the essence and energy of
God. One extreme position was expressed by the nominalists through the well known nominalist philosopher William Occam, who removed every distinction between essence and energy in God, saying that such a distinction is only in name. The second extreme view was expressed by the Scotists through Scotus, who believed that there is a speciﬁc distinction between essence and energy, and the third was expressed by Thomas Aquinas, that there is a dynamic distinction. The point is that all three of these theories belong to the scholastic theology of the West. It may be a ﬁne distinction, but they do not cease to constitute different positions within the same scholastic theology of the West, which has been inﬂuenced by both Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy. More generally, we should say that nominalism, which was inﬂuenced by Aristotle, believed that general and abstract ideas are simple names, words, and not particular entities, as realism believed. The nominalists considered ideas only as mere names or concepts devised in the mind. Nicephoros Gregoras said that the qualities "are names rather, and nothing else", while Palamas replied: "Yes indeed they are, philosopher". Of course this must be seen from point of view that according to Plato all things that exist in the world are "images of transcendent archetypes", and these archetypes are the ideas, which are self-existent and on the basis of which the world was created. Aristotle believed in the ideas. For him, however, the ideas were not self-existent, but forms. The scholastic theology of the West accepted Plato's theory about archetypal ideas in the mind of God, while the nominalists discarded the Platonic theory of the archetypal forms. In studying Barlaam's views, as St. Gregory Palamas refutes them, we understand very well that he had Platonic ideas about the body and soul of man, about the Revelation of God, essence and energy, and so forth. In other chapters we saw Barlaam's Platonic views about the body as the prison of the soul, and about the nature of the salvation of man.
Therefore we cannot regard Barlaam at the same time as both a Platonic philosopher and a nominalist. Moreover "Barlaam even as a factor in the Renaissance could not possibly be an unalloyed Aristotelian, because Aristotle, by one of the peculiarities of history, was scorned in Renaissance times". Thus Barlaam was a scholastic theologian of the West, who, without knowing the nature of orthodox theology and orthodox practice, attempted to transfer the presuppositions of the theology of the West to the Greek way. Unfortunately, according to contemporary theologians who formulate such views about Barlaam's "theology", "paradoxically Barlaam's supposed hesychasts appear simultaneously as humanists and Platonists and nominalists, as if such a thing were possible!". William Occam, who enlivened the dispute with the pragmatists was a contemporary of Barlaam, "but it is difﬁcult for us to clarify yet how far the two movements were connected". Carefully following the whole discussion between Barlaam and St. Gregory Palamas, one understands that the former was a scholasticconjecturer philosopher of the West, and not a theologian of the Orthodox Church, while St. Gregory Palamas was a theologian who had all the essential presuppositions of the holy Fathers, which are hesychasm. After the necessary spiritual struggle St. Gregory attained the vision of God; he saw God in the light. This can be seen clearly in his writings. Detailed analyses of these subjects, which are quite subtle, cannot be made by anyone who does not have the experience. He was kindred in spirit to the holy Fathers, and that is why he interpreted them authentically, developing their teaching still further, being in the same frames of reference and the same spiritual atmosphere.
St. Philotheos Kokkinos tells us that our saint attained illumination of his nous, acquired unceasing prayer of the heart and then reached vision of the uncreated Light. The miracles which he performed still in his lifetime are proof of this. He had communion with the All-holy Mother of God, saw her herself in all her glory, saw divine visions in the uncreated Light, but also even saw the glory of God. St. Philotheos says that during a service in the Church of the Great Lavra "withdrawing his nous from hymn-singing, he usually turned it towards himself and through himself to God; and at once a divine light shone round him from above, and with the eyes of both his body and his soul illuminated by those rays, he saw clearly as if present, what was to happen many years later". Therefore the theology of St. Gregory Palamas is a theology of the Church, the Prophets, the Apostles and the saints, it is an empirical theology, a theology of the Light and the Revelation. In this frame of reference we can say that it was a Hagiorite theology. We should look at his theological positions and the way in which he expressed them from this point of view, that is to say, that he was a hesychast Hagiorite monk. So he opposes to Barlaam's conjectural and scholastic theology the empirical theology of the Orthodox Church and the Holy Mountain. With these things before our eyes we can also look at two characteristic points which we ﬁnd in his works. The ﬁrst is that he speaks of demonstrative and not dialectical syllogisms. In a letter of his to Barlaam the saint analyses thoroughly the fact that we have demonstrative syllogisms about God, since we have revelations and manifestations. God Himself reveals Himself to man and offers him His true knowledge. The dialectic syllogisms contain ignorance of what is sought, probability and conclusion on the basis of thoughts, conjectures and logical propositions.
The second refers to his characterisations of the heretics, who were antihesychasts and were ﬁghting against the revelation of the saints. At one point he writes: "Tremble, then, you unbelievers who lead others to unbelief, you blind ones eager to lead the blind...". Many times he calls Barlaam a philosopher and speaks scornfully. He uses the same tactic for the philosopher Gregoras, with whom he had a debate in the last phase of the hesychastic disputes. In one place he writes: "We have had quite enough of the false doctrines of Gregoras, and those of Barlaam and Akindynos; and having been a victim of those bad ways, we know and deplore the suffering caused by what has been written and spoken by him". And in another place he writes: "Thus also from this beginning, for those who give even a little attention to this writing of Gregoras, it is laughable and reprehensible as being utterly false". In another place he characterises Nicephoros Gregoras as a self-made theologian and a false teacher, among many other things: "Now, not heeding the Apostle who says `nobody takes honour to himself', he has been ordained by his own pen and is a self-made teacher. I think that in this teaching of his, and especially his falsehoods, and his quibblings without cause, not only against me but also against the saints, and his completely inconsistent and unsuitable loquaciousness and his swarm and cloud of blasphemies against God and his shamelessness and extraordinary arrogance and, in a word, all his mixed rubbish against us and against godliness, or rather against his own head and soul, he is now going too far". The way in which St. Gregory theologises, preaches and confutes the heretics is due to the certainty which he has about the theology that he is expressing -because he knows that his theology is Revelation- but also to the certainty about the error and impertinence of the anti-hesychasts and the fact that if they triumph, they will harm the members of the Church
of Christ. And this certainty is a fruit and result of his Hagiorite experience and life. Beyond the experience which St. Gregory had, at the same time he also possessed exceptional mental and other gifts which helped him to express this revealing experience which he gained and lived on the Holy Mountain. All the saints are spiritual fathers in that they have received the Revelation, and with it they guide their spiritual children, who are reborn into the life in Christ. But those Fathers who, through experience but also through the exceptional qualities which they had, confronted heresy and kept the orthodox teaching unharmed and unsullied, are called Fathers and Ecumenical Teachers in a special sense and meaning. St. Gregory Palamas was also one such saint. Studying the patristic texts, we can verify clearly that there are two centres of knowing in man. One is the nous, which is activated in the heart, and the other is that of the mind and reasoning which is connected with the brain. Orthodox spirituality is supported by the noetic power of the heart, while the thinking power is supported by the brain. "Thus we have the following four categories of people: 1. Those with low mental achievements, who rise to the highest level of noetic perfection. 2. Those with the highest mental achievements, who fall into a low, or even the lowest, level of noetic imperfection. 3. Those who reach both perfect mental achievements and noetic perfection. 4. Those who have poor mental qualities and achievements, and hardness of heart as well".
This grouping is a key to understanding the patristic tradition. Actually all the saints are on a high level of noetic energy, but not all have high mental achievements, that is to say they do not have the mental gifts and education to express the experience which they attain through their nous. But others have a high level of mental energy as well and can formulate what God grants to them. St. Gregory Palamas is surely one of the greatest Fathers of the Church, because he reached a high degree of noetic perfection but also had great mental gifts, whereas Barlaam and Gregoras had indisputable mental accomplishments, but they were on a low level or the lowest plane of noetic imperfection. Indeed it at this point that we ﬁnd the difference between the Hagiorite hesychast St. Gregory Palamas and the antihesychast and scholastic philosophers. [ BACK ]
2. Elements from the theology of St. Gregory Palamas
I regard it a great blessing from God that I have been granted since my student years to study and give my attention to the writings of St. Gregory Palamas. Indeed at one period of my student life I also assisted with the critical edition of the saint's works. The theology of the Hagiorite saint ﬁlled me with great enthusiasm and helped me to acquire
the orthodox background for understanding the patristic texts. I believe that the saint's analyses are analyses of the presuppositions of orthodox theology. Therefore I have been busy for more than twenty-ﬁve years with the writings of St. Gregory, and the study of related works which analyse this great personality. As a fruit of these studies I have published various articles appearing from time to time in different periodicals, and republished them in my books. These articles analyse a variety of theological topics with which St. Gregory Palamas was concerned. Of course they cannot be quoted in this book as well, because they have already been published. However it would be good to have something of the sort in order to give the fullest possible picture of the saint's teaching. And this is necessary because, as we have already explained, St. Gregory speaks, writes theologises, discusses, as a Hagiorite. Therefore it is connected with the subject of this book. So in order to avoid too much material, but also to give a bit of the saint's teaching, in what follows I prefer to present a small summary of the articles and to send the reader to look up my books and study them more fully. [ BACK ]
a) The two wisdoms
In his work "on the holy hesychasts" he makes the distinction between the two kinds of knowledge and the two wisdoms. First he uses passages from the lives of saints to show that there is godly wisdom and there is worldly or demonic wisdom. He uses the Apostle Paul's words: "However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew" (1 Cor. 2, 4-8). Human wisdom can even end in demonic wisdom. He quotes the words of James the brother of God: "This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic" (Jas. 3, 15). Thus human wisdom is often contrary to divine wisdom. And we can verify this in the way of thinking of the heretics, who, by using conjecture, rejected the revelation of God. Analysing this topic, he says that there is an enormous difference between the philosophers and the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. He says this because Barlaam maintained that the experience which the Apostles had was inferior to the revelation which the philosophers had. And this was because the saints saw God through outward symbols and their bodily senses, while the philosophers had contact with God through logic, which is a nobler element in man. He said that there is as much difference between the philosophers' vision of God and that of the Prophets as there is between reason and the external senses. However, St. Gregory demonstrated that the "theology" of the philosophers does not compare with the wisdom of the saints who saw God. If the philosophers had been superior to the Prophets and Apostles and had therefore known God, Christ would not need to have become man. In support of this view he used Basil the Great's writing in which he said that he had changed his mind about his schooling in worldly education, he had turned to the search for the real wise men and teachers of truth,
who are the ascetics, in order to attain knowledge of God. Likewise he refers to St. Gregory of Nyssa's words about philosophy being sterile and fruitless, not leading to knowledge of God, while the wisdom of the Spirit is very fertile, has many children, and leads many people from darkness to the wonderful light of God. The saint is a practical philosopher. He himself seeks and does the will of God, he has efﬁcacious words and eloquent actions. Fear is the beginning of the wisdom of God, and fear gives birth to prayer and the keeping of God's commandments. Through God's commandments man experiences reconciliation with Him, and then his fear turns to love and prayer, which offer knowledge of the mysteries of God. This is the learning of the Orthodox Church. [ BACK ]
b) Truth and Church
The truth is identiﬁed with the Church, because those who withdraw from the Church and do not receive the Revelation do not have the truth. And those who break off their link with the truth also fall away from the Church. The truth is given by revelation, to the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. Thus there is identity of experiences in both the Old and the New Testaments. And of course the Revelation is not comparable to the
philosophy and conjecture of the philosophers. We must accept this truth of the Church. Right belief is that one does not doubt the teaching of the Godbearing Fathers. By their conjectures the heretics alter the words of revelation and as a result they poison the Christians. Anyone who apostatises and breaks off his link with Christ is really faithless and godless. Furthermore, atheism is ignorance of God, and non-communion with Him. The heretics are atheists because they do not believe in God as He has been revealed to the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, and so they believe in a non-existent God. Thus all the struggles of St. Gregory are justiﬁed. [ BACK ]
c) The cure of the soul
In reality hesychasm is the method which the Orthodox Tradition has for curing man, and so its aim is the cure of the soul. All the works of St. Gregory Palamas refer to this crucial point. Man must be cured, and of course this is the basic work of the Church. By his struggles St. Gregory wished to preserve this orthodox method of healing, and in his homilies he recommended the true way of curing man. The divine Gregory was a catholic theologian, that is to say an orthodox theologian who did not overemphasise some truths at the expense of other truths of the faith. He expressed the entire truth of the Church.
This catholicity appears in the stand which he took towards heretical tendencies prevailing in his time, which were distorting the spiritual life. The ﬁrst tendency was expressed by the Messalians, early heretics who had come back to life in the time of St. Gregory. According to them, the Sacraments of the Church, holy Baptism and the Eucharist, do not have such great importance for the salvation of man. They maintained that what unites man with God is chieﬂy what is called noetic prayer. This puriﬁes the person, and it is through this, and not the sacramental life, that he attains his deiﬁcation. In addition the Messalians taught that divine Grace and Satan are to be found in the heart at the same time. In other words, the Messalians overemphasised the hesychastic life at the expense of the sacramental life of the Church. The second tendency was given expression chieﬂy by western Christianity, which basically started from the theories of St. Augustine as the Latins understood and shaped them, with conjectural theology. And in the time of St. Gregory Palamas it was expressed by the philosopher conjecturer Barlaam, with whom the great Hagiorite saint entered into dialogue. He placed great emphasis on the sacramental life of the Church at the expense of the hesychastic life. He had contempt for socalled hesychasm and what was said about noetic prayer. Therefore the greatest thing of all was our partaking of the holy Sacraments of the Church. He too spoke of prayer, but very abstractly and conjecturally. Furthermore, he emphasised that the Grace of God is created and that the vision of God is vision of created light. In general, he held in contempt and spoke sceptically about the whole hesychastic tradition of the Church, which is the basis of all the doctrines and is the common life of all the Fathers. St. Gregory Palamas fought against these two tendencies in parallel. He, like the Church, considered that any exaggeration of one tendency and overlooking of another constitutes a deviation from the orthodox life and therefore moves away from salvation. He emphasised that for man's cure
and therefore for our salvation we need the combination of these two things, that is to say the combination of sacramental and hesychastic life. A sacramental life which saves without its essential presupposition, the so-called hesychastic life, is unthinkable. And a hesychastic life without the sacramental life of the Church is unthinkable. Therefore, according to the Hagiorite saint, the cure of the soul is attained through the sacramental and hesychastic life. Without this combination it is not possible for orthodox life and orthodox theology to exist. But we must look more analytically at this teaching of the saint, because it will also show us the method by which we can be cured. In speaking of the sacramental life he analyses the two great sacraments of the Church, Baptism and Holy Communion, and their meaning for our personal life. Through Baptism Christ becomes a Father of men and through Holy Communion He becomes a mother. Thus through these two Sacraments Christ nourishes us like infants, in the way that a mother nourishes her children with her two breasts. Through Baptism we are born into a new life. This means, ﬁrst of all, that we transcend the biological life and are brought into the Church, the Body of Christ. But Baptism is closely connected with man's repentance. Thus repentance is essential, before and after holy Baptism. If after Baptism we do not live in accordance with Christ's commandments, we are like the baby who at birth has received the possibility of becoming heir to his father's fortune, but who does not inherit it when he deserts his parents. Holy Baptism leads to Holy Communion. Holy Communion gives us life. By His incarnation Christ became our brother, by revealing the sacraments He became our friend and through Communion of His Body and Blood He becomes our bridegroom. By partaking of things consecrated a person has contact with Christ. By Holy Communion we are made immortal, we become purple, or rather royal, blood and body,
and attain adoption by Grace. In order to be worthy of approaching Holy Communion, preparation is also necessary. This consists of repentance, puriﬁcation of the soul and body, and faith that what looks like bread on the Holy Table is the Body of Christ. But also after Holy Communion we need asceticism in order to preserve the divine Grace which we received with the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Gregory is not satisﬁed just to point out the value of the sacraments, nor does he only urge us to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. He goes on to the ascetic life as well, because the sacraments are very closely connected with asceticism. In speaking of asceticism he underlines many points. But we shall look at the hesychastic life. As we know, the ascetic life is purity of heart from evil thoughts, for one cannot drive thoughts away by reasoning. St. Gregory presents the Holy Mother of God as the type of hesychia and the hesychast. When she was in the holy of holies she found the suitable way of attaining communion with God and deiﬁcation. Man is made up of nous and sensation. Between the two are imagination, opinion, and mind. The latter three are very closely connected with sensation, and of course no one can reach God through the senses. This is achieved through the nous. Therefore the Virgin Mary deadened sensation, reason, opinion and imagination, activated her nous, and thus achieved her desire, she saw God and became Favoured. Of course throughout this book we have also analysed other methods of asceticism by which a man cures the passible part of his soul and keeps the commandments of God, and all these can be applied by Christians who live in the world. Man is cured by the sacramental and ascetic life. The writings of St. Gregory Palamas - the theological ones as well as his sermons - refer to man's cure. Orthodox theology either is a fruit of the cure or leads to the cure. The orthodox theologian is a physician who cures his spiritual
children, and that is why theology is closely connected and identiﬁed with spiritual fatherhood. [ BACK ]
d) The interpretation of the Scriptures
When St. Gregory attained the experience of God, he became a bearer of the tradition and therefore understood the teachings of the earlier saints. Only those who are spiritual kindred of the Fathers can understand their teaching. The wise of this world, without the experience, cannot interpret the words of the saints. The words of the saints are like a honeycomb containing hidden honey or milk, according to what spiritual age it is for. People with worldly wisdom live in the outer wrapping of the words and fail to understand them, and naturally they fail to nourish the people. Not all people can understand the Scriptures equally. Just as the sun sends its rays on all people alike but only those who have their eyes open see it, and just as only those who have good eyesight enjoy the dawn, so it is in spiritual matters as well, the saint emphasises. God sends His Grace to all people, but it is those who have receptivity who enjoy it. They are the saints, who have puriﬁed the eyesight of their minds and have acquired the nous of Christ.
The heretics use the words of the Spirit essentially against the Spirit, and this is harmful to their followers. When a mother's food is hard, to make it more digestable she chews it in her mouth before offering it to her babies. This work is done by the holy Fathers. But the mouths of the heretics are full of poison and so when the poison is chewed up with the words of life they too become deadly to those who listen to them imprudently. Therefore he advises the Christians to avoid as worse than a snake those who look at the patristic teaching from the outside, for the snake causes an untimely death to the body, while the words of the heretics cause the eternal death of the soul. Therefore interpreting the Scriptures is a matter of revelation. Just as the Apostles received the truth and wrote it down, so also the interpreters must have experience of this revealing life. To interpret the Scriptures apart from the Church is impossible, incomprehensible and harmful. After presenting these basic preconditions for interpretation, St. Gregory gives examples of orthodox interpretation in all his works. Of course the saint did not write any special treatise to analyse the subject, but we ﬁnd these elements here and there in all the sermons which he gave to his ﬂock in Thessaloniki. The way in which he analyses various hagiographic texts, parables, and the words of Christ and the holy Apostles is particularly impressive. He moves with extraordinary ease. He glides into the deepest meaning of the Scriptures and words, and he is especially creative in many ways, for example when he mentions that the Mother of God was the ﬁrst to see the risen Christ. The analyses of various topics such as Christ's Transﬁguration, His Resurrection and His Ascension, the mystery of the Cross, the divine rest, the food of Christ after the Resurrection, the Theotokos as a model of the hesychast, the Theotokos and the Risen Christ, the resurrection of the Theotokos, the parable of the man who owed ten thousand talents,
the blessedness of poverty, the Publican as a model of a hesychast, the prodigal nous, -all these show that he interprets the Bible as a great Father of the Church. [ BACK ]
e) The knowledge of God
Barlaam maintained that knowledge of God is not a matter of the vision of God, which takes place through transformation of the senses, but a fruit of man's understanding, a working out of reason. Therefore he said that the Prophets' vision of God is inferior to our own understanding. If this had prevailed, it would certainly have distorted the Church's truth concerning the knowledge of God. In various writings St. Gregory Palamas analysed the orthodox conception of the knowledge of God, and of course suggested the way for man to attain it. His writings repeatedly emphasised the truth that the vision of God is not from outside, but from inside and is essentially identical with the deiﬁcation of man. This means that through deiﬁcation man attains the vision of the Light of divinity, which is uncreated. The vision of the uncreated Light is called a deifying gift, which God gives to man according to His will. This deiﬁcation is man's union and
communion with God, it is a participation and a deifying communion. Thus the term 'deiﬁcation' is interchangeable with the terms 'communion', 'participation' and 'union'. Vision, deiﬁcation and union with God are the things which offer man true knowledge of God. In this condition man attains real knowledge of God. This knowledge is higher than knowledge through the senses and, to be more precise, it is in accordance with the senses and above the senses. The bodily eyes are altered and they see the uncreated Light, which is the brilliance of the divine nature, the glory of divinity, the beauty of the kingdom of heaven. This Light is invisible to sensation, unless the latter is altered by the Holy Spirit. Moreover the vision of the uncreated Light and the knowledge which comes from this is not only above nature and above human knowledge, but also above virtue. Virtue and remembrance of God prepare us for divine union, but it is Grace that solemnises this ineffable union. It is clear from all of St. Gregory's teaching that the vision of God, deiﬁcation, union and knowledge of God are closely interconnected. A person sees God through deiﬁcation, which is a union and offers true knowledge of God. These cannot be understood independently. To break this oneness is to take the person away from knowledge of God. Of course knowledge of God is higher than created human knowledge. Thus the basis of orthodox epistemology is illumination and the revelation of God in the puriﬁed heart of man. In conclusion we may say that the theology of St. Gregory Palamas, like the theology of the Church which it expresses, is an empirical theology. It is not a fruit of thoughts and conjectures, reﬂection and sensation, but of God's Revelation in the heart of man. That is why it is true. Thus we value the Holy Mountain, because it preserves the method by which we
attain knowledge of God and pure theology. To be sure, we also value the great worth of St. Gregory Palamas, who preserved for us all these true presuppositions of orthodox theology.
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o · 1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 · 12 13 o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
13. THE FOURTH HIERARCH AND THEOLOGIAN
1.St. Gregory and the three Hierarchs
2.The four Hierarchs and theologians in the tradition of the Church
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13. THE FOURTH HIERARCH AND THEOLOGIAN
We are familiar with the feast of the three Hierarchs, Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, the trisolar Illuminators of the Deity. We are also familiar with the ecclesiastical tradition that three saints have the title of Theologian: St. John the Theologian, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Symeon the New Theologian. In the consciousness of the Church St. Gregory Palamas is counted as a fourth, belonging with the three Hierarchs as well as with the three theologians. In texts he is characterised as a theologian. The fact that we can speak of four Hierarchs and four theologians shows the great merit of St. Gregory Palamas. [ BACK ]
1. St. Gregory and the three Hierarchs
St. Gregory Palamas has been seen in two different ways. One view is that he was a conservative theologian who preserved old interpretations of the spiritual life, supporting the illiterate hesychast fathers, and the other is that he was a theologian who introduced new doctrines and new concepts into the Church. But the truth is that St. Gregory is a traditional theologian par excellence, a bearer of the Orthodox Tradition.
Conservatism and tradition are two different things. The former conserves some patterns of the past, while the latter presents the Revelation within the forms of the past. The Tradition is dynamic. We see this clearly in all the work of St. Gregory Palamas. Gregory Akindynos characterises St. Gregory Palamas as a "new theologian" and his teaching as the "new theology". John Cyparissiotis, an opponent of St. Gregory, regarded him as "queer about religion" and "imprudent". Contrary to them, St. Gregory considers that he is not making up a new teaching, but is faithfully following the patristic tradition and praising the God of the Fathers "through the voices of the Fathers"1. St. Philotheos Kokkinos says that the Zealots of Thessaloniki did not accept him as Metropolitan, maintaining that the saint had made innovations concerning the divine doctrines. "Some people were made uncertain by the suspicion of him and the rumours spread by the impious about his supposed innovations concerning the divine doctrines". Actually this was just a pretext2. As we have shown in our analyses, St. Gregory Palamas did not introduce a new theology, but he interpreted and analysed in detail the patristic tradition and theology of the Church within his own experience. The saint was not satisﬁed just to cite patristic passages, as his opponents did, but he interpreted them within the authentic orthodox framework and with the essential orthodox presuppositions. This is just why he is a great Father and teacher of the Church. The life in the Church is a common life. This means that all who attain an illuminated nous and a vision of the glory of God in the human nature of the Word, have the same theology. It is impossible for those who attain deiﬁcation to have different opinions about Christ. Because Arius arrived at the assertion that the Word is created, he showed that he was not within the framework of the Church and the Fathers.
Our terminology changes through the ages. The deiﬁed have had the same experience, they know that the Word is "Light of Light, very God of very God", but they may have differed in terminology before the Ecumenical Councils. Yet when the deiﬁed meet at an Ecumenical Council, then, because they have the same experience, they also agree on the terminology, that is to say "they easily agree about conforming the dogmatic expression of their equivalent experiences"3. When the saints took part in Pentecost and received God’s revelation, they experienced the uncreated words and meanings which they then had to convey through created words and meanings. Pentecost has not been surpassed either as revelation or as understanding. That is to say that with the passing of time we do not have a better understanding of the Revelation, nor has that been granted to the Church at different periods of time, since it was delivered "once for all to the saints". However, the holy Fathers safeguard the living tradition, which transcends thoughts and words, using the terms of the language of their time. And they do this when a heresy leads the faithful far from the experience of the Revelation, for that is spiritual death4. Thus St. Gregory Palamas, a bearer of the same Revelation and related in spirit to the Fathers of the Church, the three Hierarchs and the three theologians, analysed and presented the very same theology of the holy Fathers, ﬁghting against the particular heresy of the anti-hesychasts, who based themselves on philosophy and conjecture. It can be maintained that St. Gregory not only analysed the patristic teaching further, but also presented the theological presuppositions of orthodox theology and the theology of the Ecumenical Councils, which, of course, we ﬁnd in the whole patristic tradition. The basic presupposition of orthodox theology is hesychasm. In all our previous writings we have emphasised to the full that the theology of St. Gregory Palamas cannot be characterised as Palamic theology, precisely because it is theology of the Church. Usually the
teaching of some heretic receives this name, just because it differs from the teaching of the Orthodox Catholic Church. For this reason we cannot speak about a theology of the Cappadocian Fathers or about Alexandrian theology as if we were speaking of a different theology of the Church. Of course it is possible and permissible to some degree for us to speak of the Cappadocian Fathers, when we mean their common birthplace and when we also want to point to their contribution to the shaping of the terminology. In other words, Athanasios the Great and Basil the Great had the same theology with regard to Revelation, but in accordance with the terms of their time they somehow used different terms for the things about which they agreed entirely. Concretely, I would say that in the thought of Athanasios the Great nature was identical with hypostasis, while in the thought of Basil the Great, which ultimately prevailed, nature was distinguished from hypostasis. Likewise Athanasios the Great could say that the Word is like the Father in everything from the point of view that there is no identity between created and uncreated. Consequently, when we say that the Logos is like the Father we are pointing out that He is uncreated. But the term ‘homoousios’ prevailed, which was used at ﬁrst by Paul of Samosata in a different perspective and with a different meaning. Therefore, from the point of view of the essence of the Orthodox Tradition there is no Alexandrian theology or Cappadocian theology or Palamite theology. All the holy Fathers attained deiﬁcation and have the same experiences. This means that there is no particular theology according to the place of its origin. He wrote very characteristically: "... All people, regardless of nationality, race and time have a nous and therefore the possibility of attaining illumination through puriﬁcation and, God permitting, deiﬁcation at its different levels. In any case these different levels of the vision of God are the highest experience in Orthodox spiritual life or theology.
Such spiritual life or theology is neither Greek nor Russian, nor Bulgarian, nor Serbian, and so forth, but prophetic, apostolic and simply Orthodox Christian. In view of this we ask, what is "Russian spirituality", and why is it presented as something higher or different from the spiritual life of other Orthodox Churches?"5. The theology of St. Gregory Palamas is the theology of the Church and of the three Hierarchs, as long as the three Hierarchs, as bearers of the Tradition, have a common life and teaching with St. Gregory, and he is a bearer of the Orthodox Tradition. We see this well when we study the texts of St. Gregory Palamas. He continually quotes excerpts from the works of the three Hierarchs and other Fathers, interpreting the authentic ones. By his interpretive skill, because of their common experience he can present them in the orthodox framework, correcting the erroneous meaning given by the heretics. The heretics always use the words and texts of the holy Fathers in order to support their own views, distorting them beforehand and adapting them to their own frames of reference. Thus the study of the works of St. Gregory Palamas also shows us, apart from other things, the way in which the heretics and the Fathers work on this crucial theme. The heretics "creep" into the texts and distort them, while the Fathers present them in their authentic dimension. The problem, then, is not whether one cites patristic passages or not, but of understanding their content. If we go back to the work of St. Gregory "on the holy hesychasts" we shall ﬁnd many passages from the three Hierarchs being used to overthrow Barlaam’s arguments and to present the orthodox teaching. It would take a great deal of time if I were to enumerate all the passages used by St. Gregory from the works of the three Hierarchs. I want simply to mention their works from which he drew the passages.
Basil the Great: from the hexaemeron, from homilies on the Psalms, from his refutation of Eunomios, from his interpretation of the Prophet Isaiah, from various homilies, from his work addressed to the youth, from the terms overall, from his work on the Holy Spirit, and from his letters. Gregory the Theologian: From almost all his homilies and letters. John Chrysostom: From his work to Theodoros, from "on the incomprehensibility of God", from the sermons on the Prophet Isaiah, on Matthew the Evangelist, on John the evangelist, from the sermons on the epistles of the Apostle Paul6. The whole work of St. Gregory Palamas can be summed up under three headings. One is the Holy Spirit, another is the distinction between essence and energy in God and the third is hesychasm - that is to say, the way of man’s cure, the way in which man attains communion with God and deiﬁcation. And these three topics had also been confronted by the three Hierarchs, because there were reasons for doing so in their time. As to the ﬁrst topic, On the Holy Spirit, no one can doubt that it was taken up by the three Hierarchs. Moreover, their works on this have been preserved. There is room for doubt on the other two. But the three Hierarchs were very much occupied with these subjects as well, because they were topical in their time. The distinction between essence and energy in God was also a serious concern of the Fathers of the fourth century. The dispute between the Fathers and the Arians about whether the Logos was created or uncreated had to do with the distinction between essence and energy. The Orthodox and the Arians were agreed that only God knows His essence, and thus he who knows the divine nature is God. The difference was that while the Arians believed that the Logos does not know the essence of the Father and therefore is created, the Orthodox Fathers said
that the Logos knows the essence of the Father, which is also His own, and therefore He is uncreated. The Eunomians said that both the Word and man know the essence of God and therefore the Word is not uncreated. Since the Orthodox and the Arians maintained that creatures cannot know the essence of God, but they know His energy, therefore the Eunomians proclaimed that the uncreated essence is the same as the uncreated energy, so anyone who knows one also knows the other7. From these things we see that the distinction between essence and energy in God was being discussed in the early Church. So the fact that God has both essence and energy is taught not only by the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers, but also by the heretics, Paul of Samosata, the Arians and the Nestorians. All these heretics maintained that God relates to created beings only by will or by energy, and not by nature. The Arians maintained that God relates to the hypostatic Logos not by nature, but by will, and therefore the Logos is created. Paul of Samosata and the Nestorians proclaimed that in Christ God united himself with man not by nature, but by His good will. In opposition to these heresies the holy Fathers taught that God the Father begets the Son and sends forth the Holy Spirit by nature and not by will. The Holy Trinity creates the creatures by will out of naught and relates to them by will. In Christ the Logos was united hypostatically with human nature8. I have made this analysis in order to make it clear that the fourth-century Fathers were concerned with the distinction between essence and energy in God. And of course this was not for conjectural reasons, but for pastoral and soteriological reasons, because the heretics were using philosophy to alter the orthodox teaching. The development of the teaching about essence and energy relates to the divinity of the Logos and the salvation of man. The passage in Basil the Great to which St. Gregory Palamas refers, that while the essence of God is incommunicable to man, he can partake of His energy, is well known. Basil the Great writes: "The energies are
varied, but the essence is simple. We say that we know our God by His energies, but we cannot hope to approach His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable"9. This passage is astonishing and shows the teaching of Basil the Great on the subject of the indivisible distinction between essence and energy in God. St. Gregory the Theologian teaches that man cannot know the essence of God. He writes: "What the nature and essence of God may be, no man has found, nor will he ever..."10. Referring to personal experience, St. Gregory the Theologian says that he has not seen the ﬁrst pure nature, but the last which reaches us and which is called majesty. It is a matter of the essence and energy of God. Gregory the Theologian writes: "...when I looked up, I scarce saw the back parts of God... and looking a little more closely, I saw, not the ﬁrst and unmingled Nature, known to Itself, to the Trinity, I mean; not That which abides within the ﬁrst veil and is hidden by the Cherubim; but only that Nature which at last even reaches to us. And that is, as far as I can learn, the Majesty..."11. And St. John Chrysostom mentions in his works that man partakes of the energy of God, while he does not know His essence. He develops these subjects chieﬂy in his excellent homilies on the incomprehensibility of God, confronting the anomalies. I shall cite only two passages. Interpreting the words of the Apostle Paul "we know in part", and referring to the heretics who say "he was speaking not about the essence but about the dispensations", he accepts the distinction between essence and energies, saying: "for if the dispensations are incomprehensible, much more is He Himself". Here St. John Chrysostom is trying to prove that the dispensations, the energies, of God, are divine and not independent of God12. Interpreting the passage of the Prophet Isaiah "I saw the Lord", he says: "Do not suppose that he saw that essence, but this condescension, and
this more indistinctly than even the upper powers; for he could not have seen as much as the Cherubim"13. But also the hesychastic way of life, that is to say the way in which man puriﬁes his heart of the passions and rises to the vision of God, has been presented also by the three Hierarchs, who are bearers of the Orthodox Tradition. I shall cite some indicative passages, because I am not going to make an exhaustive analysis of these topics in the teaching of the three Hierarchs. According to Basil the Great, the nous which is connected with the soul is a natural power of the soul and not an intrusion into the intelligent part of the soul... And just as the body’s sight is the eye, so "the sight of the soul innate in it is the nous"14. When someone has blinded this eye of the soul it is darkened, at which time we can speak of darkening of the nous and deadening of the person. "Because they had previously and of their own volition become blinded by darkening the eye of their soul, fearing to suffer as David did (Ps. 13, 3), said: "Enlighten my eyes lest I sleep unto death"15. The nous must return into the person from its diffusion and it can do this, whatever work it may be doing. The precise and true philosopher, who has his body as his work place and the safe hiding place of his soul, "even if he happens to be in the marketplace, even if he is giving a panegyric, even if in the ﬁeld, even if among crowds of people, he is sitting in his natural monastery, collected within his nous and philosophising on the things proper to him"16. The passage is well known in which Basil the Great speaks about bringing his mind back to itself and about its ascent to God. This has also been cited by St. Gregory Palamas. St. Basil says that the man whose nous is not dissipated upon extraneous things, nor diffused over the world about us through the senses, "withdraws within itself, and of its own accord ascends to the contemplation of God". Then it is illuminated from without and within by the beauty of God and "becomes
forgetful even of its own nature"17. In his works there are many places which refer to the vision of God. St. Gregory the Theologian makes a distinction between nous and word, as well as between nous and senses. He says: "How is the nous both circumscribed and unlimited, abidinging in us and yet travelling over the universe in swift motion and ﬂow? How is it both received and imparted by word, and passes through air, and enters with all things? How does it share in sense, and enshrouds itself away from sense?"18. In one homily he refers to his desire to go to the desert and stillness of soul and body, in order to concentrate his nous within himself, withdrawing it from the senses, in order to speak to God without stain and "to be a real unspotted mirror of divine things", and to be illuminated purely by the rays of the Spirit19. It is also well known that St. Gregory the Theologian speaks clearly in his works about purity of heart and the illumination of the nous, which is the cure of man’s soul, and the true presupposition of orthodox theology. Theology is not for everyone to practise, but for "those who have been examined and are proven to have vision of God and who have been previously puriﬁed in soul and body, or at the very least are being puriﬁed". Likewise it is for those whose ruling power, the nous, is not confused with vexations and erring images20. Among these things we must also examine unceasing prayer, about which he says: "Remembrance of God is more important than breathing"21, as well as his own views as mentioned in his works. St. John Chrysostom represents the same perspective. But when he speaks in a closely packed auditorium and is doing pastoral teaching, he is more social. As we study the homilies of St. John Chrysostom we see that they present two sides. The ﬁrst is that of the theologian and neptic father and the second that of one who proclaims holy things, who was speaking to the people in a simple way in order to be understood. In any case, within the simplicity of the words is hidden a great theology.
In one of his homilies Chrysostom refers to the nous, which we must purify and bind with the Grace of God. Instead, we are dragging the sovereign nous behind the irrational passions. "So you too, wrap your body in much meaner dress, but clothe your nous in royal purple and place a crown upon it and set it on a high and conspicuous chariot. For now you are doing the opposite, decking the city in various ways, but suffering the king, the nous, to be dragged bound after the brute passions. Do you not remember that you have been invited to a marriage, and indeed to God’s marriage?"22. There are also other wonderful passage in St. John Chrysostom in which he speaks of prayer, especially noetic prayer, but I do not cite them because I do not wish to prolong the subject. It was not my intention to explain the teaching of the three Hierarchs on the hesychastic life, but I wanted to present the truth that St. Gregory Palamas, in speaking both about the essence and energy of God and about the return of the nous to the heart, the puriﬁcation, illumination and deiﬁcation of man, did not create his own theology and school, but was expressing the tradition of the Church, as all the holy Fathers lived it, and at any rate also those three great illuminators of the Trisolar Divinity, Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. St. Gregory, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, presented these truths more analytically, because there was need in his time, due to the fact that the anti-hesychasts had been seized with madness, and indeed demonic madness, against these dogmatic afﬁrmations. I further believe that the whole living hesychastic tradition which St. Gregory found on the Holy Mountain helped him in the further development of these orthodox afﬁrmations with theological competence and exemplariness. This is why I consider essential the authentication of the whole teaching of St. Gregory within the Hagiorite life and practice.
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2. The four Hierarchs and theologians in the tradition of the Church
In the mind of the Church the Hagiorite saint Gregory Palamas is included with the three Hierarchs and the three theologians, making a foursome of theologians. We shall see this truth in both the iconography and the hymnography. In the Holy Monastery of the Great Lavra, in which St. Gregory lived as a monk for a time, he is placed with the three other Hierarchs in the apse of the Altar. We ﬁnd the same thing also in the Holy Monastery Vlatadon, founded in the middle of the fourteenth century by the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Dorotheos Vlatti and his brother Mark, who were disciples of St. Gregory Palamas. On the sanctuary door of this Holy Monastery St. Gregory is painted with the three Hierarchs Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. In the dome of the south chapel of the main Church of the Holy Monastery, in four spherical triangles, he is placed with the other three theologians of the Church: St. John the Theologian, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. Symeon the Theologian. Therefore in the iconography it appears that St. Gregory is characterised as the fourth Hierarch and theologian23.
But also in the hymnography he is sung with the three great Hierarchs and Illuminators of the Trisolar Divinity. St. Philotheos Kokkinos, who composed the divine service for the saint, included and gloriﬁed St. Gregory with the three Hierarchs. St. Gregory Palamas is characterised as of the same spirit and same path as the three theologians, who now are enriched also by a fourth theologian, who has the same nature and same practice as they. I shall cite a sample from the service of Vespers on the second Sunday of Lent, in which St. Gregory Palamas is celebrated. Irmos*: Pharaoh’s Charioteer Father, I beg the inspiration through Thee of the Trinity to praise in odes the accord and unison of the three theologians, and now too the words which you, blessed hierarch Gregory, have spoken in harmony with them. As theologians and wise men, orators and holy writers and three best God-bearing heralds of holy words and doctrines, you now have also
your illustrious fellow-initiator of the same name singing hymns in unison with you. Holding to the laws of friendship and the ways from above, bearing Christ in your midst, as He foretold, you now are enriched by a fourth as well, one of the same nature and ways. Let us praise in holy hymns those holy muses, voices of the Trinity, trumpets of holy theology: Basil, Gregory and John the great, with Gregory, who breathed with them the grace of the Holy Spirit"24.
The common mind of the Church recognises St. Gregory Palamas, the Hagiorite saint, as a great Father of the Church, an Ecumenical teacher, and includes him with the three Hierarchs and the three great theologians of the Church. The characterisation of theologian which has been given to him, has made him an elect member of the company of the holy
Fathers. St. Gregory is truly "an invincible champion of the theologians". But also synodically the Church has characterised him as an unerring father, teacher and theologian. The Synodal Tome of 1347 refers to this great Hagiorite saint, saying: "But also if anyone else at all is ever caught either thinking or saying or writing against the said most worthy priestmonk Gregory Palamas and the monks with him, or rather against the holy theologians and this Church, we both vote against him for these things and put him under this condemnation, whether he be of the hierarchy or the laity. We have many times proclaimed most worthy this respected priestmonk Gregory Palamas and the monks agreeing with him. They neither write nor think anything that differs from the divine words, having examined them and understood them exactly. And they champion the divine words, or rather our common devotion and tradition in all ways, as is proper, defending them as in every respect higher than what not only they but also the Church of God and the former synodal volume regard as sophistries. And we also declare them to be very safe defenders of the Church and its faith, and its champions and helpers. This synodal text highlights the three following truths which all Christians should recognise. First, St. Gregory Palamas is characterised as a simple and safe teacher of the Church. Second, the teaching of St. Gregory about the distinction of essence and energy, about man’s participation in the uncreated energy of God and about the hesychastic way of life is a teaching of the Church and a canon of godliness and life.
Third, anyone who denies and undervalues St. Gregory Palamas, as well as the hesychastic life which he lived and taught is excommunicated from the Orthodox Church. All these things show the great value of St. Gregory, but also the value of the Holy Mountain, with its hesychastic tradition, which is preserved to this day by the Hagiorite Fathers. This tradition of hesychasm is the greatest treasure of the Holy Mountain, a hope for the World and a true life for the Christians. Rejection of the Holy Mountain and the hesychastic tradition is in reality a denial of the Orthodox Tradition and a departure from the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church".
SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE o 1 2 · 3 · 4 · 5 · 6 · 7 · 8 · 9 · 10 · 11 · 12 · 13 o
© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
1. Translator's Note 2. Preface to the English edition 3. Introduction
1. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEACHING OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
For the Holy Mountain
In place of an epilogue
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A few of the Greek words in the original text have been left in the original and are listed with explanations in the glossary at the back of the book. The ﬁrst use of each of these words is marked with an asterisk. The translator is very grateful to Efﬁe Mavromichali, who has taken time from her full programme of work to check the whole translation with the original Greek. The translator is also grateful to Bishop Hierotheos and to Abbess Photini and all the sisters at the Birth of the Theotokos Monastery who have published this book, for their friendship, help and encouragement.
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Preface to the English edition
I consider it a great blessing that my work "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite" is published in English, for many reasons, but mainly because a signiﬁcant turn can be observed nowdays in the West. It is a turn towards orthodox life in its authentic expression, just as the holy Fathers lived it and formulated it, and particularly St. Gregory Palamas, who is the summation of all patristic teaching and orthodox life. The reader will see in the pages to follow the importance of the subject and the reason why I have dealt with it, a serious subject for our days as it is and why I tried to see St. Gregory Palamas within the perspective of the Holy Mountain. What should be pointed out here is that many people today are studying the orthodox life and teaching, and enter the Orthodox Church. There is indeed a great zeal for inner neptic and hesychastic life. I believe that this book will answer to this search and will be a help. The life, the conduct and the teaching of this great hagiorite Father will guide all those who come to Orthodoxy in the right and orthodox way. They will be taught authentically and genuinely the mysteries of the spirit. Apart from this I believe that the life and the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, will set out the limits and the great difference which exists between the abstract and impersonal life of
Eastern religions and the Orthodox Tradition as well as between Barlaam's scholasticism - moralism and Orthodox spiritual life. And this is important precisely because tendancies which we have already referred to prevail in the West today, such as the impersonal way of life and scholasticism together with moralism, a fact that creates a deep despair and speculation. Moreover the reading of this book will show the particular features of Byzantium, which used to be called Romania (Roman Empire) as it is preserved and kept even in our days on the Holy Mountain. Nowdays many people admire the art which developed in the Byzantium (Roman Empire) but in the ﬁnal analysis this art was the outcome of a holy life, it was the fruit of a way of life, as we can see in the life and the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. I glorify God for this new gift that He granted me. I also owe a great gratitude to Mrs. Esther Williams, who undertook this translation with zeal and love and with Rosslyn's moral support. I remember that when she saw this book in its Greek edition, she took it in her hands, kissed the icon of St. Gregory on the cover -the same one with that of the English edition- held the book and said: "I love St. Gregory Palamas very much". And this book is the fruit of this love of hers. I also thank a lot Efﬁe Mavromichali who went through the English text in combination with the Greek one, because she is an expert in the orthodox neptic and hesychastic terminology and edited this publication. Thanks are due to the Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos of the Thebes and Levadia Diocese, which undertook the publication. It would be an omission if I did not thank Fr. Nicholas Palis, priest in the Holy Church of Dormition, Aliquippa Pennsylvania for the love he has for orthodox neptic books and for his zeal in distributing this book also. I pray that St. Gregory Palamas, this great hesychast Father, who in his amazing strength and wisdom expanded on the orthodox theological frameworks of hesychasm, may become the guide of all Christians, who living in the West, they turn to the East, they seek Orthodoxy and who
most of all are led towards the "East of the East", which is Christ, as he is experienced and interpreted authentically in the Orthodox Church. Written in the bishopric, in Nafpaktos, on June 22nd 1997, Sunday of All Saints [ BACK ]
Many discerning fathers have discovered that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas is quite contemporary. Contemporary man, characterised by anthropocentrism and conjecture, should study and listen to the teaching of St. Gregory, defender of the theologians and herald of divine Grace, a man who saw God. St. Gregory is the theologian of the uncreated Light. His teaching is quite timely now, because Barlaamism is alive in many aspects of our life. Hesychasm, or the hesychastic life, which is entirely traditional and forms the backbone of Orthodox life, is being undervalued, not to say opposed. It is true that at many points we are seeing an improvement over former times, but there is still the underlying problem of anti-
hesychasm. One hears a great amount of conjecture and human dialectics. Yet I have observed that, amid so many analyses of the saint's teachings, one important aspect has not received attention: that St. Gregory was a Hagiorite and that in his teaching he expressed the life which he met on the Holy Mountain. I do not believe that the Holy Mountain is something different from the Church, and I am ﬁrmly convinced that on the Holy Mountain, as well as in every Monastery living in the Orthodox Tradition, the Church's traditional therapeutic way of life is still going on. On the Holy Mountain we see how the early Christians lived and how the apostolic Churches were organised. St. Gregory was already living the life of the Holy Mountain from his childhood, being brought up by his holy parents and in close contact with the teachers and spiritual fathers who came from the Holy Mountain. Afterwards he lived on the Holy Mountain for many years and rose to great spiritual stature. As a Hagiorite he confronted the heresy of Barlaam and Akindynos. He guided the ﬂock in Thessaloniki as a true monk of the Holy Mountain. And his death was glorious. Like many Hagiorite fathers, he had foreknowledge of the time of his soul's departure from his body. But the signs that he was recognised by God are those which we also ﬁnd in many Hagorite fathers. Therefore I believe that the subject "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite" deserves special attention. And we should notice particularly the way of life that is being preserved and cherished on the Holy Mountain. This way is the deepest essence of our tradition. This book is a fruit of about twenty-ﬁve years' study. Ever since my student days I have been reading nearly all the works of St. Gregory Palamas, as well as various books that analyse his life and teaching. I am grateful to Professor Panagiotis Christou at the theological school of the University of Thessaloniki, because it was he who introduced me to the theology of St. Gregory Palamas and guided me in the study of the
works of this great Hagiorite hesychast saint. I am grateful to him for having included me in a small group of students who, because we had attended special classes in paleography, were put to work under his personal guidance one summer in the monastery libraries on the Holy Mountain, listing and describing the existing manuscripts. Thus, apart from the fact that this professor is an outstanding patrologist, he is at the same time a great teacher who introduced us to the thought and life of the Fathers. Indeed we owe grateful thanks to this Professor for making that great personality known, for with his staff of co-workers he has devoted himself to the publication of St. Gregory's unpublished works and thereby made a great contribution to the revival of theological writings and of Orthodox life. When he turned over to me, then a third year student, the work of tracing the passages of St. Gregory the Theologian used by St. Gregory Palamas in his texts, as part of the preparation of the second volume of his collected works, I was impelled at a young age toward the study of these two great Fathers. I remember with great feeling the trials and dangers of a tempestuous sea one time when in the winter of 1966, with a theologian who is today a university professor, we went to the Holy Mountain to ﬁnd a manuscript of St. Gregory's. I regard it as a special blessing and an action symbolic for the subsequent pursuit of his life in his texts and works. I must mention further the importance and value of Professor John Romanides for the orthodox understanding of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. In his study published as an introduction to his book "Greeks and Greek Fathers of the Church" * , Vol. I, he analyses in depth the orthodox preconditions for interpreting the works of St. Gregory Palamas, and he also criticises the contemporary interpretations which have been put forward about the dialogue between St. Gregory and Barlaam.
The thirteen chapters deal with many aspects of the life and teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. We can see the saint as a hesychast, as a theologian, as a pastor, as a ﬁghter against the heresies, as a sociologist a great Hagiorite who is theologising, teaching, guiding his ﬂock, opposing the heresies. Some repetitions in the chapters were unavoidable and necessary because of the connections between topics. I feel the need to seek St. Gregory Palamas's blessing. I feel him to be my patron saint. I beg him to intercede with God for me and for all my brothers. May God grant, through the entreaties of the saint, that we may acquire this traditional way of life, which is the only path to our cure and deiﬁcation. God grant that we may follow this path and turn away from the impasse of other roads that are being opened by contemporary 'machines', which in reality are alienating and worrying man, with the direct result that the whole of society is worried.
Written in Athens 29 August 1991 on the feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist, Forerunner of the Lord and of the Monks. Archim. Hierotheos S. Vlachos back * Romanides, Fr. John: Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ecclesias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1984.
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THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TEACHING OF ST. GREGORY PALAMAS
In our days there are many editions of the works of saint Gregory Palamas, as well as many studies relating to his life and teaching. This is God's special blessing to our time. For although St. Gregory lived in the 14th century, he has a great deal to say to our time, because, as we know, the same philosophical, theological and even social currents which prevailed in his epoch also predominate in our own. The 14th century has features in common with the 20th. That is why the discussion which went on between St. Gregory Palamas and the philosophers of that time are of considerable interest now. He has much to teach contemporary man. We shall be able to establish the great importance of St. Gregory Palamas for Orthodoxy, that is for the triumph of the true faith, in monasticism and on the Holy Mountain. [ BACK ]
1. For Orthodoxy
We can see quite clearly the great signiﬁcance of his teaching for Orthodoxy on the important question of epistemology. When we say epistemology we mean the knowledge of God and, to be precise, we mean the way which we pursue in order to attain knowledge of God. The situation in St. Gregory's time was that Orthodoxy was being debased; it was becoming worldly and being changed into either pantheism or agnosticism. Pantheism believed and taught that God in his essence was to be found in all nature, and so when we look at nature we can acquire knowledge of God. Agnosticism believed and taught that it was utterly impossible for us to know God, just because He is God and man is limited, and therefore man was completely incapable of attaining a real knowledge of God. In the face of this great danger St. Gregory Palamas developed the fundamental teaching of the Church concerning the great mystery of the indivisible distinction between the essence and energy of God. We must underline that this is not the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas alone, but of the Orthodox Church, and therefore this theology cannot be called Palamism. Many fathers have referred to the distinction between essence and energy. We ﬁnd it in the Bible, in the ﬁrst Apostolic Fathers, in the Cappadocian Fathers, and especially in Basil the Great and that great dogmatic theologian of the Church, St. John of Damascus. St. Gregory Palamas, with his outstanding theological ability, developed further this already existing teaching and put forward its practical consequences and dimensions. It is very characteristic that this distinction began to be noted in discussions about the Holy Spirit. The Calabrian philosopher Barlaam maintained that we could not know just what the Holy Spirit is, especially His procession and His being sent by the Son. In the face of the danger of agnosticism St. Gregory Palamas taught that the actual procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father is a different thing from His being sent by the Son. Thus while we do not know the essence of the Holy Spirit, we do know His energy.
All spiritual life is a result and fruit of the energy of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the saint taught, we cannot participate in God's essence, but we can know and participate in His energies. As the great dogmatic theologian St. John of Damascus teaches, we can see His three unions: union in essence, of the Persons of the Holy Trinity; union in substance, in the Person of Christ between the divine and human natures; and union in energy, between God and man. In this way St. Gregory preserves the true teaching of the Church. If in the time of Athanasios the Great, men doubted the divinity of Christ, in St. Gregory's time they had doubts about God's energies. They said that His energies are created. Therefore in the dismissal hymn of the saint we sing: "Illuminator of Orthodoxy, supporter and teacher of the Church, spiritual beauty of the monastics, irrefutable champion of the theologians...". [ BACK ]
2. For Monasticism
The teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, has great signiﬁcance for monasticism as well. In the dismissal hymn referred to above, we sing: "spiritual beauty of the monastics". In his time the philosophers, led by Barlaam, doubted the value of traditional monasticism and the monks' way of life, especially that of the so-called
hesychasts*. This was due to a difference of theological assumptions. Barlaam maintained that the noblest part of man, through the help of which he can acquire knowledge of God, is reason, and that reason is the only instrument by which one can attain knowledge of God. So he came to the conclusion that the ancient Greek philosophers, who used a great deal of reasoning, attained a greater knowledge of God than the Prophets, who were looking at external things, revelations and visions. He laid great stress on the value of the philosophers as against the Prophets, the value of human thought as against the vision of the uncreated Light which the three Apostles had on Mt. Tabor. This naturally had implications for orthodox and traditional monasticism. If Barlaam's teaching was right and succeeded in prevailing in the Church, priority would be given to reason and philosophy, traditional monasticism would be disregarded and we would arrive at agnosticism. But St. Gregory showed in his teaching that the Prophets and Apostles were higher than the philosophers, that the instrument for acquiring knowledge of God is not reason, but the heart in its full biblical meaning: that God is not discovered through human reasoning, but reveals Himself in a man's heart and that the real way of knowing God is the hesychastic way, which is described in the Holy Scripture and experienced by all the saints. So he made it very clear that the monks' way of life, that is to say, the method of prayer which they were following, leads to true knowledge of God. It is characteristic that one of St. Gregory's ﬁrst writings, which is also his main work and bears the title "On the holy hesychasts" - refers to the three basic topics which were being pondered at that time. One is the great subject of education, which confronts the question of whether the philosophers are higher than the Prophets and whether philosophy is the real road to the knowledge of God. The second is the theme of noetic prayer and deals with everything connected with that, while the third is the subject of the uncreated Light. The crucial theological view is expounded that the Light which the saints see is uncreated. That is to
say, it is not a matter of creation, but of the uncreated energy of God. The basis of this writing is traditional orthodox monasticism, and so it is entitled "On the holy hesychasts". Thus we see the great importance of St. Gregory's teaching for Orthodox Monasticism. [ BACK ]
3. For the Holy Mountain
At the same time St. Gregory's teaching has great importance for the Holy Mountain. For he himself was a Hagiorite. He lived on the Holy Mountain, experienced its life and then expressed it. Through his writings he showed that the Holy Mountain is a place of life and, above all, a way of life. The Holy Mountain expresses the Orthodox Tradition, it is an expression of the life which exists in the Orthodox Church. As we shall see in what follows, St. Gregory went to the Holy Mountain as a student and lay brother, not as a teacher. He went in order to study his Orthodox tradition. Day and night he prayed to God, crying "lighten my darkness". He put himself under obedience to confessors and deiﬁed monks. He gained many experiences of the spiritual life. He attained a high degree of holiness. He kept silence for many years. And when he was required to speak, he spoke and expressed his experience. Therefore his teaching is an expression of the life of the Holy Mountain, but in a wider sense it is an expression of the life of the Church, because the Holy Mountain is not absolute or autonomous. The Holy Mountain
expresses the life of the Orthodox Church. Thus we can see its great importance. We said at the beginning that the time of St. Gregory Palamas is parallel to our own time. This is very important and we want to emphasise it particularly. In the ﬁrst place we see that men's search for God is increasing day by day. Many people are seeking to ﬁnd and possess real knowledge of God. Some, since they are not following the true way to knowing God, become discouraged and come to deny God. Others, instead of ﬁnding the true God, ﬁnd various idols of God, which they worship. Consequently idolatry is prevalent even in our time. Then we notice that even among Orthodox Christians there are two great trends. People are divided into two large categories. The ﬁrst category includes those who can rightly be called followers of Barlaam, who give priority to reason and depend mainly on man. They believe that in this way they will solve many problems, including of course the ﬁrst and principal one, which is the knowledge of God. The second category includes those who, like St. Gregory Palamas, have their heart at the centre of their spiritual life -the heart in the full sense given to the word by the Biblico-patristic Tradition. They follow the method which has been followed by all the saints of our Church. They have been counted worthy of attaining a true knowledge of God and, of course, true communion with God. Thus today there are two large streams, two ways of life. And since the Church recognises St. Gregory Palamas as a great theologian, and his teaching is the teaching of the Church, we are called to walk this path. All that follows will present the life and teaching of the saint, the true way of life and St. Gregory's theology, which in reality is the Church's
theology. When we follow the teaching of St. Gregory we shall solve many existential problems which are troubling us. [ BACK ]
In place of an epilogue
Stichera* in honour of St. Gregory Palamas What hymns of praise shall we sing in honour of the holy bishop? He is the trumpet of theology, the herald of the ﬁre of grace, the honoured vessel of the Spirit, the unshaken pillar of the Church, the great joy of the inhabited earth, the river of wisdom, the candlestick of the light, the shining star that makes glorious the whole creation. What words of song shall we weave as a garland, to crown the holy bishop? He is the champion of true devotion and the adversary of ungodliness, the fervent protector of the Faith, the great guide and teacher, the well-tuned harp of the Spirit, the golden tongue, the fountain that ﬂows with waters of healing for the faithful, Gregory the great and marvellous.
With what words shall we who dwell on earth praise the holy bishop? He is the teacher of the Church, the herald of the light of God, the initiate of the heavenly mysteries of the Trinity, the chief adornment of the monastic life, renowned alike in action and in contemplation, the glory of Thessaloniki, and now he dwells in heaven with the great and glorious martyr Demetrios, whose relics ﬂow with holy oil. Kontakion* Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology, with one accord we sing thy praises, O Gregory inspired by God. But since thou standest now in mind and spirit before the Original Mind, guide our minds to Him, O father, that we may cry to thee: Hail, preacher of grace. Exapostilarion* of St. Gregory Hail, glory of the fathers, voice of the theologians, tabernacle of inward stillness, dwelling-place of wisdom, greatest of teachers, deep ocean of the word. Hail, thou who hast practised the virtues of the active life and ascended to the height of contemplation; hail, healer of man's sickness. Hail, shrine of the Spirit; hail, father who though dead art still alive. [ BACK ]
Frontisterion: a place established for learning and practising hesychasm. See chapter 5 above footnote 25. Galata: a suburb of Constantinople. Gerondas: A title of dignity for an elder, senior monk. From 'geron', old man; the familiar Russian translation is 'staretz'. Hagiorite: One whose ascetic life is established on the Holy Mountain; from 'hagios'= 'holy', and 'oros'= 'mountain'. Mount Athos is called the Holy Mountain. Hesychia, Hesychasm, Hesychast: Hesychia means stillness. Hesychasm is the practice of stillness in the presence of God. Those who practise hesychasm are called hesychasts. Irmos: In the canon sung in Matins an irmos is a stanza setting the pattern for those following it. 'Eirmos' = 'series'. Kontakion: a liturgical hymn. 'Kontos' = 'shaft', referring to the stick around which a vellum roll was wound. Monydrion: monastic establishment; 'idrysis' = 'establishment'. Nepsis: the kind of sober-minded vigilance that characterises the ascetic life. It is usually translated as watchfulness. The adjective is NEPTIC. Nous: 'The eye of the heart'. See St. Basil the Great's explanation of it in chapter 13 above footnote 14. The adjective is NOETIC (Greek 'noeros'). Panagia: the All-holy one, the name most used for the Mother of God.
Stichiron: A stanza inserted between verses from Psalms. 'Stichoi' = 'verses'. Theotokos: the Mother of God, literally, the birth-giver of God. [ BACK ]
Aggelopoulou, Athanasios: Nikolaos Kabasilas, o Chamaetos, biographika problimata. In a volume celebrating the memory of Nicholas Cabasilas, ed. I.M. Thessalonikis. Arsenios the Cappadocian, Monastery of the Evangelist John the Theologian, Souroti, Thessaloniki, 1975. Barsanouphios and John: Answers to questions. Greek text, edited by Nicodemos the Hagiorite. Vas. Rigopoulou, Thessaloniki 1974. Basil the Great: Ascetical works. FC vol. 9, 1962. Basil the Great: Asketika. EPE vol. 8 and 9. Basil the Great: Letters. LCL vol. 1, 1926. Basil the Great: Letters. EPE 1
Christou Panagiotis: To agion oros. Epopteia, Athens 1987. Christou, Panagiotis: To mystirio tou Theou. PIPM, Thessaloniki 1983. Christou, Panagiotis: Theologika meletimata, niptika kai isychastika 3, PIPM, Thessaloniki 1975. Christou, Panagiotis, ed.: Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Greek). Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. NPNF vol. 10, reprinted 1991. Dorotheos the Monk: To Agion Oros, vol. l. Tertios, Katerini Gregory Palamas: Homilies. EPE vol. 9-11. Gregory Palamas: Letters. EPE vol. 4. Gregory Palamas: Omiliai. ed. Oikonomou. Gregory Palamas: Syggrammata, ed. Pan. Christou, vol. 1-4, Thessaloniki 1962. Gregory Palamas: The Triads. EPE vol. 2 Gregory Palamas: The Triads. SPCK, London, 1983. Isaac the Syrian: Ascetical Homilies. Holy Transﬁguration Monastery, Boston, Mass. 1984. Istoria tou Ellenikou Ethnous, vol. 9. John Climacos: The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Faber, London, 1959.
John of Damascus: Writings. FC vol. 37, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D. C., 1958 Joseph: Ekphrasis Monachikis Empeirias. Philotheos Monastery, Holy Mountain, 4th ed., 1994. Kordatos, Yannis: Ta teleutaia chronia tis Byzantinis autokratorias. Ed. D. Mpoukoumani, Athens. Lenten Triodion. ET by Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware. Faber and Faber, London 1978. Mantzarides, George: Thessaloniki, 1979. Methexis theou. ed. Orthod. Kypseli,
Nikodemos the Hagiorite: Eortodromion. Venice, 1836. Nikodemos the Hagiorite: Ermeneia eis tas 14 Epistolas tou Apost. Paulou. Vol. 1, ed. Ag. Nikodimos, Athens 1971. The Philokalia: The Complete Text. ET Vol. 4. Faber and Faber, London, 1995. Philotheos Kokkinos: Bios Grigoriou Palama. EPE 70. Paterikai Ekdoseis "Grigorios o Palamas", Thessaloniki 1984. Philotheos Kokkinos: Akolouthia tou en agiois Patros imon Grigoriou, Archiepiskopou Thessalonikis tou Palama. Athos, Peiraias 1978. Rantosavlievits, Artemios: The Mystery of Salvation according to St. Maximos the Confessor. Athens 1975 (in Greek). Romanides, Fr. John: Jesus Christ - the life of the world (Gk. phototype). Romanides, Fr. John: Keimena Dogmatikis kai Symbolikis theologias tis Orth. Katholikis Ekklisias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1972.
Romanides, Fr. John: Kritikos elenkhos ton epharmogon tis theologias, eis Kharistiria eis timin tou Mitropolitou Gerontos Khalkidonos Melitonos, PIPM, Thessaloniki, 1977. Romanides, Fr. John: Romaioi i Romioi Pateres tis Ecclesias. Pournara, Thessaloniki, 1984. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The alphabetical collection. Mowbrays, Oxford 1975. Archim. Sophrony (Sakharov): Saint Silouan the Athonite. ET. Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist. Essex, 1991. Archim. Sophrony: We shall see Him as He is. Ibid. Essex, 1988. Stogioglou, Georgiou: I en Thessaloniki Patriarchiki Moni ton Vlatadon. PIPM, Thessaloniki 1971 Symeon the New Theologian: Theological and ethical treatises. SC 122, Paris, 1966-7. Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: I Apokalipsi tou Theou, Birth of the Theotokos Manstery, 1987 (Greek). Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: Ekklisiastiko phronima. Ibid. 1990 (Greek). Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos: The illness and cure of the soul in the Orthodox tradition. Ibid. 1993. Vlachos, Archim. Hierotheos S.: Kairos tou poisai. Ibid. 1990 (Greek). Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos: Orthodox Psychotherapy. Ibid. 1994.
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