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Constantine Zalalas

The Nucleus of Orthodox Spirituality: Hesychasm vs. Scholasticism

All heresies were the result of mixing philosophy with theology. All heresies are creations of the
human mind, and that is why St. Paul is calling heresy a gangrene that spreads and takes over the body.
We don’t have anything wrong against the other religions, other than the fact that they don’t have the
truth. They have a disease and we don’t want it, it is as simple as that. As we will see in the struggles of
St. Gregory Palamas, all heresies were the result of mixing philosophy with theology. This was the great
problem with Origen, one of the most brilliant minds of the Church, great theology. But he went to far,
and mixed philosophy with theology and was condemned 300 years after his death. Plato was
condemned in the person of Origen as well. Origen came to the point of stating that the sun and moon
had nous and were noetic. Knowledge puffs up according to St. Paul. Philosophy and heresy try to
explain God’s mystery logically with the human mind. Therefore, the Church early on anathematized any
baptized Christians who accepted the theories of the philosophers as truth. The Church Fathers also
condemn this method in reaching God’s revelation.

The Apostles, prophets and the Holy Fathers first purified their heart through ascesis, through
following the commandments of God, fasting, hesychasm and transformed their passions and received
the vision of God. What we received from them is divine revelation and not their thinking. Revelation
can be formulated by reason. Reason is not totally useless, we can use it, but not to explain the truths of
God. The heretics used their human talents of great speech, they were always great speakers, trained
speakers, trained in rhetoric, intellectuality, to impress the masses. Nobody as able to face Arius, he was
a tremendous speaker. When St. Spyridon who was illiterate walked up with a brick, the miracle
happened. The Arians were defeated when the brick dissolved into fire, water and clay, proving that
God is Triune. After the schism, the West split away and began to develop a scholastic theology from the
11th to the 14th century. This theology was the precursor of humanism and atheism in Europe. They
began to harmonize theology and philosophy. Christian truth as physical and metaphysical. We don’t
have anything metaphysical in Orthodox Christianity. In our theology we have created and uncreated.
We live Paradise here on earth. We begin to taste Paradise from this life, having the kingdom of God
inside of us from this life- We transform ourselves in this life.

St. Symeon the New Theologian said, “If we don’t see Christ in this life, we will not see Him in
the other life,” does not mean to see Him face to face. But if we don’t feel the Grace of the Holy Spirit
and don’t exercise the method of hesychasm; this method of purification, illumination and theosis. If we
don’t practice these things, we can’t expect to be purified and be healed to be admitted to the Kingdom
of God. Hell is not the absence of God. Christ is hell, for those who do not have any Christianity, without
any part of Christ in them. They will be looking at Christ as fire burning them. But those who are healed,
they will be basking in the uncreated light of God. This theology of metaphysics has caused great harm
in the world generally and in the world of Christianity. We are buying into this type of theological
calisthenics and academics because we are easily impressed sometimes by the human knowledge of
people. In the arrogance of the scholastic theologians, they began to theorize that intellectual theology,
academic theology, is far more advanced than the theology of the Church Fathers. They thought they
had reinvented the wheel and began to teach and accept that their theology is higher than the method
of the Church Fathers which is hesychasm. The result after a couple hundred years was atheism in
Constantine Zalalas

Europe. They excluded the ascetic element that is hesychasm. Here we have the great battles of St.
Gregory Palamas when these arrogant Western scholars began to do missionary work and enslave the
country of Greece, they came over with financed and began to illumine the people. This formidable
thinker of the West, Barlaam, was of a humanistic spirit. He was teaching the monks of Athos that God
has a unified truth, meaning that God ahs given His truth to the philosophers of ancient Greece, to the
Prophets of the Old Testament and the Apostles. The same truth, without any difference in the truth of
the philosophers and the truth of the Christians. St. Gregory Palamas who loved hesychasm came out to
fight this heresy. He saw that the theology of the Orthodox was in danger of being secularized. When
medicine is watered down to the point of no longer being medicine it no longer helps. The monks like St.
Anthony, left their hesychasm to fight heresy because it is a great danger. Not so much to the Church,
but to the weak Christians who will fall prey to the delusion of Satan.

St. Gregory fought this heresy with all his might. He maintained that God’s revelation only can
be revealed and attained by man’s purified heart and nous. The nous is a part of the soul. In man we
have body and soul: a psychosomatic being. The soul has the energy which is the nous. The nous,
according the Fathers, is the energy of the soul. It is the purest part of the soul. St. John of Damascus
says that just like the eye is the body, so is the nous to the soul. The nous is the organ we need to work
very hard when we pray. St. Basil says that it often happens that when we pray the brain is saying the
prayer while the nous travels. This is our dilemma, because our nous has become sick. The natural state
of the nous is to be in the heart, to enter the essence of the soul, to stay in the heart. Prayer raises the
power of the soul to God. So, unless you are praying, and you are in the Divine Liturgy, and your nous
never goes astray, unless you can do that, or you have reached that level, we are sick spiritually. And this
is the struggle, our calling, to bring the nous from its journeys out there back into the heart. This is
hesychasm. This is what the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Anthony, Prophet Moses and Elijah did. Christ
would leave and go to the mountains to pray at nighttime all though out the night, this is hesychasm.
Monasticism is nothing new. It is new because we have a sickened nous, because we have suffered this
Babylonian captivity of our theology in the last couple hundred years. This is the nucleus of Orthodox
spirituality.