Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki (1296-14.11.1356)
by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
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
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.
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.
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...".
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.
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.
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.
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.