St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas

          On the second Sunday of lent Our Holy Orthodox Church honors a great man of our Faith, St. Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonica, who lived during the 14th century. Through his pious life and devotion he offered to Orthodoxy and Christianity in general the correct way of attaining and exercising spiritual life, guarded the teaching of our Faith, and exemplifies holiness and Christian morality.

          Our church praises St. Gregory Palamas with these words: “O Gregory, the luminary of Orthodoxy, Supporter and teacher of the church Beauty of the monastic life and incredible Champion of theologians: wonder-worker, The Pride of Thessalonica, Preacher of Divine Grace, - pray always unto God to save our souls.”

          St. Gregory Palamas belonged to an aristocratic family of Asia Minor which has emigrated to Constantinople at the end of the 13th century. His father, Constantine, was a senator and belonged to the immediate entourage of Emperor Andronicus II.

          Gregory, born in the year 1296, pursued his studies at the Imperial University. These secular studies, though interrupted father early, left their mark of his works.

          At the age of twenty, he decided to become a monk. According to his conception of the monastic life, the monk is not an ordinary Christian but a prophet who announced through his peculiar way of life the presence here of his Kingdom of God.

          His vocation to be a monk was cultivated from infancy by the piety of his parents, who were in daily contact with monks and entrusted their children to their spiritual direction from the time they learned to speak. St. Gregory left the secular world and entered monastic life after the death of his father. His mother and sisters entered convents in Constantinople, while his brothers went to live on Mt. Athos.

          On Mt. Athos, he consecrated himself to the spiritual and holy life to achieve purification of mind. The monks, by practicing this form of life, believe they can cleanse their soul from the dominion of death, which is the result of sin. Following the teaching of the Greek Fathers, who say that God consists of essence and energies, the Monks of Mt. Athos try through prayers, completion, and consecrating the mind through spiritual exercise and silence to see the energies of God, to be united with him and to become deified. Of course, the Monks know very well that nobody can see the essence of God. This monastic movement is known as the hesychastic movement and the person practicing it a hesychast. St. Gregory was one of them.

          The  hesycastic movement was attacked in 1339 by a Calabrite Monk names Barlaam over the fact that some of the Hesychast monks were claiming to have experienced the “uncreated light,” through which God reveals himself to those who practice this type of contemplation. Barlaam, a humanistic Christian who tried to interpret the Christian dogmas with the help of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, could not understand the meaning of the “uncreated light.” In the philosophical interpretation of Aristotle about God, God is thought of as consisting of essence and energy through continuous silent prayer and other spiritual exercises.

          According to the teaching of the Fathers, particularly St, Gregory Palamas, “Man becomes god by grace.” As a result, the life of God becomes man’s life and God’s existence his existence. Not only they themselves rejoice in the presence of God, but His presence is manifested to others through them. Thus, defication is not only an individual gift of God, but constitutes a means of manifesting Him to the world.

          We may ask, “What is the significance of the life and teachings of St. Gregory of Palamas for modern man?” His contribution is more than significant if we wish to understand life as something more than materialistic; it is the great gift of God to man. Material things are sanctified by the Grace of God and man can enjoy them as an instrument and means to bring him closer to God – not only to experience eternal life, but to become like God, to be united with him and to become god by grace.   

          Out Church invites all of us to this Divine endeavor and spiritual struggle which will offer to us peace of soul, Christian understanding, love for our fellow man and reconciliation with out Heavenly Father.     

--Text written by Metropolitan Silas of New Jersey