Posts Tagged St. Gregory Palamas

St. Nikodemus: Jesus Prayer… “it is the Duty of All Christians”

St. Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain or St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite (1749 – 1809) – was a  monk, mystic, theologian, and philosopher. His life’s work was a revival of traditional Christian practices and patristic literature. He wrote ascetic prayer literature and influenced the rediscovery of Hesychasm.  He is most famous for his work with St. Macarius of Corinth on The Philokalia.

 

St_ Nikodemos“…it is the duty of all Christians, small and great, always to practice the mental prayer Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, so that their mind and heart may acquire the habit of always uttering those holy words. Let this convince you how pleasing this is to God and what great good derives from it, since He, out of His infinite love for men, sent a heavenly Angel to tell us this, so that no one should have any doubt about it.”
From The Life of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker, by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

 

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Palamas: “Theosis, the Uncreated Thaboric Light”

St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.

 

“Since the Son of God, in his incomparable love for man, did not only unite His divine Hypostasis with our nature, by clothing Himself in a living body and a soul gifted with intelligence… but also united himself… with the human hypostases themselves, in mingling himself with each of the faithful by communion with his Holy Body, and since he becomes one single body with us (cf. Eph. 3:6), and makes us a temple of the undivided Divinity, for in the very body of Christ dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), how should he not illuminate those who commune worthily with the divine ray of His Body which is within us, lightening their souls, as He illumined the very bodies of the disciples on Mount Thabor?  For, on the day of the Transfiguration, that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies, it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by an intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within.”  ~St Gregory Palamas, from Triads I.iii.38.

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Palamas: “In Mystical Contemplation Man Sees God’s Light with the Spirit”

St. Gregory Palamas (Greek: Γρηγόριος Παλαμάς; 1296–1359) – was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the archbishop of Thessaloniki, known as a preeminent theologian of Hesychasm. The teachings embodied in his writings defending Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.

 

st_gregory_palamas“In mystical contemplation a man sees neither with the intellect nor with the body, but with the Spirit; and with full certainty he knows that he beholds supernaturally a light which surpasses all other light. But he does not know through what organ he beholds this light, nor can he analyze the nature of the organ; for the ways of the Spirit, through which he sees, are unsearchable. And this is what St Paul affirmed, when he heard things which it is not lawful for man to utter and saw things which none can behold: ‘ … whether in the body or whether out of the body, I cannot tell’ (2 Cor. l2:3) – that is, he did not know whether it was his intellect or his body which saw them. For he did not perceive these things by sensation, yet his vision was as clear as that whereby we see the objects of sense perception, and even clearer still. He saw himself carried out of himself through the mysterious sweetness of his vision; he was transported not only outside every object and thought but even outside himself.

This happy and joyful experience which seized upon Paul and caused his intellect to pass beyond all things in ecstasy, which made him turn entirely in upon himself, this experience took the form of light – a light of revelation, but such as did not reveal to him the objects of sense perception. It was a light without bounds or termination below or above or to the sides; he saw no limit whatever to the light which appeared to him and shone around him, but it was like a sun infinitely brighter and larger than the universe: and in the midst of this light he himself stood, having become nothing but eye. Such, more or less, was his vision.”  ~ St. Gregory Palamas in Triads, I.iii. 21

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Essence and Energies of God – 1

taboric light

Thaboric Light

One of my main goals in writing is to discover and bring the ancient theology and doctrines of the early charismatic Christian church to the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement.

There is a clear disconnect between the doxis of Western Latin Christianity and the praxis of the contemporary Charismatic Renewal Movement which operates in the gifts and fruit of the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Renewal Movement certainly has the basic praxis (how beliefs are practiced, embodied and realized in conduct) of the early charismatic Apostolic church, but does not have a corresponding supportive, complementary doxis (religious beliefs, worship, doctrines, and creeds) which explains and supports that praxis.

The world needs to see lives transformed, but it also needs to know why and how they have been transformed. To do this, the world must see a complementary balance of belief and action at work. But, just as vital, the world must see something else in mutual support and balance: orthodoxy and orthopraxis– that is, right belief and right action.

A key essential in an orthodoxy which supports a Renewal Movement (apostolic church) orthopraxis is an understanding of the Essence and Energies of God and the distinction between them. It is only in understanding Essence (transliterated ousía in Greek) and Energies (transliterated enérgeia in Greek) of God that we can reconcile the seeming paradox of the unknowable transcendence of God with the universal, yet very personal indwelling presence and power of God in all humankind.

Throughout this discussion, I will rely heavily on the writings of 20th century theologians including Vladimir Lossky, Christos Yannaras, and Fr. John Meyendorff. They, in turn, refer to the authority of many early Church Fathers including St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Macarius the Great (all 4th century); St. Dionysius the Aeropagite (5th century); St. Maximus the Confessor (7th century); St. Symeon the New Theologian (11th century); and last, but not least, St. Gregory Pálamas (14th century). I make all of these citations so that the reader may understand that the theology and doctrines on the Essence and Energies of God are both ancient and continuously attested to throughout the Patristic literature up to this day. These citations also make it clear that none of what you are about to read is my original work or thoughts.

To be continued…

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Essence and Energies of God – 3

Thaboric Light

Thaboric Light

Energies (ἐνέργεια; enérgeia)

In our discussion on God’s energies, I will rely heavily on the writings of the greatest expositor on the Essence and Energies of God, St. Gregory Pálamas (1296–1359).  Palamas was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece and later the Archbishop of Thessaloniki.  He is known as the preeminent theologian of Hesychasm (Greek: silence, stillness, or quietude), the ancient Christian tradition of contemplative prayer and theosis, or union with God, dating back to the 2nd century.

In the 1330s and 1340s Palamas defended the theology and doctrine of Hesychasm against Barlaam the Calabrian, a theologian trained in Western Scholastic tradition of reason and logic, who attacked the doctrines and practices of the Hesychasts, accusing them of heresy and blasphemy.

In response to Barlaam’s attacks, Palamas wrote nine treatises entitled “Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude [Hesychasts]”. The treatises are called “triads” because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.  Ultimately, Palamas prevailed and his theology was endorsed in a series of six patriarchal councils held in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351.  Barlaam was anathematized, returned to Italy, and joined the Roman Catholic Church where is views received a more sympathetic reception.

Most of what follows comes from Fr. John Meyendorff’s 1983 publication of St. Gregory Palamas’ “Triads”.

Myendorff observed that, “The distinction in God between “essence” and “energy” – that focal point of Palamite theology – is nothing but a way of saying that the transcendent God remains transcendent, as He communicates Himself to humanity.”  Unpacking this idea a bit further, he explains, “…for Palamas, this transcendent essence of God would be a philosophical abstraction if it did not possess “power”, that is, “the faculties of knowing, of prescience, of creating”.  In other words, the God of Palamas is a living God…”

“The real communion, the fellowship and – one can almost say – the familiarity with the “One Who Is” [God] is, for Palamas the very content of the Christian experience, made possible because the “One Who Is” [God] became man.”

“After the coming of Christ … God enters into immediate communion with humanity.”  So, for Palamas the Incarnation of Christ, the Logos, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is absolutely central. Indeed, true “deification” (theosis) became possible when, according to the expressions of St. Athanasius, “God became man in order that man might become God in him”.

To be continued…

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Essence and Energies of God – 5

Thaboric Light

Thaboric Light

In the context of this affirmation of God’s real manifestation of his energies to creatures, Palamas, following Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus, refers to the New Testament accounts and references to the Transfiguration of Christ on the mount (Mt. 17:1-9; Mk. 9:2-9;Lk. 9:28-36; 2 Pet. 1:17-21).  This idea of “God as Light” recurs throughout Patristic literature including the aforementioned Maximus and John, plus the likes of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and Gregory Palamas himself.

Palamas was quick to point out the difference between any other light-experience and that of the vision of God as Light that appeared to the disciples during the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor and that, in Christ, has become accessible to the members of His Body, the Church. The following quote from Palamas (Triad I, 3, 38) uses the image of the illumination of the disciples by Christ on Mount Thabor to explain how we, in Christ, can be illuminated from within.

“Since the Son of God, in his incomparable love for man, did not only unite His divine Hypostasis with our nature, by clothing Himself in a living body and a soul gifted with intelligence… but also united himself,,, with the human hypostases themselves, in mingling himself with each of the faithful by communion with his Holy Body, and since he becomes one single body with us (cf. Eph. 3:6), and makes us a temple of the undivided Divinity, for in the very body of Christ dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9), how should he not illuminate those who commune worthily with the divine ray of His Body which is within us, lightening their souls, as He illumined the very bodies of the disciples on Mount Thabor?  For, on the day of the Transfiguration that Body, source of the light of grace, was not yet united with our bodies; it illuminated from outside those who worthily approached it, and sent the illumination into the soul by an intermediary of the physical eyes; but now, since it is mingled with us and exists in us, it illuminates the soul from within.”  ~ Palamas Triad I, 3, 38

“It is precisely because Palamas understands illumination in the framework of Orthodox Christology that he insists on the uncreated character of divine light: This uncreated light is the very divinity of Christ, shining through his humanity.  If Christ is truly God, this light is authentically divine.”  (Meyendorff)

To be continued

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Essence and Energies of God – 6

Thaboric Light

Thaboric Light

The same Christological framework makes it inevitable to distinguish between the transcendent essence, or nature of God, and His energies.  Indeed, in Christ His two natures – so precisely defined at Chalcedon as both “inseparable” and “unconfused” – remain distinct.  Therefore deification of communion between divinity and humanity does not imply a confusion of essences or natures.  It remains nevertheless real communion between the Uncreated and His creature, and real deification – not by essence, but by energy.  The humanity of Christ, “enhypostasized” by the Logos, is penetrated with divine energy, and Christ’s body becomes the source of divine light and deification.  It is “theurgic”, that is, it communicates divine life to those who are “in Christ” and participate in the uncreated energies active in it.” (Meyendorff)

Theologian Christos Yannaras uses an analogy from Maximus the Confessor to further explain the distinction between essence and energies:

St. Maximus the Confessor uses as an image and an example of such communion the human voice, which being one is participated in by many, and is not swallowed up by the multitude. If by taking this example we can arbitrarily consider human reason as essence, then we can say that the voice represents the energy of the essence of reason, the possibility for us to participate in the essence of reason as the voice reveals and communicates it, to participate, all of us who hear the same voice, in the same essence of the one reason — without this communion becoming our identification with the essence of reason, and without the fragmentation of the essence in as many parts as there are participants in the reason through the voice. Reason, expressed personally, remains unified and indivisible, while at the same time, it is singularly participated by all.”  ~ From “The Distinction Between Essence and Energies and its Importance for Theology”

To be continued…

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