Our Holy Father, St. Gregory
Commemorated November 14/27, and on the Second
Sunday of Great Lent
Gregory Palamas, one of the pillars of Orthodoxy, was
born in 1296, probably to a noble Anatolian family in
Constantinople. He and his brother went to Mount Athos
in around 1318, and lived in Vatopedi and Esphigmenou
Monasteries. Gregory also successfully persuaded his
widowed mother, brothers and sisters to become take up
the monastic life. With the encroachment of the Turks,
he was forced to flee to Thessalonica, being ordained a
priest there in 1326. Afterward, he took up the
eremetic life at a mountain near Beroea, and eventually
returned to Athos in 1331.
|Icon of St. Gregory Palamas
St. Gregory lived in very difficult times, for many
heresies were creeping into the Church, and the Ottoman
Empire was ever expanding, taking over Byzantine lands. In
the early 1300's he wrote on the nature of the Holy
Spirit, showing the errors of the Latin view while living
at the hermitage of Saint Savvas on Mount Athos. He became
known as a preeminent theologian early in life, due to his
many writings and for his beliefs on hesychasm.
St. Gregory is known as one of the great defenders of
Orthodoxy and is most well known for his defense against
the heresies of Barlaam. Gregory was asked to defend the
monastic ways of the Holy Mountain from the charges of
Barlaam, a monk of Calabria. Barlaam, influenced by the
Latin church, believed that philosophy and human thought
were the way to know God. He stated the unknowability of
God in an extreme form, having been influenced by a
reductionist interpretation of the writings of St.
Dionysius the Areopagite. Orthodoxy had always known,
through the wisdom of the Holy Fathers, that prayer and
fasting are the key to knowing God. Barlaam believed that
the monks of Mount Athos were wasting their time in their
prayers and fasting when they should be studying the great
philosophers of mankind.
St. Gregory said that the Holy Fathers and the prophets
had a greater knowledge of God, because they had actually
seen or heard God Himself. He taught that modern ideas
about human thought and reason had no place in the Church.
When asked how it is possible to have knowledge of the
unknowable God, he showed the difference between knowing
God in His essence or person and knowing God in his
energies or being. It became clear that one could not find
God in the logic of this world. He taught the Orthodox
knowledge that it remains impossible to know God in His
essence or person. However, with sufficient prayer and
fasting and turning oneself over to God, through
purification of one's soul, anyone can come to know Him in
His energies and being.
The Barlaam heresies spanned many years and two phases.
Due to acts of political power struggles in
Constantinople, Gregory was imprisoned to prevent him from
speaking the Truth. As the political struggle increased,
his accusers multiplied because he would not yield to
their heresies, and he opposed the new emperor due to the
emperor's acceptance of the heresies.
When St. Gregory criticized Barlaam's rationalism, Barlaam
replied with a vicious attack on the hesychastic life of
the Athonite monks. Gregory's rebuttal was the Triads in
defense of the Holy Hesychasts (c. 1338), a brilliant work
whose teaching was affirmed by his fellow Hagiorites, who
met together in a council during 1340-1341, issuing a
statement known as the Hagioritic Tome, which supported
A synod held in Constantinople in 1341 also supported St.
Gregory's views, condemning Barlaam. Later, in 1344, the
opponents of hesychasm secured a condemnation for heresy
and excommunication for Gregory, but the saint's theology
was reaffirmed at two further synods held in
Constantinople in 1347 and 1351. Collectively, these three
synods in Constantinople are held by many Orthodox
Christians and several prominent theologians to constitute
the Ninth Ecumenical Council. Between the latter two
synods, Gregory composed the One Hundred and Fifty
Chapters, a concise exposition of his theology.
In 1347, he was consecrated Archbishop of Thessalonica,
but the political climate made it impossible for him to
take up his see until 1350. During a voyage to the
Imperial capital, he was captured by the Turks and held in
captivity for over a year. He reposed in 1359, and was
glorified by the Orthodox Church in 1368.
The second Sunday of the Great Fast is called the Sunday
of Gregory Palamas in all Orthodox Churches. A full
service was composed for his feast day, November 14/27, by
the Patriarch Philotheus in 1368. St. Gregory's holy
relics are kept in the Cathedral of Thessalonica.
Compiled from Troparia.com
God is Light
On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the
memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica.
On this day, the Holy Church speaks to us about the
mystery of light, which we must come to know, if we want
to behold the Resurrection of Christ. St. Gregory of
Thessalonica and the theological arguments of the
fourteenth century connected with his name taught that the
light of the Transfiguration is uncreated light. Refuting
the heresies of the western theologians, this teaching
reminded Christians of the words of the Scripture stating
that God is light. By confessing God the Father and God
the Son, Light from Light, true God of true God, we
believe that God the Light created another light—the
one described in the book of Genesis: ”God said, let
there be light.”
These dogmatic questions were not abstract or removed from
the life of the Church. They should not be removed from
us, either. It is wrong to look at them as simple
theological or scholarly discussions that have no relation
to our life. That would mean only one thing: that the
light about which God speaks to us—the light in
which there is no darkness—will remain unseen to us,
and we do not regret or repent that we remain in darkness.
All the problems in the Church are, in the final analysis,
bound up with the fact that certain mysteries of faith
become abstract. They cease to be living, essential
questions that decide our fate; and we lose the depth of
faith, and the fullness of our Christian calling, which we
should be realizing in the Church.
19 / 03 / 2011