15 March 2009

'The Herald of Grace & Light'—St Gregory Palamas

On this day, the second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of our Father among the Saints, Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki and Wonder-worker. I am breaking with my usual ‘Menaion, not Triodion’ policy today because have a very close connection to this Saint, having lived in his city for two years, visited at least two of the places he lived on the Holy Mountain, visited the temple where he was enthroned as archbishop as well as the one dedicated to him, venerated his relics many times, and even crawled into and prayed in the cave where he lived for a time. For starters, here is the brief Life of this holy Hierarch whom the great Palamite scholar Panagiotes Chrestou, in the title of his biography, has called ‘the Herald of Grace and Light’ (Ο Κήρυξ της Χάριτος και του Φωτός: Ο άγιος Γρηγόριος ο Παλαμάς, Αρχιεπίσκοπος Θεσσαλονίκης, 2nd ed. [Kouphalia, Greece: Holy Monastery of St Gregory Palamas, 1986]), from the Prologue:

Gregory's father was an eminent official at the court of Emperor Andronicus II Palaeologus. The gifted Gregory, completing his secular studies, did not want to enter the service of the imperial court, but withdrew to the Holy Mountain and was tonsured a monk. He lived a life of asceticism in the Monastery of Vatopedi and the Great Lavra. He led the struggle against the heretic Barlaam and finally defeated him. He was consecrated as Metropolitan of Thessalonica in the year 1347. He is glorified as an ascetic, a theologian, a hierarch and a miracle-worker. The Most-holy Theotokos, St John the Theologian, St. Demetrius, St Anthony the Great, St John Chrysostom and angels of God appeared to him at different times. He governed the Church in Thessalonica for thirteen years, of which he spent one year in slavery under the Saracens in Asia. He entered peacefully into rest in the year 1360, and took up his habitation in the Kingdom of Christ. His relics repose in Thessalonica, where a beautiful church is dedicated to him.

His complete writings are many, and a great deal has been written about the man as well as his work. Last year on the Sunday of St Gregory Palamas, Felix Culpa compiled a helpful list of links—including two of his own previous posts, although he has mislinked to the second one, as well as most of the text of Metropolitan Hierotheos’s book—on St Gregory. I also highly recommend this paper by the 'other' Fr Alexander. Fr Stephen Freeman has already posted a typically eloquent appreciation of Palamite theology on his blog. There is also a good list of excerpts, mostly from the Dialogue Between an Orthodox and a Barlaamite, here at Nicene Truth. I am just going to excerpt a few things of my own here now, and hopefully more will follow tomorrow afternoon (I have already posted part of St Gregory's homily for today here): 1) a brief quote from ‘The Declaration of the Holy Mountain In Defense of the Holy Hesychasts’, written by St Gregory, 2) the decision of the hesychastic Synod of 1347, one of several councils that upheld the teaching of St Gregory as expressing the Orthodox Faith, 3) and the Exapostilarion of St Gregory, which was sung for him during the All-Night Vigil earlier this evening (or will be in Matins tomorrow for those from the Greek and Arab churches).

First, the excerpt from St Gregory’s ‘Defense’ (The Philokalia: The Complete Text, Vol. IV, trans. G.E.H. Palmer, et al. [London: Faber, 1995], p. 418):

The mysteries of the Mosaic law, once foreseen in the Spirit by the prophets alone, have now become doctrines known to all alike and openly proclaimed. Similarly the way of life according to the Gospel has its own mysteries; and these are the blessings of the age to come which are promised to the saints, and which are now disclosed prophetically to those whom the Spirit accounts worthy, but only to a limited extent and as a pledge and a foretaste.

Now the Synodal Tome of 1347 (qtd. in Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, St Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, trans. Esther Williams [Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1997], pp. 390-1):

But also if anyone else at all is ever caught either thinking or saying or writing against the said most worthy priest-monk Gregory Palamas and the monks with him, or rather against the holy theologians and this Church, we both vote against him for these things and put him under this condemnation, whether he be of the hiearchy or the laity. We have many times proclaimed most worthy this respected priestmonk Gregory Palamas and the monks agreeing with him. They neither write nor think anything that differs from the divine words, having examined them and understood them exactly. And they champion the divine words, or rather our common devotion and tradition in all ways, as is proper, defending them as in every respect higher than what not only they but also the Church of God and the former synodal volume regard as sophistries. And we also declare them to be very safe defenders of the Church and its faith, and its champions and helpers.

And here is the Exapostilarion (from The Lenten Triodion, trans. Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos [Ware] [South Canaan, PA: St Tikhon’s Seminary, 1994], p. 329):

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 practiced 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.

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