March 20, 2011

The Heart in the Hesychastic Treatises of St Gregory Palamas

By Monk Vartholomaeos

When one speaks about the heart, in an Eastern Christian context, one is somewhat obliged to talk about Hesychasm also. Furthermore, when one is talking about Hesychasm, St Gregory Palamas inevitably enters the equation.

The heart possesses a centrality few can claim. If one accepts that man is the centre and crown of creation,1 it would not be an exaggeration to say that the heart is at the centre of the world. If this can be applied to the material world, even more so does it appertain to the spiritual. For the heart is the meeting point between the Creator and creation, between God and man. St Augustine asks the following question. ‘Where can we find God?’, and continues in answer, ‘not on earth, for He is not here. And not in heaven, for we are no there. But in our own hearts we can find Him.’

St Gregory Palamas was a prolific writer. It was not until the second half of the previous century that his works were finally compiled and published by Professor Christou Panagiotis in Thessalonica, the city were St Gregory served as Archbishop. It is a voluminous corpus consisting of theological treatises, letters, ascetic writings, homilies, and prayers. I have chosen to focus on three of his works: the Treatises in Defence of those who Practise Holy Stillness (1338-40), commonly termed the Triads due to their structure, for they consist of three sets of triple tracts. This is, indisputably, St Gregory Palamas’s most important theological work, and another treatise To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia (1345/6), a statement of traditional Orthodox asceticism, written at Xenia’s request, and finally, for obvious reasons, one of Palamas’s briefest works, On Prayer and the Purity of Heart (1336/7).

Read the entire 19-page article here.