November 14, 2011

Saint Gregory Palamas and the Heavenly Synod

The following vision was recorded by Patriarch Philotheos Kokkinos, the biographer of Saint Gregory Palamas, and was also later repeated by Hieromonk Athanasios of Paros in his biography of Saint Gregory Palamas.

At the Great Lavra of St. Athanasios on the Holy Mountain there dwelt a perfected anchorite. Spending his time in solitude and prayer, the hesychast was neither seen nor heard by anyone, save for one or two monks. He once had a desire that God reveal unto him the state of the divine Gregory, that is, where and with whom of the elect of God is the saint to be found. After supplicating God day and night, for a long while, he beheld the following vision.

It seemed to the hesychast that he was in the capital City of Constantinople, standing inside the wonderful and huge Church of the Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia), though he never had seen the capital or the church before in his life. In the middle of the church he observed that a holy synod was in session. Among the Fathers present, he recognized the great Athanasios, Basil and Gregory, John the Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, the wise Cyril, and a multitude of holy theologians. As their discussions progressed, the aforementioned pious hesychast attempted to ascertain the subject of their discussions, but was unable to learn anything. It then appeared that the participants were then coming to the close of their talks. He finally heard all unanimously declare, "It is impossible for us to ratify or vote on the present decision without Gregory, the Hierarch of Thessaloniki".

Forthwith, a minister was dispatched to invite the hierarch to the holy synod. After a short while, the minister returned saying that it was impossible to approach and speak with the hierarch at that time, because he was standing by the King's throne, conversing privately with the King. The theologians again ordered the minister to return and tarry until the appropriate moment to speak with the hierarch. When he communicated the matter to him, he said, "It is not possible for the synod to ratify their decisions, since thy presence is lacking".

As soon as the hierarch heard these words, he betook himself to the synod. Those who caught sight of the holy Gregory approaching stood and welcomed him. He was then brought in to sit in their midst at the chief place, together with the august threesome of Sts. Basil the Great, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great. The saint then added his learned vote, sanctioning their decisions.

To the universal glory of the Church of Christ, their discussions concerned the doctrines which the holy Fathers had taught in the earlier years of Christianity. In full accord, they pronounced these doctrines to be correctly formulated. Then they confirmed that St. Gregory Palamas, inspired by the Holy Spirit, had diligently collected their writings, studied them and expounded upon them excellently, successfully combating and putting to shame newly-manifested heresies. Then, in unison and individually, they offered their admiration for a long while. At the end, they all rose from their seats and the synod was dismissed.

Now in heaven, he rejoices with the assembly of the blessed; because he was meek, he dwells in the land that the meek inherit.

(Praises of the Second Sunday of Great Lent, Tone One)

Thou standest now in worship before the throne of the all-merciful God with the theologian saints, for thou wast their equal in thy way of life, O wise Gregory, hierarch of Thessaloniki, glory of the episcopate, adorned with the dignity of the high priesthood.

(Matins Canon of the Second Sunday of Great Lent, Tone Four, by St. Gregory of Nicomendia)

From The Pillars of Orthodoxy by Holy Apostles Convent, pp. 579-581.