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March 10, 2015

Saint Gregory Palamas, Father of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod (1 of 3)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Metallinos

Revered fathers, beloved brethren! The commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas is concurrent with the 14th of November. The Synod of 1368, however, which proclaimed the holiness of Saint Gregory Palamas to the world due to the miracles he performed, and not because of his education nor his writings, which were of the highest standard of his time and in accordance with the holy patristic theological tradition, moved the commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas to the Second Sunday of Great Lent. It is a symbolic and decisive act, because in our day he is honored by Orthodox throughout the world as an extension and continuation of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. The victory of the Church as the Body of Christ and a society of Christ against error continues. It is not a victory of one person against other persons, nor the victory of one faction against another faction, but it is the victory of Faith. The triumph of Faith as a way of thinking, a way of life and a holy spiritual experience, that can lead man to theosis. It is thus a victory of salvation, which was introduced into history by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who was fleshless in the Old Testament and incarnate in the New Testament.

To understand the importance of Saint Gregory Palamas, who in tonight's speech we call a Father of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod, I wanted to delineate the components of this title.

The Personality of the Saint

Saint Gregory was born in Constantinople in 1296 and studied Philosophy, especially Aristotelian Philosophy, so much that when he took his exams at the age of sixteen at the University of Constantinople, the great scholar Theodore Metochites enthusiastically told him: "My child, not even Aristotle could have expressed himself in a better way."

Saint Gregory studied Theology in the Theological School of the Orthodox Church. It wasn't a state institution, because the monastery was the Theological School, the communal monastery. It was within the monastery that Saint Gregory became a Theologian, through asceticism and the spiritual life. He lived his austere ascetic life in Mount Papikion, between Macedonia and Thrace, in Mount Athos and in Beroia. Five days a week he remained isolated as an anchorite in asceticism, and the other two days he went to discuss with the monastic body his problems, that is, he participated socially in the life of the Holy Spirit with his fellow monastics.

Saint Gregory became a great Theologian of the Church, because he was in the right conditions. He was a Theologian of asceticism and repentance, not a Theologian of diplomas and theological degrees. Please allow me to say the following: I say this now at the last stage of my life, because I don't know how long God will allow me to remain in the world, as I approach seventy. I often say, no matter how many degrees we may have, God does not make us worthy by these to become Theologians. By the Grace of God, I have five university degrees, three degrees and two "doctorates", a PhD in Theology and in Philosophy-History from a foreign University. Why do I say this? In order to repeat what I often say: All these titles and degrees mean nothing, nothing and even below nothing. What I need, especially as a Cleric, is a ray of the Grace of God. I need a little bit of the Grace of God in order to respond to the requirements of my ministry and office, and to this I think all my respected colleagues in Christ who stand at the Holy Altar will agree.

With such Theology he therefore continued in the tradition of the Holy Fathers, as a Theologian par excellence of the tradition. Saint Gregory Palamas was part of a relay race of the Holy Spirit, that began with the Apostles, then the Apostolic Fathers, first Saint Ignatius of Antioch, then Saint Irenaeus, Saint Cyprian, all the way until Athanasius the Great, the Cappadocian Fathers, Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, and this relay continued with Maximus the Confessor, Photios the Great in the ninth century, and it culminated in the fourteenth century with Saint Gregory Palamas, and then with the Holy Kollyvades Fathers, the hesychasts of the eighteenth century.

On the other hand, Photios, Gregory Palamas and Mark the Evgenikos are on an even line of the delivery of this tradition, which situated the Holy Fathers, their thoughts and lives, opposite the innovations and perversions of Western Christianity. Nevertheless, Saint Gregory Palamas became a confessor of the Faith, which God allowed in order to strengthen him. He was charged as an innovator and even as a heretic. This was the crisis of the fourteenth century.

After the Penthekti Ecumumenical Synod (691/2) we have such examples within the life of the Church, from the late seventh century onwards. The Saints were seen as innovators, the Saints were seen as heretics, because they were not in agreement with a political Theology, which was widespread among Hierarchs and Theologians, who were trying to have it all go well with those in authority and power, in order to reap earthly and temporary benefits. In 1343 Saint Gregory Palamas was imprisoned in the prison of the palace, and in 1344 he was sentenced to excommunication! Synods had previously condemned Saint John Chrysostom (think about it, even the divine Chrysostom!) twice to exile, so that he would die in exile. Similar Synods condemned Saint Gregory Palamas, because he was not willing to serve the interests of those in power, whether ecclesiastical or political. This was not unusual, dear brethren, for Synods that are considered Orthodox to acquit the guilty and condemn the Saints. This phenomenon, which is a perversion of tradition, reveals the secularization of the ecclesiastical space, and it will continue as long as sin continues, along with terrible apostasy, behind the cassocks of the clergy.

Allow me to add something: Some ask, and this is not a pointless question, why the laity, who are members of the Body of Christ, do not participate in the Synods of the Church. The Holy Fathers have ordered it this way, so that neither presbyters nor laity should attend Synods. This is so that there will not ensue the discussion of why that person could attend and not me. The Bishop participates in the Synod, transferring to it the complete opinion of his flock. So when each Bishop in the Synod expresses the opinion of his local Church, then the fullness of it participates indirectly. However, we have arrived in situations, beloved brethren, where the opinions of the people are antithetical to the opinions of the presbyters and clergy in general, and these are antithetical to the opinions of the Bishops who eventually make the decisions in the Synods. This is a misfortune, which tears at us. Allow me to humbly put forward while I kneel, my pleading to the Holy Synod. May it be inspired with a Patristic wind. May there be a regeneration in our Synod, which is Patristic, Apostolic and Prophetic. And may the Synod listen to the voices of their flock, because there will come a time when the mischief that takes place daily in the streets will enter the Church. Once the planned separation of Church and State is fulfilled, then in the most negative sense, we will end up worse than the Old Calendarists. And if the Bishops, whom I completely respect, do not wisen up and stop provoking the people of God, terrible situations will arrive in the ecclesiastical space. I am not a prophet, but God has allowed me to deal with the science of history, and I predict that this is where we will end up. I will close this parenthesis.

Saint Gregory was released in 1343, and from 1347 until 1359, which is when he reposed, he was the Archbishop of Thessaloniki. In 1368, as I said, a Synod of the Patriarchate for the first time in history intervened and proclaimed his holiness. Thus they did not make him a Saint, which is a Frankish concept, as the Church does not make saints. It did this based on what was existing and demonstrable, not because of his books, but because of his miracles.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.