March 12, 2015

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

...continued from part two.

The Theology of Theosis

Saint Gregory Palamas, on this point, continues the work of Photios the Great. The first to become aware of the alienation of western Christendom - that it is something else, beside the Christianity of the Fathers - was Saint Photios, in his famous work "On the Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit", which until today is a source for the teachings and writings of all the Theologians on the Holy Spirit. Saint Gregory Palamas opened the road even further. With the challenges of Barlaam the Calabrian, he captured the complete alienation of western Theology. What is the essence of the teaching of Saint Gregory, who continued in the tradition of the Holy Fathers? Saint Gregory Palamas recapitulates the Holy Fathers of all ages, and he restates and re-expresses this faith with the means given to him by his era. Saint Gregory Palamas expresses the same Orthodoxy, in his own language, in his own way, yet remained faithful to the theological confession of the Fathers of the previous centuries. First he makes the distinction between the essence and energies of God, which he calls the "distinction of the divine-befitting and the unspeakable", which is the condition of theosis.

If we deny, as scholasticism does, namely the theology of the papacy, the distinction between essence and energies, then the issue of theosis stands in the margins. How are we deified? The ultimate purpose and destiny of every human being, not only Christians, is theosis. "God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 4:2). The "knowledge of the truth" is theosis, to be united with the uncreated Grace of God. There is no possibility of union with the essence of God. We unite with the uncreated Grace and energies of God, so that if this energy does not exist, or if it is created - the great blasphemy of the Filioque assumes that Grace is created, thus giving God created energies -, then salvation is impossible.

Created energy entails that it has a beginning and an end. How can something that has a beginning and an end save? The energy of the Holy Trinity has neither beginning nor end. It is without beginning and without end, like the essence of God. Therefore, if we cannot partake in the essence of God, then we partake in His energies. Grace, energy, kingdom (or reign) of God, power, kingdom (or reign) of heaven - all these imply uncreated energy, which proceeds from the Holy Trinity.

In a certain text that comes from hesychastic circles, allow me to confess my inability to determine whether or not this can be attributed to Saint Gregory Palamas (though the authorship is not important), there is clarification how the papacy in the West viewed God. They perceived God as a solar disk in heaven, but the rays do not reach the earth. This means that whether or not this sun exists is the same thing, since this sun does not warm and give life to the earth, because the rays do not reach the world. The God of Orthodoxy, of the Holy Fathers, is a sun Who sends His rays and gives life to the earth and all of creation through the Holy Spirit. Hence from underground, from a life of sin, from our fall, we hasten to ascend to the surface, that we may partake in the life-giving rays, not of the physical sun, but of the supernatural Sun, the Sun of Righteousness.

This is why the West went from Deism to the "death of God". Deism means that God is the Creator, but not the Ruler of the world (Deus creator, sed non gubernator). This implies that whether or not God exists, it is irrelevant. This is why the West is engaged with social and ethical problems. Not that we Orthodox do not either, but it is not the main priority of our faith. They deal with results, without looking for the roots, the essence. The West, therefore, came to Deism, to the death of God. In the 1950's, in America and later in Europe, the theological world spoke of "the death of God", and theology was classified as "post-death of God". What is meant by the "death of God"? It does not imply that God has Himself died. They were not interested in this, whether there is or isn't a God meant nothing to them. The death of God meant that God had nothing to do with our lives. God cannot save us. Do you understand, therefore, not only the blasphemy, but how much nonsense is behind such thoughts? Saint Gregory Palamas, speaking of the distinction between the essence and energies of God, just as Basil the Great and the other Holy Fathers did, saves Faith with the ability of contemporary people to achieve theosis.

He speaks also of the essence of the Taboric Light. In his discussions with the scholastics and with Barlaam, the issue of the Taboric Light was raised. What is this Light? Is it created or uncreated? Saint Gregory says that in Sinai, Tabor and on Pentecost we have the uncreated energies of God as uncreated Light. Heresy is what created all these problems. Barlaam the Calabrian was characterized as wise. He had studied mathematics and philosophy in Rome. He was a humanist. To understand this issue, refer to the study of my beloved brother and co-struggler, Father Theodore Zisis, Emeritus Professor in Thessaloniki, in Orthodoxos Typos. In three segments he analyzes whether or not Photios the Great was a humanist, as many philosophers want to present him. I will not deal with this any longer, because I want to finish my thoughts.

Barlaam the Calabrian came from Magna Grecia (Great Greece) in Calabria. He came to Constantinople and became a professor, receiving great honors. Indeed, he even represented Orthodoxy in one Synod at the beginning of the fourteenth century in Avignon of France, where the popes in their conflicts were exiled. Palamas immediately diagnosed the heretical way of thinking of Barlaam. To understand what it means to be a Saint and Father of the Church, a certain monk gave Saint Gregory a text written by Barlaam concerning the Holy Spirit, which was against the Filioque. Because of this, everyone believed he was at the pinnacle of Orthodox faith and tradition. As soon as Saint Gregory read a few lines, he said: "This is a heretical text." Though Barlaam presented himself as anti-papist, but the method which he followed gave off a dependence on the fall of the papacy by scholastic philosophy. His thought was based on human syllogisms and not on the revelation of God through Jesus Christ in the Old and New Testaments and the Fathers of the Church. For Barlaam, philosophy had a redemptive character, a redemptive significance, and sought more or less the philosophication of the faith. According to Barlaam, one had to be a philosopher in order to be saved. This is an "elitism" in the area of faith, in the area of soteriology. Saint Gregory replied that the God of all people wants everyone to be saved, whether literate or illiterate. We have another education in our hearts, the "education and admonition of the Lord". We do not rely on human letters. Now do you understand why I condemned all my degrees earlier, which I received by the Grace of God. But they mean nothing, even below nothing in matters of salvation. The Grace of God and the opening of the heart towards this Grace is what brings salvation, not letters, not the demonstration of knowledge. All these things can be beneficial in practical matters, such as to be a better preacher, to use a higher form of language, but most of the time these secular qualifications become the cause of our fall. Because man becomes "puffed up". A person acquires a certain swagger, when they base themselves on earthly knowledge.

Saint Gregory Palamas thus became a defender of monasticism, a monasticism of the patristic tradition, which Barlaam fought against. The West has lost authentic monasticism, just as it lost true theologizing. True theologizing passes through the ascetic reality and practice, that is, Theology is the fruit of asceticism, which exposes a person to the Grace of God. Theology is not an intellectual matter. When I was studying in the West, I learned the phrase "tavolo da lavoro" which means the work of the table or desk. This is not Theology. Theology is born within the heart of man, through the illumination of the Grace of God. Otherwise we will write good texts, but these will not lead to Theology, because they are not the fruit of the experience in the Holy Spirit.

Saint Gregory Palamas is a Theologian of Divine Grace. The Grace of God, he says, is uncreated, not created, gratia creata. Authenticity is in the deified, not in texts. This was first supported by a Theologian from Asia Minor, who became a Father of the Church in central Europe, Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, in the second century. He said that authenticity in the Church cannot be found in texts, but in the deified, the saints. This is authenticity: the Prophets, Apostles, Fathers and Mothers of all ages. They are those who attained theosis. The Theologians of the Church, therefore, are God-seers, whom the Prophets of the Old Testament called "Seers", from the Hebrew word Chozeh which means "one who beholds in a vision". Prophets are visionaries. What do they see? The uncreated Grace of God. (Our revered and beloved co-struggler, His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, has an important book on this subject titled The Seer.) Thus, Theologians are God-seers. Theologians are those who see the uncreated Light, those who reach the vision of God.

And something else. Saint Gregory Palamas, unlike Barlaam who sought the philosophication of the faith and especially emphasized philosophical knowledge as an agent in the salvation of humanity, was a hierarch of wisdom education. We are taught secular worldly wisdom education that we learn in schools, but internal wisdom education we receive from the spiritual struggle. It is this which passed into the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, on the occasion of the condemnation of John the Italian and other cheaters of the faith. The famous line says: "Those who accept Greek lessons alone for their education, and maintain these vain opinions and believe them to be true, anathema!" An "anathema" is not, as many believe, a curse. "Anathema" means separation. The anathematized do not belong to the Body of Christ, and rightly we must all cry out: "To all heretics, anathema!" Words do not save us. The problem lies in thinking that the study of physics and astrophysics can save. Human education is one thing (as defined by Gregory the Theologian in the fourth century), and salvation and our eternity is another issue. Saint Gregory Palamas distinguishes between two wisdoms, two sources of knowledge, just as all do who follow in the tradition of the Apostle Paul and the Apostle James the Brother of God all the way until Evgenios Voulgaris. It accepts that revelation can be seized. It accepts the revelation of God is the true Word of God. I will tell you something that will leave some of you sour. We usually say that the Bible, Holy Scripture, is the Word of God. The Bible is not the Word of God, but it is a record of the Revelation of God in the hearts of the Saints, Prophets and Apostles.God does not communicate with human language. God does not communicate with texts. God communicates by coming through His uncreated Light within the heart of the person who attains the receptivity of the Grace of God. Therefore the Bible in itself is not the Word of God, but it is "words about the Word of God" (Fr. John Romanides). It presumes the Revelation of its recording, the writing of the Bible. I hope I am understood on this matter. This is where Saint Gregory Palamas leads us. We continuously speak of Scripture as the Word of God, but it is "words about the Word of God." The Word of God is the manifestation of the Grace of God within the hearts of the Prophets, the Apostles and all the Saints.


Beloved brethren, the Synods of the fourteenth century record the Theology of Divine Grace. Orthodox tradition accepts these Synods as the Ninth Ecumenical Synod, and it is accepted as such in a Pan-Orthodox manner by known Theologians. This Synod, like the Eighth Ecumenical Synod of 879, radically differentiates the Orthodox Church, in its patristic continuation, from the Christianity of the West. The Theology of Saint Gregory Palamas, therefore, is a fruit of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his illumined heart by the Holy Spirit, and he is the Father of the Ninth Ecumenical Synod.

Understanding, then, the Saints, such as Saint Gregory Palamas, raises the problem of the acceptance of the language of the Saints. The language of the Saints is the expression of the Orthodox Tradition. With these thoughts I conclude and pray that Saint Gregory Palamas will accompany us in our lives. May the rest of the Arena of Great Lent be good for you and a Good Resurrection to all!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.