St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Holy Fathers

Beloved brothers and sister in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be. Ο Χριστός εν τω μέσω ημών! Και ην και εστι κα εσται.

+In the Name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Glory be to God, glory to Thee!


O God, Who is Great and Most High, Who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable Light, Who in wisdom has created the universe, divided between the light and darkness, and placed the sun to rule the day and the moon and the stars to govern the night; Who has deemed us sinners worthy in the hour to draw near Your Presence in confession, to offer You our adoration; let our prayer be set forth in Your sight, O Merciful Lord, as the incense, and receive it as a sweet scented savor. Grant that the present day and the coming night may be peaceful; gird us with the armor of Light; deliver us from the terror of the darkness, and from all things that walk in the night; and give to us that sleep which You give for rest for our mortal weakness, free us from all fantasies of the Devil. O Master of all the Giver of blessings, grant that, falling asleep in our beds, we may in the night remember Your All-Holy Name, and, illumined by meditation on Your precepts, may rise up with joy in our souls to glorify Your Righteousness, offering unto Your compassion prayers and supplications for our sins and those of all Your people, whom You visit through the intercessions of the Holy Theotokos.


By Fr. George Florovsky

Now, this was much more than just an 'appeal to antiquity.' Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith-always the same. The Church holds fast to what has been always believed everywhere and by all.

The true tradition is only the tradition of truth. This tradition, according to Saint Irenaeus, is grounded in, and secured by, that charisma which has been 'deposited' in the Church from the very beginning. 'Tradition' in the Church is not a continuity of human memory, or a permanence of rites and habits. It is a living tradition. Ultimately, tradition is a continuity of Divine guidance and illumination. The Church is not bound by the 'letter.' Rather, she is constantly moved forth by the 'spirit.' The same Spirit, the Spirit of truth, which 'spake through the Prophets,' which guided the Apostles, is still continuously guiding the Church, into the fuller comprehension and understanding of the Divine Truth, from glory to glory.

'Following the Holy Fathers'...This is not a reference to some abstract tradition, in formulas and propositions. It is primarily an appeal to holy witnesses. Indeed, we appeal to the Apostles, and not just to an abstract 'Apostolicity.' In the similar manner do we refer to the Fathers. The witness of the Fathers belongs, intrinsically and integrally, to the very structure of Orthodox belief. The Church is equally committed to the kerygma of the Apostles and to the dogma of the Fathers. We may quote at this point an admirable ancient hymns (probably, from the pen of St. Romanus the Melodos). 'Preserving the kerygma of the Apostles and the dogmas of the Fathers, the Church has sealed the one faith and wearing the tunic of truth she shapes rightly the brocade of heavenly theology and praises the great mystery of piety.'

The Church is 'Apostolic' indeed. But the Church is also 'Patristic.' She is intrinsically 'the Church of the Fathers.' These two 'notes' cannot be separated. Only be being 'Patristic' is the Church truly 'Apostolic.' The witness of the Fathers is much more than simply a historic feature, a voice from the past. Let us quote another hymn-from the office of the Three Hierarchs. 'By the word of knowledge you have composed the dogmas which the fishermen have established first in simple words, in knowledge by the power of the Spirit, for thus our simple piety had to acquire composition'--Τω λόγω τησ γνώσεως συνιστάται τα δόγματα, από το πριν εν λόγοις απλοίς κατεβάλλοντο αλιείς εν γνώσει δυνάμει του Πνεύματος, έδει γάρ και ούτω το απλούν ημών σέβας την σύστασιν κτήσασται.

Saint Gregory Palamas stands in an ancient tradition at this point. In His 'energies' the Unapproachable God mysteriously approaches man. And this Divine move effects encounter: πρόοδος εις τα έξω, the phrase of Saint Maximus.

Actually, the whole teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas presupposes the action of the Personal God. God moves toward man and embraces him by His own 'grace' and action, without leaving that φώς απρόσιτον, in which He eternally abides. The ultimate purpose of Saint Gregory's theological teaching was to defend the reality of Christian experience. Salvation is more than forgiveness. It is a genuine renewal of man. And this renewal is effected not by the discharge, or release of certain natural energies implied in man's own creaturely being, but by the 'energies' of God Himself, Who thereby encounters and encompasses man, and admits him into communion 'with Himself. In fact; the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas affects the whole system theology; the whole body of Christian doctrine.


The Teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas on Man
By the Holy Monastery of Theomitor, Ilioupolis
Panayiotis Christou

The anthropology of Saint Gregory Palamas is the nerve center of his theology. His entire system aims at nothing else than the description and definition of the relations among men and of each individual man's relation with God. He follows man in his striving between the worldly and the divine, the created and the uncreated, and shows the way by which he may reach the state of the uncreated. And it is just this state that becomes man since he is not only a recapitulation and an ornament of the whole creation; but also image of the Triune God for whom the uncreated Kingdom was prepared since the foundation of the world.

All physical life and existence is a created result of the Divine energy. But the fact that even man is likewise such a created result does not equate him with the other animals. In man, elements of the ultramundane were added and finally the divine uncreated breath was given.

The human body, consisting of matter, belongs to the category of material creatures. The human soul, consisting of ultramundane elements, differs from the soul of animals in that it is firstly essence and then energy; whereas the soul of animals is a simple operation which does not exist in itself but dies together with the body. As an independent essence the human soul is not dissolved with the body, but lives by itself after the separation; as a spiritual essence, even though created, it is immortal.

Saint Gregory Palamas gives a broad and dynamic character to the much discussed expression "according to the image". He finds image in the whole existence of man and refers it to the Holy Trinity. Man is a creature according to the image not vaguely of God, but concretely of the Triune God, since he has been created by the energy of the whole Trinity and may receive the divine light emitted from the whole Trinity. His intellect, reason and spirit constitute an inherent unity, a pneuma (Intellect, Reason, and Spirit). As with divinity the Nous begets the Logos (Word), and Pneuma precedes as the eros of the Nous towards the Logos, so within man, the intellect bears the reason, and the spirit projected as the eros of the intellect towards the reason. And as the Holy Spirit vivifies the world; so the human spirit vivifies the body. Thus the image is extended to the whole man, including the body. The real meaning of Saint Gregory's teaching on this point is: the capability of man to be elevated into a genuine spiritual personality, as an image and symbol of the personality of God. One could call this image microtheos rather than microcosmos. This is the natural state of man.

Moreover the first man had received another gift: the divine spirit which is not a created thing, as are the rest of man's elements, but an ineffable uncreated divine energy. The final destination of man is to be assimilated with the divine archetype and united with God in one substance, so that he may be called 'another God". Now this destination could be achieved only through that infusion of the divine spirit, by which man was clothed with the divine glory and became a participant of the divine splendor.

This is the supernatural state of man. Whether man abides near or far from God depends, as it does for the rest of the reasonable beings, in his will, which means that it is a voluntary, not a natural condition. He is receptive of contrary spiritual qualities, goodness and evil, and may turn towards either. Abiding in goodness means preservation of the divine spirit and of participation in God. Turning towards evil means moving away from God, and such a movement is equal to the death of the soul. God neither created nor caused the death of the soul and of the body. Death is the fruit of sin which was produced by the will of man.

Man received from the beginning the gift and the duty to live eternally in both soul and body. But life is worthless, except when it springs from participation in the life of God. Life to the body is granted by the human spirit and real life to the soul is granted by the divine spirit. That is why the abandonment of the soul by the vivifying divine spirit causes its spiritual death. The soul, when removed from God, only technically preserves its immortality.

The devil, having first, moved away from God, was also the first to be subjected to spiritual death. And he succeeded in seducing man to disobedience therefore to spiritual death. The death of the body is an inevitable consequence of the spiritual death of the soul, which is extended to the human spirit: the power which vivifies the body. But while this death seems natural under these conditions it is at the same time a beneficial concession of God to man, which aims at cancelling the perpetuation of evil and sin.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George