The Light for the World, the Life of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

[Second Sunday of Holy and Great Lent]

Knowledge of God According to Saint Gregory Palamas

"The vision of God, deification, union and knowledge of God are closely bound together. They cannot be understood apart from one another. Breaking this unity takes man further away from knowledge of God. The basis of Orthodox epistemology is illumination and God's revelation within the purified heart of man."

Taken from the book "Orthodox Psychotherapy" by His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

When a person rises from bodily knowledge to the soul's knowledge and from that to spiritual knowledge, then he sees God and possesses knowledge of God, which is his salvation. Knowledge of God, as will be explained further on, is not intellectual, but existential. That is, one's whole being is filled with the knowledge of God. But in order to attain it, one's heart must have been purified, that is, the soul, nous (intellect) and heart must have been healed, "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall seen God" (St. Matthew 5:8).

Let us look at things more analytically.

As I have indicated, Barlaam insisted that knowledge of God depends not on vision of God but on one's understanding. He said that we can acquire knowledge of God through philosophy, and therefore he considered the prophets and apostles who saw the Uncreated Light to be below the philosophers. He called the Uncreated Light sensory, created, and "inferior to our understanding." However, Saint Gregory Palamas, a bearer of the Tradition and a man of revelation, supported the opposite view. In his theology he presented the teaching of the Church that Uncreated Light, that is the vision of God, is not simply a symbolic vision, nor sensory and created, nor inferior to understanding, but it is deification (theosis). Through deification (theosis) man is deemed worthy of seeing God. And this deification (theosis) is not an abstract state, but a union of man with God. That is to say, the man who beholds the Uncreated Light sees it because he is united with God. He sees it with his inner eyes, and also with his bodily eyes, which, however, have been altered by God's vision. Consequently theoria (vision of God) is union with God. And this union is knowledge of God. At this time one is granted knowledge of God, which is above human knowledge and above the senses.

Saint Gregory explains this whole theology in places throughout his writings. But since it is not our intention in this chapter to make a systematic exposition of his whole teaching about the knowledge of God, we shall limit ourselves to analyzing the central point in it as it is presented in his basic work "On the Holy Hesychasts," known as the Triads. Again we must add that we shall not present the whole teaching as it is set out in that book, but only the central points. After each quotation we shall give the reference.

Here is a characteristic passage in which he briefly presents this teaching: "One who has cleared his soul of all connection with things of this world, who has declared himself from everything by keeping the commandments and by the dispassion that this brings, and who has passed beyond all cognitive activity through continuous, sincere and immaterial prayer, and who has been abundantly illuminated by the inaccessible light in an inconceivable union, he alone, becoming light, contemplating by the light and beholding the light, in the vision and enjoyment of this light recognizes truly that God is transcendently radiant and beyond comprehension; he glorifies God not only beyond his nous' human power of understanding, for many created things are beyond that, but even beyond that marvelous union which is the only means by which the nous is united with what is beyond intelligible things, "imitating divinely the supra-celestial minds."

We find the central teaching of Saint Gregory in this passage. In order to attain vision of the Uncreated Light, a person must cut off every connection between the soul and what is below. Detach himself from everything by keeping Christ's Commandments and through the dispassion which comes from that, he must transcend all cognitive activity "through continuous and sincere and immaterial prayer." Therefore he must have been healed already, through keeping Christ's Commandments and through freeing his soul from all sinful connection with created things. He is illuminated by the inaccessible light "abundantly through an inconceivable union." He sees God through union. Thus he becomes light and sees by the light. Seeing the Uncreated Light, he recognizes God and acquires knowledge of Him, because now "he recognizes truly that God is above nature and beyond comprehension."

Saint Gregory also develops this teaching at other places in the Triads.

The vision of God, theoria of the Uncreated Light, is not a sensory vision but a deification (theosis) of man. Speaking of Moses' vision of God "face-to-face and not in enigmas", he recalls the passage in Saint Maximus the Confessor that says: "Deification (theosis) is an en-hypostatic and direct illumination which has no beginning but appears in those worthy as something exceeding their comprehension. It is indeed a mystical union with God, beyond nous and reason in the age when creatures will no longer know corruption". So the vision of the Uncreated Light is man's deification (theosis). He sees God through deification (theosis) and through cultivating intelligence. The vision of Uncreated Light is called a deifying gift. It is not a gift of created human nature, but of the Holy Spirit. "Thus the deifying gift of the Spirit is a mysterious light which transforms into light those who receive its wealth. He not only fills them with eternal light but also grants them knowledge and life appropriate to God." Thus the vision of God is not external but comes through deification (theosis)…"

"...So the purification which takes place by the grace of God creates the necessary preconditions for attaining that theoria which is communion with God, deification of man, and knowledge of God. The ascetic method of church leads to this point. It is not based on human criteria and it does not aim to make the person 'nice and good', but to heal him perfectly and for him to achieve communion with God. As long as a man is far from communion and union with God, he has not yet attained his salvation. The spiritually trained person who sees the Uncreated Light is said, in the language of the Holy Fathers, to be "deified". This expression is used by Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, Saint John of Damascus, and repeatedly, as we have seen, by Saint Gregory Palamas.

The healing of the soul, nous, and heart leads a person to the vision of God and makes him know the divine life. This knowledge is man's salvation.

We must pray fervently for god to grant us to reach this knowledge of God. The exhortation is


"Come, let us ascend into the mountain of the Lord, even to the house of our God, and behold the glory of His transfiguration, glory of the Only-begotten of the Father. Let us receive light from His Light, and with uplifted spirits let us forever sing the praises of the consubstantial Trinity."


"You were transfigured upon the mountain, O Christ our God, showing to Your disciples Your glory as much as they could bear. Do also in us, sinners though we be, shine Your everlasting Light, at the intercession of the Theotokos, O Giver of light. Glory to You."

[Source: Saint Gregory Palamas Greek Orthodox Monastery]



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.


Glory Be To GOD For All Things!


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

+Father George