Praxis and Theoria

Icon of the Mother of God of Igor

Icon of the Mother of God of Igor

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

By His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Greece. From Orthodox Spirituality, translated from Greek by Efi Mavromichali, Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, Greece.

In the teachings of the Holy Fathers, the three stages of spiritual life are characterized by use of the terms "praxis" and "theoria." I think we should dwell upon this subject also, in order, on the one hand, to understand more clearly what is meant by repentance and purification of heart; and, on the other hand, to ascertain the misinterpretation of the terms "praxis" and "theoria" by contemporary individuals, I would like to begin with an analysis of the latter.

When reading texts from the Holy Fathers, many people behold these terms without being aware of their deeper meaning. They interpret them within the perspective of Western (Roman Catholic or Protestant) thought: theoria is termed as speculative, is based on theory not on practice, in other words, dealing simply with logic theoretically. Whereas praxis is the teaching and application of these intellectual concepts. Still others see theoria as the reflection on things divine, and praxis as its missionary thrust, i.e., the teaching of these rational concepts.

However, in the Patristic (teaching of the Holy Fathers) tradition other meanings are attached to the terms praxis and theoria, which shall be referred to briefly in the following passages.

Saint Gregory the Theologian says that theoria and praxis are beneficial, because theoria elevates man's nous above earthly things; it guides him to the Holy of Holies and restores him to his original nature; whereas praxis receives and serves Christ and tests love with actions. Clearly, theoria is the vision of God--the nous' restoration and return to God; praxis is whatever deeds it takes to lead to this love (agape).

In another text, Saint Gregory the Theologian, in making reference to the last and the most dreadful of the seven plagues of the Egyptians--i.e., the death of their first-born children--states that in order for a person to escape the Angel of death, he must anoint the guardians of his nous--praxis and theoria--with the Blood of Christ. Thus praxis and theoria are linked with the nous. They are nous' guardians and are cured by the Blood of Christ. And this, for certain, is our identification with the participation in Christ's crucifixion, burial, Resurrection and ascension.

Within the whole of Patristic tradition it is clear that praxis is the purification of the heart's passions and theoria is both the illumination of the nous and the vision of the uncreated glory of God. According to Saint Gregory the Theologian, praxis is the cause of theoria. According to Elias the Elder (Geronda), praxis is fasting and all-night vigil; psalm-singing and prayer; and silence which is more precious than words; also praxis is whatever is done patiently without complaint. Saint Isaac the Syrian says that theoria is the vision of the nous. It must be noted, of course, that there is no praxis independent of theoria, neither does theoria exist independently of praxis. This means that man is led to the theoria of God through purification: and when theoria ceases, then praxis begins again.

Saint Gregory Palamas (Archbishop of Thessaloniki) is more analytical on the subject of praxis and theoria. He teaches that theoria of God is nothing else but the vision of God. Therefore theoria is not speculation on what is said or what is seen, but it is the vision of God. If this is in fact theoria, then it follows that praxis is nothing less than the cleansing of the heart, and repentance, the complete hesychastic way of life, instruction on hesychia (stillness or holy silence). Thus, according to Saint Gregory Palamas, praxis is equated with hesychasm, a method of prayer (holy silence) which necessitates a stillness of the nous; the halting of the world, and the forgetting of earthly things. It is an initiation into the things from above and the putting aside all of concepts of goodness. Through praxis--sacred hesychia--"we are liberated from what is worldly and direct ourselves toward God". This is the path and manner of ascent towards God which the Most Holy Mother of God followed; she attained to theosis (deification) thus and became the Mother of the Logos/Word of God.

Praxis, therefore, is the purification of the heart; this constitutes genuine repentance, as proclaimed by Saint John the Baptist, Christ Himself and, of course, by all of His Holy Apostles, because repentance is the indispensable prerequisite for one to experience the Kingdom of God. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

(To be continued)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


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

+Father George