Gregory, The Teacher
His unquenched thirst for God’s sweetness experienced in prayer moved the righteous Gregory to live as a hermit in a cell outside the monastery. In the year 1326, the threat of Turkish invasions forced him, along with his Athonite brothers, to retreat to Thessalonika. There he was ordained to the holy priesthood.
As a priest, Gregory did not abandon his spiritual labor and hesychasm. He spent most of the week alone in prayer. On the weekends, he celebrated divine services and preached sermons. He cared for the youth, calling them to discuss religious issues with him. Father Gregory was not concerned about abstract problems of philosophy, but about Christian faith experienced in prayer. He wanted to preach solely about problems of Christian existence, which are more attractive and meaningful to the young.
Soon, many of his spiritual sons expressed their desire to live in a monastic setting. So in the serene area of Vereia, near Thessalonika, he established a small community of monks, which he guided for five years. In 1331 the saint withdrew to Mt. Athos and lived in solitude at the Skete of St. Sabbas. In 1333 he was appointed abbot of the Esphigmenou Monastery in the northern part of the Holy Mountain. In 1336 he returned to the Skete of St. Sabbas, where he devoted himself to theological writing, continuing with this work until the end of his life.
But amidst all this, in the 1330s events took place in the life of the Eastern Church that placed St. Gregory among the most prominent teachers of Orthodox spirituality.
This is Palamas’s talking about his biggest theme: the need for the incarnate body both of men and women and Christ for the work of ‘Theosis’ (Divinization) to happen. Unlike the Roman and Protestant Churches, the Greek Church doesn’t have such an anti-body view. Palamas was defending the mystical practise of the Hesychast monks who claimed to be able to sense the Divine Light of God. They were attacked by a Catholic Monk called Barlaam for saying so. Palamas came to their defence. The result was the Triads, which was the ultimate summarisation of Hesychast and thus Greek Orthodox spirituality.
The idea is that by becoming united with Christ through the Incarnation we take on the Christ-nature; we are transfigured, like him. It’s an idea which exists in some Catholic doctrine and a few Protestant mystics… Here is the quotation..
Here is the quotation
“In his incomparable love for men, the Son of God did not merely unite his divine Hypostasis to our nature, clothing himself with a living body and an intelligent soul ‘to appear on earth and live with men’, but – O incomparable and magnificent miracle! – he unites himself to human hypostases, joining himself to each of the faithful by communion in his holy Body. For he becomes one body with us making us a temple of the whole Godhead – for in the very Body of Christ ‘the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells corporeally’.
How then would he not illuminate those who share worthily in the divine radiance of his Body within us, shining upon their soul as he once shone on the bodies of the apostles on Tabor? For as this Body, the source of the light of grace, was at that time not yet united to our body, it shone exteriorly on those who came near it worthily, transmitting light to the soul through the eyes of sense. But today, since it is united to us and dwells within us, it illumines the soul interiorly.”
– St Gregory of Palamas, ‘The Triads’
In the Orthodox Church he is a giant; in the Western Churches he is virtually unknown. This is probably because he gave the Roman Church a bloody nose after the Hesychast dispute. Plus the Western Churches don’t have any equivalent to Hesychasm.
Hesychasm means ‘Stillness’ by the way. ~ Just saying.
quotation thanks to Jake Murray.
This first paragraph of this article originally appeared in AGAIN Vol. 27 No. 1.