St. Gregory Palamas and Hesychasm
This Sunday our Church celebrates the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. He was a defender of our Orthodox faith. He is primarily known for expounding the Orthodox concept of deification. This was misunderstood and distorted by a Greek monk, Barlaam. Barlaam was well educated in the West, which considered knowledge of God a matter of intellectual reasoning. As Barlaam was perpetuating his error, St. Gregory came to the defense of the truth. He made a distinction between the unknowable Essence of God and His Energy, in Which we can participate and Which is uncreated. Through St. Gregory’s teaching we can understand the Apostle Peter’s words: “we have become partakers of the divine nature” (IIPet. 1:4).
Barlaam also misunderstood and attacked the hesychast tradition of the Church. St. Gregory again came to the rescue explaining how it assists in leading one to unite with God. So then, hesychasm is a path to the aforementioned, that is, the participation in the Uncreated energy of God, being partakers of the divine nature, which is deification. So today let us say a few words about hesychasm because by living it one obtains an entrance into the divine Life that God desires to pour out upon us.
In order to accomplish this I will refer to the “Foreword” of the book by Archimandrite Zacharias of St. John the Baptist Monastery in Essex: Hesychasm, The Bedewing Furnace of the Heart. Here the abbot of the Monastery, Archmandrite Peter writes about Hesychasm and its place in the Church as follows:
“The Lord Jesus Christ is the spiritual sun which illuminates the whole universe. In the light of His precepts, we come to know the unerring way to the Father. Through His Incarnation, He established on earth the holy Body of His Church and within her bosom He implanted monasticism as a holy root which from the first centuries of Christianity until our days has brought forth blessed fruits, our sacred and God-bearing Fathers, who have bequeathed to us the holy way of Hesychasm.
“Hesychastic prayer is the heart of the Orthodox ascetic tradition. Hesychasm is the ‘innermost body’ of the Body of the Church the ‘salt of the earth’ and the sustaining power that preserves the world.
“The essence of Hesychasm lies in the guarding of the heart from all alien influence, so that man can stand before God in ‘pure prayer’.
“In this arduous struggle, the Lord astounds the soul with the unexpected and luminous dawning of His grace in the wondrous place of the deep heart. Then it is that man is built into a temple of Divinity not made by hands, fulfilling his true destiny. By the union of mind and heart, every Christian truly finds himself in the innermost recesses of his soul and, as a God-like mind, as an immortal hypostasis, he invisibly beholds God. This contemplation enlarges the heart to embrace heaven and earth; and then the ‘true man goes out to his true work’, namely, hypostatic prayer and intercession for the whole world. Such a prayer is a sign that the image first given to man at his creation is restored in us.
“The world, the creation of our great God, is beautiful indeed; but there is nothing more marvelous than ‘the hidden man of the heart’, the true man, in the image and likeness of God.” (Hesychasm, The Bedewing Furnace of the Heart, pp.11-12)
Let us struggle then, to make this manifest within us, which is—as Archimandrite Peter continues to write—“the most desirable and sublime miracle in all creation, the union of the heart of man with the eternal Spirit of God.”