Saint Gregory Palamas

Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas: Extract from the Agioritic Tome

The clearest short statement of the teachings of St Gregory Palamas and the Hesychasts can be found in “The Declaration of the Holy Mountain in Defence of Those who Devoutly Practise a life of Stillness,” otherwise known as the “Hagiortic Tome.” St Gregory defended the reality of the revelation of the mysteries of the Spirit to those purified through virtue and deified by the uncreated Energies or Grace revealed in the vision of the Uncreated Light and participated in by both intellect (nous) and the senses and communicated to the body. Throughout the document we see that the true source and demonstration of the doctrinal assertions is the prophetic, mystical revelation that is actually experienced by mystical initiation. Those who have not had this experience should at least trust those who have.

The fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament showed the mysteries of that time to be concordant with what was later made manifest, so that now we believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the tri-hypostatic Godhead, one simple, non-composite, uncreated, unseen, incomprehensible nature. 

Through the practice of the life of stillness persons have devoted their undistracted attention to themselves and to God, and by transcending themselves through sincere prayer and by establishing themselves in God through their mystical and supra-intellectual union with Him they have been initiated into what surpasses the intellect.

This deifying grace of God is “uncreated” and “eternally existent, proceeding from the eternally existing God. It is a light, ungenerated and completely real, that is manifested to the saints when they become worthy of receiving it, though it does not come into being merely at that moment. St. Makarios calls it the nourishment of the bodiless, the glory of the divine nature, the beauty of the age to come, divine and celestial fire, inexpressible noetic light, foretaste and pledge of the Holy Spirit, the sanctifying oil of gladness.

If anyone believes, is persuaded by and concurs with the saints and does not “make excuses to justify sin” and if although ignorant of the manner of the mystery he does not because of his ignorance reject what is clearly proclaimed, let him not refuse to enquire and learn from those who do possess knowledge.  For he will find that there is nothing inconsistent either in the divine words and acts, especially with respect to those things that are most essential and without which nothing can stand firm, or in the sound doctrine that concerns ourselves, or in the mystery that is altogether divine.

If union with God were in accord with a natural capacity, there would not be anything miraculous in it; for then deification would truly be the work of nature, not the gift of God, and a man would be able to be and to be called a God by nature in the full sense of the word.  If deification is encompassed within the bounds of nature, it is incomprehensible how such deification can raise the person deified outside or beyond himself.

Through grace God in His entirety penetrates the saints in their entirety, and the saints in their entirety penetrate God entirely, exchanging the whole of Him for themselves, and acquiring Him alone as the reward of their ascent towards Him; for He embraces them as the soul embraces the body, enabling them to be in Him as His own members.

The intellect is neither within the body nor outside of it for it is bodiless. This does not contradict what all the saints affirm when they say that the intellect is in the body because it is united to it. For if someone says that the Logos of God once dwelt within a virginal and immaculate womb, out of ineffable divine compassion united there to our human substance, this does not contradict someone who maintains that whatever is divine is not contained within a place because it is unembodied.

Christ was transfigured, neither by the addition of something He was not, nor by a transformation into something He was not, but by the manifestation to His disciples of what He really was.  He opened their eyes so that instead of being blind they could see.  While He Himself remained the same, they could now see Him as other than He had appeared to them formerly.  For He is “the true light” (John 1:9), the beauty of divine glory, and He shone forth like the sun – though this image is imperfect, since what is uncreated cannot be imaged in creation without some diminution.

All goodness is without beginning because there is no time prior to it:  God is eternally the unique author of its being, and God is infinitely above all beings. There are some things issuing from God that are without beginning, without this in the least impairing the principle of the Triadic Unity, that alone is intrinsically without beginning, or God’s super-essential simplicity.  In the same way the intellect, which is the imperfect image of that transcendent indivisibility, is not in the least compound because of the variety of its inherent intellections.

When the intellect is freed from worldly cares, is able to act with its full vigor and it becomes capable of perceiving the ineffable goodness of God.  Then according to the measure of its own progress it communicates its joy to the body too, and this joy, which then fills both soul and body, is a true recalling of the incorruptible life.

When saintly people become happy possessors of spiritual and supernatural grace and power, they see both with the sense of sight and with the intellect that which surpasses both sense and intellect in a manner that – to use the expression of St. Gregory of Nazianzos – “God alone knows and those in whom these things are brought to pass.”

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