Second Sunday of Great Lent: St. Gregory Palamas
St. Gregory Palamas Archbishop of Thessalonica
Prepared by Michelle Ibrahim
The Second Sunday of Lent is dedicated to one of the pillars of Orthodoxy, St Gregory Palamas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Thessalonica. He is commemorated on this Sunday as a second “Triumph of Orthodoxy” since he upheld the Orthodox faith against heresies. St Gregory, born in 1296, is known as one of the great defender of Orthodoxy and is mostly remembered for his defense on the “Hesychasm” (from the Greek “hesychia” meaning stillness, silence) of monks and the Orthodox understanding of prayer.
On a trip visiting monasteries in the year 1330, Barlaam, a learned monk from Calabria, was scandalized by the practice of the prayer of the heart (the Jesus prayer). Upon seeing this, he shared his belief that unceasing prayer is intellectual and that it is nothing more than the conscious realization that nothing can be done without God. In other words, Barlaam believed that seeing God and union with God were impossible in this life while the monks were stating the opposite.
In response to Barlaam, St Gregory, who was very well educated and who had a rigorous asceticism, explained that not only is it possible to see God in this life but man can cultivate an active communion with God through unceasing prayer. To support his argument, St Gregory used the distinction between God’s essence and energy—His essence is what makes Him God and His energy is what He reveals to us. St Gregory used the example of the light the apostles saw on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration as an example of God’s uncreated energy revealed in form of light. Though it remains impossible to know God in His essence, with sufficient prayer and fasting and turning oneself over to God, through purification of one’s soul, anyone can come to know Him and see His uncreated Light (Matt. 5:8).
In 1341, a Council accepted the position of St Gregory Palamas and condemned Barlaam’s teachings as heresy. Thanks to this victory, the Jesus prayer has remained a precious jewel of the Orthodox Church used not only by monastics but also by all the people of the Church. May we all use this jewel to grow closer to God in hopes to be joined with Him one day.
Troparion of St. Gregory Palamas in Tone Eight
Light of Orthodoxy, pillar and teacher of the Church, adornment of monks and champion of theologians, O Gregory, wonderworker and boast of Thessalonika, preacher of grace, pray that our souls may be saved!
Holy Father Gregory, Pray to God for us!