Acta Sanctorum: St. Gregory Palamas (Nov 14)
November 14, 2023
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

November 14
St. Gregory Palamas
Life (1296-1359)
St Gregory Palamas (1296–1359), a monk of Mount Athos, was a practitioner of the method of prayer called hesychasm (hesychia means ‘silence’). This method of prayer is centered in the continuous repetition of the name of Jesus, usually in the form of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And a rigorous bodily discipline—emphasizing certain sitting postures and breathing techniques—is employed in order to help unite the mind and heart in God. Through the use of this method of prayer, the hesychast monks claimed to experience genuine communion with God, including sometimes a vision of the Uncreated Light of Divinity such as that seen by Moses on Mount Sinai, and by the Apostles Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor.  In 1330 Barlaam the Calabrian, an Italo-Greek monk raised in an Orthodox family in southern Italy but educated in the Scholastic spirit prevailing in Western Europe at that time, came to Constantinople and accepted a chair in philosophy at the University of Constantinople. Barlaam, along with a number of other Byzantine humanists who were highly influenced by Western philosophical and theological ideas, ridiculed the practice of hesychastic prayer. They denied the possibility for human beings to be in direct, genuine communion with God. In 1337 Gregory Palamas confronted Barlaam’s position and began his defense of hesychasm and the various contemplative practices of the Athonite monks. He confirmed the Orthodox doctrine that man can truly know God and can enter into living communion and relationship with Him through Christ and the Holy Spirit in the Church. He explained that the Essence (or Super-Essence) of God is utterly unknowable and incomprehensible, while at the same time, the actions, operations, or Energies of God, which are also uncreated and fully divine (such as the Divine Light), are communicated to people by divine grace and are open to human knowledge and experience. This is what is meant when Christians are said to become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1.4). Saint Gregory Palamas also served the Church as Archbishop of Thessalonica from 1350 until his death in 1359. 
Scripture (Phil 2:9-11)
God highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

(Year A). God who sits upon the cherubim (Psalm 99:1) is set before us as a babe on earth.

He upon whom the six-winged seraphim cannot look, being unable to gaze intently not only at His nature but even at the radiance of His glory, and therefore covering their eyes with their wings (Isaiah 6:2), having become flesh, appears to our senses and can be seen by bodily eyes.

He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes.

He who possesses the riches of inexhaustible treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even have a place at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, who was brought forth by God timelessly and impassibly and without beginning.

Anyone who has been vouchsafed understanding and grasped the honour which our nature received from God through being formed by His hands in His own image, will run towards Him, having come to a realization of His love for mankind, and will obey Him and learn His commandments. But how much more so if he comprehends, as far as is possible, this great mystery of our re-creation and restoration.

God formed human nature out of the earth with His own hand and breathed His own life into man (Genesis 2.7; 1 Thessalonians 5.23), whereas everything else He brought into being by His word alone. He then allowed man to be governed by his own thoughts and follow his own initiative, because he was a rational creature with a sovereign will.

Left alone, deceived by the evil one’s counsel and unable to withstand his assault, man did not keep to what was in accordance with his nature, but slid towards what was unnatural to it. So now God not only forms human nature anew by His own hand in a mysterious way, but also keeps it near Him.

Not only does He assume this nature and raise it up from the fall, but He inexpressibly clothes Himself in it and unites Himself inseparably with it and was born as both God and man: from a woman, in the first instance, that He might take upon Himself the same nature which He formed in our forefathers; and from a woman who was a virgin, in the second, so that He might make man new. (Homily 58)

Musical Selection (John Michael Talbot)
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God
Have mercy on me, a sinful one
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God
Have mercy on me, a sinful one
Maker of the bread from the wheat of my life
Savior of my soul, anointed Christ
Eternally begotten son
Yet born to this world through Mary.
Forgiveness and love, when I stumble and fall
Compassion and mercy, have mercy, oh God
As far as the east is from the west, so far are our sins
In the mind of God through Jesus.
O God, who by your Holy Spirit give to some the word of wisdom, To others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise you for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant Gregory, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, God, for ever and ever.  Amen.