Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gregory Palamas ((1296–1359)

Gregory was born in Constantinople. His father was a courtier of the Byzantine emperor Andronikas II, but he died soon after Gregory was born. The Emperor himself groomed the the fatherless boy he would devote himself to government service.

 Despite the Emperor's ambitions for him, Gregory, then barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos  becaming a novice. Eventually, he was tonsured a monk, and continued his life of asceticism

Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle and eventually transferred to the Great Larva on Mount Athos, where he served the brethren in the refectory and  as a cantor. Wishing to devote himself more fully to prayer and asceticism he entered a skete called Glossia, where he taught the ancient practice of contemplative prayer known as "prayer of the heart" or Hesychasm.

 Barlaam an Italian born convert to Eastern Orthodoxy was scandalized by hesychasm after he encountered contemplatives during a visit to Mount Athos. Trained in the mode of Western Scholastic Theology, Barlaam propounded a more intellectual and propositional approach to the knowledge of God than that of the Contemplatives. He began to combat hesychasm both orally and in his writings

On the Hesychast side,  Palamas was asked by his fellow monks on Mt Athos to defend hesychasm from the attacks of Barlaam. Palamas was well-educated in Greek philosophy. In response to Barlaam's attacks, Palamas wrote nine treatises entitled "Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude". The treatises are called "Triads" because they were organized as three sets of three treatises. He also  defended hesychasm at six different synods in Constantinople where finally in 1351Barlaam's opposition to Hesychasm was finally ended.

Palamas's opponents in the Hesychast controversy spread slanderous accusations against him, and in 1344  imprisoned him for four years.Gregory was released from prison and became the Bishop of  Thessaloniki
However, since the conflict with Barlaam had not been settled at that point, the people of Thessalonika did not accept him, and he was forced to live in a number of places. It was not until 1350 that he was able to serve as Bishop In 1354, during a voyage to Constantinople, the ship he was in fell into the hands of Turkish pirates; he was imprisoned and beaten. He was obliged to spend a year in detention at the Ottoman court where he was well treated. Eventually his ransom was paid and he returned to Thessaloniki, where he served as Archbishop for the last three years of his life.

Palamas died on November 14, 1359. His dying words were, "To the heights! To the heights!" He was canonized a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church in 1368 

compiled from several sources

graphics: upper left ancient Icon of Gregory. bottom right; the triads, the classics of western spirituality series

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