March 15, 2023

The "Hagiorite Tome" of Saint Gregory Palamas

The "Hagiorite Tome"
 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

1. Introduction

St. Gregory Palamas was a true Hagiorite. He lived a large part of his life on the Holy Mountain, was connected with the holy Fathers who lived the ascetic life with him, and therefore expressed the experience of the Hagiorite Fathers, which in reality is the experience of the Orthodox Church.

As we see from other writings of St. Gregory, there were hesychastic Fathers living on the Holy Mountain who were preserving the essence of the monastic and Christian life, which is participation in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. It is in this light that we should look at the important role of the Hagiorite Fathers in presenting the orthodox theology about the essence and energy of God and about participation in divine energy.

In all this theological discussion with Barlaam the philosopher, St. Gregory Palamas also had, apart from his personal experience, the help of the leading Hagiorite Fathers. In this sense the Holy Mountain is of great significance.

The "Hagiorite Tome" is the work of St. Gregory Palamas. True, it has been claimed that its probable writer is St. Philotheos Kokkinos, who was afterwards Patriarch of Constantinople, but this is clearly mistaken. The real writer of this declaration is St. Gregory Palamas himself. There are many witnesses to the works of St. Gregory in which it is clear that he drafted the "Hagiorite Tome". But I shall mention only one.

The monk Arsenios the Studite sent a letter to St. Gregory asking him to give some explanations about his teaching on the subjects that were occupying the Church at that time. In his letter, St. Gregory replied that his answer "lies written in our words". He refers him to his written texts. And of course among these written texts is listed the "Hagiorite Tome" about which he says clearly: "In the Hagiorite Tome, which was written by me two years ago, we speak thus, word for word...". And from this passage alone it is clear that St. Gregory is the author of this famous declaration.

In all probability he wrote this text in November, 1340, and became an important element at the Council of 1341, which took place in Constantinople in favour of the views of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory later referred repeatedly to points in the text.

While the writer of the text that we are studying is St. Gregory Palamas, nevertheless it is signed by the leading Fathers who were living ascetically on the Holy Mountain and was attested by Metropolitan Iakovos of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain. Specifically, it was signed by "the Protos of the venerable monasteries on the Holy Mountain", many abbots of the Holy Mountain, several in their "own language" – which means that it had catholicity ,– by ascetics and hermits, spiritual fathers, the monk Mark "of Sinai", an elder and hesychast "from Syria" and "the lowly and least of monks Gregory of Stravolangado, and perhaps a hesychast", who had also been a teacher of neptic theology to St. Gregory Palamas.

As we have mentioned, it was testified by the Metropolitan of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain, who bore witness that the entire Holy Mountain was in agreement with this text and himself wanted to make a personal addition to this witness, which is quite characteristic and enlightening.

"I Iakovos, the humble bishop of Hierissos and the Holy Mountain, who was reared on the traditions of the Holy Mountain and the fathers, testify that by the signatures of these select men the entire Holy Mountain has undersigned with one accord, and I myself, assenting to these things and putting my seal thereto, have undersigned. I add furthermore, together with all the rest, that we shall have no communion with anyone who is not in agreement with the saints, as we are, and as were the fathers who immediately preceded us".

With these presuppositions, this declaration is called, and truly is a "Hagiorite Tome", for it expressed and expresses the experience of the Holy Mountain, which in reality is the experience of the Orthodox Church. This is why it is an important text.

2. Summary

The prologue of this text refers to the truth which is hidden in the Prophets and the Saints, and which however is not heard and does not become accepted by those people who do not listen with reverence to the revelations of the Spirit. All that the Old Testament Prophets saw and all the mysteries of the Mosaic Law, which now are accepted by all, probably were not accepted by the Jews of that time. The same thing could also be suffered by the men of the New Testament who do not accept the mysteries of the Spirit that are offered to the purified in heart and to those who already see the future good things as a pledge.

In writing these things he emphasises the truth that in every age there are Prophets who see the future. In the Old Testament the Prophets saw clearly what was to happen later, and the New Testament Prophets see clearly the good things to come, the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. So it is necessary for us to trust these Prophets. Thus some are Prophets and are initiated into these truths and others respect, honour and listen to those who have experienced them6.

This prologue is essential for every statement of the faith and is used also by St. Gregory the Theologian at the beginning of his famous theological writings. He too, that is to say, presents the nature of true and unalloyed theology. The Prophet who in the Holy Spirit is found worthy of experiencing God is a theologian. Essentially the theologian is identified with the Prophet. Thus there exist Prophets, who have been found worthy of the experience of God, and there are people who revere the Prophets. These two are both to be found in orthodoxy. Therefore either we will have our own personal experience or we will trust those who have it. It is in this light that we must also see the presumptions of orthodox theology. If we do not speak of these we cannot theologise truly.

After this necessary prologue, which describes the framework of orthodox theology and the difference between the Prophet and the conjecturer, St. Gregory Palamas takes up the views of those of contrary opinion –and he is thinking first and foremost of Barlaam, since we are still in the beginning of the hesychastic dispute– with six proposals, each starting with the words ‘anyone who’.

Anyone is opposed to the Fathers –and this means opposed to the teaching of the Church and to the experience of revelation, about which St. Gregory made the prologue cited above– first, if he condemns as Messalians and ditheists those who call the deifying grace of God uncreated, ungenerated and really existent; second, if he declares that union with God comes about only by imitation and relationship with Him, without the deifying grace of the Spirit; third, if he asserts that those who say that the nous has its seat in the heart or the head are Messalians; fourth, if he calls the Light of Tabor the sort of apparition and symbol that now is and now is not; fifth, if he calls uncreated only the divine essence but not the eternal energies of God; and sixth, if he does not acknowledge that even the bodies of those advancing on the spiritual path receive from their souls the energies of the Holy Spirit.

All those who essentially agree with Barlaam’s teaching are opposing the holy Fathers of the Church and of course, since they do not abide by the teaching of those who have experience of divine things, they cannot belong to the Church of Christ and give sound teaching about God.

The subtitle of the "Hagiorite Tome" is also characteristic. It is written for "those who, because of their inexperience and their insubordination to the saints, reject the mystical energies of the Holy Spirit, which work better than reason in those who live spiritually and which are manifested through actions but are not demonstrated through words".

And in conclusion, witness is given to the fact that all these things have been taught by the Scriptures and by the preceding Fathers and have become known through experience which at the same time confirms the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.

The prevailing idea of the "Hagiorite Tome" is that the holy Fathers are the trustworthy teachers of the Church and unalloyed theologians; they know the truth through revelation, because they have previously purified themselves and become suitable receptacles for the energy of the Holy Spirit. If anyone denies this teaching of the deified saints, and especially if he confronts it with his own view, his is not genuine but false theology.

It is also said that this teaching of those who have experience is confirmed by the people of every period, if they have followed the same method and path. And if, indeed, we do not have our own experience of these things, we should then in any case respect the teaching and view of those with experience. This is credible legitimacy. Otherwise theology becomes conjecture and ends in heresy, which creates problems for the members of the Church of Christ.

3. Analysis of the work

The summary of the "Hagiorite tome" has given us a general picture of this Hagiorite declaration and has shown us the content of the text in general outlines. But we must make a broader analysis of the text in order to understand better its great significance and importance. However, it must be pointed out that it will not be analysed in the order in which St. Gregory Palamas wrote it, but according to its theological concepts.

I do not think that this will be unjust to the text, because in the summary we have already given the order, the prologue, the main theme and the epilogue. It is only for more systematic reasons that we shall proceed to this operation, holding the text up and not misrepresenting its teaching and its importance. With this broader analysis we shall also be able to give a summary of all the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, for I believe that the "Hagiorite tome" is such a summary.

a) Essence - energy

One of the most basic teachings of St. Gregory Palamas is that of the essence and energy of God. To be sure, this did not originate with St. Gregory but is the teaching of the entire Orthodox Tradition, for the Apostolic Fathers referred to the subject of the distinction between essence and energy in God, and we see it again in the teaching of St. Basil the Great. Basil the Great was looking at this subject in relation to the heresy of the Eunomians.

St. Gregory laid great emphasis on the uncreatedness of the divine essence and the uncreatedness of God’s energy (activity). The word ‘uncreated’, is applied to God. God is uncreated, He has not been created, but is before all the ages. There is no beginning in God. Man and the entire creation were created by God, and are therefore created. Hence the uncreated is identified with the divine.

According to Barlaam, to whom St. Gregory Palamas is referring, only God’s essence is uncreated, but not His energy as well. According to the saint, he who regards only the essence as created, "but not also his eternal energies", is going against the Holy Fathers of the Church.

At this point St. Gregory Palamas is using a passage from St. Maximos the Confessor about the works of God saying that some of them "began to be in time" and others "did not begin to be in time". The former include the immortal, the living, and so forth, and the latter include immortality, life, that is to say the uncreated and eternal energies of God. Moreover, here the uncreated energies of God are characterised as eternal, for the eternal is beyond time and duration. And what is beyond time and duration is divine, uncreated.

This passage of St. Maximos the Confessor is the following: "All immortal things and immortality itself, all living things and life itself, all holy things and holiness itself, all good things and goodness itself, all blessings and blessedness itself, all beings and being itself are manifestly works of God. Some began to be in time, for they have not always existed. Others did not begin to be in time, for goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality have always existed".

It is clear, then, that goodness, blessedness, holiness and immortality are energies of God, which are eternal and uncreated. There is a difference between the uncreated energy of God and the things created. Goodness is an uncreated energy of God, but the good things are created. Life is the uncreated energy of God, but the living are created things, effects of the uncreated energy.

According to another passage from St. Maximos the Confessor which St. Gregory quotes, goodness, life, immortality, simplicity, immutability and infinity, and in general whatever "contemplative vision perceives as substantively appertaining to God are works of God and did not begin to be in time". So then, God’s uncreated energies, which proceed from His essence, are without beginning, of course without thereby impairing God’s supranatural and incomprehensible simplicity and His triadic unity, which alone is intrinsically without beginning.

Therefore God’s energies are without beginning, eternal and uncreated. And, as God’s essence is divine, so are His energies as well. This is important for orthodox theology. For if we regard God’s energies as created, then we make it impossible for man to be deified. That is to say, if God communicates with the world through created energies, then we can attain union and communion with God only through created energies, which makes salvation impossible. God then remains entirely unknown to man, or if we commune with the essence of God, then the difference between created and uncreated is lost.

Barlaam was maintaining that all who speak of uncreated essence and uncreated energies are Messalians and believers in two gods. St. Gregory writes that whoever puts forward such theories is going against the holy Fathers of the Church and excluding himself from the inheritance of the saved, since salvation is attained in communion through the uncreated energies. So if he does not repent, he himself is falling away from "Him who by nature is the one and only God professed by the saints". We must accept this mystery, but if we do not know the way of the mystery, we must seek to learn from those who have experience, from those who know it personally. For in reality the saints, through deification and the vision of God, know from their experience that the energy of God is uncreated, ungenerated and enhypostatic. They have no doubt that it is a matter of divine and not created energy.

Indeed the teaching about uncreated essence and uncreated energy in God is not ditheism, since the energy is always connected with god’s essence, and of course this distinction does not do away with the divine simplicity, just as the three Persons of God do not do away with God’s oneness. Just as we cannot accuse Athanasios the Great of ditheism when he speaks of the uncreatedness of the Logos, or the other holy Fathers of being tritheites when they speak of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity being of one substance, in the same way St. Gregory Palamas cannot be accused of being a ditheite when he speaks of the uncreated essence and uncreated energy of God. Moreover there is no essence without energy or energy without essence. The difference lies in the fact that when the essence is uncreated its energy is also uncreated, and when the essence is created, then its energy is also created.

In the "Hagiorite tome" the deifying Grace of God which is His energy, apart from the fact that it is characterised as uncreated and ungenerated, at the same time it is called enhypostatic. This constitutes the basic teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, just as it is seen also in his other works, since the energy of God is not self-subsistent, that is to say, it does not exist on its own, but is hypostatic, which means that it is connected with the divine Hypostases, without being identified with them. We know from the teaching of the Holy Fathers that energy is the essential movement of nature, that is to say the active thing is nature, but that which acts is the Person or Hypostasis.

It is true that the energies of God are common to the Persons of the Holy Trinity, but without having hypostatic qualities. But what should be emphasised, commenting on the term "enhypostatised" for deifying Grace, is that the uncreated energy is not understood and interpreted independently of the divine Hypostases. And at this point one can see the great value and significance of the teaching of the Hagiorite saint Gregory Palamas for our time.

b) Uncreated Light

The saints know from their experience, from participation in Pentecost, that the energy of God is uncreated, because they are granted several times in their life to see this energy as Light. And of course they are well aware that this Light is uncreated, not created, not an apparition. This is seen clearly in the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor, which was the central theme in this whole conflict and the point of presenting the teaching about the uncreated energy of God.

Barlaam maintained that the Light of Tabor, the Light which the Apostles were found worthy of seeing on Mt. Tabor, was an apparition and outward symbol, something which now is and now is not, like lightning, and therefore it was energy from noetic understanding. With these presuppositions he maintained that the philosophers, who made conjectures through their noetic understanding and reason, were higher than the Prophets, who were looking at this apparition and symbol, which, as St. Augustine and all the scholastic philosophers said, now is and now is not, that is to say, is created.

According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, all who maintain such theories are going against the holy Fathers of the Church, which is to say against those who are bearers of the Orthodox Tradition. For the holy Fathers, both in the hymns which they composed and in their writings, call it "ineffable, uncreated, eternal, timeless, unapproachable, boundless, infinite, limitless, invisible to angels and men, archetypal and unchanging beauty, the glory of God, the glory of Christ, the glory of the Spirit, ray of Divinity and so forth...". The flesh of the Logos was glorified immediately through its assumption by the divine nature and this glory of the body "becomes the glory of divinity". However, although the human nature had been glorified by its assumption, "the glory was invisible in the visible body", to those who could not see that which is invisible even to the angels. Thus in the Transfiguration Christ did not assume what he did not previously have, nor did he change into something He had not previously been, but what appeared to His Disciples was what He was, opening their eyes. This passage cited by St. Gregory Palamas is from St. John of Damascus, who goes on to say: "While He remained the same, they could now see Him as other than He had appeared to them formerly". And the Disciples were granted to see a faint image, for what is uncreated cannot be portrayed in creation exactly as it is.

Therefore the vision of the uncreated Light is the vision of the glory of God in the deified flesh of the Logos, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It is not inferior to intelligence. This is why the Prophets are superior to the philosophers, who make conjectures about God. It also shows the purpose of the spiritual life. The vision of the uncreated Light constitutes the deification of man, because it comes about through the transformation of man, and naturally it is man’s communion with God. In the holy Fathers the terms deification and union are interchanged, because they refer to the same thing.

c) Nous and heart

Barlaam accused the monks, who said that the nous is in the heart, of being Messalians, because the latter maintained that the devil and divine Grace are found in the heart at the same time. But St. Gregory Palamas says that all who maintain these things and make accusation against the monks are in opposition to the holy Fathers, who speak of the presence of the energy of the nous in the heart.

First of all it must be said that in the Tradition of the Church a clear distinction is made between the nous and the intelligence. When the nous is functioning according to nature, it acts in the heart, and that is where it should be. Because of the fall of man, the nous instead of being in the heart spreads out into the surroundings and becomes enslaved to created things. Moreover this is what constitutes the fall of man, and this truly is sin. Hesychasm, orthodox asceticism, is the theological movement and attempt by which the nous tries to go back to the heart again from its diffusion into the surroundings and its confusion with intelligence. In that way man is functioning physiologically and is fulfilling the purpose of his existence.

This theological truth also clarifies the value of the hesychastic way of life and its superiority to platonic philosophy. According to platonic philosophy, man’s purpose is to liberate his nous from his body, which he regards as a prison of his soul. However, as St. Gregory Palamas says, for the nous to go out of the body is a "discovery of the demons and a lesson taught by pagans". On the contrary, our own effort lies in the return of the nous to the heart, for the body is not a prison of the soul, but a positive work of creation by God.

For this reason in the "Hagiorite Tome" St. Gregory presents two passages from the holy Fathers of the Church. One is from Athanasios the Great and says that the seat of the intelligence of the soul is in the brain, and the other from Macarios the Great says that the seat of the energy of the nous is in the heart. The saying of St. Gregory of Nyssa that the nous "being bodiless, is neither inside nor outside the body" is not contrary to the teaching of the holy Fathers since when the Fathers say that the nous is in the body, they mean that it is joined to it. Just as the entrance of the Word of God into the womb of the Panagia is not contrary to the fact that the Word, being bodiless, is not in a place, for the Word entered the womb and united with our own mixture above any word and according to the ineffable philanthropy of God, the same can be said about the nous as well.

Anyway, the nous in its natural condition is in the heart as in an organ and not as in a vessel and it manifests the completed and mature person. The entrance of the nous into the heart manifests its purity and the fact that it is capable of receiving Revelation, since man’s nous is the organ of the vision of God.

In the Orthodox Tradition, moreover, apart from the fact that there is a distinction between nous and intelligence, at the same time there is a distinction between nous and sense perception, and of course a distinction between the knowledge which the nous possesses and the knowledge which the senses possess. This is very important because, on the one hand, the difference between human and divine education is seen, and on the other hand because through purification of the nous we acquire divine knowledge and the saints are granted to see God.

In the "Hagiorite Tome" it is said clearly that the nous perceives one light and the senses another. The senses perceive the sensible light and the nous the uncreated Light and knowledge in conceptual images. The nous, then, is the organ through which man sees the divine Light, which is the Kingdom of God and the food of the angels, but since the nous is joined to the body, therefore when the saints attain divine Grace, then by its power they see "with the sense of sight and with the nous that which surpasses both sense and nous"16. Thus man sees the divine Light also with the eyes of his sense of sight, but this is because these have previously been transformed and empowered by the uncreated Grace of God. Moreover, it is known that uncreated Grace is also transmitted by the soul to the bodies of the deified.

d) Man’s union with God

In the fourteenth century, which was dominated by humanism, just as it is today, there were those who maintained that man’s union with Christ is through external imitation of the life of Christ, by an external conforming of our life to the commandments of Christ, without looking to Grace, which exists through doing the commandments, and without looking for an inner transformation, which the commandments constitute; it takes place through a development of man’s rational nature, through fine thoughts, without God’s deifying energy. In the "Hagiorite Tome", which is a confessional text and received catholic and conciliar recognition, the teaching of the Church is presented as saying that man’s communion with God is not a human achievement, it is not a work of human nature, but a fruit of participation in the deifying energy of God. The deification of man and his union with God is above human intelligence and knowledge and above even the virtues themselves.

In the "Hagiorite Tome" St. Gregory Palamas teaches that all who maintain that man’s union with God comes about only through imitation and relationship, as happens in the union of people who love one another, "without the deifying grace of the Spirit" are mistaken. Likewise mistaken are those who consider "the deifying grace of God as a state of our intellectual nature" acquired through imitation alone, and do not regard it as "a supranatural illumination and an ineffable and divine energy beheld invisibly and conceived inconceivably". If anyone declares something of this sort he has fallen into the delusion of the Messalians. Therefore if deification is a natural power and a development of nature and not a gift of the uncreated Grace of God, then the person deified is by nature God.

Unfortunately, such views also exist today in some humanists and anthropists who exalt the human factor and human nature. There are also views today which are more anthropocentric and in that way unacceptable to orthodoxy. Man is the crown of creation, for he was created by God and is being directed towards unity with Him. Man’s centre of reference is God. When he is alienated from this centre, then man and humanism do not exist. Today people are speaking of the person and personality. But if we look at this subject without reference to God, we are making man an absolute, and we fall into anthropocentric notions. This is not unconnected with the original sin of man, who precisely wanted to become God apart from the path which God set, that is to say without the Grace of God.

St. Gregory Palamas, using a passage from St. Maximos the Confessor clearly defines and teaches that the Grace of deification is completely incomprehensible and there is no faculty in nature which can receive it, for otherwise it would not be Grace, but a manifestation of the operation of a natural capacity. God manifests Himself according to the natural capacity of each person. Deification is not a work of nature, but a gift of God which is offered to those who have the appropriate preconditions for receiving it. Thus the Grace of deification is above nature, virtue and knowledge, and naturally all such things fall short of it. Virtue and the imitation of God make a man fit for union with the Deity, "but it is through Grace that this ineffable union is accomplished". Therefore it is not by virtue that we acquire union with God, but it is accomplished through the uncreated deifying energy of God. Through deifying Grace God in His entirety penetrates the saints in their entirety, and the saints in their entirety penetrate God entirely, in the way that the soul embraces the body.

This is genuine orthodox anthropology, which is not isolated and alienated from God. Orthodox anthropology is theanthropocentric. Therefore to refer to a good and ethical life without there being at the same time a reason for the deification of man, which is accomplished not through good and rational thoughts nor through conjectures, but through the deifying energy of God, is unorthodox and anti-traditional. And this must be said within the essential preconditions for participation in the deifying operations of God, that is to say purity of heart, illumination of the nous and deification, which are the stages of spiritual perfection, the orthodox method of devotion and the tradition.

e) Deification of the body

Barlaam, using Platonic and stoic philosophy, undervalued the human body and called dispassion of the soul the deadening of its passible aspect. It is a familiar fact that the soul has three powers: intelligence, the desiring aspect, and the incensive aspect. The desiring and incensive aspects are called the passible part of the soul. According to Platonic philosophy, both the desiring and incensive aspects entered into man with his fall from the archetype. And according to stoic philosophy, and for the Platonic as well, the salvation of man lies in the deadening of the passible aspect of the soul. This heretical asceticism is also known in neo-platonism. With this conception of things people are led into scorning and rejecting the body and all the bodily asceticisms, and discarding tears and sorrow during prayer. This constituted a naive spirituality and essentially unsettled all the foundations of man, soul and body.

In the "Hagiorite Tome" the orthodox teaching about the transformation of the passible aspect of the soul and the deification of the human body is also presented. Therefore all the energies of the soul participate in the journey towards deification, including man’s body itself.

Thus, while Barlaam, speaking of dispassion, defining it as "the habitual deadening of the passible aspect, St. Gregory defines it as "a habitual directing of energy towards higher things by completely spurning what is evil and espousing the good". So we cannot speak of deadening the passible aspect of the soul, but of its transformation; instead, that is, of functioning contrary to nature, it is necessary to function according to nature and above nature.

Anyone who refuses to accept the orthodox view of dispassion and accepts the heretical teaching about dispassion as a deadening of the passible aspect, is essentially also refusing to accept that we can enjoy an embodied life in the age of incorruption that is to come. For if in the age to come the body is to share with the soul in all the blessings, then it is evident that in this world as well it will also share "according to its capacity in the grace mystically and ineffably bestowed by God upon the purified nous"20. In other words, deifying Grace is conveyed by the pure nous to the body as well. The body receives a sensation of divine Grace and becomes a sharer in the deifying energy of God. This is accomplished through the transformation of the passible part of the soul and not through its deadening, since in any case the passible part is common to body and soul". Thus asceticism, repentance, contrition, tears, and grieving are essential for the deification of man. They are not inferior to a simple happiness of the soul, they are the way and path of deification.

Therefore in godly asceticism, as it is presented by the Orthodox Tradition, the body too partakes of the Grace of God which comes to the purified nous. St. Gregory Palamas refers also to a passage in St. Diadochos of Photike which says that the nous transmits ineffable divine virtue to the body as well, whereupon the joy which is then communicated to the soul and the body is a true recalling of incorruptible life.

While Orthodox hesychasm appears to be an abstract, unpractical and utopian state, it is in essence very practical, true and realistic, precisely because it speaks of the transformation of man’s body and, of course, of the whole man. Its veracity is seen in the bodies of the saints, which receive the deifying energies of God, and in the relics of the saints, in which the presence of the uncreated deifying energy is manifest. Moreover, the relics manifest the deification of the body as well, and this is proof of the existence of the deifying energy also in the person’s soul. Therefore we can say that a purpose and work of the Church is to make relics.

f) The experienced saints

All that we have said so far in analysing the "Hagiorite tome" shows that what is said in this declaration which we are studying is the experience of the Church of Christ. It is not a matter of ideologies and logical constructions, but true life. And there are sure "signs" and unshakeable proofs of these things which are being said. These "signs" are the saints, who have received knowledge of these truths from experience.

For an ending this declaration offers its witness of the truth: "These things we have been taught by the Scriptures, these things we have received from our fathers, these things we have come to know from our own small experience. Having seen them set down in the treatise of our brother, the most reverend Hieromonk Gregory, In defence of those who devoutly practise a life of stillness, and acknowledging them to be fully consistent with the traditions of the saints, we have adjoined our signature for the assurance of those who read this present document".

This testimony is very important, for it shows clearly that the truth of the Gospel and of the holy Fathers is confirmed by the experience of the contemporary saints. Therefore in every epoch there is confirmation of the revelation, since in each period of time there live men who share the same revealing experience. All the distinguished Hagiorite Fathers who signed this text, the monastics, the hermits, the hesychasts, give testimony about what is the purpose of the spiritual life, what is the way to attain it and what are the effects of deification.

Likewise the confirmation of the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas by the Hagiorites shows that it is not enough for us to theologise, but that we need to have the confirmation of the experienced saints, if the theology which we express or the work which we achieve is to be blessed by God. The presence even today of such holy figures on the Holy Mountain is a blessing for Orthodoxy and for the whole world, because they are living the same revealing experience, sharing Pentecost. In this sense we respect and revere the Mountain of holy name.

There is unity between the Prophets of the Old Testament and the saints of the Church. The dogmas were "mysteries foreseen in the Spirit by the prophets alone". The Prophets saw the mysteries by the Holy Spirit. But even the blessings of the age to come which are promised to the saints are mysteries of the Gospel life and conduct which are now seen in part and are given as a pledge "to those whom the Spirit accounts worthy". Thus the Grace of God accounts the holy Prophets of the Old and New Testaments worthy of seeing the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. Every era has witnesses of these mysteries, which are hidden from the majority of people.

There are two categories of people in the Church. Belonging to the first are "those who have been initiated by actual experience". This category includes those who, in order to put the gospel into practice, have renounced the possession of wealth, human glory and the wrong pleasures of the body. And they were not satisfied only to have renounced these things, but they assured this renunciation by their obedience to those who were more advanced in spiritual age and experience, that is to say, to elders, to guide them to the experience of the mysteries. This shows that renunciation has no great meaning and value unless it is followed by submission in Christ to spiritual fathers. Thus with the help of these spiritual fathers and living the hesychastic method, which consists in undistracted stillness and sincere prayer, they surpassed themselves and united with God "through their mystical union with Him that surpasses the nous". In this way "they were initiated into what surpasses the nous". Thus the first category includes those "initiated by experience", who have followed the appropriate way and the appropriate method which belongs to the Orthodox Church. And the second category includes those who, since they do not have their own personal experience of this revealing truth, revere and honour those with experience: "Others again have learnt about these things through their reverence, faith and love for such persons". Anyone who does not belong to either of these two categories is a conjecturer, and therefore his quality as a theologian and as a real member of the Church is called in question.

This observation of St. Gregory Palamas is worthy of note. In the Church and in orthodox theology the same thing goes on as we find in every real science. A true scientist is one who has made the experiment and arrived at the theory, and then this theory can be verified and confirmed by other people as well. Thus the research scientist develops the science. But at the same time anyone is also called a scientist who accepts the findings of the true research scientists. The very same thing goes on in the Church as well. If we do not have our own personal revelation, as the saints do after a legitimate struggle, then we must accept the experiences of the saints, until such time as God may grant us to confirm this experience ourselves, even if gradually.

4. Conclusion

This declaration is very significant. The fact that it was written by St. Gregory Palamas, signed by the experienced holy monks who know from experience what is divine, that it was adopted by the councils of the fourteenth century, that such great use has been made of it –for one can assert that it is also a summary of the whole teaching of the Church which has been given expression by St. Gregory Palamas– establishes its great importance.

In a few words it points out the truth that man’s aim is deification, his union with God, which is the vision of the uncreated Light, which is divine. St. Macarios would call 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". He also makes known the truth that the path of deification consists in the transformation of the passible part of the soul, in godly stillness and unceasing prayer, which is the work of divine Grace. And he emphasises that the experienced saints, the Old and New Testament Prophets in particular, are teachers of Orthodox theology.

The "Hagiorite Tome makes known the great contribution given by the Holy Mountain to the world by its life and expression of revealed truth, but also the great commendation by the contemporary Fathers, who confirm the witness of the "Hagiorite Tome". Along with all these things we should not forget the great personality of St. Gregory Palamas, who as a Hagiorite expressed the experience of the Holy Mountain, which is essential experience of the Orthodox Church.


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