November 14, 2023

A Few Heavenly Thoughts on Eternal Truths as Taught by Saint Gregory Palamas

By St. Justin Popovich

Saint Gregory lived and flourished in the fourteenth century, and all with the same spirit, the same life, the same prudence and divine wisdom as the holy Fathers who lived before him. In his reasoning about the eternal gospel truths, he is always "with all the saints" (Eph. 3:18): always of one spirit with them - the spirit of Christ; of one mind with them - the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16); one life with them - the life of Christ. Together with them, he conveys to us the divinely inspired, apostolic gospel, and patristic interpretations, and confessing, and testifying as a martyr to the holy truths of our salvation and deification, our sanctification and glorification. He preaches and confesses, explains and defends holy truths with his holy mind, holy language, holy life, holy suffering, and holy words. When he thinks - he thinks with the Holy Spirit; when he feels, when he speaks, when he creates - he does it all with the Holy Spirit. That is why he, along with all the holy Apostles and holy Fathers and holy Martyrs and holy Confessors, is our immortal and infallible leader, our eternal and fearless military leader through all the difficulties and storms of our earthly life, through all the deserts and rainforests of our earthly delusions, for all Orthodox from now to the Last Judgment.

The truth about man is the main torment with which Saint Gregory was tormented. He says: "Adam was created by God sinless and young; Adam voluntarily submitted to the devil, turned to carnal pleasures, fell into spiritual filth and fell into unnaturalness. Until the violation of the commandment, Adam was a partaker of the divine light and radiance, as if truly clothed in the garment of glory, he was not naked, he did not feel the shame of nakedness. Through sin, he deprived himself of that glory with which the Creator had adorned him, and which the Savior then showed on Tabor at the Transfiguration. With the Tabor miracle, the Lord showed what the garment of glory would be, in which those close to God would be clothed in the future age, and what the garment of sinlessness was, which, having deprived himself of it by sin, Adam saw himself and was ashamed of it."

At Tabor the foreshadowing of the future glory of the resurrection was given; and the resurrection of Christ showed that glory in full measure, the miracle of Tabor repeated before Mary Magdalene, who came to the tomb. The cave of the Lord's tomb was filled with the light of the resurrection that poured out on Mary, who was standing at the tomb. The Incarnation of God the Logos brought unspeakable treasures to us humans, even the Kingdom of Heaven itself. Saint Gregory writes:

"As far as the sky was from the earth before the incarnation of God the Logos, so far was the Kingdom of Heaven from us... The Son of God became a man, in order to show to what height He raises us; so that we would not imagine how we supposedly freed ourselves from slavery to the devil; that He, as dual by nature, would become a mediator, harmonizing the properties of both natures; to loosen the bonds of sin; to show God's love for us; the incarnation of God was necessary in order to show what an abyss of evil we have fallen into; to become for us an example of humility, which is connected with the body and sufferings; to become an antidote to pride; to show that God created our nature good; to become the head of a new life, confirm the resurrection and end hopelessness; that, becoming the Son of Man and taking part in death, He would make men sons of God and partakers of divine immortality; to show that human nature, unlike all creatures, is made in the image of God; that he is so related to God, that he can unite with Him in one Hypostasis; that he might honor the body, that mortal body; that proud spirits should not regard themselves and think of themselves that they are more precious than man, and that they can be deified because of their incorporeality and apparent immortality; in order to unite people and God divided by nature, Christ Himself becomes a mediator in both natures.

By His divine grace, God placed Himself in man's nature, creating him in His own image and likeness, and exalted man on earth as a self-aware being... Man is more than an angel created in the image of God... God adorned our nature as His future likeness, in which He wanted to clothe Himself... Human nature is so pure that it can be united with God through the Hypostasis and inseparably dwell with Him in eternity.

The life of the soul is the union of the soul with God, just as the life of the body is the union of the body with the soul. And just as by transgressing the commandment, separating from God, the soul deadened itself, so by obeying the commandment, uniting again with God, it revives itself... As the separation of the soul from the body is the death of the body, so the separation of God from the soul is the death of the soul. It is the death of the soul that is death in the true sense of the word. Just as the death of the soul is true death, so the life of the soul is true life... We died before physical death, subjecting ourselves to spiritual death, that is, separation from God... Separation of the soul from God through sin is eternal death."

"Our life should be an imitation of Christ," Saint Gregory teaches. "The beginning of our imitation of Christ is holy baptism, a sign of the Lord's burial and resurrection; the middle - a virtuous life and rule according to the Gospel commandments; and the end - victory over passions through spiritual exploits... Just as the soil without cultivation does not bear useful fruits, so the soul without spiritual exploits cannot acquire anything godly and saving for itself... The heart and thoughts must be cultivated. The time of life is the time of repentance; in the present life, free will is always in force, therefore there is no place for despair... The beginning of repentance consists in self-reprimand, confession and refraining from bad actions... God created man free and distinguished him with the great gift of prudence, with the fact that man, properly using his free will, strove for good and not for evil... All bodily passions cannot be cured by anything other than the mortification of the body through reasonable abstinence in food, with the cooperation of prayer that comes from a calm heart."

"The carnal passions are of spirit origin; they take root in the spirit, grow in it, and then are transferred to the body. That is why it is necessary," Saint Gregory teaches, "to cleanse the mind of bad thoughts and fight against them. Because sins are rooted in thoughts. Through thought, a thought struggle is waged within ourselves, far more dangerous than a struggle with the participation of the senses; it is always in progress, and for the execution of evil it needs neither matter, nor time, nor place. The emotional struggle that leads to sin begins with things, from what we have heard, seen, felt, tasted, while the mental struggle within us takes place under the direct influence of evil spirits, from their attacks and incitements. Therefore, if someone wins in that emotional battle, it does not mean that he will remain invincible in the mental battle as well. However, whoever wins the internal battle also defeats the external enemy... If bodily passions have their beginning in the passionate mind, then their treatment should begin from him. For whoever wishes to extinguish a fire will not extinguish it if he cuts the flame from above, but if he removes the burning material; so also in relation to immoral passions: if the inner source of thought is not dried up by prayer and calmness, but the struggle is reduced only to fasting and mortification of the body, then it will be an unsuccessful struggle."

"Everyone who is baptized," says Saint Gregory, "if he wants to obtain the promised eternal blessedness and salvation, he will take care to live free from every sin."

From the Lives of the Saints for November

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