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Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Based on Jesus's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew that "when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray", [1] hesychasm in tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (see Theoria).

Christian mysticism development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity

Christian mysticism refers to the development of mystical practices and theory within Christianity. Mysticism is not so much a doctrine as a method of thought. It has often been connected to mystical theology, especially in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members.It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods, although roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Jesus The central figure of Christianity

Jesus, also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ, was a first-century Jewish preacher and religious leader. He is the central figure of Christianity. Most Christians believe he is the incarnation of God the Son and the awaited Messiah (Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament.



Hesychasm, Greek : ἡσυχασμός, contemporary Byzantine Greek pronunciation:  [isixaˈzmos] , derives from the Greek Hesychia (ἡσυχία, Greek pronunciation:  [isiˈçia] ), "stillness, rest, quiet, silence" [2] and ἡσυχάζωGreek pronunciation:  [isiˈxazo] : "to keep stillness."

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek, is the stage of the Greek language between the end of Classical antiquity in the 5th–6th centuries and the end of the Middle Ages, conventionally dated to the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, a scholar of Eastern Orthodox theology, distinguishes five distinct usages of the term "hesychasm":

Kallistos Ware English theologian

Kallistos Ware is an English bishop and theologian of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He has held since 1982 the titular Bishopric of Diokleia in Phrygia, later made a titular metropolitan bishopric in 2007, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Metropolitan Kallistos is one of the best-known contemporary Eastern Orthodox hierarchs and theologians. From 1966 to 2001, Metropolitan Kallistos was Spalding Lecturer of Eastern Orthodox Studies at the University of Oxford.

  1. "solitary life", a sense, equivalent to "eremitical life", in which the term is used since the 4th century;
  2. "the practice of inner prayer, aiming at union with God on a level beyond images, concepts and language", a sense in which the term is found in Evagrius Ponticus (345–399), Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 – 662), and Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022);
  3. "the quest for such union through the Jesus Prayer", the earliest reference to which is in Diadochos of Photiki (c. 450);
  4. "a particular psychosomatic technique in combination with the Jesus Prayer", use of which technique can be traced back at least to the 13th century;
  5. "the theology of St. Gregory Palamas", on which see Palamism. [3]

History of the term

The origin of the term hesychasmos, and of the related terms hesychastes, hesychia and hesychazo, is not entirely certain. According to the entries in Lampe's A Patristic Greek Lexicon, the basic terms hesychia and hesychazo appear as early as the 4th century in such fathers as St John Chrysostom and the Cappadocians. The terms also appear in the same period in Evagrius Pontikos (c. 345 – 399), who although he is writing in Egypt is out of the circle of the Cappadocians, and in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers.

John Chrysostom Important Early Church Father; Christian saint

Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, and his ascetic sensibilities. The epithet Χρυσόστομος means "golden-mouthed" in Greek and denotes his celebrated eloquence. Chrysostom was among the most prolific authors in the early Christian Church, exceeded only by Augustine of Hippo in the quantity of his surviving writings.

Cappadocian Fathers Group of early of Christian chaplains

The Cappadocian Fathers, also traditionally known as the Three Cappadocians, are Basil the Great (330–379), who was bishop of Caesarea; Basil's younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, who was bishop of Nyssa; and a close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople. The Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey, was an early site of Christian activity, with several missions by Paul in this region.

The term hesychast is used sparingly in Christian ascetical writings emanating from Egypt from the 4th century on, although the writings of Evagrius and the Sayings of the Desert Fathers do attest to it. In Egypt, the terms more often used are anchoretism (Gr. ἀναχώρησις, "withdrawal, retreat"), and anchorite (Gr. ἀναχωρητής, "one who withdraws or retreats, i.e. a hermit").

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Anchorite hermit

An anchorite or anchoret is someone who, for religious reasons, withdraws from secular society so as to be able to lead an intensely prayer-oriented, ascetic, or Eucharist-focused life. Whilst anchorites are frequently considered to be a type of religious hermit, unlike hermits they were required to take a vow of stability of place, opting instead for permanent enclosure in cells often attached to churches. Also unlike hermits, anchorites were subject to a religious rite of consecration that closely resembled the funeral rite, following which they would be considered dead to the world, a type of living saint. Anchorites had a certain autonomy, as they did not answer to any ecclesiastical authority other than the bishop.

The term hesychast was used in the 6th century in Palestine in the Lives of Cyril of Scythopolis, many of which lives treat of hesychasts who were contemporaries of Cyril. Several of the saints about whom Cyril was writing, especially Euthymios and Savas, were in fact from Cappadocia. The laws (novellae) of the emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565) treat hesychast and anchorite as synonyms, making them interchangeable terms.

Palestine (region) geographical region in the Middle East

Palestine is a geographic region in Western Asia usually considered to include Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and in some definitions, parts of western Jordan.

Cyril of Scythopolis, also known as Cyrillus Scythopolitanus, was a Christian monk, priest and Greek-language hagiographer or historian of monastic life in Palestine in the early years of Christianity.

Justinian I Eastern Roman emperor who ruled from 527 to 565

Justinian I, traditionally known as Justinian the Great and also Saint Justinian the Great in the Eastern Orthodox Church, was the Eastern Roman emperor from 527 to 565. During his reign, Justinian sought to revive the empire's greatness and reconquer the lost western-half of the historical Roman Empire. Justinian's rule constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Later Roman empire, and his reign is marked by the ambitious but only partly realized renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the Empire".

The terms hesychia and hesychast are used quite systematically in the Ladder of Divine Ascent of St John of Sinai (523–603) and in Pros Theodoulon by St Hesychios (c. 750?), who is ordinarily also considered to be of the School of Sinai. It is not known where either St John of Sinai or St Hesychios were born, nor where they received their monastic formation.

It appears that the particularity of the term hesychast has to do with the integration of the continual repetition of the Jesus Prayer into the practices of mental ascesis that were already used by hermits in Egypt. Hesychasm itself is not recorded in Lampe's Lexicon, which indicates that it is a later usage, and the term Jesus Prayer is not found in any of the fathers of the church. [4] Saint John Cassian (c. 360 – 435) presents as the formula used in Egypt for repetitive prayer, not the Jesus Prayer, but "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me." [5] [6]

By the 14th century, however, on Mount Athos the terms hesychasm and hesychast refer to the practice and to the practitioner of a method of mental ascesis that involves the use of the Jesus Prayer assisted by certain psychophysical techniques. Most likely, the rise of the term hesychasm reflects the coming to the fore of this practice as something concrete and specific that can be discussed.

Books used by the hesychast include the Philokalia , a collection of texts on prayer and solitary mental ascesis written from the 4th to the 15th centuries, which exists in a number of independent redactions; the Ladder of Divine Ascent; the collected works of St Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022); and the works of St Isaac the Syrian (7th century), as they were selected and translated into Greek at the Monastery of St Savas near Jerusalem about the 10th century.



Hesychastic practice involves acquiring an inner focus and blocking of the physical senses. In this, hesychasm shows its roots in Evagrius Ponticus and even in the Greek tradition of asceticism going back to Plato.

Jewish Merkabah mysticism

According to some of the adepts of the Jewish Merkabah mystical tradition, if one wished to "descend to the Merkabah" one had to adopt the prayer posture taken by the prophet Elijah in I Kings 18:42, namely to pray with one's head between one's knees. This is the same prayer posture used by the Christian hesychasts and is the reason that they were mocked by their opponents as "navel gazers" (omphalopsychites). This bodily position and the practice of rhythmically breathing while invoking a divine name seems to be common to both Jewish Merkabah mysticism and Christian hesychasm. Thus the practice may have origins in the ascetical practices of the biblical prophets.

Alan Segal in his book Paul the Convert suggests that the Apostle Paul may have been an early adept of Merkabah mysticism in which case what was novel to Paul's experience of divine light on the road to Damascus was not the experience of divine light itself, but that the source of this divine light identified himself as the Jesus whose followers Paul was persecuting. Daniel Boyarin notes that Paul's own account of this experience would therefore be the earliest first person account of the mystical vision of a Merkabah adept.


The hesychast interprets Jesus's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray" to mean that one should ignore the senses and withdraw inward. Saint John of Sinai writes:

Hesychasm is the enclosing of the bodiless primary cognitive faculty of the soul (Orthodoxy teaches of two cognitive faculties, the nous and logos) in the bodily house of the body. [7]



Theosis is obtained by engaging in contemplative prayer resulting from the cultivation of watchfulness (Gk: nepsis ). According to the standard ascetic formulation of this process, there are three stages:

Katharsis (purification)

Sobriety contributes to this mental ascesis that rejects tempting thoughts; it puts a great emphasis on focus and attention. The hesychast is to pay extreme attention to the consciousness of his inner world and to the words of the Jesus Prayer, not letting his mind wander in any way at all. While he maintains his practice of the Jesus Prayer, which becomes automatic and continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the hesychast cultivates nepsis , watchful attention, to reject tempting thoughts (the "thieves") that come to the hesychast as he watches in sober attention in his hermitage. St John of Sinai describes hesychast practice as follows:

Take up your seat on a high place and watch, if only you know how, and then you will see in what manner, when, whence, how many and what kind of thieves come to enter and steal your clusters of grapes. When the watchman grows weary, he stands up and prays; and then he sits down again and courageously takes up his former task. [9]

The hesychast is to attach Eros (Gr. eros), that is, "yearning", to his practice of sobriety so as to overcome the temptation to acedia (sloth). He is also to use an extremely directed and controlled anger against the tempting thoughts, although to obliterate them entirely he is to invoke Jesus Christ via the Jesus Prayer.

Much of the literature of hesychasm is occupied with the psychological analysis of such tempting thoughts (e.g. St Mark the Ascetic). This psychological analysis owes much to the ascetical works of Evagrius Pontikos, with its doctrine of the eight passions.

Theoria (illumination)

The Great Schema or Megaloschema, worn by seasoned hesychasts Megaloschema.svg
The Great Schema or Megaloschema, worn by seasoned hesychasts

The primary task of the hesychast is to engage in mental ascesis. The hesychast is to bring his mind (Gr. nous) into his heart so as to practise both the Jesus Prayer and sobriety with his mind in his heart. In solitude and retirement, the hesychast repeats the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner." The hesychast prays the Jesus Prayer 'with the heart'—with meaning, with intent, "for real" (see ontic). He never treats the Jesus Prayer as a string of syllables whose "surface" or overt verbal meaning is secondary or unimportant. He considers bare repetition of the Jesus Prayer as a mere string of syllables, perhaps with a "mystical" inner meaning beyond the overt verbal meaning, to be worthless or even dangerous. This emphasis on the actual, real invocation of Jesus Christ mirrors an Eastern understanding of mantra in that physical action/voice and meaning are utterly inseparable.

The descent of the mind into the heart is taken quite literally by the practitioners of hesychasm and is not at all considered to be a metaphorical expression. Some of the psychophysical techniques described in the texts are to assist the descent of the mind into the heart at those times that only with difficulty it descends on its own.

The goal at this stage is a practice of the Jesus Prayer with the mind in the heart, which practice is free of images (see Pros Theodoulon). By the exercise of sobriety (the mental ascesis against tempting thoughts), the hesychast arrives at a continual practice of the Jesus Prayer with his mind in his heart and where his consciousness is no longer encumbered by the spontaneous inception of images: his mind has a certain stillness and emptiness that is punctuated only by the eternal repetition of the Jesus Prayer.

This stage is called the guard of the mind. This is a very advanced stage of ascetical and spiritual practice, and attempting to accomplish this prematurely, especially with psychophysical techniques, can cause very serious spiritual and emotional harm to the would-be hesychast. St Theophan the Recluse once remarked that bodily postures and breathing techniques were virtually forbidden in his youth, since, instead of gaining the Spirit of God, people succeeded only "in ruining their lungs."

The guard of the mind is the practical goal of the hesychast. It is the condition in which he remains as a matter of course throughout his day, every day until he dies.

There is a very great emphasis on humility in the practice of the Jesus Prayer, great cautions being given in the texts about the disaster that will befall the would-be hesychast if he proceeds in pride, arrogance or conceit. It is also assumed in the hesychast texts that the hesychast is a member of the Orthodox Church in good standing.

Theosis (deification)

It is from the guard of the mind that he is raised to contemplation by the grace of God.

The hesychast usually experiences the contemplation of God as light, the "uncreated light" of the theology of St Gregory Palamas. The hesychast, when he has by the mercy of God been granted such an experience, does not remain in that experience for a very long time (there are exceptions—see for example the Life of St Savas the Fool for Christ (14th century), written by St Philotheos Kokkinos (14th century)), but he returns "to earth" and continues to practise the guard of the mind.

The uncreated light that the hesychast experiences is identified with the Holy Spirit. Experiences of the uncreated light are allied to the 'acquisition of the Holy Spirit'. Notable accounts of encounters with the Holy Spirit in this fashion are found in St Symeon the New Theologian's account of the illumination of "George" (considered a pseudonym of St Symeon himself); in the "conversation with Motovilov" in the Life of St Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833); and, more recently, in the reminiscences of Elder Porphyrios (Bairaktaris) of Kafsokalivia (Wounded by Love pp. 27 – 31).

Integration in Orthodox Church life

Hesychasts are fully integrated into the liturgical and sacramental life of the Orthodox Church, including the daily cycle of liturgical prayer of the Divine Office and the Divine Liturgy. However, hesychasts who are living as hermits might have a very rare attendance at the Divine Liturgy (see the life of Saint Seraphim of Sarov) and might not recite the Divine Office except by means of the Jesus Prayer (attested practice on Mt Athos). In general, the hesychast restricts his external activities for the sake of his hesychastic practice.

Orthodox tradition warns against seeking ecstasy as an end in itself. Hesychasm is a traditional complex of ascetical practices embedded in the doctrine and practice of the Orthodox Church and intended to purify the member of the Orthodox Church and to make him ready for an encounter with God that comes to him when and if God wants, through God's grace. The goal is to acquire, through purification and grace, the Holy Spirit and salvation. Any ecstatic states or other unusual phenomena which may occur in the course of hesychast practice are considered secondary and unimportant, even quite dangerous. Moreover, seeking after unusual "spiritual" experiences can itself cause great harm, ruining the soul and the mind of the seeker. Such a seeking after "spiritual" experiences can lead to spiritual delusion (Ru. prelest, Gr. plani)—the antonym of sobriety—in which a person believes himself or herself to be a saint, has hallucinations in which he or she "sees" angels, Christ, etc. This state of spiritual delusion is in a superficial, egotistical way pleasurable, but can lead to madness and suicide, and, according to the hesychast fathers, makes salvation impossible.

Mount Athos is a center of the practice of hesychasm. St Paisius Velichkovsky and his disciples made the practice known in Russia and Romania, although hesychasm was already previously known in Russia, as is attested by St Seraphim of Sarov's independent practice of it.

Hesychast controversy

Gregory Palamas Gregor Palamas.jpg
Gregory Palamas

About the year 1337, hesychasm attracted the attention of a learned member of the Orthodox Church, Barlaam, a Calabrian monk who at that time held the office of abbot in the Monastery of St Saviour in Constantinople and who visited Mount Athos. Mount Athos was then at the height of its fame and influence, under the reign of Andronicus III Palaeologus and under the leadership of the Protos Symeon. On Mount Athos, Barlaam encountered hesychasts and heard descriptions of their practices, also reading the writings of the teacher in hesychasm of St Gregory Palamas, himself an Athonite monk. Trained in Western Scholastic theology, Barlaam was scandalized by hesychasm and began to combat it both orally and in his writings. As a private teacher of theology in the Western Scholastic mode, Barlaam propounded a more intellectual and propositional approach to the knowledge of God than the hesychasts taught.

Barlaam took exception to the doctrine entertained by the hesychasts as to the nature of the light, the experience of which was said to be the goal of hesychast practice, regarding it as heretical and blasphemous. It was maintained by the hesychasts to be of divine origin and to be identical to the light which had been manifested to Jesus' disciples on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. [10] This Barlaam held to be polytheistic, inasmuch as it postulated two eternal substances, a visible and an invisible God.

On the hesychast side, the controversy was taken up by St Gregory Palamas, afterwards Archbishop of Thessalonica, who was asked by his fellow monks on Mt Athos to defend hesychasm from the attacks of Barlaam. St Gregory himself was well-educated in Greek philosophy. St Gregory defended hesychasm in the 1340s at three different synods in Constantinople, and he also wrote a number of works in its defense.

In these works, St Gregory Palamas uses a distinction, already found in the 4th century in the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, between the energies or operations (Gr. energeiai) of God and the essence of God. St Gregory taught that the energies or operations of God were uncreated. He taught that the essence of God can never be known by his creature even in the next life, but that his uncreated energies or operations can be known both in this life and in the next, and convey to the hesychast in this life and to the righteous in the next life a true spiritual knowledge of God. In Palamite theology, it is the uncreated energies of God that illumine the hesychast who has been vouchsafed an experience of the uncreated light.

In 1341, the dispute came before a synod held at Constantinople and presided over by the Emperor Andronicus III; the synod, taking into account the regard in which the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius were held, condemned Barlaam, who recanted and returned to Calabria, afterwards becoming a bishop in the Catholic Church.

One of Barlaam's friends, Gregory Akindynos, who originally was also a friend of St Gregory Palamas, took up the controversy, which also played a role in the civil war between the supporters of John Cantacuzenus and John V Palaiologos. Three other synods on the subject were held, at the second of which the followers of Barlaam gained a brief victory. But in 1351 at a synod under the presidency of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, hesychast doctrine was established as the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

Roman Catholic opinions of hesychasm

St. John Cassian is not represented in the Philokalia except by two brief extracts, but this is most likely due to his having written in Latin. His works (Coenobitical Institutions and the Conferences) represent a transmittal of Evagrius Pontikos' ascetical doctrines to the West. These works formed the basis of much of the spirituality of the Order of Saint Benedict and its offshoots. Hence, the tradition of St John Cassian in the West concerning the spiritual practice of the hermit can be considered to be a tradition that is parallel to that of hesychasm in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

While Constantinople experienced a succession of councils alternately approving and condemning doctrine concerning hesychasm considered as identified with Palamism (the last of the five senses in which, according to Kallistos Ware, the term is used), the Western Church held no council in which to make a pronouncement on the issue, and the word "hesychasm" does not appear in the Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum (Handbook of Creeds and Definitions), the collection of Roman Catholic teachings originally compiled by Heinrich Joseph Dominicus Denzinger.

The Roman Catholic Church has thus never expressed any condemnation of Palamism, and uses in its liturgy readings from the work of Nicholas Kabasilas, a supporter of Palamas in the controversy that took place in the East. Its Liturgy of the Hours includes extracts from Kabasilas's Life in Christ on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter in Year II of the two-year cycle for the Office of Readings. [11]

Western theologians have tended to reject hesychasm, in some instances equating it with quietism, perhaps because "quietism" is the literal translation of "hesychasm". However, according to Kallistos Ware, "To translate "hesychasm" as "quietism", while perhaps etymologically defensible, is historically and theologically misleading." Ware asserts that "the distinctive tenets of the 17th-century Western quietists is not characteristic of Greek hesychasm." [12] Elsewhere too, Ware argues that it is important not to translate "hesychasm" as "quietism". [13] [14]

These theologians generally rejected the contention that, in the case of God, the distinction between essence and energies is real rather than, albeit with a foundation in reality, notional (in the mind). In their view, affirming an ontological essence-energies distinction in God contradicted the teaching of the First Council of Nicaea [15] on divine unity. [note 2] According to Adrian Fortescue, the Scholastic theory that God is pure actuality prevented Palamism from having much influence in the West, and it was from Western Scholasticism that hesychasm's philosophical opponents in the East borrowed their weapons. [16]

In the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1909, Simon Vailhé accused Palamas's teachings that humans could achieve a corporal perception of the divinity, and his distinction between God's essence and his energies, as "monstrous errors" and "perilous theological theories". He further characterized the Eastern canonization of Palamas's teachings as a "resurrection of polytheism". [note 2] Fortescue, also writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, claimed that "the real distinction between God's essence and operation remains one more principle, though it is rarely insisted on now, in which the Orthodox differ from Catholics." [16]

The later 20th century saw a remarkable change in the attitude of Roman Catholic theologians to Palamas, a "rehabilitation" of him that has led to increasing parts of the Western Church considering him a saint, even if uncanonized. [15] John Meyendorff describes the 20th-century rehabilitation of Palamas in the Western Church as a "remarkable event in the history of scholarship." [18] Andreas Andreopoulos cites the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia article by Fortescue as an example of how Barlaam's distrustful and hostile attitude regarding hesychasm survived until recently in the West, adding that now "the Western world has started to rediscover what amounts to a lost tradition. Hesychasm, which was never anything close to a scholar's pursuit, is now studied by Western theologians who are astounded by the profound thought and spirituality of late Byzantium." [19]

Some Western scholars maintain that there is no conflict between Palamas's teaching and Roman Catholic thought. [20] Some Western theologians have incorporated the essence-energies distinction into their own thinking. [21] For example, G. Philips asserts that the essence-energies distinction as presented by Palamas is "a typical example of a perfectly admissible theological pluralism" that is compatible with the Roman Catholic magisterium. [22]

Jeffrey D. Finch claims that "the future of East-West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism." [23]

According to Kallistos Ware, some Western theologians, both Roman Catholic and Anglican, see the theology of Palamas as introducing an inadmissible division within God; however, others have incorporated his theology into their own thinking, [21] maintaining, as Jeffrey D. Finch reports, that there is no conflict between his teaching and Roman Catholic thought. [24]

Pope John Paul II repeatedly emphasized his respect for Eastern theology as an enrichment for the whole Church, declaring that, even after the painful division between the Christian East and the See of Rome, that theology has opened up profound thought-provoking perspectives of interest to the entire Catholic Church. He spoke in particular of the hesychast controversy. The term "hesychasm", he said, refers to a practice of prayer marked by deep tranquillity of the spirit intent on contemplating God unceasingly by invoking the name of Jesus. While from a Catholic viewpoint there have been tensions concerning some developments of the practice, the pope said, there is no denying the goodness of the intention that inspired its defence, which was to stress that man is offered the concrete possibility of uniting himself in his inner heart with God in that profound union of grace known as theosis, divinization. [25] [26]

In art

The Jesus Prayer is referred to in J. D. Salinger's pair of stories Franny and Zooey . It is also a central theme of the 2006 Russian film Ostrov .

See also


  1. Purification, and illumination of the noetic faculty, prepare for the vision of God. Without this it is impossible for man's selfish love to be transformed into selfless love. This transformation takes place during the higher level of the stage of illumination called theoria, literally meaning vision, in this case vision by means of unceasing and uninterrupted memory of God. Those who remain selfish and self-centered with a hardened heart, closed to God's love, will not see the glory of God in this life. However, they will see God's glory eventually, but as an eternal and consuming fire and outer darkness. From FRANKS, ROMANS, FEUDALISM, AND DOCTRINE/Diagnosis and Therapy Father John S. Romanides Diagnosis and Therapy [8]
  2. 1 2 "Palamas taught that by asceticism one could attain a corporal, i.e. a sense view, or perception, of the Divinity. He also held that in God there was a real distinction between the Divine Essence and Its attributes, and he identified grace as one of the Divine propria making it something uncreated and infinite. These monstrous errors were denounced by the Calabrian Barlaam, by Nicephorus Gregoras, and by Acthyndinus. The conflict began in 1338 and ended only in 1368, with the solemn canonization of Palamas and the official recognition of his heresies. He was declared the 'holy doctor' and 'one of the greatest among the Fathers of the Church', and his writings were proclaimed 'the infallible guide of the Christian Faith'. Thirty years of incessant controversy and discordant councils ended with a resurrection of polytheism". [17]

Related Research Articles

Jesus Prayer A short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern churches

The Jesus Prayer, also known as The Prayer, is a short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern churches: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." The prayer has been widely taught and discussed throughout the history of the Orthodox Church. The ancient and original form did not include the words "a sinner", which were added later. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm. The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition as a method of opening up the heart (kardia) and bringing about the Prayer of the Heart. The Prayer of the Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the Apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament. Theophan the Recluse regarded the Jesus Prayer stronger than all other prayers by virtue of the power of the Holy Name of Jesus.

Gregory Palamas Monk and archbishop

Gregory Palamas was a prominent theologian and ecclesiastical figure of the late Byzantine period. A monk of Mount Athos and later archbishop of Thessaloniki, he is famous for his defense of hesychast spirituality, the uncreated character of the light of the Transfiguration, and the distinction between God's essence and energies. His teaching unfolded over the course of three major controversies, (1) with the Italo-Greek Barlaam between 1336 and 1341, (2) with the monk Gregory Akindynos between 1341 and 1347, and (3) with the philosopher Gregoras, from 1348 to 1355. His theological contributions are sometimes referred to as Palamism, and his followers as Palamites.

In Christian theology, divinization, or theopoesis or theosis, is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. Although it literally means to become divine, or to become god, most Christian denominations do not interpret the doctrine as implying an overcoming of a fundamental metaphysical difference between God and humanity, for example John of the Cross had it: "it is true that its natural being, though thus transformed, is as distinct from the Being of God as it was before".

Barlaam of Seminara Italian theologian

Barlaam of Seminara, c. 1290–1348, or Barlaam of Calabria was a southern Italian scholar and clergyman of the 14th century, as well as a Humanist, a philologist, and a theologian. When Gregory Palamas defended Hesychasm, Barlaam accused him of heresy. Three Orthodox synods ruled against him and in Palamas's favor.

<i>Philokalia</i> literary work

The Philokalia is "a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters" of the Eastern Orthodox Church mystical hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in "the practice of the contemplative life." The collection was compiled in the eighteenth century by Nicodemus the Hagiorite and Macarius of Corinth.

Contemplation Profound thinking about something

Contemplation is profound thinking about something. In a religious sense, contemplation is usually a type of prayer or meditation.

John Savvas Romanides was an Orthodox Christian priest, author and professor who had a distinctive influence on post-war Greek Orthodox theology.

Essence–energies distinction

The essence–energies distinction is an Eastern Orthodox theological concept that states that there is a distinction between the essence (ousia) and the energies (energeia) of God. It was formulated by Gregory Palamas of Thessaloniki (1296–1359), as part of his defense of the Athonite monastic practice of hesychasmos against the charge of heresy brought by the humanist scholar and theologian Barlaam of Calabria.

Philotheos Kokkinos was the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople for three periods from November 1353 to 1354, 1354, and 1364 to 1376. He was appointed patriarch in 1353 by the emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, deposed by John V Palaiologos in 1354 and then restored by Patriarch Callistus I of Constantinople. He was an anti-unionist who opposed Emperor John V in his intent to negotiate re-union of the churches with Popes Urban V and Gregory XI. He is commemorated on October 8.

Mystical theology branch of theology that explains mystical practices and states

Mystical theology is the branch of theology that explains mystical practices and states, as induced by contemplative practices such as contemplative prayer.

Tabor Light theological doctrine

In Eastern Orthodox Christian theology, the Tabor Light is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion.

Palamism theological teachings of Gregory Palamas

Palamism or the Palamite theology comprises the teachings of Gregory Palamas (c.1296–1359), whose writings defended the Eastern Orthodox notion of Hesychasm against the attack of Barlaam. Followers of Palamas are sometimes referred to as Palamites.

Nicodemus the Hagiorite Greek Orthodox ascetic

St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite or St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain is a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was an ascetic monk, mystic, theologian, and philosopher. His life's work was a revival of traditional Christian practices and patristic literature. He wrote ascetic prayer literature and influenced the rediscovery of Hesychasm, a method of contemplative prayer from the Byzantine period. He is most famous for his work with St. Macarius of Corinth on the anthology of monastic spiritual writings known as The Philokalia. He was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 1955.

Theological differences between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have been in a state of official schism from one another since the East–West Schism of 1054. This schism was caused by historical and linguistic developments, and the ensuing theological differences between the Western and Eastern churches.

Macarius of Corinth mystic

Macarius of Corinth [birth name: Macarius Notaras ] was born in Corinth in 1731 and died in Chios in April 1805. St Macarius as Metropolitan bishop of Corinth, was a mystic and spiritual writer who worked to revive and mostly sustain the Orthodox Church under Turkish rule. He is most famous for working with St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain in collecting and compiling the ascetic text of the Philokalia.

Christianity in the 14th century Christianity-related events during the 14th century

Christianity in the 14th century consisted of an end to the Crusades and a precursor to Protestantism.

<i>Theosis</i> (Eastern Christian theology)

Theosis, or divinization, is a transformative process whose aim is likeness to or union with God, as taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches. As a process of transformation, theosis is brought about by the effects of catharsis and theoria. According to Eastern Christian teaching, theosis is very much the purpose of human life. It is considered achievable only through a synergy between human activity and God's uncreated energies.

The Triads of Gregory Palamas are a set of nine treatises entitled "Triads For The Defense of Those Who Practice Sacred Quietude" written by Gregory Palamas in response to attacks made by Barlaam. The treatises are called "Triads" because they were organized as three sets of three treatises.

History of Eastern Orthodox theology

The history of Eastern Orthodox Christian theology begins with the life of Jesus and the forming of the Christian Church. Major events include the Chalcedonian schism with the Oriental Orthodox miaphysites, the Iconoclast controversy, the Photian schism, the Great Schism between East and West, and the Hesychast controversy. The period after the Second World War saw a re-engagement with the Greek, and more recently Syriac, Fathers that included a rediscovery of the theological works of St. Gregory Palamas, which has resulted in a renewal of Orthodox theology in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Hesychast controversy

The Hesychast controversy was a theological dispute in the Byzantine Empire during the 14th century between supporters and opponents of Gregory Palamas. While not a primary driver of the Byzantine Civil War, it influenced and was influenced by the political forces in play during that war. The dispute concluded with the victory of the Palamists and the inclusion of Palamite doctrine as part of the dogma of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the canonization of Palamas.


  1. Matthew 6:6 (King James Version)
  2. Parry (1999), p. 230.
  3. Kallistos Ware 1995, Act out of Stillness: The Influence of Fourteenth-Century Hesychasm on Byzantine and Slav Civilization ed. Daniel J. Sahas (Toronto: The Hellenic Canadian Association of Constantinople and the Thessalonikean Society of Metro Toronto), pp. 4–7. Cf. Payne, Daniel Paul, "3", The Revival of Political Hesychasm in Greek Orthodox Thought: A Study of the Hesychast Basis of the Thought of John S. Romanides and Christos Yannaras (PDF), Baylor, archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-26.
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  7. Ladder, Step 27, 5, (Step 27, 6 in the Holy Transfiguration edition).
  8. St John of Sinai, Step 27, 21 of the Ladder (Step 27, 22–3 of the Holy Transfiguration edition)
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  19. "Several Western scholars contend that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas himself is compatible with Roman Catholic thought on the matter" (Michael J. Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung (editors), Partakers of the Divine Nature (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN   0-8386-4111-3), p. 243).
  20. 1 2 Kallistos Ware in Oxford Companion to Christian Thought (Oxford University Press 2000 ISBN   0-19-860024-0), p. 186
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  23. "Several Western scholars contend that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas himself is compatible with Roman Catholic thought on the matter" (MichaelJ.Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung, Partakers of the Divine Nature (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN   0-8386-4111-3), p. 243).
  24. "Pope John Paul II and the East Pope John Paul II. "Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church" (11 August 1996). English translation". Rumkatkilise.org. Retrieved 2014-02-06.
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Further reading