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St Philaret of New York: On the Holy Hierarch St Gregory Palamas

Updated: May 5, 2023

According to the Church Statute, on the second Sunday of Lent the Orthodox Church, besides celebrating Sunday, also remembers one of the greatest hierarchs and preachers of pure Orthodoxy, St. Gregory Palamas, who was Archbishop of Thessalonica. Saint Gregory belonged to those great preachers of Christian truth whose work and life did not differ, and therefore, besides the theological treasures of knowledge that he left in abundance as a legacy to the Orthodox Church, he attracted the souls of men to him by his holy and ascetic life, and thus his spiritual influence was twofold: he taught both in his words and by his life itself. He had to struggle against heretics who distorted the truth of Orthodoxy in various ways. There was one question, purely theological, that caused him to have a long struggle with the twists and turns of the Truth. When the Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured on Mount Tabor and shone there “as the sun” (Matt. 1:2) – according to their claims, this miraculous light was the usual light that we constantly see in the sun and other sources of light — light of the usual order.

St Philaret of New York

St. Gregory Palamas, objecting to this, taught that it was of a very different order of light, for he pointed to the words of the apostles, “God is Light, and there is no darkness in Him” (1 John 1:5). And our Creed, as you know, speaking of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and His incarnation on earth, states that He is “Light from Light, the true God from the true God.” As for our ordinary light, the Bible says that it is not inherent in God as an eternal property of His very Nature but was created by Him in time: “And God said, ‘Let there be light. And there was light” (Genesis 1:3). In the end, this purely orthodox point of view triumphed, and the opponents of the saint were shamed. Nowadays it is often said that this is an “abstract theological topic.” It may be so for our contemporaries today, but as for the truths of the divine being, the truths of the spiritual order pertaining to that which is invisible and eternal, unfortunately few are now interested in this.

Now in general, brethren, when we observe life around us, we see how confused, how wrong ideas about the truth of Christianity are observed in the people of today, in many of those who call themselves and sincerely consider themselves faithful members of the Orthodox Church. But, as we often observe, they have the most confused and unclear notions about Orthodoxy, and often they have not at all. It was rightly said in one Orthodox press organ that in recent years suddenly everyone thought they knew everything — knowing both the Orthodox faith and theological truths, etc. They have decided that they know everything and understand everything and can teach and edify everyone. That is why there is so much confusion, and disagreement now within the Church fence. St Paul said that people want to be teachers, but do not understand what they are saying and do not understand properly even what they themselves are saying. And when the voice of Truth is heard, it is little heeded.

Saint Gregory Palamas

When St. Gregory Palamas lived, it was a different time. It seems to people now that the question for which he fought heretics was an “abstract theological question”; but then it was close to their hearts and souls, so for them it was not an abstract debate. But let us remember that only the Church of Christ is a pillar and a statement of the truth, that only the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of pure, true doctrine. He Himself said of Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is Truth incarnate. For this reason, the Christian must always, when he encounters any teaching, always test it with the truth of Christ. That which leads us to Christ is true and blessed, and that which leads us away from Christ and from Orthodoxy is only a ruinous deception, however attractive that deception may be clothed in. Once again I repeat: remember everything that leads us away from Christ the Savior, from His doctrine and from pure Orthodox ecclesiality, all this is only delusion and ruin. Therefore, once and for all, say to yourself, “I accept no doctrine but Christ’s, and know no other teacher than Christ the Savior — I do not know and do not want to know,” Amen.


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