SAINT GREGORY PALAMAS AS A HAGIORITE
By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
3. ONE WHO EXPRESSED THE HESYCHASTIC LIFE OF THE HOLY MOUNTAIN
In the preceding chapter we looked at the life of St. Gregory Palamas as analysed by his fellow-monk St. Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of Constantinople, a man who expressed the same tradition and who entered St. Gregory in the hagiology of the Church, writing his biography and the service in his honour. The biography, whose author was a saint as well, is a patristic text distinguished by plainness of speech, orthodoxy and a neptic atmosphere.
We have seen analytically that St. Gregory was a Hagiorite. He lived on the Holy Mountain and experienced all of its life. He is a vivid sample of the life which existed on the Holy Mountain.
As we read all the works of St. Gregory we see the Hagiorite spirit rising like a fragrant incense. Therefore we can say with certainty that St. Gregory Palamas and the Holy Mountain are very closely linked together. And no one can separate them without running the risk of one of them being distorted. If anyone looks at this saint apart from the hesychastic tradition of the Holy Mountain, he will not be able to interpret him. And if anyone looks at the Holy Mountain apart from the life and teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, he will not understand it but will idolise it. So in what follows we must look at the influence of the Holy Mountain on the teaching of St. Gregory, or rather see that the saint was expressing the hesychastic life that prevailed on the Holy Mountain.
1. The Holy Mountain and the Orthodox Church
In the first place, it must be said that the Holy Mountain is not independent of the Church. It is not a place set apart from the Church and made autonomous, but it is the way of life of the Orthodox Christian and the expression of the evangelical life in the Holy Spirit which exists in the Church of Christ. In his work “On the Holy Hesychasts” St. Gregory, speaking of the holy confessor Nicephoros, who lived ascetically on the Holy Mountain and who professed orthodoxy and was therefore exiled by the first king of the House of the Palaeologues, writes characteristically: “He adopted the most rigorous way of life, that of the monks, and chose to live in the place which bears the name of holiness, Athos, on the border between the world and the supranatural, Athos being the home of virtue”.
In this passage St. Gregory’s conception of the Holy Mountain can be seen clearly. It bears the name of holiness, it is at the border between the world and the supranatural, it is the home of virtue. Therefore we see the Holy Mountain as the home of virtue, as the place where the evangelical life is lived and expressed, which is the essence of our Tradition. If the holy Fathers teach that monasticism is the apostolic life and the life of the martyrs because the whole apostolic life and the witness of the holy martyrs is preserved in it, then we can understand that the Holy Mountain is the place where this apostolic and martyric life is lived.
In order to confirm this truth, we need to look at the stages of the spiritual life according to the holy Fathers of the Church. St. Dionysios the Areopagite says in his writings that according to the holy Fathers the spiritual life has three stages: purification, illumination and perfection. We find this in the teaching of all the holy Fathers of the Church.
St. Symeon the New Theologian divided his chapters into three groups: practical, gnostic and theological. St. Gregory Palamas did the same. He divided them into ethical (which is purification), natural and theological. This division showed the stages of the spiritual life as we find them in the teaching of St. Dionysios the Areopagite. But the same division is to be found in the teaching of St. Maximos the Confessor. St. Maximos speaks clearly about practical philosophy, which is primarily purification of the heart, about natural vision, which is illumination of the nous, and about mystical theology, which is vision of the uncreated Light. And St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite, editing the Philokalia, gave it the following subtitle which interprets its content: “in which through the practice and vision of ethical philosophy the nous is purified, illumined and made perfect”. In this elucidation we see the stages of the spiritual life: man’s purification, illumination and deification.
Parallel with this the holy Fathers also divide the spiritual life in another way, into action and vision (theoria). However this is not a matter of another division clearly opposed to the preceding, but is the same thing. For action is purification of the heart and vision is illumination of the nous and communion with God. In other words, when a man’s heart is purified, which is the first stage of the spiritual life, this is followed by vision. Vision includes both illumination of the nous and vision of the uncreated light. In any case action precedes vision of God. For, according to St. Gregory the Theologian, “action is the patron of contemplation”.
We have made this analysis in order to emphasise that on the Holy Mountain both during the period when St. Gregory Palamas was living and in our time, as well as in every part of the world where the Orthodox Tradition is lived in the right way, there are these stages of spiritual perfection. Everyone who comes to the Holy Mountain in order to live in seclusion begins by purifying his heart, and this comes about and is completed through deep repentance. After this he progresses to the illumination of his nous, which is unceasing inner noetic prayer. At such time as God wills, the person can also attain the vision of God.
We have seen this in the life of St. Gregory Palamas as St. Philotheos Kokkinos describes it to us. We see it also in the works of St. Gregory himself. For instance, in the example which we mentioned before, speaking of the holy confessor Nicephoros, he tells the story of his life. That is to say, he describes how he reached the point of becoming a saint and confessor: First of all St. Nicephoros performed his obedience to the distinguished and discerning fathers. By his obedience he let them experience his humility, and in return he acquired the experience of the art of arts, which is orthodox hesychia. After that he became a leader for those who were struggling against the evil spirits.
Here we see clearly the path followed by one who goes to the Holy Mountain in order to live in seclusion. First he finds a spiritual guide to whom he gives obedience, and this is how purification of the heart begins. Through this effort of wise and discreet guidance on the part of his spiritual father, but chiefly through the help of divine Grace, he receives the great gift of hesychia, which is unceasing prayer, liberating his nous from the onslaught of reason and the passions. And when this succeeds, he is indeed the possessor of knowledge of God and becomes an unerring teacher and guide to other men.
This whole process, which is still taking place on the Holy Mountain as well as in every monastery that is living the Orthodox Tradition, is the evangelic and apostolic life. The Apostles followed Christ for three years, cleansed of their passions and of the influence of the demons; and then on the day of Pentecost they received the Holy Spirit, becoming members of the Body of Christ and true theologians, who spoke about God. Therefore the Holy Mountain is an expression of the life of the Church, and every Hagiorite, like every monk, lives the apostolic life. So the Holy Mountain is not only a place, but also a way of life. In this spirit we can characterise St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, and with this interpretation we maintain that he is one who expresses the life of the Holy Mountain, and more generally that of the Church. In this spirit again we can interpret all the saint’s works.
2. Orthodox hesychia
However, in saying that St. Gregory is one who expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain, we must examine just what hesychia is according to the orthodox teaching.
Hesychia, stillness, is essential for man’s purification and perfection, which means his salvation. St. Gregory the Theologian says epigrammatically: “One must be still in order to have clear converse with God and to bring the nous a little away from those wandering in error”. Through hesychia a man purifies his heart and nous from passions and thus attains communion and union with God. This communion with God, precisely because it is man’s union with God, also constitutes man’s salvation.
Hesychia is nothing other than “keeping one’s heart away from giving and taking and pleasing people, and the other activities”. When a person frees his heart from thoughts and passions, when all the powers of his soul are transformed and turned away from earthly things and towards God, then he is experiencing orthodox hesychia. St. John of the Ladder writes that stillness of soul is “the accurate knowledge of one’s thoughts and is an unassailable mind”. Therefore hesychia is an inner state; it is “dwelling in God”.
Of course the holy Fathers distinguish between external and internal stillness. External stillness is liberation of the senses and the body from sights, and particularly from the bondage which the world imposes, while inner stillness is liberation of the heart from images, fantasies and worries. Hesychia of the body is usually the hesychastic position and the person’s attempt to limit as far as possible external representations, the images which our sensations receive and offer to the soul. Hesychia of the soul implies that the nous is able not to accept any temptations to stray. In this way man’s nous escapes from the outer world and enters his heart, which is where it really belongs. Thus a person acquires peace in his heart, and there God Himself is revealed.
As we have seen, St. Gregory Palamas lived this orthodox hesychia. At first he looked for a secluded spot on the Holy Mountain and prayed to God night and day. Then he attained inner hesychia as well. Within this spiritual hesychastic atmosphere he acquired the knowledge of God, at the time when the heresy appeared which sought to unsettle the fundamental aspects of the Church’s teaching. It was just then, since he had experience of this life, that he expressed it. It is only in this light that we must look at the life of St. Gregory. He was not just a student of the holy Fathers, but one who had the same life, and therefore also the same teaching as they.
3. Expression of the hesychastic life
In all his teaching we see the Hagiorite hesychast father who knows what hesychasm is, but above all, lives it. We can see this more analytically at two main points. First, in his dispute with Barlaam, and secondly in his homilies to the Flock of Thessaloniki, when he was made Archbishop of Thessaloniki, as well as in other related homilies.
a) His “dispute” with Barlaam
It was with difficulty that the saint began this “dispute”, because he did not wish to abandon the stillness of his life on the Holy Mountain. But when he was asked by his spiritual brothers, and when he himself realised that the faith was in danger of being altered, which would also have resulted in altering the means of man’s cure, of losing the way of salvation, then he began his struggle. At first he did it with great humility and discretion. He finished one of his letters to Barlaam by saying that in spite of the reproach that he felt against Barlaam for his erroneous ideas on serious theological questions, he still maintained the same love for him. He called him a very wise man, the best of those who loved and were loved, and he emphasised that in spite of the dispute, the state of peace would be maintained. At the same time he expressed the desire that they should meet to embrace with a holy kiss.
All these things imply a soul that has peace and stillness. Because of this hesychastic life he could criticise the erroneous belief and at the same time keep peace and love.
But also on the matters which were in dispute with Barlaam we can see the hesychastic life of St. Gregory Palamas. He expresses the whole Tradition of the Orthodox Church. At this point we would like to look at several characteristic views taken from the first triad of his well known work “On the holy hesychasts”. Three topics are raised. The first one is the relationship between the two wisdoms, worldly and godly. The second is about noetic prayer, the return of the nous to abide in the heart, and the third is about vision of the uncreated Light.
In the first part he opposes Barlaam’s view that human knowledge is a gift of God, and indeed of equal or higher value than the knowledge of the Apostles and the Prophets. This was why Barlaam had come to wrong conclusions. One of these was that the monks should pursue human education and human knowledge in order to be perfected.
In answer to this view, St. Gregory maintains that man’s aim is to progress from the image to the likeness of God. In his fall man lost his direction toward the likeness, and the image was darkened. Therefore he must now purify the image. But this does not come about through “carnal wisdom”. Since the darkening of the image happens through sin, this means that when sin is removed, when man attains inner prayer, when his life is harmonised with Christ’s commandments, and when he attains vision of God, then he is in fact in the image of God. Therefore the philosophers’ teaching is different from that of the Christians.
St. Gregory emphasises particularly that man purifies the image through Christ’s commandments and the power of the Cross of Christ. He refers to the cases of St. John the Forerunner and of Christ Himself. The Forerunner, he who is greater than the Prophets, lived from his early years in the desert, where, he points out, there was no education nor any of what Barlaam called saving philosophy. There were no books there, and no teachers of worldly wisdom. And we find the same thing in the life of Christ. When a young man asked what he should do to attain salvation and eternal life, he did not say: “If you want to be perfect, take up outward education, hasten to assimilate the sciences, acquire for yourself the science of beings”, but he said: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor, take up the cross and be willing to follow me”. Therefore in order to shame the outwardly wise the Lord took on uneducated fishermen.
At this point St. Gregory refers to passages from the epistles of the Apostle Paul, mainly from the first letter to the Corinthians, where it says that Christ took unlettered men “in order to shame the outwardly wise”, that God made foolish the wisdom of the world, that “the world through its wisdom did not know God” and that “through the foolishness of what was preached He was pleased to save those who believe”. Then, taking passages from Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa, he makes the distinction between demonic human knowledge and knowledge from the Holy Spirit, and naturally he prevents the monks from acquiring that worldly wisdom and knowledge. He ends his first section by saying that outward wisdom, meaning philosophy, “appeared futile and contemptible to our holy Fathers and especially to those who had had experience of it”.
In the second part he refers to the vast subject of prayer, and especially to what is called noetic prayer, where the nous is centred in the heart. Barlaam and his followers had said that it was not right to take our nous into the body, particularly into the heart. They said that the right thing was to take the nous out of the body.
In reply to this view, which presupposes Plato’s philosophi-cal conceptions that the body is the prison of the soul and man’s salvation is the soul’s liberation from the body, he first uses the Apostle Paul’s three passages: “Through Holy Baptism the body became the temple of the Holy Spirit in us”; the body is the “house of God”, and finally God gave his promise “I will live with them and walk with them, and I will be their God”. He emphasises that the body is not evil, but it is the carnal attitude that is evil. When a person purifies his body through self-control, and the irascible and appetitive parts of the soul with self-control and love, and when he further makes his intelligence secure with prayer, then he sees divine Grace in his heart.
In what follows he makes excellent anthropological analyses. He analyses just what man’s nous is, that the heart is the place of the rational faculty, the first rational organ of the body, that the nous is in the bodily organ of the heart, not as in a receptacle, but as in an organ which directs the entire body. Thus we must struggle to bring the nous back into the heart, where its natural place is. Being a great and holy hesychast the saint brings into the soul that which also exists in God. Just as God has essence and energy, so also the soul has essence and energy. The soul’s energy which finds itself in the rational part and is flowing out through the senses towards creation must return to the heart. Beginners in the spiritual life can succeed in this by controlling their breathing.*
When Barlaam and those who agreed with him scoffed at this method used by beginners, St. Gregory made very correct and very theological observations. The circular motion of the nous, that is to say its return from the outside world to the heart and its ascent from there to God, is the unerring method and the only way for man to acquire pure knowledge of God. But St. Gregory also made orthodox observations about the body’s participation in prayer, as well as in the path to sanctity. The circularity of the body too is essential for the return of the nous to the heart. He says all these things because the Barlaamites mock the hesychasts, who at the beginning of their spiritual life also make use of the circular pattern of the body (omphalopsychoi). The saint cites the case of the Prophet Elijah, who used the circularity of his body to bring his nous back into his heart and thus relieved the drought.
In the third part he refers to the fruits of prayer, which are the uncreated Light and divine Knowledge. Barlaam maintained that any light which is accessible to the senses is created and therefore is lower than thought, man’s rational faculty. So, with his view that all external light is created and symbolic, he went so far as to consider the philosophers superior to the Prophets and Apostles, who saw the uncreated Light.
This part touches on many other topics as well that relate to this and other accusations by the Barlaamites. First he cites various patristic passages according to which at the beginning of the spiritual life the study of Holy Scripture is reduced, not in disparagement of it, but because we must first be purified through prayer, and then we will understand the spirit of the Scriptures. He cites other patristic passages as well, in order to show how the body participates in noetic prayer, because often the heart itself leaps with joy at the coming of Grace, and frequently a pleasant taste is created in the mouths of those who pray and sing, and this is the energy of divine Grace.
Then he makes the distinction between the light of natural knowledge and the Light of the uncreated energies of the Holy Spirit. He concludes that natural knowledge is not the light of the soul. Thus when the saints see the uncreated Light, they see the garment of deification. He cites many patristic passages -and he surely interprets them within his own spiritual experience, which is the same as that of the holy Fathers- that say that man can attain vision of the uncreated Light.
This Light is not symbolic and created, but the shining of hypostatic light; it is divinity itself. The light on Mt. Tabor is not a third hidden nature in Christ, but divinity itself. And towards the end of the third section he refers to the great difference between the theologian and one who has seen God. A theologian can also be said to be one who speaks about God without even having his own personal experience, but a ‘theoptis’ is one who sees God. Theology differs from the vision of God in the same way as the knowledge of a thing differs from the possession of it.
There are other places as well in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas where he refers to the great subject of the knowledge of God. He affirms that vision of the uncreated Light is union with God. Union is communion, and this communion offers knowledge of God. True knowledge of God is superior to human created knowledge. And the saint demonstrates that in the Orthodox Church we teach that the Prophets are incomparably higher than the philosophers, for the Prophets of both the Old and New Testaments attained the vision of God, while the philosophers were making conjectures about God.
In this analysis of the first triad of St. Gregory’s work “On the holy hesychasts” he is clearly shown to be a hesychast father, expressing the genuine hesychasm which is experienced on the Holy Mountain.
b) His homilies
Apart from the polemical writings which have survived, there are also homilies by St. Gregory which show that he expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain. Some of these were addressed to the monks on the Holy Mountain on various feast days, and the rest were spoken to his Flock in Thessaloniki. It is characteristic that in speaking to his Christians, he teaches noetic prayer and thus shows that there is not a great contrast between monastic life and married life. From the abundance of passages which St. Gregory interprets hesychastically I would like to select four in particular.
The first refers to the interpretation of the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, and chiefly to the analysis of the prayer of the Publican, which he presents as a type of hesychastic prayer. In this parable the Lord, introducing the Publican, said: “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner'” (Lk. 18, 13). St. Gregory says: “Do you see the amount of humility, and faith and self-reproach: Do you see the extreme contraction of his reason and senses, and at the same time the brokenness of heart mingled with the prayer of this publican?”.
The words “at a distance” manifest humility and self-reproach. That he “stood” indicates “the long continuation of his standing… as well as the persistence of his entreaty”. That “he would not even look up to heaven” is “both standing and submission, the portrayal not only of a lowly servant, but also that of one condemned”. This way of praying and the position of his body shows “right condemnation and self-reproach”. That “he beat his breast” manifests his great contrition and deep mourning. “God have mercy on me, a sinner” shows the value of the prayer of a single phrase. Pleading nothing else, thinking of nothing else, he was paying attention only to himself and God, rotating and multiplying this prayer of a single phrase, which is the most effective kind of prayer”.
The second passage is about the meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here too St. Gregory interprets the parable hesychastically. St. Luke the Evangelist presents Christ’s parable, in which we read: “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (Lk. 15, 13). St. Gregory does not analyse the parable in terms of morals, but theologically. He sets forth its true dimensions. Having the mind of Christ, experiencing the mystery of the spirit, he grasps its true meaning. Belonging organically, as he does, to the Orthodox Tradition, he realises that the fall of man, the so-called ancestral sin, is in reality a darkening, obscuring and deadening of the nous, whereas the resurrection of man is the vitalisation of the dead nous. It is in this light that he also interprets the parable of the prodigal son.
The nous is man’s real wealth. “Above all else the nous is our innate essence and wealth”. As long as we remain on the ways of salvation “we have our nous gathered in itself and in the first and highest nous, God”. Our salvation is that we have our nous in God. But when we open a door to the passions, then our nous “is immediately scattered, wandering all the time around things that are carnal and worldly, around the manifold pleasures and passionate thoughts about them”. Then a man’s nous becomes prodigal, and in general he is called prodigal. The wealth of the nous is prudence, and it distinguishes good from evil as long as we continue to keep Christ’s commandments. But when the nous withdraws from God, then prudence too is scattered into prostitution and imprudence.
Man’s soul has not only a rational aspect but also appetitive and incensive aspects. In its natural condition man’s nous “directs desire towards the one and truly existing God, the only good one, the only judge, the only one who provides pleasure unmixed with any pain. “But when the nous is in the unnatural state, when it departs from God and is darkened, then desire is dispersed into many self-indulgent appetites: “drawn on the one hand towards a desire for foods that are not needed, secondly towards the desire for unnecessary things, and thirdly towards the desire for vain and inglorious glory”. This comes about through desire. But when the nous is being deadened, the incensive power too is similarly taken captive. When the nous is in its natural state, when, that is to say, it is united with God, then it rouses the incensive power only against the devil and utilises the soul’s courage against the devil and the passions. But when it disregards the divine commandments, then “one fights against one’s neighbour, rages against those of the same race, is infuriated with those who do not assent to one’s irrational appetites, and alas, one becomes a homicidal man…”.
The third passage is from the analysis which he gives of the Panagia’s sojourn in the Holy of Holies. It is true that her entry into the Holy of Holies is not described in the Scriptures, but it is an organic part of Orthodox Tradition. The Church has established this whole teaching about the entry of the Panagia into the Temple, and in fact it has a feast day for it. St. Gregory Palamas accepts this teaching of the Church and analyses it theologically.
In the Temple the Theotokos lived in Paradise. “She lived her life without equipment, unworried, carefree, without grief, having no part in base passions, above the pleasure that is not without pain, living only for God, seen only by God, nourished by God, guarded only by God, who was to dwell among us through her, she looking only at God, making God her delight, constantly devoted to God”.
Since the Theotokos had been freed of any material tie and had even thrown off the relationship of sympathy towards her body, “she attached her nous to turning towards itself in both attention and unceasing divine prayer. And as she had come completely to herself through this and had overcome the multiform rabble of thoughts, she discerned a new and ineffable way to heaven, which I would call intelligible silence. And fixing the attention of her nous on this, she soared above all created things and saw God’s glory better than Moses and kept an eye on divine grace…”. In the holy of holies the Theotokos busied herself with noetic prayer and in this way attained intelligible silence. In this way she saw the glory of God better than Moses did. In other words, she attained the vision of God. And since this vision of God is union with God, therefore even before she conceived Christ, the Theotokos was united with the Trinitarian God.
St. Gregory also takes this opportunity to give an account of the method of acquiring true theology. First he says that speaking about God and meeting God Himself are two different things. In order to speak about God one needs to have speech, perhaps also art. Reasoning too is needed, and earthly examples offered by the senses. That is a way in which even many wise people of the world can speak about God, even men who have not undergone purification. But it is impossible to unite with God through reasonings and examples afforded by the bodily senses. One does not attain communion with God “unless in addition to purification we go beyond, or rather above ourselves, leaving everything perceived by the senses, as well as sensation, rising high above thoughts and reasonings and all knowledge, and thought itself, wholly surrendered to the energy of noetic sensation, which Solomon forenamed a sense of the divine”. When a person rises above thoughts and reason itself, then he can be united with God.
The Theotokos chose this way to attain communion with God. She followed the way of hesychia. Noetic hesychia is nothing other than the standing still of the nous and the world. “Seeking holy stillness the virgin found a guide: stillness of the nous, the world standing still, things below forgotten, sharing the secrets above, laying aside conceptual images for what is better”. This stillness is the entrance to the true vision of God, which “is the only example of a truly healthy soul”. Virtue is a medicine for the ills of the soul and for the passions, while the vision of God is a fruit of the healthy soul. It is through the vision of God that a man is deified. He is deified not through conjectural analogy… but through a hesychastic way of life”. The Theotokos achieved hesychia and the vision of God in the Temple and she attained communion with the Triune God. And anyone who wants to achieve this vision of God, which is man’s salvation, must follow the way of life of the Theotokos. The only way is the way of hesychia.
Finally, a fourth example of hesychastic teaching is the meaning in a passage of the Old Testament. There it says: “On the seventh day He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (Gen. 2:2-3). Interpreting this the saint writes that there are works of God “which He neither began to do nor ceased doing”. He did not begin to act because He is without beginning, since, as Christ Himself said, “My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I am working” (John 5, 17).
God’s work without beginning is the knowledge of beings and the foreknowledge of things which are to be. Also God’s work without beginning and without ceasing is judgement and providence. In order to be created, beings need judgement and providence, but after creation they need judgement and providence as well, “so that they may not disappear unseasonably: or some may change with time for the benefit of themselves or of the whole, and others may remain unchangeable”. In other words, God, with His uncreated energy, which is called providence, continues to direct the whole creation for the fulfilment of His purpose. God directs creation by His providence. Another of God’s works without beginning is “the return to Himself, for He moved without beginning in self-contemplation, the vision of Himself”.
Since God “neither began to do nor ceased doing”, what then is God’s rest? Why does Moses say that God rested after his labours? Rest is the way back “from the things below to those things that are greater and supracosmic”. In His creation in six days God was “outside Himself through His extreme goodness” – He condescended in His love for mankind. On the seventh day, after the creation of the whole world of the senses, he returned, as befits Him, to his own height, which He had never left. And God blessed this rest in order to show us that we should value the knowledge of the beings of nature more highly than the things of the senses; also to indicate to us, to teach us and ask us to enter as far as we can into that rest ourselves, “which is our noetic vision of God, and through it the movement upwards towards God”.
This is the framework in which these things are interpreted by St. Gregory and the Apostolic words: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4, 9-11).
In reality our own rest is hesychasm, noetic stillness, which is rest from the world and the return of the nous to the heart. In analysing this rest, the saint says that we first pay heed to the teaching of the Spirit, since we are ridding ourselves of the lower ceaseless and toilsome cares and laying aside the works connected with them. Then we prefer these words of the Holy Spirit to every passionate and worldly thought and we ponder them in our nous, which is to say our heart. After that, if we remove every thought, even if it be a good one, from our nous, and through constant attention and unceasing prayer the nous returns to itself, then we enter the divine rest, which is the vision of God.
All this noetic hesychia, as described by the holy Fathers, who are basically hesychasts, is the way which leads to the divine rest — to the vision of God. And we believe that the hesychastic way of life is what makes a person Orthodox. It is the basis of the dogmas and all the truths of the faith. Apart from this there is no true theology.
After all this it is clear that St. Gregory Palamas is one who expresses the hesychastic life of the Holy Mountain. His stay on the Holy Mountain, his obedience to the discerning spiritual Fathers and the experience which he acquired, made him a true theologian, a great Father of the Church. In all his works, whether polemics or homilies, his hesychastic life is seen. He lived the life of the Holy Mountain and became a Hagiorite. And this of course is identical with being “Orthodox.”