Anestis Keselopoulos’ ‘Passions and Virtues according to Saint Gregory Palamas’ (2004)

Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) has become very influential in recent Orthodox thought, especially for the distinction he drew between the divine essence and energies and the way in which this clarified such questions as the nature of grace and the possibility of being in contact with God. The study of Anestis Keselopoulos, originally published in Greek in 1982, is rather concerned with his ascetic theology, and has many interesting things to say about what he sees as the ‘”experiential way” of the Greek fathers that forms the foundation of the Orthodox ascetical tradition…[the] living and creative continuation of the entire patristic tradition.’ Hence,  describing Gregory’s teaching concerning the passions (‘hostile pleasures’, to use Christopher Cooks’ term), Keselopoulos observes that they are:

‘related to non-existence, since nothing evil exists within human nature as created by God… [T]he sinful passions have their origin not in man’s nature but in his will…Life and death are states that the soul lives now…[S]in is the transgression of God’s will and man’s failure to realise his original goal of attaining to the ‘likeness of God’. It is also the cause of death…Corruption and sin provoke fear, anxiety and selfishness in man…They guide man towards abnormal thoughts and deeds, while his relationship with God and his fellow man becomes increasingly selfish…Man was created in order to become as perfect in love and freedom as God is, in other words, in order to love God and his fellow man in the same unselfish and free way that God loves the world.’

These passages come from the first chapter of Keselopoulos’ work, ‘The Meaning of Passion.’ His writing is certainly dense, but gives a very good feeling of Gregory’s thought. The words quoted above point to more than one of the significant differences between Christian East and West. And no-one has ever said that the teachings of the former are easy to live by.