Anestis Keselopoulos on St Gregory Palamas: Repentance and Purification (continued)

In his presentation of the thought of St Gregory Palamas, Anestis Keselopoulos observes: ‘Summoning up all the characteristic traits of a believer who lives his repentance, Palamas describes him as mild and calm, full of mercy and compassion for others.’ How do we get there? ‘Spiritual mourning is the basic precondition for man’s exodus from bondage to the passions and the beginning and fount of repentance…mourning does not bring about a sickly and despondent state, but rather provides man with the preconditions for spiritual joy, consolation, and “the gift of gentle gladness”…mourning is not solely painful; it is also a precondition for a loving relationship and communion with God….and a prerequisite for knowledge that is apophatic, experiential and theological.’  

These last words are very Orthodox! ‘Apophatic’ refers to not-knowing; ‘That which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness…When, therefore, Moses grew in knowledge he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, he had come to know what is divine beyond all knowledge and comprehension.’ (St Gregory of Nyssa) ‘Apophaticism means our refusal to exhaust knowledge of the truth in its formulation…the knowledge of the truth…remains experiential and practical, a way of life and not a theoretical construction.’  (Christos Yannaras) And the word ‘theological’ has a different meaning to that it bears in the West. ‘If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you pray truly you are a theologian.’ (Evagrius of Ponticus) According to this understanding, the church’s most powerful theologians may well be monastics and grandmothers.

2 comments

  • John,

    Thank you for acknowledging the important part grandmothers play in the theological life of the Church. Without the experiential example of my own maternal grandmother, my life would not have developed a spiritual focus.

    I’d also like to add, that “the knowing rather than the knowledge” (of God) is much harder to master than most Western Christians realise – the revelation often occurs in His timeframe not ours, which can be very frustrating for the dedicated adherent. That said, as someone born into Eastern Orthodoxy but living in the West, I do savour the Western challenge of trying to imagine what God is, even though I know that rational modelling will always fall short in its attempt to capture the Infinite. 😉

    Thanks again for this post,
    Vasilios.

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