Anestis Keselopoulos on St Gregory Palamas: Repentance and Purification

In the third chapter of his book Passions and Virtues, Anestis Keselopoulos expresses the teaching of St Gregory Palamas on repentance. ‘Repentance is not a short-lived contrition arising from the awareness that some sin has been committed. It is a permanent spiritual state…the new frame of mind and correct spiritual course that must accompany man until the moment of his death. It is the dynamic transition from the unnatural state of the passions and sin to the natural realm of virtue…It ever remains a potential for personal discovery. Repentance is a personal departure of the soul from sin and arrival at God’s presence…True repentance is deep, personal and real. It is the personal overcoming of sin.’

The command to repent comes at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, as it does of that of John the Forerunner. The word ‘repentance’ (metanoia) is one it’s hard to use now; the basic sense is that of a change of mind, or reorientation. Seen like this, there is no sense that it will be a once-only affair. For most of us, it will need to be ongoing. The Liturgy includes a petition ‘That we may complete the rest of our lives in peace and repentance.’ Vladimir Lossky quotes St Isaac the Syrian: ‘Repentance is fitting for all times and for all persons. To sinners as well as the righteous who look for salvation. There are no bounds to perfection, for even the perfection of the most perfect is nought but imperfection. Hence until the moment of death neither the time nor the works of repentance can ever be complete.’ He then comments: ‘This conception of repentance corresponds to the apophatic attitude towards God: the more one is united to Him, the more one becomes aware of His unknowability, and, in the same way, the more perfect one becomes, the more one is aware of one’s own imperfection.’


  • Meryl McLeod

    Perusing this leaned comment, I was unexpectedly brought to a halt by the sentence about the desired spiritual state resulting from ‘the transition from the passions and sin to ‘the natural realm of virtue’. While not disputing the assertion of virtue being the natural realm, I am questioning the linking of the passions and sin, and the implication that virtue is to be held apart from the passions. Surely the passions are God-given – and perhaps, if only in part, necessary to the practice of virtue? Admittedly, there are passions which are undesirable – but is perfection (i.e. absolute virtue) to be passionless? Or is it simply a matter of how one defines passions?

  • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Meryl. Yes, I think it is a matter of definition. Christopher Cook sees passions as any appetites or impulses that violently dominate the soul, not only sexual ones, which he terms ‘hostile pleasures’ (see posting of 30 September.) According to the editors of the English version of the Philokalia, ‘[m]any Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a “disease” of the soul…Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin.’ Hence Keselopoulos can refer to St Gregory’s teaching on ‘the unnatural state of the passions and sin’; the second word is important!

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