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Title: Hesychasm  
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Subject: Jesus Prayer, Timeline of Orthodoxy in Greece (1204–1453), Theosis (Eastern Orthodox theology), Christian mysticism, Meditation
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In the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1909, Simon Vailhé accused Palamas's teachings that humans could achieve a corporal perception of the Divinity and his distinction between God's essence and his energies as "monstrous errors" and "perilous theological theories". He further characterized the Eastern canonization of Palamas's teachings as a "resurrection of polytheism".[13] Fortescue, also writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, claimed that "the real distinction between God's essence and operation remains one more principle, though it is rarely insisted on now, in which the Orthodox differ from Catholics".[14]

The later 20th century saw a remarkable change in the attitude of Roman Catholic theologians to Palamas, a "rehabilitation" of him that has led to increasing parts of the Western Church considering him a saint, even if uncanonized.[12] John Meyendorff describes the 20th-century rehabilitation of Palamas in the Western Church as a "remarkable event in the history of scholarship."[15] Andreas Andreopoulos cites the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia article by Fortescue as an example of how Barlaam's distrustful and hostile attitude regarding hesychasm survived until recently in the West, adding that now "the Western world has started to rediscover what amounts to a lost tradition. Hesychasm, which was never anything close to a scholar's pursuit, is now studied by Western theologians who are astounded by the profound thought and spirituality of late Byzantium."[16]

Some Western scholars maintain that there is no conflict between Palamas's teaching and Roman Catholic thought.[17] Some Western theologians have incorporated the essence-energies distinction into their own thinking.[18] For example, G. Philips asserts that the essence-energies distinction as presented by Palamas is "a typical example of a perfectly admissible theological pluralism" that is compatible with the Roman Catholic magisterium.[19]

Jeffrey D. Finch claims that "the future of East-West rapprochement appears to be overcoming the modern polemics of neo-scholasticism and neo-Palamism".[20]

According to Kallistos Ware, some Western theologians, both Roman Catholic and Anglican, see the theology of Palamas as introducing an inadmissible division within God; however, others have incorporated his theology into their own thinking,[18] maintaining, as Jeffrey D. Finch reports, that there is no conflict between his teaching and Roman Catholic thought.[21]

Pope John Paul II repeatedly emphasized his respect for Eastern theology as an enrichment for the whole Church, declaring that, even after the painful division between the Christian East and the See of Rome, that theology has opened up profound thought-provoking perspectives of interest to the entire Church. He spoke in particular of the hesychast controversy. The term "hesychasm", he said, refers to a practice of prayer marked by deep tranquillity of the spirit intent on contemplating God unceasingly by invoking the name of Jesus. While from a Catholic viewpoint there have been tensions concerning some developments of the practice, the Pope said, there is no denying the goodness of the intention that inspired its defence, which was to stress that man is offered the concrete possibility of uniting himself in his inner heart with God in that profound union of grace known as theosis, divinization.[22][23]

Proposed Biblical and Jewish origins

According to some of the adepts of the Jewish Merkabah mystical tradition, if one wished to "descend to the Merkabah" one had to adopt the prayer posture taken by the Prophet Elijah in I Kings 18:42, namely to pray with one's head between one's knees. This is the same prayer posture used by the Christian Hesychists and is the reason that they were mocked by their opponents as "navel gazers" (omphalopsychites). This bodily position and the practice of rhythmically breathing while invoking a divine name seems to be common to both Jewish Merkabah mysticism and Christian Hesychasm. Thus the practice may have origins in the ascetical practices of the biblical prophets.

Alan Segal in his book Paul the Convert suggests that the Apostle Paul may have been an early adept of Merkabah mysticism in which case what was novel to Paul's experience of divine light on the road to Damascus was not the experience of divine light itself, but that the source of this divine light identified himself as the Jesus whose followers Paul was persecuting. Daniel Boyarin notes that Paul's own account of this experience would therefore be the earliest first person account of the mystical vision of a Merkabah adept.

In art

The Jesus Prayer is referred to in J. D. Salinger's pair of stories Franny and Zooey. It is also a central theme of the 2006 Russian film Ostrov.

See also


  1. ^ Parry (1999), p. 230
  2. ^ Matthew 6:6 (King James Version)
  3. ^ Kallistos Ware, Act out of Stillness: The Influence of Fourteenth-Century Hesychasm on Byzantine and Slav Civilization ed. Daniel J. Sahas (Toronto: The Hellenic Canadian Association of Constantinople and the Thessalonikean Society of Metro Toronto, 1995), pp. 4-7. Cf. Daniel Paul Payne, "The Revival of Political Hesychasm in Greek Orthodox Thought: A Study of the Hesychast Basis of the Thought of John S. Romanides and Christos Yannaras", chapter 3.
  4. ^ "John S. Romanides, ''Some Underlying Positions of This Website'', 11, note". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  5. ^ "John Cassian, ''Conferences'', 10, chapters 10-11". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  6. ^ "Laurence Freeman 1992". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  7. ^ Parry (1999), p. 231
  8. ^ Leccionario Bienal
  9. ^ Wakefield, Gordon S. (1983). The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Westminster John Knox Press.  
  10. ^ Ware, Kallistos (2000). The inner kingdom. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 102.  
  11. ^ Cutsinger, James S. (2002). Paths to the heart: Sufism and the Christian East. World Wisdom, Inc. p. 261.  
  12. ^ a b "John Meyendorff (editor),''Gregory Palamas - The Triads'', p. xi". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  13. ^ a b "Palamas taught that by asceticism one could attain a corporal, i.e. a sense view, or perception, of the Divinity. He also held that in God there was a real distinction between the Divine Essence and Its attributes, and he identified grace as one of the Divine propria making it something uncreated and infinite. These monstrous errors were denounced by the Calabrian Barlaam, by Nicephorus Gregoras, and by Acthyndinus. The conflict began in 1338 and ended only in 1368, with the solemn canonization of Palamas and the official recognition of his heresies. He was declared the 'holy doctor' and 'one of the greatest among the Fathers of the Church', and his writings were proclaimed 'the infallible guide of the Christian Faith'. Thirty years of incessant controversy and discordant councils ended with a resurrection of polytheism" (Simon Vailhé, "Greek Church" in Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909)]
  14. ^ a b "Adrian Fortescue, "Hesychasm" in ''Catholic Encyclopedia'', vol. VII (Robert Appleton Company, New York, 1910)". 2013-08-12. Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  15. ^ Saint Gregory Palamas (1983). Gregory Palamas. Paulist Press. p. xi.  
  16. ^ "Andreas Andreopoulos,''Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography'' (St Vladimir's Seminary Press 2005, ISBN 0-88141-295-3), pp. 215-216". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  17. ^ "Several Western scholars contend that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas himself is compatible with Roman Catholic thought on the matter" ( (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN 0-8386-4111-3), p. 243).Partakers of the Divine NatureMichael J. Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung (editors),
  18. ^ a b Oxford Companion to Christian ThoughtKallistos Ware in (Oxford University Press 2000 ISBN 0-19-860024-0), p. 186
  19. ^ "Michael J. Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung (editors), ''Partakers of the Divine Nature'' (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN 0-8386-4111-3), p. 243". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  20. ^ "Michael J. Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung (editors), ''Partakers of the Divine Nature'' (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN 0-8386-4111-3), p. 244". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  21. ^ "Several Western scholars contend that the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas himself is compatible with Roman Catholic thought on the matter" ( (Associated University Presses 2007 ISBN 0-8386-4111-3), p. 243).Partakers of the Divine NatureMichaelJ.Christensen, Jeffery A. Wittung,
  22. ^ "Pope John Paul II and the East Pope John Paul II. "Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church" (11 August 1996). English translation". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 
  23. ^ "Original text (in Italian)". Retrieved 2014-02-06. 


  • Parry, Ken; David Melling (editors) (1999). The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity. Malden, MA.: Blackwell Publishing.  
  • The Philokalia.
  • The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St John of Sinai.
  • The Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian.
  • Works of St Symeon the New Theologian.
  • Coenobitical Institutions and Conferences of St John Cassian.
  • The Way of the Pilgrim.
  • St Silouan the Athonite. (Contains an introduction by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), immediate disciple of St Silouan, together with the meditations of St Silouan (1866–1938).)
  • Works of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) (1896–1993).
  • Elder Joseph the Hesychast. (Life of a very influential Hesychast on Mt Athos who died in 1959.)
  • Monastic Wisdom. The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
  • Wounded by Love. The Life and the Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios. (Reminiscences and reflections of Elder Porphyrios (1906–1991) of Mt Athos.)
  • Works by Elder Paisios (1924–1994) of Mount Athos. (A very well known Athonite Elder and Hesychast.)
  • Elder Ephraim of Katounakia. Translated by Tessy Vassiliadou-Christodoulou. (Life and teachings of Elder Ephraim (1912–1998) of Katounakia, Mt Athos, a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast.)
  • Hieromonachos Charalampos Dionusiates, O didaskalos tes noeras proseuches (Hieromonk Charalambos of the Monastery of Dionysiou, The Teacher of Mental Prayer). (Life and teachings of Elder Charalambos (1910–2001), sometime Abbot of the Monastery of Dionysiou, Mt Athos, and a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. In Greek, available in English.)
  • Works of Archimandrite Aimilianos (1934 – ) of the Monastery of Simonos Petra, Mt Athos, especially Volumes I and II.
  • Counsels from the Holy Mountain. Selected from the Lessons and Homilies of Elder Ephraim. (Archimandrite Ephraim of the Monastery of St Anthony, Florence, Arizona. Formerly Abbot of the Monastery of Philotheou on Mt Athos, and a disciple of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. Not to be confused with Elder Ephraim of Katounakia.)
  • Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East - edited by James Cutsinger
  • Hesychasm: an annotated bibliography, Sergey S. Horujy, Moscow 2004
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