Saints of the Day – Gregory Palamas

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(also known as Gregory of Sinai)

Probably born at Constantinople c.1296; died at Salonika, 1359; canonized by the Orthodox Church, 1368.

“The prayer of the heart is the source of all good, which refreshes the soul as if it were a garden.” – Saint Gregory Palamas Gregory Palamas was the foremost exponent and upholder of an ascetical and mystical doctrine, practice, and technique that caused great controversy in the Orthodox Church during the 14th century. It is called Hesychasm, or sometimes, after Gregory, Palamism.

Together with the monks of Mount Athos, he believe that by perfect quieting of a person’s body and mind, the Christian may be granted an extraordinary vision of God’s uncreated light. It is a gift from God bringing purity and deep spiritual insight.

In 1333 his teaching involved him in a controversy that lasted ten years with an able Greek monk from southern Italy, Barlaam. Barlaam and other members of the Eastern church believed that these mystics (known as ‘hesychasts’) were wrong. Barlaam said that this ‘uncreated light,’ the light that surrounded Jesus at his transfiguration, was part of God’s essential unity and transcendence, and that no human being could experience it.

Hesychasm would almost certainly have been condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 1341 had it not been vigorously defended by Gregory Palamas. He had the powerful support of the Athonite monks, but his writings were condemned and he was excommunicated.

Gregory Palamas insisted that for true meditation a Christian must take a mentor, never forget the supremacy of the Eucharist and, if possible, be attached in some way to a monastic community. Nevertheless, two synods condemned his views, although the monks of Mount Athos never ceased to support him.

Gregory Palamas was restored to the sacraments and appointed bishop of Thessalonica in 1347, when John Cantacuzenus seized the imperial throne and sought the support of the monks of Athos, whose influence among the people was immense. His appointment, however, reopened the controversy.

Finally Gregory’s cause triumphed and his teaching was declared to be orthodox by the church of Constantinople in 1351; but by then he was worn out and his health was seriously impaired. In 1368, eight years after his death, a synod declared him ‘Father and Doctor of the church.’ As well as being a speculative theologian of importance, Saint Gregory Palamas was a devoted teacher and pastor.

In recent years there has been a revival of interest in Hesychasm and it has been the subject of considerable study in both the East and West (Attwater, Bentley, Meyendorff).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 11 August 2020. Web. 25 November 2020. <>