Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple

[Excerpted from "St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite"
by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos]

According to the tradition of the Church, the Theotokos spent three years in the Temple and only she entered the holy of holies, just as once a year the High Priest did, and there she stayed until the year of her betrothal to Joseph.

St. Gregory Palamas devoted two sermons to the feast of the Entry, in which he describes her stay in the Temple and the way which she followed in order to attain deification by Grace. These homilies are excellent, and the second in particular is very theological and constitutes the basis of the hesychastic life.

The significance of this sermon lies in the following points. First, it presents the whole majesty of our Panagia, for whom all races of men were waiting. Secondly, it expresses the great love which St. Gregory Palamas had for the Panagia. Thirdly, the means of deification is described, and this is the hesychastic way of life. Thus the Panagia is a type of a genuine hesychast. Fourthly, along with the description of hesychasm, at the same time the life of the true Hagiorite who practises hesychasm is described, as well as the personal experience of St. Gregory Palamas. It is very striking to say that the method used by our Panagia to attain deification is still preserved to this day on the Holy Mountain by the genuine Hagiorites. It seems, then, that hesychasm is the true orthodox life, which differs from the way of conjecture and is the essence of the Orthodox Tradition.

At the beginning of his homily St. Gregory Palamas explains why he wrote it. He could not do otherwise in order to satisfy his longing for her, in order to fill his need, and also to confess his joy at the gifts which he has received from her. This is why he extols her. He confesses that the gifts which he received from God, he received through her.

The Panagia lived in the holy of holies as in paradise. And not only was she living outwardly as in a blessed place, but also her way of life was free of any slavery. For certainly it is not enough to live in hesychastic places, but one must live the inner hesychastic life. He writes: "She lived an ascetic, carefree, unbusied life, devoid of sorrow, having no part in base passions, above the pleasure that is not without pain, living only by God, seen only by God, nourished by God, upheld only by God... and she was looking only at God, making God her noursihment, constantly devoted to God".

Anyone who has visited the Holy Mountain, and especially the Fathers who live in desert and hesychastic places, can understand that in describing the life of the Theotokos in the Temple, St. Gregory Palamas is essentially describing his own life. Moreover this is natural, because the hesychast Hagiorite Fathers are aware that they are imitating the Panagia and are living in accordance with her own way of life. The saints have a common relationship in the way which they use in order to attain deification, union with the Triune God.

According to the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, the Panagia, full of wisdom as she was, "searched the powers of her soul if she might discover the means for being one with God. St. Gregory calls this oneness a holy and divine eros. In her attempt the Theotokos herself understood that union with God cannot be attained through sensation, imagination, doctrine and reason. These constitute the so-called irrational powers of the soul and do not lead a person to God. This communion takes place only through the nous. If one turns wholly to God through the nous, one can reach the longed-for union.

When the nous withdraws from God and wanders in search of sensory things, it is ill, and this in reality is man's illness. The nous needs to be cured first: to be freed from all its slavery to created things, and to be liberated from all the sensations of created things. There must be forgetfulness of things below, laying aside of all concepts, and then initiation into the things above. This is called hesychia of the nous and is also called "the way of hesychia" and "holy hesychia". In attaining health of his soul through holy hesychia a person attains the vision of God, by which he is "deified". Using this method" we are relieved of lower things and turn towards God". Our Panagia used precisely the same method, according to St. Gregory Palamas, and in the holy of holies she attained deification by Grace and became a borderline between uncreated and created.

Naturally this did not happen in an abstract way. It is not a matter of an abstract ascent which happened in a philosophical and buddhistic way, but of the method used by all the saints, those of the Old as well as the New Testament. The Panagia freed herself first from every material tie and relationship, raised herself above sympathy for the body, that is riddance of any material object and every pleasure, and then "annexed her nous by turning towards herself and by attention and unceasing divine prayer". In this way the Panagia was blessed with the vision of God and therefore "saw the glory of God and kept an eye on divine grace". And naturally this did not happen simply by her own struggle alone, but also by the energy of divine Grace. For no one can arrive at union with God only by his own human effort. Therefore we are not dealing with an abstract state, with conjecture and meditation of an oriental type, but with a healthy state, since there is prayer, the coming of Grace, union with the Personal God.

It is clear from this analysis of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos and the way used by the Panagia to attain deification by Grace, that this is essentailly a description of the orthodox way of life toward salvation, but also the Hagioritic hesychastic way of life. And today the true Hagiorites live in the same way and therefore feel themselves to be children of the Panagia. It is not only a matter of their staying in one place, but of the use of the same mode of life.


Post a Comment

<< Home