Jean Meyendorff, Saint Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Mystical Tradition, “Orthodox Witness” series, number 12, Akritas publications, Athens 1989, 224 pages.
J. Meyendorff examines the tradition of “pure prayer” in the Christian East. This research proves, as the author attests in his conclusions, that this is a tradition of astonishing duration, from the 4th up to the 20th century. Meyendorff reached this conclusion after presenting the history of this tradition’s forming.
In the first part of the study the author presents extensively the wider spiritual tradition of the monks of the East. Initially he examines the constitution of the monastic phenomenon, formed as a counterbalance to the secularised Church of the 4th century, and then he goes on to describe the way in which Evagrios Ponticus and Makarios of Egypt influenced monasticism and “monologic” prayer. The contribution of the Diadoche Fotikis and Ioannis of Klimax is noted, as well as the importance of invoking Jesus’ name in the “unceasing prayer”, linking it to a breathing exercise.
Next there is a presentation of the contribution of Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor to the development of the theosis (divination) teaching, that is the teaching about the union of humans with God, in a neoplatonic language, and the consolidation of theology with prayer in action as a theoretical life accessible to all Christians. Then follows a presentation of Symeon the Young Theologian who posed the problem of the exact nature of human union with God. Right after that there is an analysis of 13th and 14th century Byzantine hesychasm, with reference to the work of Nikiphoros the Hesychast and Gregorios of Mt. Sinai.
The second part of the paper refers to Gregory Palamas. The author, after a narration of Gregory’s formative years, goes on to describe his clash with Varlaam and Akindynos. Then follows a brief but succinct description of the theology of Hesychasm, as it was expressed and articulated by Gregory Palamas.
Then there is reference and extensive analysis of the main aspects of Palamas’ theological thought regarding the distinction between God’s substance and energies.
The third and last part refers to the course of hesychasm from Palamas up to today. In this context there is an analysis mostly of the theological positions of Nicholaos Cavasilas, and also a description of the renaissance linked to Philokalia, inaugurated by Nikodimos of Mount Athos and Makarios of Corinth around the end of the 18th century. Finally the study concludes with a brief description of Russia’s hesychastic tradition throughout history, with references to its main representatives from the 12th up to the beginning of the 20th century.