Practice of stillness in Saint Gregory Palamas

The practice of stillness in the desert often fled from writing and reading books in general but not from Lectio Divina, divine reading, which includes the gnomic wisdom Centuries that were treasured in Eastern Christian monastic circles.  Saint Gregory Palamas was obliged to write very prolifically because the Hesychast Tradition of gnomic wisdom was under attack in his day and urgently needed to be explained.  The immediate fruits of his written works were the Councils of Constantinople in 1341, 1347 and 1351, Councils which affirmed the canonical orthodoxy of the tradition of graced stillness, (hesychia), permanently validating the practice of stillness for the whole Orthodox Christian world.  Saint Gregory Palamas was himself canonised in 1368, only nine years after his death in 1359 and his writings have been an indispensable inspiration ever since.  For Palamas, the spiritual state of ‘stillness,’ or hesychia, purifies the heart in the uncreated light of ineffable illumination, which welcomes the morning star of glory arising in the heart, freeing the heart to ascend with Christ, in uncreated light, which is the experience of glorification, whose symbol is Tabor, the Mountain of Transfiguration.  

The Hesychast experience of Mount Tabor is neither mental fantasy nor speculative ascent, but ineffable ascent in the Holy Spirit, which is ascent in very truth, although transcending ordinary speech.  Turning (metanoia) is a metaphor for a profound transformation of consciousness that stills the noise of the mind, a turning of the attention, not the head, a turning that undoes forgetfulness of God and awakens to an uncreated, unconditioned awareness of being aware of being aware, awareness that awakens in God to God, Holy Trinity.  Vision (theoria) is transfigured seeing that weds seer and seen, not visual perception of external or imagined phenomena, but deifying awareness of being aware of being aware.  It is the translucent state of seeing which angels know, which Eastern monastic tradition has long called an ‘angelic estate.’  This transfigured ‘seeing’ sees God in everything and everything in God, completing the created ‘image’ of God with blessed ‘likeness,’ likeness by uncreated grace, to God.  Uncreated light is spacious like the expansive openness of a pure blue sky, luminous like the cloudless radiance of unobstructed sunshine, but the Spirit’s ineffable insight, being uncreated though creative, calls for our humble assent, our synergistic co-operation, our Amen.  It is the Spirit of Truth that communicates this graced awareness of limpid awareness in pure awareness, this luminous translucence, but it is a humble ‘Yes’ that glorifies God so that God’s glory may, in turn, reciprocally glorify both elders and saints.  

Purity of heart sustains pure prayer but it is pure prayer that purifies the heart because it is the prayer of the Holy Spirit in the heart that truly purifies.  It is the Spirit that stills the heart and communicates awareness of the completeness of Great Peace. It is the Spirit who bears witness to the mysteries of wisdom’s awareness, presence of glory and the revelatory Name, restoring glory to the Father through the Son.  According to the Spirit of prophecy expressed in the Book of Revelation, the Name of the Father in illumination is Alpha and Omega (Rev 1:8), whilst the Name of the Son in illumination is the first and the last (Rev 1:17). Originating awareness and radiant awareness are both first and last, before everything arises and after everything ceases. The Name of the Father in the ultimate completeness of glorification is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev 21:6), whereas the Name of Christ in consummate glorification is Alpha and Omega, first and last, beginning and end (Rev 22:13).  The Spirit of prophecy here bears witness to the testimony of Jesus because the testimony of Jesus in glorification is in truth an all-encompassing completeness which testifies in turn to the consummate completeness of the Spirit of prophecy (Rev 19:10).  The Spirit bears witness to the fulfilling glory of union, communion of the Father and the Son in their revelation of the hallowing Name, but also to the glory of the grace of this union in us, which is the mystery of glorification, or deification (theosis), the unveiling of the Kingdom of God.  

Stillness purifies the heart for illumination and cleanses it for glorification, which is why Hesychast prayer begins and ends with stillness.  Stillness is the first practice of Hesychasm and the last.  Stillness is the Alpha and Omega of glorification, the beginning and the end of glory’s consummate completeness and Great Peace.  The heart turns and sees Christ in the midst, in whom the Name ‘I AM’ is revelatory, revealing the Father in the Spirit, through the Son.  When the energies of noetic intelligence unite with God in the heart, God illumines and deifies the heart with uncreated energies of wisdom and glory.  In silent self-recollection, the intelligence returns to God at centre, awakening to God hidden in the midst of the heart, an illumination that heals all kinds of degenerate dissipation and addictive disintegration. In stillness, the heart is restored to wholesome vision and union with God, and by abiding in God, is freed, integrated and healed.   Stillness restores the beauty of holiness flowing forth from the Father through the Son, serenely centres as stillness through the Son in the Father and restfully abides as stillness with the Spirit in the Son.  Stillness quietly abides in Christ at centre, consciously aware of being aware of the completeness of Great Peace.  This is the hallowing legacy of Orthodox Hesychasm and St Gregory Palamas, the grace of Holy Trinity lived as purification, illumination and glorification by elders on earth aligned with angels in heaven.  This is Hesychast wisdom, communicated as living prophecy and assimilated as prayer in Spirit and Truth, which is the unceasing God-centred glorification of God by the Spirit, shared by awakened elders with awakening seers and illumined saints.