THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP OF ST.
GREGORY PALAMAS WITH THE THEOTOKOS
Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, from his book "Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite"
'Every saint loves the Panagia. Sainthood is not understood without this
Theotokophilia. It occurs because the saints, after tasting the Jove of God,
communing of the Body and Blood of Christ, and experiencing the gifts of the
incarnation if Christ, feel the need to give thanks also to that person who
was the cause of this great joy. It is well known that the saints re very
sensitive and are therefore grateful for even the small-it gifts which they
receive, and much more for the great gift of the deification of human nature,
which came about in the Tomb of the Theotokos. She gave her flesh to the Son
and ford of God for his incarnation.
This is also the case with St. Gregory Palamas. However, the saint felt love
for the Panagia also for other reasons. He was granted to see her in his
life, he was her protege. We shall give me details to demonstrate this truth,
as his biographer and low monk, Philotheos Kokkinos, Patriarch of
Constantinople, describes them.
The first indication is the fact that from an early age he wass given into
the protection of the Theotokos by his father.
Before his father died, St. Gregory's mother asked him to ask the emperor to
protect his children. That saintly man not only did not accept her words,
but rebuked her in a way and said to her.
"I do not leave my children to some earthly rulers, but I leave my children
to this Mistress of all, the mother of the King of heaven." And indeed at
the time when he said these things he was looking at the icon of the
Theotokos which was in front of him. St. Philotheos says in his biography of
St. Gregory that the words of his holy father came true, because the
theotokos herself persuaded the emperor to take care of the orphan children,
but also later "she was seen to be their protectress and guide, and in every
way the saviour of both their souls and their bodies."
The second circumstance which shows that his father's prophetic words were
actually fulfilled and the Theotokos was a wonderful sponsor, governess and
guide, came from the period of his studies. At die beginning of his studies
the saint had difficulty in memorizing.
Then he placed a restriction
on himself not to come near the books and not to begin reading without first
having knelt thrree time before the icon of the Theotokos, saying a prayer
at the same time. When he did this work every day he succeeded very easily
in memorizing and reciting the lessons. But if he sometimes forgot to follow
this rule even the recitation failed right away." At the same time, as
Philotheos says, the Panagia persuaded the emperor to be the guardian of the
children and to assume all their personal expenses. Furthermore the emperor
showed particular sympathy, for he invited them to come to see him and
talked with them in a kind and loving way.
The third sign is from the period of his asceticism on Mount Athos.
Immediately after he came to the Holy Mountain he gave himself over with
great zeal to ascesis, fasting, vigil and unceasing prayer. It is
significant, according to the information of St. Philotheos Kokkinos, that
he prayed unceasingly to the Theotokos. He prayed day and night to God,
projecting the Mother of God "as guide, protector and mediator, all the time
bringing before his eyes her aid and her countenance, with words and prayers
and noetic movements, and pondering the way of obedience with her guidance."
So in the first two years the saint was praying constantly to God, with the
Panagia as his guide and mediator. The prayer which he was saying at that
time was "enlighten my darkness."
During a great stillness, while his nous had turned inward and to God, John
the Evangelist appeared to him, not in a dream, but in a vision, and assured
him that he had been sent "as a messenger from the Queen beyond," to find
out why he was constantly praying: "enlighten my darkness, enlighten my
darkness." St. Gregory replied that, since he is a passionate man, he was
praying to be enlightened by God to be conformed to His saving will. Then
John the Evangelist said: "Do not be afraid, do not doubt... the Queen of
all is giving the order through us: 'I myself will be your help'." And when
again St. Gregory asked when the Theotokos would be his help and ally, in
the present or future life, then the Evangelist replied: "both before and
now, in both the present and die future."
This appearance of St. John the Evangelist, sent by the Most Holy Theotokos,
was revealed by St. Gregory himself years later to his fellow-monk Dorotheos,
later Metropolitan of Thessaloniki. It is characteristic that the Theotokos
heard the prayer and assured him that, just as long ago, so also now and in
the future, she would be his helper and defender, and moreover, that she was
filling him with divine gifts.
The fourth sign is the revelation which the Theotokos herself made to St.
Gregory. It was at the time when he had returned to the Lavra, but he was
staying at St. Sabbas frontisterion outside the Monastery of the Great Lavra.
He once prayed for himself and his escort to the Panagia, "the usual
governor and deliverer," that both their guidance and their journey toward
God might be unimpeded, but also that they might have what they needed for
their nourishment, in order not to be very much occupied with collecting
supplies and neglect prayer. Then the Panagia, the Queen of all, appeared in
a vision, "dressed modestly and purely," just as the holy icons present her.
Many saints had appeared and were following her. Then the Theotokos turned
and gave them the order to serve St. Gregory and his escort: "From now on
you are to be stewards and distributors of the necessities for Gregory and
And St. Gregory was assured that from then on "all that was necessary for
our bodily needs was offered us without effort wherever we happened to be."
From what we have said it is clear that St. Gregory Palamas had a close
relationship and communion with the Theotokos. All the things that he writes
about her, which we shall see further on, are obviously not dry,
intellectual thoughts and reasoning conjectures, but experiences of the
Panagia. This explains his great love for her. We can also see the
progressive manifestation and revelation of the Theotokos. At first, through
his father's prayer, she took up his protection. Then she showed him clearly
that he must trust in her, for she would protect him throughout his studies.
Then, through John the Evangelist, she assured him that she would be his
helper and protector, and finally she herself was revealed personally.
Throughout his life the saint was convinced that he had the protection and
help of the Theotokos, and therefore he struggled with strength and courage,
expounded the theology of the Church in an orthodox way and defeated the
heresies of his time.
ORTHODOX HERITAGE OCTOBER 2004 BROTHERHOOD OF ST .POIMEN