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November - December 2005

THE CURE OF THE SOUL
From Saint Gregory Palamas as an Hagiorite

"Orthodox asceticism is not just for the monasteries, but also for the world." - Elder Porphyrios (1906-1991)

"No matter what misfortune might befall you, no matter what unpleasantness might occur, say, I will endure this for Jesus Christ's sake! Just say that, and you will feel better, for the Name of Jesus Christ is powerful. Before It, all difficulties abate, and demons disappear. Your annoyance and faintness of heart will abate when you repeat His most sweet Name." - St. Antony of Optina


In reality hesychasm is the method which the Orthodox Tradition has for curing man, and so its aim is the cure of the soul. All the works of St. Gregory Palamas refer to this crucial point. Man must be cured, and of course this is the basic work of the Church. By his struggles St. Gregory wished to preserve this orthodox method of healing, and in his homilies he recommended the true way of curing man. He emphasised that for man's cure and therefore for our salvation we need the combination of these two things, that is to say the combination of sacramental and hesychastic life. A sacramental life which saves without its essential presupposition, the so-called hesychastic life, is unthinkable. And a hesychastic life without the sacramental life of the Church is unthinkable.

Therefore, according to (Saint Gregory), the cure of the soul is attained through the sacramental and hesychastic life. Without this combination it is not possible for orthodox life and orthodox theology to exist. But we must look more analytically at this teaching of the saint, because it will also show us the method by which we can be cured.

In speaking of the sacramental life he analyses the two great sacraments of the Church, Baptism and Holy Communion, and their meaning for our personal life. Through Baptism Christ becomes a Father of men and through Holy Communion He becomes a mother. Thus through these two Sacraments Christ nourishes us like infants, in the way that a mother nourishes her children with her two breasts.

Through Baptism we are born into a new life. This means, first of all, that we transcend the biological life and are brought into the Church, the Body of Christ. But Baptism is closely connected with man's repentance. Thus repentance is essential, before and after holy Baptism. If after Baptism we do not live in accordance with Christ's commandments, we are like the baby who at birth has received the possibility of becoming heir to his father's fortune, but who does not inherit it when he deserts his parents.

Holy Baptism leads to Holy Communion. Holy Communion gives us life. By His incarnation Christ became our brother, by revealing the sacraments He became our friend and through Communion of His Body and Blood He becomes our bridegroom. By partaking of things consecrated a person has contact with Christ. By Holy Communion we are made immortal, we become purple, or rather royal, blood and body, and attain adoption by Grace. In order to be worthy of approaching Holy Communion, preparation is also necessary. This consists of repentance, purification of the soul and body, and faith that what looks like bread on the Holy Table is the Body of Christ. But also after Holy Communion we need asceticism in order to preserve the divine Grace which we received with the Body and Blood of Christ.

St. Gregory is not satisfied just to point out the value of the sacraments, nor does he only urge us to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. He goes on to the ascetic life as well, because the sacraments are very closely connected with asceticism.

In speaking of asceticism he underlines many points. But we shall look at the hesychastic life. As we know, the ascetic life is purity of heart from evil thoughts, for one cannot drive thoughts away by reasoning. St. Gregory presents the Holy Mother of God as the type of hesychia and the hesychast. When she was in the holy of holies she found the suitable way of attaining communion with God and deification. Man is made up of nous and sensation. Between the two are imagination, opinion, and mind. The latter three are very closely connected with sensation, and of course no one can reach God through the senses. This is achieved through the nous. Therefore the Virgin Mary deadened sensation, reason, opinion and imagination, activated her nous, and thus achieved her desire, she saw God and became Favoured.

Of course throughout this book we have also analysed other methods of asceticism by which a man cures the passible part of his soul and keeps the commandments of God, and all these can be applied by Christians who live in the world.

Man is cured by the sacramental and ascetic life. The writings of St. Gregory Palamas - the theological ones as well as his sermons - refer to man's cure. Orthodox theology either is a fruit of the cure or leads to the cure. The orthodox theologian is a physician who cures his spiritual children, and that is why theology is closely connected and identified with spiritual fatherhood.

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