Augustine Sokolovski

November 14 (27) is the day before the Nativity Fast. On this day the Church honors the memory of the Apostle Philip. Therefore, this fast, especially in pre-revolutionary literature, is often called the St. Philip’s Fast. The forty-day fast before Christmas corresponds to the time of waiting for the Holiday, and therefore can, by analogy with the ancient Christian tradition, be called the time of Advent.

On this same day, the Church also honors the memory of St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359). Since the second Sunday of Great Lent is also dedicated to Gregory, this November, autumn memory of Palamas almost always goes unnoticed. So much so that an involuntary impression is created that there are, as it were, two Gregory: one - famous, glorious, and solemn; and another Gregory - forgotten, humble, an image of late autumn.

“As a child, I believed - and this belief remained for many years somewhere in the depths of my soul - that on one of the streets there was a house similar to ours, and in this house lived another like me, similar to me in everything, like a twin, like a double,” writes modern Turkish writer and Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk in his book “Istanbul - the City of Memories.” The life of St. Gregory was also connected with Istanbul, or rather, with Constantinople.

The November commemoration of Gregory Palamas is a celebration in honor of the great bishop, theologian, and ascetic of the Decline of the Byzantine Empire. At that time, Great Byzantium was a city-state with adjacent territories, the same as now Liechtenstein or Andorra, with the only difference that, unlike the latter, it had additional exclave territories that were constantly disputed by different parties. One of these territories was ancient Thessalonica. The archbishop of this year in the last period of his life was Gregory.

In modern church consciousness, Gregory Palamas is perceived as one of the Fathers of the Church. Even though the patristic era historically ended with the advent of Islam, it seemed to Gregory’s contemporaries that early Christian antiquity came to life again in his person - the time of the irrevocable youth of the Church - when everything was different. Then the day of the death of the saints of God was called the birthday, and the veneration of the saints began immediately after their departure to God without any formal canonization.

Surprisingly, this, or almost this, happened with Gregory. In 1368, that is, just 9 years after his death, he was canonized as a saint by the Church of Constantinople. Speaking about the canonization of Gregory Palamas as a saint, researchers of his theology in the 20th century figuratively argued that, by canonizing the personality and teachings of Palamas, the Great Empire and the Church, summed up, in a way, the sacred result of their development, to sound the final chord of Byzantine Orthodox statehood.

By the way, the term “Byzantine Empire” itself has never existed in history. It was invented by Western scientists of modern times in order to, as it were, retroactively deny the Orthodox Roman Empire with its capital in Constantinople the right to historical continuity in relation to Ancient Rome on the Tiber. So these days, some polemicists are trying to call the Russian Empire “Moscovia,” thus formulating an absurd anachronism.

Palamas' biography, life path, upbringing at court, entering monasticism, the period of endless Sisyphean labor of theological polemics, involuntary participation in the civil war, the not entirely successful archbishopric, which included Turkish captivity, represent an endless labyrinth of events that are quite worthy of one their future authors - perhaps Orhan Pamuk - would combine them all together in some of his postmodern novels.

Despite its complexity, the theology of Gregory Palamas can be reduced to a number of fundamental statements. 1.) God is unknowable, incomprehensible, unattainable and inaccessible in His Essence, but knowable, comprehensible, attainable and accessible in His action; 2.) The action, that is, literally, in Greek, the “energy” of God is His grace; 3.) Grace is communicated and assimilated by ascetic effort; 4.) Divine grace, manifested by God or assimilated by an ascetic, can be visible as light, by analogy with the light of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor; 5.) The Tabor Light of grace, as well as its other phenomena, are not created, that is, not created, but are His action, or the energies of God. Gregory practiced what he preached. His last words were: “Let's go to heaven, heaven, to the Light!”

It is important that in the Orthodox Church Gregory Palamas received the same title as Augustine of Hippo (354–430) almost a thousand years before: “Doctor of Grace.” Augustine taught that a person in Christ is impossible without grace; grace is a message, that is, communication between man and God, as well as between people. Grace is an absolute, unaccountable divine gift. Insisting that grace is consubstantial with God, and, in the language of the Eucharist, consanguineous with people according in Christ, Gregory continued this thought.

Both Augustine and Gregory were Children of the Sunset. Augustine lived at the end of the Roman Empire. He died in Ippon, besieged by Vandals - modern Algerian Annaba. After this, the world was never the same again, but more and more new peoples came to Christ. Gregory Palamas lived at the end of Eastern Rome - Orthodox Constantinople. Calling on his contemporaries to evangelize the Ottomans, he foresaw that Orthodoxy would survive the Empire, even if the past could not be returned.