St. Gregory Palamas
Archbishop of Thessalonica
(c. 1296-1359 A.D.)
II. On Prayer and Purity of Heart : three Chapters
1. Since God is goodness itself, mercy itself and a limitless deep of benevolence, he who enters into union with Him, partakes in every way of His mercy. And union with Him is achieved by acquiring godlike virtues, as far as this is possible, and by communion with Him through prayer and supplication. However, communion through godlike virtues renders the diligent doer capable of receiving the Divine union, but does not effect it; it is intense prayer by its holy action that accomplishes the soaring of man to God and union with Him; for in its essence prayer is the union of intelligent beings with their Creator, when its action transcends passions and passionate thoughts through piercing of the heart and contrition. For while the mind is passionate, it cannot unite with God. Therefore so long as it remains such, it does not receive God’s mercy in prayer. But to the extent that it drives away passionate thoughts, it acquires mourning and contrition. And in proportion to contrition and the piercing of the heart it is granted merciful comfort, and, after long remaining in these feelings with humility, it at last transforms the desiring part of the soul.
2. When the single mind is threefold, while yet remaining single, it is united with the Divine Threefold Oneness, closes the door to all prelest, sin and error and becomes above flesh, above the world and above the prince of this world. Having thus escaped their snares, it remains wholly enclosed in itself and in God, tasting the spiritual joy which flows from within. And the single mind is threefold, while yet remaining single, when it returns to itself and rises through itself to God. The mind’s return to itself is its guarding of itself, and its rising to God comes of prayer. When a man abides in this collected state of mind and in this soaring to God, then, curbing his volatile thoughts by intense effort of self-constraint, he mentally approaches God, meets with the ineffable, tastes of the life to come and knows by spiritual apprehension how good is the Lord, as the Singer of Psalms says, ’ Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. xxxiii. 8). To bring the mind to a threefold state so that, while being one and the same, it guards, is guarded, and performs prayer is perhaps not so difficult, but to remain long in this state, which gives birth to something indescribable, is exceedingly difficult. The work on any other virtue is small and very easy compared with it. This is why many, by refusing the straitness of the virtue of prayer, fail to acquire the spaciousness of the gifts ; while those who endure it are granted the greatest Divine intercessions, which give them strength to undertake and endure all things, and joyfully to strive forward, since it makes the difficult easy and gives our nature angelic power, as it were, to do what is above nature; in the words of the Prophet, ‘But they that wait on God shall renew their strength; they shall put forth new feathers like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not hunger’ (Isaiah xl. 31).
3. What is called mind is also activity of mind, consisting of thoughts and understandings; and mind is the power, too, which produces this, and which in the Scriptures is also called heart. Through this power of the mind, the most important of our powers, the soul within us thinks. In those who practise prayer, the action of mind, consisting of thoughts, is easily purified; but the soul which gives birth to these thoughts will not become pure unless at the same time all its other powers are purified. For the soul is one, although it has many powers; therefore the whole of it is defiled, if evil has crept into any one of its powers ; for since the soul is one and single, all its other powers are in communication with that one. Since each of the powers is manifested in different actions, it may be that, through special attention and diligence, one of these actions temporarily proves pure. But it cannot be concluded from this that the whole power is pure, since, being in communication with others, it may be more impure than pure. In this way, if, through special attention and diligence during prayer, the action of a man’s mind proves pure and he acquires, within measure, either enlightenment of understanding or mental illumination (contemplation), and if in consequence he considers himself purified, he will delude himself and, falling into a lie, will in his conceit open wide the doors to him who is ever trying to seduce us. But if, knowing the uncleanness of his heart, he does not puff himself up at a measure of, as it were, accidental purity, then with its help he will see more clearly the uncleanness of the other powers of his soul, will progress in humility, increase his mourning and contrition, and will try to find effective remedies for each power of the soul, cleansing his active part by deeds, his mental part by knowledge, the contemplative part by prayer and, through them, reaching the true, perfect and stable purity of heart and mind, which no one ever gains except by perfection in actions, constant contrition, contemplation and prayer in contemplation.
Taken from the Early Fathers from the Philokalia by E.Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer. Faber and Faber Limited, No Copyright Notice Found, First Published in 1954, this text Eighth impression 1981.
[All Old Testament Scriptural quotations are taken from the LXX/Septuagint.]
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