The Palamite Century

palamas_gregMany books on Orthodoxy spend time recounting the history of the Church. Not many recount the recent history of Orthodoxy or Orthodox thought. Many people do not realize how utterly captive Orthodox theology was to various Western groups and oppressed by the Turkokratia (Turkish empire) until the 20th century. Even in Russia, theology had been largely dominated by a growing Western influence from various directions, often under the sponsorship of various Tsars. It’s a difficult period in Orthodox history.

However, the 20th century, though difficult and bloody, a century of Orthodox martyrs –  was also the century that saw Orthodoxy come out from under the various yokes of bondage that had been placed upon it. The result of this freedom was the resurrection of Palamite theology – that is, Orthodox theology as it found in its greatest and most complete expression – the life and work of St. Gregory Palamas, remembered each year on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent. 

The names associated with this resurrection are like a Who’s Who of 20th century Orthodox theology. Vladimir Lossky, Fr. Georges Florovsky, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. John Romanides, Christos Yannaras, Dimitru Staniloae, Met. Kallistos Ware, and in the area of experience and the teaching that flows from it: St.Silouan of Mt. Athos, the Elder Sophrony Sakharov, Archimandrite Zacharias, and more. In many ways, the vast majority of Orthodox scholars working today work within some model of Palamite understanding. The twentieth century is appropriately dubbed the “Palamite Century,” in Orthodox life.

The place of the Jesus Prayer in Orthodox life, the entire understanding of the Divine Energies and the Divine Essence, the experience of God on the deepest level as the root and ground of all theology, are all hallmarks of St. Gregory’s life and work.

It is fitting to honor him and to give thanks to God that we live in a time when his work has been restored to us and that we can know the fullness which he taught.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





12 responses to “The Palamite Century”

  1. Peter Carey Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this helpful post about Orthodoxy. I am an Episcopal priest with a growing interest in Orthodox thought, having tip-toed around the edges of it (through the work of such Anglicans as Michael Ramsey and Rowan Williams, and others).

    What would you recommend in terms of texts to begin with if someone wanted to give himself a reading course on an “introduction to orthodoxy”?

    Thanks so much,

    Peace and Blessings,

    In Christ,

    Peter Carey+

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are many good starting places:

    For history: Schmemann’s Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy and Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Church

    For thought: Anything you can find by Georges Florovsky, though he’s extremely hard to find.

    Vladimir Lossky’s Introduction to Orthodoxy and his magisterial Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church

    Met. John Zizioulas’ Being as Communion

    Both volumes of the Father Arseny stories.

    There are small things – some are on the pages section of my blog. The articles by Kalomiros and Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev are good.

  3. Lord Peter Avatar
    Lord Peter

    Might I be so bold as to add Fr. John Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology (Fordham)?

    Perhaps, it does not represent Fr. John’s most mature thought on the so-called Monophysite crisis or his final evaluation of Ps.-Denys, but he is much easier to read than Lossky or Florovsky and makes the same over-all points.

  4. david peri Avatar

    Hello…I have found some good reading about Orthodoxy: history, theology, etc.., from this site. Just scroll down the page and you´ll see the online texts.

    Perhaps, Fr Stephen can comment what he knows about this site. Blessings.

  5. An Anxious Anglican Avatar
    An Anxious Anglican

    As every Anglican pilgrim seems to have (1) consulted Father Stephen, and (2) assembled his own Orthodox reading list, I cannot resist adding one of my own favorites: For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (for an outstanding introduction to the sacramental perspective of Orthodoxy. I am also reading Schmemann’s Great Lent as part of my lenten reading with great effect.

    Zizioulas is extremely difficult, and it may be worthwhile to read some Orthodox lives (such as the Father Arseny books) to have a tangible example of Orthodoxy lived before you jump into the deeper waters presented in “Being and Communion.”

    An very helpful online Orthodox catechism adapted from Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev’s Mystery of Faith can be found at

    Thanks again, Father Stephen, for your magnificent ministry here on this blog, and your patience toward all of us “poking around the edges” of Orthodoxy! I may have to change my moniker to “A less anxious Anglican” because of your efforts.

    Grace and peace to you all.

  6. Jane Avatar

    Have been going through some earlier posts and came across a quotation (from Augustine?) to the effect that “God has many people who are not in the Church, and there are many in the Church who do not have God” Now I can’t find it again – please can you give me the date as I want to pass it on to a friend.
    Many thanks, please forgive me.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have been looking for the quote but have not found it. sorry.

  8. Peter Carey Avatar

    Father Stephen et al,

    Thank you so much for these great recommendations, now I just need to get reading!

    Thank you,

    Peace and Blessings,

  9. Isaac of Syria Avatar
    Isaac of Syria


    This seems to be the book most frequently given around our parish when a visitor shows an interest in Orthodoxy:

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    I haven’t read this yet but I am eager to. He is a very solid monk.

  11. Jane Avatar

    Father Stephen, Thank you for looking for that quotation, not a problem.

  12. Karen Avatar

    Jane, you might try Googling “Quotes by St. Augustine” or something like that. I’m amazed how easy it is sometimes to find things that way!

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