St Mark of Ephesus: Hymns for St Gregory Palamas

The importance of St Gregory Palamas for the Orthodox theological tradition is difficult to overestimate. Known for his defense of the hesychast tradition and his doctrine of theosis, transfiguration, and the uncreated light, St Gregory Palamas is especially celebrated for his distinction between God's unapproachable essence and communicable divine energies. Upheld by Church Councils in 1341, 1347, and 1351, the doctrine of St Gregory Palamas would become a formal part of the Orthodox confession of faith, shaping the profession henceforward made by Orthodox bishops and becoming the touchstone par excellence of Byzantine theology for a century to come.[1] Today, the memory of St Gregory Palamas, and his theological achievements, remains an important part of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, proclaimed annually on the first Sunday of Great Lent, while the second Sunday of Lent is devoted entirely to Palamas, as something of a continuation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.


St Gregory Palamas, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Pappas Patristic
St Gregory Palamas, Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

The legacy of St Gregory Palamas can be seen, among other places, in the work of St Mark Eugenikos, Metropolitan of Ephesos. Mark, who is famed for his defense of the Orthodox faith at the Council of Florence (1438-1439), was not simply an anti-Latin polemicist, but was also a noted hymnographer and church musician. Among his many compositions are four stichera to St Gregory Palamas, reflecting Mark's devotion to the hesychast tradition and his veneration of Palamas as one of the great Fathers of the Late Byzantine Church.[2] The Pappas Patristic Institute is pleased to present a translation of these brief hymns, from the edition of Evelina Mineva.[3]


Stichera for St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica

by St Mark Eugenikos


Tone 4 (Ὁ ἐξ ὑψίστου κληθείς, οὐκ ἀπ’ ἀνθρώπων)


When you who were sanctified from your mother’s womb

forsook transient glory

and shook off passionate attachment to the world

through divinely-inspired eros for philosophy,

then, O all-blessed one, having turned to yourself,

and having sagaciously purified the senses of the body

and the powers of the soul

through self-control and tears and ever-flowing prayer,

you became a container of divine myrrh

and a shining vessel of grace.


Having purified your soul and heart,

you behold, as much as one is permitted, the great vision:

Christ resplendent in glory

upon the Mountain

of the most divine Transfiguration;

and having ascended illustriously with the initiates of grace

through the contemplation of the Spirit,

and having likewise received the ray

of the all-blissful splendor,

being completely suffused with its light,

you have been revealed to us as divinely-eloquent, Godlike, and God-bearer,

whence you declared that this splendor is uncreated and eternal.


Those who were in darkness as regards the light, as if groping about in blindness

with logical proofs for the things that are beyond reason and intellect,

you did refute as utterly foolish

by the divinely-inspired words of celestial wisdom, O venerable one,

for they sundered

the grace of the Spirit and eternal light

from the unapproachable divinity,

dragging it down to the creation.

To such you proclaimed

the teachings of the Fathers breathed by God from on high,

rendering them thunderstruck,

so that even to this day they are dumbfounded.


Having adorned the Church, O God-bearer,

with your words and deeds and sacred teachings,

and having clarified exceedingly

the doctrines of the Fathers

through strenuous toils and struggles,

you were taken from hence to the life beyond this world,

joining the assemblies of angels,

apostles,

hierarchs, and martyrs,

and beholding, as you did desire,

the sweet brilliance of our great God and Savior,

pray that we too may attain this.


St Mark of Ephesus pictured with St Joseph the Hymnographer, Pappas Patristic Institute, Palamas
St Mark of Ephesus pictured with St Joseph the Hymnographer
 

[1] Among the many important studies of the reception of Palamas in Late Byzantium and beyond, see A. Rigo, “La canonizzazione di Gregorio Palama (1368) ed alcune altre questioni.” Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Neoellenici 30 (1993): 155-202; C. Chivu, "Un veac de isihasm: de la Grigorie Palama la Marcu Evghenicul,” Sfântul Marcu Evghenicul: Opere, II (Bucharest: Editura Gândul Aprins, 2014), 7-52.


[2] On St Mark and the theology of St Gregory Palamas, see M. Pilavakis, “Markos Eugenikos’s First Antirrhetic against Manuel Calecas’s on Essence and Energy. Editio princeps with Introduction and Commentary,” (PhD Thesis, King’s College, University of London, 1987);


[3] E. Mineva, Το υμνογραφικό έργο του Μάρκου Ευγενικού (Athens: Kanaki, 2004), 276-77. On the hesychast theology of St Mark's hymnody, see ibid., 119-24.