Many 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.