three major theological conflicts shook Byzantine society: the Arsenian
schism (13th century), the clash between the hesychasts and the
anti-hesychasts (14th century) and the unification problem (15th
century), which not only proved Orthodoxy’s robustness, but also its dynamic
presence in the life of the Empire. The “hesychast discord” however, was the
issue that had taken on the largest proportions.
a. Any conventional
will most likely introduce prospects for theorizing rather than provide any
interpretational justification thereof. It was therefore treated as a purely
political conflict; a quarrel between lay clergy and monasticism, a conflict
between Aristotelians and Platonics in the theological sphere, a juxtaposing
of two different traditions in the bosom of Orthodoxy, etc. In other words, this discord clearly appeared
to be an intra-Byzantine matter, even in its causes. Recent studies of the last decades have
however convincingly confirmed that it was clearly a conflict between East
and West; between the orthodox and the Frankish-Latin traditions which took
place on “Byzantine” territory. This discord was not only provoked by a
“fateful” person, a monk, Barlaam the Calabrian, who was also responsible
for the acuteness of the discord, but whose very presence in the Hellenic
East also confirmed the saying:
juxta se posita magis illucescunt” (contrary things, when placed opposite each
other, are illuminated even more).
a scholarly monk from “Magna Graecia” who was
philosophy and theology), was
an enthusiastic supporter of the revival of Platonic and Aristotelian
philosophy (humanism). With this background, he stood fully compliant with
the Paleologos era’s ideals; thus, when he visited (in 1330, emulating John
the Italian) his paternal lands (Arta –
Constantinople), he was received with
honours. He was appointed as a
Constantinople (during the reign of emperor Andronikos III
Paleologos) and he was entrusted with theological missions, because he was
not only respected as a scholar, but was also believed to be orthodox. Very soon however, it became obvious that
his Orthodoxy was limited to words only and that the genuine theological
prerequisites were in fact nonexistent in him. The occasion that revealed his
anti-orthodox ideology was his stance towards the hesychast lifestyle, even
after his -rather
sketchy- familiarization with it. The method, but more so the mentality, of
the hesychast are familiar elements to those who live inside the orthodox
reality, and only a true hesychast can comprehend them. Barlaam, as it came
to be apparent, did not have the proper prerequisites for this. He brought
with him to the East a different kind of Christianity, thus making it
possible to determine the extent of the alteration and the alienation of the
western Christian society, following the thorough “Frankish” overhaul it had
undergone (11th century – Schism).
Barlaam’s idiosyncrasy and chiefly the self-importance that his
education filled him with, led him to the decision to ridicule the Hesychasts
and their hesychast lifestyle, by characterizing them, not only as
fatalists (“navel-focusing souls”), but also as “heretics” (Massalians). In 1337, he came to
with the aim to secure a conciliar condemnation of the Hesychasts,
claiming their tradition to be foreign to Orthodoxy - which he supposedly
off the now open confrontation.
defence of the Hesychasts and their hesychast lifestyle was undertaken by a
monk of the
Palamas. He was the son of a senator, born around 1296 and with impressive
philosophical studies under the renowned humanist Theodore Metochite. But
over by intelligentsia. He had turned to ascetic living at quite an early
stage of his life and was initiated in the authentic ascetic tradition by
prominent Elders (Gerons) such as Theoleptos of Philadelphia, Patriarch
Athanasios and Neilos of the Italus lineage. His ascetic experience was
already an extensive one, which he had acquired on
Papikion and from 1331 onwards, more
Gregory learnt in Thessaloniki of Barlaam’s
positions on the matter of the ‘procession of the Holy Spirit’ (the
Filioque; he thenceforth proved his Patristic standpoint, with his immediate
detection of the anti-Patristic context of the theological prerequisites and
criteria of the Calabrian monk, i.e., his substitution of the Patristic
method with philosophical-dialectic contemplations; in other words, his
preference to the dialectic (philosophical) method for theologizing. Gregory responded to Barlaam’s
anti-hesychast texts, with three “triads” written “in support of those living
in blessed Hesychasm”, in which he not only proved the opponent’s
anti-Patristic (and consequently anti-ecclesiastic) stance, but also the
actual continuation of Patristic tradition by those very Hesychasts. This
dispute, which quickly evolved into a broader argument, was transferred from
Thessaloniki to the heart of the empire,
The dialogue began with the use of dialectic contemplations, then
continued with theologizing (=the philosophizing of one’s faith) and finally
advanced to the hesychastic ascetic method and its results (“theopty” =the
experience of a ‘vision’ of God, hence the term “theology of theopty” – Stylianos Papadopoulos), the soteriological dimension of the problem, and
chiefly the distinction between ‘essence’ and ‘energy’ in God, as well as the
potential and the manner of attaining theosis (=communion between the created
and the Uncreated.)
as ‘the life in the Holy Spirit’, constitutes the quintessence of ecclesiastic
tradition and relates precisely to that which the term ‘Orthodoxy’ embraces
and expresses. Orthodoxy outside the hesychastic tradition is inconceivable
and nonexistent. As for hesychastic practice, it is the “philosopher’s stone”
which verifies the authentic Christian model.
By reciprocating to the purpose of the Church’s presence as the body
of Christ in the world, Hesychasm can be characterized as an “ascetic
therapeutic treatment” (fr. J.
an attempt to restore the “noetic function” in the heart of the faithful. A
prerequisite of hesychastic practice is the scriptural distinction between
the ‘nous’ (the ‘spirit’ of man) and the ‘logos’ (intellect). Ecclesiastically speaking, the ‘nous’ is
the ‘eye’ of the soul, and the instrument of divine comprehension. The normally functioning ‘nous’ should
reside in the heart; however, when its function is rendered inert (by
mankind’s fall), it becomes entangled with the intellect and the thoughts
that are generated by it. In its
natural state, the ‘nous’ is replete with Grace (as a
and it prays incessantly. In other words, it possesses the “perpetual memory”
of God (the mental prayer) and it prepares man for his union with God
(=theosis). Consequently, the mental
prayer is the natural function of the ‘nous’ inside the heart, which, beyond
its biological function, also has a spiritual function. The function of
prayer by the ‘nous’ inside the heart is a mnemonic system that functions in
parallel to the cellular and the cerebral ones, but it is imperceptible –and
hence unacknowledged- by science.
(In the bibliography below, one can find
works by fr. John Romanides and fr. Hierotheos Vlachos, which provide
extensive analyses on this subject)
purpose of Hesychasm is the
catharsis of the heart and the ‘nous’ respectively of their passions
(transforming the reproachable passions into irreproachable ones) and of
their thoughts (all of them, the good and the bad). Patristically speaking, this procedure is
called ‘therapy’, because through it, the ‘nous’ is healed and it regains its
natural function. Thereafter, the Holy Spirit prays (resides – Romans 8:24)
within the ‘nous’ “incessantly” (Thessalonians I, 5:17), while the intellect
continues with its own natural function. In this context, it must be
mentioned that Hinduism is also familiar with the existence of the ‘nous’ and
its methods of vacating it of all thoughts. However, because of Hinduism’s
ignorance of Christ and its idolatrous orientation, it is impossible to
replete the ‘nous’ with (uncreated) Grace. Thus, the –scandalous to many-
‘coincidence of Orthodoxy and Hinduism’ is in fact limited to appearances
only. With the arrival (‘visitation’)
of the Holy Spirit, which occurs after therapy, the ‘nous’ becomes the
‘temple’ of the Holy Spirit (Corinthians I, 6:19) and man becomes a member of
Christ’s body (Corinthians I, 12:27, Romans 8:9). In the language of Philokalia, this
spiritual stage is called “enlightenment” and it is the prerequisite for
theosis, or the glorification within the Uncreated natural Grace (energy) of
the Holy Trinity. In this manner,
Christianity -as Orthodoxy- proves itself to be a transcending –a surpassing- of ‘religion’ (=the ritualizing of religious ‘obligations’). The ‘religionizing’ of Christianity is equivalent
to its radical alteration.
fr. John Romanides has very discerningly pointed out Hesychasm’s
methodological propinquity to the positive sciences, in whose realm he has
included Theology. The Philokalia
texts (containing the Neptic tradition) all evidence this propinquity, with their
referrals to the manifestations of theosis (in undeteriorated and
The mission of the
(both secular and monastic) is a therapeutic one.
century –just like
this tradition was preserved mostly by the monastic parish and less by the
secular one; this was precisely the tradition that the Fathers of the
had so fervently defended, with saint Gregory Palamas at the lead. «The central axis of Orthodoxy is
not limited to the Holy Bible, the writings of the Fathers and the Local and
Ecumenical Councils (Synods); it is chiefly the tradition of experiential
theory (theosis), from one generation to the next.
authority does not reside in the
texts, but in those who possess the experience of theosis. In fact, it is the
pre-eminence of the texts that leads to the ideologizing of tradition.
The true theologian in Orthodoxy is the one
who has experienced the “sighting” of God, while everything that pertains to
God (=Theology) is the fruit of the experience of theosis. Without all these
prerequisites, it is impossible for one to comprehend the 14th-century
From the end
of the 13th century onwards, one can observe an intensifying of
the hesychast tradition, as the continuation –through saint Symeon the “new”
Theologian (+1022 or 1037)- of the apparent spiritual renaissance, with the
Holy Mountain as its center. Orthodoxy’s Monasticism never lost its hesychast
orientation, as opposed to the West where its more
general alienation is directly linked to the alienation of its monastic
element. This is the alienation that was also incarnated in the person of the
monk Barlaam, in spite of the fact that he came from a place where authentic
monastic living had flourished and had brought forth major saintly figures,
up until the time of the Norman
conquest of southern Italy
(1071). With his anti-hesychast
stance, Barlaam proved that he was entirely foreign to the hesychast
tradition, i.e., the ascetic-empirical founding of ecclesiastic theologizing,
hence the reason that Gregory Palamas called him a “Latin-Hellene”, given that he clearly possessed a
issue that was raised with Barlaam’s intervention,
was whether the therapy of the “nous” (=catharsis) can be achieved through
ascesis and the mental prayer (enlightenment), or through philosophy
(intellectual contemplation). This however posed the problem -in practice- of
the association between “divine” and “external” or “classically taught”
wisdom. Palamas discerned
–patristically- two kinds of wisdom: the divine and the external kind, which
are clearly discernible between each other as they each function in a
different place (heart - brain). The
hesychast substitutes “the wisdom of this age” (Corinthians I, 2:6) with
God’s wisdom when theologizing, which presupposes an active presence of God’s
uncreated energy inside the heart of the faithful.
«External education assists the
natural kind (of wisdom), but the spiritual kind it cannot ever (assist),
unless it is accompanied by faith and
a love for God; even more so, unless it is reborn unto love and that which
is produced by it and has become something other than what it formerly was -
common and divine in semblance, pure, peaceful, lenient - which therefore
must be named "wisdom from above"
and "God's wisdom" (1
Cor.1:21,24 and 2:7), and by being
something spiritual and a wisdom that is subjugated to the Spirit, it knows
and accepts the gifts of the Spirit. One
that is not thus, is inferior; it is physical and demonic
(James. 3:15) as
the apostolic brother of Christ says, which is why it cannot relate to the writ.» (In support of
those living in blessed Hesychasm, 1st Triad, 9,1).
The Revelation of God cannot
become the object of man’s intellect, because it lies beyond every human comprehension.
That is why education and philosophy do not comprise a prerequisite for one’s
knowledge of God. In the Western theological tradition, the notion of “credo,
ut intelligam” (Augustine) prevails. According to this idea, one progresses in
faith through philosophy and the Scriptures - to a logical conception of that
revelation. Priority is given to the intellect - not only to natural knowledge
but also to supernatural knowledge. To
the orthodox-hesychast, “external” wisdom with regard to the knowledge of God
is an indifferent magnitude. That is why theosis can be common to both the
literate as well as the illiterate (examples: Basil the Great - Anthony the
In Hesychasm, these two kinds of
knowledge are prioritized and distinguished, without confusing the boundaries of
their reach and their energies (created-uncreated). But
ecclesiastic tradition, by relativizing it and by supporting the need to
supplement it with “external” wisdom. He named the wise men of the world “wondrous”,
“God-seeing” and “enlightened”, thus acknowledging that they had risen to the
highest levels of divine knowledge.
regarded secular education’s knowledge as “the most mystical and loftiest
theory”, maintaining that “one cannot be holy, who has not acquired
a knowledge of things, and is cleansed of this ignorance”.
The reason for this, was because he believed that
lessons, the commandments of God cannot cleanse and perfect man.” In other
words, he attributed a soteriological significance to “external” wisdom,
thus impoverishing and marginalizing ascetic practices.
Of course other, analogous ideas
like Barlaam’s were also expressed on this subject by the “humanists” of
Byzantium, who had likewise supported the need for scientific knowledge for
the catharsis of the “nous”, thus proving that despite their awareness of the
purpose of a spiritual life, they had lost contact with its practices. However,
they did not mix this philosophy into theology, nor did they attach any soteriologcal significance to it. For them, the realm of metaphysics was
covered by the revelation in Christ. The only one who had overstepped these
boundaries was Nicephoros Gregoras, who tended to relate more to Barlaam’s
views. (A specialized treatise on this subject was compiled by a young and
promising theologian, Mr. Demetrius Moschos). It is a fact, that the
hesychasts did not reject “education” and “external wisdom” (Gregory Palamas:
“we are not simply referring to philosophy at present, but to the philosophy
on these matters” - as above, A.1.16) when continuing the respective
Patristic tradition (Gregory the Theologian: “therefore education is not a
dishonorable thing, just because some believe it to be”. - Epitaph to Basil
the Great, chapter 11).
is discernible in other areas as well. Barlaam saw a difference between “incessant
prayer” and “mental prayer”, when in fact these two coincide patristically. He
confused mental prayer with the ecstasy (detachment) of the nous from the
body (=neo-Platonism). According to
Palamas however, “ecstasy” of the nous does not imply a departure from the
body, but from “bodily convictions”. Nor
relate hesychastically to theosis itself, but to the incessant or mental
prayer which can lead (when God so desires) to theosis. The hesychast strives
for an involvement
of the nous, not only within the body or the
heart, but in itself also.
we not only turn inwards to the body and the heart, but also re-direct the
very nous inwardly» (Á',
are wrong who hasten to enter the body [..] by also including the nous»,
should by all means push it
out of the body».
Barlaam’s position is
judged by Palamas as «demonic»
and «a Hellenic delusion» (idolatry).
Besides, the hesychasts maintained that Platonism
led to idolatry.
could ask “What tradition did Barlaam represent?”, because an allegation had
been expressed, that Palamas was biblically Patristic, whereas Barlaam
belonged to a "Hellenizing patristic" tradition. Barlaam was regarded as
belonging to the tradition upheld by Dionysios the Areopagite, Evagrios of
Pontus, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus, while Palamas was characterized as
the one who continued the tradition of Makarios of Egypt.
Besides, Barlaam and his followers are often
portrayed as simple humanists, Platonists and Nominalists. It was in the
midst of this hermeneutic perspective that Gregory Palamas appeared, supposedly
heading the biblical, hesychastic order that crushed Barlaam’s Hellenizing,
Patristic, Hesychast tradition. This indicates that there were two endo-Byzantine
hesychast traditions in dissent.
of hesychast tradition to be entirely mistaken; the treatises of Dionysios
the Areopagite and Saint Maximus the Confessor are both acknowledged as
authorities in Palamas’ theology. Barlaam
was nothing more than a conventional bearer of the Frankish-Latin theological
tradition, which was the offspring of the substitution of Patristic theology
with scholastic theology. But Hesychasm is
essentially non-metaphysical, because it rejects every analogy (ratio)
between the created and the Uncreated (analogia entis
analogia fidei). Metaphysics
on the other hand presupposes it. The communion of the Uncreated with the
created is possible, only through the uncreated, divine energies. This
position, just like the distinction between the essence and the energy of
God, are fundamental prerequisites for patristic theologizing. That is why it
has been included in the topic dealing with the Barlaam-Palamas dispute.
Absorbed in its scholasticism,
the West lost the ability to discern between the essence and the energy of
God; as for Thomas Aquinas –scholasticism’s top-ranking personage– maintained
that God is “pure energy” (actus purus); Aristotle’s “the first, motionless
áęßíçôďí). The knowledge, therefore, of God entailed
a knowledge of His essence. The root and the source of
this teaching on God was Augustine. The relating of essence and energy in God
is an Augustinian concept, just like the possibility of knowing the
Divine Essence (Eunomianism). In his
teaching on God, Augustine was paralleled to the extreme Arianist, Eunomius. Scripturally
and Patristically speaking, Divine Essence is inaccessible and incommunable;
Divine Energy, however, is (under certain prerequisites) accessible and
communable. Historical evidence on this kind of experience is Moses’ “sighting”
of God on Mount Sinai, the Transfiguration of the Lord on
as experienced by His disciples, and the Pentecost. Augustine
acknowledges in these instances (also) a
revelation by God; not as a direct one, but one that was given through
fr. John Romanides, Barlaam was a bearer of this tradition. That is why he
had called the revelation through the Light of Mount Tabor
«worse than intellect», ie., something
inferior to a product of intellect - in fact, even of simple thinking.
Patristically however, the Taborian light is the uncreated divinity and the
glory (realm) of the Holy Trinity. This explains why the true nature
of the light of Tabor found itself at the epicenter of theological
speculation in the dispute between Barlaam and Palamas. Barlaam could
not comprehend - let alone accept - the hesychast tradition to which
he had no
affinity whatsoever. His feelings towards it were the same as those of
a westerner in our day, or a westernizer. He accepted the Patristic
tradition, but interpreted it with western criteria - with the prerequisites
of franco-latin theology. The mentality that was incarnated by Barlaam later
culminated in Gibbon. This English historian (1737-1794) - who expressed in
a classical manner the conscience of the West with regard to the Romaic East
- looked upon hesychasm in a manner similar to that of Barlaam. To him, the
inner light of the Hesychasts was the
«product of a caprice in bad taste; the
creation of an empty stomach and a hollow brain». He then accepts that
hesychasm is the culmination «of the religious nonsense by the Greeks»!
These prejudices - permanently resident in the European conscience through
education - have shaped the western stance towards the Orthodox East, and
especially towards Hellenism, to this day. Consequently, to show "surprise"
at the stance of the Western Leaderships towards Greece today merely betrays
an ignorance of History.
Barlaam's departure (1341) did not also signal the end of the
theological dispute, which was perpetuated as an endo-byzantine affair, with
the intervention of "byzantine" Scholastics like Palamas' former student,
Gregory Akindynus and the scholarly Nicephoros Gregoras. The literary
personages who had lost every living relationship with the empirical
patristic manner of theologizing or had continued in the manner of a pundit
(which had already been incarnated in the person of Michael Psellos and even
more in John Italus) in certain topics as, for example, in the assessment of
"externally-acquired" wisdom, the distinguishing between essence and energy
in God, etc. had aligned themselves with Barlaam and had thus ensured the
continuation of his anti-hesychast stance. Furthermore, the
involvement of a few - but greatly influential - monks (who were mostly dear
to the people) caused the crisis to expand into the broader basis, the
laity, because the
man was a religious animal»
thus making the implication of ecclesiastic and political matters a
permanent social practice. Society - mostly that of Constantinople and
Thessaloniki - was divided into Hesychasts and Anti-hesychasts, pro-Palamas
and anti-Palamas. Thus, the tear that was observed in the fabric of society
was what characterized the permanently prevalent "dualism" of "byzantine"
in the stance towards Patristic tradition.
Gregory Palamas was repeatedly accused of being the cause of this spiritual
dispute, just as Hesychasm was accused of supposedly being the cause of the
weakening of the Empire; however, it has now been ascertained that Barlaam
was the one who had incited the polemics against Palamas, and that Hesychasm
was in fact the unifying element that had held the overall Nation together,
on its continuing course. In essence, the problem lay elsewhere. The
theological dispute had coincided with a severely acute political-social
crisis, which had culminated in an unprecedented social explosion, whose
spiritual dimension rendered the chasm even deeper, albeit without being
responsible for it.
Already in 1321, the first civil war between Andronicus II and Andronicus
III had broken out, on the matter of succession. Furthermore, at the end of
1341, a new dimension of the Empire presented itself: a second civil war
(the confrontation between I. Kantakouzinos and I.Palaeologos). On the
26th of October 1341 the usurper of the throne, Kantakouzinos, was
proclaimed by the army at Didymoteichon as the king, and on the 19th or 20th
of November, I.Palaeologos was crowned king in Constantinople by Patriarch
John Kalekas. During that very same period, Gregory Akindynus revived the
theological dispute by utilizing as his instrument against Palamas the
theologically illiterate and fanatically anti-Palamas Patriarch, John
Kalekas. The theological problem during this phase was focusing on the
relationship between divine essence and energy, thus the theological dispute
continued on, in parallel with the political conflict, with obvious
allowances being made by both sides.
civil war - far more violent and broader than the first - had taken on a
purely social character, so that it could boldly be referred to as a
A leading role in this war was played by the lay strata, which the
conflicting powers had, from the very beginning, hastened to "utilize". The
Viceroy John Apokafkos - a supporter of Palaeologos - had roused the public
of Constantinople in 1341 against Kantakouzinos. The looting of the latter's
home functioned like something programmed, because very soon, an even
broader civil uprising took place - one that went entirely out of control.
However, the social turn of this social conflict was sealed with the
appearance and the involvement in the lay masses of a group in Thessaloniki,
who bore the name "Zealots". Their intervention (1342) and its
consequences were the coarsest expression of political ideology in
The hierarchically second and essentially first city of the Empire during
this period - Thessaloniki - became the epicenter of social uprising. The
city had already (as of the 7th century, with the expansion of the Arabs)
proved itself to be the second centre of the Empire, and in the 10th century
its citizens numbered 200.000. In the 14th century, it continued to be a
densely populated city and a flourishing urban centre (international
marketplace), with powerful guilds (naval, mercantile), but also with
glaring social antitheses (many poor - wealthy aristocrats). The
Zealots succeeded in rallying the indignant lay forces and utilizing them
for the achievement of their goals.
b. But what was the identity of the
Zealots? Bibliographical research is convinced, that a definite answer
has not yet been given to this question. Sources make mention of «rabble-rousers
and the stand of exarchs» (Bios of Saint Isidore) and of «new people», who
previously had no involvement in governing (D. Kydonis). Gregoras
characterizes them as a «riffraff lot». The Patriarch Filotheos (a hesychast)
calls them «outsiders» and «barbarians», adding that: «who have come
together [...] from our outermost reaches». The view that is prevalent today
is that they were a «stratum»
of society, which «they could tell apart from the remaining population (A.
Laios). It has also been recorded that they were named «Zealots»,
because they placed the interests if the populace above their own (Thom.
already familiar from the Old Testament (Exodus 20:5, 1Esdras 8:72, 2
Maccabees 4:2) and the New Testament (Acts 21:20, 1 Corinthians 14:12,
Galatians 1:14, Titus 2:14), also passed into «byzantine»
social reality with its religious connotation - as evident even in the New
Testament (Romans 10:2): «...they
have zeal, but it is a mindless one») from where it also took on its
negative hue, which remains strong, even to this day. From the beginning of
the 12th century, two ecclesiastic factions were active in
society, which did not coincide between them and were both competing against
each other in their attempts to influence the organization and the
administration of the Church. Their appearance in the life of the Empire can
be seen as early as the 9th century: they were the "Zealots" and the "Politicals".
The former were supporters of the Church's independence from the State; they
undervalued education and displayed a fanatic loyalty towards ecclesiastic
tradition. With the majority of monks at their side, they influenced
the People very noticeably. The "Politicals" had a diametrically
opposed ideology: they were tolerant towards the separation of State and
Church, they were in favour of school education, they were loosely tied to
tradition, they had influence among the secular clergy and the educated
ranks of society. With regard to the West, the Zealots were against
unification, while the Politicals were in favour. One of the first
clashes of these two factions can be seen in the Fotios-Ignatios dispute
(9th century), but their opposition took on even larger proportions during
the time of Michael Palaeologos (the "arseniates" schism) and the
pseudo-union of Lyons (1274-1282). The battle at the time leaned in
favour of the Zealots. It was maintained (Vasiliev) that this religious
faction had regrouped in the 14th century and had involved itself in
political life, by projecting reformatory trends and by having popular
support on account of social disorder. But is that really how things
It is indeed clear that - in spite of the confusion in the sources - the
Zealots of Thessaloniki constituted a «social
group», as discerned by the People. It had ties to seamen (the
"maritimers") - a well-known guild with Palaeologos family members at its
head. The collaboration between Zealots and maritimers was obviously a
coinciding of mutual interests. In other cities, merchants also
participated in this collaboration. The presence of aristocracy (Palaeologos
family) in its leadership should not disorient us. This was a common
phenomenon in Western Europe also, in analogous situations. The
Zealots identified with the people and they expressed the demands of the
lower social strata, which partially coincided with those of the army as
It is our estimation that the Zealots of Thessaloniki were a
particular kind of social group, one that was basically comprised of monks -
which was the reason that it had acquired its name from the already familiar
religious faction in Byzantium; ie, on account of the trends and analogous
psychology (=fanaticism) that they had in common. However, this was a
clearly politically-oriented faction, with clear-cut social motives and
demands: against rich landowners and in favour of the hungry and oppressed.
That non-political "Zealots" may have quite possibly collaborated cannot be
excluded, given that the majority of the Zealots' ranks was comprised not
only of monks but also of beggars and poor. The presence of a large number
of monks also explains the absence of anti-religious trends, as well as the
existence of a social ideology, which is permanently preserved in an
Orthodox monastic coenobium.
When the hesychast Patriarch Filotheos refers
to them as «apostates from the Church», this probably
refers to their vehement stance which according to a general
perception had overturned the "God-sent" established order, or, because of
their negative reaction towards Palamas, the canonical metropolitan of
Thessaloniki, whom Filotheos supported, as one who was like-minded. At
any rate, it has been testified that the Zealots did not hesitate to use a
Crucifix (which they had snatched from a holy altar) as a flag and that they
had attacked the governor Synadinos and the aristocracy. Their lay
"backup" also reinforces the view that the monks were the majority among
them. The crimes that were committed do not exclude something like
that, inasmuch as fanaticism can blind a person. Monks and non-monks
(but definitely politically-minded individuals with rabble-rousing
capabilities) consequently appear to have been in the leadership of the
c. The causes of this stand were sought
out and were located by many researchers. Almost all of them converge on the
position that there were social reasons: the wretched state of the
populace and a request for a more democratic organization of society.
The influence of analogous movements in Italy (revolution of Genova, 1339)
is not regarded as decisive (per Charanis), given the democratic spirit,
together with the broader participation of the people in the choice of
emperor. Politically speaking, Kantakouzinos' coup was a provocation
to the lay conscience and mentality (a respect for God-given monarchy and
legality). Besides, the Zealots were sentimentally linked to the
Palaeologos family, because some of its members governed Thessaloniki. And
then, even though Kantakouzinos was clearly in favour of centralized
administration, the Zealots strove for autonomy. Furthermore,
Kantakouzinos' descent and the support he had by the aristocracy had
intensified the reactions against him. The People found an opportunity
to demonstrate its anti-aristocratic or even its anti-plutocratic conscience
on account of the oppression they were under, and their financial
wretchedness. Visions for a radical change, economic upgrading and
social restructuring had become linked to the Zealots' stand.
This - as things have shown - was an eruption
of proto-Christian (cf. Acts 2, 4 and 6)
common ownership or at least communality, opposite the increasing social inequality and injustice, because
of the accumulation of lands and wealth in the hands of the few "pronoiarioi"
attempt to give a Marxist interpretation of the events in Thessaloniki was
not omitted (for example G.Kordatos), within the limits of researching the
historical backings of the Marxist ideology's prehistory. However,
although the existing sources may allow for a verification of common points, still, they exclude every certainty of a
complete coincidence of ideological presuppositions. The absence in
"our East" of Frankish-German "racial" presuppositions precludes the
relating - even the event itself - that the stand of the Zealots in
Thessaloniki did not begin as a social revolution with an independent
organization and a pre-designed goal, but that it was merely a
circumstantial movement and an aspect (or phase) of the civil war (per P.
Christou). Underlying social antitheses and demands had also
manifested themselves during the course of the civil war.
The People had
participated in the revolution, only for the resolving of their own
problems, with no connection whatsoever to the familiar "agrarian uprisings"
of history. The character of this stand remained purely urban and
Furthermore, there are no testimonies which indicate that the Zealots had
basically turned against the churches and the monastic holdings; on the
contrary, they remained faithful to the legal emperor and the Patriarch's
According to professor Nicol, what is
strange is that the rich landowners (aristocrats) and the military
aristocracy were the ones who were opposed to the church and her holdings.
But there is also the view - which has been witnessed in contemporary
sources - that refugees from lands which had been conquered by the Serbs had
been added to the poor of Thessaloniki and that it was they who had
pressured the Zealots into turning against the rich, with lootings as the
end result. Because it is a fact that heinous crimes were not absent
from the overall procedure. In 1347-49, when the Zealots had taken
full command of Thessaloniki, they had hurled rich people from atop the city
walls, while they had murdered others who were in hiding inside the city.
This was the most violent aspect of their revolution, but also of the
After Thessaloniki, the stand extended into other cities of the Empire, and
as far as Trebizund. This signifies that the social clime of Thessaloniki
was more of an overall phenomenon, and this is confirmed by many
testimonies. The reaction was focused on the person of I.
Kantakouzinos and the aristocracy. But in 1345, a crisis regarding the
Zealots and their authority was noted, because the situation had begun to
lean in favour of Kantakouzinos. The head of the Zealots - Michael
Palaeologos - was assassinated, Zealots were arrested, imprisoned and/or
exiled. Andronicus Palaeologos was proclaimed the new leader of the
Zealots; an aristocrat, unassertive, and head of the maritimers' guild.
The People once again regained power. New slaughters of aristocrats are
noted, one being of I. Apokafkos. And the uprising against the rich takes on
a more general character; now out of control, the People resort to an orgy
of blood and looting, thus securing power for the Zealot leaders.
As surmised from the sources, the
Zealots were in favour of decentralization. Even though their ideology is
difficult to determine amd in spite of the limited information, the same did
not apply to their political plans.
Already in the summer of 1342 an
unprecedented government was established in Thessaloniki: the independent
Republic of Thessaloniki, with self-government and the exercising of
external politics. Thsi was probably a kind of "commune"; one that endured
up to 1350.
However, the precise character of their polity
is difficult to determine. It is a fact, that when threatened with a fall,
the Zealots turned to Serbia's "kraly" (regent) Stefan Dusan for help, but
this displeased the People to such an extent, that they had approached
Kantakouzinos and had looked upon the aristocrats with sympathy. Apart from
the existence of a powerful patriotic sentiment, what else could this
signify, other than the absence of a class conscience?
The People had never ceased to look upon the overall matter as an
opportunity to improve their living conditions and nothing more.
e. The coincidence of the stand by
the Zealots of Thessaloniki with the climax in the theological dispute
eventually led to their implication, but not because the Zealots had
actually become involved in the theological (hesychast) dispute. As
previously mentioned, even though the Zealots had been named «apostates of
they had not included anti-ecclesiastic or anti-religious
activities in their political agenda, nor does it appear that Theology had
developed any particular dynamic with their activities.
Their contrary views, which were valid
in the past, were attributed to an erroneous linking of a text by N.
Kavasilas to the Zealots, when in fact it was referring to a different case
altogether. The engagement of theology and politics was the fruit of
interdependence and inter-concessions between these two areas of
life. However, the search itself for some kind of association between them
is proof of the absence of every notion of a concentrated anti-hesychast
ideology on the part of politicians (or politics) with an anti-hesychast
ideology within the ranks of the Hesychasts.
Besides, it was not a rare phenomenon to
have the adversaries of one area having a common stance with the other area;
the protagonists of the civil war, I.Kantakouzinos and I.Apokafkos, had
coincided in their friendly stance towards hesychasm. N. Gregoras and
D. Kydonis - both against Palamas in their convictions - were nevertheless
friends and followers of Kantakouzinos on account of their common interests.
The Patriarch I. Kalekas and the empress Anna of Savoy had collaborated in
the political area, but the Patriarch had remained fanatically anti-Palamas,
while the empress had for a time supported Palamas. As usual,
the People were dragged in every direction during this entire tragedy.
Initially (in 1341), a large part of the People had
shown an anti-hesychast disposition, which may have made the Hesychasts turn
in favour of Kantakouzinos. But no-one can assert that all the Hesychasts
followed Kantakouzinos, or that all of his followers were declared
anti-hesychasts. D. Kydonis and Ni.Kavasilas for example were
amicably disposed towards Kantakouzinos, but theologically belonged to
opposing sides. Besides, there were many
humanists who supported Palamas.
The Zealots - at least all those with an
ecclesiastic origin (monks) - had preserved from the time of the Iconomachy
a fondness towards Old Rome and that brought them closer to the pro-union
Palaeologos family, even though Rome had now become Frankish and heretic.
As is known, the emperor John Palaeologos had attempted to realize a union
with Rome and had eventually become a papist. This element alone was
enough to make the Zealots turn against the Hesychasts. Furthermore, their
associating Palamas with Kantakouzinos (on account of the hesychast phronema
of both men), had made them - as was expected - hinder the enthronement of
Palamas when he was elected metropolitan of Thessaloniki (in 1347).
For the entire duration of that social turmoil, Gregory
Palamas had remained a genuine hesychast and Patristic in his choices. It
would be a huge injustice to Palamas, if one were to ascribe aristocratic
ideas to him. By placing the tradition of theosis (deification) above
political fluidity, he remained friendly towards John Palaeologos and the
empress, himself behaving like a genuine "byzantine", within the clime of
lawfulness. His correspondence with monks of the Holy Mountain is
proof of his pacifist endeavours. He never moved between opposing sides and
he avoided every involvement in favour of the one or the other side.
His perseverance to the hesychast tradition and his opposition to Barlaam
and the byzantine anti-hesychasts (e.g. Gregoras) had the exclusive
objective of the continuation of patristic tradition and the preservation of
the Empire's spiritual identity. He exiled himself to Heracleia,
where he was often annoyed by (but not involved in) political disputes. His
sympathy towards Kantakouzinos was attributed to Kantakouzinos' dedication
to the tradition of Orthodoxy; there were no political motives. It
must be regarded as certain, that the presence and the activities of Barlaam
in the East had convinced Palamas of the inherent danger of subjugation to
Rome, whose spiritual alienation had been exposed by his Calabrian opponent.
This explains why he appeared friendly towards Kantakouzinos, even when he
was still a friend and supporter of Barlaam and the protector of the
humanistic renaissance. It is also known that Palamas had contributed
towards the reconciliation between I. Kantakouzinos and John Palaeologos.
with their infallible sensor had correctly interpreted Palamas' stance and
had diagnosed the sincerity in his intentions. After the fall of the Zealots
- whom Palamas had treated in a pacifist manner - the People welcomed him
into Thessaloniki (December 1350) with jubilations. Palamas
condemned the crimes that had been committed by the Zealots, but entered as
a peacemaker into Thessaloniki, which had regained its normal rhythms.
The surveys into the 14th century of the Empire of New Rome that we have so
far offer us the potential to evaluate both the theological dispute
and the civil conflicts of the time, but also their dynamics in the pursuant
life of the Empire and the continuation of the Nation.
It is of course a fact, that the consequences of the ideological disputes
were horrific. The empire, already diminished geographically, gradually
weakened even more and was left unprotected from the expansionist
dispositions of its neighbours, and especially the Ottomans. In 1354
the Turks took over Gallipoli, their feet firmly planted in the European
side of the Empire. The failed movement of the Zealots was unable to heal
the malfunctioning society and abolish the economic inequality. The
Empire was heading towards a decline. In 1402 it was limited to the City
(Constantinople), the islands of Thasos, Samothrace, Lemnos, Tenedos and the
region of Mystras on the Peloponnese. From there on, it was to be a sad
relic of its old glorious self. Hesychasm, however, as patricity and
an existential truth, was to survive as a spiritual trust of Romanity.
Hesychasm was to preserve the phronema robust and the spiritual drive
unflagging, especially during the pursuant, lengthy period of slavery.
But these positions need a certain amount of analysis.
In the 14th century, the first in-depth confrontation between East and West
took place, in ecclesiastic tradition. From the 9th through to the 11th
century, eastern and western theologians had clashed on the issue of the
"Filioque", indicating a latent antithesis between the two theologies;
however, it was in the 14th century that for the first time an opportunity
had presented itself - with the presence of an authentic "western"
theologian in the East, Barlaam - for those theological presuppositions of
East and West to come to the surface, and for the radical differentiation of
the one from the other to be discerned, as well as their lack of
coincidence. The western (Frankish-Latin) theology and the European
(Frankish-German) civilization that originated from it, proved to be the
offspring of an altered christianity, which could no longer be called
As aptly noted by professor Chr. Yannaras, «perhaps it is in saint
Gregory Palamas that there is an even clearer awareness that in the case of
the innovations of the western church we do not merely have a new 'heresy'
of Christianity [...], but [...] a radical alteration of the very nucleus of
ecclesiastic truth - a different 'Christianity' at the antipodes of the
evangelical way of life and salvation of man...». The West had shaped -
within the rationalizing maze of Scholasticism - another "Christianity", one
that was entirely non-coincident with that of the East. Hesychast
theology through its self-expression had revealed Orthodoxy's difference
from the West, as a «juxtaposing of experience to abstract religious
The renowned German
byzantinologist Gelzer had conceded that Hesychasm
«belongs to the most noteworthy - both from a historical as well as a
cultural aspect - and most interesting phenomena of all time». The
roman Hesychasts of the 14th century - with saint Gregory Palamas as pioneer
- had proven the unbroken spiritual continuance of "Byzantium"/Romania.
Palamas re-formulated the Orthodox tradition, revealing its patricity.
The Hesychasm that Palamas embodied and defended was the backbone of life in
Romania for one thousand long years, and its pedestal and also the source of
its civilization. However, the long drawn-out theological dispute had
proven - above all - that which even today is acknowledged throughout: that
Hesychasm did not constitute an innovation, as unsuspecting Barlaam had
imagined. Even the Scholastics of "Byzantium" who
for various reasons had sided with him had not doubted Hesychasm. That is,
they had never doubted its method, but had only disagreed about its
consequences - that is, "with regard to the theological evaluation of its
fruits" (Vlassis Feidas). The opposition of certain bishops towards
Hesychasm has been interpreted - with a considerable dose of truth - as an
expression of fear that the authority of the monks would increase.
With the hesychast synods (1341, 1347, 1351) and with the proclamation of
Gregory Palamas as saint (1368), Orthodoxy removed the danger of
philosophizing the Faith and its latinization (rendering it Frankish). Along
with the soteriological power of its tradition, the East had also preserved
its governmental independence.
the persistence in Hesychasm did not only have a religious or political
significance but also a cultural one, because it had determined the stance
thereafter, not only towards the West, but also towards Hellenic antiquity.
The West - as was made apparent - not only was no longer spiritually
congruent with the East, but continued to threaten it beyond its spiritual
hypostasis, in its cultural one also. On the other hand, Hellenicity (which
was embodied by the scholastics of "Byzantium"
such as Gregoras, who outrightly proclaimed that he was a "Hellene") was
differentiating itself from Hellenicity the way it had been assimilated in
Patristic tradition (which did not constitute a simple continuance of
hellenic antiquity, but a transcendence of it, into the new composition of
the Romaic civilization).
Hesychasm proved to the
greatest spiritual force for the survival of the Nation. Politically
speaking, "Byzantium" was heading towards its
fall, but spiritually speaking, it remained robust and unconquered.
After the sacking of Constantinople only the political aspect of the
Nation's life was affected; the spiritual aspect was not affected, given
«core of Romanity is the theumen (the deified one), who reaches theosis in
any period or situation - state or political» (fr. John Romanides).
It was only the westernizing ones - the
pro-union and like-minded with Barlaam - who had looked upon the fact that
the East did not have a scholastic theology as a decadence, and who had
arranged to introduce it into the life of the Nation. The Orthodox
East of the 14th century had, however, rejected Barlaam and had forced him
to depart, rejecting his tradition also. Barlaam left, because he felt
literally like a stranger in the East. Later on, as the Turkish threat
approached, the antiquity-loving anti-hesychasts either abandoned "Byzantium"
or remained West-inclined and relating themselves to it.
Hesychasm however was to play an important role in the politically turbulent
and splintered Balkans also, where, as in Russia, Hesychasm was already
familiar, mainly through Gregory of Sinai. The Hesychasts would move freely
throughout all of the Orthodox East, from one place to another, above
boundaries and ethnic differences. This fact made the important
hagiologist Fr. Halkin speak of a "Hesychasm International". When, in
our day, mention is made of an "Orthodox arc" as a bastion against the
"Muslim arc" of the Balkans, one should not overlook hesychast spirituality,
which is the only kind that can secure a true unity within the boundaries of
the Orthodox-Romaic, supra-national and supra-racial union of hearts.
It is in the hesychast tradition that our inter-Balkan unity forms its
While the civil clashes, the
social inequalities and the hostile offensives were to gradually weaken the
already decayed Empire, the spiritual powers of the Nation - within the
Patristic hesychast tradition - averted the danger of turning "Byzantium"/Romania
into a Frankish protectorate, but also preserved the spiritual fortitude of
the Nation so that it would remain only physically enslaved by the Ottoman
barbarity. During the entire period of its prolonged enslavement, the
monasteries with their hesychast tradition had maintained the soul of the
Nation unshackled. However, the prevalence of the anti-hesychast spirit in
the realm of intelligentsia and politics upon the founding of the Hellenic
State (1830), may have led to liberation from the Turks' enslavement, but
not so from the Franks' one. The Barlaamic West will take its revenge!
The publication of the works by saint Gregory Palamas (under the direction
of professor P.Christou) in the 1960s decade, and the scientific input by
theologians such as fr. John Romanides in the research of the hesychast
tradition, were to help rediscover our Romaic-Orthodox foundations. This
would be the revival of a conscience that is spreading incessantly among our
generation - a true gift of God in our times. Our era has something
significant in common with the 14th century and the era prior to the sacking
of Constantinople: the tragic confusion and the numbing of our traditional
criteria. The hesychast tradition, which is continually reborn, is for
that reason especially important today, where everything points to our
approaching the final fall.
The political ideology of the Byzantine Empire (transl. Ô. Drakopoulos),
Beck, Ç-G., Çumanismus und Palamismus, Xlle Congrés Énternational des
Etudes Byzantines, 3, Belgrade 1961, p.63-82.
«Anti-Zealot» Discourse of Cabasilas,”Revue des Etudes Sud-Est Europeennes, I×(É971),
Ń., “Internal Strife in Byzantium during the fourteenth century,”
Byzantion, XV (1940-4É),
Christou, P., article titled «Zealots» in the Religious
and Moral Encyclopedia VI (1965), p. 461- 64.
Orthodoxy and the West in Modern-day Hellas, Athens 1992.
R., Essais sur
Nicéphore Gregoras, L'homme et l'oeuvre, Paris 1926.
Hrochava, V., “La révolte des Zêlotes à Salonique et les
communes italiennes,” Byzantinoslavica 22 (1961) 1-É5.
History of the Hellenic Nation (Ekdotiki Athinon Publishers) IX (1980), p.152
etc., 375 etc., (Ang.Laios and M.Anastos).
Ě., «Palamas Grégoire»
and «Palamite Controverse», in the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique,
×É (Paris, 1932),
Kordatos, G., The final years of the Byzantine Empire,
Ibid, The Commune of Thessaloniki, 1928.
"Palamika", Thessaloniki, 1983.
Ibid, Byzantine Hesychasm. Historical, Theological and
Ibid, Gregory Palamas and orthodox spirituality.
of the Holy Mountain, Hortative Handbook, Volos 1969.
Nicol, D.M., Church and Sďciety
in the last centuries of
Cambridge University, The History of the Byzantine Empire, "Melissa"
publications, vol.A, 1966
Papadopoulos St. G., The Meeting of Orthodox and Scholastic
Feidas Vlas.É., Ecclesiastic History, vol. Â,
Runciman St., The Last Byzantine Rebirth, Athens 1970.
Ibid, Byzantine Theocracy, Athens 1982.
fr. Roamnides, John S.,
Romanity-Romania-Roumeli, Thessaloniki 1981.
Ibid, Roman or Romaic Fathers, vol.1, Thessaloniki 1984.
É., Nicolas Cabasilas «Ánti-Zealot» Discourse: A Reinterpretation,
Ń. 11 (1957) 79-171.
Ibid, Alexios Makrembolites and his «Dialogue»
between the Rich and the
Poor, Zbornik, Radova 6 (1960) 187-228.
byzantine backdrop of Italian Renaissance, Athens 1989.
Sotiropoulos H., Themes of Theology in the 14th century,
Vassiliev A.A., History
of the Byzantine Empire, 324-1453 AD (transl. Dem.Savramis), Athens 1954.
Orthodox Psychotherapy, Edessa 1986.
Ibid, Saint Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite.
Ibid, Minor Entrance, Athens 1992.
Weiss, G., Joannes Kantakuzenos-
Aristocrat, Staatsmann, Kaiser and Mönch - in der
Gesellschaftsentwicklung von Byzanz im 14. Jahrhundert, Wiesbaden
Ĺ., Gesellschaft und Kultur im XIV Jahrh.
“Sozial- Ökonomischen Fragen”, Actes du XIVe
Congrés International des Etudes Byzantines, 1, Bucarest 1974, 93-110.
Zakynthinos D., «Ideological
Conflicts in besieged Constantinople», Nea Estia 47 (1950) 794-99.