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On Spiritual poverty




The nous and the passions are cured by means of spiritual poverty. Therefore the holy hesychast advises: “Let us, then, also become poor in spirit by being humble, by submitting our unregenerate self to hardship and by shedding all possessions”.

Man’s whole spiritual life is an experience of spiritual poverty. The saint previously emphasised the blessedness of poverty, and now he undertakes a broad analysis of it. First he emphasises the link between spiritual poverty and the temptations.

Just as plants, in order to bear fruits, have to go through winter and endure the conditions of every season, the same thing has to happen with the person struggling on the path of virtue. “For it is through patient endurance of afflictions deliberately entered into and those that are unsought, that each person is made perfect”. The soul cannot bear fruit unless the winter’s hardships come first. Unless we bear with patience the afflictions that come to us unsought, we cannot receive a blessing for what we do by our will. This means that if we cannot endure the trials of life, we cannot receive blessing from the ascetic effort and hardship which we ourselves choose and practise. A person who lives in repentance expects every affliction, accepts every temptation and is glad of it, because it is purifying for the soul, productive of prayer and a protector of the soul’s health.

Blessed grief is connected with spiritual poverty. Sorrow for worldly poverty brings death, while the sorrow of godly poverty leads to repentance, as the Apostle Paul says. St. Gregory analyses in a wonderful way the benefit of godly grief, which is an element of man’s rebirth and essential for the spiritual life.

There are four types of spiritual poverty. First, poverty “in our way of thinking”, second “in body”, third “in worldly goods”, and fourth “through trials and temptations that come to us from without”. Since he has already analysed the poverty that comes from temptations, the other three types of poverty are dealt with thoroughly in what follows. Every experience of poverty generates the corresponding grief and solace.

Bodily poverty and humiliation willingly suffered include hunger, thirst, vigils and in general the body’s suffering and hardship as well as a reasonable restraint of the senses. This bodily poverty gives birth to the grief and tears which bring contrition of heart. When the soul is freed from evils and bitterness through contrition, then it enjoys solace.


Poverty in how we think is closely connected with self-reproach, which is essential for the cure of the soul. In the beginning self-reproach leads to fear of punishment, especially eternal punishment, with all that is connected with it. This grief, as long as we still live it, is very useful, because it attracts God’s mercy and brings us consolation. But this self-reproach in itself is an intelligible weight lying on the soul’s thoughts; it presses and squeezes out the saving wine that gladdens the heart of man, that is to say “our inner self”.

Poverty in worldly goods constitutes the virtue of holy poverty. This shedding of possessions has to be conjoined with poverty in spirit in order to be pleasing to God. From this spiritual poverty come grief and consolation from God. It happens in the following way: When the nous is withdrawn from all material things and from the turbulence they generate, and “becomes aware of its inner self”, then first of all it sees “the ugly mask it has wrought for itself as a result of its wanderings among worldly things”. This means that when the nous is diffused among the sensations in the surrounding world, the person ceases to be a person. Seeing this ugly and formless mask, it strives to wash it away through grief. After the nous has purified and rid itself of the covering of passions it enters into its treasure-house and prays to the Father. Then God gives gifts, such as peace of thoughts and the humility which is the begetter and sustainer of every virtue. Here is the noetic Paradise, in which are all the trees of virtue. In the midst stands the sacred palace of love, and in the forecourt of this palace there blossoms ineffable and inalienable joy, which is the harbinger of the age to come.

The results of spiritual poverty are very many. The shedding of possessions gives birth to freedom from anxiety, which then gives birth to attentiveness and prayer. From these virtues come grief and tears, which wipe away the soul’s prejudices. Then the path to virtue is easier, the conscience becomes blameless, and from there spring joy and blessed laughter of the soul. Now the tears of tribulation are transformed into tears of delight and the person enjoys the gifts of the betrothal.

But it is also demanded to see the Bridegroom and not only to receive gifts of betrothal; both communion and union with the Bridegroom are necessary. This takes place as the nous continues its journey. When the nous, along with the other powers, returns to the heart and is purified of every idea and fantasy, then it will stand before God deaf and speechless. When it has ascended to God, in truth, not in imagination, it becomes an overseer of various things in the light, without being separated from the body. Then truly by the ineffable power of the spirit “it hears unutterable words and sees invisible things”. It becomes an angel on earth, “and through itself it brings every created thing closer to Him”. Thus the person becomes natural, since he unites all creation, and proves himself to be the microcosm in the macrocosm.


Then St. Gregory cites passages from the holy Fathers which explain this state of the nous and the results of the vision of God, such as those of St. Neilos, who says that the light of the Holy Trinity shines in the nous; of St. Diadochos of Photike, who says that in the state of illumination divine Grace  paints the likeness over the image in us; and of St. Isaac the Syrian, who says that purity of the nous is that which the light of the Holy Trinity illumines within us.

The nous illuminated and unified by the light of the Holy Trinity transmits to the body united with it many tokens of the divine beauty as well. So then the body also is in the stable state of virtue and becomes disinclined or has little inclination towards evil. The World enables it to perceive clearly the inner essences -the logoi- of nature. One apprehends the supranatural realities, and naturally then all the gifts of grace are given: “various miraculous effects, such as visionary insight, the seeing of things to come, and the experience of things happening afar off as though they were occurring before one’s very eyes”, and in general all the gifts which God gives.

St. Gregory insists on the point that the thing which has great importance is the return of the nous to itself with all the other powers: “the return of the nous to itself and its concentration on itself, or, rather, the reconvergence of all the soul’s powers in the intellect -however strange this may sound- and the attaining of the state in which both the nous in itself and God work together”. This is essential, for prayer alone is not enough unless all the powers of the soul, including the appetitive and incensive powers, are working together.

(from the book St. Gregory Palamas. as a Hagiorite by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos)

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Star of Orthodoxy, teacher and support of the Church, adornment of monastics and incontestable champion of theologians, Gregory the wonder worker pride of Thessalonika and preacher of grace implore constantly for the salvation of our souls.

The Paraclis Hymn (partial)  of St. Gregory Palamas  (in Romanian), bellow:




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