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In Eastern Orthodox theology, the Tabor Light (also Light of Tabor, Tabor's Light, Taboric Light; Greek: Φῶς του Θαβώρ, also as Ἄκτιστον Φῶς, Uncreated Light, Θεῖον Φῶς, Divine Light; Russian: Фаворский свет) is the light revealed on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of Jesus, identified with the light seen by Paul at his conversion. The doctrine was finally formulated in the 14th century by Gregory Palamas, an Athonite monk, defending the mystical practices of Hesychasm against accusations of heresy by Barlaam of Calabria. This doctrine (known as Palamism), argued for a distinction between divine essence and divine operations.

In Eastern Orthodoxy

Russian Orthodox icon of the Transfiguration (Theophanes the Greek, ca. 1408).

According to the Hesychast tradition of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, a completely purified saint who has attained divine union experiences the vision of divine radiance that is the same 'light' that was manifested to Jesus' disciples on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration. This experience is referred to as theoria. Barlaam held this view of the hesychasts to be polytheistic inasmuch as it seemed to postulate two eternal (ousia) substances, essences, natures, beings, a visible (hypostases and energies) and an invisible (ousia), God.

Gregory Palamas defended Hesychasm in the 1340s at three different synods in Constantinople, and he also wrote a number of works in its defense. In these works, Gregory Palamas uses a distinction, already found in the 4th century in the works of the Cappadocian Fathers, between the energies or operations (Gr. energeies) of God and the essence (ousia) of God. Gregory taught that the energies or operations of God were uncreated. He taught that the essence of God can never be known by his creature even in the next life, but that his uncreated energies or operations can be known both in this life and in the next and convey to the Hesychast in this life and to the righteous in the next life a true spiritual knowledge of God (theoria). In Palamite theology, it is the uncreated energies of God that illumine the Hesychast who has been vouchsafed an experience of the Uncreated Light. In 1341 the dispute came before a synod held at Constantinople and presided over by the Emperor Andronicus; the synod, taking into account the regard in which the writings of the pseudo-Dionysius were held, condemned Barlaam, who recanted and returned to Calabria, afterwards becoming bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.

One of Barlaam's friends, Gregory Akindynos, who originally was also a friend of Gregory's, took up the controversy, and three other synods on the subject were held, at the second of which the followers of Barlaam gained a brief victory. However, in 1351 at a synod under the presidency of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, Hesychast doctrine was established as the doctrine of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Another opponent of Palamism was Manuel Kalekas who sought to reconcile the Eastern and Western Churches (called a unionist). Following the decision of 1351, there was strong repression against anti-Palamist thinkers. Kalekas reports on this repression as late as 1397, and for theologians in disagreement with Palamas, there was ultimately no choice but to emigrate and convert to Catholicism, a path taken by Kalekas as well as Demetrios Kydones and Ioannes Kypariossiotes. This exodus of highly educated Greek scholars, later re-inforced by refugees following the Fall of Constantinople of 1453, had a significant influence on the first generation (that of Petrarca and Boccaccio) of the incipient Italian Renaissance.

Old Testament interpretation

Instances of the Uncreated Light are read into the Old Testament by Orthodox Christians, e.g. the Burning Bush[1] a purported descendant of which is kept at the St Catherine's Monastery on the Sinai Peninsular.

In Roman Catholicism

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah.

The Roman Catholic Church rejected Palamas' explanation of divine "operations" and traditionally sees the glory manifested at Tabor as symbolic of the eschatological glory of heaven; in a 15th-century Latin hymn Coelestis formam gloriae (Sarum Breviary, Venice, 1495; trans. Rev. John M. Neale 1851):

O wondrous type, O vision fair / of glory that the Church shall share / Which Christ upon the mountain shows / where brighter than the sun He glows / With shining face and bright array / Christ deigns to manifest today / What glory shall be theirs above / who joy in God with perfect love.

Augustine of Hippo in his work "On the Trinity" insists that the light of the Beatific Vision can not be seen in this life and thus the light of the Transfiguration must be seen as a providencial, yet entirely natural, if unexplainable occurrence. The theological interpretation of Tabor's light thus came to be a major dogmatic division between the eastern and the western Church, and the Hesychast movement is even described as "a direct condemnation of Papism" by anti-ecumenic currents of Eastern Orthodoxy.[2]

Roman Catholicism in recent years has become more open towards ideas of Hesychasm. Pope John Paul II repeatedly emphasized his respect for Eastern theology as an enrichment for the whole Church.[3][4] and according to rumour even referred to Gregory Palamas as Saint in private conversation. John Paul II also added the Transfiguration at Mount Tabor to the "mysteries of the Holy Rosary".[5] Nevertheless, the Eastern doctrine of "uncreated light" remains unaccepted in the Roman Catholic Church. The fundamental issue in this debate is the very nature of divine grace itself, which incidentally, is why the debate over the role of divine grace in justification between Protestants and Roman Catholics also is inexplicable in the terms of Eastern theological thought.

Popular culture

"Tabor Light" was also used in the popular press of 1938 in reference to a mysterious light seen around a cemetery near Tábor, Bohemia, and a similar phenomenon observed in Saskatchewan, Canada.

See also


  2. Orthodox Tradition."St. Gregory Palamas and the Pope of Rome", Volume XIII, Number 2.
  3. Pope John Paul II. "Eastern Theology Has Enriched the Whole Church" (11 August 1996). Taken from the L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English (21 August 1996) and currently presented on Eternal Word Television Network. Accessed: November 18, 2008.
  4. Pope John Paul II and the East
  5. The "Luminous Mysteries", published in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, October 2002.


  • Lowell Clucas, 'The Triumph of Mysticism in Byzantium in the Fourteenth Century', in: Byzantine Studies in Honor of Milton V. Anastos, Byzantina kai Metabyzantina, ed. Speros Vryonis jr, Malibu (1985). [1]
  • Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9)
  • George S. Maloney, A Theology of Uncreated Energies of God (1978), ISBN 9780874625165.
  • George C. Papademetriou, Introduction to Saint Gregory Palamas (2005), ISBN 978-1885652836.
  • J. Meyendorff, A Study of St. Gregory Palamas (1959).

External links


This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tabor Light. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.