Gregory is venerated, since 1368, as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some Byzantine Catholic Churches, which form part of the communion of the Church of Rome have also included him in their liturgical books. (He has also been called a saint, and repeatedly cited as a great theological writer, by Pope John Paul II.) Some of his writings are collected in the Philokalia, and since the Ottoman period, the second Sunday of Great Lent is dedicated to the memory Gregory Palamas in the Orthodox Church. The Byzantine Synodikon of Orthodoxy also celebrates his memory and theology while condemning his opponents, including some anti-Palamites who flourished after Gregory's death.
Gregory was born in Constantinople around the year 1296. His father, Constantine, was a courtier of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282–1328), but died when Gregory was still young. The Emperor himself took part in the raising and education of the fatherless boy and hoped that the gifted Gregory would devote himself to government service, but Palamas chose monastic life on Mt. Athos. Gregory's mother (Kalloni) and siblings (Theodosios, Makarios, Epicharis, and Theodoti) would also embrace monasticism, and the entire family was canonized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 2009.
Despite the Emperor's ambitions for him, Gregory, then barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316 and became a novice there in the Vatopedi monastery under the guidance of the monastic Elder St Nicodemos of Vatopedi. Eventually, he was tonsured a monk, and continued his life of asceticism. After the demise of the Elder Nicodemus, Gregory spent eight years of spiritual struggle under the guidance of a new Elder, Nicephorus. After this last Elder's repose, Gregory transferred to the Great Lavra of St. Athanasius the Athonite on Mount Athos, where he served the brethren in the trapeza (refectory) and in church as a cantor. Wishing to devote himself more fully to prayer and asceticism he entered a skete called Glossia, where he taught the ancient practice of mental prayer known as "prayer of the heart" or hesychasm.
In 1326, because of the threat of Turkish invasions, he and the brethren retreated to the defended city of Thessaloniki, where he was then ordained a priest. Dividing his time between his ministry to the people and his pursuit of spiritual perfection, he founded a small community of hermits near Thessaloniki in a place called Veria.
He served for a short time as Abbot of the Esphigmenou Monastery but was forced to resign in 1335 due to discontentment regarding the austerity of his monastic administration.
Hesychasm attracted the attention of Barlaam, a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy who encountered Hesychasts and heard descriptions of their practices during a visit to Mount Athos; he had also read the writings of Palamas, himself an Athonite monk. Trained in Western Scholastic theology, Barlaam was scandalized by hesychasm and began to combat it both orally and in his writings. As a private teacher of theology in the Western Scholastic mode, Barlaam propounded a more intellectual and propositional approach to the knowledge of God than the hesychasts taught.