2nd Sunday of Lent - St. Gregory Palamas

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is the commemoration on the second Sunday of Lent of Saint Gregory Palamas. He is a pillar of our faith and remembered today by all the faithful. Saint Gregory lived in the 14th century, and was the archbishop of the ancient apostolic Church of Thessalonica. St. Gregory became involved in a theological controversy, a controversy that deals directly with you & me. St. Gregory was involved in the teaching of the practice of the prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, and he together with others at that time, attained the heights of contemplation (contemplation meaning “union with God”) while still in this life. The deepest prayer is given by God, and it is the prayer of Christ Himself to the Father and it is given to those who are ready to receive it. Saint Gregory was the teacher of that life of contemplation and he was living it. The controversy that he became involved in, involved some teachers from the West who taught that this kind of mystical contemplation was only for a few, that it was not for everyone. They said theology is primarily an exercise of the mind. It is the study of God by the intellect and by the use of our intellect, they said, and that is how we know God. It was the beginning of the break up in Western theology, into categories and compartments. It was the beginning of the treatment of theology as an intellectual exercise, done in the classroom by experts. St. Gregory Palamas and the monks of Mt. Athos said no. Theology is not primarily an intellectual exercise. Theology is, at its essence, Prayer. Theology is knowing God who has revealed Himself not simply by us figuring Him out through the use of our intellect, but by Him showing His face to us. St. Gregory Palamas said and taught and lived, that this invitation to know God through the heart from the deepest depths of our being, is for everybody. It is not for a few experts. It is not for a few mystics, just as the words of Christ in the Gospel, “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” are not for a few, but for everybody. They are for everyone who calls themselves Christian.

The triumph therefore of the theology of St. Gregory Palamas is seen in the Church on this day as a second triumph of Orthodoxy. That is why this commemoration is on the second Sunday of Lent. Last Sunday we had the triumph of the icons as visible signs that bear witness to the incarnation, to God becoming man, to God taking matter to Himself and sanctifying it. We have in St. Gregory the same triumph, this time directed at the image of God that is present in us, His creatures. We are all called to attain union with God through prayer, and the following of the commandments.
We are trying in the Lenten effort most intensely at reaching, with God’s help, a deeper taste year by year of the vision of God. In order for that to happen, we need repentance, ongoing repentance. Repentance is not an exercise of the emotions, repentance is not a one-time occurrence, nor is it simply remorse or guilt. Repentance does not even begin with the perception of “how bad I am.” These things are not at the basis of repentance. Bishop Kallistos talks about the nature of repentance and he has this to say:

“What in fact is meant by repentance? It is normally regarded as sorrow for sin, a feeling of remorse, a sense of grief and horror at the wounds we have inflicted on others and on ourselves. Yet such a view is incomplete. Grief and horror are indeed an essential element in repentance but they are not the whole of it nor even the most important part. To repent is to look not downward at my own shortcomings but upward at God’s love, not backward with self-reproach but forward with trustfulness. It is to see not what I have failed to be but what by the grace of God I can yet become. Such then is the beginning of repentance – a vision of beauty, not of ugliness. An awareness of God’s glory, and not of my own filthiness.”

Brothers and sisters: The remainder of the fast is now before us. No matter what start that we have made, let us resolve today to make the best use we can of the time remaining before celebrating Pascha. Let us fast and pray; let us give and struggle; let us seek to live the life of Christ. Above all, let us remind ourselves, and one another, that all this is possible only because of the incredible love God has for each and every one of us. The only thing that keeps us from the love of God is our failure to repent, and our failure to forgive. Being mindful of His grace and love that saves us, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and all our life, unto Christ our God.

Through the prayers of our Holy Father and hierarch, Gregory Palamas, O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, and save us. Amen.