Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas

St. Gregory Palamas

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!!

   In the epistle we’re told to PAY ATTENTION, much like when the deacon says “Let us Attend”. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? What does it mean to PAY ATTENTION? We shall explore this towards the end of the sermon. 

   Christ is our High Priest. He is both the One Who offers, and the One Who is offered. 

   In the Gospel Jesus has left the region of the Gerasenes. In a previous Gospel reading, they had asked Him to leave. They met God and asked Him to leave. And so He went home. Back at home we have one of the three instances where Christ heals a Paralytic. In the healing of this Paralytic, —  Jesus honours the faith of those who brought him there. He heals not entirely because of the Paralytic’s faith, for surely the Paralytic desired healing,  but because of the faith of his friends who brought him to Jesus. . . . And we must also ask why it is that the people did not move aside to allow the friends to bring the Paralytic in. It is important for us to enter into one another’s struggle and not stand in their way,  but to pray for each other and act to get ourselves and them to the Physician, that He may heal us.

   Jesus says a couple of  very interesting things to the paralytic: “Be of good cheer, child, thy sins are forgiven.” Jesus speaks words of relation to this man whose plight was ignored by many others; He calls him “son”; He brings him into the household of God. When we don’t see others, we dehumanize them. In our society the disabled are treated as if they were not there. They are invisible; often if someone is with them, we will speak to the other as if the disabled person is not there. We don’t see the other for who they are. In many ways, such an attitude is just as paralyzing to all. 

   Jesus words do not imply that there was some sin that caused this man to be paralyzed; His words are words of restoration. “Thy sins are forgiven”, means that this one who is paralyzed is restored. He is welcomed as a child of God. And by restoring this paralyzed man, Jesus lets people know Who He is: . . . In Isaiah the prophet says of God: “I AM, I am He that blots out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and thy sins, I will not remember.”

   Jesus challenges the pharisee’s understanding by forgiving the paralytic’s sin; for they lacked compassion for this paralytic and his condition. They were more interested in proving themselves right. It is not the paralytic who says: “I came for healing and you forgave my sins?” This thought does not occur to the paralytic. But it is in the hearts of the pharisees. Another thing that annoyed the pharisees is that prophesy was fulfilled in their presence. 

   The second thing Jesus says to the Paralytic is: “Arise take up thy pallet and go home.” Not “take up thy pallet and walk” as He instructed another paralytic, but rather “go home.” And when we think of “home”, for many of us, this too is a place of wounding. But Jesus Himself has opened our path to our home, not an earthly city but a home in the city to come, in the Kingdom of God. Jesus has healed not just the body, but also the soul of the paralytic. 

   Who are we in this story? What has us paralyzed? . . . What attitudes and relationships do we have where we are paralyzed? . . . What fears do we have that paralyze us? . . . Do we treat ourselves like the crowd who will not move out of the way so that Jesus can heal us? . . . Will we allow four friends to help us?: Fasting, Prayer, Alms, Humility? . . . Are we willing to remove whatever roof is keeping us from Jesus? . . . Or How are we helping our friends who are paralyzed find healing? . . . Are we the ones who don’t think others are worthy of being healed? . . . Do we take offense at how Jesus heals? . . . When Jesus tells us to go home, what home do we go to? Is it a good healthy home?

   In the second Gospel we have Jesus teaching about the Good Shepherd. 

   The Hireling is not concerned with the sheep but with himself, with his own position and pay. 

   Jesus gives up His life for His sheep. 

   The wolf tests the shepherd to see if he be hireling or true shepherd. . . . When the wolf comes the hireling abandons the sheep. Christ is the good shepherd, not because He has good sheep, but that He gives His life for them. . . for their health and salvation. And Jesus ordained that some be shepherds — but only He is the door. 

   And many of us have experienced good shepherds,. . .  and we have experienced hirelings. . . . And as we look out at how various priests and bishops are handling the current crisis, we see very good shepherds, who are doing their best to take care of their flock in impossible circumstances. . . and we see hirelings. And we marvel at the care of the good shepherds. . . . and we feel the emptiness of the hirelings. . . Even if they be hirelings, we must love them and pray for them. This is hard. It is hard to pray the prayer of St. Ephraim “not to judge my brother” when we feel the sting of their judgement . . . and of their poor judgement, . . . and our own judgement on them. 

   Those good shepherds we have been under should be treasured — those that held themselves accountable to God for the sheep He had put them over. And we must glorify God Who brought us to such shepherds. . . . In that we have experienced hirelings, we must heal — or more accurately, we must allow God to heal us. And we must acknowledge that the wounds that the hireling inflicts on us: abuse, abandonment, . . . these are deep wounds that will take time to heal. 

   And whether our shepherds be good or bad, we have a High Priest who knows what we are going through and Who offers Himself for us and for our salvation. For He guides us by walking ahead. He heals us: . . . even our death He heals by trampling down death by His own death. He leads us beside calm waters, in green pastures. He nurtures us in ways only He knows. He provides for us our needs that are hidden from us. 

   And finally, today is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. St. Gregory was archbishop of Thessalonica. He spent some time on Mt Athos. We remember him for this Sunday is a second triumph of Orthodoxy. Last week we celebrated the Victory of the Icon, of God becoming Man, whom He Himself created in His own Image. This week we celebrate our call to complete this — to become like God. This all started when a monk from Calabria named Barlaam, who brought his scholasticism to the east. He thought that God should be understandable and that we should be able to figure Him out logically. He thought that the monks of Mt. Athos were wasting their time. He thought they should be using his scholastic method to approach God using reasoning and rationalism. St. Gregory debated him and pointed out that though we may attain purity of heart and see God, just as Jesus promised, that we saw God’s glory, His energie. (Just as Moses and Elijah saw) Yet we cannot know God in essence as He knows Himself. But we can see His uncreated light, as the three disciples saw at Mt. Tabor at the transfiguration. Barlaam’s approach to God is common in our western culture. We even sadly see some Orthodox who have adopted it. . . . But that is not what we are up to. . . . We are to have a relationship with God — not analyze God. Metropolitan Kallistos Ware once said: “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

But God is both beyond in His essence, and deeply involved with the world through His grace as manifested in His energie. 

   St. Gregory defended Hesychasm (or quietness). Hesychasts recognize that we must watch over our rational faculties; we must make them serve us rather than enslave us. We must collect our minds that have been darkened and distracted by our senses. One of the ways that we collect our minds and make it serve us is to put our mind in our hearts and in the presence of Jesus. This is usually done with the aid of the Jesus prayer: O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner. 

   This prayer has been commended to us by the fathers of the Church as a way of focusing on Jesus and gathering our distracted minds, and so to obtain sobriety. The idea is to fulfill the commandment of St. Paul to pray without ceasing. It is commended with some caveats: We can expect things to come up for us that we need to deal with. If we are to make extensive constant use of this prayer we need regular access to a father confessor. 

   But we can still make use of it, when we feel attacked from within by our minds, or distracted from without by the noise of the world. 

   Hesychasm (the practice of quietness) asks a question of us: What is it in our life that distracts us? that causes us to lose focus? . . . What can we do to turn down the noise? . . . What things, that should be our servants, have we allowed to enslave us?

   Great Lent bids us to turn down the noise, and to flee from the slavery of our own reasonings and desires. And to move toward Christ:  to Whom belong glory, dominion, honor, and worship, with His Father Who IS without beginning and the most holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen