Becoming Holy Even as We Live in the World: Homily for the Second Sunday of Great Lent and Commemoration of Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Mark 2:1-12

                       It can be tempting to think that not much can be expected spiritually of people like us who live in the world with our families, occupations, and mundane responsibilities. God calls some to become monks and nuns, whose prayers and examples strengthen us all.  No less than them, however, the Lord calls each of us to find healing for our souls and become shining epiphanies of His salvation in our darkened world. No matter how paralyzed we may feel by our passions or any of the broken circumstances of our lives, Christ commands each of us to “rise, take up your pallet, and go home.”

On this second Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate St. Gregory Palamas, who defended the experience of monks who, in the stillness of prayer from their hearts, saw the Uncreated Light of God.  The eyes of their souls were cleansed and illumined such that they beheld the divine glory as the Apostles did at the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor.  St. Gregory taught that to know God is to participate in His gracious divine energies as we are transformed in holiness in every aspect of our existence.  He proclaimed that our calling is to know and experience God through true spiritual union with Him that sanctifies every dimension of the human person.  To do so is to encounter the great “I AM” of the Burning Bush from the depths of our souls in a way that illumines us entirely. (Ex. 3:14) It is to shine brilliantly in holiness like an iron left in the fire of the divine glory.

In today’s gospel reading, the Savior enabled a paralyzed man to stand up, carry his bed, and walk home as a sign of His divine authority to forgive sins. In doing so, He restored a whole person and strengthened him to live accordingly amidst the practical challenges of daily life in the world as we know it.  Though Palamas focused primarily on the hesychasm of monks, he also taught that “those who live in the world…must force themselves to use the things of this world in conformity with the commandments of God.”[1]  When we mindfully embrace the struggle to live according to love of God and neighbor, which are the greatest of the commandments, and not according to self-centered desire, we open ourselves to know and experience Christ from the depths of our souls.  We pray, fast, give, forgive, and confess and repent of our sins during Lent so that we may share more fully in the life of our Lord by grace.

We do not have to abandon our daily responsibilities in order to do so.  If that were the case, Christ would not have sent the formerly paralyzed man home to resume a normal life. Since the Savior is both fully divine and fully human, every aspect of our human existence may become radiant with the divine glory, if we will offer ourselves to Him for healing and hold nothing back.  Doing so requires a great struggle and constant vigilance against the blindness that our passions so easily bring to our souls.

While no particular use of the Jesus Prayer is required of us, we must call mindfully for the Lord’s healing mercy each day so that we will acquire the strength to live not as people paralyzed by sin, but as those united to Christ as “partakers of the divine nature.”  Prayers are not magic words, however, and we must rise up from our comfortable beds of spiritual laziness to take the faltering steps toward the Kingdom that we have the strength to take. The Savior’s commands are not arbitrary religious requirements, but therapeutic guidance for conforming our character to that of the New Adam.  Becoming like Him is what it means to be transfigured as those who shine radiantly with holy glory.

Lent does not call us merely to think or have feelings about our Lord’s Cross and resurrection.  This season invites us to grow in our personal knowledge and experience of the Savior Who offered Himself on the Cross and rose in glory on the third day for our salvation.   Its disciplines strengthen us for the life of holiness possible only for those who share in Christ’s restoration and fulfillment of the human person in the divine image and likeness.  Whenever we pray, fast, and serve others with humility, we open ourselves to the healing light of the Lord and become more like Him.  These practices are not reserved for those who have abandoned the world, but are necessary for all of us who remain weak before our passions with spiritual vision darkened by sin.  The circumstances of our lives never excuse us from answering the call to become radiant with the divine energies of our Lord, but present their own opportunities to rise, take up our beds, and walk.

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers records that God revealed to Saint Antony the Great of Egypt that “there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.”  The example of that righteous man shows that the only limits to our participation in the life of Christ are those that we impose on ourselves.  As we continue our Lenten journey, let us make the circumstances of our lives points of entrance into the blessed life of our Lord, Who alone can make us shine brightly with the divine glory by grace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Triads, II.ii.5.

2 comments:

  1. Dear Fr Philip,
    I read this today and was blessed–a little behind, but that’s okay!
    Hope you and your Church family are doing well.

    God bless you all, Rhoda

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