Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Mark 2:1-12
We will misunderstand these blessed weeks of Lent if we assume that they are about helping us to think more clearly about our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection. We will be even more confused if we think that our intensified prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and repentance somehow satisfy the demands of divine justice for how we have disobeyed God’s laws. Quite to the contrary, this is a season in which we open our souls to the gracious healing of our Lord as we come to share more fully in His life. Lent is ultimately about nothing less than knowing God through true spiritual experience and encounter.
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, Christ healed a paralyzed man, enabling him to stand up, carry his bed, and walk home as a sign of the Savior’s 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.” When we mindfully embrace the struggle to purify our hearts so that we may live according to love of God and neighbor, which are the greatest of the commandments, and not according to our self-centered desires, 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 open our hearts as fully as possible to the purifying healing of our Lord’s gracious divine energies.
His healing is open to all, regardless of age, sex, marital status, social standing, or any other characteristic. Christ sent the formerly paralyzed man home to resume a conventional 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 and weakness that our passions so easily bring upon us. The disciplines of Lent help us to embrace the struggle to open the eyes of our souls to behold the glory of the Lord. They are not ends in themselves, but therapeutic practices for gaining the spiritual health to know God.
While no particular use of the Jesus Prayer is required of us, we must all call mindfully for the Lord’s healing mercy each day in order to receive His liberation from slavery to the paralysis of sin. Prayer is not about pondering ideas, cultivating emotions, or meeting legal standards, but about being fully present to God from the depths of our souls. Doing so is absolutely necessary to know Christ and become more like Him in holiness. It is the essential foundation for accepting the divine therapy and gaining the strength to make whatever circumstances and challenges we face points of entrance into the life of the Kingdom of the Heaven.
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 at least a bit to the healing light of the Lord and become more like Him. These are not practices only for those who live in what we imagine to be ideal circumstances, but are necessary for all who remain weak before their passions with spiritual vision darkened by sin. No circumstance of our lives excuses us in any way from answering the calling to become radiant with the divine energies of our Lord as we rise up from our beds of weakness and move forward in a life of holiness. That is the calling of the God-Man to us all.
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 choose to impose on ourselves. As we continue our Lenten journey, let us make the circumstances of our lives, whatever they may be, points of entrance into the blessed life of our Lord. Let us know Him as God from the depths of our hearts as we come to shine brightly with the divine glory by grace. That is not a matter of rational speculation or historical remembrance of the Savior’s Cross and empty tomb, but of lifting up our hearts and entering into the joy of the One Who destroyed the power of sin and death by His glorious resurrection on the third day.
 The Triads, II.ii.5.