Second Sunday of Great Lent – Gregory Palamas
On this second Sunday of the Great Fast we commemorate St Gregory Palamas, one of the shining heroes of Orthodox Christianity. St Gregory Palamas is an important figure in our further clarification of the Orthodox understanding of creation and God’s interaction with mankind.
Last Sunday we celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy and all the icons were set out in glorious display. We do this in honor of the Orthodox council that clarified and proclaimed the Orthodox understanding of the relationship between man and God, between the material and the spiritual, and that God did indeed become a man in the Person of Jesus Christ and that He transfigures and heals that which was fallen into the image of God that it was created to be. The veneration of the icons confirms this understanding of the reality of matter transfigured by the healing presence of God.
St Gregory Palamas is another key figure in understanding and clarifying both the relationship between man and God and of the reality of how God interacts with us to heal and transfigure us into that which He created us to be.
At the time of St Gregory there were debates raging about the absolute unknowability of God. St Gregory Palamas clarified that God in His essence is eternally distinct from His creatures, but that mankind can and should strive to participate and commune with the energies, with the Grace of God – which is a truly an experience of God Himself. To make a weak analogy - we cannot approach the orb of the sun but we can truly experience the sun through its warmth and light. St Gregory’s distinction of the essence and the energies of God may seem obscure at first – but it was an important declaration and clarification of the proper understanding of the relationship between God the Creator and man, His creature… and underscores just how intimate that relationship is and can be.
This awareness of the intimacy and nearness of God is essential for us to understand.
God is not a distant deity sitting on His throne in heaven… a Being with Whom we’ll have no direct interactions until we pass from this life into the next. No, God is present here and now. He is present in your home and in your workplace. He is present in our very hearts and He stands at the door of our heart and He knocks.
Brothers and sisters in Christ… it is a convenient mistake for us to think of God as distant and removed from our day to day lives. Such a viewpoint creates the false assurance that our secret sins are not known to Him… that our daily neglect of Him is not seen by Him… that our judgment of others and selfish passions don’t matter.
The truth proclaimed by St Gregory is truth born from direct experience! St Gregory, being a man of purity of heart, did indeed have direct experience of God. And, as the testimony of many saints indicates… God’s grace and energies are present in our lives even though our spiritual eyes are too blind to see it.
This is where faith is required… for even though we do not often see the workings of God in our lives, He is there. And if we have faith, if we push ourselves to trusting in Him and seeking to do His will, then as faith grows, so too does our ability to perceive the wonderful workings of God in our life.
This is a cause for great hope, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. We offer God our faith, we strive to understand and do His will, following His commandments to the best of our ability – and, oh what promises await us. We may rejoice in the hope of salvation and in being with God in the joy of paradise.
And from this beginning of innocent faith, hope is enkindled in us, and we burst forth with zeal and love for God Who saves us! As we experience and practice that love of God, it transforms us… that interaction with the God of love transforms us by His life-giving energies and grace.
This is the experience of God which St Gregory declares… It is a direct encounter with the living God born from faith, hope, and love.
Our God is not a distant figure sitting upon the clouds in heaven. God is intimately involved in the lives of His beloved children. We must love Him and trust Him enough to enter into that intimate communion wherein God, the great Physician, can begin to set aright all that is distorted in our lives… transforming us into the fullness of the image of God which we were created to become!