Homily on the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas [Hebrews 1:10-2:3; Mark 2:1-12]

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today, for the second Sunday of Great Lent, we have the commemoration of one of my favorite saints of the Church—St. Gregory Palamas. He’s given an incredibly prominent spot on the liturgical calendar today, and I’d like us to spend a few moments remembering why.

St. Gregory Palamas lived the life of a simple monastic on Mt. Athos for about 10 years. Around 3 of those years he even spent as a hermit, living in a cave on the mountain above the monastery of the Great Lavre (the oldest of the monasteries on the Holy Mountain). While a monk (and even in his life in the world), St. Gregory was a man who struggled constantly to give himself entirely to Christ. There was no deprivation he wouldn’t accept for the sake of the love of God. He was very well educated, but he chose to live the life of a monk, a life of prayer and solitude and asceticism. St. Gregory was purified and sanctified by the indwelling grace of the Holy Spirit through his struggles and especially his prayers. His labors were blessed by the cooperation of God, and he became a very holy man. And as with many of our Saints, he was counted worthy to behold the vision of Christ in glory. This is the same vision of St. Paul on the road to Damascus—St. Gregory was given the grace to behold the vision of Christ. As the Scriptures say, he was taught theology (knowledge of God) by God Himself.

St. Gregory lived all these things is solitude, holding the gifts that God had given him, trying always to preserve the grace that he had been granted. But as it the case with many of our theologians, God’s will was for St. Gregory to be active again in the world. From the very beginning of monasticism in the Christian Church, the Desert Fathers, they taught that we can’t help others find God if we aren’t healed of our passions, if we aren’t saved, then we can’t help others. St. Gregory had gone through the fires of repentance, and so after his own healing, God called him to help others. He had a vision where he was reminded of the Parable of the Talents, and God revealed to him in this vision that his duty was now to share what he had been taught by God. He would have to learn to convey the deepest mysteries of God to the faithful, so that they could be supported and grow in their relationship with Christ. He was a theologian in the purest sense of the word—he knew God, he experienced God, he was taught by God, and then called to share this knowledge with the world.

Obviously, we can’t talk about everything that St. Gregory Palamas taught. He became a great defender of the Orthodox theology—our understanding and practice of prayer and hesychasm and the vision of Christ in glory. And he was also a great teacher of prayer. He was ordained a priest, and eventually elected as bishop of Thessaloniki, and many of his writings and homilies are preserved, and many are translated into English. And it would be a good thing for us to take the time to read St. Gregory. What he has to say is important enough that we commemorate his memory on the second Sunday of every Great Lent.

But we can mention one aspect of his teaching, one that has a special tie to my parish in McComb, MS. St. Gregory is known as a theologian of the Transfiguration. And since our parish is dedicated to the Feast of the Transfiguration, this is a good way to approach a bit of his teaching. When St. Gregory speaks about the purpose of man, he sees our goal in life revealed in Christ on Mt. Thabor. In Christ Transfigured we see our hope, we see our calling—human life (in Christ) filled with the life of the Holy Trinity, with the glory and presence of God (the light). We are called to see Christ as God, like the Apostles did at the Transfiguration (this is the vision of Christ in glory, to see Christ as God).

Christ is sole revealer of God to man. Every revelation of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament comes through Christ. Everything for us, as Orthodox Christians, is Christ. He is the beginning and the end and the entire content of our faith and of our lives. All that is true of the humanity of Christ, all that we see revealed on Mt. Thabor when Christ is transfigured before His Apostles, all of this is also possible in us, by grace.

This is the Orthodox Christian understanding of salvation. We care called to attain Christ-like life. To be, by grace, all that was seen and revealed in Christ. And there’s an ascetic dimension to this teaching. To be with Christ, to be filled with the life of Christ, we must be like Christ. We have to deny ourselves, take up the cross of our day-to-day struggles, and follow Christ. We have this time of the Great Fast to repent of our sins and our failings, and to turn our lives entirely to Christ. And especially St. Gregory emphasized the importance of a healthy prayer life.

The Church gives us St. Gregory Palamas today as an example that this can happen. He’s a Saint of our Church, he beheld the vision of Christ in glory (the vision of the Transfiguration), he shows us that we have but one true Teacher, and that is Christ. He is both our example through his life, and through his word. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy we remember that we must keep the faith to know Christ. We give thanks that we’ve received the faith through the Saints, that we’ve been given a road map to Christ. And on this 2nd Sunday of the Fast, St. Gregory Palamas is put forward as an example of what man can become. We are called to be, by God’s great grace, all that was revealed to man in Christ. We’re called to be participants in the life and the glory of God.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

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