Epistle Hebrews 1:10-2:3
Gospel 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 we have the commemoration of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. St. Gregory reposed in 1359, and was canonized in 1368 – only 9 years after his repose [that rapid of a canonization is something virtually unheard of in the history of the Church]. And from the time of his canonization, the second Sunday of Great Lent has been dedicated to his remembrance. Today is considered to be a second Triumph of Orthodoxy, in both the life and the teachings of St. Gregory. Last Sunday we remembered the preservation of the Church by the grace of God [the Triumph of Orthodoxy], and today we have the presentation of this triumph in the person of St. Gregory.

St. Gregory is, obviously, a Saint of the Church. By the grace of God, he lived the life that Christ has called us to live. The Saints present most perfectly to us the lived theology of the Church. Not theology in a book, not a grouping of teachings – the Saints actually do what Christ gives us to do. Their lives give us an example of the truth of our faith, of the reality of Pentecost. There are some men and women who follow after Christ, and who are healed of the sins and passions of this life, and who are filled with the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit – and this fact demonstrates the Truth of the Gospel. In the Epistle reading this morning, St. Paul wrote, “we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.” The Saints are counted with those who have seen the Lord, and their lives are a continuing confirmation to us of the word of the Lord. St. Gregory is a Triumph of Orthodoxy because his life is a continuation of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The teachings of St. Gregory Palamas are the second aspect of the victory of Christ’s Church presented to us today. The word of a Saint is at once both traditional and original. The Saints continue to teach what has always been taught and believed about Christ. They teach the truth, and only the truth. St. Silouan once answered the question, how do the perfect speak? His answer is that they only say what the Holy Spirit gives them to say. The Saints follow wholeheartedly in the stream of the Tradition of the Church. But their words are also original – inspired in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and directed specifically at the audience they are called to speak to. St. Gregory’s teachings are exactly like this – he teaches only what the Fathers before him had taught, but he does so to defend the faith from heretics. His works aim at giving us a vision of the life of the Gospels as at it had been taught and unpacked and lived by 1300 years worth of Saints.

At the center of St. Gregory’s defense of the Truth is our Orthodox understanding of salvation. The thrust of our Epistle reading this morning is to call us to remember that God has called us to sit at the right hand of Christ and to be ministered to by the angels and to co-rule the created universe as sons of God. And St. Paul calls on us to be mindful of our calling and of our purpose lest we “neglect so great a salvation.” We have to remember (not be neglectful) in order to struggle to attain. Once we forget, even for a second, our salvation in Christ, then we easily stray away from the path. St. Gregory was called on to correct the false teachings of the heretic Barlaam the Calabrian. Essentially, Barlaam taught that all of the experiences of God that the Saints throughout the ages had spoken of were mediated experiences. In other words, the Saints didn’t have direct contact with God, but with some go-between substance or grace that God had created. The implications of this for our salvation are huge – if we don’t actually have any contact with God, then what’s going on? What was the purpose of the Incarnation of Christ if not to bring man into direct contact with God? We have real experiences of the grace and mercy and love of God, which flow from God Himself. We do not simply have contact with God through created means, we have real contact with God. Sharing in the life of God is our salvation. King David describes our salvation in the Psalms – “Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High” (Psalm 81:6). To use the more technical terminology of St. Gregory – we experience the uncreated energies of God (His activities), but we never have knowledge of His essence. We will never be God (this is the implication of the essence of God, we can’t know the essence of God without being God, in the same way that we can’t know the essence of one another). We know one another by our activities – but these activities are real revelations of ourselves to each other, and our activities are real experiences of who we are. Again – St. Gregory taught (along with all of the Fathers of the Church) that mankind can have true knowledge of God, true contact with God – and this is our salvation. If we remove real experience of God from our theology, then we have no salvation.

St. Gregory certainly had other things to say, and many more things to teach us, but this discussion is at the center of what brought him out of seclusion (he was a hermit monk on Mt. Athos) and gave us the whole body of his teachings. His practical teachings on prayer and on the spiritual life are also very helpful and important. The teachings of St. Gregory were upheld by two local Councils in Constantinople, and both of these councils are accepted in the Orthodox world like they were Ecumenical Councils. The teachings of St. Gregory Palamas are central in Orthodox theological discussions today. He presents the Faith as it always had been taught, and his points continue to be very crucial for us today in presenting the fullness of the faith of Jesus Christ to the world around us. For example, our topic today – salvation continues to be very wrongly taught and thought about today. From the idea of living in a static state and simply gazing on the magnificence of God, to the idea of heaven as a place where all of our material and earthly desires will be fulfilled (big houses, great food, golf, etc). These presentations of heaven, which are the norms today, are so hollow, and present such a skeleton of what we’re called to be in Christ. There’s nothing in them centered on what the Scriptures and the Church consider to be so important – relationship with God, theosis (sharing in the life and glory of God), incarnation, love. As St. Paul says, the Lord has prepared for us a great salvation in Christ. Let us run the race with endurance, so that we might reach the end and receive the prize.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!