John 10:9-16; Mark 2:1-12

Audio of homily here

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!

Last Sunday was the commemoration of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Sunday of the Triumph of the fullness of the Christian Faith. In fact, if we look at the Sundays of Great Lent, all of the commemorations are actually remembrances of the Triumph of the Faith. Today we have the theologian and defender of the faith, St Gregory Palamas. During Lent, we’ll also venerate the Holy Cross – we preach Christ and Him crucified, that is the center of Christianity; we’ll remember St John Climacus – a holy man and teacher of the spiritual life to centuries of Christians through the Ladder of Divine Ascent; St Mary of Egypt – the ultimate conversion story of repentance and dedication to Christ; and finally Palm Sunday – the triumphant entry of our Lord into the holy city of Jerusalem.

Each of these remembrances brings to our mind various aspects of our Christian life and faith, and every Sunday we are reminded that our life in Christ in its fullness is the living triumph of the Christian Faith in the world today. So today we particularly look at St Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessalonika. The Gospel reading particularly read for the Saint today is the one from St John’s Gospel – which talks about Christ as our Good Shepherd, caring for the sheep not out of duty but in love. This Gospel is read today and also applied to St Gregory – he was a good shepherd of the people of God, laying down his life for the people in his ministry as bishop – a ministry he carried out not as a position or a duty, but out of love for the people and the Lord.

St Gregory left a life of monastic seclusion on Mt Athos, a life he dearly loved, to answer the call to be the Archbishop of Thessaloniki. He was called to this position after he’d already been in a very important dialogue with the western heretic Barlaam – this defense of the Faith against heresy is perhaps the thing he is most widely known and remembered for in the Church. His articulation of Christian Theology has become the standard way we formulate and speak about many aspects of Christian Life and Faith.

We find two very important things in the life and ministry of St Gregory that i’d like to point out today – the importance of right theology, and the importance of right life.

It has become quite the modern fad for people to say that what we believe is not important, to just live in whatever way makes you happy. We even find this teaching with groups that identify themselves as Christians. They preach that God loves us and accepts us as we are, which is true, but this is then pushed to mean that His love doesn’t call us to change – that we can live and believe as we choose, and that that’s OK with God. This sort of nonchalant attitude for theology has never existed in the Christian Church. Throughout the New Testament we are reminded repeatedly that what we believe is crucial.

For example:
-Christ specifically teaching us that what we believe about God is important;
-Christ always asking if people believe in Him before He performs miracles;
-In this morning’s Gospel from St Mark, our Lord preached the word to them – He taught them the Truth;
-Strikingly, St Paul’s words on passing down what is received unchanged.

We are called to believe on Christ as He is, not as we want Him to be or as we can rationally “figure Him out” or how science/society says things should be today. The truth, Christ, is the same yesterday, today, and forever – those things which are now accepted by society, like abortion or homosexuality or fornication -”lifestyle choices” that we are pushed to believe rely on the individual – the Scriptures and the Christian Tradition speak very clearly on these issues, and we don’t have the right/ability as Christians to say that these things are not important. Take a look back through the history of the Church and you’ll quickly see the centrality of right theology and right belief – how many men and women have been willing to die for the Christian Faith. The 7 Ecumenical Councils were called specifically to deal with matters of theology. Why? Because true theology is knowledge of God – what could be more important to the Church than preserving this incorrupt.

We are reminded very clearly in the person of St Gregory just how important and just how precious the deposit of the Faith truly is – he spent so much of his time fighting the heretics and preaching the Gospel to the faithful to preserve this precious seed. The easiest path to the Kingdom, the Fathers tell us, begins with truly knowing our Lord how He has revealed Himself to us – right belief/theology. This is the meaning of the word Orthodox – right faith / right worship – and it can also mean right life.

This is the other thing we see in the life of St Gregory – the importance of right living. Our Lord tells us constantly such things as “if you love Me keep My commandments.” St Paul always begins his letters extolling the people to proper belief, and then he goes on to chastise them (usually) for their manner of life – calling them to live according to the Gospel. St Gregory dedicated his life from a young age (18) to Christ, first in the monastic life, and later among the people as a priest and a bishop. Bringing together faith and life, St Gregory even spends 4 years in prison for refusing to turn against the fullness of the faith. Lip service to theology, simply saying we believe in Christ, is not enough. An active and living faith, as St James teaches us, is seen also in our lives, in our works. If we love our Lord, we are to strive in everything to keep His commandments.

Right life flows from right Faith – Godly life flows from our relationship with Christ. St Gregory is placed before us today as a great Saint and man of God – a holy hierarch, a learned theologian, and an unwavering example of the Christian life and ethos. It reminds me of the call of the prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian – shunning those things that separate us from God, embracing those things which draw us closer to Him, and living every moment immersed in Christ. Let us learn from St Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki, let us be inspired by him – look at his life, read his words – his homilies are very accessible and very powerful, and let us examine our lives this Great Lent. Am I truly believing Christ – the Creator and lover of mankind – as He truly is, and am I striving to put that faith into action.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Matthew Jackson