In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Brothers and sisters, today is the second Sunday of Great Lent. We’re at the start of the third week already! I feel like, if you blink, you’ll miss all of Lent! Last week was the Sunday of Orthodoxy. We celebrated of course, the restoration of the veneration of the Holy Icons, and by extension, the incarnation of Christ God, which is the reason and justification for our iconography in the first place. A few days ago, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, the Mother of God. Again, another feast which celebrates the incarnation of Christ, at the moment of conception.
Today is the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas. It is often called the second Sunday of Orthodoxy, because St. Gregory was the champion of the cause of the Hesychasts of Orthodox monastic tradition against the accusations of those who suggested they were deluded heretics. St. Gregory Palamas was an excellent representative of the monastics, because he was one. St. Gregory had been very well educated, similarly to the earlier Church Fathers who were able to express the Church’s teachings and dogmas using language which matched and bested that of the opponents of the Orthodox faith.
There was argument over the essence and energies of God, whether you can distinguish between the two, and whether the energies or Grace of God was created, or uncreated. That of course is a very simplified version of events. But why was St. Gregory so up to the task?
Well, if you look around in the church here, you can see a lot of beautiful iconography. The iconography you see is all done according to a certain tradition, meeting certain dogmatic standards, and while beautiful, is also theologically meaningful and expressive. If you want to have icons painted or written for a church, and you want to keep your standards high, you want to find someone who has lots of experience in the field. You want to be sure that the person or persons you choose for the job know what they’re doing, they have a track record. You might want to find out who they learned from, or who they studied under.
The same thing would apply if you were planning to build a building, you need to find various people who are skilled in the various trades and technologies you’re going to need to be involved with the building. You need people with experience. One of the key factors of Orthodox Theology, starting with the beginning of the Church, and going through the various Ecumenical Councils, is that it is Experiential. The Fathers of old, were able to express the very deep, rich, and meaningful theology of the Church, not because they learned about it from books, or contemplated various theories until they came up with the right ones, but because they personally experienced it. They had the personal experience of the personal God. St. Gregory is no different. He was able, because of personal experience, which was consistent with what the Fathers had experienced, to express persuasively the Orthodox teaching on the essence and energies of God. He himself had experience of what he was talking about, regarding the uncreated energies of God and the vision of the uncreated light of God as experienced by the Hesychasts of Mt. Athos and elsewhere. But the point of all of this is not so we can win debates with those who disagree with us on this. The point is, we lowly human beings can experience and commune with God Himself, through His uncreated energies. The action of these energies is what sanctifies us, this is how the Kingdom of God can be present with us, within us, and will return again at the Second Coming of Christ.
That personal experience is a bit like what we read about in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus has returned to Capernaum, which is His base of operations. He always returns there. Blessed Theophylact tells us that Capernaum means house of comfort, or consolation. This of course we can interpret as being symbolic of the Church. The paralytic is symbolic of us, because our sins have paralyzed our souls, and we are unable on our own to do anything good.
The four friends who carry the paralytic, are the four evangelists who carry him to Christ. Now the roof of this house was the only way in, to be brought in and set in front of Jesus. This roof then symbolizes the mind, our mind which is made of earthen and clay tiles, which mean earthly thoughts, concerns, and affairs. But with the help of the Gospels, and faith in Christ, and prayer, this roof can be pulled away and we can be lowered down to Christ. Humility, this is what being lowered down means. By being humble, according to Theophylact, we will not rise up in pride because we have been freed and unburdened of these earthly things, these earthly affairs. Since we have been unburdened we are able to be lowered, and then we can be healed by Christ.
Once we are healed we will be able to take up our bed, which is symbolic of our body, and put it to good use keeping the commandments. Once we have, through the help of the Gospels understood that we have sinned, and have been raised up through our humility, then we will be able to take up our whole selves, including our bodies, and do good. Once we are cleansed of our sins, like the paralytic, then we will see with our spiritual eyes, we will truly see and understand in what condition we had been in. For, says Theophylact, only he who has been cleansed of sins sees things as they truly are.
In the Gospel reading for today, Christ Himself is speaking to the people, preaching “the word” to them. St. Gregory Palamas says, this is His principle work, and reminds us as it says in Luke, “The sower went out to sow his seed” (Luke 8:5), which is the word of His teaching, as well as in Matthew: “ I am come to call sinners to repentance” (Matt: 9:13). He preached to everyone, He cast His seed everywhere, to everyone. But, like St. Gregory says, “Everyone heard, but not everyone obeyed. for although we all love listening and watching, not all of us love virtue. By nature we all long to know about salvation as well as everything else. So people in general are not only pleased to listen to sacred teaching, but also enjoy passing their opinions on the words, each one apparently scrutinizing what is said, according to how ignorant or wise he might be. Putting words into action, however, or reaping from them the fruit of beneficial faith, requires gratitude and good intent, which are not easy to find, especially among people who consider themselves righteous and are wise in their own opinion, as were the Jewish scribes and Pharisees.” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homilies; Homily 10.)
Like blessed Theophylact, St. Gregory tells us we need humility. But anyone who is addicted to sensual pleasure is paralyzed in soul and lying sick. But after being “won over by the exhortations of the Gospels, he confesses his sins and triumphs over them and the paralysis they have brought upon his soul. He is taken up and brought to the Lord by these four: self-condemnation, confession of former sins, promising to renounce evil ways from now on, and prayer to God.” The roof, according to St. Gregory, “is the reasoning part of our soul, which is set above everything else within us. But it has lying on top of it, like a large quantity of building material, its connection with the passions and earthly matters. Once this connection has been loosed and shaken off by means of the four things we have mentioned, then we can really be let down, that is, humbled, fall down before the Lord, draw near to Him and ask and receive His healing…. So when we fall down before Him with such faith, our paralyzed mind immediately hears Him saying “Son,” and receives forgiveness and healing. In addition it receives strength to lift up and carry the bed on which it is lying. The bed is to be understood as the body to which the mind which pursues fleshly desires clings, and through which it applies itself to sinful actions.”
Brothers and sisters, let us hear the words of the Lord and His disciples. Like the paralytic, we need to humble ourselves in repentance, so that like the paralytic, we will hear the words of our Good Shepherd say to us, “son,” or “daughter,” “Your sins are forgiven you.” And then we will be able to truly see Him, and to stand up and walk with Him. You see how the Lord treats those who are ill with sin? He addresses them with love, not disdain. “Son,” “Daughter.” So be of good cheer, do not let doubt and shame hold you back from the Lord, sons and daughters of the Lord!
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.