Homily: St Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Way


The Orthodox Way.
  • Gospel (Sunday after Nativity): St. Matthew 2:13-23
    Epistle: Colossians 3:12-16
    Epistle (Sunday after Nativity): Galatians 1:11-19

    Gospel: St. Mark 2:1-12

  • Epistle: Hebrews 1:10-2:3
Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas: The Footstool of God (in our Hearts)
Today we have the touching story of a sick man who was brought to Christ – with some considerable effort – and saved. It is a reminder that Christ’s mission is real. He has the medicine that heals what truly ails us; and that this medicine is applied through developing a relationship with Him. All such relationships require some sort of mechanism. In the case of normal doctors, the mechanisms are things like conversation, prescriptions, and a healing touch. Through these modes, our relationship with our doctor brings us into greater health. Christ is our Great Physician and the mechanisms or modes that allow us to benefit from His care, power, and perfection are called mysteries. Today I would like to speak about three of these modes.

The first is the most obvious and the easiest to explain. It includes mechanisms with which you are already the most familiar. Baptism washes away the contagions this diseased world has spread throughout our systems; Chrismation seals us with the health and protection of the Holy Spirit; Communion transfuses us and unites us to the source of all healing; and so on. I stand at wonder in the face of people who believe that God is an absentee Father when He is so active in this, His Hospital. If we are tempted to fall into this way of thinking, then see these actions of the Church – the very Body of Christ our God – in a new way. You can be healed by God now as surely now as you could 2000 years ago in Galilee because He is as present and attentive here and now as He was then and there. To summarize this first mode, God heals through the Mysteries of His Church.

The second is related to this one: God works through His people. God is one, and we are in Him and He in us. The love that we share is a manifestation of His love. The care that we give one another is His care. We tend to think of the Mysteries as something that only priests can serve, but the truth is much stronger than that. We are all part of His Body and His Blood flows in our veins. To the extent we have grown in Him and Him in us, we become His comforting voice and His healing hands to this world. Yes, we should emulate the man’s friends in today’s Gospel by bringing them to the Church for healing (be it bodily or by name), but we should also continuously manifest the Church to them through our love for them. If we are truly Christian, then we are not in God and Him in us just when we are here in Church, but always. This simple truth is one of the great teachings of St. Gregory Palamas. He defended it against the temptation to see Orthodoxy as an intellectual meritocracy, with healing meted out by those who had read the most books and knew all the right words. To summarize this second mode, God heals through the Love of His people (the Church).
The third mode was another thing that St. Gregory defended. [Restate the Gospel: four men lowering the sick man down to Christ]. We are sick. Our minds have become warped. We confuse our will with God’s and make an idol of our pride. We need to heal our minds. We cannot do this by reading books, even the right ones (although we can certainly make things worse by reading the wrong ones). Nor can we simply “try harder” to be good. Both of these simply act as offerings to our pride, trying to make it stronger so that it can overcome everything else. What we need to do is to quiet that pride and lower the mind to Christ. Hesychasm. God in us. Quiet. Peace. Restores truth and beauty to the center of our lives with the mind in its proper place as the executive of this beauty and truth.
These three things, a life lived in the Holy Mysteries, spent loving our neighbors, with Christ reining within the temple of our hearts, are the way the Great Physician brings healing to each of us, and through us, to this broken world.

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