Tag Archives: Gregory Palamas

10 Lies We Tell Ourselves: Where Do We Go From Here?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago tells us that we should make this our credo, our guiding moral philosophy if you will. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

We’ve looked at 10 lies that Orthodox Christians tell ourselves. Maybe you agree with me about all 10. Or maybe you only think I got a few right. Or maybe you think I’m just wrong on all 10.

None of this matters!

What does matter is that you commit to not lying, to not doing what you know to be morally wrong.

This isn’t being passive. It rather to trust what St Gregory Palamas teaches

…the wise providence of God orders our affairs in many different ways and lovingly bestows on each one of us what is appropriate and profitable both for virtuous deeds and the mysteries of faith (Staying to the End of the Divine Services).

When I tell what I know to be a lie or do what I know to be morally wrong, I am rejecting “the wise providence” of God in my own life and in the lives of those around me.

But if I abstain for saying what I know is untrue, if I abstain from doing what I know to be morally wrong, then I make room in my life for the grace of God.

Building on this grace, we must foster in each other a sense of personal commitment to Christ and personal responsibility for the work of not just the parish but the Church in America.

The late Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Surouzh, has said that this “means … working with [people] as a gardener would with flowers or other plants. He has to know the soil, the nature of the plant, the climactic or other conditions they are set in, and only then can he help. And help is all he can do because one or another plant can only grow into what it should be by nature.”

What the must we do?

We must commit ourselves to helping each other grow in our love for Christ. When we do this not only will we grow in our love for Christ, we will also grow in our love for each other.  Against this love, nothing can stand.

In my own view, what we need are more active lay ministries like AOC. While it is a good start, what we need, what I think God is asking of His Church in America, is for ALL Orthodox Christians to take seriously their personal call to follow Christ as His disciples and witnesses.

For a fuller explanation of this point, for the rest of my talk, and the Q&A that followed:

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Transforming Ourselves and Society

Sunday, March 27, 2016: Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas; The Holy Matrona of Thessalonica, Paul, Bishop of Corinth

Epistle: Hebrews 1:10-14; 2:1-3
Gospel: Mark 2:1-12

This world, and all that is in it, is passing away. As we hear in the epistle, “they will perish . . . they will all grow old like a garment, like a mantle thou wilt roll them up.” We would be mistaken, however, if we were to conclude from its transitory character that this world is unimportant or that we can remain indifferent to what goes on around us because it is passing away.

The reason for this is that creation is just that, God’s creation. “Thou, Lord, didst found the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of thy hands.” And far from passing into non-existence, these things that pass away will, one day, “be changed.”

The author Hebrews is not telling us to turn our backs on the world around us. He is rather contrasting the fleeting nature of this life with the permanence of God. “[T]hou art the same, and thy years will never end.” And it is because God doesn’t change that “we must pay closer attention” to the Gospel, “lest we,” who are prone to change “drift away from it.”

This isn’t to suggest that change is, in and of itself, a bad thing. Change, the ability to be different, is the hallmark of being a creature. St Gregory of Nyssa goes so far as to say “that human perfection consists precisely in this constant growth in the good” (The Life of Moses, PG 44.300 B-301 C). Or, if you prefer, we are called to change and change frequently.

What we are not called to do, is turn our back on the world around us.

We can’t be indifferent either to the material creation or human society. The evidence for this is found in, among other places, this morning’s Gospel as well as in the teaching of St Gregory Palamas, the saint whose memory we celebrate today on the first Sunday of Great Lent.

Let’s look briefly at each.

Jesus comes and proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God not only in His words but also in His deeds. The works serve as evidence of the truthfulness of His words, while the teaching explain the meaning of His actions. Healings are chief among the works that Jesus performs. Jesus restores the human body to its proper function.

He does this not only out of mercy for the afflicted but also to show that “the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Restoring the normative, that is healthy, function of the body is the sign of Jesus’ authority to forgive our sins.

This close association between sign and its meaning extends beyond the merely physical. Jesus also has authority over demons. Through His exorcisms—the same exorcism we hear in the rite of baptism by the way—Jesus demonstrates His power over the Enemy. Jesus is seen in the Gospels commanding the demons, ending their tyranny over humanity and casting them “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41, NJKV).

The physical and spiritual dimensions, however, are not the limit of Jesus’ authority. As much as the human body, the social dimension of human life, chief among these the family and human society, are also in need of being restored, of being healed. This is why together with His re-affirmation of the nature of marriage (Matthew 19:1-10), Jesus tells His disciples to rightly distinguish the things that are Caesar’s from the things that are God’s (see Mark 12:17 and parallels) and cleanses the temple (Matthew 21:12-17). Human society in both its civil and religious dimension need to be re-shaped.

And the point of this restoration?

It isn’t to create a perfect, earthly society since Jesus’ Kingdom “is not of this world” (see John 18:36). It is rather meant (as with physical healings) to transform society into an icon of the Kingdom of God that is to come (see Hebrews 7:26-8:5).

The human body, marriage and family life, civil and religious society, together with the rest of creation are all in need of the healing grace and mercy of God. There is no part of the created order, visible or invisible, divorced from the grace of God. All will one day be transformed into the New Heaven and the New Earth (Revelations 21) where sin and death will be no more and where we will stand in the presence of “the throne of God and of the Lamb.” It is there, in the Kingdom of God that we “shall see His face.” It is there that there will be “no night” no need for lamp or sunlight because God Himself will be our light. And it is there that with Him we shall “shall reign forever and ever” (Revelations 22:3-5, NKJV).

This great, eschatological fulfillment begins here and now. In the sacraments and the worship of the Church we have a foretaste of the Kingdom. Building on this grace our ascetical life, and here we turn to St Gregory Palamas, is our personal preparation for the Kingdom.

St Gregory argued that to see the Divine Light as not simply as an internal, psychological reality, but also something we experience with our physical eyes. This means that, here and now, our bodies participate in the Kingdom which is to come.

So, like Jesus, we don’t simply talk about the Kingdom of God but engage in those deeds that form, reform and transform the creation into a sacrament of the Kingdom of God. The evangelical fruit of our sacramental and ascetical life extends not simply to the soul but also to the body. But it doesn’t end there. Through our work, we also are called to bring the material world and human society into an ever greater conformity to the Kingdom of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, on this the second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, let us commit ourselves not only to an ascetical struggle of the body but also to a like struggle in society. Let us by God’s grace and our own efforts work to bring the human body and the body politic into a deeper consonance with the Kingdom of God that is to come.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Divine Providence and Pastoral Care

St. Gregory Palamas nicely summarizes the nature of pastoral care. As a quick aside, it also reminds us what we owe each other in Christ but this will have to wait for another time. Here my concern is with pastoral care.

Each of us must discern the providential working out of God’s grace in our own lives. Just as spouses are called to discern God’s providence in each others’ lives parents are to do this for their children. Turning from the family to the Church, priests are responsible for discerning and fostering the vocation of their parishioners and bishops for the members of the diocese. All of this is, necessarily, personal.

This means that pastoral care not just about asking what God wants for the parish or the diocese. Much less can the pastoral life be reduced to slotting people according to a pre-determined list of needs for the diocese or parish. Neither the bishop nor the  pastor is not the Church’s “director of human resources” trying to hire the right people for the job. But if not this, then what?

Pastoral care takes as its starting point “the wise providence” of God in the life of the person. The grace that God “lovingly bestows on each one of us” is how He reveals His will for the parish and the diocese (and for that matter, the married couple and the family). It God’s gifts to his parishioners that should sets the pastor’s agenda. It is this, not his own dreams about the “perfect” parish, that should guide the pastor as he guides the parish.

So for example, I’ve always wanted to pastor a congregation that placed a great deal of emphasis on adult education. Nothing wrong with wanting this. In fact I’ve found my life a priest gets easier in direct correlation with my willingness to acknowledge (if only to myself) what I want.

Please note, however, I didn’t say my life gets easier because I get what I want . I’m only saying that it gets easier when I acknowledge what I want. Too often, I’ve found myself frustrated or unhappy as a priest because I couldn’t distinguish between what I wanted and the gifts God gave the community I was leading.

My frustration is the result of many things. Chief among these though is my trying to get people to conform to my expectations for the parish. When I do this I ask the congregation to serve me and not our serving Christ together. Priest and parishioner, pastor and parish, each bring  their own expectations to the parish. More importantly, each bring their own unique gifts. We need to be aware of both, but it is the gifts given by God that must guide parish life.

What I’ve come to appreciate is that pastoral care is first a matter of discerning the will of God made manifest in the grace He’s given the parishioners. When I’m faithful—obediently really—to how God has concretely blessed the parish, I find pastoral care becomes if not exactly easier at least more peaceful. Like the poor, stress and strain will always be with us. What’s most important for the pastor (and the bishop, the husband, wife, father and mother) is first to discern the will of God for those entrusted to his care and second to be obedient to God’s will.

Let me recommend two books that I have found very helpful. They are written by the Catholic author (and my friend) Sherry Weddell who in 1993 co-founded of the Catherine of Siena Institute, an affiliated international ministry of the Western Dominican, that she serves as co-Director. The first is Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. The second is a collection of essays edited by Sherry on pastoral care: Becoming a Parish of Intentional Disciples.  I have found them both very helpful in my ministry and my own spiritual life and I would recommend them both.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory