Tag Archives: Mark 2:1-12

Growing in Love

March 12, 2017: Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas; Theophanes the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, Gregory Dialogos, Bishop of Rome, Phineas, grandson of Prophet Aaron

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

Before both the epistle and Gospel reading, we are commanded to pay attention. This is sensible. When God speaks I ought to listen.

But God being God, when does He not speak? When is God not speaking to the human heart? When is not revealing Himself to us?

To be sure, God can (at least from my point of view) speak with greater or lesser subtlety. Yes, He appeared to Moses in a burning bush(Exodus 3:2) and lead the Hebrew children to the Promised Land as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).

And yet, when He spoke to the Prophet Elijah, God spoke not in “a great and strong wind” that “tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces.” God didn’t speak in “an earthquake” or “a fire.” No, when He spoke to Elijah, He spoke as ultimately He always does, in “a still small voice” (1 Kings 9:11-12, NKJV) in the depth of the human heart.

This is why, as we heard in the epistle, “we must pay closer attention to what we have heard.” God’s voice is small and still and unless we quiet ourselves and listen so we can hear what He has to say, we will simply “drift away.”

While we might imagine that people make a conscience decision to separate themselves from the Church and to stop following Christ, more often faith—like marriage—dies by a series of small acts of neglect. It is indifference and distraction that usually steals the soul from Christ. Major sins, what the Apostle John calls sins “leading to death” (1 John 5:16, NKJV), are never the starting point. They are rather the fruit of a habit of spiritual or moral negligence; of prayers rushed or skipped, sins of omission rather than commission.

Recall the miracle in the Gospel we just heard.

Like many of our Lord’s miracles, this one was public; Jesus heals the paralytic scribes who only a moment ago accused Him of blasphemy for forgiving a man his sins. Given the times, it isn’t wholly unreasonable that the scribes took offense at Jesus’ words.

But their anger at Jesus is so overwhelming that it causes them to miss what the crowd saw. The crowd was attentive and so when the man ” took up the pallet and went out before them,” they were “amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!’”

The difference between the scribes and those in the crowd wasn’t what the eyes saw but what the heart heard. For all their ignorance of the Law, the hearts of those in the crowd were open to hearing the small, still voice of God.

And this brings us the saint who we commemorate today: Gregory Palamas.

There is neither the time nor the place to explore the subtle of the saint’s theology. Suffice it to say that for Palamas the voice that we hear in our hearts is really the voice of God. It isn’t a psychological phenomenon but God speaking to us directly and personally. He was tenacious in his argument that our experience of God in prayer, in the Liturgy and the others sacraments and services of the Church is a real, unmediated and direct experience of God.

What we have, in other words, is not knowledge about God but knowledge of God. A real, unmediated, direct, and personal intimacy or communion with God.

We can summarize the goal of the asceticism that so occupies us during the Great Fast in this way. First, the ascetical life helps us overcome the myriad distractions in our lives that come between us and God. How frequently, to speak only for myself, I become fascinated with some idea I have about God. That this idea is true is, from the point of view of our communion with God, is secondary. The spiritual life isn’t a collection of true ideas or wholesome feelings about God any more than it is about living a morally good life. To be sure, these all have their place but in service of pointing us beyond themselves to God. Or, as St Seraphim of Sarov says:

Prayer, fasting, vigil and every Christian work, however good it is in itself, does not constitute the goal of our Christian life, but serves as a means for its attainment. The real goal of human life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

As distractions wane, our ability and desire to focus on God, and God alone, waxes. This second goal of the ascetical life is often overlooked. Christian asceticism is not about being able to perform great feats of physical endurance. No, asceticism is rather about learning to fix the heart and mind, indeed the whole person, on the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity.

Asceticism without love makes me no better than then the demons. Think about it. The demons keep vigil because they don’t sleep, they fast because they don’t eat. Not having physical bodies as we do, their attention never wavers. What they lack is not the elements of asceticism but it’s inspiration and goal, the love of God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! As we enter now into the third week of the Great Fast, let us ask God to help us grow in our love for Him and in Him for our neighbor and in this way fulfilling the whole of the Law.

To this end, that is to grow in love, let us as well offer to God not only our heartfelt prayers but also our ascetical struggles. We offer them not because God needs them but because we do so that we can celebrate Christ’s Glorious Resurrection a little freer from sin, a little freer to love.

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