Tag Archives: St Gregory of Nyssa

Entering Into Freedom

Sunday, February 24 (O.S., February 11), 2019: Sunday of Prodigal Son; Hieromartyr Blaise, bishop of Sebaste (316). St. Theodora, wife of Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast (867).

Epistle: 2 Corinthians 4:6-15
Gospel: Luke 15:11-32

Ss Cyril & Methodius Orthodox Church, Madison

Glory to Jesus Christ!

Even when we are able to free ourselves from a purely negative view of repentance as turning from sin and come to embrace the more positive view of turning toward God, we still are prone to underestimate the depth of what it means to repent. At its core, repentance is an epiphany of human dignity and our entrance into a life of freedom.

Even in its first moments, repentance is an affirmation that sin doesn’t have the last word about what it means to be human. We are none of us our sin; we are none of us determined by those moments of shame we all experience over the things we do and we fail to do.

But just as we are not our sins, neither are we are good deeds. If sin brings with it feelings of shame, my good deeds can become occasions of pride and foster in me an indifference–and even open contempt–for my neighbor. We need to look no further than the elder brother in today’s Gospel.

This young man is in many ways a good son. As he says to his father, “Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command.”

Tragically, it is his very moral goodness that becomes the cause of his contempt for his brother’s repentance and so his father’s forgiveness: “yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!”

When we look more closely at repentance we discover that human dignity is not dependent on what we do or fail to do. None of our qualities–whether they are good or bad–determine our dignity.

So what does?

Here we need to move from a consideration of human dignity to human freedom. Like the prodigal son, who we are, our dignity and our identity, flow from our Father’s embrace.

…the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

Through repentance, we become increasingly detached from confusing our dignity and our identity with discrete actions or qualities. Just as I am more than my sins or my good deeds, neither am I my sex, my education, my wealth or position in society or the Church. While all of these are important, none of them exhaust human dignity. We are all of us more than the aggregate of our qualities.

Detached from the things of this life, we come to realize that our true worth is found first in God’s love for us and then subsequently our love for Him.

And because God is Infinite, neither His love for us nor our love for Him is ever exhausted. To love God is to go “from Glory to Glory” in St Paul’s phrase (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).

This phrase is a special favorite of St Gregory of Nyssa. For the saint, heaven is a life of infinite progression as we grow ever more in love with God. Because God is Infinite because He is superabundant love, we can never have an exhaustive love or knowledge of God; there is always, if I can speak this way, more of God to love, more of Him to know.

And so repentance is the gateway to a life of true beatitude, the true and lasting which is found in God’s love of us and our love of Him.

We should pause here for a moment and consider, what is true for us as Orthodox Christians, is also true for every human being. Whether Orthodox or even Christian, whether an unrepentant sinner or a repentant saint, everyone we meet is loved by God and so–like us–someone somewhere along the path to glory.

Or as St Maximus the Confessor says, if we love God, we can’t but love our neighbor as ourselves even if we “are grieved” by his lack of repentance.

You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their characters – for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person (First Century of Love, #70).

Repentance reveals to us our true dignity as creatures who called to freely, that is to say, personally love the God Who has first loved us and Whose love makes our love possible.

And having come to see this in ourselves, repentance makes it possible for us to see this in others.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! The true and lasting dignity of the human person is found in our ability to respond freely to God’s love. All that we do in the life of the Church–and especially in the Great Fast that is about to begin–has no other goal than to help us discover this freedom not only in ourselves but in all who we meet.

When we enter the “doors of repentance” we enter into the realm of God’s never-ending and superabundant love for us and all we meet. As we prepare to enter the season of the Great Fast, let us make ready to lay aside all things and so we can embrace the God Who today and everyday embraces us in love.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

Homily: Transformed by the Divine Light

Sunday, May 21, 2017: Sunday of the Blind Man; Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the Apostles,Constantine and Helen, Equal-to-the Apostles, Pachomios the Righteous New Martyr

Epistle: Acts 26:1, 12-20
Gospel:John 9:1-38

Christ is Risen!

The Scriptures see blindness as having two, fundamental meanings. Like deafness, blindness is both a terrible physical affliction, It is also a sign humanity’s estrangement from God. For example,in the Prophet Isaiah, God complains about the spiritual indifference of the leaders of Israel: ““Hear, you deaf and look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as he who is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant? Seeing many things, but you do not observe; opening the ears, but he does not hear” (Isaiah 42: 18-20, NKJV).

Likewise, in the New Testament, Jesus often calls the Pharisees “blind guides” who will not only fall into a pit themselves but causes others to do so as well (Matthew 15:14). These “blind guides” are also morally obtuse confuse the means God has given us to grow in holiness with holiness itself (Matthew 23:16-26).

Following the biblical tradition St John Cassian says that anger isn’t a matter of affect, it isn’t a feeling. Cassian’s understanding of anger as spiritual blindness. As for the feelings I associate with being angry, these are the symptoms that I’m numb to the presence of God in my life. They reveal to me that I’m blind to the presence of God in my life.

Symptomatic of this blindness, as St Paul tells St Timothy, is to have “a form of godliness” while nevertheless “denying its power.” We are, St Paul says, to “turn away” from such people who instead of preaching the Gospel “creep into households and make captives of gullible women.” Rather than repent, these blind guides are “ loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:5-7, NKJV).

While Jesus will,as we see in today’s Gospel, sometimes heal physical blindness, His fundamental mission is to heal the human heart of its insensitivity to the presence of God in human affairs. It’s easy for me to identify others who are blind to God’s grace and mercy. My real fault is that I overlook my own blindness. I need to learn and accept that Jesus comes not simply to heal you but me as well. The word spoken through Isaiah to the leaders of Israel and by Jesus to the scribes and the Pharisees is spoken to each of us.

Like the scribes and the Pharisees I’m blind because I’m a sinner. It is this spiritual blindness to the presence and mercy of God that is the singular source not only of my anger but also my despair and my many lapses in, and offenses against, charity.

There is, however, another form of blindness that isn’t the result my sinfulness but of the brilliance of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul describes this grace in his defense King Agrippa as “a light from heaven, brighter than the sun.”

St Gregory of Nyssa in The Life of Moses, describes this second blindness as “luminous darkness.” He says that “Scripture teaches” the knowledge of God “comes at first to those who receive it as light.” This why, he says, anything contrary to the Gospel is called “ darkness, and the escape from darkness comes about when one participates in light.”

As we grew in the spiritual life, we experience a change.As we grow in our intimacy with God, we come to see that “the true knowledge” of God “consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge.” It is because in contemplation we come to experience to limits of reason, that the experience of God is “a kind of darkness.”

This wholly positive and illuminating blindness is the result of God drawing close to the soul. This new blindness is like the momentary blindness that comes from looking directly at the Sun. This second blindness is source of not just of humility, but also hope in God, charity for others, and the faith needed to proclaim the Gospel with the courage of the martyrs. This, second blindness, is the experience of being overwhelmed by the brilliant light of God’s beauty. It is the experience of this second blindness that transform Saul ,the Persecutor of the Church, into St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles

Unfortunately, many in the Church today don’t actively pursue the kind of intimacy that St Gregory describes. Too many of us are content with knowledge about God rather than have knowledge of God. Of the former, Gregory says that “The man who thinks that God can be known does not really have life.” Why? Because he knows not the One, True God but only a facsimile of God “devised by his own imagination.”

Whether willingly or not, the individual who has only an abstract knowledge about God is spiritually crippled. For all that they may know about the canons, or liturgy, or Church history, they don’t understand that all that God has given us, He has given us for one reason, and one reason only, to inspire in the soul a desire for God that “never ceases.”

For St Gregory of Nyssa and for the Tradition of the Church, be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to center our life around His Persona and shape our life according to His teaching and example, means continually grow in our desire to draw close to God.

My brothers and sisters in Christ! Listen again to the Gospel we heard this morning. When the blind man is healed, the restoration of his sight inspires the man not only to witness to Jesus Christ but to seek Him out:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”: and he worshiped him.

Let us this morning, and everyday going forward, strive to lay aside our anger, our despair, our lapses in charity and instead draw close to the God Who has drawn close to us in the Scriptures, the sacraments, the worship and the tradition of the Church.

Let us, like St Paul, not be “disobedient to the heavenly vision” but rather ly aside our sins and turn to God, offering to Him “deeds worthy of … repentance.”

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory