March 24, 2019 – SECOND SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT
Today is a very special day. Today we commemorate the wisdom and courage of a 14th century monastic and defender of the prayer of the heart. We also see the forgiveness of Christ freely given to those who would not be stopped by any barrier to get to Him. And finally, we are preparing to celebrate a major feast of the Church right in the middle of Lenten struggle and journey.
- SECOND SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT. ST. GREGORY PALAMAS. GOD IS LIGHT
Our Holy Father, St. Gregory Palamas
Commemorated November 14, and on the Second Sunday of Great Lent
St. Gregory Palamas, one of the pillars of Orthodoxy, was born in 1296, probably to a noble Anatolian family in Constantinople. He and his brother went to Mount Athos in around 1318 and lived in Vatopedi and Esphigmenou Monasteries. Gregory also successfully persuaded his widowed mother, brothers and sisters to become take up the monastic life. With the encroachment of the Turks, he was forced to flee to Thessalonica, being ordained a priest there in 1326. Afterward, he took up the eremetic life at a mountain near Beroea, and eventually returned to Athos in 1331.
St. Gregory lived in very difficult times, for many heresies were creeping into the Church, and the Ottoman Empire was ever expanding, taking over Byzantine lands. In the early 1300’s he wrote on the nature of the Holy Spirit, showing the errors of the Latin view while living at the hermitage of Saint Savvas on Mount Athos. He became known as a preeminent theologian early in life, due to his many writings and for his beliefs on hesychasm.
St. Gregory is known as one of the great defenders of Orthodoxy and is most well-known for his defense against the heresies of Barlaam. Gregory was asked to defend the monastic ways of the Holy Mountain from the charges of Barlaam, a monk of Calabria. Barlaam, influenced by the Latin church, believed that philosophy and human thought were the way to know God. He stated the unknowability of God in an extreme form, having been influenced by a reductionist interpretation of the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Orthodoxy had always known, through the wisdom of the Holy Fathers, that prayer and fasting are the key to knowing God. Barlaam believed that the monks of Mount Athos were wasting their time in their prayers and fasting when they should be studying the great philosophers of mankind.
St. Gregory said that the Holy Fathers and the prophets had a greater knowledge of God, because they had actually seen or heard God Himself. He taught that modern ideas about human thought and reason had no place in the Church. When asked how it is possible to have knowledge of the unknowable God, he showed the difference between knowing God in His essence or person and knowing God in his energies or being. It became clear that one could not find God in the logic of this world. He taught the Orthodox knowledge that it remains impossible to know God in His essence or person. However, with sufficient prayer and fasting and turning oneself over to God, through purification of one’s soul, anyone can come to know Him in His energies and being.
The Barlaam heresies spanned many years and two phases. Due to acts of political power struggles in Constantinople, Gregory was imprisoned to prevent him from speaking the Truth. As the political struggle increased, his accusers multiplied because he would not yield to their heresies, and he opposed the new emperor due to the emperor’s acceptance of the heresies.
When St. Gregory criticized Barlaam’s rationalism, Barlaam replied with a vicious attack on the hesychastic life of the Athonite monks. Gregory’s rebuttal was the Triads in defense of the Holy Hesychasts (c. 1338), a brilliant work whose teaching was affirmed by his fellow Hagiorites, who met together in a council during 1340-1341, issuing a statement known as the Hagioritic Tome, which supported Gregory’s theology.
A synod held in Constantinople in 1341 also supported St. Gregory’s views, condemning Barlaam. Later, in 1344, the opponents of hesychasm secured a condemnation for heresy and excommunication for Gregory, but the saint’s theology was reaffirmed at two further synods held in Constantinople in 1347 and 1351. Collectively, these three synods in Constantinople are held by many Orthodox Christians and several prominent theologians to constitute the Ninth Ecumenical Council. Between the latter two synods, Gregory composed the One Hundred and Fifty Chapters, a concise exposition of his theology.
In 1347, he was consecrated Archbishop of Thessalonica, but the political climate made it impossible for him to take up his see until 1350. During a voyage to the Imperial capital, he was captured by the Turks and held in captivity for over a year. He reposed in 1359 and was glorified by the Orthodox Church in 1368.
The second Sunday of the Great Fast is called the Sunday of Gregory Palamas in all Orthodox Churches. A full service was composed for his feast day, November 14, by the Patriarch Philotheus in 1368. St. Gregory’s holy relics are kept in the Cathedral of Thessalonica.
(Compiled from Troparia.com and Orthodox Wiki)
God is Light
On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica. On this day, the Holy Church speaks to us about the mystery of light, which we must come to know, if we want to behold the Resurrection of Christ. St. Gregory of Thessalonica and the theological arguments of the fourteenth century connected with his name taught that the light of the Transfiguration is uncreated light. Refuting the heresies of the western theologians, this teaching reminded Christians of the words of the Scripture stating that God is light. By confessing God the Father and God the Son, Light from Light, true God of true God, we believe that God the Light created another light—the one described in the book of Genesis: “God said, let there be light.”
These dogmatic questions were not abstract or removed from the life of the Church. They should not be removed from us, either. It is wrong to look at them as simple theological or scholarly discussions that have no relation to our life. That would mean only one thing: that the light about which God speaks to us—the light in which there is no darkness—will remain unseen to us, and we do not regret or repent that we remain in darkness. All the problems in the Church are, in the final analysis, bound up with the fact that certain mysteries of faith become abstract. They cease to be living, essential questions that decide our fate; and we lose the depth of faith, and the fullness of our Christian calling, which we should be realizing in the Church.
Archpriest Alexander Shargunov
Translated by OrthoChristian.com
Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of prayer in the Orthodox Church. It is described in great detail in the Philokalia, a compilation of what various saints wrote about prayer and the spiritual life.
Hesychastic practice – Hesychasm may involve specific body postures and may be accompanied by deliberate breathing exercises. It involves acquiring an “inner stillness,” ignoring the senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray” to mean that they should move beyond the senses and withdraw inwards to pray. Hesychasm often includes repeating the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [a sinner]”.
Gregory Palamas: Defender of Hesychasm
Hesychasm was defended theologically by Gregory Palamas at about three separate “Hesychast Synods” in Constantinople from 1341 to 1351. St. Gregory was asked to by his fellow monks on Mt. Athos to defend it from the attacks of Barlaam of Calabria, who advocated a more intellectualist approach to prayer.
Some words from St. John Climacus
From Step 6 – On Remembrance of Death in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:
Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning.
Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found), through the action of the Holy Spirit, ask for their departure.
Some inquire and wonder: “Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?” – not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible.
And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired. And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone was all we heard from him: “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.” We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics but did not find them. So, by Hesychius’s true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.
If you have ever gone to a monastery you have likely heard the monastics practicing this Hesychastic practice defended by St. Gregory. Saying “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [a sinner]” is a way to help focus our minds when walking, working, driving dozing off to sleep or first waking in the morning. Using this prayer to help guard our minds from thinking sinful thoughts or to calm our spirits can be useful to us all.
St. Paul understood what it means to pray without ceasing.
Romans 1:9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,
1 Thessalonians 5:17pray without ceasing,
2 Timothy 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day.
Among other teachings, St. Gregory Palamas was a defender of this practice against those who would have taken it away from us.
- Today’s Gospel Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (2:1-12)
At that time, when Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that He was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and He was preaching the Word to them. And they came, bringing to Jesus a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now, some of the scribes were sitting there, reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus reasoned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you reason thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your pallet and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He said to the paralytic – “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all. So that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Jesus healed to prove that he could forgive sins. Our real illness is our sin, not our cancer, our diabetes, or our heart disease. Maybe we can’t see the sickness of our sin but it more deadly than any #1 killer disease listed by the Center for Disease Control. And how can we experience healing – go to Jesus – no matter the cost or barriers. This man in today’s lesson was unable to walk so he was brought to Jesus by his companions. When they arrived, the house was full and they were unable to enter. Even this didn’t stop them. They took apart the roof to lower their sick friend into the presence of Christ for healing. What was Christ’s response their faith? “Your sins are forgiven!” Those gathered in the house were scandalized this statement. This paralyzed man obviously need to walk – not his sin’s forgiven! What was Jesus saying? Why didn’t He just command him to walk initially? He healed this paralyzed man so prove that he had authority over sin and Satan. Do we really believe Jesus has power over our sins? Are we simply asking for more toys and praying about our physical ailments when Jesus wants to give us freedom from our sins and that which keeps us enslaved to Satan? Do we really believe that Jesus can give us healing from our destructive thoughts, actions, fears, doubts, self-lies, and behavior? According to this passage, Jesus wants to and can give physical healing. However, everyone He healed eventually died.
Hebrews 9: 27-28 “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”
Our sins are forgiven. When were we cleaned from the stain of our sins? At our baptism and Chrismation.
Romans 6 New King James Version (NKJV)
“1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be [a]done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been [b]freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, [c]reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as [d]instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were [e]delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness [f]for holiness.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit [g]to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the [h]gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Are we like those doubters in the house who are scandalized by the claims of healing and forgiveness in the gospel message of Christ or are we like those who will not be stopped by paralyzing disabilities, impassable crowds, closed doors and roofs, and the ridicule of the cynical masses to run to Christ to spend time with Him and be close to Him in order to be healed and forgiven? Let us also take up our pallets and walk. Let us arise from our beds of indecision, distraction, despair, and despondency and move forward with confidence, courage, conviction and clear direction. Our families need us to move forward in faith. Our spouses and kids need us to step up and walk in the forgiveness and healing of Christ. Those around us are counting on us to believe Christ when He tells us that we have been forgiven and we can now walk in faith. We are no longer tied to our beds of inaction and disbelief. We have been given our legs back and we can walk in Christ – not because of who we are but because of who HE is and what He has done for this paralytic in today’s gospel and what he has done for us!
- The Fore-Feast of the Annunciation of Our Most Holy Lady, the Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary
Tomorrow’s GOSPEL Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (1:24-49, 56)
“At that time, Elizabeth, the wife of Zachariah, conceived, and for five months she hid herself, saying, “Thus the Lord has done to me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among men.” In the sixth month the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the archangel came to her and said, “Rejoice, O favored one, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the archangel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou wilt conceive in thy womb and bear a son, and you shall call His Name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the archangel, “How shall this be, since I have known no man?” And the archangel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the Most High will overshadow thee; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the archangel departed from her. In those days, Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.” And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.”
The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts and was already being celebrated in the fourth century. There is a painting of the Annunciation in the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome dating from the second century. The Council of Toledo in 656 mentions the Feast. In 692 the Council in Trullo celebrated the Annunciation during Great Lent.
The Greek and Slavonic names for the Feast may be translated as “good tidings.” This, of course, refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings. The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of St. Luke (1:26-38). The troparion describes this as the “beginning of our salvation, and the revelation of the eternal mystery,” for on this day the Son of God became the Son of Man.
There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response of the Virgin. The message fulfills God’s promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15): “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel.” The Fathers of the Church understand “her seed” to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming, but the Archangel Gabriel proclaimed that the promise is about to be fulfilled.
We see this echoed in the Liturgy of St. Basil, as well: “When man disobeyed Thee, the only true God who had created him, and was deceived by the guile of the serpent, becoming subject to death by his own transgressions, Thou, O God, in Thy righteous judgment, didst send him forth from Paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Thy Christ Himself.”
The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to St. Joseph: “Hail, thou who art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediately accept the Angel’s message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of something which was beyond nature. “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).
“And the angel answered and said unto her, the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1: 35-38).
In his Sermon 23 on the day of the Annunciation, St. Philaret of Moscow boldly stated that “the word of the creature brought the Creator down into the world.” He explains that salvation is not merely an act of God’s will, but also involves the Virgin’s free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God’s will and chose to cooperate without complaint or further questions.
The icon of the Feast shows the Archangel with a staff in his left hand, indicating his role as a messenger. Sometimes one wing is upraised, as if to show his swift descent from heaven. His right hand is stretched toward the holy Virgin as he delivers his message.
The Virgin is depicted either standing or sitting, usually holding yarn in her left hand. Sometimes she is shown holding a scroll. Her right hand may be raised to indicate her surprise at the message she is hearing. Her head is bowed, showing her consent and obedience. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon her is depicted by a ray of light issuing from a small sphere at the top of the icon, which symbolizes heaven. In a famous icon from Sinai, a white dove is shown in the ray of light.
The Annunciation falls during Lent, but it is always celebrated with great joy. The Liturgy of St. Basil or St. John Chrysostom is served, even on the weekdays of Lent. It is one of the two days of Great Lent on which the fast is relaxed and fish is permitted (Palm Sunday is the other).
Troparion (Tone 4) –
Today is the beginning of our salvation, The revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: Rejoice, O Full of Grace, The Lord is with You!
The feast of Annunciation teaches us about the incarnation – God became man. Christ is fully God and fully man. This feast teaches us about obedience and yielding our will to God. This feast reminds us of the glorious and miraculous birth of Christ coming in nine months. Long before the annual countdown of shopping days before Christmas, God gave us this milestone – in the middle of Great Lent – to remind us that Christ is Born, Glorify Him! This major feast day is wisely put in the middle of our Lenten Fast to give us relief and a refocus on the incarnation. We can eat fish and have a glass of wine tomorrow. Please do this. Find some fish to eat on this feast day and have a glass of wine. Celebrate this announcement to the willing, obedient and yielded young virgin to be used by God to bring salvation to the world. This is reason to celebrate! In the midst of our Great Fast we are told to celebrate this Great Feast – with fish and wine. In our obedience, we fast during Great Lent. In our obedience, we feast on this Great Feast – in anticipation of the coming of Christ to bring salvation, healing, and forgiveness to our lives in the lives of those who are around us every day.
Our lessons today?
- Let us pray without ceasing – The Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
- Let nothing stop us from going to Christ – the source of true for forgiveness and healing.
- Let us join in on this major Feast of the Church to celebrate the miracle of God becoming man to bring salvation to our world through the humble obedience of this young and yielded virgin.
(Jude 24 & 25) – “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”