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Daily Meditations

The Second Sunday of Lent: Our Holy Father Gregory Palamas

March 6th, 2015

On the Second Sunday of Lent the Orthodox Church commemorates our Holy Father Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker. The feast day of Saint Gregory Palamas is November 14, however, he is commemorated on this Sunday as the condemnation of his enemies and the vindication of his teachings by the Church in the 14th century was acclaimed as a second triumph of Orthodoxy.

One day in a dream, he saw that he was full of a milk from heaven which, as it overflowed, changed into wine and filled the surrounding air with a wonderful scent. This was a sign to him that the moment had come to teach his brethren the mysteries that God revealed to him. He wrote several ascetic treatises at this time, and, in 1335, was appointed Abbot of the Monastery of Esphigmenou (Mount Athos). But the two hundred monks who lived there understood neither his zeal nor his spiritual expectations so, after a year, he returned to his hermitage.

At that time, Barlaam, a monk from Calabria, won a great name for himself as a speculative thinker in Constantinople. He was particularly fond of expounding the mystical writings of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, which he interpreted in an entirely philosophical way, making knowledge of God the object of cold reason and not of experience. When this refined humanist learned of the methods of prayer of some simple monks of his acquaintance, who allowed a place to the sensory element in spiritual life, he was scandalized. He took occasion to calumniate then and to accuse them of heresy. The hesychast monks appealed to Gregory who then wrote several polemical treatises in which he answered the accusations of Barlaam by locating monastic spirituality in a dogmatic synthesis.

He showed that ascesis and prayer are the outcome of the whole mystery of Redemption, and are the way for each person to make the grace given at Baptism blossom within himself. He also defended the authenticity of the methods which the Hesychasts used to fix the intellect in the heart; for since the Incarnation we have to seek the grace of the Holy Spirit in our bodies, which are sanctified by the Sacraments and grafted by the Eucharist into the Body of Christ. This uncreated grace is the very glory of God which, as it sprang forth from the body of Christ on the day of the Transfiguration, overwhelmed the disciples (Matthew 17). Shining now in the heart purified from the passions, it truly unites us to God, illumines us, deifies us and gives us a pledge of that same glory which will shine on the bodies of the Saints after the general Resurrection. In thus affirming the full reality of deification, Gregory was far from denying the absolute transcendence and unknowableness of God in His essence. Following the ancient Fathers, but in a more precise manner, he made a distinction between God’s imparticipable essence and the eternal, creative and providential energies by which the Lord enables created beings to participate in His being, His life and His light without, however, introducing any division into the unity of the divine Nature. God is not a philosophical concept for Saint Gregory: He is Love, He is Living Person and consuming fire, as Scripture teaches (Deuteronomy 4:24), Who does everything to make us godlike.

Saint Gregory’s brilliant answer to Barlaam was first accepted by the authorities of Mount Athos in the Hagiorite Tome and then adopted by the Church, which condemned Barlaam (and with him the philosophical humanism that would soon inspire the European Renaissance), during the course of two Councils at the Church of Saint Sophia in 1341.

During a voyage to Constantinople, he fell into the hands of some Turks, who held him for a year in Asia Minor (1354-55), but allowed him a measure of freedom. This, and his openness of spirit, enabled him to engage in amicable theological discussions with the Muslim doctors of religion and with the son of the Emir Orkhan. When he was set free, thanks to a ransom from Serbia, he returned to Thessalonica to take up his activity again as pastor and wonderworker. He suffered a long illness and, some time before his death, Saint John Chrysostom appeared to him with the invitation to join the choir of holy hierarchs immediately after his own feast. And, indeed, on November 14, 1359 the Saint gave up his soul to God. When he died, his countenance was radiant with a light like to that which shone on Saint Stephen (Acts 6:15). In this way God showed, through the person of his servant, the truth of his doctrine on the reality of deification by the uncreated light of the Holy Spirit. The veneration of Saint Gregory was approved by the Church in 1368. The Saint works many miracles even to the present day and, after Saint Demetrios, is regarded as the Protector of Thessalonica.

~ Great Lent, Holy Week & Pascha (http://www.lent.goarch.org/)                                                                                                        The Second Sunday of Lent: Sunday of Saint Gregory Palamas,                                                                                                      cited in the Youth Worker Pulse of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, (http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/youth/youthworkers/youth_listserv).