O light of Orthodoxy, teacher of the Church, its confirmation,
O ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians,
O wonder-working Gregory, glory of Thessalonica and preacher of grace,
Always intercede before the Lord that our souls may be saved.
(Tropar Tone 8 to St. Gregory Palamas)
On the second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, our Holy Orthodox Church commemorates St. Gregory Palamas, the fourteenth century Archbishop of Thessalonica. Palamas in Greek means “clapping”. It’s an honorific name suggesting someone is lauded and honored. This Sunday is often referred to as the “Second Sunday of Orthodoxy” because he’s seen as defending the spiritual life Orthodoxy meant to bring to all. The first Sunday of Great and Holy Lent commemorated the victory over Iconoclasm and the second Sunday was that the Holy Spirit had given us all access in our human nature to holiness. Just as the Sun is known to us through its energies of heat and light, so God can be known to us through the uncreated energies of the Holy Spirit.
We notice that the readings for this Sunday have nothing to do with St. Gregory Palamas. His commemoration was introduced in the fourteenth century when the liturgical structure was already codified. So who was St. Gregory Palamas?
St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) was born in Constantinople to a merchant family and was educated in the best schools of the city. When he was twenty years of age he discovered his monastic vocation and left for Mount Athos where he learned and practiced a rigorous spiritual discipline called hesychasm. What is Hesychasm? It originates from the Greek word hesychasmos or hesychia meaning “stillness, rest, quiet, silence.” It’s based on Christ’s command in St. Matthew 6:5-6 “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you they have their reward.” “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Thus hesychasm means praying without ceasing. Praying without ceasing means reciting the Jesus Prayer continuously “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!” Our prayers and chants should not be pronouncements before God, but supplications for God to speak to us and be with us. And so it is that if we listen even to the prayers that accompany the hymn that we just sang before the Little Entrance with the Gospel, we hear supplication that the Holy Angels will accompany us and be with us as we receive Christ, who is truly present among us and who speaks to us through our Church rituals.
St. Gregory Palamas spoke of uncreated Energies and Essences. Essence in Greek “ousia.” God’s essence is beyond the understanding and comprehension of humans. God can be known by humans through the divine energies and operations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The energies of God of God, such as grace, are not created, and allow the believer to enter into a personal relationship with God while preserving the unique character of God, whose essence always remains hidden from humanity. Moses was permitted to see the Glory of God, His energies, but was forbidden to gaze on the face of God, His hidden essence. Exodus 33:18-23, 2Peter 1:2-4.
St. Gregory Palamas mirrored the sentiment that St. Athanasius wrote in “The Incarnation” many centuries earlier that “the Son of God became man so that man might become God (like).” Theosis, the goal of human experience, happens when we join our life, our work to God, so that united with God, our activity and His, form one synergistic whole. As we experience God, we become one with God, who is then experienced not just outside of us, but inside us, even in the “cave” of our heart.
He stated that man carries in himself two tendencies, one for good, and the other for evil. The tendency for good can only be developed through acquiring the grace of God; the divine energy sent to us from God, accessible only if our hearts and minds are pure enough to receive that grace. But this grace, which enlightens and brightens us, can only come to us through repentance, fasting, prayer, and self-sacrifice. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This precisely is the aim of all true Christian hearts and minds.
Holy and divine instrument of wisdom, joyful trumpet of theology,
Together we sing your praises, O God-inspired Gregory.
Since you now stand before the Original Mind,
Guide our minds to Him, O Father, So that we may sing to you:
“Rejoice, preacher of grace.”
(Kondak Tone 8 to St. Gregory Palamas)
The present Holy Lenten season gives us the opportunity to carry out this discipline of purification, metanoia, and to cleanse away all of that which darkens our eye, and to make our own being pure. By so doing, each of us will make our own contribution to the general cleansing and healing of our communities. May the love and peace of God be with all of you and may He help us successfully to complete Great and Holy Lent and with radiant joy greet the Holy Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ!
Rev. Father Nicholas Dilendorf
St. Volodymyr Cathedral