This, the second Sunday in the Holy and Great Lent, we remember the holy father among the Saints Gregory Palamas. We believe that he was born in Constantinople in a faithful Christian family, who were of some noble status in the city and region. His father died while he was young, and after his mother’s passing St. Gregory guided his sisters toward monastic life in Thessalonica. It is believed that one of his brothers was also a monk.
St. Gregory greatly desired a life of solitude and contemplative prayer, so he joined the spiritual life of the monks on Mt. Athos. His life took a different course than he had chosen. In fact, it became quite turbulent for 2 reasons. First, the early invasions of the Ottoman Turks forced him to flee the monastery, and, second, his work in combating the monk Barlaam and his erroneous teachings, which were influenced by academics. He spent his life primarily in his hometown of Constantinople, Mt. Athos, and in Thessalonica, where he was elected bishop.
The political turmoil of the time made it difficult for him to serve in his diocese at first, but he did manage to serve as bishop for nearly a decade before he passed away in 1359. Serving 10 years as bishop was a long tenure at the time. People have written of miracles that Christ allowed to take place as a result of his prayers even in his lifetime, and the Church entered him in the ranks of the glorified saints in 1368, which is unusually soon after his passing. May he always pray for us!
His theological writings are abundant but only a portion of his work has been translated into English, much of St. Gregory’s writing is available only in Greek, Romanian, and in recent times in Slavic languages. Thankfully, his works are being translated at a rapid pace in English, French, and German.
This most enlightened 14th Century monk, bishop, and theologian plays a truly significant role in our understanding of God with respect to His essence and His energies. St. Gregory Palamas decidedly taught that we cannot fully know God in His essence, but that we do fully know Him in His energies, precisely as He reveals Himself to us. He taught that we can indeed experience the ‘uncreated Light of God’ through repentance, worship, and contemplative prayer although we do not robotically achieve it. Further, he taught that non-monastics can also ‘pray unceasingly’ even in the midst of daily chores and activities by way of an ever-increasing mindfulness toward God.
St. Gregory stresses a constant awareness of the presence of God encouraging people to pray as they go through their daily lives. Further, he teaches that we strive to unite ourselves with God by applying God-like virtues to our daily decisions and by communion of Him in worship and prayer. However, he reminds us that we grow in this experience of God’s energies not through a mindless progression of activities rather: “with diligent sobriety to keep watch over our rational faculties, to control them and correct them”. And as we engage the world around us, through our bodily senses, we must remember to bring our mindfulness into our hearts, which he calls: “heart = storehouse of all our thoughts”
In looking at an ikos(1) from St. Gregory’s Acathist, we observe the way the Church venerates this holy father, commemorating his spiritual accomplishments for the benefit of the Church and the salvation of the God’s people:
“Rejoice, you through whom the darkness was banished;
Rejoice, you through whom the Light did supplant it.
Rejoice, uncreated Divinity’s messenger;
Rejoice, the confuter of one created and nonsensical.
Rejoice, you who called God’s nature an inaccessible height;
Rejoice, you who called His energy a depth difficult to sight.
Rejoice, for you correctly have discoursed on God’s glory;
Rejoice, for you have spoken against the views of the wicked.
Rejoice, O star that made the Sun evident;
Rejoice, the bowl imparting the sweet nectar.
Rejoice, through whom the truth shines refulgent;
Rejoice, through whom was falsehood extinguished.
Rejoice, O herald of grace.”
Let us also venerate this Saint of our Church remembering that he is indeed a star that shines brightly making the Sun, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, evident in our lives!
By Priest Timothy Sas
Sermon was given at St. Basil of Ostrog Serbian Orthodox Church in Chisholm, MN, on March 8th, 2015
1. a Church hymn praising and glorifying a celebrated saint or Church feastday. Usually found in the Acathist to a Saint