Posted by: Fr Chris | February 27, 2021

2nd Sunday of the Great Fast

Orthodox icon of Saint Gregory Palamas (2) -

Previously, Churches using the Byzantine rite celebrated St. Polycarp of Smyrna, who was ordained bishop by St. John the Evangelist, on the second Sunday of Lent. That commemoration has been replaced by that of St. Gregory Palamas, the famous defender of hesychasm in the 14th century. Replacing such an ancient commemoration as that of Polycarp gives us an idea of just how important the hesychast controversy was.

            The monks of Mount Athos had been condemned by the monk Barlaam, an Italo-Greek monk from Calabria in Italy, who favored education over contemplation, and who emphasized that God is unknowable in this life. The monks taught hesychasm, using the Jesus Prayer and certain body postures or breathing, so as to draw very close to God, and for some, to see the Divine Light in this lifetime. In this, they were following the practices of the Desert Fathers of old. The Jesus Prayer is one of the most ancient in the Church: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The monks recommended certain breathing techniques, or positions of the body, while reciting the Prayer. This rigid use of the body postures was repeatedly – and rightly – condemned by many saints and writers as people could end making the physical position and breathing more important than the Prayer.

Gregory himself emphasized that such physical practices had to be done only with the guidance of a true spiritual elder. The Jesus Prayer, so central in our spirituality, when used well, has a profound effect so that:

he who is in prayer experiences the fullness of the divine presence, of Life Itself, of Life abundant and unfathomable, then his own life strikes him as a tiny drop in comparison to the boundless ocean. That is what the righteous and long-suffering Job felt as he attained the height of spiritual perfection. He felt himself to be dust and ashes; he felt that he was melting and vanishing as does snow when struck by the sun’s burning rays (Job 42:6) (Orthodox Life, vol. 28, no. 5, 1978).

Further, St. Gregory taught that the mystic, even without education, could have greater knowledge of God than others, but he made the crucial distinction between energies of God, and the essence of God. Essentially, God can not be known in His essence by any human, but His energies (what God sends forth in His creation), can be known. In this, he quoted the ancient Cappadocian Fathers.  these energies are mediated to mankind. That is, how God acts in forgiving and spiritual healing. Grace is the working of God himself, not a created substance of any kind. As for the body postures and breathing, since the person is body and soul, uses of the body can affect the soul. In the end, he wrote that hesychasm teaches that one can see the Light of God, but only with repentance, interior conversion, constant prayer, and spiritual direction.  This invitation to union with God is open to every Christian.

St. Gregory Palamas | Orthodox Quote of the Day | | Orthodox, Church ...

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