Patristic theology in the fourteenth century, of which St. Gregory is indubitably the greatest exponent, touched the very boundaries of theological expression. In his treatment of the manifold themes contained therein, he is remarkably consistent in maintaining a balance between originality of thought and strict adherence to the tradition of his predecessors. Moreover, his genius resides in the ease with which he demonstrates, as only a master of the spiritual life can, the refreshingly practical significance of the doctrines of the Church for the Life in Christ.
The first edition of all sixty-three extant sermons by St. Gregory to appear in English translation, presented together with an Introduction to the Homilies, over 1, notes and scholia , an index of Scriptural References, an index of Names and Subjects, and an index of Greek Words — designed to transform this remarkable treasury of Patristic wisdom into an invaluable reference resource for the student of theology.
In fact, they form the most complete introduction not only to his theology, but to the theology of all the great Fathers of the Church. John the Baptist, Essex, England. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.
Symeon the New Theologian. Finally, I will share with you the words of the modern, yet to be canonized saint, Elder Sophrony of Essex. With my forehead bent to the floor, I would slowly repeat words of prayer, one after the other. I had no feeling of being cooped up, and my mind, oblivious to the body, lived in the light of the gospel word. At the same time, a gentle peace would fill my soul, unconscious of all the needs and cares of this earth. The Lord gave me to live in this state, and my spirit yearned to cling to his feet in gratitude for this gift.
This same experience was repeated at intervals for months, perhaps years…. Under the influence of this light, prayer for mankind and travail possessed my whole being. If the world loved Christ and his commandments, everything would be radically transformed, and the earth would become a wonderful paradise. God is not far away. We can have peace with Him. How do we begin to know Him?
St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies
We begin with heart felt repentance. There is no doubt that the Lord desires to give this gift to you. And like any good activity, it must be undertaken with discipline, as a daily part of our life. May the grace of the Lord be with you all! On this, the first Sunday of the great fast, we celebrate the Sunday of Orthodoxy. This day specifically commemorates the restoration of the holy icons into all of the churches of God.
The culmination of the great lenten struggle is found in the glorious events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. According to Christian teaching these are the most important events in the entire history of the universe. Yet, in order for them to be understood as more than myth or legend, something must anchor them to reality.
What the Church has understood as the anchor of our understanding is the eye witness accounts of the apostles. They gave up their lives, they went to their deaths preaching and teaching that they had indeed seen and touched and heard and known the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity. They were witnesses, in the Greek language a witness is a martyr. Icons are a necessary part of all Christian worship.
In our Church, we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray. The Orthodox faithful underwent many years of hardship and persecution at the hands of those who believed that the use of icons was forbidden and was wrong according to their understanding of Scripture an understanding that incidentally was heavily influenced by the rise of Islam. The 7 th ecumenical council, a universal council of the east and the west, tells us that icons are not only good, but absolutely necessary to Christian worship.
They are a continual reminder that God is no longer understood as simply an invisible spirit. God is understood as having a Son, who Himself took real human flesh, real human existence. Who was born on an actual day in history, in an actual place, with an actual human mother from whom He received His actual human DNA. In the Old Testament, God forbid the making of images for worship because the people did not have a proper understanding of Him. No one had ever seen God, for God is spirit. They were bound to worship something false.
But, the Lord Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the day is coming when the true worshippers of God will worship Him in spirit and in truth. This indeed has happened with the coming of the savior into the world. His actual word from the Greek is not image but icon. It is thisrevelation of the Son of God in the flesh, that makes iconography not only proper, but necessary.
Since mankind looked on the face of the Son of God and dwelt with Him and witnessed all of the events of His life, we know that He is real. To forbid iconography is to deny the incarnation, to deny the taking of flesh by the Son of God. So before the Church leads us to the cross and the resurrection of the Lord, the Church first reminds us of Christmas the nativity. It is not philosophical theory but experience that includes our senses.
We know God by experience.
In the Orthodox faith we have a sensory experience every time that we enter the church. It must be so! Sanctification through the life of the Holy Spirit, transforms us at every level. As a person participates through the body, through their senses, they are healed. The Lord Jesus Christ in His abundant mercy and love for mankind, has made this healing possible by truly taking our human flesh and lifting it up to His level. Hisresurrection becomes our resurrection.
Everything is healed. Everything is transformed. Everything is made new in the light of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. So now you see why we remember the return of the icons into the Church. Truly God is the Lord and has appeared unto us! Another way of looking at this saying of our Lord Jesus is this: If we cannot learn to forgive others, genuinely, from the heart, we can never accept the forgiveness that God wants to give to us.
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Why is this the case? Because God cannot impose Himself upon us. That somehow I am speaking theoretically. The Christian faith is not philosophy but practicality that comes from truth and leads to life.
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If you want to have great relationships with others, one of the most important things that you need to learn is the ability to forgive everyone for everything that they have ever done to you. Whether through words, or actions or thoughts. Forgive them quickly. This will give you tremendous peace that flows throughout your relationships and clears your path to knowledge of God. This is a tremendous life lesson that we can apply daily. For this reason we will come together as a community tonight at 5pm.
We will pray together and we will share the rite of forgiveness with one another. All of us, both members and those who are training to become members of this community. It is a powerful service that helps us to start Lent on the right foot. Now I would like to share with you some more practical tips for getting the most out of Great Lent. Guard your eyes: The eyes are the lamp of the soul. Lent is a great time to really pay attention to what we read and see.
It is now an established fact that social media such as facebook has tragic consequences on teens and youth, but it is also becoming clear that these forms of social media are poisonous to most people even, or especially those in denial. In addition, we know of the poisons in the entertainment industry as well as pornography and news. All of these things, even when they seem innocent or harmless, are of questionable value because they usually distract our minds away from the things of God and direct them to the things of the world.
Perhaps this Lent can be a time for you and your family to dramatically cut your screen time, whether it is games or tv or web browsing. Perhaps we can use this extra time for activities that build up the family like group reading of good stories or board games.
MIRACLES OF THE LORD (From the Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas Series)
Perhaps it could even be used for more personal reading and prayer. Guard your lips: Our Lord Jesus tells us that it is not what a man puts in his mouth that makes him unclean, but the things that come out of his mouth. During this season we are keen to focus on the food we eat and to try our best to observe the rules of the fast.
Let us not forget that the fast is but one way, albeit a powerful one, of attracting the grace of God. Then we will be in worse shape then before we fasted. On the others hand, some of the fathers of the Church tell us that practicing silence can greatly help us to receive the grace of God. The lips are connected to the mind and heart. When one is silent, the others begin to quiet down and give room for God to speak to us in our depths. Another tip that is closely associate with this one is: Find time in your day for absolute silence. No phones, no music, no people. Just 10 or 20 minutes of silence, preferably sitting or kneeling in front of an icon, can make a great difference in our interior life.
If you have never come to mid-week services, perhaps it is within your power to attend once a week. For us, the holy prayers and services are a great means of receiving the grace of God. To come to the Church and pray is truly a counter-cultural and revolutionary act. It is a declaration of our time and faith and commitment to the living God and His people. When you come, you greatly benefit not only yourself but the others in your family and in the church.
If for instance, the church is empty on Monday night. Let us suppose that one person comes to pray. Finally, expect to be fiercely tempted: When we fast and increase our prayers, we are making a declaration of war against the demonic. But just because the enemy has wokenup and increased his attacks, does not mean that we should back down and run away or retreat. A sober man of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from him, not daring to approach, and fearing the defeat which they have already experienced.
When you pray and use the name of Jesus Christ you mercilessly whip the enemy and bring him great shame. It is better that your enemy should know shame then to succumb to temptation and have the shame placed on you! Remember that Lent is not just a season. It is a symbol of our whole life. You desire the good things of life. You desire eternal life. Turn to the living God and you will have them! Let this Lent be your return to paradise. Paradise is not a place, paradise is the Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever we put it during this sacred and special season will be returned to us with heavenly interest!
Our time spent in the church will not be lost! Our money given to the poor will not be lost! Our efforts to pray and struggle will not be lost. None of these will be lost, but in return for all of these, we will be found! Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being.
There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. We are now entering the second week of the pre-lenten period in the Holy Orthodox Church. Humility is the bedrock upon which the rest of the lenten journey begins and it is indeed a journey, a marathon. It is a challenge, not an easy task. Lent is no time to simply go through the motions, but a time to embrace the motions and activities as if they are holy supplements for our salvation.
The Church knows that we as her children often lose our way. We often lack focus. We lose track of time. We lose track of ourselves. But the Church does not lose track of us. She is like a good mother who is watchful, and patient and gently teaches and corrects and makes sure that her children are on the right path. Each one adds on to the whole structure that we are building. And what is that structure? It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is made up of each of us as individuals and even more so as a community of the faithful.
Today we continue with the magnificent parable of the prodigal son. I believe that you all know this parable. We should know it well. It should be etched in our hearts because not only is it a picture of true heartfelt repentance, but it is also a splendid vision of the unconditional forgiveness of our heavenly Father. Both of these lessons are bound up together. In the parable, we have a rebellious young man, not unlike the modern teenager or college aged student.
Due to our fallen condition, it is fairly normal for young men and women to rebel. They rebel against their parents, against their teachers, sadly, they even attempt to rebel against God and the Church. I say attempt, because no one succeeds at rebelling against God or the Church. They succeed only at rebelling against themselves by betraying themselves into the hands of the enemy. In their search for freedom and power over their own lives, they often become slaves to sin.
They neither add nor take away from the Lord or His Church. This happens because we are still affected by the sinfulness of our forefathers Adam and Eve and their rebelliousness towards God. So youth will often rebel. It has happened for a long time.
The Lord Jesus knew it to be a reality. But it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story. It can be the start of a turning point. It can be a chapter in a longer tale. So it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story, it is the possibility of redemption. How did the redemption of the prodigal son come about? He took the money and used it to live a loose life.
He partied, he drank too much, he gambled, and he dated many women, instead of uniting himself to one woman in marriage. Everything that he could do wrong, he did. We are told that when he had spent every last cent, when his wallet was completely empty, a great famine arose in that country. He was now poor, hungry and could not even live off the land due to the famine.
So he did what he thought best at the time and became a servant to one of the citizens of that area. Not only did he become a servant, but his servitude was a bitter one as he was charged with tending to the pigs in the field. But in all of this there was a hidden blessing. As the prodigal was sitting in the fields watching the pigs as they fought to eat the pods he had spread for them, he became so hungry that he even considered eating the pigs food. And in his hunger, we are told that he came to himself. In modern language we would say that he experienced the rock-bottom moment.
Often people who are in the midst of sin and addiction, need to experience such a moment before they wake up and take personal responsibility for themselves and their situation. But what was it that caused this to happen in the young man? It was his poverty and his hunger. It is one of the reasons why we fast; to open our hearts to God that we might come to our senses.
And by coming to our senses, we might genuinely repent with hunger and thirst for all of the blessings that come when we live in the house of God, in His presence. The young man, came to his senses and he repented with bitter tears. He had betrayed his father and squandered everything that was given to him. The Lord Jesus says all of this for our sakes.
God desires us to return, but He desires us to return in a genuine way. Not with words, but with heartfelt compunction. He wants us to know that while He calls us His sons and daughters, we are in no way deserving of such titles.
Sermons by St. Gregory Palamas
We are told that the young man rose and went to his father. This is the picture of repentance, as we get up from where we have fallen into sin and turn back and head towards God. But something unexpected happens to us as it did to the young man. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him.
He ran to him and embraced him and showered him with his kisses. What an amazing God we serve! What love God has for each one of us! And what is required in return? We take a few steps but God rushes towards us through the grace of the Holy Spirit. While we are still on the ground, praying and weeping, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort us and embrace us.
He raises us up and robes us in one of His kingly garments. We see the whole picture of redemption here. We see the fall, we see the repentance and we see the love of our heavenly Father to lift us out of despair and give us new life. We all fall. We all sin. We all rebel. You do not have to remain hungry and enslaved to the evil one.
He is waiting patiently for you to return. He desires to share everything that He has with you. For some strange reason people are now too busy for the church. They are too busy to hear the word of God, the word upon which the whole of western civilization was founded. Is it any surprise that the very foundations of western society and morality are crumbling before our very eyes? Is it any wonder that people are often miserable? In truth, they are not only too busy for the church. They are too busy for their salvation, and salvation means a living relationship with the Holy Trinity.
That is real life. People in their greed and corruption of soul would run here or there for a few dollars, or a few moments or experiences, but they are completely unaware or unwilling to seek out the One who is more than every treasure, the One who is life itself.
What good is the few dollars that we have when one day we will leave it all behind? God made us to have dominion over all of creation, and not that we should be the slaves of creation, which is the definition of idolatry and death. I say all of this as an introduction to our pre-lenten period. This parable of the publican and the pharisee is like a warning bell. It tells us that it is time to begin waking up, my brothers and sisters.
It is time to wash our faces and drink our coffee and perk up and stand at attention because the judge is right around the corner. It will not be long before He comes to meet us. Lay aside every earthly care, and focus. Allow the words of the Lord to burn you, to scrape you, to cleanse and purify you, to refashion you into who God intends you to be. One of the men fasted twice a week, gave a tithe of all that he had, and prayed regularly at the appointed times. The other man did not pray much. Sometimes he probably took more than was necessary in order to line his own pockets.
If I gave you only this information and I asked you to make a determination about which one was righteous before God, there is almost no doubt that you would tell me that it was the first one and not the second… and you would be completely wrong. Listen to the parable. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. So what was the characteristic that the tax collector had, which the Pharisee did not? Humility before God.
Right here at the start of the preparation period we are reminded that neither fasting nor almsgiving nor prayer will help us, if they are self-centered and full of arrogance and judgment towards others. Woe to those who go around and point out the deficiencies in the practices of others. The other prayed as if he was nothing. Yet, the Lord accepted the prayers of the one who prayed as if he was nothing.
He proves that truly God creates out of nothing. When we offer ourselves up to God as nothing, He, according to His good pleasure, makes us into something that pleases Him. One of the men looked around and compared himself with others. The other man, would not so much as look up, but stared at the ground and prayed that God would be merciful to him. This is the way that we should pray. A proud man does not love his neighbor. Even if we clearly saw some flaw in our neighbor, we would find a justification for it and cover it.
Instead of coming to the Lord imagining the best in ourselves, we come to Him with the belief that we are the worst of all men. He will then transform us into much better than we could ever imagine. But this Pharisee did not come to the Temple with a whole and healthy soul, to boast of his health, but as a man seriously ill with unrighteousness who, in the delirium of his sickness, no longer knows he is ill. That is the number of times that the Canaanite woman begged and pleaded with the Lord Jesus for His help.
This woman came with the noblest of intentions. She came with the right attitude. She came and asked for the right thing from the only one who could possible offer to fulfill her request. We are then left wondering why the Lord ignored, or seemed to ignore the first two requests and only responded after the third? Is the Lord a cold-hearted individual? Is the Lord Jesus mean-spirited? At a glance, this seems to be the case. The Lord all but calls her and her people dogs. They would have a field day. Yet the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, often surprises us and this must be so! God is often unpredictable.
We do not understand His ways or His mind. It seems clear that the Lord is testing the woman. But the truth is that the Lord Jesus already knew her heart. There was another reason for this back and forth exchange according to St. John Chrysostom. This should have put the Jews to shame. Shame because they did not have that level of faith in Christ or the humility that preceded it. This scene teaches us many things about our own relationships with the Lord Jesus. First and foremost we learn that often we have to persevere in prayer patiently to receive the things that we ask for.
Even when it seems that God is ignoring us, it is not the case. If it is important we should continually pray for it. In the process of praying for it patiently we will gain many blessings even if we do not receive the thing that we had asked for. Prayer is not simply a list of things we want. It is a chance to eat and drink and bathe in the grace of God through the Holy Spirit. In fact there is nothing that is greater than the invisible gifts that God desires to give us in prayer.
Not everything that we ask for is in fact good for us. In the Divine Liturgy we ask God to answer our prayers according to His will and according to what is for our salvation. We will have a chance to find sufficiency in Christ as St. Maybe our prayers will be answered in the way that we hope. Maybe our prayers will be denied. Maybe our prayers will be answered in a way that we could never anticipate. Either way, prayer is the prerequisite to a living encounter with Christ. We also see the great humility of the woman.
John Chrysostom compares her attitude to that of the Jews who dealt with Christ. He says. She did not venture so much as to say a word against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor was she indignant to be reproached. Behold her constancy. Rather, she calls herself a dog and them masters. So for this reason she became a child.
For what does Christ then say? She could have looked around and complained about the people around her. She could have called them hypocrites and sinners. She did not. Likewise, we are often tempted to hold ourselves up as pillars of the faith while criticizing others.
She did not act in such a haughty way, looking at what others are doing or not doing. I am no better than anyone who has ever lived on the face of the earth.