Sermon 2nd Sunday of Great Lent

St Gregory PalamasIn the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

My dear brothers and sisters and in Christ today is the Second Sunday of the Great and Holy Fast. The Church dedicates this Sunday to Saint Gregory Palamas.

Saint Gregory was a monk of Mount Athos or the Holy Mountain that became the bishop of Thessalonica. Saint Gregory practiced a type of prayer called hesychia. Hesychia is a silent type of prayer that transfers the prayer from the mind to the heart. The goal of this type of prayer is to fulfill what is said in the Epistle to the Thessalonians “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
God who rewards our efforts rewards the efforts of the Hesychasts by allowing them to enter into His presence. The Hesychast is thus seen as transfigured with the uncreated light of Tabor as a result of entering into God’s presence.

In today’s Gospel we also see Christ rewarding the efforts of faith. In the Gospel we hear of a man that is a paralytic. His friends bring him to Jesus only to find the house that Jesus is in is so crowed they cannot enter. His friends then take him up on the roof. They then open a hole in the roof and lower him down through the hole. Christ first forgives his sins. The scribes then ask how Jesus can forgive sins. After some discussion between the scribes and Jesus; Jesus heals the man by saying take up your bed and walk. The Gospel ends with those present glorifying God.

This Gospel shows the action we take as a result of faith. The action of faith that is taken in the Gospel is the lowering of the man through the roof. This type of action can be referred to as zeal. When we have this kind of zeal we fulfill what is further said in the Holy Gospel:

“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7) or again

“the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) and again

“cry day and night unto him, until He hear them” (Luke 18:7)

Thus the Lord instructs us in taking action through the words seek, knock, take and cry in order to receive His blessings. But how do we take these actions? We primarily take them through prayer. Through prayer we find God as the Hesychast finds him through the unceasing prayer of the heart.

Our Lord tells us that not only must we pray but, that we must be watchful. As it says in the Gospel of Saint Luke “Watch you therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy….. to stand before the Son of man.” (Luke 21:36) Why must we be watchful? The answer to this question is found in the last verse of the Gospel of Cheesefare Sunday “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) If we are not watchful over heart and our desires we will be like the watchman that labors in vain as it says in the Psalms “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain.” (Psalm 127:1)

This illustrates for us that the Lord must be the basis of all our actions. If our actions are just the fulfilling of some duty we separate ourselves from God. In the Prophecy of Isaiah it describes this just fulfilling of duty as “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

When we just fulfill our duty we do not allow the grace of God to work in our lives as a result we become like the servant that hid his talent in the ground. The Lord shouted at this servant “Thou wicked and slothful servant” (Matthew 25:26) because he did not allow God to work with him to increase his talent. This should remind us that all things that we do including our prayer are only possible with God’s help. The Gospel of St. John tells us of this when it says “for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

The apostle Paul gives a wonderful explanation of God’s grace that is given to us when we allow him to work in concert with our actions when he says “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase. (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)

When we allow God to work in our lives we become changed. We are changed or our souls are healed as the paralytic is healed in this Gospel. For most of us this change is more subtle it is a type of transfiguration; in a way we are seen in the uncreated light of Tabor much like the Hesychast. What is most important about this change is that it is recognized as the action of God and as this Gospel ends with the glory being given to God.

Saint Nikolaj Velimirovic describes this type of action of God and the glory to be given to Him in the following:

“Look how many miraculous powers the Lord demonstrates all at once:

He sees into the hearts of men, and discerns faith in some and guile in others.

He forgives the soul its sin, making it healthy and clean from the source of its sickness and weakness.

He restores health to the weak and palsied body by the power of His words.

Oh how great and fearsome, wondrous and health-giving is the presence of the living Lord.”

So my dear brothers in sisters in Christ my prayer for you is that your soul may be healed as the paralytic by coming into the presence of God through your action in faith by prayer. That God may act on you that you may become transfigured with the light of Tabor so that the glory of God may be made known to those whom you interact with each day.

Amen

Delivered by Fr. Milan Medakovic at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church on the 2nd Sunday of Great Lent 2009.

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