Great Lent: Sunday Bible Reading Week 2 – Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada)



Today’s Gospel (Mark 2:1-12, see sidebar), read on theSecond Sunday of Great Lent (Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas) describes one of the many miracles performed by Christ and highlights once again His divinity.

Jesus heals the paralytic, telling him: “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” Before this, however, Christ forgave him his sins, which is an important point because as the scribes correctly note, God alone can forgive sins.

One reason that God, through the person of Jesus Christ, took on flesh and came into the world was to forgive sins and by His love and mercy free humanity from its bondage and slavery.

The forgiveness of sins and, by extension, our salvation, also requires our contribution of faith in Christ, a central theme in today’s Gospel and the focus of this week’s Sunday Bible reading message.

Last week, we emphasized the strong faith of Philip and Nathanael, who followed Christ and became His disciples. This week it is not only the faith of the paralytic that Mark the Evangelist describes, but it is also the strong faith of the “four men” that we read in the Gospel.

St. Mark records so many people had gathered to see Christ that there was no room at the home for others. What did these four men, who “…could not get near him because of the crowd…” decide to do? Did they explain to the paralytic that it was too crowded and therefore he could not see Jesus? Did they tell him that they would come back and try again later? No! They did not give up. They did not despair. They showed their faith! The four men took the extraordinary step to “remove the roof” in order to lay down the pallet with the paralytic on it.

Last week, we posed some questions for the faithful to contemplate and this week we will do the same.

Do we share our faith, together with our love and compassion, with our friends, family, and those around us?

Do we leverage our faith to help others, like the paralytic’s friends did, which helped in his healing? Do we go the extra mile, make that extra effort, when someone around us is in need?

When Christ entered the home, all flocked to see Him; do we flock to Church to meet Christ and to do so intimately through our partaking of Holy Communion? Faith is not only personal, but collective as well. The Church, for example, is a community – a collective – of the faithful with Christ at the centre.

During Great Lent this week, let us keep these questions in our mind, for if we do, we will see the miracles of Christ, like the paralytic and his four friends saw in Capernaum.

Apolytikion (Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas)

O Gregory the Miracle Worker, light of Orthodoxy, support and teacher of the Church, comeliness of Monastics, invincible defender of theologians, the pride of Thessalonica, and preacher of grace, intercede forever that our souls may be saved.

Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto (Canada)

Since 1368 this Sunday has been dedicated to the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica (1296-1359). This commemoration forms a continuation of the feast celebrated on the previous Sunday: St. Gregory’s victory over Barlaam, Akindynos and the other heretics of his time is seen as a renewed Triumph of Orthodoxy. In the earlier period there was on this day a commemoration of the Great Martyr Polycarp of Smyrna (+ c. 155), whose feast was transferred from the fixed calendar (23 February). This commemoration, like that of St. Theodore, underlined the connection between Lenten asceticism and the martyr’s vocation. The second Sunday also takes up the theme of the Prodigal Son as a model of repentance, with the first of the two Canons at Matins being devoted to this parable.

Source: The Lenten Triodion. Mother Mary, of the Monastery of the Veil of the Mother of God, Bussy-en-Othe, and Archimandrite Kallistos Timothy Ware: 1977.

The defence of the Hesychasts was taken up by St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica. He upheld a doctrine of the human person which allowed for the use of bodily exercises in prayer, and he argued, against Barlaam, that the Hesychasts did indeed experience the Divine and Uncreated Light of Tabor. To explain how this was possible, Gregory developed the distinction between the essence and the energies of God. It was Gregory’s achievement to set Hesychasm on a firm dogmatic basis by integrating it into Orthodox theology as a whole. His teaching was confirmed by two councils held at Constantinople in 1341 and 1351, which, although local and not Ecumenical, yet posses a doctrinal authority in Orthodox theology scarcely inferior to the seven general councils themselves. But western Christendom has never officially recognized these two councils, although many western Christians personally accept the theology of Palamas.

Gregory began by reaffirming the Biblical doctrine of the human person and of the Incarnation. The human being is a single, united whole; not only the human mind but the whole person was created in the image of God. Our body is not an enemy, but partner and collaborator with our souls. Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has ‘made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification.’ Here Gregory took up and developed the ideas implicit in earlier writings, such as the Macarian Homilies; the same emphasis on the human body, as we have seen, lies behind the Orthodox doctrine of icons. Gregory went on to apply this doctrine of the person to the Hesychast methods of prayer: the Hesychasts, so he argued, in placing such emphasis on the part of the body in prayer, are not guilty of a gross materialism but are simply remaining faithful to the Biblical doctrine of personhood as a unity. Christ took human flesh and saved the whole person; therefore it is the whole person – body and soul together – that prays to God.

From this Gregory turned to the main problem: how to combine the two affirmations, that we humans know God and that God is by nature unknowable. Gregory answered: we know the energies of God, but not His essence. This distinction between God’s essence (ousia) and His energies goes back to the Cappadocian Fathers. ‘We know our God from His energies,’ wrote St. Basil, ‘but we do not claim that we can draw near to His essence. For His energies come down to us, but His essence remains unapproachable.’

Source: The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, Penguin Books, 1997.