This homily was given by Archimandrite Gregorios Estephan, Abbot of the Dormition of the Theotokos Monastery, Bkeftine, Lebanon, on the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas, 2020, as the corona virus rages around the world. Fr. Gregorios reminds us that such calamities are a call to repentance.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen.
Two weeks ago, the second Sunday of Holy Lent, we celebrated the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. Few know the importance of this divine father. St. Gregory lived in an age filled with hardships, but he confessed the faith wholly regardless of the dangers that might threaten his life, similar to most Fathers of the Church. Since the days of the saints and confessors, the Church has maintained the Truth through its witness. The Fathers were able to establish and strengthen the real faith of the Orthodox Church in many believers, which has survived for two thousand years and remains alive to this day.
In St. Gregory’s time, in the fourteenth century, the outbreak of Western rational ideologies started to spread. These ideologies rely on scholastic theology–rationality, which explains everything based on the intellect. This way of thinking started to subjugate the Christian faith, and people’s life in Christ became more intellectual and emotional than spiritual. Thus, the true Orthodox spiritual life changed and mutated such that it lost its righteousness and truth.
This Western intellectual thought started to invade the East. But this is the East where our saints, monks, hermits, and people experienced the faith in all aspects of life and not just in intellectual theories. People truly sought physical and spiritual holiness. True Christians were striving to cleanse their bodies and souls through asceticism, fasting, prayer, and vigils. For they knew that this is the way to effectively cleanse the whole man, both physically and spiritually.
The West wanted to implant this rational ideology in us [Easterners], which is the real epidemic that destroys our faith. Many are afraid for their bodies and few for their souls; for the epidemic does not destroy the body as they claim. Fear of illness has caused people to abstain from coming to church and receiving the Eucharist. People do not fear for their souls that will die if they do not partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church exists in order to heal and sanctify, not to inflict and spread diseases.
The intellectual person lives his Christianity in a Western intellectual manner. This indicates that his soul is empty of the love of Christ, because the person who loves Christ understands that we should not live for ourselves, but for Christ Who came to sacrifice Himself for our salvation; and by living for Him, we know how to save ourselves.
Whoever listens to the prayers that we read earlier, asking the Lord to have mercy on us and expel plagues from us, will realize that everything is happening because of our sins. Every natural disaster and epidemic is due to our sins. Since the Old Testament, God has promised us that if we live according to His commandments, we will live in peace and harmony; we will not suffer any foreign invasions, nor any epidemics and diseases. On the contrary, our fields will grow and our homes will thrive.
When we face a temptation like the one we currently have, we must repent and take refuge in the Church, not panic about how to protect our bodies and thereby distance ourselves from the Church. I am not saying that we should not protect ourselves from the dangers of this epidemic, which is spreading quickly and causing panic. Everyone should be taking the necessary preventive measures to protect his body, but we must not forget our souls. Whoever locked himself at home and did not come to church is the truly ill person. Please excuse my harsh words, but every one of us must be aware of our salvation and that true prevention and true life is through persevering to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. There is no real life except through the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
We must repent inside the church, confessing all our sins to reach the Lord, as the people of Nineveh repented when the Prophet Jonah preached to them when they were facing a natural disaster, or epidemic. Filled with repentance, they cried out to the Lord asking Him for forgiveness and protection from danger, and the Lord answered their petitions.
We all know how to live our Christian life. We do not live it for the sake of personal interest or because we are afraid because of not knowing what will happen to us after death. Such a person is called a servant in the Scriptures because he is not seeking to be a son of God. Whoever truly loves God comes to church fully relying on Him and not caring about the risks. If the Lord is not here, then where else would He be!?
A true Christian is the one who relies on God. When the hour of death approaches, we will die even if we’re in our own home. I do not mean by this that we should put ourselves in danger, rather we must put all our hopes in God and surrender our bodies and souls to Him, and He will work in us. The person who has true faith in God trusts Him and is aware that everything is happening according to His will. This is the man who has truly surrendered himself to Christ.
The real plague is when a man fears the loss of his body from death. Where is the faith in God? We should surely follow necessary preventive measures, but we should not forget that the Lord is the protector. Real prevention is not only through medication and sanitizers, but through the Eucharist and blessing our houses with holy water and repentance before God. Everything that is happening is the result of our sins.
If we do not repent we will witness harder and harsher disasters across the entire world. What does the world expect from all the atheism and blasphemy it expresses against God? Does it expect peace and prosperity?! There will be more serious tribulations since the world is still denying Christ instead of repenting to Him.
St. Gregory Palamas struggled a lot in his life to remain firm in his faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He refused to compromise anything about the truth and faith. While he was bishop of Thessaloniki he shepherded his people with all care and love, and strengthened their faith. Thus, if we are seeking to live a true Christian life, we must help strengthen each other’s faith, for faith saves us, while a lack of faith leads us to destruction.
We must love our Lord Jesus Christ more than our souls and our bodies. This is the commandment of Christ: Before loving my earthly life, I must love Him, because true life comes from Him. In this way, we avoid all epidemics, surrender ourselves to the Lord’s will, and know that everything that is happening to us is due to our sins. This is how we save our souls before our bodies: And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28).
We must all pray, repent and help each other to repent, and we will see how God’s mercy will be bestowed upon us. Remember the prayers we read to spare us from devastating epidemics, where the Lord told King Hezekiah that he will die because of his evil doings, so he repented and humbled himself before God, asking for His mercy. God told him, “Because you have repented and humbled yourself, I will extend your life for fifteen years.” So, this is what is asked from us: to know how to repent and love God. We must never leave the Church.
In this way, we express our love to God more than ourselves. Amen.