On the Second Sunday of Great Lent, we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica. On this day, the Holy Church speaks to us about the mystery of light, which we must come to know, if we want to behold the Resurrection of Christ. St. Gregory of Thessalonica and the theological arguments of the fourteenth century connected with his name taught that the light of the Transfiguration is uncreated light.
For modern western Christians (who typically have very little exposure to Orthodox Christianity), it’s often difficult to grasp the nature of the divide between east and west. In my experience, most reflexively tend to reduce the differences in their mind to being relatively superficial or inessential. But the divide runs much deeper than most tend to realize.
Endowed with fine abilities and great diligence, Gregory mastered all the subjects which then comprised the full course of medieval higher education. The emperor hoped that the youth would devote himself to government work. But Gregory, barely twenty years old, withdrew to Mount Athos in the year 1316.
The triumph of Orthodoxy always starts in a person’s heart, and only afterwards is it expressed externally. True, sometimes there are cases when the external attracts the heart, as if waking it up. But for this to happen, there must be something in the heart, which makes such an awakening possible. God demands our heart. To serve God without heart, Orthodoxy without heart—this is the same as a man without heart.
I’m amazed every year when I’m reminded that St. Gregory Palamas was once called “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church.” Now imagine that he was called “the cause of all disorders and disturbances in the Church” by the Patriarch of Constantinople himself.
An ascetic who has been accounted worthy of passionlessness can thereafter taste of the experience of pure prayer. His mind “transcends all things” in prayer and renounces all perceptions of created beings and adores the Uncreated God, and the yet higher union with God is possible. Those who have been illumined by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, have come to know Him and contemplate the Uncreated Light.
The Taboric light is not created, St. Gregory said, but it is the light and grace of God Himself, manifested so that those communing of this light would not die, but be sanctified. Christ was not so much transfigured, says the Church, as Christ transfigured the vision and senses of the disciples, that they would be able to see Christ, as He is. This contemplation is a foretaste of the future Kingdom
We need the practices of Lent because, in contrast with the glory to which He calls us, we all remain too much like the paralyzed man before his healing. Our weakness before our habitual sins and passions often seems more real to us than do the gracious divine energies that alone bring healing. Perhaps that is because we have far more experience of our own brokenness than of deep personal union with God.
This Second Sunday of Great Lent teaches us so much. We learn that the work of the body is important work. We learn that we are saved together as an integral whole, body, mind and soul. We learn that when we harness our hearts, minds and souls to agree on working together towards knowledge of our Creator, we are then able to truly share in the benefits of the title “Child of God.”
Although his theology was vindicated by several councils in Constantinople between 1341 and 1351, and he was canonized just nine years after his death in 1368, it remained a topic of disagreement. His theology and influence fell into nigh-obscurity from the late sixteenth century practically until the twentieth century, and today there is still disagreement within the Orthodox Church over how to understand his theology and interactions with his opponents, as well as continued debate from outside the Church.
Indeed, the Church always stresses the permanence of her faith through the ages, from the very beginning. This identity, since the Apostolic times, is the most conspicuous sign and token of right faith-always the same. Yet, "antiquity" by itself is not an adequate proof of the true faith.