Can we actually experience God?

Source: Out of Egypt ...

March 26, 2016


The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark 2:1-12

On this the Second Sunday of Great and Holy Lent, we commemorate our Father among the saints Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica (Thessaloniki). The gospel that is given to us is meant to guide us and inform us regarding the special character of this second Sunday of Lent.

We are met with the familiar passage from the gospel according to St. Mark, where Jesus was at home and many gathered together and flocked from every nearby area in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus, to hear his teachings, to be in His presence and for some, to receive His healing.

The Lord in this passage shows us that there is a connection between physical illness and spiritual illness or sin. Now before we go further we should note that this does not mean that people get sick or die because they are bad people. No. In fact many of our saints, including modern saints, were quite sick people. Some had cancer, others suffered migraines or stomach ailments etc.

What is demonstrated in this passage is that the Lord has an interest in seeing us made completely whole. When the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus, Our Lord did not simply heal the physical issues. In fact, He starts by forgiving him of his sins. We don’t know what kind of sins were in this man’s life, but what we do know is quite valuable for all of us. Sin starts as casual, then it enslaves a man, it progresses to paralyze a man and finally to kill him. We don’t know what sins were in the life of the paralyzed man, but we know the heart of the Son of God. He didn’t want this man to suffer with his sickness any longer. He didn’t want the man to be sick and the priority for Our Lord Jesus is not that the man can’t move, it is that the man was estranged from God. The true humanity of this man was unknown because his soul had been disfigured by sin.

Every one of us is like this man. We are fallen and our biggest issue isn’t some sickness or physical pain. We choose to believe that those are our biggest issues but they are not, they must not be. To be completely absorbed by your physical issues is to still be carnally minded and fleshly. Our biggest issue must always be the spiritual pain of being separated from God, no matter the degree of that separation. Which is to say, some are very far away from God, some are much closer, but still most are separated in some way through sins done either in thoughts, words or deeds; both knowingly and unknowingly.

We are like the scribes who witnessed the events that day. We would be amazed if a paralyzed man began walking in front of us, but we have no idea what it means that people are crushed by the weight of sin and that Christ our God can heal this brokenness through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives within the Church. Our Lord heals the man and reminds us that the healing that we are looking for is not only physical or spiritual, it is complete healing!

St. Gregory Palamas is celebrated today. He was one of the great teachers of the way that the physical body must work together with the soul and the mind in order to produce good spiritual fruit. But he went further than this. In his boldness, St. Gregory taught that it was in fact possible to actually, really, truly encounter God if one struggles to obtain pure prayer. He made the bold claim that those who practiced stillness in their prayers were in fact able to experience God in a direct, firsthand, personal encounter. There can be no doubt that he in fact, had this experience, as did many of the saints throughout the ages.  It is an amazing claim that is upheld by the Orthodox Church and is barely ever mentioned or hinted at anywhere else.

So 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.” God knows us and we come to knowledge of Him through a direct relationship that surpasses the sensory experience and moves to the experience of illumination through the Holy Spirit. We come to know God directly through the energies that He shares with us in the Holy Spirit. We come to behold the truth of Christ and to witness the light of Christ in the same way that the disciples experienced this during the Holy Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Our path to this knowledge of the risen and glorified Christ is through asceticism, through the struggle to subject the body to our will, as we do when we fast and do prostrations and stand to pray but that is not enough. We have to subject our whole will to the keeping of the commandments of Christ, which is to say, we subject our will to His will. Finally, when these are accomplished we add to them, pure and undistracted prayer which comes through the struggle to repent, to fast, to keep the commandments and to pray.

My brothers and sisters, let us struggle together to die to ourselves, to our will, to our way, to our wisdom, that we might have the chance to be raised in glory with the resurrected Christ. For He is the resurrection and the life! Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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