SUNDAY OF GREGORY PALAMAS
SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF ST GREGORY PALAMAS
March 28, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Have you ever wondered about where or how St Gregory Palamas got his last name? You know, people in the 14th century didn’t actually have last names like we do today, right? So, how did St Gregory, Archbishop of Thessalonica, manage to get one, “Palamas?” Well, people in ancient times did, often, have descriptors or nicknames that helped to identify one individual from another. Sometimes it was a patronymic, like “John the son of Zebedee” or “Joshua ben Sirach.” Sometimes it was a physical distinction, like John the Dwarf or Didymus the Blind. Sometimes people were distinguished from others by an honorific, a title that described something about them, about their achievements or about their character. Some examples: “Simon Peter” which means “Simon the Rock,” or “Basil the Great,” or “John the Theologian.” But “Palamas?” What does that mean?
When my kids were little, Matushka Joanie taught them a number of Greek children’s songs. One she taught them when they were both very young. It was a song that required an action from them, a clapping action. The song went: “Παλαμάκια παίξετε / κι ο μπαμπάς του έρχεται / και του φέρνει κατιτί / κουλουράκια (or λουκουμάκια) στο χαρτί!” This is the first verse. It roughly translates:
“Clap your hands, His dad is coming to bring him something, cookies (or Turkish Delight) wrapped in paper.” Palamakia, it’s the Greek word for “clap your hands.” “Palamas” is taken from the same word. But it doesn’t mean that St Gregory is clapping. Not at all! It means that we are clapping for him! And why are we clapping for him especially on this particular day? Sit back, relax, and I will tell you.
St. Gregory once wrote that “Prayer...fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know, in part, the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve” (Phiokalia, vol 4).
St Gregory was a fierce opponent of those who wanted to turn the Christian faith into a dead and cold “religion,” a scholastic nightmare, where God could only be approached through reason, through the fallen mind. For Gregory, the entire “raison d'etre” for the Church was to enable human beings to have direct access to God, direct experience of God Himself. The sole aim for living a Christian life was to have exactly that – a life in Christ. To try to approach God in any other way is to never get close to Him at all. God’s closeness to us cannot depend on our intelligence, our knowledge, or our education. It depends on how much we love Him and how eager we are to walk in His commandments. St. Gregory himself wrote:
“The Lord has promised to manifest Himself to those who keep (His commandments), a manifestation He calls His ‘indwelling,’ and that of the Father, saying, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and will make our dwelling-place with him,’ and ‘I will manifest Myself to him’” (John 14:21, 23).
So, dear ones, we must love God, I mean, really love God, not just with our lips but with our lives. And if we do love him, we need to feel that urgency, that yearning that comes with love. Love never wants to leave the presence of the beloved. As the Song of Songs says, “I will search for the one my heart loves” (3:2).That’s why St Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thess. 5:17). St Gregory, a true man of prayer, teaches us that quiet and the Jesus Prayer are the tried and true gifts that energize our ascent toward theosis, deification. God is not a concept or an idea. God is personal, and persons in love require a relationship. St. Gregory, inspired by grace, saved that relationship from the rack and ruin of scholasticism. That’s why we are clapping for him today!
Troparion — Tone 8
O luminary of Orthodoxy, support and teacher of the Church, / ideal of monks and invincible champion of theologians, / O wonderworker Gregory, boast of Thessalonika and herald of grace, / always intercede for all of us that our souls may be saved.