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Sermon: Gregory Palamas 2018
fr_basil
2ND SUNDAY OF LENT 2018
St Gregory Palamas
Mark 2: 1-12; John 10: 9-16
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Beloved, in Psalm 126:5 we are told that: "Those who sow with tears will reap with joy."
In these weeks of preparation and finally our initial entry into the contest of the Great Fast, we have been shown everything that is dark, everything that is evil, everything that is twisted and everything that is broken, in our fallen human condition. First there was the avarice of Zacchaeus, then the pride of the Pharisee, the rebellious party-animal-the Prodigal Son, and the goats on the left who had no care for their fellow human beings or Christ's commandments. We learned about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from paradise because they listened to Satan rather than God. We were told about the power of forgiveness, and equally, about the power of un-forgiveness. We have heard the heart-wrenching lament of the human soul crying out to God, presented in the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, who showed us that really all of these terrible things live inside of us. If we have paid any attention at all, if we have had any ears to hear, if we have scrambled to find at least some crumb which has fallen from the Master's table, then we have sown, at least in a small way, some first tears for our salvation. If we have not, if we neglected the services, if we remain unmoved, if we are still grounded and bolted to this world, distracted by every demonic whisper and dark, illusive thought; if we are still critical and judgmental of everything and everyone; if we find ourselves still uncaring, unfeeling, and unforgiving; if we find ourselves still proud and still fatally self-centered…WE MUST NOT DESPAIR. As long as we are still breathing there is time to repent. As long as we desire to confront the truth about ourselves, and as long as we run to Confession, there is still time for forgiveness. There is still time, even though we are near the time of the harvest. God will give us many, many opportunities. As we progress towards the Kingdom of God, towards the Day of the Resurrection, we can still, at every moment, turn to Him with broken hearts, and say, ‘No, Lord! Wait! I know that I am the poorest worker, coming at the eleventh hour, but please receive me too, in accordance with Your promise.'  And He will not despise either our tardiness or our brokenness. We will hear His gentle voice saying to us "Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive your inheritance, the kingdom, prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).
Last Sunday we celebrated the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the day when the Church proclaimed and re-asserted that it was proper and God-pleasing to create and venerate icons of Christ. It was not a declaration about art, it was a proclamation of the joy of the Incarnation.
The Old Testament said to us that God cannot be represented by any image because He is an unfathomable mystery; He didn't even have a Name, except the mysterious name the Sacred Tetragrammaton, four Hebrew letters…all consonants (I'd like to buy a vowel please!) which only the High Priests knew, but no one would dare to pronounce.
But in the New Testament we have learned, and we know from experience, that God has become Man, that the fullness of the Divinity became flesh and remains forever in the flesh. So, now, God has a Name, a Name that everybody may pronounce; a Name that is above every other name (Philippians 2:9): Jesus. And more than this - He has a human face that can be depicted in the holy icons. And what is an icon? It is a proclamation of our certainty that God has become man; and He has become man to achieve ultimate, tragic and glorious solidarity with us, to be one of us that we may be one with Him and become His adopted children. He became man that we might be deified, as the St. Athanasius the Great tells us. He became earthly that we might become heavenly.
And so, last week, we already began to have a taste of heavenly joy. And, if you think about it, even a week before that, when we were already prostrating and asking one another for forgiveness-- softly, quietly, the Church was singing the canon of Pascha: "It is the Day of Resurrection! Let us be radiant, O people! Pascha, the Pascha of the Lord!"  We were only just barely entering the first minutes of Great Lent, and yet…we were singing about the joy of Pascha, the joy that Christ is risen from the dead! We don’t do this simply because it's a promise for the future, no!  It is the certainty of the present. The Doors of Repentance are, in fact, the Doors of Resurrection, the Doors of the Kingdom, and the Gateway to JOY.
And today too, on this Second Sunday of the Great Fast, our lamentation pauses, and joy, like a ray of the sun, peeks through the dark clouds. Today we remember Saint Gregory Palamas, one of the greatest Saints of our Orthodox Church, who, against heresy and head-knowledge, proclaimed, from the experience of the ascetics and of all the saints and righteous ones from all the ages, that the grace of God is not a created Gift – it is God Himself. Gregory defended the notion that we human beings can have direct experience of God, that we can be permeated with His Life and become radiant with His Light. We can, by grace, become partakers of the Divine nature, as the Holy Apostle Peter says (2 Peter 1:4).
Today the Church brings us one step closer to the joy, to the glory of Pascha. Next week we will sing the praises of the Life-Giving Tree of the Cross, the Tree of Life which God once planted in the Garden; the Cross which was, at one time, a symbol of Roman terrorism, but now has become a sign of victory and salvation. The image of the Cross signifies this to us because it shows that God’s love has no measure, no limits. God's love is higher than high; it is as deep as God is deep, it is as all-embracing as God is all-embracing. 
Let's enter into the grace-filled tears and the joy of this season by attending the lenten services this week. Let’s prepare ourselves for next Sunday, the veneration and vision of the precious Cross of the Lord. Let's prepare to really look at it, and see in it God's sign of Divine love, and new certainty of salvation. And later on, at the end of our journey, when the choir sings the canon of the Resurrection, this time more loudly, let us realize that step by step, God has lead us not merely into tears and sorrow this Lent, but by means of steppingstones of joy, has shared with us everything that He is and everything that He has.
Amen!