Second Week of Great Lent, 2012
This Sunday the Holy Church celebrates St. Gregory Palamas, chiefly by remembering his zealous defense of the Orthodox teaching on asceticism. During the life of St. Gregory in the 14th century, the Calabrian monk Barlaam along with his confederate Gregory Akindynos, who taught incorrectly about asceticism, appeared in the Byzantine empire. Barlaam rejected the Orthodox teaching of the Light of Divine Grace that illuminates the inner person and sometimes is manifested externally (for instance on Thabor and Sinai) and refused to allow that it was possible to receive this light through prayer, fasting, and other acts of asceticism. St. Gregory Palamas zealously spoke out against this heresy. For this reason a council was convened in Constantinople at which this heresy was condemned. As a result of his powerful arguments against Barlaam's heresy, St. Gregory developed Orthodox's teaching on asceticism and particularly on fasting as a means to divine illumination. Therefore the Holy Church celebrates St. Gregory today as an adherent of asceticism in order to remind us that those who keep the fast can be worthy of divine illuminations.
On the other hand, the Holy Church offers today the Gospel reading about the one sick of the palsy who was borne by four and let down through the roof because they could not come nigh unto Jesus for the press of the crowd. How did the Lord cure the one sick of the palsy? He said: Son, thy sins be forgiven thee (Mark 2:5). The Lord began by removing the cause of the sickness, and as soon as the cause of the sickness was removed the sickness itself disappeared. With this the Lord demonstrates that the reason for the palsy was sin.
In the same way that sin weakens the body, it also weakens the soul. With frequent repetition, sin becomes habit, becoming second nature, and a person is no longer able to get free of it because of a weakened will, excepting only when God comes to that person's aid with his Divine Grace. Let us take the example of a person suffering from alcoholism. When intoxicated he is truly weakened in body and soul. The same thing happens to people in the grip of other passions.
By reminding us of St. Gregory's teaching on asceticism and the healing of the person sick of the palsy, the Holy Church shows us two opposing states in the life of the spirit: sin leads a person to palsy of the soul and body, but asceticism and repentance, fasting and prayer not only heal a person from weakness of soul and body, they also bring illumination with the Divine Light like the one that came out of Christ on Mount Thabor.
Thus, in order to heal us from weakness of soul and body and free us from the burden of sin, let us resort to reliable means—to repentance, fasting, and prayer, so that the days of Easter will illuminate us with rays joy that shine from out of eternity; and may St. Gregory through his prayers help us in this. Amen.