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Homily for 3/31/13 - L2 - fighting godlessness

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  • Fr David Moser
    Last week we began the Sundays of Great Lent with the recognition of the triumph of the Orthodox Faith over the heresies that have (and continue to) assail it.
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2013
      Last week we began the Sundays of Great Lent with the recognition of the
      triumph of the Orthodox Faith over the heresies that have (and continue
      to) assail it. We noted that in the Cathedrals, our bishops, who are
      granted the grace of God to “rightly divide the word of truth” did just
      that and proclaimed and condemned those teachings about our God and Lord
      Jesus Christ which are in error. In so doing they exercise their
      archpastoral duty to preserve us from the false paths which would lead
      us away from our Lord Jesus Christ and away from the Kingdom of God. We
      did not perform such a condemnation of heresy here in our parish,
      because while it is the duty and task of the bishop to divide truth from
      error and to set out for us the path of truth, it is our duty rather to
      pray for those who are lost in the entangling and confusing paths of
      these heresies, that they might be illumined by the grace of God and
      delivered from their error and be saved. This indeed is what we did when
      we served the molieben after liturgy for the conversion of those in error.

      Today we continue on this same theme of separating ourselves from the
      false paths of heresies and clinging to the true path of salvation by
      remembering a very personal example of this battle against heresy, our
      father among the saints, Gregory (Palamas), Archbishop of Thessalonica.
      St Gregory was a great defender of the faith contending at that time
      with the heresies espoused by Barlaam of Calabria and his disciple
      Acinidnus. These two taught that the ineffable grace and power of God,
      which we experience, were not uncreated but rather were created
      phenomena. In doing this they set up an impassible wall between God and
      man making our own union and communion with God impossible. This
      teaching led also to the condemnation of the hesychastic life and prayer
      which opens for us the doors by which we can perceive these uncreated
      emanations of the energies of God (such as the divine and uncreated
      light of the Transfiguration which surrounded our Lord and the three
      disciples with Him on Mt Tabor). This teaching, because it effectively
      strips away every divine manifestation and entrance into the world, is
      also the first step towards humanism and naturalism which denies that
      there is anything that is beyond the ability of our human reason to
      grasp – even God (who many of those afflicted by this heresy will say
      does not exist beyond our own imagination.) Thus St Gregory’s refutation
      and battle against this heretical teaching touches us today, for it is
      indeed that same humanism and naturalism that are at the root of the
      denial of God which afflicts our increasingly secularsociety at nearly
      every turn.

      The arguments and proofs by which St Gregory contended against these
      teachings are beyond the scope of today’s homily, however, they are
      easily available in printed form. For this reason we will not go into
      the details of his arguments, but look rather at how he himself
      responded to the confrontations with his adversaries. For us this is
      important, for while we may not find ourselves in a debate of deep
      theological teachings before a council of bishops (as St Gregory did),
      we will find ourselves constantly faced by adversaries who will seek to
      discredit our faith and replace it with a “rational” and “scientific”
      explanation which eliminates the necessity of God.

      First, we cannot forget that St Gregory prepared himself, not by
      studying rhetoric (the art of debate), theology and the various
      philosophies. He did not in fact seek any kind of position that would
      put him in the place of a champion and defender of the faith. St Gregory
      began as a simple monk, living a life of strict asceticism and self
      denial in obedience to his monastic elder. After the death of his elder,
      St Gregory went to Mt Athos and there lived the monastic life. After a
      time in the monastery, he settled in the wilderness to pursue a life of
      prayer. This was his preparation – to draw as near to God as he could.
      As a lamp burning brightly on a hill top cannot be hid behind a bushel
      for long, so the Holy Spirit drew St Gregory out of the wilderness and
      brought him into the rank of priest and then bishop so that all might
      benefit from his spiritual labors. As a result of his preparation, “St
      Gregory …who ever sought to emulate the great Apostle Paul, was adorned
      with innumerable divine virtues, among which were meekness, quietness
      and humility. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to upbraid the enemies
      of God and of the Orthodox faith, subduing them with the sword of the
      Word of God. He held no rancor against others, sought both to say and to
      do only what is good, and always returned good for evil, thus conquering
      wickedness with virtue. He gave no heed to those who told him how his
      enemies slandered him, and his patience and nobility of soul remained
      apparent despite the many misfortunes and difficulties he faced.”
      (Synaxarion for the second Sunday of Great Lent)

      The single enduring quality that characterized St Gregory, both as a
      monk living a life of prayer and later as a hierarch contending against
      heretics for the truth was his singleminded and all encompassing love of
      God. He championed the truth, not because it was a good idea, but
      because this was what he saw and experienced in his own life of prayer.
      He swept away heretics not by persuasive argument and clever tricks of
      logic, but by simply stating that which he knew to be true with such
      fervor and burning love of God that it could not be disputed. He did not
      “get personal” with his adversaries or enemies, but with patience
      exhibited love and compassion toward them.

      This is how we too should face our enemies and those who contend with us
      against the truth. Rather than develop tricks of argument or gimmicks to
      “introduce” the philosophy of Christianity into a conversation, it is
      better to simply live the truth and let our lives speak for us. This is
      one of the effects of our annual Lenten struggle, for during this time
      we strive through asceticism and self denial to shed the accumulated
      dust and dirt of the world so that the light of Christ can shine more
      clearly through us. During this time we also increase our practice of
      the virtues and the intensity and frequency of our prayer, feeding the
      fire of the love of God that burns in the heart with the grace that
      comes from these actions, causing it to flare up and become ever
      stronger and brighter in our lives.

      We are faced today with the fruits of the seeds of this denial of the
      presence of the divine uncreated energies of God that were planted by
      the heresies espoused by Barlaam and Acindinus. Our society and culture
      tends towards an attitude that either denies the existence of God
      outright or which so marginalizes and minimizes God as to make Him seem
      irrelevant. The reason of our own minds and scientific exploration have
      become the arbiters of what is and is not true. There is no place for
      anything that is beyond our ability to comprehend for the mind of man is
      able to encompass everything. This is the “faith” and “religion” of the
      world today. This elevation of the human mind and ego has resulted in
      the decay of all those moral values and standards that are drawn from
      religious teaching. Those of us who hold to such beliefs are in the end
      dismissed as superstitious and caught in the insecurities and prejudices
      of the past. As a result, we are faced with ethical dilemmas that at one
      time seemed to be unthinkable. We argue about the sanctity of life, the
      moral scope of sexuality and marriage, the rights and dignity of human
      beings (forgetting that before God we are all sinners). We struggle with
      the rampant violence of self aggrandizement, self love and self
      destruction in our society. We are, more and more, living in a godless
      world. Our only response, our only hope is to imitate St Gregory and to
      rise above the godlessness that surrounds us and to live a life of
      uncompromising love of God and to exhibit in our lives the fruits of the
      Holy Spirit and the virtues that emanate from them.

      Today St Gregory (Palamas) is held up for us as the remedy for the
      godless world in which we find ourselves. We do not argue and prove the
      truth and error of this or that philosophy, rather, preparing ourselves
      with ascetic labor, increased prayer and the practice of the virtues we
      let the bright flame of the love of God burn ever more brightly in us
      and shed light not only on our own hearts, but on all those around us.
      This light of our love for God is the only thing that can extinguish and
      drive away the ever increasing darkness of godlessness that surrounds us.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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