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Homily for 3/7/04 - L2- St Gregory Palamas

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  • David Moser
    Mark 2:1-12 In the parable today, we heard how the friends of the paralytic brought him to Christ and finding that the way was blocked they persisted and
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 7, 2004
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      Mark 2:1-12

      In the parable today, we heard how the friends of the paralytic brought him
      to Christ and finding that the way was blocked they persisted and finally
      came into the presence of our Lord by tearing a hole in the roof. And with
      that everything faded - for the presence of the Lord is a great and wondrous
      place which overshadows everything else. This awareness of being in the
      presence of God is what sustained the martyrs through their torments, it is
      what kept the ascetic fathers going in the difficulty of their ascetic
      labors, it is what brings healing to our soul and body. When one is in the
      presence of Christ, all else fades, nothing else demands our attention.

      The friends of the paralytic worked hard and persistently to bring their
      friend into this place of spiritual sustenance and healing. They carried him
      in the hot sun a long way and when they arrived, already hot and tired, the
      crowd was too great to approach the door, and so they tried the back door,
      the windows, everything they could think of but with no success. Then they
      climbed up onto the roof - taking their paralyzed friend with them and began
      the hot and dirty work of tearing a hole in the roof, large enough to lower
      their friend. But the instant they entered the presence of Christ, all their
      fatigue, all the discomfort of being hot and dirty, all the work that they
      had done, all faded into the background; for they had obtained their goal,
      the goal of being in Christ's presence.

      St Nikolai Velimirovic teaches us, "We must come and stand in the presence
      of the living Lord. This is the most important thing on the path of
      salvation: to come with faith into the Lord's presence, and to feel this
      presence." This is indeed true. It is difficult to work out your salvation,
      and the only the awareness of the presence of Jesus Christ as a person is
      sufficient to keep one going.

      We often become complacent in our Christian lives - we become accustomed to
      the Church life, the services, the hymns, the prayers and even the
      sacraments. We lose sight of these things as part of Christ's presence and
      begin to view them as parts of ordinary life in the thing we call
      "religion". Not only do these things become ordinary, but Jesus Christ also
      becomes ordinary. We begin to lose the awareness of Him as a person and He
      becomes just another historical figure, just another person who lived long
      ago and far away. Even worse is when Jesus Christ loses all reality for us
      and becomes just an idea, just a good philosophy - and then the life in
      Christ becomes stale and dry and finally dead. If we lose sight of our Lord
      Jesus Christ as a person so that He becomes only a ideal, a statue, an
      image - then Christianity becomes only another philosophy, only another
      alternative life choice, only a lot of hard work.

      It is vital therefore to continually refresh and renew our personal
      acquaintance with Christ, to ever awaken our awareness of His real and
      personal presence. This "personal relationship" with the Living God is what
      makes Christianity different from all other world religions, different from
      all other "philosophies" and "life choices". Christianity is first and
      foremost a relationship with a real and living person - in fact with the
      real and living God Himself. And like any relationship, it takes work to
      maintain it.

      Every once in a while we see a television commercial for a long distance
      telephone service where old friends from childhood call one another and
      though they live thousands of miles apart and though their friendship began
      years ago, they maintain that closeness, that personal relationship that
      feeds the friendship because they work at it, they call one another, they
      talk to one another, they share with one another their joys and sorrows,
      their difficulties and triumphs. Any relationship requires constant work and
      maintenance to keep it alive. And so it is with our relationship with
      Christ - it requires us to work at it to keep it alive. Jesus Christ is
      *here* for us, He is always alive and reaching out to us, we are always in
      His presence. The difficulty lies when we forget all this, when we allow the
      awareness of His presence to fade into the sea of worldly cares and of our
      own inner thoughts and concerns. We must grasp onto this sense of His
      presence in us, this awareness of His life that touches ours and do
      everything we can to strengthen it.

      At times God Himself reminds us of His presence, He comes to us and reveals
      Himself to us in unmistakable ways - He came to Martha and Mary in Bethany
      and revealed Himself in the raising of Lazarus; He appeared suddenly and
      miraculously to the Holy Apostle Paul; He came to the disciples walking on
      the surface of the stormy sea and calmed the wind and the waves, He showed
      himself to his disciples on the road to Emmaus and revealed Himself in the
      breaking of the bread. Sometimes Christ comes to us in an inner experience
      so undeniable that the memory of the moment sustains us for days and months
      and even years to come; sometimes He comes to us in the working of a miracle
      and sometimes more quietly in the beauty and grandeur of His creation. At
      other times, however, we are brought to Christ by others - as Nathaniel was
      brought by Philip to "come and see". The Apostles were the first to go out
      and bring others to Christ - first among their friends and relatives and
      their own people, but later they went out into the whole world bringing all
      they could find to Christ. And they are not the only ones to do this for
      throughout the history of the Church one believer has reached out to many
      others to bring them into Christ's presence by living His love, His
      compassion, His caring and through the life of Christ in themselves have
      allowed others to touch Christ for themselves and so come also into His
      presence. Finally there are those who come into the presence of Christ
      because they hunger and thirst for Him. These people may not even know at
      the beginning of their search Who it is they are pursuing, but they know
      that there is something or someone that they need to fill the void in their
      soul. Like the friends of the paralytic, they travel and search and push and
      poke and prod and tearing away all barriers suddenly find themselves face to
      face with the One who fulfills the emptiness of their soul. All these are
      means by which we come into the presence of God and experience that personal
      contact and touch with Him.

      But as we mentioned before, this relationship must be maintained and to do
      so takes effort on our part. Today in the person of St Gregory Palamas, we
      are reminded of the most important way by which we not only maintain the
      relationship but improve our awareness of Christ's presence. St Gregory is
      revered for his life of prayer and taught us that through constant prayer,
      it is possible for a man to perceive God Himself directly. The experience of
      the vision of divine light is, in St Gregory's teaching, the experience of
      seeing the energies of God. There were others who contended with him that
      this divine light was simply a created thing, but St Gregory preserved,
      defended and passed on to us the truth that this light, the light of the
      Transfiguration on Mt Tabor, is uncreated and emanates from God Himself. In
      this doctrine, he reminds us that it is possible to perceive God, to see His
      energies, to touch Him, to experience Him directly. This is accomplished
      through prayer, and for St Gregory, especially through the discipline of
      hesychastic prayer - that is the meditative saying of the Jesus prayer,
      "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner". Setting aside
      for the time being the specific discipline of hesychastic prayer, let us
      look simply at the power and nature of prayer. Prayer is talking to God,
      prayer is communing with God, prayer is the experience of God's presence.
      None of us know how to pray effectively and so we must be taught. The Church
      teaches us to pray through example. We have many examples of prayer in our
      services, and if we only had this one resource we would never exhaust this
      gold mine of prayers. But that is not all, we also have the written prayers
      of the saints which are given to us in the psalter, in prayer books, in the
      meditative writings of the saints. These are prayers that come out of the
      experience of those who live constantly in the awareness of God's presence
      and so they stand for us as examples of how to pray. Some of these prayers,
      as you read them, will touch your heart - and it is these that we should
      constantly use as our prayer rule. No matter what the source of your prayer
      rule - whether it be from the psalter, the services of the Church or the
      prayers of the saints (or more likely a combination of them all) - this
      "primer" of prayer forms the basis for your own life of prayer. Through
      these prayers you learn to talk with God - or more deeply you learn to
      commune with God. You talk with Him and in so doing the awareness of His
      presence is strengthened and refreshed in you. Prayer, however, does not
      come naturally or even easily. Because prayer brings us into the presence of
      God, it is death to the demons and to our fallen nature. And so they resist
      our prayer and we must continually force ourselves to the prayers,
      continually making the effort to pray - not just with our lips or our mind,
      but with our whole being. It is this continual, daily, moment by moment
      effort and practice of prayer that sustains within us the awareness of the
      presence of God.

      In addition we have the prayers and lives of the saints which also help us
      to experience Christ. The saints express in their own lives the life of
      Christ and so when they help us, touch us, strengthen us - it is in fact the
      touch of Christ in them. We experience our Lord Jesus Christ through His
      saints as well. As we talk and commune with the saints and they pray for us,
      Christ in them touches us. This communion of the saints is another way in
      which Christ is with us, another way in which we experience His presence.

      The friends of the paralytic sought out Christ and through persistence and
      effort they found themselves in the blessed presence of Christ. So we too,
      seeking Christ will find ourselves in His presence - and this awareness,
      this experience of being in the presence of Christ is the essence of our
      personal relationship with Him. This relationship which we maintain through
      prayer and through the communion of the saints.

      Our salvation is to live with Christ, to be filled with Him, to become like
      Him, to be united with Him. Our salvation is to be continually in the
      presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and to share His life. During this lent
      and beyond, let your purpose be to remain aware of Christ's presence in you,
      never lose sight of Jesus Christ as a person, but continue through prayer to
      commune with Him that your relationship with Him might never cease but that
      it might only grow ever stronger.
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