March 28, 2021

Second Sunday of Great Lent - Saint Gregory Palamas and the Paralytic (Metr. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

"Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men." (Mk. 2:3)

On the Second Sunday of the Fast, the Church decided to celebrate the memory of Saint Gregory Palamas, as a continuation of the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Indeed, today we heard the echo of last Sunday, since Saint Gregory was a worthy son of the Church, who contributed to the triumph of Orthodoxy in a difficult time.

Saint Gregory Palamas, a great hesychast, and then Archbishop of Thessaloniki, expressing the experience of all the Holy Fathers, fought the Rationalism of the fourteenth century and protected the Orthodox Faith from the danger of agnosticism and pantheism, developing the fundamental truth of the Church around the mystery of the indivisible division of the essence and energy of God. This teaching is necessary for our time, because many have a personal ignorance of the energy of God, as a result of which they confuse it with something created, while others speak thoughtfully about these great issues of the faith.

In honor of the memory of this great Father of the Church, we will present the interpretation he makes of two points of today's Gospel passage, which describes the healing of the paralytic of Capernaum. They are taken from the discourse that the Saint delivered that day to his flock.

The Holy Fathers are Infallible Interpreters of the Scriptures

We must first emphasize the great importance of the patristic interpretation of Holy Scripture. According to Orthodox teaching, Revelation is not synonymous with Holy Scripture. This is done by the Protestants as a result of which they fall into many sects. Orthodox believe that Holy Scripture is not Pentecost. Pentecost is the Saints, while the word of the Saints is the word about Pentecost. Thus those who have in them the sanctifying energy of divine Grace can understand the revelatory words of the Prophets, Apostles and the subsequent Saints. These are the infallible interpreters of the Holy Scriptures, because they have reached the illumination of the nous.

Thus the best "scientific" approach to Holy Scripture is through the Saints. Every phrase in the Bible has "hidden spiritual power", which is perceived by the one who has the Holy Spirit. The interpretation of Holy Scripture is not a matter of grammar, philological knowledge or history alone, but mainly of the vision of God. The nous of the Saint is purified, illumined and sees clearly the whole depth of each phrase. According to Saint Isaac, those who, illumined by divine Grace, are led to the perfection of life, always sense as if an imaginary ray protrudes through the verses of what is written and which separates with spiritual knowledge the meaning of the subtle words from the things said. That is why it has been said that even if all the books of Holy Scripture and the patristics writings are lost, there are Fathers who can rewrite them, since the life is not lost.

This explains why Saint Gregory Palamas was accused by some of his contemporaries as a conservative theologian and by others as a modernist. This happened because having the Holy Spirit, while being a Father of the Church, therefore he related in spirit to all the Holy Fathers, expressing the will of God in the specific time in which he lived.

But it is time to look at the two interpretive points of today's reading made by the Holy Father.

Word and Action

The Evangelist tells us that the Lord was inside a house in Capernaum. "Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door." Saint Gregory interprets that everyone listened to Christ, but not everyone obeyed. So we are all fond of hearing and fond of seeing, but not fond of virtue. We all want to learn about salvation, which is why most of us not only enjoy listening to the sacred teachings, but also "love the words." This observation is remarkable. There are many pious Christians who desire to hear the word of God, to know the way of their salvation, and to know various theological truths, but they do not strive for the word of God to bear fruit within them.

In our time there is a mentality to listen to the analysis of patristic texts and to speak theologically, but at the same time we find it difficult to keep the word of God, to keep the commandments. In practice, we are completely powerless to deal with a difficult situation. So what is the point of having knowledge about the Christian life when in practice we are very poor? Saint Maximus says that knowledge without practice is the theology of demons. It takes a struggle to keep the commandments and thus proceed to the vision of the Word and not to be stuck in the hearing of the word. We must be fond of virtue and not just fond of hearing and fond of seeing.

Treatment of a Paralyzed Soul

The paralytic "carried by four men" arrived at the house where Christ was teaching. Because the crowd was large, they raised him to the roof, "uncovered the roof" and lowered the paralytic along with the bed in front of Christ, who gave him the healing and therapy of his soul and body.

Saint Gregory harmonizes this act to the treatment of the paralyzed soul. Everyone who is near to pleasures is paralyzed in the soul lying on the bed of lust and carnal comfort. The soul is paralyzed, stuck in a body that serves pleasures. The paralyzed soul needs to return to Christ to be healed. It is aided by four factors, namely, self-reproach, confession, the promise to abstain from evil and the supplication to God. These are required to uncover the roof. The roof is the rational part of the soul, which is burdened with materials, which come from the attachment to earthly things and the passions and separate the soul from Christ. When the thoughts are cleansed then we can humble ourselves, approach and fall down before Christ. Immediately then the paralyzed nous hears the sweetest word "child" and receives forgiveness of sins. It also takes strength to lift up the bed. That is, the healthy nous leads and directs the body to the works of repentance and is not directed by it, as it was before. Thus man is resurrected and lives the life in Christ.

These few things show us that in order to study Holy Scripture we must necessarily have the guidance of the ancient and modern Holy Fathers. We must read it in the atmosphere of the Church. Then reading will ignite the desire for communion with Christ and the soul will be resurrected from its death.

Source: From the book Όσοι Πιστοί. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.