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2nd Sunday of the Great Fast - St. Gregory Palamas

ST. GREGORY PALAMAS AND BARLAAM

In the 14th century, St. Gregory Palamas defended the true nature of Orthodox theology against a scholastic theologian from the west, Barlaam. Barlaam taught that logical reasoning and philosophical knowl­edge was greater than the Saints' experience of God, that the philosophers were greater than the Apostles, and that philosophy was more refined than the experi­ence of God's Light since in his opinion, God's grace experienced by the Saints is a creation. St. Gregory recognized the danger in this academic approach, which seeks to exalt fallen reasoning and speculation above the pure prayer of the heart by which the true theologians of the Church are "taught by God" Himself. When the heart is purified and the soul illumined by the uncre­ated Grace of God, one comes to true knowledge and experience of God, which is theology.

Academic and speculative the­ology can become a "drug" to which we become addicted and which keeps us from the spiritual life. I have seen young men inter­ested in theological education embroiled in speculative issues such as women and the priesthood, per­haps imagining themselves a "new" Athanasius articulating the faith of the Church for our times. The desire for answers to these speculations overcomes and distracts from even the desire for living the spiritual life or listening to the teachings of the Holy Fathers. Yet too often the answers are sought not in the simple teachings of the Church but within one's own reason. Yet how can we seek the "higher" things without having attained to the basics?

"The Lord Himself says: 'If youdoall that is demanded of you [that is, follow all the commandments], con­sider yourselves unprofitable servants whose duty is to fulfill the master's orders' (Luke 17:10) ... For this reason, the seeking of high spir­itual states is forbidden by the Lord and by the Holy Fathers. All our inner struggle should lie concentrat­ed on repentance and on everything which promotes the penitent state" (Abbot Nikon).

One must only experience an internet listserve devoted to theolog­ical discussion to see that today everyone has become a "theolo­gian." In our day it is possible to graduate from seminary and yet not even be able to fulfill a simple rule of prayer — five minutes in the morn­ing and ten minutes in the evening. The point of spiritual education is the health of the soul. While many of the Holy Fathers and teachersofthe Church had great formal educa­tional backgrounds, other great "theological minds" of the Church had only elementary school educa­tional levels. This should teach us that theological education isnotdetermined by academics.

The books we read often form our spiritual attitudes and approach to theology. Do we continually read highly academic-oriented theologi­cal books, or edifying works which seek to teach us how to live the spir­itual life? Rooks on the lives of holy persons (canonized and not yet canonized) of our own times are being written and translated in abundance today. These books can provide us with examples which inspire us and form us in the theology of the Church. There are the lives and teachings of more recently canon­ized Saints such as St. Silouan the Athonite, St. John Maximovich, St. Nicholas Planas, St. Ncktarios of Aegina, and the Elders of Optina Monastery, Leonid, Anthony, Moses, Macarios and the others. There are still many more works in existence of those holy ones who have not yet been officially canonized by the Church: Papa    Dimitri Gagastathis, the Nun Gavrillia, Elder Porphyries, Elder Joseph the Hesychest, Elder Amphilocios Makris,   Elder Epiphanios Theodoropoulos, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, and many more.

THE CHURCH AS "HOSPITAL"

The primary indication of true theology is whether it affects the cure of our souls. The Holy Fathers often refer to the Church as a "spiritual hospital" for sin­ners. Sin is a spiritual sickness and the goal of theology is to bring the person into spiritual health and wholeness through repentance, to heal the passions-and restore them to their proper order. As St. Basil the Great says "Cure is not conditioned on the passing of time but rather by the manner of repentance." Based upon this understanding of the goal of theology, a penance is always seer as the method by which a person can overcome sin and receive the healing for the soul.

Through Christ, "Physician of our souls and bodies," the Church provides us with the true doctrine, true prayer, true sacramental life, and true spiritual teaching which car heal us. This is the purpose of the Church and this is our hope for salvation. The Church is the hospital in which we all find the medications and surgeries that bring grace deeper into the soul in order to purify the heart. All of this takes place through our active repentance and prayer.



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