This Sunday we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas. Along with his feast on November 14, the Church has assigned an additional celebration on the second Sunday of Lent. On this day, standing between the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy and that of the Veneration of the Holy Cross, St.Gregory is venerated as the preeminent holy father who articulated, defended, and preserved the Orthodox teaching of deification—that is our potential to participate directly in the energies of God, which sanctify, perfect, and empower our personal struggle, both spiritually and physically, against sin, and grant us the gift of virtues unto eternal salvation and likeness to Christ. He is also preeminent in the defense of those struggling righteously in the world as parish communities and our free access to the spiritual wisdom that was many times reserved for or practiced exclusively within monasticism.
St. Gregory was a monk, ascetic, prolific author, and tremendous theologian who was called out of monastery life, by the providence of God, and made archbishop of Thessaloniki during very difficult times. As a result of his being made a shepherd of those living in the world, the profound monastic teachings on the spiritual/ascetical life were presented and preserved within the context of the parish family to a degree never before experienced.
Time and time again, over the centuries, it is to the writings of St. Gregory that the Church has turned in order to correctly understand how monastics and married, monasteries and parishes, are all called to the same goal of union with God, albeit by spiritual paths that vary in their specific experience by each person. Being a monastic elder and episcopal shepherd of parish flocks, St. Gregory strives constantly to strike the balance between hidden monastic wisdom that must be made available to the faithful in the world and the righteousness of those in the world, who tread a much more complex path than do the monastics and whose marriages and families must be viewed honorably within the monasteries.
Considering the Apostle John as symbolic of monastic devotion to Christ, and the Apostle Peter as the symbol of married Christians, St. Gregory says, “Though Peter had a mother-in-law he did not lag behind the virgin John when both ran to the tomb. In some ways Peter even surpassed John, for he was appointed the leader of leaders. For when desire is redirected from the flesh to the spirit it raises all to great heights.”
Whether with spouse and family, in celibacy or in monasticism, may we all strive to attain true purity and holiness, encountering Christ as He wills to appear along our path, and to be joined to Him in the end.