Bishop Matthias Visits Holy Assumption
His Grace Bishop Matthias of Chicago and the Midwest, along with clergy and faithful from OCA churches in Northeast Ohio, visited Holy Assumption Orthodox Church in Canton on March 11 for Deanery Mission Vespers.
In his message, he referred to the previous Sunday - the Sunday of Orthodoxy - which commemorates the restoration of icons and the defeat of the iconoclasts in the year 843. He called this commemoration on the first Sunday of Lent “a great triumph...because the truth went out.”
And so it is fitting, he said, that St. Gregory Palamas is commemorated on the second Sunday of Lent because he stood up against those who called silent prayer a “heretical error” and who insisted its practitioners could not see the uncreated light of God. St. Gregory “gave us a great gift by standing up for the truth,” the bishop said.
St. Gregory Palamas went to a monastery at age 20, and “knew at that early age that he wanted to dedicate his life to prayer, fasting and worship,” His Grace said.
The saint grew in faith and eventually was ordained a priest. He spent Monday through Friday in silence, fasting and prayer, emerging to minister to his flock only on Saturdays and Sundays.
In the 1330s, a monk named Barlaam - educated in astronomy and logic - journeyed to Mt. Athos and studied the ascetics who practiced prayer of the heart, also called the Jesus Prayer.
“Barlaam questioned whether you could pray the Jesus Prayer in silence and experience the uncreated light of God,” Bishop Matthias said. “He taught that we cannot know the essence of God.”
“That is true,” the bishop said. However, he added, St. Gregory taught that “one can know the energies of God and experience His divine grace.”
The bishop went on to say that we experience that divine grace in the sacraments,such as chrismation, baptism and confession.
“Forgiveness is the grace that comes to us in communion,” he said. “When we receive the Eucharist, Christ is part of us.”
The same goes for marriage, when two people are “joined by the Holy Spirit. Christ unites you, He brings you together.”
“Ordination, holy unction, all these bring the divine grace of God,” he continued.
The Trinity is One in Essence, and that essence we cannot know, he explained. But St. Gregory Palamas argued that we can know the energies of God and experience the uncreated light of God that the apostles saw on Mount Tabor when they beheld the glory of Christ’s transfiguration.
“They saw with spiritual eyes, not their physical eyes,” the bishop said.
The Jesus Prayer comes from scripture, he said, such as the publican who beats his chest and asks God to be merciful to him, a sinner, or the blind man who calls out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” We can say the Jesus Prayer any time, with our mouths and with our minds, “and it actually descends into the heart,” he explained.
“St. Gregory said that if we say the prayer with our whole heart and call on the name of Christ, He unites with us and dwells in our souls.”
He noted that when Jesus healed the paralytic, he first said “your sins are forgiven” and then healed his body.
“We can take up our pallet, follow the commandments and acquire virtues to replace the sins we’ve committed,” His Grace said.
“Lent is a time to unite with Christ,” he concluded. “We pray that we can come to the point of Pascha and can share in the true joy of the resurrection of Christ.”
Article and Photos by Barb Mudrak
click to listen to Bishop Matthias Homily (right click, then save as to download to your computer)