27 February 2010

Second Sunday of Lent

Byzantine Catholics commemorate Gregory Palamas on the second Sunday of Lent, following the Eastern Orthodox custom. Before the 14th century the day was dedicated to Apostolic Father St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.

Palamas opposed union with Rome and called the Pope a heretic, yet, Pope John Paul the Great called Gregory a saint, so who am I to argue?

Palamas made a distinction between the "Essence" of God and the "Energies" of God. He taught that the unknowable God can be experienced through His energies present in the Sacraments and other mystical experiences . The eastern council of Blachernae declared this teaching as dogma in 1351.

Since more scholastic types considered God unknowable, they questioned the mystical experiences of the hesychast monks who saw visions of the "Uncreated Light" while reciting the Jesus Prayer. The Essence of God may be unknowable, Gregory argued, but men can experience God through His Energies.

You would think that the emphasis on sanctification through the power of God would result in Orthodox becoming Charismatics. Instead, priests who experience the baptism in the Holy Spirit get "disciplined". Maybe it is because Orthodox limit access to God's energy to the Sacraments and staring at your belly button saying the Jesus Prayer. Despite his defense of experiencing the Divine Energies, Palamas did consider emotionalism and enthusiasm as lower forms of prayer.

In my opinion, Gregory's distinction hinders personal experience with God. St. Paul didn't say "seek divine energy", he said, "Be filled with the Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). He said, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through His Spirit which dwells in you." (Romans 8:11) It is the person of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me, not some energy force. Finally, I don't think the Apostles were navel gazing in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.

The teaching of St. Gregory Palamas has some flaws, but it tries to show that we can personally experience God. It also reveals "God" as both a noun and a verb. So today, don't just seek after "Divine Energy" or a vision of the "Uncreated Light of Mt. Tabor"--seek a deeper life in the Holy Spirit.

17 February 2010

Dies Cinerum

"Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris." (Gen. 3:19)

In the books both in the Old Law and in the New the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.

~Ælfric (Anglo-Saxon, 10th c.)

A few years ago I went to Mass at Noon during my lunch hour. I went back to my job at the car dealership repair department with ashes on my forehead. All day mechanics kept telling me "you got grease on your head". It gave me an opportunity to tell them that Lent was starting and this opened the door to talk to them about the Lord.

Last year I was at the library and noticed someone else with ashes and we said hello. It's nice to recognize fellow travellers.