26 - Second Sunday of Great Lent, Mar 11, 2012

Hebrews 1:10 – 2:3

Mark 2:1-12

On the second Sunday of Great Lent, the Church commemorates St Gregory Palamas, 14th century bishop of Thessaloniki. St Gregory’s importance for the Church lies in his successful theological defense of the Church’s deepest experience of salvation as union with God. His foes, arguing from the basis of theological principles laid down by Thomas Aquinas, denied in effect that man could become a partaker of the divine nature.

Like the triumph of the Orthodox veneration of icons, which we commemorate on the first Sunday of Great Lent, this second triumph of Orthodoxy affirms why the Incarnation of God the Word is such “Good News”. Because Christ, the Son of God, truly became flesh, man can truly become in his union with Christ a partaker of the divine nature, as St Peter himself attests in his second epistle (II Peter 1:4). This is the universal affirmation of the New Testament. Does not St Paul cry out in his epistle to the Galatians: “For me to live is Christ; for, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” And, Our Lord and Savior Himself promises that He and His Father will come and abide in those who love Him and do His will.

St Gregory Palamas articulated clearly the teaching of the holy apostles: because He became one with us, God has destroyed by His death in our flesh the death that separates us from God, and by His Resurrection from the dead, He has restored us to fellowship, to communion with God. Salvation, then, is truly deliverance from death and the healing of our soul and body. And, this salvation is perfected by our union with God, becoming partakers of the divine nature, living no longer the life of the world but the uncreated life of God. This is the mystery of salvation that we call deification, theosis, or sanctification.

This morning’s Gospel shows us that our salvation in Christ is centered on the forgiveness of our sins. Christ’s forgiveness of our sins shows His great love for us; for He forgives our sins by His death on the Cross by which He destroys death, the “final enemy” that separates us from God, so that there is nothing now that stands between us and God, nothing to keep us from uniting ourselves to Him and receiving Him so that we can abide in Him and He in us. We need only to repent, to confess our sins.

Sin is crippling, devastating to both soul and body. It causes suffering, it maims, it destroys; because sin is “missing the mark” which is Christ; it is a falling away, therefore, from Truth, from Resurrection, from Life, from love and goodness and a falling into darkness, loneliness, death and corruption. It is self-will, self-centeredness, self-justification. It is doing our own thing and not submitting ourselves to the will of God. Sin brings to the soul inner loneliness, emptiness, and fear. It brings to the body sickness and, finally, death because sin separates us from God. Because of sin, people are suffering inside, haunted by the fear of death. Beneath the masks we wear to make us look cool and sophisticated, we are afraid, lonely, and anxious, paralyzed by shame, tormented by guilt.

This is why the Gospel that God the Word has united Himself to us in the mystery of His incarnation so that we can be united with Him in the mystery of salvation, deification, is such Good News. In Christ there is salvation in the forgiveness of sins that is unto the healing of our soul and our body. We need only come to Christ and confess our sins; and He who is faithful and just forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. To the degree that we love Him and strive to do as He commands us – which is to love one another –to that degree and more He comes and abides in us. He unites Himself to us, and through His Holy Church, He begins to teach us how to rise from our bed and take up our cross, and in the fear of God, with faith and love draw near to taste and see how good the Lord is. Amen.