Icon of The St Gregory Palamas painted at St Elisabeth Convent*
On its second Sunday of the Great Lent, the Church invites us to reflect on our knowledge of God. It reminds us that our experience of God in this life will determine the way we will encounter Him in our next. Our likes, preferences and mindsets may change, but God remains the same. We will be judged on how we knew Him – or failed to do so – in our present lives.
This past Sunday, we commemorated Saint Gregory Palamas. He left us the teaching on the possibility and means of knowing God that has inspired many generations of Christians. For his good works, we glorify him as "Enlightener of Orthodoxy" and "Pillar of the Church".
Many in his time considered knowledge as the function of our mind, imagination and reasoning ability. This view led its proponents to deny any possibility of knowing God because it simply was not possible to fathom God logically from the limited information that He chose to reveal to people.
Saint Gregory Palamas rejected this teaching as lacking in “purity of heart”. Rational knowledge of God – picked up from books or developed through logical reasoning – will be inadequate and incomplete. It gives too much weight to the mental powers of God’s creations, not the Creator.
Saint Gregory Palamas taught that the true knowledge of God is lived and experiential. It transforms us by leading us to acquire His traits; by raising us to His sanctity and making us participants of His divine nature. We know God from His action on the world and ourselves, which Saint Gregory described as His uncreated energies. We cannot see these energies because sin dims our vision, but we can partake in them by our incessant prayers coming from the heart. By praying, we let God enter our hearts and illuminate them with His light.
As Gregory Palamas showed, this kind of illumination can be life-changing. It enables us to see the grace of God in our moments of happiness and hardships, victory and loss. We learn to have less of the uncertainties of this world. Our experiences of hardships and adversity make us more understanding, compassionate, and caring.
God illuminates our hearts and brings us to review our priorities, evaluate our relationship with Him, and question the amount of priority we give to our eternal life with Him. It helps us map our future growth in the spirit to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord in His second coming.
By Alexander Piskounov
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