2nd Sunday of Lent – Orthodox Homily on Urgent Spiritual Growth

We’ve all heard the expression, “carpe diem (seize the day).”   We feel good about ourselves when we get that project accomplished, get those tasks and errands done that we’ve been putting off—they’re sometimes drudgery to do them, but we feel good for having gotten them done.  If you think about it, though, these ‘accomplishments’ often don’t reach beyond the mundane, temporal aspects of our lives.  We’re never done with them: there is always more work to do to satisfy our temporal needs and wants.  So, we often feel stressed and rushed to accomplish more.  

But, when it comes to our spiritual lives, our communion with God, eternal life, it can be tempting to think that we’ve got all the time in the world, or, even worse, that we’ve ‘already arrived’ and will be saved anyway.  There’s little of the same urgency we apply to the temporal, mundane aspects of our lives when it comes to our immortal souls.  

But the truth is that our earthly lives will all come to an end—sooner or later. We also affirm as Christ Himself has taught us, that He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.  We’ll each prostrate ourselves before His dread judgment seat to give an account of how we’ve followed the Gospels, the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures (and not just the teachings we like), and how well we’ve applied the Orthodox Faith and life in Christ to our daily lives.  

The sobering truth is that, as we know God now in this life, so we’ll experience Him in the next.  We’ll be judged based on this personal knowledge, experience, and love of Him—or, sadly, the lack thereof.  If God is only on the periphery of our lives or given second (or lesser) priority, then how can we expect to be in the communion of His near presence in the next life?  We’re changeable, God is not; we’re fickle, God is steadfast; He’s the same yesterday, today, forever.  Our culture and its values change constantly; the Truth of God remains forever.  

Today’s Epistle (Hebrews 1:10-12) reminds us of this very truth.  We read, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands; they will perish, but You remain; and they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will fold them up, and they will be changed.  But You are the same, and Your years will not fail.”

Lent, through our fasting, through the convicting services (if we attend them) more than any other time in the Church year, brings us face to face with the reality of our life stripped of its ‘creature comforts;’ it reveals to us where those broken, raw, unhealed parts of our souls are and gives us the means to bring them to Christ.  Through that self-discovery, we can with God’s help repent and begin a change that will further us in faith and healing in Christ and His Kingdom.   

So, we ask ourselves: Am I ready to be changed this Lent to make spiritual progress towards my healing and salvation?  Am I striving for life with God more than all else?  If not, we can start by praying, “God help me to change my priorities!”  

Eternal life means communion with the Creator of all life.  Hell is the rejection on our part of the life and love that God is. So our Epistle today warns us, “Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”  When the soul of an Orthodox Christian has departed, we sing “Memory Eternal.”  It’s this desire to be “remembered” by God in His eternal Kingdom that we live now with eternity before our eyes, that we live out our repentance, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, as St. Paul puts it.

This is also the message of St. Gregory Palamas, whose Sunday we commeorate this day.  It’s a second “triumph of Orthodoxy.”  During the ascendancy of Catholic Scholasticism in the 14th century, St. Gregory battled the scholastic, Barlaam, to uphold for the whole Church the Orthodox belief in hesychasm, the prayer of the heart, our Orthodox belief in ‘mental prayer.’ As Orthodox, we strive to enjoin our heart with what we pray with our lips.  He also reminded the faithful that deification is the goal of the Christian life and that our increased unity with God is only possible if God’s energies (His love, forgiveness, light, grace, etc.) are part of His very essence or nature.  The scholastics, on the other hand, claimed that God’s energies were created.  

This truth, which St. Gregory so powerfully defended, articulates the possibility of communion with God.  God the Holy Trinity is Himself a relationship and union of love—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the God we worship and commune with, this is the God we call on for help.  This is the God who feeds us with the medicine of immortality in the Holy Eucharist.  

But are we open to the change necessary for healing from our passions, salvation from our rebellion against God’s love?  Are we ready to prioritize our life in and with Christ God?  Do we honestly recognize the ways in which we “miss the mark,” reject God’s love and initiative to make us into Christ’s fellow heirs?  These are among the questions posed to us today.  

The paralytic and his friends in today’s Gospel desire such change, such healing; they desire more than anything to get into the near presence of Christ God, the Great Physician, the One who speaks the truth because He is the Truth.  They desire this so much that they go so far as taking a section of the roof apart to get their friend to Jesus, when all other ways are blocked.  

Seeing their faith, Jesus gives the paralytic the greatest of gifts: his healing from his paralysis?  No!  Forgiveness of sins, healing from his sin-sickness.  This is the priority—the healing of his eternal soul.  Having been forgiven and cleansed of his sins, there’s nothing standing between him and God, between him and Eternal Life.  It’s only after this greater miracle, that Christ, to demonstrate to those who scoff that He is the Life, that He is God, that He heals the paralytic.

Jesus prioritizes the soul over the body; we so often do the opposite.  So, we fast now to bring balance back between our souls and bodies.  When we fast, we realize how utterly weak we are, how incapable we are of saving ourselves, and how much we need God.  So ask yourself, where does my paralysis lie? What aspect of my life have I not yet fully surrendered to God?  C.S. Lewis rightly says, “If we accept Heaven, we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”  Lent gives us the opportunity to let go of our hold on all such “souvenirs”: passions, habits, coldness of heart, indifference to the things of God, preferred ways of thinking not in keeping with the Church’s teachings, disobedience—all of which keeps us from experiencing the love of God and the life only in Him.

Is there anything holding you back from the fullness of life in Christ offered through His holy Church?  Is there any spiritual sickness of the soul that you need to bring before Your Creator and ask to have healed through repentance?  If the spirit is willing, God will care for the rest.

St. Gregory Palamas reminds us of this truth, saying, “Since the Kingdom of God is at hand and within us and will soon arrive, let us make ourselves worthy of it by works of repentance.”  Brothers and sisters, the Kingdom of God is at hand.  ‘Seize the day’! Open yourself up more to God and His healing this Lent through repentance. Expose those wounded and sin-sick places of your soul, whatever hardness of heart, to the love and light that is Christ God, He who alone can heal us of all our infirmities.  In so doing, we’ll find greater peace and joy, and be prepared, not only to meet Christ at Pascha, but also at His glorious and awesome Second Coming.