Homily by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America
On the Second Sunday of Lent
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
New Rochelle, New York
March 12, 2023
Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ,
Having just returned from the Sacred Center of our Faith, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I come to you today filled with enthusiasm and hope for our Church – both in the world and in this country. Although there are many difficulties and sad events around the world, such as:
1) The ongoing war against Ukraine, which has now cost over a staggering 300,000 lives from both the invaded and the invader;
2) The unspeakable destruction in Türkiye and Syria, with the loss of over 50,000 of our fellow human beings;
3) And the tragedy of the Greek railway accident, which has shaken the country and the Diaspora with the senseless loss of promise and life;
Despite these saddening events, there is also reason to hope. Because we have seen enormous outpourings of love, support and prayer in all these tragedies – without regard to ethnicity or religion. Simply, because fellow human beings are suffering, and we want to alleviate that suffering. This is the best of our spiritual tradition, which we celebrate today in Saint Gregory Palamas.
Last week, on the First Sunday of the Fast, we observed the triumph of Orthodoxy, the Restoration of the Holy Icons, which was first celebrated on Sunday, March 11th, in the year 843.
And what was the triumph? The truth that God became a human being. That He entered fully into our humanity in every way – except sin – so much so, that you could paint a picture of Him. In the Incarnation, the Creator manifested that creation is “very good,” as it says in the Book of Genesis.* God entered our experience and made it possible for us to enter into His.
This Second Sunday of Lent is another triumph of Orthodoxy, because Saint Gregory Palamas – a great monastic and great Archbishop of Thessaloniki – gave to the Church the definitive teaching that we can truly and authentically experience God. He articulated the theology of the Divine Energies – the reality of God that every human being can experience, because the Energies of God are the means by which the created world exists.
Just as how we cannot take icons for granted – but every year, we confirm their authority on the First Sunday of Lent. On this Second Sunday of Lent, we confirm our authentic relationship with God, through exalting the person and the teachings of Saint Gregory Palamas. As someone who has spent many years in Thessaloniki, I can tell you that the devotion to this Saint is well deserved.
Saint Gregory Palamas was a great preacher, and the crowds would throng to hear his sermons – much like the People of Antioch used to pack the churches to the brim to hear Saint John Chrysostom. It is very, very sad for me
to note that ancient Antioch, the city of the Golden-Tongued, John, who later became Archbishop of Constantinople, is gone – utterly destroyed by the recent earthquake.
We have been shown to be so very fragile, and that is why the teaching of today’s great Saint and Theologian is so important. As human beings, we are extremely vulnerable, but we have a capacity for God, as the Fathers teach.
That capacity is meant to be filled with Divine Energies, which not only illumine our minds, but also make us open to a miraculous way of living. And this way of living is based in love, in compassion, in mercy, and in forgiveness. If you can practice these virtues in your daily life, you will find that you build strength to endure any and every challenge.
Thus, we celebrate the holy Archbishop of Thessaloniki, Gregory Palamas. And we affirm that God’s power, and even His glory, are available to us if we live as creatures capable of His love and grace. We empty ourselves of ego, and in turn experience His Divine Energies, because we have prepared ourselves to receive them, by living lives of virtue.
May we all gain a glimpse of those Energies working in our souls, through the intercessions of this great Father, Gregory Palamas, the Saint and Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Amen.