ENGLISH VERSION: The Theologian of the Name of God: Homily by Bishop Gregory (Lourie) of Petrograd and Gdov on the Second Sunday of Great Lent, in Memory of St. Gregory Palamas, Feb 23/Mar 8, 2015
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!
Today we celebrate the memory of St. Gregory Palamas; from the fifteenth century, when this feast was established, it has become the main feast day in honor of Gregory Palamas, overshadowing the original one, which had been established on November 14, the day of his repose. This latter feast day is now marked lesser than today’s.
Why do we have such a special feast day in honor of Gregory Palamas today, if he reposed on a different day, and that day is celebrated separately? Why do we celebrate again today? Why is today the main feast day? It is because today’s feast is a continuation of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.
A week ago, last Sunday, we had the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, when a very significant part of the Synodicon for the Sunday of Orthodoxy was dedicated to an affirmation of the teaching of Gregory Palamas: nearly as much was said about him as about iconoclasm. That shows its importance. It is therefore right that today’s special feast in honor of Gregory Palamas should be a continuation of the same theme.
To put it very briefly for those who are entirely without theological education, what was the teaching of Gregory Palamas? It consists of the fact that God and the world are not separate from one another. Not only are the so-called Cartesians incorrect, but so are many others – all sorts of Deists and the like – who think that God exists, that He created the world, but that subsequently the world works on its own, like a clock; God does not interfere, he simply put into motion certain “rules of the game.” But this is practically atheism. It goes without saying that this is wrong.
Among the Orthodoxy, a certain species of this atheism is somehow considered more reasonable. Namely, that God indeed created the world and put in place ecclesiastical, and perhaps even civil, authorities. These authorities know everything – perhaps they are inspired by God – and the people must obey the authorities. Who are these authorities, and why do they need to be obeyed? This, of course, is a crude perversion and also a kind of atheism. That is, people want to live without God, but to have authorities.
A certain number of authorities will always be found – and then some: there will always be more who desire to become authorities than humanity can accommodate. These authorities usually say: “Yes, I commune with God, no problem. He tells me what needs to be done… by you.” All this, of course, is godlessness.
The second type of godlessness came about initially from Roman Catholicism under the guise of Papal primacy, when the Pope declared himself Christ’s Vicar on earth; some kind of communication takes place between them, and through him the entire Church comes to know God’s will. But what might be said to be the worst caricature of this Papal primacy and heresy of Papism entered so-called Orthodoxy, into that which was historically Orthodox.
For the Catholics, there was at least always one Pope – or, at most, two or three, if they were competing with one another – but for the Orthodox every priest became the Pope of Rome, or at the very least, certainly every bishop. Each imagines himself to be who knows what – and especially Patriarchs, when it was the age of Patriarchs. This sounds very much like a caricature – but such-and-such, they say, it what the hierarchy stated.
There is another caricature among the Orthodox: that we do have a Pope of Rome, but it is collectively called the Council [sobor]. It may be that a single bishop comes and speaks some sort of nonsense, but if they come together in a council that has been gathered according to certain rules, then the very same, equally idiotic bishops will speak wisely from the Holy Spirit. But such is not necessarily the case.
Of course, it can happen that they speak from the Holy Spirit, because if even Balaam’s ass could speak, then, in principle, bishops also can – although with less certainty – because they are reasonable. If they do not want to be reasonable, then they are of course worse than an ass, especially if it is a bishop. He is much worse than an animal, if he does not want to be Orthodox.
Animals are not obliged to be Orthodox, even if his keeper is Orthodox; but a bishop himself must be. But if he does not want to be, then the only thing he can be compared with is not Balaam’s ass, but with Caiaphas. And just as Caiaphas, as the high priest, did speak some true things, so can a bishop who is inclining towards godlessness. That is, all this is deeply wrong. So what is right?
What is right is what St. Gregory Palamas said: God Himself is immediately present in the world. He participates in particular in the Church’s Mysteries as uncreated grace. And the light of God, which is seen by the saints and ascetic strugglers – who have not yet become saints, and might still fall and perish forever, but they too might have seen the light – this light of God is directly from God and uncreated. Despite the fact that in this way God might seem multiple, He never loses His unity and uniqueness.
Therefore, despite the fact that there are in fact certain laws in the world – it does indeed tick like a clock – at the same time all this could change; and even when it does not change, it is all supported only by the fact that God is immediately present in the world. He does not give the world any kind of mechanism that would tick without Him. He does not hand it over to any authorities that would manage it on His behalf. And if authorities say that they are managing for you, then you need to turn them out.
Therefore Gregory Palamas really did offend the authorities. He did not fall in line with a certain style that had developed, unfortunately, in historical Orthodoxy, especially at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Therefore in the nineteenth century we reach the point that, not only did Orthodox theology not cover Gregory Palamas in the textbooks used by the clergy, but such textbooks, which were used in the theological academies, were incompatible with Orthodoxy.
What does it mean to be “incompatible with Orthodoxy”? It means heresy: there is no other word for it. And this was the poor condition that our theological education was in during the nineteenth century.
This led to many things. First of all, the clergy for the most part related incorrectly towards the people. Of course, there were exceptions and there were saints – but there were many more exceptions than saints. Of course, not all pious people can be recognized as saints; but, nonetheless, they also understood a great deal. There were also good pastors. But this was in spite of, and not because of, the education that they had received.
But the majority is generally even worse than they try to teach, because it was contaminated with heresy, but they did try to put something in the education of pre-revolutionary seminaries and academies that was more or less decent, or at least had elements of decency. But on average it was even worse. Therefore it is not surprising that the people were overlooked by all these clergy and monastics, and we got what we did in fact get: here I am talking about the events of the beginning of the twentieth century in Russia. There is no need to go into details here, but there is something else that does need to be touched upon.
It reached the point that non-Orthodox theology, having forgotten Gregory Palamas, felt itself so at ease that it dared in books – not just with the approval of the Synod and published with the blessing of the theological censor, but in official clergy handbooks – to write that Gregory Palamas and his movement were heretics (while it is true that in the other volume of the same book it is written that he was Orthodox – such was the mess). And these people felt so at ease that they believed they could regulate Orthodoxy and say what was Orthodox and what was not.
And thus things reached the point that, at the beginning of the twent