Sun, 4 March 2018
Marriage as a Metaphor for Orthodoxy
Today we celebrate the life and teachings of someone who really got it – St. Gregory Palamas; he experienced God's love for him in a real and tangible way, and he reflected that love back at God and on all those around him.
That's what we are to do, as well. To open ourselves up to the deifying warmth and light of God; and then to send our thanksgiving and praise back up to Him and to use the energy of His grace to serve those around us.
The Good News of the Gospel is that this is made possible and real through the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ.
Although this Gospel really is simple, it has been elaborated with so many words and celebrated, confirmed and taught (if not gilded) with so many rituals – and denied by so many lies – that it is understandable if we sometimes mistake and judge the cup rather than that which it holds.
Perhaps a metaphor will help.
I have met people who think they understand the joy and transformation that marriage can bring.
One set thinks they know it because, while not married, they have their own version of it called “pornography” or really any kind of sex outside of marriage. We cannot deny the reality of that experience, but I hope you realize that it has very little to do with the enduring joy of marriage. They will claim that they do not need to be married to experience the joy of sex; but even when it comes to that, they have settled for something less satisfying and less real. And while intimacy is a powerful and necessary part of marriage, it is hardly the primary source of the transformative joy that marriage provides. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.
A second set which is equally troubling think they understand marriage because they themselves are committed to the institution of marriage. They have had their ceremony, they wear their rings, and they share a house. But when you start speaking to them about the joy that comes from sharing a life with another person, you learn that their experience is quite different. They are living the rituals of marriage, but they are missing the thing those institutions is meant to hold and protect. They think they get it, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should.
This is a great and wonderful mystery but, as with St. Paul, I speak not of marriage, but of the Church. (Ephesians 5:32)
St. Gregory Palamas fought against both of these misunderstandings about God.
One the one hand, there were people (like the Bogamils) who thought they could really experience God without the Church. This is like having sex without marriage; it may be real in some sense, but it is not healthy nor is it real in the way that a committed sacramental relationship with God in Church is real. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.
On the other hand were those who thought is was enough to participate in the rituals and sacraments of the Church. That the experience of God was not something that was possible, that union with Him through Christ was a metaphor for belief, and that the joy to be had through opening oneself up to the Divine Nature of God was a simple emotion and not a metaphysical or supernatural reality. They thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.
God is real and we were meant to become partakers of His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are Orthodox Christians. We have not settled for something less than we should. We are not just going through the motions when we pray and participate in the rituals of the Church; we are opening ourselves up to God. We allow His grace to heal and transform us, and then we offer and share this transforming grace with the world.