Marriage as a Metaphor for Orthodoxy
Homily of St. Gregory Palamas

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 end up misunderstanding, judging, and even venerating the cup rather than that which it holds.

Perhaps a metaphor will help.

I have met at least two sets of 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 that seems to enjoy some of its benefits - most notably sex - without any institutional commitment.  The availability of internet porn means that this can even be done without the bother of having a partner.  No one can deny the reality of such experiences, but such experiences have precious little to do with the enduring joy of marriage.  Such people claim that they do not need to be married to experience the joy of sex - the physical part of "one-fleshedness"; but even when it comes to that (ie to sex), they have settled for something less satisfying than the real deal. And while intimacy is a powerful and even necessary part of marriage, it is hardly the primary source of the transformative joy that marriage brings. They think they understand things it well enough to do them their own way, but they don't, and their improper understanding leads them to accept something less than they should. Something that is actually counterproductive and harmful.

A second set which is equally troubling think they understand marriage because they have submitted themselves 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. Shallow.  Weak.  Joyless.  They are living the rituals of marriage, but they are missing the very thing those institutions are 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.

On the one hand, there were people (like the Bogamils - basically medieval Pentecostals) who thought they could really experience God without the institution and sacraments of the Church. This is like having sex without marriage or even without a partner; 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.  These heretics thought they got it, but they didn't, and their improper understanding led them to accept something less than they should have.  Something that is actually counterproductive and harmful.

On the other hand, there were those (like Barlaam and the Churchians) who thought that the rituals and sacraments of the Church were the only way to know God. They did not believe that it was possible to experience God.  They believed that the teaching that we are to enjoy union with God through Christ was just a metaphor for belief. And they believed that the noetic experience of God that monastic ascetics had when they opened themselves up to the Divine Nature of God was just 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.  It was a joyless religion, lacking the possibility of deeper union with God.

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.

Direct download: 20240331-PalamasandMarraige.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 8:04pm EDT