- Fr. Athanasius Oweis
The Need for Stillness - March 20th 2022
Link to Gospel Reading: Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
At that time, Jesus entered Capernaum and it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven." Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, "Why does this man speak thus? It is a blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven, ' or to say, 'Rise, take up your pallet and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins"-he said to the paralytic-"I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home." And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.
In Jordan there are many natural wonders, one of them is the Rum Valley, a vast series of valleys and hills in the middle of the desert, it is so beautiful that two of well known movies where filmed there, the Martian and Indiana Jones.
The reason that I remember this today, because Rum Valley is a desert and there is no urban modern life. People live there in tents and they made camps for tourists. Electricity can only found in the camp where you are staying, which run on generators, but there are no lamp posts or any type of light outside, hence, if you take a few steps outside the camp, you are able to see clearly the amazing light of the stars, and how they adorn the sky with such beauty. Their light as feeble as it is becomes exceptionally clear and they fill your heart with wonder. You can never see the stars when you are in the city, only when there is no other light to overcome it.
Today marks the end of the second lap of the run towards the reward of all rewards, joining in the Resurrection of Christ, and with Him the strengthening of our souls through this life, and their resurrection in the life eternal. In the first Sunday the Church put for us the first step towards a proper spiritual journey, that is the right and true faith. In the second Sunday, it shows to us the second step, through the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.
So Who is Saint Gregory?
Saint Palamas is a 14th century monk who lived part of his life on Mount Athos and had practiced hesychia/hesychasm, a Greek word that translates to “stillness”. Stillness in its ultimate meaning is the silence of the intellect and emotions while focusing on the unceasing prayer in its various forms, the most famous of which is the Jesus prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. The fruits of this contemplative prayer when practiced under the supervision of an experienced spiritual father, and within the safe borders of the Holy Mysteries and liturgical worship of the Church, are the encounter of the same light of Transfiguration that the three disciples (Peter, James, and John) saw when Our Lord was Transfigured on Mount Tabor. This light is the uncreated light and was experienced by St. Gregory and many other saints.
So why does the Church prescribe for us such high example as St. Gregory during this period of lent. She wants to remind us, and emphasize for us with as many red underlines as you can imagine, that we cannot have a real relationship with God if we are constantly living in noise. We cannot have a relationship with God if we do not allow any time in our life for any level of stillness to talk to God. If we are always bombarded by the loud voices of work demands, by home demands, by our anxieties and insecurities, by our dreams, by social media, by the noise of the many apps on our phone, by the thoughts of what other people think of us, if this is the norm, how can we hear God’s voice? God’s voice is too low, too tender, too serene. If we want to listen to Him, we need stillness. We have to run out and find out a quiet place for us. We have to find our own wilderness.
Stillness is where we taste the kingdom of heaven, stillness is where we are overwhelmed by the beauty of Christ. Stillness is where you see all his wonderous works with you and your love ones, stillness is where you see God has protected you and has been by your side all the days of your life. Stillness is where you can actually touch the love of Christ. Stillness is the real food of the soul, because in there, the soul is nurtured and filled with the sweetness of the love of Christ. Stillness is the place that you find that there is no life worth living without Christ being the alpha and omega, and as St. Porphyrios says: Christ is everything.
Finding the daily Stillness is the fear of the evil one, because once we find that stillness, we will see our sins and return to ourselves as the prodigal son did, and repent, and return to our father. Satan hates that, and he will do anything and send us as many waves in our lives to prevent us from finding stillness, and boy he is an expert at that, and he knows what can easily distract us. He will keep throwing the darts of distraction, and we fall for it every single time. The Church today is telling you and me. Wake up and step out of the wind. Don’t be fooled, You are better than that. You are a child of God, you should awake to these tricks and treat yourself and your mind as is meet for a child of God. You kill these noises and and live in stillness or be killed by them.
As for the Gospel of today. I will let St. Gregory Himself give the homily. He says:
“For many reasons the Gospels can be seen as resembling a honeycomb. According to the Song of Songs, the “taste” of our souls’ spiritual bridegroom, who is fairer in beauty than the sons of men
Anyone addicted to sensual pleasures is paralysed in his soul, and is lying sick on the bed of voluptuousness with its deceptive bodily ease. Once, however, he has been won over by the urgings in the Gospel, he confesses his sins and triumphs over them and the paralysis they have brought upon his soul. He is taken up and brought to the Lord by these four: self-condemnation, confession of former sins, promising to renounce evil ways from now on, and prayer to God.
They cannot, however, bring him near to God without uncovering the roof, scattering the tiles, earth and other building material. Our roof is the reasoning part of the soul, which is set above everything else within us. But it has lying on top of it, like a large quantity of building material, its connection with the passions and earthly matters. Once this connection has been loosed and shaken off by means of the four things we have mentioned, then we can really be let down, that is, humbled, fall down before the Lord, draw near to Him and ask and receive His healing. So when we fall down before Him with such faith, our paralysed mind immediately hears Him saying “Son”, and receives forgiveness and healing. In addition it receives strength to lift up and carry the bed on which it is lying. The bed is to be understood as the body to which the mind After being healed, our mind has our body under control and leads and carries it about. Through it our mind brings to light the fruits and works of repentance, so that all who see them glorify God. For they see that yesterday’s publican is today’s evangelist, the persecutor an apostle, the thief a theologian. Even the man who used to live among pigs, if you please, is now the son of the heavenly Father. Having planned in their hearts ways to ascend, they advanced “from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), progressing day by day towards excellence.”
May God grant us the gift of realizing the need for stillness, and forgiveness of sins, as they are the true sickness that need healing, and may He heal our body from paralyzing passions, through the intercessions of the Theotokos and of Saint Gregory and all the saints. Amen.